Hunyadi, Attila Gábor (Ed.). (2012). State and Minority in Transylvania, 1918-1989. Studies on the History of the Hungarian Community (M. Caples, Trans.). Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs; New York: Distributed by Columbia University Press, 739 p.
Ion Matei Costinescu, Doctoral Candidate Faculty of Sociology, University of Bucharest
extras din Sociologie Romaneasca, nr. 1-2/ 2014
The studies assembled in this wide-ranging volume analyze the evolving, multi-faceted, and often vexed relationship between state-building, ethnic identity, and nationalism qua ideology in twentieth century Transylvania primarily from the perspective of the Hungarian community. The complexity of this phenomenon is well suited to – indeed, almost necessitates – the elaboration of multiple perspectives and the articulation of interdisciplinary models of explanation. The present volume constitutes a needed step in this direction. It draws on a variety of concepts and methods inherent to the practice of social history, highlighting the growing epistemological cross-fertilization between historiography and the fields of sociology, anthropology, and political science.
Chronologically organized into three main sections (“Transylvania in Greater Romania”, “Transylvania during World War II”, and “Transylvania in Communist Romania”), the book grapples with two important and interrelated themes. First, the relationship between state and society is treated here as a process of interaction enacted in manifold social contexts and structured across several fields ranging from culture to property relations. Second, the volume illuminates the ethnic dimensions of modernization policies both during the interwar period and in their “really existing socialist” variants. The analytical common denominator of these studies, I argue, is the agency of the Hungarian (but also Saxon and Jewish) minority in accommodating to, contesting, and even resisting the institutional and ideological frameworks which the Romanian state tried to impose as the officially-sanctioned domains for the exertion of said agency throughout its various phases of national consolidation. Importantly, the section on Transylvania during World War II offers us the complementary perspective of reintegration into the Hungarian state, with the insights inherent to that specific time period and time scale.
For this reviewer, one of the most important aspects of the individual contributions to this book is the way they offer evidence regarding the socio-economic dynamics and political vitality of minority communities during the interwar period. In “The Ethnic, Religious and Geographical Origin of the Industrial Workforce of Koloszvár/Cluj between 1896 and 1940”, Róbert Nagy examines the impact of the political and territorial changes wrought by the First World War upon the city’s demographic patterns and economic organization. In the process of filling gaps in the existing scholarship and of revising the official Communist historiography concerning the growth of the city’s industrial workforce, Nagy demonstrates that, despite changes in the demographic proportions of the various ethnic groups and religious denominations that constituted the labor force, the Hungarian element continued to predominate. This tendency would continue until the period of Communist rule.
Although the author does not develop this line of analysis, perhaps because of space limitations, the implications of the above-mentioned demographic trend are clear. Given that ethnic minorities were traditionally dominant in Transylvanian urban milieus, interwar Koloszvár/Cluj represented a serious challenge from the perspective of Romanian nation-state consolidation, remaining as it did a veritable bastion of ethnic minority power. The extant scholarship has already shown that state cultural policies sought to homogenize hetererogenous socio-cultural elements across the rural-urban divide. What this study suggests is that these policies contended not only with educated, middle-class urban minorities, but also with an emergent multi-ethnic working class.
Broaching the issue of agency more directly, Nándor Bárdi’s “Minority Policy Strategies of the Hungarians of Romania” and Attila Gábor Hunyadi’s “National Economic Self-Organization Models in Transylvania. The Confluences of the Hungarian, German, and Romanian Cooperative Movements” analyze the organizations that elaborated the political and socio-economic strategies for the collective self-assertion of Hungarian interests in the context of the newly formed Greater Romanian state. Well-grounded in archival sources, period publications, and the secondary literature pertaining to their respective topics, these two studies make clear that the Hungarian minority was, on the one hand, empowered by a legal framework that stipulated the right of ethnic minorities to political and social self-organization and, on the other hand, disadvantaged by systematic state policies designed to insure the political and economic primacy of the ethnic majority.
Bárdi shows how this limited space for maneuver shaped the policy orientations of the Hungarian elites who, despite ideological differences and divergences concerning strategy, coalesced around the National Hungarian Party (Országos Magyar Párt – OMP) in 1922. Although not mutually exclusive, the main strategic options for asserting Hungarian interests focused either on the creation of an autonomous political community within the Romanian political system or on the renewal Hungarian society, especially the reform of rural communities by means of a “strong institutional system capable of responding to the nation-building and modernizing challenges of the majority society” (p. 7). The latter tendency corresponded with the left-wing, sociologically informed orientation of the younger intellectual cohorts, many of whom were inspired by the precepts of the Bucharest Sociological School, and who coalesced around such publication as Erdélyi Fiatalok and Hitel. Though these internal cleavages did not dilute the party’s electoral support, the OMP was ultimately unable to create lasting cross-ethnic parliamentary alliances. Neither the National Liberal Party nor the National Peasant Party were willing to ally itself with the OMP against the other, while the German and Jewish parties were disinclined to subject themselves to the charges of irredentism that would have followed the establishment of such a partnership.
