Croats of Belgium
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Croats of Belgium are an ethnic group in Belgium. About 10,000 of Belgians stated that they have Croatian roots, according the Croatian associations and Catholic missions. They appeared in Belgium for the first time during the Thirty years' war, as a part of Austrian and French cavalry. Even today, the exact number of Croats in Belgium is unknown, mostly because they were considered as Yugoslavs by Belgian government. During the last years, number of Croats in Belgium is increasing because of immigrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The number of Croats didn't pass the number of 10,000 since the World War II when Croatia was part of a larger country Yugoslavia.
Arrival in Belgium
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor had settled Croats in Flandern around the Dunkerque (then Duinkerken) to serve him as soldiers. Later, Croatian travel writer, Feliks Gladić, in 17th century found that there are still Croats in Belgium, who still speak Croatian language. Those Croats were Uskoks from Senj.
The first wave of immigration
As Belgium was one of the most developed states in Europe in early 20th century, part of Croats emigrated in it searching for better life. Moreover, the first wave of emigration started with creation of Kingdom of Yugoslavia and because of anti-Croatian politics of that state in 1918. Most of emigrants were peasants and workers from Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia and Lika. One of the most famous Croatian emigrants (from Herzegovina) was Ustaše general Rafael Boban, later US Army officer. Croats were mostly workers at steel foundry, ironworks, mines of coal and such. At first, Croats done the hardest jobs, but they were highly respected for their famous devoted work and cleverness. Soon, Croats become employers and chiefs to some Belgians.
After the assassination of Stjepan Radić and tightened anti-Croatian politics after assassination of Yugoslav king Alexander I, number of Croats in Belgium had increased and second part of the first wave of emigration starts in 1928/29. At the time, number of Croats in Belgium was 25,000 to 30,000. Most of Croats were populated in Wallonia in cities of Liège, Charleroi and in surroundings of those cities. Before the World War II only small number of Croats had university degrees. One of those who had them were dr. Ivan Puljić and economist Ante Klarić. In time of World War II most of Croats had stayed in Belgium, only the members of Ustaše left the country for Croatia. After the war, big part of Croats leaves industrial sector and employees in the trade sector, were they have big successes. Also, big number of Croats arrives in new, communist Yugoslavia, but soon, disappointed with communist policy, they again leave the country, but this time they emigrate to overseas. Croats that remained in Belgium married with Belgian women, because number of Croats in Belgium at the time was very small.
The second wave of immigration
The first part of the second wave of immigration was composed of political emigrants. Thousands of Croats flees SFR Yugoslavia, big part of them were former Ustaše and Domobran soldiers. Most of those Ustaše emigrants leaves Belgium as soon as possible for overseas. Those political emigrants who stayed in Belgium have got asylum from United Nations.
The second part of the second wave of immigration started after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Third part of immigration started after the quelling of Croatian Spring by communists in 1971. Thousands of Croats flees again to Belgium, some of them individually and some with whole family. Some Croats left Belgium for Canada and Australia, smaller part went in United States, New Zealand and South America. Also, some of them scattered all around Europe. Soon, Croats with higher education, also went from Belgium.
After the 1970s and the death of communist dictator Josip Broz Tito, only Croats who worked for Yugoslav companies arrived in Belgium.
After the first wave of immigration of Croats, they gather up the workers' canteens. Later, in 1932, under influence of brothers Antun and Stjepan Radić in Jemeppe-sur-Sambre near Liège, Croats have founded first branch of the Croatian Peasant Party. The branch was later registered as Mutual Aid Association "Croatian Peasant Party" (Croatian: "Hrvatski seljački savez"). They couldn't act like a political organization because of the Belgium law and protest of Yugoslav government.
Another part of Belgian Croats supported the Ustaše. Their number increased after the assassination of Alexander I of Yugoslavia in Marseilles. Croats of Belgium, who were members of Ustaše acted secretly. Member of Belgium Ustaše's branch was also Rafael Boban.
After the end of World War II, Croatian Peasant Party in Belgium had blooming because new, young members arrive from communist Yugoslavia. After the death of Vladko Maček, party's leader, Peasant Party rashes. Belgium branch of Peasant Party on death anniversary of Stjepan Radić organized ceremonies, cultural programs and celebrations. There was also Croatian National Committee, organized in Belgium. They convene Second Assembly in Brussels in 1977, and have been met with fierce criticism from the official Belgrade. Assemblies of Croats were also organized by the priests who gather them on ceremonies and mass.
