Giuseppe Motta (2021): Rejection, accommodation, disillusion: the responses of Magyar intellectuals to the unification of Transylvania with Romania, National Identities, 2021, Vol.23, No.4

Transylvania has a special place in European history, not only for its Western literary image as the land of Dracula, but for the role that this region has played either as a meeting point of cultures, or as bone of contention between opposing nationalisms. During the twentieth century in particular, the Romeno-Hungarian political controversy not only conditioned relations between Bucharest and Budapest, but also served to erode the peaceful historical coexistence of the communities living there. Contemporary historical narratives have compounded this instead by reforging Transylvania’s, and many other regions of East-Central Europe, image as a land of conflicts and contacts, where deviations, interactions and encounters were possible and frequent. Consequently, the case of Transylvania perfectly illustrates the great complexity of many contested regions after the First World War, the period in which this clash of nationalist visions reached its peak. After the 1920 Treaty of Trianon and the union of Transylvania with Romania, the new political conditions were violently marked by contradictory and contrasting nationalist visions, which were based on a different conceptualization of regional history and a shared intransigent approach to multicultural relations.  Despite this, after many centuries of peaceful coexistence, everyday ethnicity proved that it was still not possible to interpret reality in terms of binary options: revisionism/assimilation, victims/perpetrators, serfs/masters, Romanization/Magyarization.

Under this perspective, this article aims to escape the traditional interpretive confines of two mobilized nationalisms by presenting a different understanding of the integration process that Magyar groups experienced after 1918. Was it possible to escape revisionism and firmly preserve Magyar identity, though accepting Hungary’s amputation and cooperating with the Romanian state and people? The debates on this issue animated Magyar cultural and political life and offered interesting reflections about the construction of identity, the mechanisms of regional identification and the intellectual acceptance or rejection of the national model. Negotiating their place vis-à-vis nationalizing projects in interwar Transylvania, some Magyar intellectuals tried to combine national ethnic identity with a new sense of civic national loyalty. It was not exactly national indifference, but, in their minds, the hope of resurrecting national identity in a different regional guise, a different interpretation of Magyarism in the context of transnational European universalism: a civic proposal in an increasingly ethnic context. The quotidian realms of these adaptive strategies questioned the monopoly of the traditional leading classes, breaking the linkages of the past and highlighting the dichotomy old and young in building a common vision of objectives and expectations, to re-discuss the relations with the Other, the dogmas of the past and the concept of identity itself.

See the full version of the article in National identities, https://doi.org/10.1080/14608944.2021.1873929

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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