Das Preßburger Protocollum Testamentorum 1410 (1427)–1529, Vol. 1. 1410–1487. Edited by Judit Majorossy and Katalin Szende. (Fontes rerum Austriacarum, 3. Abteilung, Fontes iuris 21/1.) Vienna: Böhlau, 2010. 535 pp.
Das Preßburger Protocollum Testamentorum 1410 (1427)–1529, Vol. 2. 1487–1529. Edited by Judit Majorossy und Katalin Szende. (Fontes iuris, Geschichtsquelle zum österreichen Recht, 21/2.) Vienna: Böhlau, 2014. 572 pp.
The use of late medieval testaments as sources in the study of legal issues, economy, culture and everyday life has been popular for some time now. In noble, ecclesiastical and urban settings, this type of source material offers a large pool of information on everyday life, economic and social ties, religious piety, understandings of the afterlife, provisional mechanisms, etc. In recent decades, a good number of collections of last wills originating from Bohemia and Moravia, Hungary, Austria and Dalmatia have been edited and analyzed. Apart from Hungary, intensive research has also been conducted in Bohemia and Moravia, where the last wills from the cities of Prague, Olomouc, Pilsen and Tabor were edited and analyzed. Well-preserved testament collections of Dalmatian cities such as Zadar, Split, Trogir and Dubrovnik are all frequently consulted by scholars. In Austria, the evaluation of late medieval wills has been intensified with the editions of the collections of Vienna, Wiener Neustadt and, recently, Korneuburg. In the 1980s, Gerhard Jaritz, member of the Institute of Medieval Material Culture in Krems and professor at the Central European University in Budapest, initiated the edition of the collection of legal instructions known as Wiener Stadtbücher, which also contain a large number of wills. This has been used as a reference for the current edition of the Pressburg (Pozsony in Hungarian, today Bratislava in Slovakia) Protocollum Testamentorum. In close cooperation with the Commission for Austrian Legal History (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna), four volumes have been published so far.
The manuscript kept in the Bratislava Municipal Archive is the first of a series of testament books kept by the city of Pressburg until 1872. In close cooperation with the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Archive, two prominent Hungarian urban historians, Katalin Szende and Judit Majorossy, prepared this two-volume edition of the first volume of the Pressburger Protocollum Testamentorum. A third volume, an extensive index, is in preparation. They fundamentally worked on the material in terms of formal auxiliary science. The editors prepared a full-text edition, in which all parts of the text were reproduced in full. A register at the beginning of each entry provides short information on the types of documents involved, the dates of their genesis, and the people involved. In addition to the recent editorial work, which has been underway for more than a decade, they also carried out extensive research on the history of Pressburg and its position in the changing social, political and economic environment. Pressburg became one of the Hungarian “free royal cities” at the beginning of the fifteenth century, as it gained more and more influence under the rule of King Sigismund. He preferred Pressburg to Buda, as it was located further upstream on the River Danube and closer to the Holy Roman Empire.
In the following I highlight some elements of the 844 wills preserved in the testament books and edited by Majorossy and Szende. “Recorded my last will” – many burghers of Pressburg used this phrase in order to express their personal and independent will as testators. Declarations of will have survived in many European cities. This form of transmission is the result of the need to express and preserve the last will in a legally secured way. Municipal governance provides the basis for this. The competence of the civil community to assure independently the legal rights of its members is a particular feature of late medieval urban communities in the region. The recording and archiving of these legal documents in an accurate way was one of the most important priorities of a municipal administration.
From an economic point of view, an interesting element of the estates of Pressburg, frequently referred to in the wills was their vineyards. In the Danube region, vineyards were not only the most common form of land ownership for the townspeople, they also enjoyed a special legal status because of the labor-intensive cultivation that they involved. Thus, they became easily accessible capital, as we can see in the testaments, where wine is treated more like a substitute for money than a consumer product. The foreign relations of the merchants of Pressburg also had effects on individual dispositions: monetary and material debts are evidence not only of the usual practice of trade on commission, but also of regional and national business contacts: Vienna, Bruck an der Leitha, Enns or Nuremberg, Landshut and Cologne belonged to the regional trading area of the local merchants. A prominent example for the social range of monetary debts is preserved in a testament: the Austrian duke Albrecht VI (†1463), was indebted to a merchant of Pressburg. As an illustration of the usefulness of the testaments published in the volumes as sources that offer far more than mere insights into economic history let me refer to the testament of Liebhard Egkenfelder, town chronicler of Bratislava. Egkenfelder’s will contains a detailed inventory of his partly acquired, partly self-compiled library and his mobile and immoveable property, the intended use of which after his death he specifies.
Information on individuals and their economic, religious and social environments can rarely be gathered in such detail on the basis of other types of sources. Social relations have been activated – but also deactivated – through the exchange of material and the negotiation and production of intangible resources, such as social prestige or access to social networks. The various forms of relationships that could exist between two burghers are clearly discernible in the various last wills. The executives of last wills themselves were chosen on purpose. The group affiliations and other social connections are all very well reflected in testaments. Even the nomination of a trustee is an expression of the significance of the relationship to that person. Sometimes wills gave people opportunities to give expression to existing relationships or even fashion new ones.
The edited testaments of Pressburg offer perfect ways to get information about heredity practices, as well as the forms in which religious and social affiliations found manifestation over a long period. They also offer insights into the cultural processes and practices of an ever-changing urban community.
Sopron. Edited by Ferenc Jankó, József Kücsán, and Katalin Szende with contributions by Dávid Ferenc, Károly Goda, and Melinda Kiss. (Hungarian Atlas of Historic Towns, 1.) Sopron: Győr-Moson-Sopron Megye Soproni Levéltára, 2010. 87 pp.
Sátoraljaújhely. Edited by István Tringli. (Hungarian Atlas of Historic Towns, 2.) Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézet, 2011. 81 pp.
Szeged. Edited by László Blazovich et al. (Hungarian Atlas of Historic Towns, 3.) Szeged: Csongrád Megyei Honismereti Egyesület, 2014. 155 pp.
With the publication of these three fascicles (text and maps), Hungary has joined the European Historic Towns Atlas project. As is outlined in the introduction to the first volume, this project was set up by the International Commission for the History of Towns in the aftermath of World War II with the aim of encouraging comparative studies of European towns that would be based on large-scale (cadastral) maps. The principal map for each town was to be the same in scale, 1:2,500. There are now eighteen countries involved in this project, and atlases of more than 500 towns have been produced so far.
The Hungarian Atlas of Historic Towns started in 2004 under the auspices of the late András Kubinyi, a prominent urban historian. It was continued by Katalin Szende, who took responsibility for the Hungarian project. Towns were selected in order to represent different settlement types and different geographical locations. A very important asset of these three fascicles is that all the explanatory texts and keys to the maps (unfortunately not the topographical gazetteers) have been translated into English, opening up a brave new world about which English speakers knew very little previously.
The cadastral surveys of the second half of the nineteenth century served as the basis for the 1:2,500 maps showing the preindustrial topography of the three towns in question. The original names were kept. In the case of Sopron, the names of public buildings are in German, but in the case of the other two towns, the names of the buildings are in Hungarian. It would be very helpful if an English translation of the functions of public buildings could be provided as part of the key. The surroundings of the three towns under discussion are shown on selected sheets of the 1st and 2nd Military Surveys, rescaled to 1:50,000. A reproduction of an early twentieth-century plot-level survey, at a scale of 1:50,000, and large-scale aerial photographs show the modern expansion of the towns. In fact, the Hungarian Atlas provides more original research for the transformations of towns in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries than other European atlases, which were designed in their time not to go beyond 1900. The International Commission formulated their recommendation that the atlases should continue into the twentieth century only at their meeting in Prague in 2012.
In the three Hungarian volumes the cadastral and related maps constitute Series A, which is obligatory for each fascicle. Series B compliments these maps with cartographic representations of recent research on the morphology and social topography of the towns in question. Series C contains reproductions of early maps and prospects depicting topographically relevant features. Like the Irish Historic Towns Atlas, the Hungarian Atlas includes a thematically arranged topographical gazetteer. This is a most welcome addition, as the historical data compiled in the gazetteer greatly facilitates comparative work. In one important methodological aspect the Hungarian atlas differs from its European counterparts: there is no comprehensive growth-map. Instead, there are a series of growth-maps arranged side by side on one sheet. No doubt this method allows for greater accuracy in the representations of the individual growth-phases. Perhaps a composite growth-map at a greater level of abstraction might be added to the individual ones in the future in order to help the reader.
As a scholar of urban history working at the far western end of Europe, I found reading the above three volumes a demanding but very worthwhile venture. The challenge when looking at the three Hungarian volumes (and this is true of the European Historic Towns Atlas project as a whole) is that you look at primary source material. When you study the principal maps of the three towns, you are struck by the differences. Sopron is surrounded by a massive wall (inherited from antiquity), while the other two towns have no town walls at all. In Sopron the individual house plots are built side to side. In other words, houses are contiguous, while in Sátoraljaújhely and Szeged gable-sided houses cover only part of the plot. In all three towns irregular market places appear to be an open space associated with the earliest church. They are not comparable with the rectangular market places that we know from medieval town foundations in the area east of the Elbe, modern Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Sopron originated as a trading post on the former Roman Amber Road. On the basis of archival sources and topographical and archaeological evidence, Szende shows that the early layout of the town in plots occurred simultaneously with the arrival of the Franciscans. In other European countries Franciscan friaries were only set up once the towns were well established. I believe that this very early division of the town into plots is not found in any of the other European atlases. The archaeologists made a particularly significant contribution to the Sopron Atlas with reconstructions of the former Roman town and the eleventh to mid-thirteenth-century ispán castle (the castle of the royal representative). The transformation from the ispán’s castle to the royal town in the mid-thirteenth century coincided with the arrival of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers, who were settled in Sopron by Béla IV in 1247. There are parallels in other countries: the Hospitallers arrived in Kells (Ireland) at the time of the foundation of the town by an Anglo-Norman lord.
Sátoraljaújhely was planned as part of the effort to rebuild the kingdom of Hungary after the Mongol Invasion. Its charter dates to 1261 and is detailed, portraying an advanced civil society with more rights for the citizens than citizens appear to have enjoyed later in the landlord period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the Middle Ages, the town was home to a parish church, Saint Emeric, a Pauline Monastery dedicated to Saint Giles, and the Saint Stephen’s Augustinian Friary. The history of the town between 1526 and 1711 was strongly influenced by the nearby presence of the Ottomans. The Ottomans never entered the town, but the Crimean Tatars did in 1566, and they burned down 86 percent of the houses and took denizens of the town as slaves. After the town was no longer in royal ownership, it became part of the estates of various aristocratic or noble families over time, including the Pálóczi, Perényi, Dobós, and Rákóczi families, who demanded services and taxes from the citizens.
A special characteristic of Sátoraljaújhely is the formation of districts which segregated areas of the town according to the ruling landlords. The aristocratic Perényi family was Lutheran, and the Újhely church became Lutheran until 1567, when the inhabitants took up Calvinist doctrines. In 1554, the Augustinian friary was dissolved and the lord integrated the street in which the friars had owned property into his domain. The Pauline monastery survived until the end of the sixteenth century and only reappeared as part of the Catholic Restoration of the 1640s. By the end of the seventeenth century, the population was divided among three religious traditions: Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, and Calvinists. In 1789, the Calvinists built a new church. By the end of the nineteenth century, Judaism had become the fourth major religious denomination. In 1940, there were 4,960 Jewish residents in Sátoraljaújhely. Tragically, by 1949 only 360 remained.
The maps showing the surroundings of Szeged, adapted from the 2nd Military Survey, provide a lively picture of the Tisza River, with all its meandering bends, that flooded parts of the town whenever the waters rose. Szeged was occupied by the Ottomans. Its fascicle contains a fascinating thematic map showing the social topography of Szeged in the sixteenth century on the basis of two tax registers, one from 1522 and the other from 1548, i.e. before and shortly after the Ottoman occupation. The map shows that in the suburb east of the castle (the so-called Palánk), judges, scribes and master craftsmen resided. North of the castle we find farmers, flock owners, and vineyard owners. The reader will wonder where the merchants were. My Hungarian colleagues tell me that local merchants were subsumed into the categories of flock-owners and vineyard-owners, because cattle, sheep, and wine were the main export articles both before and during the Ottoman period. Merchants specializing in other goods (spices, textiles, etc.) were usually not local residents, but rather people who traveled through the town.
The map also shows important buildings, including churches. It is interesting to learn how long into the period of Ottoman occupation churches survived. Only the Franciscan friary in the so-called Alsóváros part of the town remained and provided pastoral care to the surviving Catholic population. Otherwise, all the other Catholic churches were turned into mosques. The Ottoman occupation lasted from 1543 to 1686, but no buildings from that period have been preserved. In Szeged Sokollu Mustafa’s palace was situated in the marketplace in a building that most probably had been there prior to the Ottoman occupation. One wonders if it is still standing. It would be helpful if the atlas also gave indications of the dates at which buildings were demolished, redesigned, or put to other uses.
The presentation of the history of the three towns is done chronologically. Therefore, Szeged is discussed as a royal town between 1247 and 1543. The thematic map showing medieval churches and associated settlements vividly portrays the churches as focal points, which were surrounded by the houses of the wealthiest families. During the period specified in the next heading, “16th to 18th centuries: the late medieval city and Ottoman rule,” the town stagnated and became a military assembly point. According to an Ottoman tax register, in 1548 there were 1,203 heads of household in the city, 300 fewer than in the census of 1522. The Ottomans converted the Saint Demetrius Church into a mosque and built a minaret next to it. One interesting aspect of the period is that many churches fell into ruins, but cemeteries survived. The same observation applies to Ireland after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century. Under the Ottomans, the town was divided into different quarters along ethnic lines. From 1554 to 1560, the Turks expelled the entire Christian population from the central town-quarter, which was called Palánk. The wealthier among them abandoned the city. This process is reminiscent of what happened in former Roman towns along the Rhine when the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century.
The suggestions is made that in the post-Ottoman period there was no consolidated bourgeoisie in Szeged. Bad floods and epidemics were responsible for the fact that the number of inhabited plots fell by 50 percent by the middle of the eighteenth century. In the latter part of that century, life began to improve in Szeged due to an economic revival. After 1711, Szeged again became the nationwide center for salt storage. In the context of the Counter-Reformation, prominent buildings were built in the baroque style. The nineteenth century was a time of modernization, which bore witness to the construction of new squares, new public buildings in a neo-classical style, and improved infrastructure. The reconstruction of the town that followed the disastrous floods of 1879 turned Szeged into a modern city with a circular layout of roads reminiscent of Frankfurt am Main, where boulevards follow the line of a former medieval wall, as shown in the Szeged Atlas in order to further comparison.
These three fascicles are a tremendous achievement. While there is an editorial board, there is as of yet no host institute. The editors had to rely on sponsorship from archives and museums. Without the tenacity of the senior joint editor, Katalin Szende, that would hardly have been possible. The lack of a permanent hosting institute and an executive officer has deprived the Hungarian series in some instances of a unified approach. For example, the introduction to the Sopron volume contains an outline of the role of the Commission as founder of the series and a discussion of the importance of cadastral maps and the military survey for the production of the core maps. It would be helpful for readers of later fascicles if this information were repeated. Why is it that only the Sopron volume includes a CD with a PDF version of the publication? This situation will most likely improve in the near future, as a full-time researcher and coordinator has been appointed, who will streamline the project and iron out any inconsistencies. As of 2016, the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has been hosting the project.
