ROMANIANS AND HUNGARIANS. LEGISLATION, EVERYDAY LIFE AND STEREOTYPES IN INTERWAR TRANSILVANIA (I)
One of the subjects that have been more or less adequately analized during the past few years, has been the relationship between the Romanians majority and “the others”, different ethnic, confessional, cultural communities. The present approach is a complete compendium of this extremely complex and delicate subject.
I have chosen this subject, based on the similitudes between the debates and projects undertaken today, and the analogous ones from the interwar years. In fact, we deal with the same process, only nuanced by its historic context.
My approach tries to make a trifold radiography: of the legislation, of the daily life and of the collective imagination. This three historic aspects combine in the following process: legislation, permanently connected to similar international models ( by which it was, in fact, inspired) has been in perpetual discord with the local everyday life that was fed by the local collective imaginary. The latter would eventually manifest itself as a final reaction of a particular local traditional background, facing the modernization process triggered by the documents issued by the legislative power.
In the present treatise, I shall deal with the three components of the relationship between majority and minority, during the interwar period. Because the Transylvanian space, is a most frequently discussed subject, I shall pay special attention to it. The evolution in the minority/majority relationship depended basically on the barometric changes of the legislative point of view. The Romanian’s position (as they had finally united into a single national political structure, in 1918) concerning the minoritary communities beared the mark of the contrast between the European legislative model, and the local background. The local tradition remained heavily indebted to the confluence between the Orient and Central Europe. This background was especially determinant, for the Old Kingdom, as its institutional, cultural, political, behaviour models were to be exported to, and cultivated in the new historic provinces that were interwoven to form, in 1918, Great Romania.
In spite of all this, the new Constitution adopted in 1923, took into consideration the new ethnical realities, of Great Romania. In the case of the Old Kingdom, there had been just one major problem concerning the minorities, that of identify, rather than of ethnicity, that is the Jewish problem. Conversely, in Great Romania, the union of provinces with very diverse ethnic demographics created a new configuration of identity for the minority and, at the same time, gave a new dimension to the minority/majority relationship. The new provinces, Transylvania, Banat, Crişana, Bucovina and Bessarabia had strong minoritary communities that developped extremely dynamic cultural, confessional identitary complexes. After 1920, modern Romania could hardly be compared to the country it had been before the war.
Thus, the 1923 cosntitution introduced reference points similar to European ones concerning the situation of the minorities to the Romanian legislation. The constitutional document of Great Romania created harmony, from a legislative point of view, between the minority and the majority points of view, within the Romanian modern state. The constitutional reference points taken from European models, stipulated the necessity of bestowing on the minorities all the rights of a Romanian citizens – that is, all the rights defined in the epoch.
Thus, the March 1923 document aimed at becoming an instrument by which the rights and liberties of the minorties would be applied within different political, social, economical, cultural, and imaginary realities, in a generally hostile milieu. From this point of view, the document was considered a successful project. I shall render, herein the reference points concerning the minorities’ problems, in the larger context of Great Romania, present in the constitution in March, 1923:
“(…) Title II:
On the Rights of Romanian
A.5 The Romanians, regardless of their ethnicity, native tongue or religion, enjoy the freedom of conscioussness, education, press, meetings, association, and all liberties and rights established by law. (…).
A.7 Differences of faith, confession, ethnicity do not represent, in Romania, an obstruction in acquiring civil or political rights, or to exerting them.
A.8 All Romanians, regardless of language or religion, are equal according to the law, and obliged to contribute, with no exception, to public taxes and tasks. They alone are allowable in public, civil, military functions. (…).
A.22 The State warrants freedom and protection to all cults, as long as their practice does not run counter to the public order, morals and the organized law of the State. (…). The Romanian Ortodox Church representing the religion of the Romanian majority, is the dominant Church in the Romanian state; theGreek-Catholic church has priority over the other cults. (…).
A.24 Education is free, within the conditions established by the special laws, as long as it is not contrary to the legislation and the public order. (…).
