duminică, 25 noiembrie 2007

Subjective Transylvania

I am rather late with this (i.e. I had the intention of tackling such a topic ever since we started Phoenix Transylvania), but in the end I decided that we're slowly going to start with it, even if I still do not have as much time as I'd like to allocate in this matter. So what is this about? Well, starting with this post, I propose that we (and this is an open invitation to all my colleagues on "Phoenix Transylvania") and especially--we hope-- our readers are (also) going to tackle the topic "Subjective Transylvania" from every possible angle (read: this in fact might start several various topics, each interesting in their own), having as center piece (and as inspiration) the very interesting study "Subjective Transylvania: A Case Study of Post Communist Nationalism" by Alina Mungiu Pippidi. The discussion thread will proceed in parallel to other topics here on PhoenixTrans and there is no intention of prioritizing it (to the expense of any other discussion threads); in other words, as always, we'll work under the assumption that nobody is in a hurry, but that everybody wants as good of a debate as possible...

Now, that being said: for starters-- & also in order to make my job easier :-) ( e.g. my own review of Mungiu Pippidi's book will in all likelihood not appear here before the end of the year...)-- I will take over for Phoenix Transylvania a very interesting post by Andy--author of the equally interesting blog "Csíkszereda musings"-- written almost a year ago, but still very actual and particularly suited for our purpose. Andy is neither Romanian nor Hungarian and yet my feeling is that in some respects he might actually understand more about Transylvania & co than many of us. In any case, the perspective of a foreigner with significant links to and much knowledge about Romania-Transylvania & the like (many posts on his blog stand proof to that assertion) is more than welcome (and likely to be one of the least subjective viewpoints... since we are talking about "subjective Transylvania"... ). I also hope that Andy himself will join in the (eventual) subsequent discussions (reason to keep them in English). The original post by Andy can be read here. Below I will paste only the part of that post dealing with Andy's specific comments on Alina Mungiu's book.

The book, which I assume was eventually published by OSI, is entitled "SUBJECTIVE TRANSYLVANIA: A CASE STUDY OF POST COMMUNIST NATIONALISM" by Alina Mungiu Pippidi PhD, who is a Romanian social psychologist. It is a throughly researched study into the disagreements between and perceptions of Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, including reams of qualitative data. It concludes with some suggestions into what the future might hold and some suggested models for the future in creating a more harmonious situation. It's not clear when it was written, but it was obviously (from the context given) at some point during the Constantinescu government of 1996-2000.

I'll admit that my first impression was a negative one, since early on in the inroduction to the work Dr Pippidi refers to the 1990 ethnic clashes in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely as a "violent outburst" while then going on to refer to an incident in Udvarhely "where the local community instigated by the town council brutally evacuated four Romanian nuns". Now I'm not familiar with this incident, and have no idea whether the adverb "brutally" is justified (I'm assuming it is), but it seems a bit biased to append it to whatever happened there and to merely refer to the mini-civil-war in which 8 people died and countless others were injured in Targu Mures as a "violent outburst". Given the context in which I'd received the link, I began to suspect that this would be yet another biased nationalistic tract of which there are so many out there (from both sides).

However, I gave the book a second chance, and am glad that I did. Since in the main the author (aside from the instance above and a later jarring reference to "the Hungarian problem") is broadly impartial and prepared to let her subjects speak for themselves. What really surprised me, I suspect, was how familiar all the quotes were - she interviews various groups of Tranyslvanians from different places, different ethnic backgrounds, different age groups, etc - and all of them repeat what I hear more or less every day about the differences and similarities between the two communities. I have cut and pasted some examples below:

Some comments on being a Transylvanian Hungarian
"When I was in Hungary I visited the fathers-in-law of a friend of mine. And they were surprised I speak such a good Hungarian. I never felt so insulted in my life."