Judging from the bibliography, a large amount of research had been done in Sopron and Szeged before the work of compiling the atlas was undertaken, while in Sátoraljaújhely a lot of research had to be undertaken by the author himself. The bibliography for Sopron consists of 340 entries very few of which have been published in Latin (medieval sources), German, or English, and works by archaeologists like János Gömöri in Sopron or medieval historians who work in a pan-European context, like Mozdzioch, Piekalski or Szende. If one takes into consideration the fact that a vast amount of research has been incorporated into the atlases and thereby made available, along with primary source material in the form of maps, illustrations, taxation records and fieldwork, then we begin to appreciate just how important these atlases are for researchers in Hungary but also for urban historians from other parts of Europe and beyond. We owe a debt of gratitude to our colleagues who took on this meticulous work. On some occasions, the authors of these volumes point towards comparative urban studies and tempt the reader to think of more comparisons with other towns that are part of the European Historic Towns Atlas project.
These three beautifully produced volumes open the door to Hungarian urban history. They are essential for defining the typology of Hungarian towns, and they will facilitate comparative urban studies on a European scale. Furthermore, they will enable scholars and instructors to teach the history of Hungarian towns on a much wider scale than has previously been possible.
Egy székely két élete: Kövendi Székely Jakab pályafutása [Two lives of a Székely: The career of Jakab Székely of Kövend]. By Bence Péterfi. (Sziluett. Korszerű történelmi életrajzok.) Pécs: Kronosz, 2014. 165 pp.
Hungarian medievalists are to some extent exceptionally lucky. I know of hardly any country where the surviving medieval documentary evidence can be more easily accessed than in Hungary. Thanks to the digitalization projects undertaken by the Hungarian National Archives, more than one hundred-thousand legal documents can be accessed online with ease. This database provides a sufficient foundation for research on virtually any aspect of the history of the Hungarian Middle Ages. However, there are a number of topics for which the scholar is compelled to consult further archives. One of these topics is the study of someone who was involved in the political life of more than one country or court, such as Jakab Székely of Kövend, the focus of a new book by Bence Péterfi.
The book is a biography of a medieval self-made man who hailed from Transylvania. The Székely (Szekler) family of Kövend (present-day Plăieşti in Romania) may not have belonged to the richest class of the Székely society, the primores, but by the time Jakab Székely died in 1504 he had become a frequent visitor at the imperial court of Maximilian and owner of a number of major estate complexes, both in the Hungarian Kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire. His career was extraordinary, even in the Middle Ages. The book explores the ways in which a nobleman in the second half of the fifteenth century was able to achieve such a position.
Jakab Székely was born around 1445–1450, but we hardly have any information about him before 1472, when he and his family were given a number of estates in the Székely Lands and also in other areas of Transylvania. But it is more telling that from the mid-1470s Jakab Székely was frequently to be found in the entourage of King Matthias I. Székely was among the numerous delegates who went to Naples in 1476 to accompany the future wife of Matthias, Beatrice of Aragon, to Hungary. In addition to the roles he played at the court, it was his military service that allowed him to rise rapidly in the social hierarchy. During the war against Frederick III in the 1480s, he was one of the most important leaders of the Hungarian army, as indicated by the fact that he became the captain of two of the most important captures, the wealthy trading centers of Ptuj and Radkersburg for more than a decade. From the mid-1480s, he served as chief commandant of the Hungarian army in Steiermarkt, while István Szapolyai, later palatine of Hungary (and father of János Szapolyai, future king of Hungary), served the same position for Austria. Székely’s positions suggest that he was in command of a considerable proportion of the means spent on the war against the Habsburg territories. During these years, he acquired even more estates. His growing importance is clearly illustrated by the fact that he had enough power to marry a woman from a baronial family, the Szécsi family, which was thanks to his efforts in negotiating the settlement of a dispute between the family, Miklós Szécsi, and King Matthias I.
After the death of Matthias in 1490, the political situation in Hungary became increasingly complex. There were a number of claimants to the Hungarian throne (Beatrice, John Corvin, the natural son of the late Matthias, Maximilian, the son of Frederick III and king of the Romans at the time, as well as two members of the Jagiełło family, Władysław II, king of Bohemia and John I Albert, later king of Poland). In this period, it was difficult for a landlord to navigate successfully between the claimants, but as Péterfi demonstrates, by turning to the Habsburgs as early as July 1490, Székely managed to do so. In this period, however, he had to hand over some of his castles to Frederick, but he was able, in the meantime, to put his hands on others. The civil war, which lasted for more than a year, came to an end with the treaty concluded at Pressburg between Frederick, Maximilian and Vladislaus II in 1491. According to the treaty, Székely, along with others who had managed to occupy castles, had to hand them over to their lawful lords. This treaty has been familiar to scholars for some time now, but Péterfi is the first historian to draw attention, both in recent publications and in this book, to the fact that some of the treaty’s conditions were never implemented. In consequence, along with a number of other families, the Székelys became permanent landlords in two realms, the Holy Roman Empire and the Hungarian Kingdom. After the treaty was concluded, he never changed political sides again. He remained loyal to the Habsburgs, which turned out to be a rather prudent decision, as in the long run he not only managed to keep most of his properties in Hungary but also was able to leave a number of castles and their furnishings to his heirs in the territory of the Empire. Péterfi shows that Székely’s incomes from his possessions in Steiermarkt may have been more significant, but even taking into account only his income from lands in the Hungarian Kingdom, by the end of the fifteenth century he had emerged as one of the major landlords. Because of his loyalty to the Habsburgs, he was generously rewarded both materially and symbolically in the Empire. The author shows that Székely’s seal-usage as well as his title as knight banneret (Bannerher) were both signs of his strong position in Frederick’s and later in Maximilian’s court. Péterfi discusses Székely’s military and diplomatic missions in the second half of the 1490s, which increasingly were against Italy and France, rather than the Hungarian Kingdom. The monograph does not conclude with the death of Jakab Székely in 1504. Rather, it also includes a summary of the history of the family from the execution of Székely’s lost last will and testament to the extinction of the male line of the family in 1643.
The book offers a thorough analysis of the surviving narrative sources (Bonfini, Unrest, Tubero etc.) that concern the political events of the 1480s and 1490s, combined with other documentary – mostly archival – evidence from Hungarian and Austrian archives. The biography is more than a mere presentation of an undeniably splendid career. It is a well-chosen example of the ways in which a talented member of the lesser nobility in the second half of the fifteenth century could rise to become a member of the higher classes of society. The secondary literature on the history of the period contains examples of a few people who had similar careers, both laymen and members of the clergy, but we nonetheless know very little about the strategies that were used in order to achieve these successes. It is also a well-chosen example because of the insights it offers into the ways in which a nobleman with estates in two realms (“amphibious nobility,” as the author calls it) could prosper. Finally, it provides a concise overview of the political history of the period around the death of King Matthias, in particular with regards to the events that took place at the border region between the Habsburg territories and Hungary.
The work was published in a new series launched by a lesser known publisher, Kronosz, which aims at presenting grey eminences of Hungarian history to a wider audience. It is of course not the reviewer’s task to question the legitimacy of the publication of Jakab Székely’s biography in this series, but it reasonable to wonder about the extent to which the book will reach the intended readership. Because of the decision by the publisher to attempt to reach a wide audience, the book includes only a few endnotes and a rather limited bibliography. On the one hand the attempt to demonstrate to the wider public that the study of medieval Hungary is more than the study of kings and political history is of course to be welcomed. However, perhaps the most self-evident and possibly the most eager readership, historians of the Middle Ages, will have to grapple with difficulties when using the book, since much of the valuable information, which is the result of extensive archival work on the part of the author, is hard to track down.
Towns and Cities of the Croatian Middle Ages: Authority and Property. Edited by Irena Benyovsky Latin and Zrinka Pešorda Vardić. Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest–Croatian Institute of History, 2014. 534 pp.
This volume, which is the product of an international conference entitled Towns and Cities of the Croatian Middle Ages: Authority and Property (Zagreb, November 2010), consists of 22 studies dealing with topics ranging from Late Antiquity to the beginning of the Early Modern Period. Geographically, the studies focus on the Eastern Adriatic and Central Europe. This volume attempts to answer questions regarding the relationships between urban authorities and the urban space by analyzing cities which are underrepresented in modern historiography. The articles are not organized in chronological order, but rather in thematic groups, with an introduction that outlines the theoretical background of the volume.
The first group of articles deals with the question of public and private property in the cities and the surrounding areas, drawing mainly on the example of Istria (pp.35–114). The studies in this group analyze the transition that cities underwent between the fifth and the tenth centuries by highlighting the process of ruralization of urban centers and its long-term consequences. In this period, the privileged elites began to associate themselves with the municipality, blurring the borders between public and private. The cities underwent significant expansions, amassing greater areas of arable land, and this led to new territorial organization of the municipality. The expansion of ownership also affected the relationship between the authorities, members of the nobility, and the Church.
The studies in the second group observe the development of urban centers and their relationships with the local nobilities (pp.115–271). As addressed by these authors, the lack of written sources does not indicate a lack of developed urban centers in the Early Middle Ages, and the use of archaeology can cover the gap left by the scarcity of written sources. Most of these studies draw attention to the connections between kindred groups and cities and the effects that kindred control had on urban development. The studies in this section consider the administrative and economic developments of cities, analyze the trade networks established between the oligarchs and the cities, and compare the development of the urban centers with the models of premodern cities promoted in the works of Max Weber and Fernand Braudel. The conclusion is reached that urban centers tended to develop as a means of protecting and controlling trade.
The third group of studies examines the status of urban elites and the mechanisms with which the elites increased their lands and their influence over the city and its districts (pp.273–437). The nobility in medieval Dalmatian and Italian cities had a privileged position in building towers but also greater obligations in the organization of the defense of the city. While the property in the hands of the nobility of Dubrovnik was constantly expanding through the appropriation of new city quarters, the growth of the property and influence of the confraternities led to attempts by the city authorities to introduce regulations. The articles in this group make particular use of notary and judicial sources, as well as material remains. This enabled authors to study the fate of the lands in Venetian Dalmatia that were originally owned by key members of the nobility of Trogir (Ana Plosnić Škarić), as well as to observe fluctuations in the real estate market and its functions in the late medieval community of Split (Tonija Andrić). The last article moves away from the coastal towns and introduces prosopography in the research concerning the owners of luxurious palaces in Gradec (Zagreb) in the fifteenth century.
The fourth group deals with the rights of marginal groups, namely women and foreigners (pp.439–68). The work of Marija Karbić looks at the right of women to own and sell property. Karbić examines the ways in which women could become citizens (cives) in the medieval urban centers of Gradec and Varaždin. The second chapter, by Ante Birin, examines city statutes from the late Middle Ages and analyzes the decisions that regulated the position of foreigners (forenses) and their ownership of town properties.
The fifth group examines the legal regulations and procedures concerning the ownership and management of property in medieval Dalmatia (pp.469–508), mainly by focusing on urban laws and how they regulated daily life in the city. These laws dealt with a number of issues, including business transactions, regulations of testaments, pledging, forcible taking of property, thefts, and fines. The last work in this group, by Nella Lonza, compares the work of the legal institution of Dubrovnik with its statute in order to uncover differences between “common” and “heavy” burglaries.
The last article in the volume did not fit in any other group. Trpimir Vedriš (pp.509–34) analyzes symbolic ownership based on the theories of capital by Pierre Bourdieu. Vedriš moves away from the definition of property as an actual material thing and observes the role of the translatio of the relic of Saint Chrysogonus to Zadar and the social memory attached to the relocation. By comparing the translatio with several donation charters, Vedriš detects the existence of “social knowledge,” and he comes to the conclusion that the population of Zadar viewed the preservation of the memory of the burial of the saint as an important way of building communal identity.
Beyond the variety of topics it contains, this collection’s most novel contribution is the application of recent or less frequently used theories and approaches in medieval scholarship. Despite the variety of topics addressed in the volume, there are some absences, such as articles dealing with the relationship between the Church and urban ownership. This is a key issue, since in many of the Dalmatian and Istrian communes discussed in the articles the Church had considerable land holdings, both in the enclosed areas of the cities and in the hinterlands. However, this shortcoming does not detract from the generally positive qualities of the book or its scholarly importance. The volume as a whole is a valuable contribution to the study of urban history, presenting, in English, the latest developments in research concerning the medieval lands of present-day Croatia and the surrounding areas.
Customary Law in Hungary: Courts, Texts, and the Tripartitum. By Martyn Rady. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 266 pp.
In nineteenth-century Hungary, the history of Hungarian law was often compared with the history of English law. The contention was made that in both places local tradition maintained its primacy. Roman law was not slavishly adopted, and both countries had strong parliamentary traditions. After all, the observation was made, the Magna Carta and the Golden Bull, the foundations of English and Hungarian constitutional law respectively, both dated to the same era, 1215 in the case of the Magna Carta and 1222 in the case of the Golden Bull. In the twentieth century, German historian Fritz Kern, one of the founders of the comparative study of the history of constitutional law, drew a parallel between the history of the Hungarian and the English parliaments in his typology of European parliaments. Today, we speak of this question from different perspectives. The phrase “adoption of Roman law” became another one of the many outdated historical concepts that proliferated at the turn of the century. Hungarian law in the late Middle Ages and Jus commune were so intertwined that it is both pointless and impossible to speak of an opposition between them. The Magna Carta had no influence whatsoever on the Golden Bull. Today, we know significantly more concerning the mechanisms of European parliaments than was known one-hundred years ago. That we are unable, our increasingly detailed stock of learning notwithstanding, to compose the kinds of broad statements that were made at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth is another question entirely. Today, no one would expect a British historian to provide a comparative study of the history of English and Hungarian law. So we are left with synthesis. The book by Martyn Rady, the first study of Hungarian customary law in English, is just that.
Rady offers a focused examination of Hungarian customary law. The so-called Tripartitum, the first summary of Hungarian customary law, is at the center of his inquiry. The Tripartitum was written by István Werbőczy, one of the magistrates in the royal court of justice and a man who later had an influential career as a politician. He completed the Tripartitum in 1514, and three years later he submitted it to a printing press. The Tripartitum is not technically a book of statutes for two reasons. First, it is not a summary of previously existing laws, but rather a collection of the norms of customary law at the time. Second, it never actually became law. It was simply a legal work that had been compiled by a private individual for practical use. Rady is one of the most highly esteemed scholars on medieval history in Hungary and Central Europe. He has innumerable publications, including a book on Buda in the Middle Ages and the medieval Hungarian nobility. This book, which is in no small part the fruit of earlier research and publications, was conceived when Rady participated in the translation and publication of laws from the Jagiellonian era and the Tripartitum for a series entitled The Laws of Hungary.
Until the twentieth century, legal tradition in Hungary was dominated by customary law. Rady’s book certainly does not stop at 1514, when Werbőczy wrote the Tripartitum. He examines the history of Hungarian law until 1959, when the first code of Hungarian civil law was proclaimed. In his assessment, it was not until 1959 that the rule of consuetudo in Hungary came to an end. As a characteristic example, he refers to the publication of the Tripartitum in 1897 (as part of the celebrations marking the millennial anniversary of the arrival of the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin in 896), in which the editors used bold typeface to set off sections that they regarded as prevailing law (as was done at the time when any Hungarian book of laws was published). In the case of the Tripartitum, some 70 pages of the text, i.e. more than one-third, were regarded as statutes in force (the document was 160 pages, not including the 25-page Prologue). According to Rady, however, this practice was little more than an “empty fiction.” Rady reflects on the contentions that were made in the nineteenth century concerning the similarities between the English and the Hungarian constitutions. In his view, this was a “spurious parallel” (p.240). As this ascertainment exemplifies, Rady’s conclusions are simple. When he finds something too artificial, he does not adopt even a century-and-a-half old concept like H.S. Maine’s widely used concept of “fiction.”
The organization of the book is logical. The historical introduction and a section in which Rady clarifies what he means by customary law are followed by a presentation of the Tripartitum. This is followed by a presentation of the sources of common law: charters, legislation, and a description of the courts. There is a separate chapter on the intricate interconnections between the nobility and the king, as well as a separate chapter on crimes and a presentation of medieval rules of procedure. These chapters are followed by sections dealing with the Early Modern Era and the Modern Era, including the political and institutional changes in the new era, processes of codification that took place after Tripartitum, and a presentation of jurisdictions in the eighteenth century. The book concludes with a chapter entitled “Custom and Law in the Modern Period.”
