I went up to him and took his hand telling him to come with me for I wanted to ask something important.  Friendly, he followed me almost dancing.  After a few steps I placed my hand on his shoulder, looked deeply in his eyes and said „Your soul is very pure now, tell me: why are we on this earth?” The black man’s face froze for a moment, then he began to laugh.  He said, „Strange, strange, very strange.”  Again he froze, stared at me and replied, „We are on this earth so we will be at home somewhere.” [1]


            Territorial disputes, border skirmishes and increasing local ethnonational violence have been with us ever since the Berlin Wall was chiseled away.   Since 1989, contested terrains have become key elements in the redesigning of the new Central and Eastern Europe.  After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, as scholars have increasingly noted, contemporary European national movements are „characterized by the emergence of new forms of nationalism and regionalism.” [2]  This is in fact the primary aim in this study: to locate the origin and forms of contestation and representation of territoriality in the processes of national identity formation and recreation of national consciousness among Hungarians. The negotiation of national identities, however, is not a recent, nor is it a specific East European form of nationalism.  Such contestations have  begun in the western part of Europe in the 1970s and their forms and results are discussed in many excellent studies. [3]  

            In the East bloc it took more than forty-years after World War II for the procrustean vulgar variety of Marxism-Leninism to accept the fact that ethnicity is alive and well and nationality groups must be allowed to thrive if the state is to survive.  As usual, this revelation came too late for the totalitarian regimes who always tried to solve minority issues by expulsion, forced assimilation and terror. The Leviathan communist state tried in vain to abolish pre-World War II institutions, such as ethnic churches, parties and printing, when in their places they re-erected similar institutions to promote state ideology.  The problem was, needless to say, not in the institutions themselves but in what the institutions represented.  In the case of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Romania, the dormant ethnic rivalry between Turks and Bulgars, Serbs, Croats and Albanians, Hungarians, Germans and Romanians, facilitated the collapse of the much hated regimes.  Since 1989,  ethnic hostilities have surfaced in Kosovo, Transylvania, Armenia, Georgia, the Baltic Republics and in Central Asia and in a matter of days made headlines in local as well as international newspapers.   However, in the countries of the former Soviet bloc, with a few exceptions such as those of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Yugoslavia -- where groups are continuing to contests territories -- the new dividing line was certainly 1989, a date signaling an unprecedented resurgence of national movements, creation of new nation-states and the revitalization of territorial conflicts.   While some nations were recreated anew (Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs), others also redefined themselves (Poles, Hungarians, Romanians).  Many ethnic groups found their newly invented, reinvigorated sense of identities (Gypsies, Lippovans, Jews), while new nation states were also born on the ashes of the burned-out Soviet Empire as the examples of the Macedonian,  Moldova and the Sakha-Yakutia amply illustrate.  As we learned from the gruesome images -- among others the Baltic, Balkan, Chechen-Ingus, and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts -- these new forms of polities were not created in the peaceful fashion of German unification, the Czech-Slovak separation, or the creation of Slovenia.

            Disputes over the region (as well as its name and cultural heritage) of Macedonia between the states of Bulgaria, Greece and the current Republic of Macedonia  is one of the most sensationalized international cases. [4]  Such territorial conflicts illustrate that many regions are continually contested and their borders remain problematic as „Europe is currently undergoing a virtual orgy of self-construction.” [5]  One of the reasons responsible for this is the centrality of territoriality, borders and boundaries, in theoretical arguments concerning nationalism, nationhood and state formation.  To know this, and especially to understand its nuances and cultural variations as well as significance to various national conflicts, is more important today than ever before as both the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization are embarking upon expansion into Eastern Europe.  

