The Use of Native American Logos in Czech Ice Hockey

HC PlzenI was generally aware of the Czech fascination with American Indians, but I was caught by surprise when I encountered a trio of Native American musicians and dancers performing in resplendent tribal costumes on a street corner in downtown Prague during my first day in the city this past December. (See below.)

I was even more surprised to discover that the players of HC Skoda Pilsen (Plzen, in Czech), the reigning champion of the Czech Extraliga (the country’s highest Hockey League), wear an Indian head patch on their uniforms and are nicknamed the Pilsen Indians.

In addition to the logo, the Pilsen club also has a live mascot (presumably a Czech) who dresses liked a Plains Indian. Moreover, at the beginning of each season, an individual in the garb of an Indian shaman comes on to the ice in the club’s home arena and performs a good luck ritual on behalf of the team. The mascot and shaman can be seen here.

HC Skoda Pilsen is currently owned by former National Hockey League star (and Czech native) Martin Straka, who at age 40 also doubles as the team’s captain and star player. In Game 7 of last year’s Czech counterpart to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Pilsen defeated HC Kiln on a series-winning goal by Straka, allowing the club to claim its first ever Extraliga championship.

The team’s official video illustrates the seriousness with which the club takes its association with Native American imagery and the inspiration that it derives from what the team refers to as the” heroism” of the “Last Mohican” (a reference to the famous James Fennimore Cooper novel).

The Czech fascination with Native Americans dates back to the late 19th century when the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Much of this fascination can be traced to the novels of German adventure writer Carl May (1842-1912).

Several of May’s novels were set in the American West, and these works were extremely popular throughout the entire German-speaking world. Inspired by James Fennimore Cooper and American painter George Catlin, May’s novels treat Native Americans much more sympathetically than the typical Hollywood or television western of the first half of the twentieth century.

May’s Indians were typically portrayed as noble savages who valiantly resisted the greed and rapaciousness of English-speaking settlers. The white protagonists in his novels were usually Americans of German descent who typically felt a kind of spiritual kinship to the Native Americans, a la Cooper’s Natty Bumpoo.

May was widely imitated by other German and Czech writers, and many of his novels were later made into films, which also incorporated the positive depiction of Native Americans. This tradition continued after the beginning of the Communist era, with the East German film industry in particular turning out dozen of “Osterns” (literally, “easterns”) which were set in the American west of the 19th century and depict Native Americans as the innocent victims of white racist capitalism.

These films were widely distributed behind the “Iron Curtain” and appear to have been especially popular in Czechoslovakia. A shortage of Native American actors in Eastern Europe led to the casting of swarthy Yugoslavs as the Indians, with one particularly popular actor, Gojko Mitic, eventually being made an honorary Sioux Indian after his films were shown to Native American audiences in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The formal linkage of the Native American image with Pilsen ice hockey team in the Czech Republic is of recent vintage and dates only from 2010, but the city’s association with Native Americans dates back to the early 20th century. Indian head symbols have been associated with goods produced in Pilsen since at least 1915.

Their usage has been especially prominent in regard to the brewing of beer (the term pilsner is derived from Pilsen) and the production of Skoda automobiles. The current Skoda logo can be easily recognized as an adaptation of the profile of an Indian chief.

In fact, in 2010, the year that HC Skoda Pilsen adopted the Indian symbol and team name, the American Center of the United States Embassy in Prague featured an exhibit entitled, “The Story of the American Indian in Pilsen.” That exhibit focused upon the fascination with Native Americans on the part of the city’s residents and on the history of the attachment of the American Indian image with products produced in the city.

Moreover, Pilsen’s more recent history makes it especially inclined toward American symbols. According to Czech hockey fan and blogger (and Pilsen native), Lubos Motl, Pilsen considers itself the most “American” city in the Czech Republic, and the adoption of the insignia was intended to be, at least in part, a tribute to the United States.

According to Motl, the Pilsen insignia (pictured above) is a modified version of insignia of the United States Third Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, which liberated Pilsen and other parts of western Bohemia at the end of World War II.

Unlike the rest of Czechoslovakia, which was liberated by the Russian Army, West Bohemia remained under United States control for most of 1945. After the Communist takeover in 1948, Pilsen’s ties to the United States were officially forgotten, but they have been enthusiastically revived since the Czech “Velvet Revolution” of 1988 ended Communist rule.

(One example of this revival of connections to the United States is the study-abroad program in Pilsen operated by Marquette Business School in conjunction with the University of West Bohemia.)

Finally, the similarity between the HC Skoda symbol and that of the Chicago Black Hawks is probably not coincidental. Although he never played for the Chicago team, HC Svoda owner Martin Straka’s 15-year career in the National Hockey League undoubtedly made him aware of the popularity of the Black Hawks Indian head logo and the sweater on which it is embossed. Furthermore, legendary goaltender Dominic Hasek, a Czech national hero, began his NHL career with the Black Hawks.

Finally, there is at least one other prominent European ice hockey team that uses a Native American logo — Frolunda HC of Gothenburg, Sweden. The Frolunda Indians play in the Swedish (Elite) Hockey League where they have three-time winners of the Le Mat trophy, which represents the championship of Swedish Hockey. Frolunda is also, year in and year out, the Swedish leader in live attendance. Their Native American logo can be seen here.