A.25 The Constitution warrants everyone the liberty to communicate or to publish ideas and opinions, by voice, by writing, or by the press. (…).
A.28 Romanians, regardless of their ethnicity, their language or religion, have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons (…) to deal with all sorts of matters; for these, no preliminary authorization is necessary. (…)
A.29 Romanians, regardless of their ethnicity, their language or their religion, have the right to associate, according to the laws that stipulate the excerse of this right. (…)1
15 years later, the new Constitution of King Carol II, although it preserved the individual and collective liberties mentioned by the previous Constitution, set before all these, a series of obligations for all Romanians, regardless of their ethnicity. The March 1938 Constitution, that grounded King Carol II’ regime of personal authority, restrained the collective and individual liberties stipulated by the previous Constitutional document dating from 1923.
The 1938 document offered Romania a basis of organization for the corporatist state, where the collective interests prevailed over the individual ones, which were incorporated within those of the community, and were supported as far as they corresponded to the communitarian interests. Here are some illustrative reference points from the Constitution of King Carol II.
One the Romanians’ Duties:
A.4 All Romanians, regardless of their ethnicity and their religious faith, are obliged to consider the country as the highest aim in their lives, to sacrifice themselves in defending its integrity, independence and dignity; to contribute in its moral rising and its economic advancement; to faithlully fulfill the communitarian tasks imposed by law, to contribute, freely, in fulfilling the public tasks, without which the state cannot survive.
A.5 All Romanian citizens, regardless of their ethnicity and their religious faith, are equal according to the law and are obligated to respect and comply with the law. No one can consider oneself free from civil and military, public or private duties, one the grounds of one’s religious faith or any other kind of faith. (…)
A.7 No Romanian is allowed to advocate, by speech or writing, changing the form of the State government, the distribution of private estates, the exemption from taxes, or the class struggle.
A.8 Priests of any rite or faith are forbidden to set their spiritual authority at the service of any political authority, either in the places destined to the cult, or outside them (…). Any political action, on religious grounds or pretexts, is forbidden. (…)
A.10 The Romanians enjoy the freedom of consciousness, of work, of education, of the press, of congregation, association, and all the liberties deriving from these rights, in the conditions setled by law. (…)
A.19 The relationship between the State and various cults comprises the subject of special laws. (…)” 2
Armand Călinescu formulated an interesting definition of the regime of monarchical authority, fand the first unique party in the Romanian modern history – The National Renaissance Front, established by royal decree, on December 16, 1938:
“(…) What does the Front aim at achieving? It aims at re-establishing the rights of the State, its natural parts. (…). Elevating the idea of state, re-establishing it within its natural rights, means not only to re-building its authority and prestige, but even more it means recognizing certain ideals that the State has the mission to re-formulate (…). The new State has to be a living centre, an active (factor) surpassing the passivity of bygone times. (…). According to the Front, the individual should be subordinated to the State. Personal interests are not taken into consideration if they do not coincide with those of the collectivity, and do not aid them. (…).
Promoting the general interests to the collectivity – this is the N.R.F. main mission. (…) Being mainly a spiritual movement, it undertakes to give life a sense of moral value. (…) An important sector within the N.R.F. is held by the elites. These are designated by serious and objective criteria”.3
By belonging to the N.R.F., the minoritaries were to acquire – according to the official version – an optimal ground of cultural and identitary development.4 Here is, for instance, a fragment that sustains the idea:
“(…) the Romanians have never been an exclusivist people. It has always been an honor for them to allow the free development of anyone, and to compete themselves, by their virtuess and natural powers, in winning the place they deserve. Therefore, in the spirit of this tradition, the actual regime has undertaken to show its benevolence to the foreign elements, as long as they are sincerely integrated in the life of the State. At the same time, I consider it unnecessary to insist upon an elementary fact that, concerning these minorities, the only problems that arise are cultural and economical. There are not, and cannot be any territorial problems, in this respect. And I have the right to assert that these categories of citizens has never been treated as well by others as they have been by us.”5
The official politics of the corporatist state tended to make a homogenous society, reducing it at a monolithic collective mechanism that, in its turn, was meant to reduce the asperities from the relations between the majority and the minority.