            In this context, to analyze the contests over Transylvania -- the land beyond the forest for this is what the Latin Trans-Sylvania entails from the Hungarian archaic expression Erdõelve or Erdély -- is of paramount importance  for both anthropologists and east European specialists for it provides a way to understand how national movements in their East and Central European settings have privileged the question of national and state borders; and, moreover, how such national identity movements have effected European and global national movements and politics.  The region known as Transylvania (Siebenbürgen in German, Ardeal in Romanian, Erdély in Hungarian), which today is in the northern part of the Republic of Romania, is a similar case to Macedonia but its contestation has been far more subdued recently, in comparison to its bloodier past.  The concept of national space and territory has been central to national consciousness and the creation of nation-states in this part of Europe.  For what is European, especially such an elusive notion as European identity, cannot be tied to age-old ideological arguments based on what constitutes East, North, South and West.  That this is becoming more and more of an agenda in transnational European policies of the European Union, European Parliament and the Council of Europe, has been clear since the Vienna Declaration in 1993 and the meeting in Fribourg in 1995 where a new language policy for the European Union has been promulgated based on regionality and trans-border cooperation among European states.  In particular, in the European Union itself, a shift could be detected in using „regions,” „territorial” and „non-territorial minorities,” „cultural identity” and „cultural community” as the new buzz-words instead of the familiar concepts of ethnicity, minority and nationality.[6]   This changeover has, it must be argued, been made not by the good-will of western leaders and politicians but, more importantly, because of necessity:  following the 1989 collapse of the bipolar world and the Soviet Bloc, enormous population shift and transfers from east to west, refugees from poverty-stricken parts of Eastern Europe and warn-torn Balkan regions have been making their way to the west, where they have been the victims of racism, prejudice, inter-ethnic violence and distorted multi-cultural policies. [7]    

            Thus, the question of regional conflicts, border issues and especially how these influence the cultural and political identity of the new East European states cannot go unnoticed. As anthropological studies have shown, an acknowledgment of  the political nature of regional identities and especially the significance of border regions and cultures is becoming more and more important now than ever before.  In this sense, sound analyses and anthropologically-informed data of how groups and regions are coping with the economic and political transformations of states and nations may add to our understanding of local-level social transformation.  For not only in history but the present day realities of those contesting their identities from the borders and peripheries must be investigated if we want to fully understand the intricacies of  how individuals and groups cope with the major transformations of  Europe. [8]        With specific reference to Transylvania, a long-contested terrain between Hungary and Romania, this discussion highlights the ways in which small states dispute borders and question the territorial integrity of their neighbors.  This study is an anthropological analysis describing Transylvania as politically sensitized region and the way in which two nations and states contest its meaning, belonging and history.  Hungarian and Romanian intellectual perspectives in the twentieth century will be analyzed for the effect they have had on the negotiation and contestation of Transylvania as a political frontierland shaping their twentieth century national identities.  In the construction of both Hungarian and Romanian national identities, specific political and cultural movements have influenced  Transylvania, its history, boundaries and populations living on its territory.  The recent period known as state socialism added a great dosage of confusion to national identity, a situation similar with regard to its  preceding era as well as the decade following the collapse of state socialist rule.   Drawing upon recently completed research involving Hungarian communities in Transylvania and among elites in Hungary, I seek to trace the fluid and much-contested boundaries through which ethnic and national identities have been both internally generated and externally manipulated and contested.  Transylvania has often been referred in nationalist discourse as a  far-away locale, a remote territory functioning as a national frontier, a cultural zone in the politics of national geography.  Thus, in this book one of the primary objectives is to raise questions and stimulate discussion about nation-state formation and the way in which territorial disputes take shape and form through the political contestations of national identities.  


Spatial Boundaries


            To legitimate the state borders following World War II, and to uphold the agreements of Potsdam and Yalta, Joseph Stalin defined nation as a historically formed stable community possessing not only a common language, economic life, and shared culture, but it had the right to self-determination and a common territory. [9]   Since East European borders were decided after 1918 and then again in 1945, when they were sanctioned by both Moscow and the western powers, politicians as well as scholars took them for granted.  In fact, in the 1960s and 1970s most ethnographic and anthropological literature in East and Central Europe focused on the question of the symbolic boundaries to national language and culture to be specific and left border questions untouched.  In retrospect, it is easy to argue that native scholars were slow in realizing that the Stalinist project had been flawed since its inception:  nations are far from being stable communities;  their right to self-determination was impeached constantly during state socialism; and, as western anthropologists witnessed in various cultural settings, even the idea of a common socialist ethics and ideology have been the figment of imagination.   Viewing the adulatory creation of the common Soviet, Yugoslav, and Czechoslovak nations and, in general, the making of socialist men and women, in tandem with the numerous ethnic conflicts in the Soviet Union, East Central Europe and the Balkans, we may state with certainty that marxist-leninist theories did not work in practice either.[10]   Yet, as Ronaldo Munck has pointed out, in marxist scholarship it was Nicos Poulantzas who has warned that the territory and the national question are one and the same: „The modern nations, the national state and the bourgeoisie are all constituted on, and have their mutual relations determined by, one and the same terrain.”[11]  Poulantzas reminder notwithstanding, the territorial issue has remained a non-entity for marxists and, for many anthropologists -- both native and western -- working in East and Central Europe.