Under the patronage of Croatian Peasant Party there was also a trade union organization named "Croatian Worker's Union" ("Hrvatski radnički savez") with headquarters in Charleroi. There were also few sport and cultural societies, of which some are still active today. Among others, there were also few Yugoslav clubs under patronage of Yugoslav embassy, those clubs served for espionage of Croats in Belgium. The real political life of Belgian Croats started with founding of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and arrival of Franjo Tuđman on the Croatian political scene. First Croats of Belgium registered as HDZ members even before first democratic elections. With sequence of events, Croats of Belgium have founded branches of Croatian Democratic Union (in 1990 and 1991) in Antwerp, Brussels and Liège. The founders were later immigrants who came after the World War II, and in less numbers, heirs of immigrants from the first wave of immigration. Croats in Belgium mostly helped financially by sending money to hospitals, charities and military budget. The money came, mainly through HDZ branches. Croatian political organizations that are still active are branches of Croatian Democratic Union, Croatian Peasant Party and Croatian Liberation Movement. Other active Croatian organizations are Sport and Cultural Society "Croatia" from Antwerp, "SOS-Croatia" from Merchtem near Brussels, "HNK Croatia" (Croatian National Theater "Croatia") in Liège, association of Croatian students "AMAC" in Brussels, charity organization "Edmond Jardas" (they are mostly helping to children of killed Croatian defenders), Cultural society "Vatroslav Lisinski" from Liège, "Hrvatski radio sat" ("Croatian Radio Hour") from Liège (founded by members of HSK and Belgian-born Croats, promoting Croatian culture, tourism and return of Croats back to homeland). The head organization is Croatian World Congress of Belgium led by Dr. Miroslav Klarić. At the start of Croatian Homeland War, Belgian Croats founded Croatian Supplementary School, that school is under patronage of Croatian Ministry of Education. One of the most important factors in saving of Croatian identity in Belgium is Catholic Church. Because of misunderstanding of Croatian emigration and Government in Croatia those organizations and societies are being reduced. The contribution of Croats to development of Belgium mostly is reduced on hard-working Croats who worked in Belgian factories and mines. After the World War II, Croats of Belgium had three university professors: Dr. Zvonimir Pintarović, geneticist Dr. Miroslav Radman, sociologist Danilo Klarić and other few doctors, professors, lawyers, economists, academic painters and architects. Besides, Croats also contributed to the Belgian sports. The most famous sportsmen are Tomislav Ivić, Mario Stanić, Robert Špehar, Josip Weber and others. Few Croats also successfully imported canned fish, medicinal plants and vines (Fabris, Divić, Vunić). Croats also work in catering, radios and various Belgian ministries.
It is difficult to determine with certainty the number, age structure of Croats in Belgium, their economic status and level of national identity, especially among the descendants of the first settlers. The biggest number of Croats, 5,000-6,000 from first and third generation, still live in Wallonia in area Liège. Croatian immigrants from first wave of immigration who came in Belgium in late 1920s are almost all dead, so their children and later immigrants represent Croats of Belgium. Very small number of Croats returns to homeland, especially heirs of first immigrants. The reason for this is because most of Croats have roots from Bosnia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is still undeveloped state and it's hard to live in it, especially for Croats. And those middle-aged Croats and older ones stay in Belgium because of job, pension, property, social insurance, education of children and attachment with mixed marriages. Later, most of Croatian immigrants is settling around the area of Brussels and Antwerp in Flanders where economical situation is, from day to day, better. National identity of Belgian of Croats is still strong, even with third generation of immigrants, even though, there is a small number of those who know they are Croats, but Croatia doesn't mean much to them. Also, there is increasing applications at Croatian schools and interest for Croatian language. First generation were mostly workers, while second and third generation had better education and employment.
Except for a few newsletters, there was also a monthly newspapers "Hrvatski glas" ("Croatian voice") that had been published in the 1950s and 1960s as formal newspapers of Croatian Peasant Party in Europe. They were edited by Oton Orešković, who was a former quartermaster of Croatian National Theatre. Those newspapers were printed on their own linotype which was a gift from the American trade union AFL-CIO to the Croatian Worker's Union. Oton Orešković, in cooperation with Delonoy in review "Historia" published comprehensive study about Pavelić's rise to power until his life in exile.