If in the parliamentary arena ethnic Hungarians could not accomplish much more beyond defending minority rights, the social economy offered more fertile ground for the empowerment of ethnic minorities. In this context, Hunyadi charts the development of the Hungarian and Saxon interwar cooperative movements within a political economy dominated by Romanian economic nationalism. Inspired by the successful Saxon model, the interwar Hungarian cooperative movement was based on the mobilization of existing social capitals, such as the pre-war cooperative financial elite and the historical Hungarian churches, around the principle of national solidarity. The goal was the construction of an institutional framework that would foster cooperation between Hungarian economic organizations for the purposes of protecting the community’s autonomy and equality vis a vis the other nationalities in Greater Romania. In short, the cooperative movement was to be a model of national self-organization.
This model was made possible by the extension of the old cooperative law of 1903 to the new provinces in 1923. This extension integrated the ethnic Romanian cooperatives into the national cooperative system, but permitted ethnic minorities to retain their existing cooperative structures based on the pre-war Hungarian and Austrian legislation until 1938. On the other hand, this extension was consistent with the Romanian state’s policy of economic nationalism. Although peasant-oriented thinkers such as Virgil Madgearu, Ion Mihalache, and Dimitrie Gusti theorized cooperatives as an eminently autonomous mode of social organization, the Romanian cooperative movement remained subordinated to the state. It was a vehicle for sustaining the postwar land reform, already enacted in ways that advantaged ethnic Romanian small landholders, and of promoting the modernization of rural society. Succinctly put, the development of a peasant-based, genuinely cooperative economy as the fount of democracy was, in practice, subordinated to the more pressing demand of Romanian state consolidation. On their part, the younger generation of Hungarian intellectuals that came to prominence in the late 1920s and early ‘30s seized upon the strategic insights derived from the theorists of the Romanian cooperative movement and the example of Scandinavian countries, in order to achieve an internal democratization of the Hungarian community based upon the empowerment of Hungarian peasants and artisans. These affinities led to the development of constructive relationships with the Transylvanian Romanian political and economic elite, “a relationship that was often used in defending the autonomy of Hungarian organizations” (p. 47).
In spite of the preponderance of the state in structuring the organizational framework and daily life of the Hungarian community, the numerous subsequent instances of agency “from below” examined in this volume underscore the interpenetration of “state” and “society” in all periods examined. This permeability calls into question the “state-society” binary upon which hegemonic discourses of social modernization – in both ideological and social scientific registers – were and continue to be predicated. It also reveals the heuristic limitations intrinsic to the state-centered optics of the conventional totalitarian paradigm. Although the contributors to the section titled “Transylvania in Communist Romania” do not explicitly challenge the totalitarian model, they nonetheless problematize it. To be sure, these studies do indicate that the Romanian Communist Party’s modes of domination over economic behavior, as well as over patterns of social and political loyalty significantly narrowed the scope of negotiation between “state” and “society”. Yet the very narrowing of the spaces for the exertion of popular agency resulted in an intensification of this power-saturated process of interaction. For the putative ubiquitousness of the totalitarian state also presupposes an unprecedented, even if strongly asymmetrical, contact between citizens and its apparatus – not least its ideological organs.
As Sándor Oláh shows in his study of peasant resistance in villages along the Kis- and Nagy-Homoród Rivers, titled “Struggle for Survival: Forms of Peasant Resistance to Collectivization in Romania”, even at the height of the political and symbolic violence that accompanied the regime’s transformation of property relation during collectivization (1947-1962), there appeared various forms of covert organized resistance. Organized within social groups with identical interests, these methods were determined by the very modes of state appropriation of economic resources and labor power. Techniques of resistance included providing false information to the authorities, the feigning of loyalty, foot-dragging, and the (re) appropriation of socialist property. At the symbolic level, contestation of the prevailing power relations entailed inverting the meaning of the regime’s rhetoric and, most importantly, the narrativization of resistance in the context of everyday communicative situations. Thus, although the official propaganda dominated the public sphere, interpersonal verbal communication became the site for the construction of an alternative, “hidden public sphere” where “those without power were the ones who triumphed” (p. 401).
Whereas Oláh postulates the emergence of a “popular”, albeit subordinated, public sphere as the dialectical counterpart to the visible, state-dominated one, József D. Lőrincz and Noémi Both show the mutual imbrication of official and popular culture. Lőrincz’s “Ambivalent Discourse in Eastern Europe” and Both’s “Service of the People and Compromise – A Life’s Work in Socialist Romania” highlight intellectuals’ deployment of ambivalent narratives, not only as methods for avoiding censorship during the Communist period, but also as a means of creatively “offering a plurality of norms and interpretations” partly couched in the “communist” and “nationalist” terms of the official idiom (Both, pp. 539-540). According to Lőrincz, these interstitial discursive practices transgressed the boundaries between official and unofficial utterances and between permitted and forbidden talk. In this sense, he convincingly argues, the classic Gramscian distinction between the dominant culture and the potentially counter-hegemonic sphere of popular culture is invalid in the context of state socialism (p. 528).
Even such a brief and necessarily selective survey of the studies assembled in this volume make clear that this is a scholarly undertaking of considerable intellectual breadth and theoretical vigor. It thus constitutes a significant step towards reconstructing the often-suppressed multivocality inherent in Romanian state building and social modernization.