            In contrast to the Stalinist foundations of the ‘existing state socialist’ societies, western scholars celebrated Frederik Barth’s Ethnic Groups and Boundaries as a central concept for ethnicity.  This has been a rather odd development for even though Barth has couched his study within the notion of ‘boundary,’ his study is not about boundary or border conflicts in the political sense.  To be fair to Barth, however, it must be stressed that ideas of space and in specific boundaries are implicitly embedded in the Barthian notion of cultural boundary, but not the cultural organization of space into borders or border zone that serve as politically sensitive arenas both undermining and reinforcing identities. Barth in fact argues that „The boundaries to which we must give our attention are of course social boundaries, though they may have territorial counterparts” continuing „Ethnic groups are not merely or necessarily based on the occupation of exclusive territories.” [12]   Yet, there is only a fine line separating the view of Barth from that of Anthony Smith who has argued for juxtaposing ethnicity and nationality by recalling the inherent territorial problems of  both.[13]

            For better or worse, however, the Barthian framework of ethnicity was certainly a less political and sensitive way to deal with the problems of ethnic and minority groups and majority state-supported nationalism.  This was, at least, the case during state socialism in the Soviet bloc, especially in those countries in which scholars, while trying to refine the Stalinist model, increasingly began to rely on the Barthian framework.[14]  Similarly, by the early 1980s several contradictory ideas have emerged to counter such symbolized boundary maintenance-theory, emphasizing a new vista for theories of nation and nationality: the community’s will to become a nation.  This is the much-celebrated notion, connected to the name of Benedict Anderson, that nations are imagined communities.  Rather than rekindling the arguments and the counter-arguments for the imagined community theory, it should be emphasized that if a nation’s elite is working on the imagination process, than they are also at work to create a system of representation for the geographical and spatial location of both culture and nation.

            Of course, the argument that the state and the nation -- two historical systems that, when successfully united, make up the nation-state of desired leaders -- are in an incessant and dialectical relationship over territory, both real and symbolic, is not a twentieth century idea.  Since both the nation and the state are territorial animals, this relationship incessantly problematical for as Max Weber argued long ago the state is a compulsory organization with a territorial basis.  Ethnic communities, precursors of nations, as Anthony Smith informs us, are also territorial both in the sense of the imagined and the real national space.   For Smith: „Territory is relevant to ethnicity, therefore, not because it is actually possessed, nor even for its ‘objective’ characteristics of climate, terrain and location, though they influence ethnic conceptions, but because of an alleged and felt symbiosis between a certain piece of earth and ‘its’ community.” [15]  Smith ventures into suggesting that for ethnic communities their (real or imaginary) homelands are based on three special aspects: „sacred centers, commemorative association and external recognition.”[16]  Through excellent analyses, anthropologists have shown that indeed sacred sites, commemorations and legitimation make up much of nationalistic fervor throughout the world. [17]

            Yet as the historian Heesterman argues, "traditional" borders are such because they fulfill "both functions of dividing and connecting." [18]  Its modern counterpart, the state, argues Heesterman, "simply separates, cutting through connections instead following the lines of communication."  The nation-state encloses a virtual and self-contained space, which being sovereign, should not, but in reality it is always,  transcended.  As Heesterman suggests, "the modern boundary is by far more risky and explosive"; [19] or as the anthropologists, Renato Rosaldo, argues is „always in motion, not frozen for inspection.”[20]  Thus, the question of territory is even  more explosive when, as S. Eisenstadt has argued, the nation state is a small European state, a definition based largely on the lack of economic self-sufficiency, internal markets, and economic and cultural developmental momentum.  [21]  But Eisentadt also remarks that the problem of small states exists not only in strictly economic but, equally important, in the cultural sphere as well.  In his words:

          In the educational sphere, small countries are under cross-pressures which may endanger their self-identity and make it necessary for them to emphasize their own tradition, history and internal problems, as opposed to sharing the more universal traditions of the large societies.  In the cultural sphere, one of the problems of small countries is how to absorb cultural "floods" (in terms of quantity) from prestigious international culture and still maintain their own identity and obtain international recognition. [22]


            These small European states -- Eisenstadt names among them Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Czech-Slovakia, Austria as well as Hungary and Romania and the small states created after the break-up of Yugoslavia -- developed a center-periphery relations with the more advanced large states of France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Italy and France. During the time of state socialism the countries of the former East bloc were also in this dependent relationship with the Soviet Union.  Yet Eisenstadt’s  argument is important here for other reasons as well:  one is that nation-making in East-Central Europe had special aspects of territorialism --- i.e. the making of sacrosanct and rigid national territories.  Moreover, these states have had to fight their bracketing ‘as as small state’ with the continual onslaught of foreign ideas, consumer goods and military or economic exploitation.  All this, as Eisenstadt suggests, have had enormous repercussions on the country's elites and their cultural mentality.  Nationalistic ideas did not suddenly, then, sprung up in the minds of the native elites but had always particular historical preconditions within which it was triggered, an idea finding close resemblance in the theory of Anthony Smith.


Borders and borderlands


            Paralleling the ideas of Eisenstadt, Smith, and Heesterman, John Coakley argues cogently that based on jus sanguinis and jus soli the state always try to operate on clear-cut definition of physical reality of state boundary. [23]  However,  ethnic and national communities ingeniously may devise and accommodate ideas allowing for the possibility of criss-crossing, transcending and subverting state borders. “People and land," writes Coakley, "(are the) two primary stimuli of patriotism and nationalism, in that they act as powerful foci of group loyalty;" and, moreover, that "ethnic communities feel a strong association with a particular, so-called "national" territory, and use historical, pseudo-historical or even mythical arguments to press their claims to it." [24]   Even when such a national territory or region lies outside the nation-state, or might be inhabited by other groups, such a powerful association with the land may be even more fundamental to national leaders.   The Basque region, Northern Ireland, or the Danish Slesvig-Holstein, Kashmir, and East Timor may also be considered special regions where territories and borders have been contested and arguments over them have been pressed for some time now. [25]

            The reason why Coakley's argument is important is that it highlights what anthropologists have argued for some time: that states and their constitutive groups have been embattled over territories.  The state seeks to unite various ethno-national groups into a legal framework of citizenry, and has at its disposal not only legitimate force over them but  may also disregard boundaries or traditional regions considered special by the groups holding titles to them.  Therefore, ethnic and national groups may feel rather uneasy, if not outright injured, when their space is intruded upon by states or neighboring groups. A group may make territorial demands on the state depending on its size and spatial distribution, but the state may react to territorial demands by either gerrymandering ethno-national boundaries, or by dispersing the group outside their homelands.  With regard to the troubled twentieth-century of Transylvanian history, as subsequent chapters will reveal, both responses have been recorded.  With regard to territorial conflicts, it needs to be emphasized when the former Soviet bloc countries seek admittance into the powerful western supra-national frameworks (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, and the European Union, EU), that a fundamental test of democracy will be the way in which these conflicts are solved by peaceful means.  However, as the territorial contestations of the late twentieth-century suggested these peaceful and democratic solutions are hard to fathom.  

            Why ?  For one,  the more the state impinges upon or exploits certain territories local groups may feel, and justifiably so, that their sovereign right has been infringed upon, and their homeland raped.  The conflicts over contested terrains, such as Macedonia or Transylvania, provide adequate examples how these have been preserved in nationalist historiographies.  Another dimension of territorial conflicts is the violent actions and reactions triggered by contending groups in defense of national homelands, and their historical sites (or sacred centers as Anthony Smith has suggested), buildings and monuments, when the „indigenous group” feels that „newcomers” occupy them.  Needless to say, nations and states often receive  legitimation from such territories that are themselves legitimated by state privileges.  But as Ayodha, Jerusalem, Northern Ireland, and the Kuryle Islands off the coast of Japan are sensitive territories so imbued with special meaning and disproportionate mythical status that states and nations rely upon them for their legitimation.    

