During the communist regime in Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1989, scholars estimate that as many as 550,000 people emigrated from the country, or about 3.5 percent of the total population of the country. Some 250,000 of those émigrés left between the years 1968 and 1989. Unlike earlier waves of emigration, these Czechs, Slovaks, and a much smaller number of Carpatho-Rusyns left largely for political reasons. Some of these émigrés would play an active role in monitoring the situation of their countrymen, working to overthrow communism, and energizing their respective ethnic communities in the new host countries.
When the Czechoslovak government first released its census information in 1991 after the Velvet Revolution, official statistics indicated that 3,412,000 people living abroad claimed either Czech or Slovak origin. That amounted to one-sixth of the population of Czechoslovakia at the time, about 15.6 million. Of that total, 62 percent were Czechs and 31 percent Slovak.
Most of these people resided in North America (2,780,000), with a majority residing in the United States (2,669,880). Before the publication of these statistics, scholars had surmised emigration demographics based largely on host country census data and the estimates of émigrés and scholars.
Based on ancestry, U.S 1990 Census data had counted even higher numbers -- nearly 1.3 million Czechs, about 1.9 million Slovaks, over 315,000 Czechoslovaks, and over 77,000 Slavic peoples. The Czechoslovak and Slavic peoples most likely included Slovaks and Czechs, as well as Carpatho-Rusyns (also called Ruthenians), who received no separate designation. Carpatho-Rusyns could also have been mixed with Ukrainian and Russian figures.
Czechoslovak immigrants and their descendants living in Canada amounted to over 54,000 in 1991, but they lived in widely dispersed areas across the country. After World War II and the communist takeover, 10,000 Czech and Slovak political exiles settled in Canada. A larger wave of 8,000 Czechs and 13,000 Slovaks arrived after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, and most settled in the eastern urban and industrial areas of Ontario and Quebec.
For the Czechs in particular, political emigration already had a long history dating back to Counter-Reformation era and afterwards. Many Czech Protestants fled their homeland following the Czech defeat at White Mountain in 1620, among them the Moravian educator Comenius. Likewise, the failed Revolutions of 1848 resulted in a wave of political émigrés from German lands, Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary.
Mid-19th century economic hard times propelled a wave of Czech emigrants who settled mainly in the rural areas of the American Great Plains. But the largest waves of immigration occurred in the late 19th century until the Great War choked the inflow of new arrivals. By World War I, nearly 620,000 Slovaks, over 600,000 Czechs, and as many as 225,000 Carpatho-Rusyns made the...