“Contested Minorities in the ‘New Europe’”: six articles published online

We are delighted to announce the online publication of six articles which will comprise a special issue, entitled ‘Contested Minorities in the ‘New Europe’: National Identities from the Baltics to the Balkans, 1918-1939’, of the journal National Identities. These contributions are based on papers originally presented at the academic conferenceContested Minorities in the ‘New Europe’: National Identities from the Baltics to the Balkans, 1918-1939’ that took place at Birkbeck, University of London in June 2019.

The issue explores the various strategies available to different minority groups who sought to develop, or preserve, their respective sense of national and cultural identity within the new borders of interwar Eastern Europe and the Balkans.The authors have sought to address a significant gap in current Western scholarship that typically oversimplifies this avenue of enquiry and presents the region as inherently unstable with minorities as perpetual victims of persecution.

We are looking forward to the publication of the special issue’s printed version that is scheduled for publication in November 2021, with an introduction by the SGMH’s organisers.

In the meantime, please get in touch if you wish to receive a PDF copy of any of the articles.

The issue consists of the following publications:

Mart Kuldkepp (2021). The political choices and outlooks of the Estonian Swedish national minority, 1917–1920

The Estonian Swedish national awakening did not start until the turn of the twentieth century, but by the 1917 Russian February Revolution, it was well underway. This article studies Estonian Swedish political choices and outlooks in the period that followed: 1917–1923. As Estonia went through tumultuous political changes, the leadership of the Swedish minority faced the task of formulating and carrying out a political strategy that would safeguard their national interests. This article discusses how they did it, while also asking why the strength and influence of Estonian Swedish politics soon began to decline despite earlier remarkable successes.

Petru Negura (2021). Nation-building and mass schooling of ethnic minorities on the Romanian and Soviet peripheries (1918–1940): a comparative study of Bessarabia and Transnistria

The paper examines the local responses to mass schooling in the rural areas of Romanian Bessarabia and Soviet Transnistria (1918–1940). Both Romania and the USSR aimed at deeply transforming the local populations. Romania implemented schooling to assimilate ethnic minorities within the model of a nationalizing state, while the USSR adopted an inconsistent nationalizing policy, determinedly imposing compulsory education for all children. The resistance to schooling among ethnic minorities was less intense in Transnistria than in Bessarabia. In both cases, the state authorities abandoned, in the late 1930s, the schooling in minority languages for the benefit of the titular nationalities.

Giuseppe Motta (2021). Rejection, accommodation, disillusion: the responses of Magyar intellectuals to the unification of Transylvania with Romania

This study examines the role of minority identity strategies in Transylvania within the context of competing nationalisms. The case of Magyar communities perfectly illustrates the great complexity of many contested regions after WWI. On the one hand, a substantial number of Transylvanian Hungarians maintained a solid connection with the official revisionist aims of the Hungarian government and showed a fierce and violent refusal to accept the end of historical Hungary. On the other, a minority of Transylvanian Hungarians tried to assume a different perspective of the past and develop new strategies of integration, focusing on the multicultural legacy of Transylvania in order to renew the cultural milieu of the community and offer new responses to changed conditions. This article conducts a historical examination of these responses, analyzing the interwar cultural experience of Magyar intellectuals in relation to categories such as minority rights, regionalism, or national indifference. It concludes that it was not exactly indifference that characterized the fight for the defence of minority rights or ideas such as Transylvanism. This, it is also argued, failed in providing an alternative representation of Transylvanian history and multiculturalism, and was thus unable to break the monopoly of nationalist imaginary.

Anca Filipovici (2021). ‘Faith and work for King and Country!’ Nationalization and covert Romanianization through the youth organization Straja Țării (1934–1940)

This study investigates the youth organization Straja Țării, created by King Carol II of Romania in the second interwar decade. The research will consider two levels of analyses: the organizational and ideological dimensions of Straja Țării within the national project of unification (1); the relation of the Jewish youth to Straja Țării (2). Although Straja included youngsters from ages 7 to 18, I will focus mainly on adolescents (above the age of 14), because they were a distinct instrumental group for radical political movements. The paper’s main argument is that by being packed in the formula of nation-building and strengthening, Straja Țării was rather an ineffective organization which served as a tool to consolidate the king’s power at both the internal and external level. In relation to ethnic minorities, Straja oscillated between recklessness, assimilation, and rejection, lacking any mechanism for integrating non-Romanians.

Christopher Wendt (2021) Formulating Germanness in the Banat: ‘Minority making’ among the Swabians from Dualist Hungary to interwar Romania

This article examines the shaping of a dominant discourse on Germanness among the Banat Swabians a German-speaking minority community over a long period of upheaval. Particularly following WWI debates over what it meant to be German gained significance as a means of political contestation and a way of mobilizing the Swabian community vis-à-vis the Romanian state. While appeals to belonging within a broader German nation were popularized the symbols developed to convey this affiliation showed particular local and regional understandings of Banat Swabian Germanness—a trend that only began to change in the 1930s as these symbols were appropriated by new challengers.

Stephan Stach (2021). The Polish-Ukrainian Bulletin in Piłsudski’s Poland — or, how to create space for dialogue and build trust in an authoritarian state

Historical works on Polish-Ukrainian relations in the interwar period mostly concern conflict history. The Polish-Ukrainian Bulletin, the subject of this article, was published from 1932 with the intention of contributing to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In Poland, under the authoritarian regime of Józef Piłsudski, the journal created a space for a relatively free debate on common questions and helped to build mutual trust across national divisions. Around the journal, networks of Polish and Ukrainian political and social activists emerged. These networks played a crucial role in the conclusion of the Polish-Ukrainian Normalization Agreement of 1935.

Published by sgmhbasees

The BASEES Study Group for Minority History (SGMH) is a forum devoted to the study of minority groups in the national and regional histories of Central, Eastern and Southeastern European from the Napoleonic Wars to the contemporary past.

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