            France, for instance, gave us most of the modernist European political symbolism, and possesses borders which, according to the 1872 Larousse's Grand Dictionaire du XIXe Siecle (8th volume), are understood:  „All the frontiers that God's hand traced for her, those of her Celtic and Roman past, which she reconquered at the time of her revolutionary regeneration and which should at any rate include the battlefield of Tolbiac and the Tomb of Charlemagne.” [26]  This illustrates the idea how territoriality and historical borders, no matter how much they change with time, become sacred and divine to states and nations living within their confinements.  Not only France’s borders are contested with such an ethnocentrism. Perhaps Peter Sahlins’ study, concerning the borders between France and Spain, illuminates best the contested nature of European boundaries in history. [27]  Sahlins’ argument is especially important:  it points to the key position of  local identities and borderlands in making the state and the nation.  For Sahlins: „the shape and significance of the boundary line was constructed out of local social relations in the borderland” [for] ”it was the dialectic of local and national interests which produced the boundaries of national territory.”[28]   But Sahlins goes one step further when he argues that in the making of French and Spanish national identities the periphery played an initial key role only later appropriated by the center.  The very notion of an enclosed space indicating a nation-state’s territory, separated by clearly marked border posts and border guards, seems to be a modernist invention.  States define their borders, issue regulations allowing border crossings and utilize documents (in the form of passports and transborder permits) to sanction cross-border traffic and cooperation.  Yet the more that  these regulations are issued, the more attempts there are to counter them.  The phrases ‘illegal aliens,’ guest-workers,’ ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘refugees’ used in European Union countries represent the problems of maintaining the borders of both nation-states and supra-national polities.

            According to Benedict Anderson’s theory “Communities are to be distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined”.[29]   While this may be true to a certain extent, admittedly such imagination must take place in a specified geographical locale with defined dimensions both in time and space.  For nationalists this locale is contained within borders.  For nationalist thinkers Transylvania is such a locale, one that for them had different historical disposition, different both from the rest of Hungary and that of the Balkans and the former Soviet empire to the east. 

            This book examines the ways in which  Transylvania has been politically constructed as well as contested as a remote borderland in which different populations had been brought together by different forces of history.   It illustrates different cultural manifestations of the geographical imagination by locating myths of national identity through contests over Transylvania between Hungarian and Romanian elites.  Coates correctly suggests that a bordered space is viewed by nationalist leaders and elites as strictly belonging to them and  that neighboring populations also view it with  a like mindedness.  Similarly, the sociologist Florian Znaniecki argued earlier that territorial „claims are not merely economic, but moral and often religious; they are superimposed upon whatever rights of economic ownership to portions of this land may be granted to smaller groups or individual members.”[30]   He added later that “Thus, ‘our land,’ the ‘land of our ancestors’ becomes for the masses of people the spatial receptacle of most, if not all, of their important values.”[31]  This is indeed the notion that recalls the classic ideas of the German romanticists, most notably Herder and Johann Fichte, who equated a nation with its language and territory.  As Kedourie quotes Fichte:

The first, original, and truly national boundaries of a state are beyond doubt the internal boundaries. Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a magnitude of invisible bonds by nature herself... they belong together and are by nature one and inseparable whole...From this internal boundary ...the making of the external boundary by dwelling place results as a consequence; and in the natural view of things it is not because men dwell between certain mountains and rivers that they are a people, but, on the contrary, men dwell together...because they were a people already by a law of nature which is much higher.[32]   


For Fichte, and other idealists and not only those of the Romantic period, each nation is endowed with ‘natural frontiers’ given to them by law, God and nature.  But as both Elie Kedourie and James Mayall propose there are no „natural” boundaries or frontiers.  For Kedurie, „natural frontiers do not exist, neither in the topographical sense ... nor in the linguistic... Frontiers are established by power, and maintained by the constant known readiness to defend them by arms.” [33]  Mayall argues similarly: „It is quite obvious that while some frontiers -- for example mountain ranges, deserts, lakes, the sea surrounding islands, and so -- may seem more plausible than others, particularly if they have persisted for a long time, none is natural: they are political and cultural, usually established by conquest  and maintained by occupation.” [34]  

