A common Transylvanian identity in a seemingly ignorant Union…


I decided to write this article in English as this question already passes national borders, and I want people to understand what I’m talking about. I just read an article (in Hungarian) about how two parallel identities coexist in Transylvania. There is a Romanian and a Hungarian one (I intentionally wrote the Romanian first in sign of courtesy, as I belong to the Hungarian minority). I honestly support the idea of a common Transylvanian identity of the different ethnicities sharing the same common geographical area. But as the author of this article states, the issue of a common Transylvanian identity is not the most important on the agenda of people in full economical crisis.

I somehow have to base my analysis on Einstein’s great theory of relativity. It is always a question of perspective. I always try to understand and analyze social problems taking real life examples and lately examples from my own life.

Let’s start with the seemingly ignorant EU perspective. Believe me, most of the people you will talk to in Western Europe have absolutely no idea about what is the difference between a Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian. And I am talking about educated people, who go to a university, who enter global student associations and maybe some of them will work in the EU institutions or other global institutions. Try getting later on to people like these and make them understand Eastern European social issues. It is a problem that I face day by day… Let’s say A asks me where do I come from? The answer is: Romania, but I belong do the Hungarian minority and I still keep my heritage…Next day, A will introduce me to his friend B and he will say that here is his Bulgarian friend but he is actually Ukrainian. Now this is the moment when A asks me if that’s right, right? And this is the moment when you honestly feel like punching him in the face.

The question of identity is always a complicated one and each region has its own identity problems. The Carpathian basin is even more complicated and it is quite simple to understand why. It has always been a multicultural region, one of the most multicultural regions in Europe and the question becomes more tangled when in the equation wars, national borders and politics come into hand.

The situation is not that easy in these central European countries. You have important Hungarian minorities living in Slovakia, Romania, Trans-Carpathia (before you ask, it is a province of the Ukraine) and Vojvodina (autonomous region in Serbia). Now the idea of a Hungarian identity, of a Romanian, Serbian, Ukrainian identity has been around for centuries. When you draw a border and one dominant group will try to impose his national identity on a minority group this will cause adverse reactions. This is what happened during the Hungarian policies of “Magyarization” in the 19th century and the policies of the Serbian, Romanian, Slovakian governments in the 20th century. It will always lead to the resistance of the minority group, furthering the gap between the two groups and of course the minority group will not identify itself with the dominant group. That’s why people don’t understand why you come from one country but you associate yourself with another group. Now the problem becomes trickier…

Yesterday, in the shop I work in, I met one Hungarian girl from Hungary and later on a Romanian couple from Romania. I helped them out as all of them had problems with their shopping in a new country. Who did I feel closer to? I speak both languages, I was brought up in Romania as a Transylvanian Hungarian and I have no problem moving between the two cultures. Linguistically I felt closer to the girl from Hungary as this is my mother tongue, but our common history stopped almost 90 years ago. One a social, recent historical and political level I felt closer to the Romanian couple, because I was born in Romania and now I share a common recent history.

Is their a common Transylvanian identity? I would say there is and there isn’t. Back in Romania if you travel in certain parts of the country they will say that you come from Transylvania. In Hungary they will do the same thing. But the first one will refer to the Romanian Transylvania and the second to the Hungarian one…Now is there a common notion of a Transylvanian identity? Possibly certain people (including myself) associate with it, but the national identity is stronger in these cases than the regional identity. Believe me in an ignorant EU it doesn’t really matter. When I see a person from Transylvania (Hungarian or Romanian) I do feel like I see someone from home, because I live in that region and I associate myself with that region. I will also feel close to other people form Hungary or Romania, who don’t live in Transylvania…

The Belgians with all their problems would be an example for a common identity. It is an artificially forged country with two dominant groups: the Dutch speaking Flemish and the French speaking Walloons (and a small minority of Germans in the East). Believe me I spoke to a lot of Belgians, traveled there several times and they do believe and live in two parallel worlds. The Flemish live their Flemish world, the Walloons their Walloonian world. Although the country has three official languages, they don’t really speak each others languages and you will hardly find any Walloonians speaking Flemish (Dutch). But besides this they all feel Belgians. They live in two distinctive Belgiums but when they will travel abroad they will still feel that they are Belgians.

Now to give some answers to the issues razed by the author of the article…Yes there are two different Transylvanian identities. The Romanians from Transylvania live in their world and the Hungarians of Transylvania also live in their own world. Depending from region to region the interaction declines or intensifies. But there is not one common identity as the Belgians have. Because Transylvania is part of Romania, and the country carries the name of the dominant group, so the minority group will find it difficult to associate with it. That’s why most of Hungarians living in Transylvania will associate themselves with the Hungarian national identity. It is easy for the Belgians and the Americans to associate with these identities because it is a created common identity, not carrying the name of one dominant group. There is some sort of common Transylvanian identity but it is too weak and in a predominantly ignorant Western European society I’m just happy to meet a person from back home, whether he is Hungarian or Romanian.

See the article of Czika Tihamér – Egy Erdély, két világ “One Transylvania, two worlds. ” – available in Hungarian at http://manna.ro/bedaralo/egy_erdely_ket_vilag_2009_08_18.html

Utrecht 2009, 19th of August

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