Carol’s goal to built a State policy, and the project was to be fulfilled by propaganda and through some collective organizations of a corporatist type, such as the above-mentioned N.R.F.; the youth organization like “Straja Tarii” (The Guard of the Country), “Arcasii si Arcasitele” (the Archers and the Archers Women) a.s.o. 6
According to its theoreticians, the National Renaissance Front had to represent the collective interests of the Romanian nation, and reduce the asperities between the Romanians and “the others”:
“(…) This corpus comprises the people as a whole, and promotes only the communitarian needs, in an atmosphere of national union. (…). Any claim, of a single individual, to speak for the people, is absurd. Any attempt at agitation, made by any person, represents an act of quilt. (…) Finally, it includes all ethnical minorities, integrated in the life of our State, where they can satisfy all their spiritual and material needs. (…). The N.R.F. is the means by which the Nation can express its thinking, and it is the reservoir out of which, by a rigorous selection of the elites, the leading elements of the country will be recruited.”7
The regime of King Carol II even founded a General Commissariat of the National Minorities, boasting of its unprecedented tolerance and its openness, concerning the minorities’ situation.8)
The propagandistic praising of the King and his regime, on the part of the leaders of ethnical comunities completed the official relationship between the new regime and the minorities.9
Here are two of the “royal slogans” diseminated during the 30’s by the official propaganda:
“(…) Tolerance. We are a profoundly tolerant people. There are, in our society, like in other countries, anti-Semitic tensions, but the public spirit has never followed them, and the government has refused them.” (June 11, 1930) or:
“I consider the minorities as Romanians, and as an integrated part of Romania. If they will be loyal citizens, they will be able to rely on Me.” (June 11, 1930)10
It becomes clear, from the text, that this was a monarchic attitude towards the minorities, rather than a public one; “they will be able to rely on Me, in respecting and legitimating their rights, only if they will be loyal citizens.”
On the other hand, other royal slogans opposed, by definition, the above-mentioned assertions:
The Romanians’ superiority over other is this, precisely: we are not formed of three offsprings, starting from the same root, but of a single body that can never be divided.” (January 24, 1934); or:
By “Romanianism”, I intend to underline the latent virtues of this people in order to present it as one of the strongest nations in the world. This work is the credo of my life.” (June 8, 1936).11
From a cosntitutional and legislative point of view, the relationship between majority and minority, in the Romanian state, was similar to that existing everywhere in Europe. But it was indebted to the myth of “Great Romania”, crystalized after 1848, and stressed after 1878. This has inserted, in the Romanian imaginary – mainly the Old Kingdom (1881/1918) / a monolithical image, transposed in the model of the centralized, national, unitary state. Its political realization in 1918, would strongly influence the relationship between the majority and the minority especially in Transylvania, Banat and Bessarabia.12)
1 The New Constitution voted by the Constituant National Assembly, in the assemblies of March 26, 27, 1923, Scrisul Romanesc, Craiova, 1923, pp.1-11
2 The National History Archives, Bucharest, The Royal House Fund, King Carol II, Personals, dossier no.33, 1938
3 The law for the foundation of the political corpus of the NRF, from December 16, 1938, and its functioning regulations in January 5, 1939. The Juridic library, directed by Mr. I.Lugosianu, editura Ziarului “Universul”, 1939, Preface by Armand Calinescu, pp.9-11)
“The New Constitution does not allow closs differences. (…) Each category of citizens can sustain its interests not by fight, but as far as these interests harmoniusly serve the collectivity, and in a spirit of general solidarity. (…) The citizen is regarded only as a factor of productive work. The Constitution does not recognize anymore the right to participate in leading the country, unless he justifies the effective practice of a productive occupation, having in view the creative kind of the Romanian Nation.” (…) (Armand Calinescu, The New Regime, Speches 1938-1939, speech at one year since the promulgation of King Carol II’s Constitution, February 27, 1939, Bucharest, p.116).