            With this in mind, I propose here that in order to understand the conflict over Transylvania between two neighboring states we should understand how elite perceptions concerning that land are formed, contested, and negotiated in an international political arena.   Both Kedurie and Mayall make an equally powerful point when they emphasize that topographical features and interpretations of the past will serve nationalist elites -- „professors of linguistics and collectors of folklore” as Kedourie puts it [35]-- to legitimize claims for a certain terrain with clearly marked borders.  Despite the fact that historic borders are always difficult to prove and present complex arguments from all the involved sides, the nationalist machinery initiates gruesome geopolitics, which then may turn to brutal state policies deciding territorial questions.  Nationalism of this worse kind is extremely dangerous for it „is internally unifying and externally divisive over space.” [36] 

            Systematic nationalistic drives for a region may take irredentionist and secessionist forms but other attempts are also known  from history:  mass population exchanges and expulsion of groups; the dreaded word of ‘ethnic cleansing’ rings still very close from the war in former Yugoslavia and the troubled relationship between twentieth century Hungary and Romania provides ample examples for these, a topic to be dealt with in detail in later chapters.  Aside from these, the other extremist nationalist ‘solutions’ include genocide and economic subordination of a people by relegating them to the periphery of labor market and denying them basic civil and political rights.[37]


European Borderlands and  Identities


            Borders, as  Ken Coates remarks in his study of border differences between Canada and the United States of America, are true „political artifacts” with „considerable historical and contemporary impact.” [38]   The study of border cultures, thus, is of utmost importance for the social sciences:

It should reveal, first and foremost, the risk of assuming the inevitability of national boundaries and the dangers of rooting one’s studies in national settings, rather than in the evolving historical/geographical contexts out of which modern societies evolved.  Further, such examination illustrates the importance of considering the manner in which the modern state created, imposed, maintained and empowered boundaries, not just by establishing border crossings and implementing custom duties, but also in creating and sustaining a sense of national distinctiveness.  ... It is in the borderlands, where country rubs against country, where citizens have regular contact with a different way of governing and living,  that one finds the true test of nationalism and nationhood.  ... the study of borderland cultures, both in their historical development and contemporary manifestations, demonstrates that nations do matter and will, in all likelihood, continue to matter well into the future. [39]


As anthropologists have shown, European nationalistic movements often centered around disputes over territories, populations, and the realignments of borders as well as the creation of new border cultures. [40]  In recent studies anthropologists have pointed to similar tendencies in the fashioning national identity congruous with a territory, a point made earlier with reference to Peter Shalin’s work.  The anthropologist Loring Danforth, for instance,  reveals the ways in which the making of Macedonian identity has had significant transnational connections to Macedonian diasporas in western Europe, Australia and Canada. [41] From these multicultural metropole diaspora communities, as well as from local elites’ discourses as Anastasia Karakasidou has amply demonstrated, have sprung strong  identity mechanisms influencing the eventual outcome of the Balkan Macedonian nation-state, its identity, structure and meaning. [42]  Eastern Europe has throughout the past centuries been viewed -- as well as invented ethnocentrically through both political geography and cultural cartography as Larry Wolf puts it[43]  -- as the easternmost border of  „western civilization,” a notion embodied by western Europe, or the EU recently.   As such, it has been designated as a border terrain between Europe and Asia sensitized and contested by both scholars and politicians alike.   A recent definition argues, for instance,  for the specific situation of Eastern Europe containing „...the lands between the linguistic frontier of the German- and Italian- speaking peoples on the west and the political boundaries of the former Soviet Union on the east.  The north-south parameters are the Baltic and Mediterranean seas.”[44]   Such a definite topographical closures have been   constructed in ways similar to their histories as a whole, through political negotiation often with the assistance of  literary fabulous facts, mythopoetic themes, and barbarian tribes.   There is little "true" historical data that cannot be questioned when discussing regions  and borders as to their authenticity and meaning, for they are preserved through the memory of later generations, hearsay or the subjectivity of eyewitnesses.   When viewed from the historical-political angle, the borders of Eastern, or East - Central Europe, have been redesigned through  wars, economic boom-and-bust cycles, inter-ethnic violence,  literary fiction, and shifting international power relations.  It is not without justification, then, that many earlier scholars referred to this region as exhibiting an extraordinary number of upheavals,  wars and, in general, ‘un-European’ qualities.  For the British H. G. Wanklyn, writing at the turn of this century, this region was „the eastern marchland (borderland) between Russia and Germany;" [45] following World War I, Viscount Rothermere --aid to the British Prime Minister at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 -- uttered  that it  was  „Europe's powder magazine;" [46] the Hungarian historian,  analyzing the first half of the twentieth century, has called it „a crisis zone;" [47] and the anthropologist John Cole, discussing the economic development and ethnic processes of the region,  refers to it as "an ethnic shatter zone."[48]  

