Growing alarm that Americans are confusing Chechnya with the Czech Republic has seen the Czech Embassy issuing an unprecedented statement following the Boston marathon attacks to clarify that the two bombing suspects trace their roots to Chechnya, not the Czech Republic, after waves of anti-Czech rhetoric lit up social media.
According to Time, expletive-filled postings erupted on Twitter and Facebook with comments such as, 'So the Boston bombers were 19-year-old Russians of Czech descent. Why lord?' and 'The guys that bombed Boston were Czech. What is it 1980?'
The sudden levels of anti-Czech sentiment reached such a fever pitch so quickly that one Tumblr user created a 'shame page' of erroneous hateful comments.
But it was not only social media users getting it wrong, even a former CIA agent commenting on the manhunt for the bombers on CNN also got the two territories mixed up live on air.
That has led Petr Gandalovic, the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the U.S., to make a concerted effort to clear up the confusion.
'As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect,' he said in a statement. 'The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities — the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.'
Even a spoof media site called The Daily Currant got in on the confusion. presenting a fake Fox News interview in which former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin insists that invading the Czech Republic is now the only course of action open to the U.S.
Many Americans seem unaware that Chechens are an ethnic group occupying a small territory in Russia’s North Caucasus region, located between the Black and Caspian Seas and around 1,000 miles south of Moscow.
The population of 1.2 million is overwhelmingly Muslim and three civil wars have been waged by separatist rebels over the past two decades. Chechen groups have also claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks in Moscow in recent years.
But the Czech Republic is one of two countries formed when the former Czechoslovakia split up in 1993 — the other being Slovakia — and it has been a member of the E.U. since 2004.
Unlike Chechnya, Czechs are actually one of the least religious peoples in the world; the largest organized faith, Roman Catholicism, is followed by just 10% of the population. The two territories are also about 2,000 miles apart.