Latvians in Belgium

Currently in Belgium reside around 2000 people of Latvian origin. This number continues to increase as more and more Latvians arrive in Brussels to work in the institutions connected to the EU and the NATO. Also the Latvian Presidency in EU (January-July 2015) is requesting additional employees at different representation offices of Latvia based in Belgium. Latvians who immigrated after the World War II and their descendants as well as Latvians who immigrated from other countries of the world and are working in companies in Belgium form only a small part of the Latvian community in Belgium. 

To organize the social activities of the Latvian community the Latvian Association in Belgium has been established. The Association organizes the celebrations of the 18th November State Festivities and other social events. Likewise two choirs, folk dance group and a theater group as well as ice-hockey team have been established. There is a Saturday school for children and catholic and protestant services are performed regularly. 

To know more about the Latvian community in Belgium and its activities please use the contact information provided in section "Contacts" or please send an e-mail to the following e-mail address - lbb@latviesi.be

Historical review

Before World War II

After the revolution of 1905 a small number of Latvian emigrants arrieved in Belgium. Likewise some small groups of Latvian social democrats  were established, they ceased to exist during the World War I. Between 1907 and 1917 there was a group of Latvian social democrats in Brussels, in 1914 the 4th Latvian Social Democrat Congress was convened, a monthly magazine "The Messenger of Social Democracy" ("Sociāldemokrātijas vēstnesis") (1909 - 1910) was published, the same as the magazine "The Struggle" ("Cīņa") (1910 - 1910) and "The Bulletin" ("Biļetens")  (1912 - 1917). The mentioned publications were intended for an illegal distribution in Latvia, they depicted likewise the conflict between the bolsheviks and the mensheviks.  Simultaneously in Brussels existed also a national patriotic current of social democrats (LSDS) that published the magazine "The Worker" ("Strādnieks") (1911 - 1913) the editor of which was Miķelis Valters. Later M. Valters returned to Brussels already as the embassador of Latvia and managed the embassy until 1940. 

During the 30s in Brussels lived around twenty Latvians, there was a Belgium - Latvian Frendship Association. From 1900 in Belgium lived the sculptor A. Bija and from 1937 - painter and teacher Anna Zariņa (died in 1984 in Antwerpen). 

After World War II

From 1945 to 1946 in Belgium from Germany arrived around 300 Latvian refugees half of whom soon returned to Germany. Refugee camps were liquidated in November 1945 and their former inhabitants until 1946 worked in English and American military institutions, but afterwards at Belgians, simultaneously attending evening schools to learn French and Flamish languages. Significant contribution to hosting the refugees was provided by Miķelis Valters, baptist priest Kārlis Grikmanis and the Belgium branch of the Latvian Red Cross led by Ērika Vatere. Consul Herbers Rācenis who was the representative of Latvia's interests in Belgium from 1945 to 1950 tried to strengthen the Latvian ethnic community, but from 1951 it was done by the lawyer Kārlis Gulbis. 

Latvian coal miners

In 1947 with the intervention of IRO (International Relief Organisation) in Belgium from Germany started arriving the persons moved from Latvia to work in coal mines according to the agreements concluded for 2 years. Their number together with families was 850 people. When 2 years prescribed by the agreements were over, unempoyment started in Belgium. Therefore, with few exceptions, these Latvians were forced to continue the hard work of coil miners. The possibility to emigrate arose in the winter of 1950. Most of the people emigrated to Canada, a few went to Australia or returned in Germany. A small part (around 160 people) continued working in the coal mines and did not try to leave them any more. The main factors making them stay with the work in the coal mines was higher payment than for other work, a flat and heating for a minimum payment as well as the age of retirement which was 55 years. Most of Latvian coal miners worked in the coal mines of Flanders Limburg province - Waterschei, Zwartberg and Winterslag as well as in the coal mines of Walloonia - close to the cities of Charleroi, Mons, Châtelet and Liège. 