The Native American street performers mentioned in the opening paragraph are pictured below (photograph by Monica Walker):

Monica Walker Photo



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Postcard from Prague – Part Two: Describing the Czech Legal Profession

PragueUnlike the situation in the United States, where we basically have a unified legal profession with a single type of lawyer, the Czech legal profession contains several different categories of legal professionals. While most Czech legal professionals have a common university education in law (see the previous post), they are classified by different categories which are determined by the role they play, and, to a lesser extent, by the nature of the three years apprenticeship that the individual law student completes following law school.

Czech educated lawyers are divided into three basic categories: advocates (or lawyers), public prosecutors, or judges. While there is some movement between these categories, most members of the legal profession spend their careers in one category or another. In addition to these three categories, some lawyers also serve as public notaries. Czech notaries are a sort of public official who provides important services related to inheritance and the drafting of legal documents. Notaries are appointed and their numbers are limited by statute. Importantly, notaries are viewed as neutral public figures who provide necessary services, but who do not represent their clients in the same way that advocates do.

In addition to lawyers who have been educated in the Czech Republic and licensed to practice law, lawyers may provide legal services if they fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Lawyers who have been educated in other countries but who can pass an examination in Czech or Slovak that tests their familiarity with Czech Law and rules of professional conduct.
  2. Lawyers from other countries who already reside in the Czech Republic who can establish that they have successfully practiced law for three years in the country, or who can convince a commission of the Czech Bar Association that they have the necessary knowledge of Czech Law and rules of professional conduct.
  3. Citizens of a member country of the European Union who have been admitted to practice law in their own country (or in any other EU country) who have registered with the Czech Bar Association. In regard to certain areas of law, EU lawyers may be required to consult with a member of the Czech bar while representing Czech clients. (This appears to be similar to our pro hac vice notion.)
  4. Lawyers from any other country, so long as they limit their practices to the law of their home countries and international law.

The years between the Velvet Revolution of 1998, which led to the collapse of the Czech Communist government, and the country’s entry into the European Union in 2004 were a period of transition for the Czech legal profession, and even more than a decade later a process of “sorting out” the boundaries of the legal profession is still ongoing.

Under the statutes currently regulating the practice of law, lawyers may practice as solo practitioners, in office-sharing relationships, and in firms. Once rare, increasingly larger law firms are beginning to dominate the practice of law in the Czech Republic, especially in the larger cities. A substantial number of firms based in other countries, including the United States, have established branch offices in Prague.


Continue ReadingPostcard from Prague – Part Two: Describing the Czech Legal Profession

Postcard from Prague – Part One: Comparing the U.S. and Czech Experiences in Legal Education

Prague Legal education in the Czech Republic is similar to that in the United States in some regards, but it departs from the U.S. model in a number of ways.

First of all, the choices of where to study law are clearly more limited in the Czech Republic.  There are only four universities in the Czech Republic that are authorized to award law degrees:  Charles University (Prague); Masaryk University (Brno); the University of Western Bohemia (Pilsen); and Palacky University (Olomouc).

The most noticeable difference is that Czech students study law as undergraduates, as is the case in most countries of the world.  (The United States and Canada are outliers in that regard.)  Would-be lawyers typically enter the university as law students and remain law students the entire time they are enrolled.

At Charles University, where I am visiting, students are selected into the law department on the basis of criteria that include an SAT-like component, as well as other, more distinctively Czech forms of evaluation.  Charles University (founded in 1348) is the most selective of the four Czech state law schools, and it accepts only about 10% of applications it receives.  Law is a popular major in the Czech Republic, and, in spite of its selectivity, Charles University enrolls approximately 600 new law students each year.  Although he had little direct impact on the Czech legal system, the most famous alumnus of the Charles Law School is Franz Kafka ’06.

The Czech law course, which is essentially the same at all four of the country’s law schools, consists of five years of classes.  The first year is designed to introduce new students (who typically are 17, 18, or 19 years old) to the study of law and legal methods.  The remaining four years are devoted to a general survey of Czech law, public, private, and constitutional.

As in the United States, legal education is a mixture of practical and theoretical elements.  Unlike the United States, the Czech Republic is a civil law country, so a substantial amount of time is devoted to mastering the Czech Civil Code.  Clinical education is not emphasized as much at Charles University as it is in many American law schools, although the law school at Palacky University places a much greater emphasis on that aspect of legal education.

In addition, between a quarter and a third of Charles University law students spend at least one semester studying at a foreign university.  While this is becoming more common in the United States — witness Marquette’s programs with law schools in Denmark, France, and Spain — only a tiny percentage of American law students take advantage of such an opportunity during their three years of law school.

At the completion of the five-year law course, students must pass a final law school examination.  Those who complete the course and pass the examination are awarded the degree of Magister (Masters) in Law.

Roughly half of the students who enter the Charles University law program complete the degree in five years.  Those who have not compiled the requisite number of credits at the end of five years are permitted to remain in the program for an additional year or more, and those who have completed the course but have failed the final examination are permitted to retake it up to two more times.  Eventually, about two-thirds of the university’s entering law students complete the law degree.

