Economic Nationalizing in the Ethnic Borderlands of Hungary and Romania. Inclusion, Exclusion and Annihilation in Szatmár/Satu-Mare 1867–1944

Blomqvist, Anders E. B.
Stockholm Studies in History 101
Anzahl Seiten
444 S.
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Petru Szedlacsek, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin

In his doctoral dissertation, Anders Blomqvist attempts to reveal the damaging effect of economic nationalizing for the overall economy of the Hungarian and Romanian states, by looking at the local impact of nationalizing in Szatmár/Satu-Mare over a period of almost eighty years. This work forms part of a growing body of English-language scholarship on nationalism in Transylvania from a transnational perspective. Important works of this kind have mainly appeared under the aegis of the Central European University in Budapest, although other prominent scholars like Rogers Brubaker, Katherine Verdery, Marius Turda, Laszló Kürti, Sorin Mitu, Stefano Bottoni have also contributed to the field in crucial ways.

By citing liberal theorists Christer Gunnarsson and Muricio Rojas, Blomqvist makes the overarching argument that nationalization policies determined a “vicious circle” leading to “ethnic bifurcation” and general economic decline (p. 43). This argument, left as self-explanatory, assumes a state of normality defined in liberal terms, which supposedly secures general economic prosperity and equality. While stating this argument in the introduction, the author makes sweeping generalizations such as: “An equality mechanism will support the inclusion of all citizens in the national economy and create favorable conditions for economic growth, as all citizens are emancipated and able to take part in the economy” (p. 51) or, conversely, by encouraging ethnic dissimilation “the economic opportunities of minorities will be restricted, which will be detrimental for everyone in the long run” (p. 47). He, however, leaves general categories like “everyone” and “all citizens” undefined throughout the book, even though some groups clearly profit from and adapt to very different forms of economic nationalizing. This argument is teleological in assuming that economic inequality inevitably and universally determines economic exclusion of minorities and overall decline.

The book’s structure follows a chronological line, looking at turning points in economic nationalizing. The introduction sets the theoretical, historiographical and methodological framework. Yet it leaves the important concept of “ethnic borderland” largely undefined, despite dealing with it briefly on p. 22. It is also unclear whether Blomqvist refers only to Szatmár/Satu-Mare as an ethnic borderland or to the whole of Transylvania. Throughout the book, however, the concept crystalizes as the ethnic periphery of Hungarian and Romanian ethnocultural groups and as an in-between-states site of intense nationalist conflict.

Part two includes chapters 2–4 and covers the evolution of Magyarizing policies in Dualist Hungary until 1919. Some sections, especially chapter 2 are hardly about economic nationalizing though, focusing on very diverse nationalist phenomena in culture and politics. This part is rather a factual account of Hungarian nationalism tangentially looking at its manifestation in Szatmár. A notable exception is provided in section 4.7., which details the economic concerns in redrawing the western borders of Romania.

Section 2.8. deserves special attention as it leads back to the general argument. Here, Blomqvist cites a map depicting areas with different degrees of modernization in Greater Hungary. Because Transylvania and Szatmár appear more “traditional”, he concludes that Magyarizing in the ethnic borderlands determined economic decline. Apart from reinforcing tradition/modernity categories specific for long-discarded classical modernization theories, this generalizing view does not account for other ethnic borderlands, like the Hungarian-German one, characterized by intense modernization according to the same map. It also reinforces East/West divisions by contrasting Hungary’s economic stagnation to British development. This, however, ignores the exploitation and exclusion of the colonized in the British Empire. Finally, the correlation between Hungarian-speaking areas and modernization does not stand for the Szekleland: although overwhelmingly Hungarian-speaking, the Szeklerland lacked industrial development.[1]

Part three investigates Romanianizing policies during the interwar period and includes chapters 5–8. This part depicts insightful details of the concrete mechanisms of exclusion of Hungarian and Jewish elites from prominent positions in the economy and administration of Satu-Mare. It also explains the specific adaptation of borderland elites to shifting regimes, eluding official categorizations in order to maintain political and economic capital. The range of primary sources employed – newspapers, administrative reports, petitions to the League of Nations and memoirs – is impressive.

In contrast to the specific yet diverse exclusion mechanisms employed by the Romanian government, the “reciprocity” argument promoted by Blomqvist sounds restrictive. Similarly to “vicious circle” and “ethnic bifurcation”, this concept portrays Romanianizing teleologically as merely mirroring previous Hungarianizing policies. On the other hand, established scholarship on interwar Romanian nationalism reveals its increasingly racialist and fascist character. Endowing modernity with a moral mission, Romanian nationalists aimed at a broader purifying of the nation than merely reversing Magyarization.[2] Implicitly, this is also acknowledged by Blomqvist, who shows the increasingly ethnical and anti-Semitic character of Romanian nationalism.

Finally, part four, containing chapters 9 and 10, investigates the re-Hungarianizing policies implemented by Budapest in Szatmár as these played out in the local economy between 1940–1944. Apart from revealing the concrete mechanisms of reversing the prominent positions gained by Romanian elites in the county, it looks at the increasing discrimination against Jews culminating with their thorough deportation and extermination.

Throughout, after the introductory chapter, the author is careful in outlining the main economic actors who profit and who suffer as a result of economic nationalizing: Romanian banks as opposed to Hungarian ones in interwar Romania for example. But then again this is not supported by his overall argument. Expressions like “vicious circle”, “ethnic bifurcation” do not reveal exactly what social groups profit from others’ exploitation and marginalization. Blomqvist’s argument appears unconvincing also because economic systems relying on slaves and colonialism were profitable for the metropolis even though (or exactly because) they exploited and excluded entire social categories. In fact, European states granted independence to colonies instead of equal rights because equality would have made it economically inviable.[3] Rather than a question about economic growth/decrease and inclusion/exclusion per se, economic nationalizing seems to be a question about the exact groups who benefited as well as about the various forms of exploitation and marginalization.

Adding to the imprecision, Blomqvist generally operates with categories of practice like minorities and majorities, even though in its more empirical parts the book clarifies exactly what groups the author refers to. Nevertheless, categories like Hungarians and Romanians reify from an analytical standpoint: “the Romanians regarded the Greek Catholic Church and all of its members as Romanian” (p. 164) or “a majority share of the economy was in the hands of the Jews“ (p. 357). By contrast, in the introduction, Blomqvist is aware of such labels being formed through practice and of actors who elude official categorizing, citing eminent scholars like Rogers Brubaker, Tara Zahra and Kate Brown who dealt exactly with this issue.

Overall, the book is a worthwhile read for those wishing to understand intricate mechanisms of economic nationalizing on regional level. Apart from the problematic overarching argument and episodic methodological nationalism, Blomqvist’s work nicely adds up to the literature on borderlands during times of conflict.

[1] Stefano Bottoni, National Projects, Regional Identities, Everyday Compromises. Szeklerland in Greater Romania (1919–1940), in: Hungarian Historical Review 2 (2013), pp. 181–183.
[2] See for example Marius Turda, Conservative Palingenesis and Cultural Modernism in Early Twentieth-century Romania, in: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 4 (2008), p. 438, 442.
[3] Jane Burbank / Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History. Power and the Politics of Difference, Princeton 2010, p. 413, 422.