In each of the mentioned Belgium regions Latvian coal miners had established their coal miners' organisation. In Châtelet from 1948 to 1949 was published Latvian  coal miners' union's bulletin "Vēstnesis" ("Messenger"). In Liège were published the following Latvia's National Committee's bulletins: "Atbalss" ("Echo") (1959 - 1961) and "Vēstnesis" ("Messenger") (1962 - 1964) the editor of which was Jānis Pīpiņš as well as satirical journals "Rūgtais Apinis" ("The Bitter Hop") and "Zobgaļa Kalendārs" ("Scoffer's Calendar"). 

An active social life was present especially in Latvian centers of Waterschei, Charleroi and Liège. Theater performances, lecture evenings and concerts were carried out. In Waterschei there was also a group of Daugavas Vanagi (Daugava's Hawks) and the Evangelically lutheran congregation. The coal miners took ative participation in the work of Belgium's Latvian National Committee and the organisation of Daugavas Vanagi (Daugava's Hawks). Nowadays all the coal mines have been closed, Latvian coal miners have retired and most of them have already passed away. 

Bishop Sloskāns and the seminar of Schilde

In1946 from Germany in Belgium arrived bishop Boļeslavs Sloskāns. With the support of Belgium's cardinal Van Ruij he established a catholic theological seminary in Schilde - a small populated area close to Antwerp. In the Schilde seminary arrived students from Germany and Denmark. Several students and candidates of the seminary were in Zedelgem prisoners' camp and other war camps. Nuncio bishop Mikara achieved that in 1946 48 seminarists and seminary candidates were released and afterwards arrived in Schilde. As Schilde seminary was a temporary seminary and it was necessary to resolve the issue of its maintenance and teaching force, the solution was found by sending the seminarists to other seminaries of Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Bishop Sloskāns frequently visited them or gathered them in Schielde or in some of cloisters in Belgium. Several seminarists feeling no calling to become priests transferred to secular professions. 

Thanks to bishop Sloskāns for many Schielde became the first step in the beginning of studies in Leuven Catholic University. Bishop Sloskāns took care of students, was the spiritual leader of catholic Latvians and Estonians in exile and has done a lot also in favour of other Latvians in Belgium, independent of their denomination. Bishop Sloskāns  died in 1981 and he was berried in Leuven in Kezersberg Benedictine cloister where he had lived; in 1993 his  remains were brought to Aglona. 

Leuven Catholic University

In 1948 from Germany arrived around 25 Latvian youngsters who with the help of bishop Sloskāns started studies in Leuven University - altogether due to the efforts of bishop Sloskāns already 40 students studied there. 

From 1949 to 1951 students published the magazine "Vairogs" ("Schield") and gave an impulse to all the social life in Belgium frequently visiting also the areas of coal miners with lectures and theater performances. Most of the graduates went to Canada and the USA, 10 of them found work in their speciality in Belgium and became the core of this country's intelligence. 

From 1966 to 1996 in Leuven was published Rome catholic religious content journal "Gaisma" the editors of which were K. Ručs and Dr. J. Trizna: in 1966 prelate K. Ručs overtook the spiritual leadership of catholics in exile. 

Latvian organisations in Belgium

Belgium’s Latvian national movement

There were 1100 Latvians in Belgium in 1949, but in 1952 here had remained only around 300 Latvians.

In 1949 in Belgium there was a Latvian association, 2 coal miners’ associations (one in Walloonia and the second in Flanders), Latvian Red Cross, Evangelically lutheran and Rome catholic congregations and Belgium’s Union of Latvian Organizations that in 1950 was transformed in Belgium’s Latvian National Committee (BLNC).

In Belgium Latvians lived dispersedly, therefore, without the mentioned organizations there were only a few small groups of children who attended the Sunday school.

Until 1970 BLNC elected 15 members for 3 years who took care of all Latvian issues. It published information bulletin “BLNC Notifications”. All the Latvians in Belgium could participate in the elections of BLNC. It maintained contacts with LRC EC (Latvia’s Renewal Committee’s European Center) and ACEN (Assembly of Coerced European Nations), European movement, International Refugees’ Intercommittee and the Refugees’ High Commissioner.