Rady’s assessment of customary law is founded on the most up-to-date literature on legal history. He does not content himself with the repetition of an opposition between law and custom, an opposition used even by Werbőczy himself. On the contrary, he provides a very precise, understandable presentation of the complex relationship between written law and customary law (p.8).
Rady’s task was not made much easier by Hungarian historians. Following the socialist reorganization of the sciences, the study of the history of governments and systems of government continued to thrive, but the study of the history of law faltered. The sections of Rady’s book that address topics that other historians have already examined are the most thorough and convincing. Like the vast majority of Hungarian legal historians and historians, Rady attributes considerable significance to a few of the tracts from the Tripartitum. However, apart from the preface and the sections that are of political and social significance, he only writes in detail on the titles, which concerned the rules of inheritance. Rady provides a short and clear description of the courts of the royal presence (p.51), as well as a convincing section on processes of codification after the Tripartitum (chapter 10), in which he presents the essence of the Early Modern works. There is no description, however, of the royal court system in the period between 1541 and 1691. This is not a mere matter of chance. To this day Hungarian historians have failed to address the subject adequately. In 1541, Hungary was divided into three parts: the middle swath of the country was occupied by the Ottomans, Transylvania became an independent principality, and a slender strip in the west and the north remained under the rule of the Habsburgs as the Hungarian kings. In this part of the country the old court system remained in place, though by the time the country was liberated of Ottoman rule in 1691 the courts had undergone major transformation.
Rady’s book, however, is by no means a simple abridgment or collage of the existing secondary literature. He raises new questions and examines the conclusions of the works he consults, comparing them with the primary sources. He uses both published and archival sources. His description of the relationships between witch trials and public prosecution represents a very important contribution to the history of criminal law in the Early Modern Era (p.119). He also makes the accurate observation that the contention according to which the barons blocked the passage of the Tripartitum into law because it did not recognize the superiority of the rights they enjoyed over the rights of the lesser nobility is unpersuasive (p.18). This contention is as widespread as it is unconvincing.
Rady writes in a clear, comprehensible style. He avoids complicated modern legal terminology and words that are fashionable in some of the tendencies in the writing of legal history, even though they often obscure the point of an inquiry. There are some small mistakes, but they do not undermine the essence of the book. For instance, the Magyars and the Onogurs were not two peoples who melted together. Rather, the two terms were used to denote the same people (p.1).
Customary Law in Hungary is far more than a new monograph on the history of old Hungarian law. Rady’s use of sources is original and does not get lost in the details. He adheres consistently to his initial goal: how and why did customary law remain the decisive thread of Hungarian law until the twentieth century? By adopting this approach, he sets a high standard for those who seek to follow in his footsteps. Any attempt to characterize old Hungarian law without consulting this book would be quite unthinkable.
Geschichte schreiben im osmanischen Südosteuropa: Eine Kulturgeschichte orthodoxer Historiographie des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. By Konrad Petrovszky. (Balkanologische Veröffentlichungen: Geschichte, Gesellschaft und Kultur in Südosteuropa, 60.) Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014. 272 pp.
It was the fate of the pre-modern states that were inhabited by numerous peoples to be presented by the national histories of the successor states, which later came into existence in competition with one another and were based on notions of a unified linguistic and cultural space, in a fragmentary manner. This is as true of the Habsburg Monarchy as it is of the Ottoman Empire. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, an additional consideration is the simple fact that the historiography on the realm, which first began to be written in the Renaissance, has been studied with greater duration and depth than the practice of writing history in the Ottoman-Orthodox cultural and communication space itself. We know very little about the multilingual Orthodox chronicles, annals, and other historical texts of the Early Modern Era in southeastern Europe. This is where the monograph (originally submitted to the Faculty of Philosophy at Humboldt University as a doctoral dissertation) by Konrad Petrovszky comes in. Petrovszky is not concerned with providing a conventional narrative of the Orthodox Christian historiography in southeastern Europe under Ottoman rule, nor does he offer an assessment of the historiographical texts, which for the most part were written in Greek, Church Slavonic, and Romanian. He is far more interested in the shifting relationships between these texts and social constellations, as indeed the subtitle of his book suggests. He seeks to further a deeper understanding of “the social and communicational preconditions of the writing of history” and provide “a dense contextualization of historiographical practices” (p.12).
Petrovszky takes the multilingual nature of southeastern Europe and the accompanying diversity of its traditions of writing, which inevitably hinder any attempt to offer an integral study of the historical texts of the Ottoman Empire that embraces the multiplicity of languages, as a challenge. He is quite at home in the languages that are used in the primary sources (Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Romanian), whether printed or handwritten texts, much as he is at home in the many languages of the relevant secondary literature. He offers persuasive arguments in support of his choice of sources, and the spatial and temporal frameworks of his inquiry also seem reasonable. This is particularly true of his decision to ignore the writing of history in Transylvania and Veneto, where the forms and practices adopted by historians differed strikingly from the practices used in the neighboring territories.
The ambitious goals that Petrovszky has set for his treatise and, therefore, his own praxis as a scholar, become clear in the dense introduction, which is rich with ideas and provides an exemplary presentation of the subject of the inquiry. The book, a well-informed inquiry, is eloquent and persuasive from the first page to the last. One has little difficulty following his argument, thanks in large part to the clear and balanced structure. The introductory chapter on trends and tendencies in social and cultural developments in Ottoman southeastern Europe between 1500 and 1700, in which Petrovszky offers a sketch of the interrelationships among political, administrative, cultural, social, and religious processes of exchange, is followed by a chapter that focuses on the Orthodox historiography. He is concerned with the circulation of knowledge in the Early Modern Era: education and the relevant backdrop and paths, the safeguarding and dissemination of knowledge, and finally the role of book printing. Petrovszky then presents “the craft of history writing between the spoken, written, and printed word.” He is concerned with the specific circumstances of the transmission of individual texts, phenomena such as the limited written culture of southeastern Europe, evidence of a shifting understanding of writing, and the gradual rise of the vernacular in the seventeenth century. While the first half of the monograph is focused on the constraints and preconditions of historiographical practice, the two chapters that follow bring questions of content, discourse, and models of history to the fore. For instance, Petrovszky discusses the meaning of the Byzantine tradition for the Orthodox Christian writing of history, and he presents various narrative models and distinctive regional characteristics.
The conclusions of this inquiry, which is persuasive both in its methods and erudition and in its ideas and argumentation, are manifold. Petrovszky convincingly demonstrates that “the Orthodox written culture of southeastern Europe remained throughout the period in question closely tied to the religious sphere or at least under its strong influence. […] In the area in which the south-Slavic languages prevailed, the writer, the place of writing, and the place of printing remained more strongly bound to the field of the Church than they did in other Orthodox regions and language areas” (p.229). In addition to presenting this finding, which he supports with numerous examples, Petrovszky offers insights into the relationships between political context, social diversification, educational migration, the transfer of knowledge, and Orthodox concepts of history and the writing of history. The same is true of his observations concerning content. Thus, for instance he determines that Islamic history writing is given no reception whatsoever in the texts that are in the center of his inquiry. It is quite clear “that the existence of a large space in which intercommunication was possible, such as the space that was undoubtedly created by the space of Ottoman rule, did not always mean permeability and actual exchange” (p.232). This inquiry, which far surpasses the standards set by other treatises submitted to complete academic requirements for historians in Germany, constitutes a significant contribution to other, quite varied disciplines in the humanities. This is true not only for the departments and institutes that deal with the culture and history of southeastern Europe, but also for scholars who are interested in the early modern intellectual history in Central and Western Europe.
A gyulafehérvári hiteleshely levélkeresői (1556–1690) [The requisitors of the Gyulafehérvár place of authentication (1556–1690)]. By Emőke Gálfi. (Erdélyi Tudományos Füzetek, 283.) Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum Egyesület, 2015. 235 pp.
In the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era, there was a network of institutions in Hungary known as the “loca credibilia,” which were chapters or convents that served as places of authentication. The functions of these places of authentication included serving the role of notary public. In recent years, historians have begun to realize that the documents that were produced by these places of authentication, which have traditionally been used as sources in the study of diplomatic and institutional history, are also indispensable in the study of the history of Early Modern society. In the decades following the defeat of the Hungarian army at the hands of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the development of the institution began to take a different turn in Transylvania than in the Kingdom of Hungary, where it continued to function. In 1556, the places of authentication in Transylvania became secular, and the tasks relating to the maintenance of records were taken over by secular scribes, so-called requisitors, who begin to be mentioned in the sources in 1559.
The goal of Emőke Gálfi’s monograph is to examine the lives and careers of the officials of the place of authentication of the chapter of Gyulafehérvár (today Alba Iulia in Romania) and the history of the institution, from its secularization in 1556 to the end of the principality, from the perspectives of governmental and social history. Gálfi has divided the monograph into three longer chapters. In the first, she presents the evolution of the office of the requisitor and, in this context, the secularization of the Transylvanian chapter (one of the consequences of the Reformation) and the functions and roles of the first requisitors. In the second chapter, she examines the social strata of the intelligentsia represented by the requisitors. She begins with the process according to which they were appointed and the tasks with which they were entrusted (which were the traditional tasks of the archivist) and then provides subchapters on their incomes and estates. As the reader learns from these subchapters, on the basis of their estates and the number of serfs belonging to their estates, most of them were members of the medium-sized estate-owning nobility. It is worth noting that roughly half of them were not originally from Transylvania. Rather, their families had fled to Transylvania from regions of the country that had fallen under threat from the Ottoman Turks. Regarding their social backgrounds, eleven of them had come from urban settings or market towns. Four of them belonged to the middle nobility. One of them was a serf and two were Székelys. The rest either were members of the lesser nobility or of an indeterminate background. However, by the end of their lives, thanks to the roles they had played in these offices, all of them were able to achieve noble rank. Sources indicate that at least fifteen of them had had thorough schooling. From the perspective of their denominational makeup (they were Unitarians and Calvinists), it is quite clear that almost exclusively people belonging to Protestant churches were regarded as suitable for this important position. Indeed this factor determined to a large extent the network of their relationships. They were closely tied to the Calvinist elites. They also seem to have adopted very deliberate strategies with regards to marriage. They strove to improve their circumstances by marrying women who either were of equal social position and wealth or of higher social position and wealth. The 32 wives on whom information is available of 22 requisitors (the difference is due to some of the man having had more than one wife) were mostly of noble origins. Only men from more humble social backgrounds chose wives from among the burghers.
The third chapter, which examines the documents and data concerning the requisitors, is the most expansive. Gálfi offers a detailed presentation of the social backgrounds, educations, careers, and material and familial relationships of 38 requisitors in chronological order on the basis of thorough knowledge of the primary sources and secondary literature. The appendix is an important complement to this chapter. It contains in extenso supplements concerning the requisitors, including certificates, correspondence, last wills and testaments, letters regarding the division of properties, inventories of assets, etc.
Gálfi’s monograph addresses what has remained something of a blank spot in Hungarian historiography. The publication of the book is important from at least two perspectives for scholars. First, the history of the institution itself, the loca credibilia, has hardly been a subject of much interest among historians. Her book may well serve to draw attention to its significance in the larger context of institutional history. Second, it is admirable for the thoroughness and nuance with which it examines the functions and social composition of the Transylvanian requisitors, who represented an institution essentially unfamiliar in Hungary. Thus, Gálfi has enriched the field with a monograph that addresses an important subject and constitutes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the period in question. It may well prompt further inquiries into the history of the roles of loca credibilia in the Early Modern Era.
Török szövetség – Habsburg kiegyezés: A Bocskai-felkelés történetéhez [Ottoman alliance – Habsburg compromise: On the history of the Bocskai uprising]. By Sándor Papp. Budapest: Károli Gáspár Református Egyetem–L’Harmattan, 2014. 398 pp.
The anti-Habsburg movement led by István Bocskai, which took place between 1604 and 1606, has always been given a place of prominent importance in Hungarian historiography. There are several reasons for this. As the first piece of legislation concerning the religious freedoms of the Hungarian estates was the result of the peace treaty that was signed at the end of this uprising, Bocskai was quite obviously seen as a hero of the Reformation by the Protestant historiography of the nineteenth century. This denominational perspective—canonized at the International Monument to the Reformation in Geneva, where Bocskai’s statue is the only one representing the region—was paired with another political message very popular in nineteenth-century historiography, namely that Hungary’s repeated attempts to achieve independence represented one of the most important threads in its history. As this uprising was the first occasion on which the Hungarian estates had taken weapons in hand to defend their liberties against their legitimate king, Rudolph of the Habsburg House, Bocskai was an obvious choice for a national hero, who represented not only religious freedoms but also the struggle for independence. After 1945, the uprising became canonized as a “szabadságharc,” an ambiguous term that can refer to a fight for (political or religious) liberties (which the uprising beyond any doubt was), but also has the connotations of a struggle for national independence, especially since it is used to refer to the Revolution of 1848.
It was the latter connotation and everything that it entails in respect to narratives of long-term historical developments that prompted a revisionist interpretation ten years ago, on the occasion of the publications of a massive quantity of writings produced for the anniversary of the uprising. One of the most important arguments presented by historian Géza Pálffy in his critique of interpretations of the Bocskai uprising as a fight for independence was that its leader, István Bocskai, was, in the course of the events, not only elected prince of Transylvania, a tributary state of the Ottoman Empire, but also enjoyed the sultan’s military support. Thus, he had no chance of emerging from the fight as a ruler of a Hungary independent of the two neighboring empires. One of the most important reference points used by Pálffy was the early studies by Sándor Papp on the Ottoman contacts of the Bocskai uprising, which brought forth many novel results and has now grown into a monograph, a dissertation that secured its author the title of Doctor of the Academy of Sciences.
Having acknowledged the ideologically heavily loaded character of his field of research, Papp promises to make a thorough reconstruction of the chronology and causal connections between the various moves of different actors in this complex game of politics and war based on the broadest possible selection of primary sources. This is a promise he fulfills to the letter. He draws on his philological skills in Ottoman Turkish paleography to provide documents to enrich his reader’s understanding of the Ottoman perspective on an unprecedented scale and also dedicates longer sections to the meticulous study of sources long familiar and long misunderstood. With his keen aptitude for detail, Papp at times risks jeopardizing the coherence of his inquiry because of his meticulous focus on the close study of primary sources. Some sections have little to do with the main topic of the book, such as the painstaking reconstruction and critique of the sources related to the alleged poisoning of Bocskai in 1606 (which Papp ultimately finds unlikely ever to have taken place). It may have been prudent to have published such sections as separate articles. In most instances, however, Papp’s method yields important insights into the questions he posed as the most important focus of his research.
The Bocskai uprising took place in the very last phase of the Long Turkish War at the turn of the seventeenth century (or the Fifteen Years War, as it is known in Hungarian historiography), a fact that has been acknowledged by all authors writing about this historical event, though no one has taken it as seriously as Papp has. He begins his narrative several years before the uprising, and he provides an account of the various attempts at peacemaking between Habsburgs and Ottomans, a prehistory of Bocskai’s campaign. It is thus immediately apparent why the Hungarian uprising was met with such a hearty welcome from the Ottoman side and why the grand vizier found it important to issue in the name of the sultan an inauguration document for Bocskai as king of Hungary only some months after his initial successes. A rare collection of correspondence between Bocskai and the Ottoman dignitaries and also among the sultan’s office-holders involved in the Hungarian campaign enable Papp to trace the steps in the process of coordination between the parties. This material shows that the details of military cooperation were continuously discussed, and Grand Vizier Lala Mehmed expected a great deal from Bocskai’s activities. It is also clear that the Ottomans tried to keep Bocskai and his Hungarian supporters interested in not concluding a final settlement with the representatives of the king of Hungary until there was a chance to reach an agreement on the questions debated at the Ottoman–Habsburg peace negotiations that led eventually to the Treaty of Zsitvatorok.