4 “(…) We called, and received in the RNF numerous ethnical co-habitating minorities. This should not be a surprising fact, but it is also meant to illustrate the political conception and the typical spirit of the Romanians.” (ibidem, p.7)
5 Armand Calinescu, Romania Renasterii, discourse held in the Deputies’ Assembly, on June 28, 1938
6 The law for the foundation of the political corpus of the NRF, december 16, 1938, and its functioning regulations, January 5, 1939, p.6
7 Armand Calinescu, Noul Regim…, pp.127/128
8 The official position of the regime of personal authority of King Carol II regarding the minorities, was often published in epoch journals. I reproduce below, an example:
“The legislative dispositions taken by the Romanian government to regulate the situation of ethnic minorities within the new Romanian state are bound to give full satisfaction both to the minoritary elements, as to the majoritary population. Indeed, by the norms prepared and carried out by the government, the minorities are warranted the rights they could aspire at, in their double quality of sons of nations with a solid in cultural, religious distinct individuality, and of loyal citizens of the state. (…) The creation of the General Commisariat of the Minorities, dependend on the Presidency of the Counsel is stipulated by the Constitution of February. The Commissariat for Minorities will have in charge – besides the past attributions of the director of minorities in the ministry of Cults, – some special attributes: to supervise the application of the legal dispositions concerning the minorities; to inform the competent authorities, in case of need; to ensure the correct and fair appliance of the above-mentioned legislative and administrative dispositions; finally, to study the diverse problems concerning the life of the state minorities, suggesting the suitable solutions to the competent forums. (…) Romanian minority citizens are free to use their native language in matters of religion, press, personal and commercial relationship, as well as in their authorized reunions and meetings, according to the law, and according to the basic legislation approved by the competent forum. Minority citizens have the right to create, possess and survey, on their account, charity, religious or social institutions, as well as schools and any other educational institutions, with the right to use their own native language and perform their cults undisturbed. (…) Their will be ensured proper facilitations so they can use their native language within the local law instances, and in localities where a great part of the population is formed by minority citizens. (…) Regarding the public education in localities inhabited mostly by minority citizens, the Romanian government give children of these minorities the possibility to be instructed in their own language, within the state primary schools. (…)”, (“Romania”, August 11, 1938, year I, no.71, p.7, The Minorities’ Rights in Romania)
9 I present below some fragments relevant in this respect:
“Blessed be the Lord as, (…), under the wise protection of your Majesty, we can achieve, by with, the work of love of Christ, to the benefit of the country and the praise of the Lord.” (Vasarhely, Reformed Bishop, Royal Generosity for the Minoritary Cults, “Romania”, June 8, 1940, year III, no.728, p.9)
“(…) Blessed country, happy people, whose destinies are lead, with so much fatherly love, with so deep wisdom and knowledge (…)”, (Alfred Alessandrescu, ibidem, p.15)
10 Dan Smantanescu, Royal Slogans, Bucharest, 1940
12 “(…) The minority population of Transylvania saw with suspicion the “cultural offensive” of the central government, mainly the nationalization of the Hungarian and German schools. The Hungarians who could not accept the transition from their status of dominant nation to that of a subordinate one, would not resign themselves with the actual existence of a Romanian state on a territory that had belonged to Hungary for such a long time. In 1919, they still hoped in a diplomatic agreement that would annulate the Romanian national revolution. While waiting, they had withdrawn in the enclaves of cultural autonomy.” (Irina Livezeanu, Culture and Nationalism in the Great Romania, 1918-1930, Humanitas, Bucharest, 1998, chapter “The Minorities on the Defensive”, pp.212-214)