            These definitions have as their precursor the  geopolitical notion that the eastern part of the former Holy Roman Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was relegated to the periphery and referred to as a border region between the more developed west and the technologically less advanced east.  Moreover, this idea has been  firmly embedded in the humanities and social sciences, where most of  Eastern Europe’s regions have received privileged geopolitical connotations of  a Latinized, westernized, and developed part and the epithet Central Europe, in contrast to those backward and orthodox/Muslim East. [49]    In this scholarly and political contestation, both history and economic development processes have been powerfully connected  to the creation of Eastern Europe as a remote and peripheral region.  Dudley Seers has put this rather bluntly:

As within the Western European system, broadly the further a country is from Germany, the worse the social conditions of an East European country... Hungary and Poland can be considered intermediate between core and periphery... Bulgaria and Romania are more clearly peripheral in economic structure, income levels and social conditions, as well as more dependent on imported technology. [50]  


The Hungarian historian, Jenõ Szûcs, relying considerably on his perceptions of similar economic history and uneven technological development, concurs.  He has insisted that between the democratic, Catholic/Protestant, and economically advanced West and the backward, orthodox, and feudal East, lies a central region of Europe which was always behind and (in vain) has attempted to catch up with the West.  Keeping in line with nationalist historiography, for Szûcs this central region exhibits features that identify it with its easternmost neighbors.  The intelligentsia of the region’s various countries have continually tried to  modernize and liberalize, but in their eagerness these intelligentsias were perennially caught between outside forces midway through their half-hearted attempts, and were thrown even further back into stagnation and nationalist intrigues. One of the most important features of this backwardness was, as the argument goes, the absence of a strong middle class, like that in Germany or Austria and, thus, the missing bourgeoisie continues to be a problem for the eastern European elites trying to improve the image of their backward region.  [51]

            In Szûcs's writings --  that form a significant part of the historical contestation over regionality which be dealt with in later chapters in more detail -- the major characteristics of this backwardness also included an economy marginalized in the global market, an authoritarian state with a huge bureaucratic machinery, and increasing social atomism of the population at large.  Religious and ethnic strife were two more factors that contributed to the backwardness region theory.  On the one hand, Catholicism and Protestantism in opposition to orthodoxy, and the use of a Latin and not a Cyrillic alphabet, were seen as important dividing lines between east and central Europe.  On the other hand, an all-important ethnonational politics --  helping the establishment of 19th nation-states -- had been the hallmark of the specific eastern Europeanness.  [52]

            Whether these labels befit a region in which millions were dislocated, borders rearranged at least three times in the past seventy years, and in which ethnic conflicts and nationality tensions continue to mount needs to be addressed on a one-by-one basis with specific reference to each nationality conflict.  In this study my aim is to discuss the development of the contestatory mechanisms and ideology over making Transylvania a special backward and far-away region, a process in which these labels occur very often by all sides concerned.