Until 1959 the chairman of BLNC was sworn attorney Kārlis Gulbis, but afterwards until 1962 – Elmārs Ozols. From 1962 to 2005 the chairman of BLNC was Dr. Jānis Jerumanis.

BLNC in cooperation with Daugavas Vanagi (Daugava Hawks) organised cultural evenings and celebrations of state festivities, as well as frequently undertook organising LRC EC sessions in Belgium. For tens of years the little Belgium’s Latvian family actively and persistently tried to raise the name of Latvia in international forums by asking for freedom for the country. It was manifested in the activities of BLNC as well as in cooperation with LRC EC, Daugava Hawks, Baltic Association in Brussels (established in 1967, chairman Jānis Jerumanis) and Refugee’s Intercommittee (established in 1952) in Brussels. Representatives from all the Central European and Eastern European countries were united in the Refugees’ Intercommittee. The initiators and the most active participants of these international organizations usually were Latvians.

From 1970 to 2004 BLNC had 5 members elected for 5 years. All the Latvians living in Belgium were entitled to participate in the elections. During the nineties around 250 Latvians lived in Belgium. The main events of the social life were the celebrations of the 18th November and the gathering organised by Daugava Hawks for the service in the Lommel cemetery where Latvian legionaries have been berried. The tradition continues also now.

Since 1993 "Belgium’s Latvian News" are published.

Daugavas Vanagi (Daugava Hawks)

Belgium’s division of Daugava Hawks was established in 1953. Its chairman until 1959 was Kārlis Gulbis, but from 1959 to 1960 – St. Jerumanis, from 1961 to 1993 – Elmārs Ozols. In 1961 there were 32 members in the Belgium’s division of Daugava Hawks. From 1992 DH division was called the Benilux’s division of Daugava Hawks as it united also the members of Daugava Hawks living in the Netherlands, together 20 people. “The Notices of the Belgium Division of Daugava Hawks” were published. The division was led by Dr. Jānis Jerumanis. It ceased to exist in 2002.

in Brussels From 1948 to 1977 there was the publishing house of Pēteris Mantnieks and the cartography institute that satisfied not only Belgium’s demand, but also that of other European and overseas countries.

From 1991 to 2000 in Brussels existed Baltic Information Center led by Dr. Egils Gulbis and Anna Paklone. Its aim was to distribute the information on Baltic States and especially on Latvia.

To inform on the tragic fate of the Latvian nation after the war 2 brochures: “Lettonie” (1948, author Jānis Jerumanis) and "La destinée tragique de la Lettonie" (1949, author Oskars Krādziņš) as well as the book “Sacrifice for Brothers – Bishop Boļeslavs Sloskāns” (1990) were published in Belgium.

Congregations

Already in 1947 in Belgium developed the Evangelically lutheran congregation led by the minister Jānis Romans, later - minister Edgars Lappuķe, having arrived from France, but after his death – minister Ringolds Bērziņš who lived in Germany. Currently the congregation is led by the deacon Klāvs Bērziņš and deacon Ieva Kļaviņa. Services are performed regularly.

Rome catholic congregation developed in 1951 and it was led by a capuchin monk father Jānis. Since 1959 the catholics are led by dean Pēteris Dupats who since 1995 is the responsible person for all the Latvian catholics in exile. Services are performed regularly.

Already starting from 1960 both the denominations organise common ecumenic services.

Latvian Association in Belgium

Latvian Association in Belgium (LAB) or Association Lettonne en Belgique (a.s.l.b.) is a nongovernmental organization officially registered in Belgium.

The aim of LAB is to promote the communication between the Latvians living in Belgium, to preserve and continue developing Latvian culture traditions as well as to promote these traditions among Belgians and people of other nationalities.

The Association was established in 2004 by transforming the Latvian National Committee in Belgium and its Articles of Association have been published in "Le Moniteur belge" on 9 August 2004.  The LAB is a member of the European Latvian Association (ELA).