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Czechoslovakia Table of Contents



Historically, emigration has always been an option for Czechs and Slovaks dissatisfied with the situation at home. Each wave of emigration had its own impetus. In the nineteenth century, the reasons were primarily economic. In the twentieth century, emigration has largely been prompted by political turmoil, though economic factors still play a role. The first major wave of emigration in this century came after the communists came to power, and the next wave began after the Prague Spring movement was crushed.

In the 1980s the most popular way to emigrate to the West was to travel to Yugoslavia by automobile and, once there, take a detour to Greece, Austria, or Italy (Yugoslav border restrictions were not as strict as those of the Warsaw Pact nations). Only a small percentage of those who applied to emigrate legally could do so. The exact details of the process have never been published, but a reasonably clear picture can be gleaned from those who have succeeded. It is a lengthy and costly process. Those applicants allowed to even consider emigration have been required to repay the state for their education, depending on their level of education and salary, at a rate ranging from Kcs4,000 to Kcs10,000. (The average yearly wage was about Kcs33,600 in 1984.) The applicant was likely to lose his job and be socially ostracized. Technically, at least, such emigres would be allowed to return for visits. Those who had been politically active, such as Charter 77 signatories found it somewhat easier to emigrate, but they have not been allowed to return and reportedly have had to pay the state exhorbitant fees--Kcs23,000 to as much as Kcs80,000 --if they had graduated from a university (see Popular Political Expression , ch. 4).

Old-age pensioners had no problem visiting or emigrating to the West. The reasons for this were purely economic; if they decided to stay in the West, the state no longer had to pay their pension.

Official statistics for the early 1980s show that, on the average, 3,500 people emigrated legally each year. From 1965 to 1983, a total of 33,000 people emigrated legally. This figure undoubtedly included a large number of ethnic Germans resettled in East Germany. The largest emigre communities are located in Austria, West Germany, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Data as of August 1987