Transylvania as borderland


            Transylvania as a far-away locale has had its share in its own orientalizing project.  To be sure, it occupied the imagination of writers, statesmen and generals since at least the early middle ages when tribal kings, religious leaders and local warlords tried to master it.   While historical facts have often been obfuscated or relegated to national mythologies, it is easy to see why this multi-ethnic mountainous terrain invited various historical populations.  Since Roman times, the provinces of Pannonia and Dacia  „remained  border regions to the end, known as the least civilized provinces.”[53]  While most of the early populations disappeared, the notion that this part of eastern Europe is a border zone has been imprinted in the collective national memories.  By the time the Hungarians settled the Carpathian Basin (a geographical reference discussed later) in the tenth century they had a considerably military advantage both against those emerging state powers whose empires  bordered this region, most notably the Kievan Rus to the north and east and the Byzantine Empire to the south.[54]

            The reasons why the Carpathian or Danube Basin region was looked at as a border region were numerous but two stand out:  one had to do with geography and the other with the contending states as well as their national elites,  who were keen in defining its extent.  The British historian Carlyle MacCartney, when writing about the early medieval history or the region (in a sense providing support for the later theory of Anthony Smith) suggested that the Middle Danube Basin forms a „natural unity” and „one harmonious whole.”[55]  Viewing the political history of this region it becomes obvious that two powerful empires exerted considerable pressures on the state and border-formations within this region: the Austrian House of Habsburgs and the Turkish Ottoman Empire.   Transylvania, thus, experienced a form of special vassalage by its different associations to, often hostile, polities.  After a considerable long attachment to the Hungarian kingdom, the Ottoman intrusion into the east European region carved out separate states and redivided the whole area.  As a consequence, Transylvanian nobles, described as the Union of Three Nations (Magyars, Szeklers, and Saxons), tried to hold on to their privileged positions within their estates but managed to do so with considerable infighting and intrigues. 

            After defeating the Ottoman Empire at the battle of Buda in 1686, Transylvania was encircled by what was known for two centuries as the Austrian military frontier.  Attempting to maintain control over the large swath of terrain it had conquered -- much of the southern areas of the former Hungarian kingdom, Croatia, Slavonia and Banat (today divided between Croatia and Serbia), and the southern part of Transylvania, from the Banat to the slopes of the Eastern Carpathians to the north to Bukovina -- Austria established military frontier districts to defend its borders.  This special border zone existed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire until mid-19th century when the military districts were abolished.   Following World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the region Transylvania was incorporated into the newly formed Romanian state, and aside form the brief period between 1940-1944, it has remained there.     

            However, Transylvania for the Hungarian intellectuals is not simply an empty space  but a "cradle of Hungarian civilization" by its virtue of distance from the  center.   This large and complex cultural zone, with many smaller regions, is viewed by them as an ancestral terrain encircling the historic national space.  To  nationalist elites this terrain stopped something and began something else; its regions and topographical features have been identified with national history, the extent of speech communities, specific folklore complexes and a ‘nationally’ recognizable way of life.  This is, in fact, a trope of nationalist discourse common to East Central Europe.  In East-Central European national myth makings, the far-away region as the birthplace, or at least the cauldron, of national culture is a common view of national elites.  In the Slovak nationalist culturology, the image of the Highland Tatra Mountain shepherd is such a quintessential trope.  As the Slovak ethnographer Krekovicova argues cogently:

Similarly as in the nations of northern Europe (mainly Danes and Finns), the relationship to nature and natural scenery belongs to the national picture and the self-portrait...In Slovakia, it is village culture that has become the basis of such a picture.  In the process of ethnic and national identification, it was sheepherding that was highlighted as the element of many-sided and internally differentiated folk culture in a village.  All of this has been despite the fact that traditional Slovak folk culture has been in principle of “peasant’s” and not of shepherd’s character. [56] 


Similarly, for Polish nationalist history the region known as the Kresy, a huge historic region now partly in Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine,  is “the cradle of civilization in Poland.” [57]

            In Hungarian nationalist discussion this type of reasoning is mortgaged to the notion that Transylvania has been and continues to be the real eastern border of Hungary.  Somewhat comparable to the American wild west frontier, in the minds of nationalist intellectuals the real borders between Hungary and Romania are not the present state borders between these two states but, on the contrary, lie at the farthest reaches of the physical (and often imaginary) Transylvania.  Actually, regions bordering Transylvania on the east -- Moldavia, Ukraine, and Oltenia -- are viewed by Hungarian intellectuals,  as separating, and ultimately, connecting Hungary with the orthodox, Slavic