One of the most important focal points of Papp’s narrative is the personal meeting between Grand Vizier Lala Mehmed and István Bocskai (who by that time had been elected prince of Transylvania and Hungary) at Rákosmező on the November 11, 1605. On this occasion, Bocskai was given a crown by the Ottoman dignitary. Apart from clarifying the origins of this crown (and identifying it as a Byzantine jewel, which had been renovated in Constantinople for the occasion), Papp also provides convincing arguments against one of the widely familiar myths concerning the Ottoman relationship to the Bocskai uprising. On the basis of the apologetic contemporary description of Johannes Bocatius, Hungarian historiography for centuries has claimed that Bocskai accepted the crown only as a jewel, not as royal insignia, and that he did not seek to challenge the right of Rudolph, the legitimate ruler, to the Hungarian throne. A close reading of Bocatius’ narrative has persuaded Papp that such an insult would not have been possible at an audience staged by the second most important person in the Ottoman Empire for a prince who had been in subordinate position towards the sultan. Recently discovered Ottoman and Hungarian sources also support this conclusion.
All in all, the thorough source analysis, paired with an interest in the wider political context, make Papp’s monograph a valuable contribution not only to a more realistic understanding of Hungarian history, but also to a more nuanced grasp of the history of the Ottoman Empire and its relationships to its tributaries.
Bécs vonzásában: Az agrárpiacosodás feltételrendszere Moson vármegyében a 19. század első felében [In the pull of Vienna: The preconditions of the development of the agrarian market in Moson County in the first half of the nineteenth century]. By Gergely Krisztián Horváth. Budapest: Balassi, 2013. 695 pp.
Gergely Krisztián Horváth’s new monograph is a masterpiece of Hungarian economic and social history, both of which are undergoing a refreshing revival. It offers a thorough picture of the economic processes of the protoindustrial period, the various effects they had on society, and the responses (which showed varying degrees of flexibility) that were given to the challenges that arose, all of which led to a gradual loosening of the hierarchical feudal social order in the region before 1848. In order to present the economic processes that were taking place in the first half of the nineteenth century and loosening the existing social structure, Horváth chose to examine Moson County, which lies in the western corner of Hungary, at the gateway of Vienna.
The book is structured around a gradual approach to its subject. The introduction, in which Horváth raises the fundamental questions of his study, acquaints the reader with the conclusions in the available secondary literature and clarifies the theoretical framework of the inquiry. This is followed by a presentation of the structural characteristics of the region. Here, Horváth adopts a gradual approach, beginning on the regional level (the relationship between Vienna and Moson County at the beginning of the industrial revolution in Austria, which led to deindustrialization as a complementary process) and then examining local circumstances (the social structures of the villages). This is followed by a description of the system of natural and geographical preconditions of the development of an agricultural marketplace and a discussion of the ways in which this was influenced by anthropogenic factors. The archducal estate of Moson County and the county itself are presented separately as independent agents with diverging interests, as are the social factors (from work done in the service of a landlord to schooling) that shaped peasant farming and determined the surplus quantity that could be sent to market. This is followed by other factors that influenced trade, including border and customs policy and conflicts involving transportation. Finally, Horváth provides a quantitative analysis of exports, including their composition and the roles they played in the provision of supplies for Vienna and the living conditions of the peasantry. The book follows a logical structure in which the various elements build clearly on one another, while at the same time the many case studies and comparisons offer an array of information.
Horváth adopts primarily an analytical approach. The best example of this is perhaps the chapter in which he examines the relationships between demographic, social, denominational, and ethnic differences (how did religious affiliation affect family size and economic influence, and was it a decisive factor in the success of adaptation strategies) and the extent of the influence of this on economic development (was there a connection between the size and production capacity of a plot of land and the social or ethnic background of its owner). The map appendix, which illustrates natural and social-economic processes and regional differences in these processes, helps orient the reader.
Horváth’s decision to focus on Moson County proved fortuitous. Influences arriving from the West and the interregional division of labor (industrial goods for agricultural goods) hit this region first in Hungary. Thus, the effects they had can be examined directly. Because of the geography of the land and the potentials this created for transportation, the region profited from the situation. The production and social indicators of the county, which were comparatively favorable on the national level, were as much consequences as they were preconditions of this process. According to Horváth, of the favorable conditions one of the most significant was the ratio of livestock to serfs, which was remarkably high in comparison with the rest of the country, as well as the literacy rate and the ethnic makeup (it was the only county in Hungary with a German-speaking majority, and thus there were no real obstacles to communication with Austria). The presence of the archducal estate in Mosonmagyaróvár was also a favorable circumstance: the concentration of capital helped solve problems that were in principle the responsibility of the county, but the administration was unable to address them because of lack of will and lack of sources. Individuals were no better able to solve these kinds of issues, since at the time, i.e. in the early days of the emergence of a burgher middle class, they did not have the necessary financial resources or the forums for self-organization. Large estates played a significant role in the development of higher education, the modernization of farming, the spread of industrial and agricultural innovation, and protective measures against floods, which threatened people’s livelihoods and sustenance. Thus, the dynamic development of the region was not due so much to its natural and geographical features as it was to the economic and social structures that emerged relatively early here in comparison with other parts of the country.
It is worth asking why the region, which lay near to an industrial center, was not itself able to embark on the path towards industrialization (Horváth examines this in the chapter entitled “Protoindustrialization contra the Agrarian Market”). According to classical interpretations, the explanation for this lies in the relative prosperity enjoyed in the field of agriculture, which was a consequence of the division of labor that had emerged. It led to a decline in small industry in the region that served the industrial center because of competition with the manufacturing industry. However, the turn for the better in “terms of trade” and the growth in agricultural exports (according to theory, this in general leads naturally to deindustrialization, since it is more profitable to invest in agriculture) created an accumulation of capital that could have been invested in industry (instead of this, the consumption of imported industrial goods was on the rise). The explanation for why this did not take place lies in the absence of social structure as an institutional background and the hindering effects this had. In Horváth’s assessment, the fact that Moson County often was more rigid than a given estate, village, or social stratum in its responses to the challenges that arose (the problems of drainage and the regulation of waterways to protect the marshlands of Hanság from flooding and create more arable land or the economic problems concerning customs duties on the internal Austrian-Hungarian border) was a clear sign of the disintegration of the traditional frameworks. In contrast with the county administration, the estates, villages, and social strata found back doors in the system, gradually cracking its frameworks at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The book is a work of both economic history and social history. It relies on a number of methodologies, including microhistorical analysis, cliometric methods used in quantitative economic history, and an array of methods used in sociology, as well as agrarian history and ethnographic observations. This is complemented with a critical analysis of the writings of Anton Wittmann and Andreas Grailich, two proponents of modernization. Their work makes it possible to determine the labor productivity among peasants and compare it with productivity in other territories. The book is pioneering from the perspective of methodology as well, and not simply because of its statistical approach (Horváth examines the proportions of Hungarian exports, Viennese imports, and production on the county level, each of which places a different aspect of the complex interrelations in the foreground), but also because of the conclusions the author draws. Thus, it will be of interest and use to historians, specialists in agriculture, geographers, and economists. The importance of geography is always at the fore, as natural problems were clearly often in the background of social phenomena. The book even contains theories and arguments that draw on the natural sciences (for instance, arguments concerning plans for the regulation of the Hanság marshlands). Thus, it will also be informative and interesting to geographers and specialists in water engineering, and it provides insights into economic interests that exerted an influence on regulation plans and projects. We are even given a kind of archetype miniature of the debate concerning the regulation of the Tisza River and the social groups and organizations that took part in this debate, each of which had diverging interests. The importance of geographical considerations is palpable even in the discussion of principles of economics. As far as Horváth is concerned, the administrative borders of Moson County were not congruent with the actual borders of the economic spheres of the county or even individual settlements. He takes the regrettably rare and all the more admirable step of considering not how the different institutions were supposed to function according to the law (whether we are speaking of an institution of agricultural education, an assessment of taxes, the closing of a border, the issuing of a passport, the manner in which a plot of land was used, etc.), but actually how these institutions did function. This enables him to assess the disintegration and transformation of the nobleman’s county and hierarchical feudal society.
Given the breadth and depth of his inquiry, Horváth had to familiarize himself with an array of written sources. He seems to have consulted almost every available archival source, from notices of loss to requests for remittal of tax debts to schematics on schooling. His ability to organize the data he uncovered in the course of his research is eloquent testimony to his knowledge of theoretical questions and his practical gift as a writer. His descriptions offer a clear grasp of the ways in which the systems functioned, and the book will be an indispensable crutch for scholars pursuing research on local or regional history. Horváth has used every assessment of taxes and source of information in order to compile as much data as possible, and anyone who has ever attempted to compare data from different eras and based on different units of measurement in order to create a coherent kind of database knows what a daunting task this is, full of snares. One of his strengths is his ability to use soft variables alongside hard variables in order to draw subtle conclusions, and he does a good job alternating dense and focused description with looser narrative. His holistic approach allows him to flirt with the idea of writing a “total” history.
Horváth also provides a critical analysis of the existing secondary literature, including the comparatively few works on Moson County and works that examine the region in general. He reflects on some of the traditional views found in Austrian and Hungarian works on economic history, sometimes adopting a contrary standpoint and throwing into question the plausibility of the contentions that have been made. Both the reliability of scales, measurement units, and theories about the significance of the double customs border in the development of Hungary are discussed. Someone seeking to provide an assessment of another county or region according to a similar set of perspectives must confront the fact that the phenomena described in this book are not necessarily of general applicability. Thus, the most important virtue of the work is not that it can serve as a general handbook (of collected methods), but rather that it demonstrates persuasively that it is possible to reconstruct, in addition to the basic functional mechanisms of power and administration, the economic substance of regulations and units of measurement and thus to further an understanding, alongside sources of conflict, of social capacities to assert interests. Furthermore, Horváth offers on the micro-level a sketch of the successes of the various strategies of economic (dairy farming, grain production, transportation, viticulture, providing provender) and social adaptation (breaking the law, tax evasion, education) and compares these strategies.
Pánszlávok a kastélyban: Justh József és a szlovák nyelvű magyar nemesség elfeledett története [Pan-Slavs in the manor house: József Justh and the forgotten history of the Slovak-speaking Hungarian nobility]. By József Demmel. Bratislava: Kalligram, 2014. 284 pp.
Social history and the history of mentalities, which began to become increasingly popular subjects of study in East Central Europe after the fall of communism, are unquestionably among the most dynamic areas of the field of history today. As far as national and political identity of noble families is concerned, it has been a subject of interest in writings on Hungarian history since the Middle Ages. Half of the Hungarian noble families lived in the northern region of pre-World War I Hungary (what today is Slovakia), where the population was primarily Slovak-speaking. They enjoyed privileges, they were also obliged to fight in defense of the country, but none of this meant that they had to speak Hungarian. Until 1844, the language of state in Hungary was Latin, and much of the written culture of the region in question was in German or Czech. The nobility of the territory regarded itself as part of the Hungarian nation politically and socially, but ethnically it identified with the Slavic nation (broadly understood). With the rise of the modern concept of linguistic nation and nation state in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the non-Hungarian-speaking nobility was expected to accept ethnic Hungarians as the ruling nation. This demand did not encounter major resistance, and gave rise to a prevalent optimism at the time and even in later assessments of the period. Research projects and initiatives that were launched in the 1970s confirmed this view. These inquiries asserted the claim that one finds, in the mentality of the era, a mass tendency towards spontaneous assimilation, thus presenting the reader with an image of the country as a kind of melting pot. The repeal of feudal privileges in 1848 did not slow the process. Thus, an 1878 pamphlet, for instance, read “ambitious Slovaks raise their boys to be Hungarian gentlemen. In their minds, the word ‘Slovak’ and the word ‘gentleman’ are mutually exclusive” (Béla Grünwald, A felvidék: Politikai tanulmány , 29).
In contrast, the nationalist Slovak elite of the nineteenth century, which was active in parallel or, more precisely, in opposition to the Hungarian elite, condemned these noble families for their “betrayal”, though these families were expected to take their place at the vanguard of the fight for Slovak equality. Pamphlets and speeches emphasized that, in earlier centuries, the Slovak nobility had played a leading role in the protection of the borders and rights of the country and Slovak had been used in public and Church affairs. According to this elite, these nobles could only be members of the Slovak nation, which was of the same status as the Magyar nation.
To this day, the question of dual Slovak-Hungarian identity has not been the subject of any serious research projects. József Demmel’s new work breaks from the ideological and normative approach. In the introductory chapter Demmel offers a persuasive presentation of the ways in which a dual identity functioned by drawing on the examples of specific individuals. An aristocrat in the second half of the nineteenth century on the one hand resolutely opposed the Slovak national movement, while on the other he felt himself as Slovak in the company of Hungarians and wrote fine poetry in Slovak in the solitude of his manor house. At the middle of the century, relatives of Lajos Kossuth living in Turóc (Turiec) County wrote much of their correspondence and discussed the economic affairs of the family for the most part in Slovak, in spite of the fact that Kossuth himself, as perhaps the most recognized figure of Hungarian politics, was always a staunch opponent of the Slovak national movement. According to Demmel, this was all quite natural, given the linguistic environment in which the child of a noble family grew up in the region. Family members spoke German and Slovak, the larger community spoke almost exclusively Slovak, and the children only began to use Hungarian (and Latin) in school. Thus, these people did not choose dual identities, but rather inherited these identities as part of the legacy of the multilingual communities in which they lived. They regarded themselves as part of the noble Hungarian nation (the Natio Hungarica), but in many of the most important spheres of their lives they used Slovak (and in writing for a long time Czech) as the dominant language. Demmel, however, does not simply content himself with his observation concerning this nuance. He analyzes the trends in local politics in Turóc County (the population of which was entirely Slovak-speaking) by putting the county in the larger context of the party struggles and conflicts of the 1830s and 1840s, showing persuasively that the national struggle between the liberals and the conservatives provided a background for the local struggles between the leading families of Turóc County and their political supporters. The family of the person whom Demmel has chosen as the focus of his inquiry, József Justh, had been locked in a struggle for centuries with another influential family of the area for the leading role in the community. In the 1840s, Justh’s faction supported the policies and goals of the liberal parties, which meant opposition to the use of Slovak and Latin in public life and support for the use of Hungarian. Thus, he had support on the national level, while the conservatives, who were being pushed from local positions of influence, began to support the Slovak national movement in its struggle against efforts to make Hungarian the language of public affairs. These leading figures of this movement, however, proved too liberal for their inclinations, and they soon distanced themselves from them. It is one of the ironies of history that the debate between the two camps took place for the most part in the columns of the newspaper of the Slovak national movement, as this was the forum in which the two sides were best able to express their views.
