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Czechs abroad

photo:  (sxc.hu)

There are almost two million people abroad who claim Czech origin – a figure representing one-fifth of the current Czech population. Many of them do not speak Czech, but still feel a sense of solidarity with the Czech nation and the culture of their ancestors.


Czech émigrés can be divided into three groups, according to the main reasons for leaving their homeland: religious, social and political.

The oldest group is that of the religious émigrés, and includes exiled Catholic clerics from the Hussite Bohemia, the expatriates who left after the Battle of the White Mountain and the subsequent protestant exodus of the 18th century to Saxony and Prussia. The final phase of this wave of emigration even took Czechs to the United States, where today the global base of the Moravian Brethren Church is located.

Larger migration was not possible until the 18th century. The social emigration began following the abolition of serfdom, peaking at the turn of the 19th century with the colonization of the Balkan frontier areas of Banat and Slavonia in the Austrian monarchy. The first half of the 19th century saw the Czech emigration to the United States continue (by 1938 approximated 400 thousand people of Czechoslovak origin immigrated to the US), while many others left for Russia and Ukraine after 1867. After the United States closed its borders to immigrants (1921-1924), a more intense migration occurred from Czechoslovakia to South America (Argentina, Brazil, etc.) and Western Europe (France).
Persecuted revolutionaries led the political wave of emigration in 1848. Further emigrants left Czechoslovakia ahead of Hitler’s rise to power and few of  them also after the end of the Second World War. In the two years following the communist coup d’état in February 1948 approximately 100 thousand emigrants left the country. In the years that followed, leaving the country became very difficult and even the exact number of those who left is not sufficiently documented by statistics or demographics. This wave of émigrés left for Western Europe, the United States, Canada, with smaller numbers going to Australia and New Zealand.

After 1968, more than 250 thousand people (again, exact data is not available) left for the countries listed above, South Africa and, in smaller numbers, to South American countries such as Venezuela. In some cases Czechs and Slovaks formed the largest group of immigrants in a given country. Canada, for exemple, opened its borders to 19 thousand Czechs in 1969. In Switzerland, 14.5 thousand Czech and Slovak exiles made up the country’s third largest group of immigrants after 1945, right behind the Tibetans and Hungarians.

The social and professional character of those who left in 1948 and 1969 differed from previous waves. There was a larger number of intellectuals and political activists, many of whom were persecuted and threatened with imprisonment. The way in which they left the country was also unique: The majority of emigrants left via refugee camps in Germany and Austria and then continued on to other countries.

The current migration, which started after 1989, has not yet been documented and there are only few figures or statistics available. Many Czechs leave in search of temporary work in economically more developed countries. Some of them will return home after their experience while others will choose to stay in their adopted homelands. A large number of Czechs work in multinational companies and regularly move from destination to destination. New Zealand has become a popular destination for emigrants and is attracting many ecologists and technically oriented Czech graduates. A large number of students also choose to go to Australia. An important target of the new economic emigration is the US where nowadays thousands of Czech “illegal workers“ live and work. One of the main drivers of legal migration for Czechs have become the EU countries which do not limit the inflow of workers from the new member states, especially the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Added: 03.02.2010

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