An association for the promotion of Czech culture in Brno – Brno Daily
As a foreigner in Brno and the Czech Republic, it is not always easy to get to know and understand Czech customs and traditions. Brno Daily interviewed Jan Blazek, a member of the Brnensko Tanci A Zpiva folk association, to understand the issues surrounding the preservation of Czech customs through dance, song and costume making. Traditions are usually passed down from generation to generation in the Czech Republic, but they are increasingly being lost due to increasing urbanization and modernization of lifestyles. Yet in the country’s second city, Jan Blazek and his association are fighting to protect the importance of traditional songs, dances and costumes that form Czech cultural identity. Photo credit: Brnensko Tanci A Zpiva
You might have seen one of their parades in recent years, or at least seen their colorful costumes on a city street corner. On June 1, men and women were still parading through the streets of Brno on the occasion of Pentecost, to the sound of traditional songs and rhythms. As foreigners, expatriates, foreign students or simply tourists passing through, knowledge of Czech culture and what it entails can sometimes elude us. Although most Czech celebrations join the Christian celebrations shared with other countries, other aspects of Czech culture remain much less known, so we spoke to Jan Blazek about this culture and the movement trying to protect it.
An association made up of local volunteers
Brnensko tanci a zpiva (English: “Brno dances and songs”) was granted the status of an official civic association on August 4, 2006. Since 1975, the Advisory Board of the Brno Municipal Cultural Center has been dealing with events and performances of the same name. , but without its current state. The association has therefore existed for more than 15 years now.
“The purpose of the association is to restore, maintain and develop the cultural and spiritual traditions of the ethnographic region of Brno,” Blazek said. “This objective is achieved in particular by the maintenance of folk customs and traditions, the publication of printed materials such as calendars, the organization of cultural and educational events such as folk performances, seminars and dance workshops, at the both independently and in cooperation with other groups.”
To achieve these goals, the association is funded through donations, special purpose grants and its own for-profit activities. All the members of this association, men, women and children, come mainly from Brno and the surrounding villages. According to Blazek, the origin of its participants is linked to certain ethnographic areas.
The know-how of traditional Czech costumes is gradually disappearing. There are only a few people left who can make them from scratch, most of whom are women. However, although they are no longer worn as everyday clothes, they are still important for traditional Czech holidays due to their symbolism and meaning.
“It depends on what kind of costumes you have to wear,” Blazek said. “If you want to strictly follow local traditions, according to old photos and old costumes, there are only a few people who are able to do that these days. The whole costume is not simple enough to make. It depends on the contacts you can find. The last people able to do these things like costumes, instruments and blue print for example, are hard to find. But still, there are a few people left.
The costumes are also interesting in the sense that they are not randomly designed, but have meaning. One of the most famous celebrations in the Czech Republic is Ash Wednesday, where a 3-day procession takes place beforehand. During this procession, the men wear masks. “Each mask means something different. There are of course some animals, for example horses or mares. And there are also ethnic masks, like the Turks, and also Chinese masks,” explained Jan Blazek.
Women have historically had very little representation in this celebration. Jan Blazek provided some explanations: “There are also women, but all the participants in the old photos are men. I would say that in past centuries, there were only men. You know, it was forbidden for women to participate in the past”.
Origins shared with much of central Europe
Traditional Czech celebrations, like in many other European countries, have their roots in Christianity. This is particularly the case for Easter and Christmas, which also have some regional particularities. Easter in the Czech Republic is an important holiday for everyone because it has interesting folk traditions. Before Easter, the boys must prepare braided willow canes decorated with ribbons, called pomlazki, and the girls have to decorate and paint eggs. On Monday morning, which is the most important Easter day in the Czech Republic, boys go from house to house with their canes chasing girls and whipping them, saying traditional nursery rhymes and asking for Easter eggs.
The girls pretend to run away and hide, aiming to share a fun and friendly moment. Then the boys collect their rewards such as eggs, candy, chocolate or even money. The day also includes a big feast, with traditional dishes like “Mazanec” (sweet cake with a cross on top), “Jidase” (small plain cake) or “Beranek” (sweet cake in the shape of a lamb ).