Gradually, József Justh became a leading figure of liberal politics in Hungary on the national level. In 1847, he became a delegate of the national assembly, and during the 1848 revolution he was made commissioner of Turóc County and the leader of a neighboring county. He was charged with the task of keeping a watchful eye on the Slovak national movement and harassing its leaders. As the military constellation began to shift, he was taken prisoner by the pro-Habsburg Slovak troops that occupied Turóc County. However, his political inclinations and responsibilities notwithstanding, he maintained his ties to the Slovak community. In the 1840s, he defended one of the leaders of the Slovak national movement, Jozef Miloslav Hurban, who was accused in a Church affair of anti-Hungarian activity, and though in 1849 he himself was Hurban’s prisoner, the two men maintained respect for each other throughout their lives. After the Revolution, Justh maintained his friendship with Ľudovít Štúr, the leader of the Slovak nationalism (whom Justh had been supposed to apprehend in 1848), and in the 1850s he supported (though unsuccessfully) Štúr’s plan to create an institutional framework for secondary schooling in Slovak. His sons were educated for years at a time by people who openly supported the Slovak nationalist movement (as indeed the title of the book, Pan-Slavs in the manor house indicates). The zenith in his political career came in 1861, when a memorandum demanding local autonomy was accepted at the national assembly of the Slovak nation. Justh took part in the drafting of this document and even agreed to serve as a member of the delegation that was to be sent to the national assembly in Budapest. What might have prompted him to take part, quite openly, in the struggle for equal recognition for the Slovak nation? As Demmel suggests, Justh had had a chance to experience, during the Revolution, the power of the Slovak national movement. He had born witness as the leaders of the movement had managed to mobilize all of Turóc County in support of their aims. The statements they made in the 1850s and 1860s convinced him that the Hungarians regarded the non-Hungarian peoples of the country as equal partners (in this he was mistaken). However, the attacks that were leveled against the Memorandum made plain to him the fact that the Hungarian leaders continued to espouse and labor in support of a notion of a single, unified Hungarian nation and Hungarian state. He immediately did an about-face (he withdrew from the delegation) and from then on distanced himself from the political aspirations of the Slovak community. He remained an influential representative of liberal Hungarian politics. He continued to serve as the delegate of Turóc County. In 1869, he was elected to serve as president of the governing liberal party under Ferenc Deák, and he was celebrated by his contemporaries as a staunch opponent of “Pan-Slavism,” i.e. the Slovak national movement. In the course of the election campaigns, he did indeed come into conflict with candidates who represented the aims of the Slovak national movement. He used corrupt tactics to ensure victory in these skirmishes (which was perfectly common at the time), but in the background, “as a kind of silent Slovak” (to use Demmel’s characterization), he supported Slovak institutions (the savings bank, printing press, comprehensive school, casino, and Matica slovenská, the society for public education).
Justh’s political and personal life fell to pieces in the mid-1870s. As Demmel shows, he was unable to represent effectively in Turóc County the aims of Hungarian nationalist circles, at least not to the satisfaction of these circles, who saw him as someone all too willing to reach compromises with local Slovak groups. He had lost many of his supporters and his financial resources had dwindled, and he and his remaining group were regarded as an obstacle to the termination of the Slovak comprehensive schools and Matica slovenská.
Demmel rejects the notion of archetypes and resolutely remains within the theoretical framework of micro-historical analysis, focusing on individual cases as individual cases, rather than as examples. Nonetheless, his selection of a prominent figure of history seems to have been a perfect choice as an illustration of his thesis. Justh’s career and life show the major turning points in the politics and ethnic relations of the nineteenth century and, more narrowly, the process of Magyarization, which was by no means an unbroken, uncontested development.
In Search of the Budapest Secession: The Artist Proletariat and Modernism’s Rise in the Hungarian Art Market, 1800–1914. By Jeffrey Taylor. Saint Helena, CA: Helena History Press, 2014. 260 pp.
Jeffrey Taylor’s book covers the emergence of the modern art market in Hungary, locating the evolution of Hungarian artists’ groups, organizations, and exhibition venues from the early nineteenth century to World War I within the international developments of the era. Taylor interprets the fin-de-siècle, one of the richest periods of Hungarian art, from a hitherto underexplored angle, placing the intricate mechanisms of the art market in the focus of his investigations. Protagonists like the Nagybánya group or The Eight and major modern artists like József Rippl-Rónai or Lajos Tihanyi thus appear in an unusual light, portrayed not only as pioneering artists but also as conscious actors in the art trade and inventors of groundbreaking (self-)marketing strategies.
The author is currently assistant professor of arts management and entrepreneurship at Purchase College, State University of New York, and for a long time has been an active participant in the art business himself. Thanks to his practical expertise, Taylor knows the art market from the inside and from the outside: he is intimately familiar with the mechanisms of the art trade in a way in which very few academic art historians are. The great strengths of Taylor’s book stem from the author’s multi-faceted knowledge: his hands-on experience on the one hand, and his academic erudition on the other.
The book’s introductory chapter outlines the emergence of European art markets and points to the dispersion of models, originating in France and the Netherlands but adopted also by the European peripheries in the course of the nineteenth century. During the process of what Taylor calls market pluralization, the intermediaries of art (exhibition venues and organizations) would multiply, beginning with breakaway movements which challenged the monopoly of dominant national organizations and continuing with an ever-increasing number of private galleries and splinter organizations, which created rival forums for the art trade. After outlining the pan-European models, Taylor briefly marks out the position of Hungarian art organizations within the international trends, indicating (at this point, only in an introductory manner) the similarities and differences between the core countries of Europe and a peripheral state like Hungary.
The question raised by Taylor in the introduction as one of his chief problems involves the dating and identification of the Secession in Budapest: his question concerns which particular group or movement can be characterized as equivalent to the well-known Secessions of Central Europe, i.e. the Vienna Secession, the Munich Secession, or the Berlin Secession. But “Secession” as a term is not used by Taylor exclusively to designate movements and organizations which have gone down in art history by that name. He interprets Secession as a movement which shatters the market monopoly of a formerly hegemonic organization and therefore has key importance in the development of modern art markets. By tracing the evolution of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century art organizations in Hungary, he sets out to devote his book to the quest for the Hungarian Secession.
Chapters 1 and 2 deal with the evolution of the art market in nineteenth-century Hungary. Chapter 2 presents the emergence of a major national art organization, the National Hungarian Society of Arts (Országos Magyar Képzőművészeti Társulat), and analyzes the role its exhibitions, modeled on the Paris Salons of the period, played in a period in which the art market in Hungary was just in the making.
Chapter 3 discusses the history of the National Salon, a second large art organization in Hungary founded in 1894, which was the first significant formation to challenge the former monopoly of the National Hungarian Society of Arts. At the beginning of the chapter, Taylor formulates an excellent reading of what Nemzeti Szalon was all about, interpreting the new institution from the point of view of market logic and competition within the profession, rather than explaining its emergence by aesthetic differences. In his introduction of the pre-World-War-I history of the National Salon, Taylor offers excellent close readings of the conflicts, struggles and rivalries within the Hungarian art world. In this chapter, Taylor also examines the problem of the artist proletariat, going deep into the roots of the issue. According to Taylor’s thesis, the emergence of the free art market and the late-nineteenth-century proliferation of exhibition opportunities gave rise to an artist proletariat, steadily increasing in numbers as the nineteenth century drew to a close; out of that mass, only a narrow elite (which Taylor terms “the labor aristocracy of established artists”) was able to make a living off the arts as a profession.
In Chapter 4, Taylor traces the evolution of private galleries in Hungary, following the process of specialization from the mixed profiles of early dealers to the specialized art galleries of the early twentieth century. Taylor introduces the five par excellence modern art galleries that operated in Budapest in the early 1900s, and he introduces the reader to their business models. By presenting a number of their exhibitions, Taylor shows the importance of the roles played by new galleries in shaping the new canon; analyzing their activities, Taylor also identifies various new types of exhibitions, such as “solo-type shows” or traveling exhibitions accompanied locally by social events, emphasizing, very aptly, the marketing strategies at work behind the staging of the shows.
Taylor’s main question in the book is what one should identify in Hungary as the equivalent of European Secessions; which institution or splinter group bears the closest resemblance to the well-known European models of the era.
Taylor’s preoccupation with capturing the Hungarian Secession, however, may have diverted his attention away from other equally important achievements of his own work. Is the main issue really which group or institution we should call secession? The story Taylor tells is actually more exciting: he interprets the relatively well-known history of turn-of-the-century Hungarian art from an unconventional and highly original point of view. Taylor’s close examination of various interest groups and their behind-the-scene struggles provides the reader with hitherto undiscovered perspectives, offering a richer understanding of the special logic of art as an economic field.
Power struggles within the art world are interpreted in Taylor’s book not as competing aesthetics and credos of “schools,” but as acts of competition for better sales opportunities. Taylor’s highly ingenious interpretations throw the milestone exhibitions of the period, steadily fixed in the hagiographies of Hungarian artists and described hundreds of times by the creators of the modern canon, into an entirely new light. The reader will understand that the rise of certain groups, such as the Nagybánya painters, depended at least as much on their successful strategies of protest and marketing as on their artistic novelty, especially compared to unsuccessful group formations in the same period.
Having acknowledged the unquestionable merits of the book, I would make a few critical observations as well. One of the major shortcomings of the book is already apparent in the introductory chapter, and it runs through the entire volume. One assumes, and the reviewers quoted on the back cover of the book also assume, that Taylor’s potential audience will consist of readers from all around the world, ranging from non-Hungarian art historians to art collectors, people who are not experts in fin-de-siècle Hungarian art but wish to acquaint themselves better with it. The critical observer, however, cannot avoid the impression that Taylor in fact did not really clarify to himself who his book’s target audience would be. The issue here is not one of content but one of communication. Taylor seems implicitly to suppose that his readers will be familiar with the artistic movements and institutions he discusses in the book; even the introduction is written in this spirit. Taylor makes insider references to movements, groups, and institutions without sufficiently introducing them to his readers. Hungarian names of groups and venues, as a rule, are only translated into English at their first occurrence, but then are used in their original Hungarian forms throughout the book. Hungarian is an esoteric language to most foreign readers, and one cannot presuppose any degree of familiarity with the meanings of Hungarian words (unlike in the case of French, Italian, Spanish, or German texts). To most native English readers, Nemzeti Szalon (National Salon) and (a more striking example) Magyar Képzőművészeti Társulat (Hungarian Society of Fine Arts) will appear undecipherable at best and intimidating at worst. The frequent use of such Hungarian names, although of course understandable from the point of view of accuracy, makes reading comprehension difficult for non-Hungarian readers and unnecessarily burdens Taylor’s otherwise excellent and very readable style. It may have been more prudent to use the English versions of the names of the various art groups and venues throughout the book, with the Hungarian originals given at the first occurrence.
The second problem is that Taylor does not sufficiently introduce the milieu about which he intends to write. Again, the implicit assumption seems to be that the reader will know all the basics about the Hungarian art world of the fin de siècle and he or she will not need any orientation. That assumption is most probably wrong, unless the author’s intention was to address his book to the professional circle of Hungarian art historians; otherwise, a thorough introduction to the circumstances of the art world in Hungary, including its structures, groups, and institutions, would have been not only beneficial but a must at the beginning of the book.
Maybe as a consequence of the book’s general strategy, the broader context (e. g. society and politics) is not discussed at all. One would of course not expect the author to paint a broad canvas of turn-of-the-century Hungary, but Taylor should have included at least some examination of the interactions between art, society, and the political sphere. An understanding of societal forces is strikingly absent from Taylor’s main arguments. “The expanding stream of young men and women throwing themselves into the profession of artist” (p.xi), and, hence, producing the artist proletariat, according to Taylor’s thesis, is a phenomenon that requires much more complex explanation that is not limited to market mechanisms and exhibition facilities: much of the explanation should deal with conditions that lie outside the world of art, e. g. with the growing social prestige of art as a profession at the end of the nineteenth century.
Other factors may be directly related to art but external to Hungary. Near Munich, one of the undisputed art centers of the region until the end of the nineteenth century and a city with its own academy of fine arts, was an art market far superior to Budapest because of the presence of foreign customers; Munich offered very attractive sales opportunities and probably motivated several talented young Hungarians to embark on a career as an artist in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
As far as the embeddedness of the art market is concerned, contextualization is not among the virtues of In Search of the Budapest Secession. New Cultural History and New Art History do not seem to have influenced Taylor’s approach very much, although his highly ingenious, market-oriented focus clearly sets him apart from conventional art histories as well. In general, he scarcely deals with the other side of the art market, namely customers and the public at large, unless in the abstract as part of the demand side of the art trade. Neither are the contemporary habits of exhibition attendance (as an element of emerging bourgeois lifestyles) discussed in depth, nor is the social prestige of membership in partially lay art societies analyzed.
Apart from these shortcomings, however, the book offers a refreshingly new reading of the Hungarian fin-de-siècle. I can heartily identify with Taylor’s pragmatic approach, and I fully appreciate Taylor’s insights as well as his erudition. The body of primary sources on which he draws is truly impressive, as is his synthesis of the secondary literature. In Search for the Budapest Secession will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in the birth of modern art in Hungary and a good introduction to the evolution of market models in nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Western art.
Anti-modernism: Radical Revisions of Collective Identity. Edited by Diana Mishkova, Marius Turda, and Balázs Trencsényi. (Discourses of collective identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770–1945): Texts and Commentaries, 4.) Budapest–New York: Central European University Press, 2014. 452 pp.
Although nationalism and collective identities remain highly debated topics throughout Central and Eastern Europe, collective endeavors focused on generating complex working tools for research on these two subjects are surprisingly rare. Thus, the current volume, edited by historians Diana Mishkova, Marius Turda and Balázs Trencsényi and consisting of contributions from more than a dozen scholars, is a significant addition, which provides a wide range of primary sources never before presented on this scale to an English-reading audience.
This is the fourth and final installment of a praiseworthy scholarly undertaking that lasted more than a decade and published its first volume in 2006, which focused on the late Enlightenment and the emergence of the modern “national idea.” It is a treasure trove of primary sources, which are meant to enhance readers’ understandings of the period between 1880 and 1945, an age of regenerative projects and rebellious explorations of alternative paths to modernity, which has been appropriately labeled an “age of anxiety.”
The volume is divided into five thematically designed chapters dealing with salient issues, such as integral nationalism, the crisis of the European conscience, the search for a national ontology, conservative redefinitions of tradition and modernity, and the anti-modernist revolution. Each chapter contains relevant primary sources pertaining to the aforementioned topics, with excerpts from the works of influential intellectuals, politicians and other public figures. The chapters also include useful biographical and contextual information. This format does a great deal to foster and facilitate a nuanced understanding of the issues at stake.
The texts were carefully selected and include some of the main public voices from the anti-modernist camp that were relevant in Central and Southeast Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Even if the national(ist) landscape of this region was fragmented by claims of authenticity and uniqueness, by reading these texts side by side one can discern certain common traits concerning the preference for a collectivist-organicist national model, as well as a critical attitude towards fin-de-siécle liberalism, which was regarded by many as the source of all evils.
The introductory chapter by Sorin Antohi and Balázs Trencsényi convincingly explains the structure of the volume and the relevance of the chosen themes, while also highlighting the theoretical approach to the hitherto less-explored issue of anti-Modernism. Defining anti-modernism as “(a) the negative double of modernism and (b) the critique of modernism within modernism, not outside of or separated from it,” the authors emphasize that it differs from its double because it displays a string of characteristics such as negativism, authoritarianism, the cult of violence, cultural pessimism and biopolitical exclusion (p.3). The way in which anti-modernism is defined is useful because it helps the reader grasp it from the inside out, thus ensuring a higher explanatory power with respect to the success it garnered in various social quarters in the first half of the twentieth century.
For most of the protagonists of this collection of texts, the Great War was the end of all illusions. New alternatives were to be explored in order to arrive at solutions to the perceived existential crisis of modernity and its politics. The first chapter acquaints the reader with some of the early anti-modernist and nationalist discourses that emerged in various conservative circles across the region. Some of the relevant figures presented in this chapter include Georg von Schönerer and his Pan-Germanism and Josef Tiso, the leader of the Slovak People’s Party and a voice for the Slovak autonomist movement, which was authoritarian in its political goals. Among these early anti-Modernist discourses one also encounters the writings of Dezső Szabó. Szabó, a Hungarian nationalist writer, emphasized ethnocentric politics and the abandonment of Hungarian ambitions in the region in favor of a mission to organize the nations of Eastern Europe and the Balkans into a union and to proclaim “to these young nations the message of the new democracy and a new culture revived through their peasants” (p.114). In his case, the influence of Charles Maurras was significant, given that the ideas of the French ideologue were also present in other countries from the region, such as Romania.