"We, Transylvanians, sometimes feel like second rank Hungarians when compared to Hungarians from Hungary and second-rank Romanian citizens when compared to Romanians. We sometimes feel betrayed by both"

and, interestingly, from some of the Romanian subjects:
"It's more honorable to be from Transylvania than from any other part of Romania. When I am sometimes ashamed of being a Romanian I feel better when I think I am from Transylvania "

On the cultural differences: "Romanians need less than we do to feel satisfied. They watch TV and they feel happy, while we are concerned by one or by other and we can't get over it so easy. We Hungarians are so deadly serious"

And the following sentiments I have heard so many times that I have lost count:

This is the bosses business, politics that is; we ordinary people get along fine. (Hungarian workers, Cluj)
It weren’t for politics we wouldn’t even know who’s Romanian, who’s Hungarian, as it was in Ceausescu’s times, we were all alike then. (Romanian workers, Cluj)
You just can’t imagine how well we get along with people here [Romanian]. Politics doesn’t let us live peacefully. (Hungarian peasants, Miercurea Niraj)

I think my favourite bit would have to be this:

The most telling fact is, perhaps, that a social representation of nations living like a family within Romania is simply missing, so difficult it is to imagine an in-group including both Romanians and Hungarians. When asked ‘Were Romania a family, how would it look like’ most Hungarian groups told us they cannot conceive it as a family ‘or we would be the intruders' (intellectual, Miercurea Ciuc). Even Romanians had difficulties. ‘It would be like a mother-in-law with the daughter-in-law’ (classical image of conflict in the Romanian folk-stories) (peasants, Cluj). At the other extreme is this beautiful representation of a young Romanian student in Cluj:
The father should be a German, the Hungarian the cook and the Romanian should take care of the house. Now it's not working because the father is Romanian, not German.

As I say it is a fascinating piece of research, and well worth reading.

At the end Dr Pippidi concludes with the need to find a solution that satisfies the following (very little of which I can find any reason to disagree with):

1. to secure the right of the Hungarian minority to a shared public sphere of its own, that meaning 'a communal domain that is constructed not only as an arena of cooperation for the purpose of securing one's interests but also as a space where one's communal identity finds expression' (Tamir: 1993: 74). This space already exists to a large extent: all that is needed are supplementary legal guarantees.
2. to eliminate by a policy of affirmative action the disadvantages Hungarians still experience (proportion of Hungarian students compared to Romanians; proportion of Hungarian policemen, and so on) This was started in 1997, when the University of Cluj (babes-Bolyai) reserved seats for Hungarians applying for the Law School: this allowed them to be accepted with a much lower threshold than the Romanians.
3. Creating incentives for the Hungarian elite to choose moderate instead of radical policies
4. The same for the Romanian Transylvanian elite
5. Eliminating unnecessary competition between the two national groups as groups wherever this can be avoided
6. Preventing a deepening of the division between the two national groups and keeping a decent level of communication and interactivity between them in order to create at least occasionally a 'in-group' of both Romanians and Hungarians, instead of having them permanently exclude each other.
7. Eliminating the Hungarian theme from the Romanian internal political debate
8. Adjusting the political system in order to satisfy the listed requirements with reasonable costs and at a pace that would not endanger the stability of the political system (so often threatened both by ethno-regionalism and by the Romanian nationalist reaction).

Sadly, not much seems to have changed since the time 8(?) years ago when this was written - Hungarians are still very underrepresented in the police force, for example. (pt. 2)

And finally, in order to achieve the above, the author presents three models and critiques them. These models are
1. Hegemonic Control [the state controls/coerces/forces the minority group into submission]
2. Federalism [autonomous regions are created - the question remains whether these are formed on ethnic lines (cantonisation) or not (federalism)]
3. Consociationalism (yes, I had to look it up too) [By which power is somehow shared, either formally or informally. She opines that this was beginning when the paper was written, as the UDMR (Hungarian party) was at that time part of the ruling coalition. It has been ever since, to my knowledge]

She seems to lean towards the third, and I would be interested to hear how she feels now, given that to all intents and purposes this consociationalism has been going on for ten years now, and the problems seem to be exactly the same as when the paper was written. (I've written to her to ask).