This regional folklore sometimes bears a strong resemblance to the traditions of other Central European countries, whether through dances, songs, rhythms or instruments. general. There is also a border between eastern and western culture, as Bohemia and the western part of Moravia are closer with music, dances and many other things. These similarities are also comparable to Austrian, German or Polish traditions,” explained Jan Blazek.
The small region of Slovacko in the Czech Republic is also renowned for the almost authentic preservation of its traditions, although its culture is somewhat different from the rest of the Czech Republic. “This region is close to Slovakia and the Carpathians. His culture is quite different. It comes from the mountains, it is perhaps linked to the cultivation of the land or to animal husbandry. Their traditions are ancient and so are their dances. These dances are very popular nowadays. They are passed down from generation to generation from males to young males,” Blazek said. This population is very proud of its traditions and culture. He also noted that the media usually highlights this region because of its way of life, which seems far removed from modern cities.
Czech traditions challenged by modernity
After decades under communist rule, where anything religious was restricted and some Czech holidays and traditions were silenced and forgotten, those involved in maintaining Czech folk traditions now face a new global problem: the standardization and homogenization of societies. Traditions in the Czech Republic were characterized by great local diversity, which was blurred by mass culture. The annual cycle characteristic of Czech traditions has been upset by foreign traditions such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day. However, the association tries to provide an alternative to this unification, by promoting Czech traditions in the heart of modern cities like Brno.
Jan Blazek gave some explanations for this conflict between tradition and modernity: “It comes from everyone’s way of life. If your family has lived in the same house for several generations, perhaps centuries, that is of course different. If you work in the same place where you grew up and don’t go to the big cities, it’s easier to live, to be interested and to participate in the culture. If you live in town there are plenty of other things to do, literally everything. But as you can see, there were participants from Brno, not from the center of Brno but from the surroundings which are connected to Brno. It is interesting to see that it is Brno, but the people have their traditions, songs and dances. Everyone loves it because everyone says it’s quite unusual for the second largest city in the country to have so many traditions and such a broad popular culture despite being a modern city.
Exchange with other cultural minorities in the country
In the Czech Republic, there are many cultural minorities, from Europe but also from further afield, such as the Vietnamese community. A festival promoting the culture of these minorities in the Czech Republic is held regularly in Straznice. It is the biggest folklore festival and it is entirely dedicated to the country’s minorities.
“There are of course minorities who organize themselves in one way or another,” Blazek said. “They have their communities, their organizations, their civic associations, and they organize festivals so that people know that they are Slovaks, Greeks, etc. They are also supervised by the Ministry of Culture, they receive money from them. For the festival in Straznice, they prepare their dances, songs, music. There are Croats, Germans and many others. They make their own traditional costumes.
“Culture should be for everyone. All ages, all backgrounds. Photo credit: Brnensko Tanci A Zpiva
Through the promotion of Czech culture but also of minority culture, in particular thanks to the work of Brnensko tanci a zpiva, Jan Blazek sends an important message: “Culture must be for everyone. All ages, all backgrounds. So that our culture, whoever we are, never disappears.https://brnodaily.com/2022/06/19/lifestyle/brnensko-tanci-a-zpiva-an-association-for-the-promotion-of-czech-culture-in-brno/https://brnodaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/DSC_0449-1024×681.jpghttps://brnodaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/DSC_0449-150×100.jpgComics MagazineBrno,Culture,Czech Republic,Folkore,TraditionsAs a foreigner in Brno and the Czech Republic, it is not always easy to get to know and understand Czech customs and traditions. Brno Daily interviewed Jan Blazek, member of the folk association Brnensko Tanci A Zpiva, to understand the issues surrounding the preservation of Czech customs through dance,…Lou Kaemo
firstname.lastname@example.orgAuthorFrench trainee, studying political science in Paris. Interested in media studies and journalism. Driven by curiosity, which pushed me to travel and always discover new things.Brno Daily