The post-World War I pursuit for alternatives to the perceived crisis of European conscience is illustrated in the second chapter by texts such as Spiritual Itinerary, written by Romanian intellectual Mircea Eliade. This was Eliade’s intellectual program for the young interwar Romanian generation, which he regarded as “the most blessed generation, the most promising of all that have existed in this country.” Eliade argues in support of the primacy of the spirit (p.131). He saw the present as an unprecedented window of opportunity for his generation, with no immediate national goals to fulfill, free to experiment and determined to create products of universal value in the cultural realm. However, one cannot help noticing that Eliade’s itinerary, which seemed apolitical at the time, gathered around it a generation that in the 1930s would be partially seduced by the growing appeal of the extreme right. Hungarian writer Mihály Babits reaffirmed the universalist tenets of nationalism and pleaded against the racialized, totalitarian way of thinking that gained traction in the 1930s: “My calling is to safeguard my people’s purest moral traditions and not to allow the spirit of justice to become obsolete. To keep awake the smarting anxiety of the conscience amidst notions of humanity, the honor of the spirit and freedom. These are the real sacraments of the nation” (p.155).
There were also public figures in the region who offered diverse solutions in order to bypass the state of crisis by promoting the reshaping of the “national being” of their respective nations. Ion Dragoumis showcased the vision of a new civilization for Greece, the Hellenic Civilization, a synthesis of what the East and the West have to offer and also a construction different from the past Macedonian and Byzantine models. Nikolaj Velimirović promised the Serbs a more privileged place in Heaven, a Great Celestial Serbia that would come about as a result of the people’s sufferings and faith (p.225).
The fourth chapter provides several examples of how conservative discourses were adapted throughout the region in the troubled interwar context. Gyula Szekfű espoused an anti-liberal conservative critique. He lamented the failure of the process that was meant to assure that “the Hungarians would be able to preserve and extend their supremacy through the peaceful means of their higher spiritual and material culture” (p.254). Karel Kramář developed a neo-Slavic discourse from a conservative perspective, with a declared non-aggressive stance and justified as a means to protect the Czech nation against the perceived threats of Germanism and Magyarism (p.286).
A revolution with an anti-Modernist ideological core fascinated politicians and thinkers throughout the region, and examples of this kind of thinking can be found in the final chapter of the volume. One of the most relevant examples is that of Ioannis Metaxas who, under fascist influence, promoted ideas such as national regeneration, organic nationalism, the nation as a homogenous organism, and the rejection of foreign influence, all while emphasizing the importance of the Hellenic tradition. The text selected for the current volume eloquently illustrates the characteristics of the regime he imposed in August 1936: “A people now unified, not divided into parties and factions, a people constituting a whole, a solid body and a single will, having at its head the King, as the carrier of the national will [...] a Leader who belongs to the whole of the Nation and who deals with its needs as a unified whole, a Leader who is supported by the undivided and absolute trust of the people” (p.353). This new regime was labeled “the Third Hellenic civilization” in an attempt to match Metaxas’ ambitions.
Anti-modernism: Radical Revisions of Collective Identity, as well as the entire four-volume enterprise, is an invaluable tool for those who want to do comparative work on the region but do not know where to start. The relevant and diverse selection of primary sources leaves the reader craving for longer excerpts (which in all likelihood were kept short simply because of space constraints). The book certainly paves the way for future, similar projects by setting such a high standard. The potential audience for this volume goes beyond the academic realm. It would be ideal for undergraduate and graduate classes on comparative modern European history. It can be read to great avail by anyone interested in the evolution of Central and Eastern Europe between the 1880s and 1945 and the shaping of collective identities in this region, which involved processes that continue to have historical consequences to the present day.
Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania. By Roland Clark. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015. 288 pp.
Holy Legionary Youth by Roland Clark is an outstanding piece of scholarship on the Romanian fascist movement known as the Iron Guard. Following in the footsteps of reputed researchers such as Armin Heinen, Bela Vago, and Radu Ioanid, Clark joins the younger generation’s chorus of new voices in the study of Romanian Fascism led by Constantin Iordachi, Oliver Jens Schmitt, and Valentin Săndulescu. Distancing himself from the “palingenetic” twist introduced by Roger Griffin or George L. Mosse’s cultural turn, Clark’s book boldly concentrates on the social underpinnings of the Romanian fascist movement and the collective dynamics of different professional groups (painters, priests, writers, intellectuals) listed in the Iron Guard’s rank-and-file. Working from the perspective of the history of the everyday life (Alltagsgeschichte), Clark seeks to show “fascism as an everyday practice” and to consider “how legionaries performed fascism and how being fascist marked legionaries socially” (p.6). In his depiction of the “illiberal subjectivities,” Clark also investigates “the emotional energy they [the legionaries] invested in political activism and the extent to which they allowed legionary discipline to shape daily routines” (p.6) in order to clarify the social extent of legionary activism and the sheer obsession of legionaries with almost ascetical discipline. Bridging gaps in conflicting historiographical approaches and relying on a sophisticated theoretical underpinning ranging from the historiography of Fascism to systematic and liturgical Orthodox theology, Clark’s book offers the reader a subtle yet comprehensive narrative account of what it meant to be a member of the Iron Guard in interwar Romania.
One of the strong points of the book is the overwhelming and indeed unmatched amount of archival research undertaken by the author in Romanian archives, both central (Arhivele Nationale Istorice Centrale, Arhiva Consiliului National pentru Studierea Arhivelor Securitatii) and regional, as well as in the generous archival funds held by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Archives in Washington D.C. Together with these valuable archival documents, the large collection of interwar publications (newspapers, books, propaganda leaflets, etc.), oral history accounts, and a large array of memoirs penned by former legionaries masterfully convey a complex and broad picture of the Iron Guard’s everyday life from bottom to top and the fascist, anti-Semitic developments from the early 1920s up to the early 1950s in Romania.
The book’s structure is well balanced and the chapters provide both a clear-cut analytical framework and empirical analysis of the archival sources, the contemporary press, and the secondary literature. Among the most original chapters are “Youthful Justice” (pp.28–62), “Elections, Violence and Discipline” (pp.95–121), and “Salvation and Sacrifice” (pp.184–215). The first two discuss the early stages of the ultranationalist young generation’s anti-Semitic build up from early 1920s up to the early 1930s and the social construction of its appeal to the masses. The third focuses on “clerical activism” (pp.190–193) and describes the biographies of a few legionary clergymen and their ties to the movement. Addressing the question of why Orthodox clergymen and theologians got embroiled in the violent, xenophobic turn beginning in the early 1920s, the author emphatically states that, “because of the political leanings of their professors, theology students were at the forefront of anti-Semitic agitations” (p.190). Nevertheless, one question arises concerning the 1930s fascist activism of the Orthodox clergy: apart from the infectious influence of charismatic university and seminary professors, such as Grigore Cristescu (1895–1961), Nichifor Crainic (1889–1972), and Dumitru Iliescu-Palanca (1903–1963), what other explanations are there for the fact that the Orthodox priests and theologians mentioned by Clark publically supported the Iron Guard? Was it for the socio-cultural reasons that appealed to all the Orthodox clergymen, or were there local and individual dynamics? Also, following the argument presented in the theoretical framework envisaged by the author in the introduction, one is prompted to ask what sort of social practices these clergymen engaged in when performing as fascists, in addition to familiar case-studies of public funerals of legionary martyrs, religious commemorations of the dead (parastase), and the blessing of crosses erected by the legionaries. Did they behave as regular fascists or did they act differently from other legionary professional groups because of their constant self-awareness of their clerical vocation?
When writing about the logic of self-sacrifice in the context of the funeral of Ion Moţa and Vasile Marin (Iron Guard leaders killed in the Spanish Civil War in 1937), the author makes a compelling argument concerning the complex relationship between legionary martyrdom and Orthodox rituals: “Legionaries not only stated that church and nation were identical communities that were represented most perfectly by their movement; they enacted these relationships by using Orthodox funerary rituals to commemorate legionaries as national heroes. Legionary nationalism did not replace religious communities with national communities. Through ritual commemorations it reinforced the Orthodox Church as national, and the nation as Orthodox” (p.210). Although these ideas, which involved a symbolic overlap of the nation and the Church, were actually present in the Transylvanian context in the nineteenth century, Clark makes a valuable and original remark related to the symbiotic relationship between legionary and religious nationalism in interwar Romania. As noted by the author, in their search for public legitimization and as a means of augmenting their mass-appeal, the legionaries engaged in rituals that were shared with the Orthodox clergy, even when these public ceremonies were funerals and commemorations for the dead. This bolstered the social relevance of the Orthodox Church for both the members of the Legionary movement and the wider public. The legionaries behaved in this way towards the Orthodox clergymen in order to recall and to reemphasize the importance of so-called organic (what might in other contexts be referred to as native) tradition, the popular religiosity of the Romanian people, and the constant referral to religious rituals and Orthodox symbols in the social memory of the Romanian nation, an initiative favoring the Iron Guard’s utopian dreams of totalitarian political power.
Clark’s assumption that the nineteenth-century Orthodox Church from the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia supported the spread of nationalist movements (p.12) finds little support in the secondary literature on the subject. A more vigorous effort on Clark’s part in his discussion of the alleged precursors of the fascist movement in Romania would perhaps have been necessary in order to present some of his claims more persuasively. Some of his contentions remain unsupported and hypothetical. For the scholar of European Fascism, the absence of a historiographical essay in the introduction is a regrettable shortcoming. Although the author offers insights on the secondary literature on Fascism by shifting his attention towards the works of Roger Griffin, George L. Mosse, Michael Mann, and others, he fails to provide the reader with an analytical assessment of the secondary literature, both foreign and Romanian, on the Iron Guard. He does not make clear how his inquiry builds upon previous research and monographs or how, in its search for originality, the present work relates critically to previous undertakings in the field.
A relevant contribution to the field of fascist studies, Holy Legionary Youth opens new research avenues for students of European Fascism and Eastern European history. Highly interdisciplinary, analytically comprehensive, and informed by a prodigious array of both primary sources and secondary literature, Clark’s book is a much-awaited reading for researchers, university professors, and students alike. It will serve as a useful teaching tool for undergraduate and graduate classes on the interwar history of Eastern Europe, the genesis of interwar anti-Semitism, and everyday life under totalitarian regimes.
Siebenbürger ohne Siebenbürger? Zentralstaatliche Integration und politischer Regionalismus nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg. By Florian Kührer-Wielach. Munich: De Gruyter, 2014. 419 pp.
Writing in 1991 at the end of his career, the Romanian historian David Prodan waded into the resurgent ‘militant history writing’ on Transylvania. In Transylvania and again Transylvania, Prodan dismissed Hungarian national histories of Transylvania as ‘unscientific’ emotional stories. His own study, firmly encamped on the Romanian side, by contrast, purported to tell a dispassionate history of the region. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Transylvania was a hot topic again. A growing nationalist mood among Hungarians and Romanians culminated in violent clashes in Târgu Mureş in March, which left six dead, hundreds injured, and blinded the poet András Sütő in one eye. Academic disputes, generally ‘so bitter because the stakes are so small’ (as Kissinger famously put it), this time actually mattered.
Florian Kührer-Wielach intervenes in a long-standing debate about Transylvania and Transylvanian identity which has long been dogged by competing nationalist master narratives. In his book Siebenbürgen ohne Siebenbürger? Zentralstaatliche Integration und politischer Regionalismus nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg, Kührer-Wielach examines, often in meticulous detail, the complex web of interwar integration, regionalism, and competing identity politics. His book focuses on Transylvanian Romanians and in so doing tells a different story to those told through the Hungarian or German lens: instead of a narrative of decline, Kührer-Wielach’s book tracks a group in the ascendancy.
Kührer-Wielach opens with an impressive historiographical and methodological section (pp.16–45), situating his work within a cutting edge paradigm of identity studies, Transfergeschichte, regionalism and spatial history. His review of a range of scholarship places his work in a broader framework in an attempt to ‘deprovincialise’ Transylvanian history, though there are some gaps in the bibliography and in practice the focus of the book remains largely regional. He then introduces his readership to a complex history of Romanians in Transylvania, their relationship to the Habsburg Empire/Hungary, their connections to Romanians from Wallachia and Moldova as well as differences to other Romanian minorities, such as in the Banat or Bessarabia. The book explains the historical context, beginning in the late seventeenth century, and builds up to the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire and subsequent inclusion of Transylvania into the Greater Romanian state of the interwar period.
Kührer-Wielach treats us to an institutional and political history of the integration of Transylvania into Greater Romania. It is striking that the main clashes of opinion documented in this study are not between Romanians and Hungarians, but between Romanians themselves. As Kührer-Wielach points out, the integration of Transylvania in the interwar period was perceived by many Transylvanian Romanians as setting back Transylvania to a ‘Wallachian’ level (p.15). Indeed, despite the initial euphoria, Romanians collided on a number of issues. The school system was a particularly divisive issue (pp.139–56). Much of what was enacted from Bucharest in Transylvania had been designed to reverse the Magyarization processes of the previous regime. In that sense, the book details the conventional story of Hungarian-Romanian battles for Transylvanian education. Yet the efforts to centralize and harmonize Greater Romanian schooling also became evident in other ways. Politicians in the Regat were concerned that years of Hungarian control had ‘de-nationalized’ Romanian children (p.140). Combatting such developments demanded lateral solutions. Some politicians even suggested school exchanges between secondary schools in the Old Kingdom and Transylvania, particularly in hotspots such as the Szekler land (p.141). Disagreements also occurred between advocates for the nationalization of schools and the defenders of religious schools. Clerics and religious teachers resisted centralization due to their profound difference on the role of the church in education (p.146). One commentator believed that church schools had been crucial for the ‘racial struggle’ in the Habsburg period, but had lost their raison d’être in unified Romania (p.146). Some educational problems were, however, more mundane: Transylvania faced a shortage of qualified teachers, which central government sought to redress as a matter of urgency (pp.154–56).
Religion played a crucial role in the battle for Transylvania in the interwar period. Romanians who were not Orthodox bore the brunt of central government’s attempts to create a unitary nation-state. Talked up as being the ‘most important institution of Romanians in Transylvania’ (p.160), the Orthodox church assumed a role that was at odds with other established religious institutions in the region: the Greek Catholics, the Catholics, and of course the reformed churches. The Greek Catholic confession was a particular thorn in the side of the more assertive centralizers due to this religion’s secondary allegiance towards Rome (pp.163–70). The interwar period witnessed a full-blown ‘confessional war’ in which politics and religion mingled to create a toxic mix. Likewise, Transylvania also faced a messy ‘war of monuments’ after unification with Romania (pp.180–87). As Maria Bucur’s 2009 study of memory in interwar Romania highlighted in great detail, this was not always a straightforward affair. Instead, local grievances often dictated memory battles, and Kührer-Wielach backs this up in his brief section on monuments and memory.
All these battles conducted in different arenas pointed to one central issue, which Kührer-Wielach addresses in the book’s second substantial section: the identity of Transylvania in a post-imperial setting. Romanian politicians in Transylvania still retained a transnational character formed during their studies and stays in Vienna, Budapest, and elsewhere in the Habsburg Empire (pp.265–67). Even after unification, Romanian Transylvanian thinkers and politicians insisted on their Transylvanian difference. They were more ‘western’, they insisted, and tended to ‘orientalize’ their Wallachian and Moldovan counterparts (p.275). The Old Kingdom was viewed as ‘oriental’ and ‘Venetian’ (p.278). This stance, Kührer-Wielach demonstrates, contributed towards a strengthening of a regional Transylvanian identity, which in turn provoked Romanians from the Regat to paint a disrespectful picture of Transylvanians: they were ‘less smart’, ‘lazy’, and ‘ill-tempted’ (p.276). This was far removed from a picture of Greater Romanian unity. To counter this factionalism, a new wave of Romanian scholarship sought to place Transylvania at the heart of the Romanian master narrative. Transylvania formed the final nexus of symmetry for Romania (p.286). Historical and ethnographic arguments were deployed more aggressively to prove continuity to the Daco-Roman period (p.287). Burebista’s Dacian Empire in the first century BC corresponded, helpfully, with the borders of the Greater Romania. Yet as Kührer-Wielach asserts in the rest of the book, these efforts to integrate Transylvania continued to sit at odds with the strong remnants of regional forces. Transylvania retained its position as a contested borderland, torn between federalism, regionalism, and nationalism.