Some Czech law students decide to work simultaneously on an additional degree, often in a closely related field like business or political science.  While this appears to extend the time at a university in some cases, there are students who complete the dual degrees in the usual five year period.  In addition to law, Kafka studied literature and art history, when he studied there in the early years of the 20th century. (Over the past two decades a number of Marquette students have completed either an additional M.B.A degree or an M.A. in Political Science.  While this has usually extended the period of time the student is in law school to four years, a few students have completed both degrees in three years.)

Once they have completed their law degrees, Czech students who choose to pursue a career as a lawyer must undertake a three-year apprenticeship, either with a practicing lawyer, a prosecutor, or a judge.  Those who choose the first path prepare themselves to be advocates (usually called lawyers in English); in the second track, they prepare to become public prosecutors, and in the third, judges.

The apprenticeships are paid positions, but the level of compensation is left up to the employers and not every student is guaranteed an apprenticeship.  Consequently, compensation remains low, although students with proficiencies in foreign languages are often fairly well-paid by the larger Prague and Brno firms that have extensive international practices.

At the end of the third year of the apprenticeship, the student takes either the advocate’s, the prosecutor’s, or the judge’s exam.   While the assumption is that a student will enter into the branch of the legal profession for which he has trained, the separate examinations are viewed as equivalent, so it is possible that a lawyer admitted under one professional examination could later join another branch of the profession without having to take additional examinations.  As the number of judicial positions in the country is not large, many recent graduates from the judicial track find themselves without a position and end up practicing law for at least part of their career.

There is also a fourth branch of the Czech legal profession, public notaries, who have a highly specialized, quasi-public function in the Czech Republic, relating to the authentication and drafting of certain documents and the succession (inheritance) process.  The number of notaries in the country is small and is restricted by statute. At the same time, the positions are viewed as highly lucrative.  Most, if not all, notaries have legal educations.

Obviously, this aspect of legal training is quite different in the United States.  Not only are apprenticeship requirements quite rare (though they may become more common), but American law schools are also committed to a view of legal education where they train their students for what has traditionally been called a “unitary” profession.  In the American bar there is only one category of lawyer, and a lawyer is presumed to be capable of performing a variety of professional functions in both the private and public sectors.

Not every law school graduate in the Czech Republic becomes a licensed lawyer.  Law school graduates often end up as government administrators or in law-related (but non-lawyer) positions like those of accountants and tax advisers.  In that sense, Czech employment patterns resemble those in the United States, where a surprisingly high percentage of law school graduates never practice law per se, or else they abandon the practice of law at some point in their career.

Although Charles University and the other Czech law schools award graduate LLM degrees, those programs are primarily designed for non-Czech citizens who already have a first law degree and then subsequently enroll in a Czech law school for additional training.

For Czech law students seeking more training, the next degree is a Ph.D. in law, which, unlike the case in the United States, is widely viewed as a “practical” degree.  While some of the 60 students currently enrolled in the Charles University Ph.D. in Law program are primarily interested in law as an academic subject, a larger number are using the program to establish a specialization that will enhance their marketability in the contemporary world of law practice. Given the forces of globalization and the ever-increasing economic integration of the European Union (of which the Czech Republic is a member),  Ph.D. degrees in International Law, International Business Transactions, and International Intellectual Property are particularly attractive.  (A “lesser” doctoral degree, the iuris utrisque doctor, abbreviated JUDr., is still occasionally awarded, but is considered to be of much less value than the Ph.D.)

A comparable expansion of graduate legal education has not occurred in the United States.  While American LLM programs have proliferated, in many cases they are primarily targeted at foreign students.  Where they do exist for American law graduates, they are usually only certificate programs that signal a minimal competence in, rather than a mastery of, a legal subject. Only Yale University awards a Ph.D. in Law, although a small number of universities still award the S.J.D. award, which is a somewhat old-fashioned legal counterpart to the Ph.D.  In the United States, most lawyers who pursue such degrees (as well as Ph.D.’s in fields like History, Sociology, Political Science, Economics, and American Studies) do so primarily because they are interested in careers in teaching and scholarship, and not for the purpose of developing a new practice specialty.

One area in which Czech and American law students differ greatly is in regard to student debt.  In the Czech Republic, public law schools do not charge their students tuition (and there are no private law schools entitled to award law degrees).  The only times that a law student is charged tuition is when he or she enrolls in a course taught in English (rather than Czech, which normally means that the course is taught be a visiting professor from another country), or when the student enrolls for a sixth or seventh years in law school.

Consequently, while Czech law students have very little income during the eight years (5 years of school + 3 years of apprenticeship) they spend preparing for a career in law, they do not begin their professional careers significantly in debt, as is the case in the United States.  However, Czech universities have experienced budget cuts in recent years, and some tuition charges may be on the horizon.  A previously announced plan to impose a $500 per semester tuition fee that would only come due once the student was done with college and employed was withdrawn last year.

Continue ReadingPostcard from Prague – Part One: Comparing the U.S. and Czech Experiences in Legal Education