It is interesting to place this book in a broader historiography on Translyvania which is still largely divided. On the one hand, since the large scale emigration of Romanian Germans from Romania (mainly from Transylvania and the Banat), German scholarship on Transylvania especially among these émigrés, has burgeoned. A once insular and self-referential group of Romanian German émigrés writing in a Cold War anti-communist milieu has since turned into an active and inclusive environment with numerous groups, conferences, and publications. From Studium Transylvanicum – an academic network aimed at younger audience of scholars and members of the general public – to institutes such as the Institute of German Culture and History of Southeast Europe in Munich (where Kührer-Wielach is based), there has been an impressive amount of activity around the issue of Transylvania. At the same time, there has been a distinct Hungarian and Romanian vein of scholarly interest in Transylvania. Romanian publications on Romania and Transylvania in particular have been in dialogue with the aforementioned German interest in all things Transylvanian. This is, in part, due to a movement within Romanian scholarship away from the polemics of the late Cold War. Scholars such as Lucian Boia, Sorin Mitu and others have introduced a far more critical edge to Romanian scholarship by unpacking the very discourses that confine national historiography as a tool of politics. In so doing, there has been a vibrant interchange between Romanian and German language writing on Transylvania in the last two decades.
Yet there is a further field of a lively and growing scholarship on Transylvania in the ‘Anglo-American’ sphere. Transylvania has featured in a recent spate of publications on post-Habsburg regional contests and developments. Holly Case’s Between States: The Transylvanian Question and the European Idea during World War II (Stanford, 2009) is a major highlight of the new Anglo-American historiography on Transylvania. The work of Maria Bucur, Roland Clark, Tahra Zara and others has all dealt in some form with questions of identity and politics in the Habsburg Lands in the first half of the twentieth century, and Transylvania and Romania have either featured as a central component (Bucur, Clark) or as a comparative element within that body of scholarship. Yet these two scholarly worlds – the ‘German’ and the ‘Anglo-American’ – have rarely been brought into fruitful dialogue. Despite excellent and thoughtful publications on both sides, the lack of interaction is striking, and despite its many merits and obvious value the book under review has also missed the opportunity to bridge the gap.
Mapping Jewish Loyalties in Interwar Slovakia. By Rebekah Klein-Pejšová. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015. 194 pp.
Rebekah Klein-Pejšová offers readers perhaps the first attempt at a comprehensive view of the development of Jewish identities in connection with declarations of political allegiance to the interwar Czechoslovak Republic in 1918–1938. Although the title of the book suggests that the author focuses primarily on the region of Slovakia, in fact the book deals with a broad spectrum of socio-political, historical, and demographic factors which influenced the Jewish communities not only in the interwar period, but also during the last decades before the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
The book consists of five chapters. In the introduction, the author provides the necessary historical, demographic, and other kinds of statistics related to the history of the region and the status of the Jewish population within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This information provides an understanding of the initial state of the community and its future prospects in the newly formed state of Czechoslovakia. The author focuses on the concept of the Jewish nationality as a category created by the state in an effort to resolve national issues, issues which involved not only Jewish citizens but also large German-speaking and Hungarian-speaking minorities. This hypothesis is analyzed in detail and further supported in the following chapters.
The chapter “From Hungary to Czechoslovakia” contains more or less familiar historical facts. Particularly interesting are the different approaches of the Austrian and Hungarian parts of the monarchy to the Jewish war refugees from neighboring countries who were seeking protection first in these two lands and later within the borders of Czechoslovakia. This chapter in the history of East European Jewry influenced the formation of Jewish identities in the successor states. In each chapter the author examines the fate of the Jews in Slovakia by introducing partial stories of individuals.
The chapter entitled “Nationality is an Internal Conviction” examines the period in which the Jewish community was integrated into the Czechoslovak state and a search was underway for the “right path” regarding the territory of Slovakia and its majority population, which took place alongside similar efforts to shape Jewish and Czechoslovak identities. The author has mapped opinion movements and expert discussions led by prominent people, including sociologists, statisticians, and demographers, about the definition of nationality for the census in 1919 and 1921. She demonstrates how important the question of nationality was (not only) in the Jewish population in Czechoslovakia from the perspective of the international negotiations at the Paris Conference. She explains the international position of Czechoslovakia, the insecurity among the citizenry of the new country which was due in large part to the dramatic political changes, and the instability of the political border with Hungary. Under many pressures, including pressures from Hungary, not only Jews had to decide on their ethnicity and nationality, questions that were of vital importance to their civil and political futures in the new state. Klein-Pejšová analyzes the elections in 1920 and the formation of Jewish political parties and public spaces in which Jews could pursue national politics. She supports her findings with an in-depth analysis and interpretation of statistics, accompanied by clear tables.
The chapter “Contested Loyalty” solves a specific problem faced by the Neolog community in Slovakia, which was from a historical point of view close to the Hungarian Neolog movement and Hungarian culture. The author cites several examples to demonstrate the process of drawing attention and sentiment away from the Budapest Neolog center and the gradual reorientation to the geopolitical changes in Europe, which contributed to the creation of a new collective self-understanding among members of the Jewish community as “Slovak Jews.” Klein-Pejšová addresses several aspects of the issue, including the pressure exerted by the Czechoslovak state and politicians not to use the Hungarian language, various manifestations of loyalty (including the enforcement of loyalty), and the arguments of representatives of civil and political life from within the community to its members about their civil orientation in Czechoslovakia. Klein-Pejšová also includes into her analyses the pressures that were put by Hungarian irredentist policies on the Neologs in Slovakia, which, according to her, ultimately proved counterproductive.
In the chapter “Between the Nationalities” Klein-Pejšová focuses on the pressures that were put on Jews who had already found “the right path” to Czechoslovakia by Hungary and Germany in the 1930s. She draws attention to the important fact that the existence of a political construct of “Jewish nationality” at the same time limited the linguistic and cultural rights of the Hungarian and German minorities, which were tied to the proportion of a given minority (at least 20 percent) in an electoral district. This problem is also reflected in the 1930 census, in which Jewish nationality was again used as a category regardless of mother tongue. The chapter focuses on discussions throughout the political and national spectrum and also abroad, concluding with an analysis of the Slovak autonomy policies against Jews. Klein-Pejšová analyzes the reasons why these policies were rejected by the majority society, beginning with the exclusive pro-Christian policy of the Slovak autonomist movement. At the same time, the book explains why Jews were important from the perspective of the territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia and also why Slovak autonomists failed to win widespread support within Jewish communities.
Klein-Pejšová refutes the frequently mentioned stereotype according to which Jews were Hungarians (or people who had been “Magyarized”), which is often found in the Slovak literature. She presents the ways in and means with which the Jewish communities of Slovakia negotiated their identities and their relationships to the Czechoslovak Republic in the interwar period, as well as the differing opinions and attitudes with respect to these identities and the consequences of “belonging” and not “belonging.” Klein-Pejšová argues persuasively in support of the conclusion that the Jewish communities living in Slovakia were loyal to the Czechoslovak Republic.
Klein-Pejšová has worked with an array of archival and statistical material and secondary sources, which she analyzes and interprets with precision. She has made substantial contributions to Judaic studies in Slovakia. In particular, I appreciate her efforts to put the topics in the broad international context of the interwar period, which is unfortunately a rare undertaking in Slovak historiography. At the same time, the work could have offered deeper insight into the situation of the Slovak Jewry. For instance, the sometimes tense relationships between the Orthodox, the Neolog and the “status quo ante” communities could have been discussed in more details. The reader gets the impression that the Neolog community was predominant in Slovakia, whereas in fact, the Orthodox were superior in number. The work also lacks the context of works by other scholars, e.g. Peter Salner, who has studied Jewish identity and community transformations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Robert Büchler, one of the editors of the four-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Slovakia (2009–2014), and Hugo Gold, one of the editors of a compilation of the archival materials on Bratislava’s Jewish community from the 1930s. Had she taken such precautions, Klein-Pejšová would have avoided including some inaccurate and incomplete data.
In conclusion, Rebekah Klein-Pejšová’s monograph is a significant contribution to our understanding of the history of the Jews in Slovakia during the interwar period, a history that has only barely begun to be told. It provides an essential starting point for more detailed analyses of Jewish identities, loyalties, and life strategies on the regional and local level. I believe that in a short time a Slovak translation will be available, and it will perhaps contribute to the gradual elimination of deep-rooted stereotypes regarding this community.
Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia. By James Malice Ward. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2013. 362 pp.
The life and work of Jozef Tiso, the leading politician of the Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana (Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party, HSĽS) during the First Czechoslovak Republic and the president of the Slovak Republic between 1939 and 1945, have not previously been made the subject of systematic inquiry. Apart from books with an “apologetic” intention (Milan S. Ďurica, Jozef Tiso, 1887 – 1947: Životopisný profil ), until now only conference proceedings from 1992 (Valerián Bystrický, ed., Pokus o politický a osobný profil Jozefa Tisu) and the biographical essay of the Slovak historian Ivan Kamenec (Tragédia politika, kňaza a človeka: Dr. Jozef Tiso, 1887 – 1947 [1998 and 2013]) were available. In light of this, James Malice Ward’s dissertation from 2008 at Stanford University marked a real breakthrough in the research on the life and personality of Jozef Tiso, especially with respect to its broad focus and inclusion of new sources.
Ward’s book on Tiso is shorter than his doctoral dissertation, but the structure, basic thesis, and conclusions remain unchanged. The volume is divided into eight chronological chapters, which deal with Tiso’s activity during the Hungarian era before 1918, his entry into politics and his successful career in the First Czechoslovak Republic, his controversial rise to the position as head of the wartime Slovak state, and his fall, political trial, and execution for treason after World War II. The closing remarks are devoted to the emergence and continuance of Tiso’s cult and attempts that have been made to offer critical interpretations of this cult.
James Ward reconstructs the formation of Tiso’s Weltanschauung in the context of Political Catholicism or, more precisely, the Christian socialism with which he became familiar during his studies at the prestigious Pazmáneum College in Vienna. Ward examines the beginnings of Tiso’s pastoral activity and the important moment of the Great War, which Tiso experienced as military chaplain on the Eastern Front in Galicia. As it did for so many others, for Tiso this experience foreshadowed the brutalization of politics in interwar Europe.
The chapters on Tiso’s role during the “revolutionary” events of 1918 and 1919 are essential with regard to Ward’s thesis. Ward investigates Tiso’s metamorphosis from a rather apolitical loyal Hungarian citizen to a Slovak nationalist who made an important contribution in a local context to the establishment of the new Czechoslovak state. Still, the downside of this development was political radicalization and the search for an “enemy”: it was the first time that Tiso used aggressive anti-Semitism to rally against “Jewish Magyarones” and “Judeobolshevists.”
In view of such a political inauguration, it is confusing to note that Tiso became the most important figure of the moderate HSĽS faction in the 1920s. Ward explores Tiso’s strategy according to his Catholic philosophy as a desire for compromise between spiritual and secular power. This offers some explanation as to why Tiso remained a moderate as long as the political circumstances required moderation, whereas during “revolutionary” times the very same desire led him to adopt more radical positions. According to Ward, it was the same Catholic dilemma that prompted Tiso to refrain from exploiting anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Tiso’s reputation was tarnished immediately after the so-called Munich Agreement in 1938, when the European powers legalized Hitler’s annexations at the expense of Czechoslovak integrity. As a consequence, the autonomy of Slovakia was proclaimed, and Tiso became the chairman of the Slovak autonomous government, which was dominated by the HSĽS. Tiso’s radicalization was again accompanied by anti-Semitism. He bore responsibility for the deportation of thousands of “unwelcomed Jews” to the new Slovak-Hungarian borderland in revenge for alleged Jewish support for the First Vienna Award, which made southern Slovak territories with largely Magyar-speaking inhabitants part of Hungary.
In March 1939 Czechoslovakia was finally destroyed and a new Slovak State was established. Tiso was elected Head of State later that year. His presidency, especially his responsibility for the so-called “solution of the Jewish question,” remains a matter of controversy. The HSĽS regime deprived tens of thousands of Jewish citizens of their basic rights, expropriated them, and in 1942 deported a large majority of them to German-occupied Poland, where almost all of them were murdered.
After 1938, Tiso increasingly turned away from the principles of so-called natural law and moderate nationalism. As Head of State, he subordinated Slovak and Christian socialist interests to German and National Socialist interests. He would eventually silence his radical opponents within the HSĽS by taking over their arguments. Especially concerning the “Jewish question,” he was sometimes the driving force behind their activities. This was true last but not least regarding the Hlinka Guard, the paramilitary group within the HSĽS. Tiso and his office submitted proposals for “solutions to the Jewish question,” and Tiso sometimes made concessions to members of the Hlinka Guard.
No less controversial were Tiso’s actions after the so-called Salzburg negotiations in the summer of 1940, which strengthened the radical faction within the HSĽS, led by Prime Minister Vojtech Tuka and Interior Minister Alexander Mach. Tiso never distanced himself from the building of so-called Slovak National Socialism, and he used it for his own benefit or at least made efforts to reconcile it with his own ideology of Christian socialism. Contrary to the nostalgic clichés of the “prosperous Slovak State,” neither a large-scale housing and electrification project nor land reform measures were implemented. In this case too, the social question was overshadowed by the “Jewish question.” In particular, Tiso defended and even promoted “Aryanization,” in accordance with his old argument about the necessity of building a “Slovak middle class,” in effect succumbing to the temptation of rampant corruption.
Beginning in the autumn of 1941, Tiso became more and more radical. Despite criticism from the Vatican, he was unable or not even willing to distance himself from the racist principles of the so-called “Jewish Code,” which summarized the Slovak anti-Jewish acts. On the contrary, after the return from the Eastern front in October 1941, he rediscovered the slogan of “Judeobolshevism.” In January of 1942, Tiso called for the adoption of more “effective measures” against the already completely disenfranchised and deprived Slovak Jews, several weeks after the conclusion of the agreement with the Nazi Germany regarding the deportation of Slovak Jews. Tiso thus agreed with the deportations, even before he (ex post) confirmed them by signing the constitutional law of May 1942. It makes no difference that Tiso simultaneously sanctioned exemptions from the Jewish Code, which applied mostly to converts, Christians by birth, and economically “irreplaceable” and “assimilated” Jews. It was no coincidence that Tiso shortly afterwards declared himself Vodca (Leader), who was “always right.”
Nevertheless, as of mid-1944 Tiso began losing control over his state, and after the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising he completely subordinated himself to his Nazi protector. The end of Nazi rule in Europe thus also marked the end of Tiso’s career and life. The new Czechoslovak rulers sentenced him to death and executed him, and in doing so contributed to the inauguration of his cult as a “national martyr.” In the last chapter of his book, Ward describes how after 1989 Slovak emigrants tried to revive Tiso’s cult in Slovakia.
In his biography, Ward charts new territories both in Slovak history and in the historiography of Slovakia. He pays particular attention to the intellectual influences which fueled Tiso’s ideology. He does not content himself with vague and controversial categories such as “authoritarian conservatism” or “clero-fascism.” However, terms such as “modernization” and “revolution,” which Ward uses to describe Tiso’s radicalization in 1918–1919 and 1938, respectively, are no less problematic. One would expect a more precise conceptualization of these key terms. References to a distinguished scholar of Fascism, Roger Griffin, suggest that Ward inclines towards Griffin’s interpretation of Fascism as a variant of “Modernism.” However, this should be more closely linked to the understanding of historical figures in the “age of Fascism” (cf. Roger Griffin, “Political Modernism and the Cultural Production of ‘Personalities of the Right’ in Inter-War Europe,” in The Shadow of Hitler: Personalities of the Right in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. by Rebecca Haynes ).
Notwithstanding these objections, James Malice Ward has written a book for which both the Slovak public and historians have been waiting for decades. Hopefully it will soon be published in Slovak translation.
Jewish Resistance to “Romanianization”, 1940–44. By Stefan Cristian Ionescu. Palgrave Studies in the History of Genocide. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 267 pp.
Although he is treading on well-worn paths in Holocaust and genocide studies, in his book Stefan Cristian Ionescu offers several new insights into a topic which might be regarded as having already been made the subject of exhaustive study. Not only does the work provide a coherent and comprehensive overview of the manner in which the Romanianization process unfolded during the years of World War II, which is in itself a new enterprise (so far, no other expert has attempted to provide such a thorough overview of the facts), it also offers the reader a clear picture of the historical (political, social, and economic) background from which these development emerged.
Divided into eight chapters and a conclusion, Ionescu’s book reveals the author’s thorough familiarity with both older and more recent specialized literature. His readings are impressive and cover a variety of perspectives and sources from several countries. For instance, the chapter focused on the fate of Bucharest’s Jews in 1940–44, which opens the volume (“Introduction: World War II Bucharest and its Jews”), gives the reader a balanced overview of the main historical events of the time and interpretations of these events by the most important scholars in the field (Jean Ancel, Dennis Deletant, Armin Heinen, Carol Iancu, Mihai Chioveanu, Radu Ioanid, etc.). It also provides an interesting comparison with previous nationalization policies of the Romanian state, which constitutes a new and welcome contribution to the subject. The introduction additionally bases its interrogation of the process of Romanianization on local theoretical grounds, showing that this process had deep and strong Romanian intellectual roots and was not an import or imitation of another model (which does not mean, however, that the Romanianization process was not well part of larger trends at the time, as Ionescu rightly mentions). Ionescu clearly underlines the goals and targets of this process, and he does not neglect mention of the Roma as one of the targets. Furthermore, the use of carefully selected and verified interviews, letters, diaries, memoirs, and court rulings as research sources alongside the usual statistics, archival documents, and materials from the press is an original and innovative approach in tackling the wartime condition of the Jews of Bucharest, especially since their situation was quite different from that of their coreligionists in the rest of the country, with its three component parts (the former Principalities of Wallachia, Moldova, and Transylvania), as Ionescu indeed reveals by adopting a comparative perspective.
Ionescu’s thorough effort to trace the roots and evolution of the Romanian anti-Jewish legislation and analyze this legislation in relation to similar laws passed in the neighboring and allied countries, in particular Germany (Chapter 2, “Romanianization Legislation: Concepts, (Mis)interpretations and Conflicts”), constitutes another contribution to the field, especially in regard to “the burden and ambiguity of ethnicity during the Antonescu regime: the problematic concepts of ethnic Romanian, Jew and German” and the “state institutions’ complaints against the formalities of Romanianization legislation and the misinterpretations of these laws by courts and public agencies.” Neither of these topics has been given much attention by other experts in the recent past. Similarly useful and welcome is Ionescu’s original review of two particular cases of exemptions from Romanianization and their respective outcomes: that of the foreign Jews (with all the implications and subsequent, sometimes beneficial complications that the notion entailed) and that of the Jews who converted to (various types of) Christianity.
Ionescu analyzes another rather neglected aspect of the process in the third chapter, “The Romanianization Bureaucracy.” This gives him an opportunity not only to describe the structure and roles of the bureaucracy, but also to document what is considered “common knowledge” but has not really been addressed in detail, i.e. the fact that the enterprise, the Romanianization of the bureaucracy, was doomed to fail from its inception due to the ways in which Romanians sabotaged it from the inside through nepotism, intentional and unintentional poor management, and bribery, to which the author adds as his own contribution a new and persuasive argument: the lack of consistent state policy.
In its turn, in addition to giving a thorough review of the various categories of people and organizations that benefited, directly or indirectly, from the process, whether in cash (bribery) or in kind (real estate), and as a result of more or less determined (at times even aggressive) competitive pursuit, the chapter on “The Beneficiaries of Romanianization” allows Ionescu to originally ponder a number of intellectuals’ sometimes shocking lack of understanding of the psychological implications of their participation in theft, such as Camil Petrescu, who built his literary career on a (Jewish) Hillel scholarship (1914–19), or Alice Voinescu, who was otherwise very sympathetic to Jewish plight.
Another interesting contribution to the field is Ionescu’s insight into “Romanianization versus Germanization” (chapter 5), which brings to the forefront the subject—which has been largely overlooked—of local and foreign German competition for Romanian Jewish properties and the negative reactions it prompted both among the state officials and the general public. Ionescu thus analyzes the reactions of the Germans to the different treatments to which they were subjected by the Romanian authorities: the properties of the Germans who left Romania to join the Waffen SS were Romanianized, while Germans who remained in Romania were allowed to preserve their assets, to the dissatisfaction of the majority; however, no German, whether local or foreign, was permitted to obtain any benefit from the properties confiscated from the Jews, much to their dissatisfaction.
In regard to “Deportation and Robbery: The Roma Targets of Romanianization” (chapter 6), relying on published and unpublished documentation made available by Romanian and foreign experts, Ionescu draws some interesting conclusions of his own, not without merit. He sketches a series of new social and racial nuances in the interpretation of the reasons behind the deportation process, and he rightly underlines the differences between Jewish and Roma victimhood, both in the eyes of the authorities and in the eyes of the majority population.
By and large, “Jewish Legal Resistance to Romanianization” (chapter 7) is a valuable account of the struggle to fight the state with its own means. Drawing heavily on recently discovered archival documents and the existing secondary literature, Ionescu manages to come up with a clear picture of the chaos ruling the wartime Romanian legal system, which complicated the Romanianization process and allowed a number of Jews to outwit it, thus giving a new dimension to the analysis, which so far has dealt more with the Jewish initiatives and acts and less with their results.
Finally, based almost exclusively on recently discovered archival material and diaries, “Sabotaging the Process of Romanianization” (chapter 8) proposes an entirely new approach to the subject from a rare perspective. This chapter constitutes Ionescu’s main personal academic contribution to the historiography of World War II Romania. This is undoubtedly the book’s strongest point.
All in all, the variety of sources, innovative approaches, and original insights make the volume a significant contribution to the historiography of the Romanian Holocaust. Its only downside is that while it is called Jewish Resistance to Romanianization, 1940–44, only two of its eight chapters deal with Jewish resistance. The rest are devoted to the various aspects of the Romanianization process itself. This is not to say that the six chapters dealing with the process were not necessary or should have been shorter. On the contrary, the book should perhaps have been longer and also should have included more discussion of other forms of resistance among Jews (educational, cultural, spiritual, etc.), which Ionescu mentions but does not dwell upon. However, this does not make the book any less important as a very useful tool for both researchers and students in the field of Holocaust studies.
Magyar megszálló csapatok a Szovjetunióban, 1941–1944: Esemény – elbeszélés – utóélet [Hungarian occupation forces in the Soviet Union, 1941–1944: Event, narrative, afterlife]. By Krisztián Ungváry. Budapest: Osiris, 2015. 468 pp.
In most accounts of the Second World War, the role attributed to the Hungarian Army is often reduced to that of cannon fodder for the Wehrmacht, due above all to the military disaster at the Don River in early 1943. It is much less widely known that Hungarian units were also deployed as occupying forces in the Soviet Union, where they were charged with the task of controlling territories about twice the size of their home country. In Hungary itself, in the 70 years that passed since the war, there has been no scholarly discourse and very little awareness of the role of these units. So what were their tasks, how did they adapt to the situation, and to what extent were they responsible for war crimes or even genocide? In his well-researched book, Krisztián Ungváry addresses these questions.
Ungváry’s book begins with a description of the Germans’ occupation policies after their attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Despite some general—and extremely drastic—ideas laid down in the Generalplan Ost, the Germans were far from prepared for a prolonged war on the territory of the Soviet Union. As a consequence, they were constantly improvising, and hardly ever gained full control of the territories they occupied. Often villages would not be visited by a single representative of the occupiers for months. Moreover, there were constant internal conflicts concerning how to deal with the local population: while the political leadership in Berlin, above all Himmler’s Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), was issuing orders to suppress the local population by all means and was pushing for the murder of Jews, Roma, prisoners of war, and hospital patients, some senior officers of the Wehrmacht were trying to maintain viable relations with the local population, if only out of self-interest.
The second chapter is dedicated to the origins and the structure of the partisan war in the USSR. Ungváry’s description closely follows recent German studies, notably those of Christian Gerlach and Bogdan Musial, who have shown how the Soviet partisan movement, while largely ineffective from a military point of view, was a constant menace to the local population, fueling the spiral of terror wherever they were active.
It is in this context that Hungarian forces, about 40,000 troops in total, were deployed as auxiliary forces of the Germans. They were subordinate to the Wehrmacht’s command, but communication between the two armies was not always smooth. In some instances, Hungarians pursued different policies towards the locals, for example by protecting ethnic Poles from Ukrainian nationalists. Often, the relationships with the inhabitants varied according to the ethnicity of the soldiers in Hungarian uniform: in many cases, the army deployed large numbers soldiers belonging to ethnic minorities who hardly spoke the language of their superiors but were able to communicate with the locals.
There were two main zones of Hungarian deployment, and they were fundamentally different from each other: the western zone in western and central Ukraine remained largely quiet throughout the war, while the eastern zone in eastern Ukraine, reaching into Belarus and Russia, was right at the center of the partisan war.
Large segments of the book are dedicated to detailed accounts of military operations against supposed partisans. They are based mainly on the reports of the Hungarian units, sometimes juxtaposed with the German data. Ungváry urges the reader to be cautious with the numbers: while data about losses on the side of the organ providing the data tend to be credible, data concerning losses allegedly inflicted on the enemy are not only often inaccurate, in many cases the term “enemy losses” is simply a euphemism for the murder of civilians during an operation.
Another long and persuasively documented section is dedicated to the complicity of Hungarian troops in the Holocaust. Beginning with the end of the summer of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen and several other specialized units systematically murdered the Jewish population in the Soviet Union. As Ungváry shows, Hungarian troops were very often involved in the process, particularly in the western zone. The evidence suggests that in most cases their task was to drive the victims to the shooting pits or to stand guard during the murders. Occasionally, Hungarians were also among the gunmen. Quoting private correspondence from the lowest to the highest ranks, Ungváry proves that as early as 1941, there was general knowledge of the murder of the Jews not only in the army ranks, but also in the political leadership, up to Horthy himself. More shockingly, the mass murder of Jews seems to have been regarded as normal by most of the men involved. During the last year of the war, news was spreading in the opposite direction too. In other words, Hungarian soldiers were well aware of the deportation of Hungarian Jews in 1944. Asked about their motivation to carry on, many soldiers expressed their hope that they would receive chunks of confiscated Jewish property upon returning home.
In conclusion, Ungváry states that the conduct of the Hungarian occupying forces varied greatly according to the situation on the ground, especially with regards to the intensity of partisan warfare. He maintains that—except for their obvious involvement in the murder of the Jews, which took place predominantly in the western zone—there can be no talk of a genocide against the local population committed by the Hungarian occupying forces. Still, the overall behavior of the troops was appalling, especially in the eastern zone. Ungváry argues that while there was plenty of room for individual decision-making, the overall record of the Hungarian army often tends to be even worse than that of the Wehrmacht: “Poor equipment, insufficient training, minority complexes leading to overcompensation, and the irresponsibility resulting from the ‘guest role’ all had a radicalizing effect on the behavior of the Hungarian officers and soldiers” (p.436).
The last chapter of the book deals with the judicial afterlife. That the authorities in the post-war era were neither able to uncover nor interested in uncovering the truth in a systematic manner is not unexpected. However, the fact that after 1990 Hungarian courts in several cases rehabilitated officers who had been convicted of war crimes without even bothering to cite the evidence is somewhat depressing.
Unfortunately, the book does have its weaknesses. For instance, there is no map showing the entire theater of operations. Photographs are often placed in an inexplicable context. This is particularly true of the rather misleading cover picture of a Ukrainian woman greeting friendly Hungarian officers with flowers. Ungváry also tends to overemphasize the importance of discipline inside the Wehrmacht, while not devoting enough attention to other German and auxiliary units which spread unprecedented terror on the ground. These preconceptions concerning supposed German perfectionism are especially irritating when it comes to the detailed descriptions of mass shootings. The same authors that Ungváry quotes do not fail to point out that this type of mass murder was brutal, bloody and chaotic, but Ungváry chooses to ignore that.
Still, this is an important and indeed groundbreaking book. The lively public debates and the unusually large number of copies sold show that there is a genuine need in Hungarian society to come to terms with these widely unknown chapters of its past. Ungváry’s book is a major step forward and will hopefully inspire other researchers to uncover more on the everyday reality of life and death behind the front lines.
A jelenkori magyar társadalom [Contemporary Hungarian society]. By Tibor Valuch. Budapest: Osiris, 2015. 300 pp.
The “change of regime” and “post-socialism”1 have been catchwords which have produced a voluminous literature since the collapse of “actually existing” socialism both internationally and nationally in the Eastern and Central European regions. The capitalist modernization project received ideological support from transition theory, which dominated the discourse on transformation in the first few years after 1989–1991. Since the adoption of Western institutions ranked high on the political agenda in the East-Central European countries, the main focus of the literature was political science and other “timely” issues, such as privatization and economic restructuring. Social history lagged behind, in spite of the fact that, as the events of the 1990s showed, the prognosis of transitology—according to which the newly established democracies would soon catch up with the consumption levels of the advanced Western countries—was not accurate.
In Hungary, this consensus changed in the second half of the first decade of the new millennium, when well-known sociologists published a number of studies in which they contended that the new societies had taken forms that differed from the prognoses (or illusions) of the dissident intellectuals who actively participated in the change of regime. These differences became manifest in the field of social policy as analyzed by Zsuzsa Ferge, the appearance of a new Hungarian underclass as shown by János Ladányi, and the whole work of the left-wing sociologist Erzsébet Szalai, who envisaged a society closer to the Latin American type, characterized by large social and economic inequalities, than to the often idealized Western model.
One important merit of Tibor Valuch’s book is that it is the first synthesis which provides a remarkably balanced picture of contemporary Hungarian society both for academics and the wider audience. Valuch has consulted an impressive amount of secondary literature. Moreover, he systematizes a very diverse array of materials from two perspectives, that of a sociologist and that of a historian, because he is a leading expert of post-World War II social history of Hungary. Given the fact that the post-socialist era serves as a battlefield for various competing ideologies and paradigms, his discussion of the interpretations of the change of regime and the diverse secondary literature on which he bases his inquiry merits unambiguous praise. In the secondary literature coming out of Hungary, critical theories, especially those which share affinities with Marxism, often fall victim to a conspiracy of silence. Valuch’s book, in contrast, will be enjoyable and revealing reading to anyone who prefers facts to historical myths and political ideologies.
Hungary’s situation was unique in the Eastern Bloc because, as Valuch writes, “the late Kádár-regime, in its essence, was a period in which concessions and greater freedoms were granted to all segments of the population in order to preserve political rule. Dissent had no real social basis and the extension and spread of the second economy in itself hindered active participation in the work of the opposition” (p.26). Disappointment with the change of regime and the building of a new, capitalist society reinforced hopes for a distinctive “third way,” neither socialist nor liberal, in Hungary. It was in this social context that the introduction of the so-called autocratic meta-democracy took place in 2010 (p.20), and its consolidation continues today. It is perhaps worth noting that the so-called third way is an important political metaphor in the rhetoric of the far-right wing party Jobbik.
The volume gives a similarly objective and detailed but not exhaustive overview of the physical and mental map of contemporary Hungary from the perspectives of demography, regional economics, the ethnic makeup of the regions, social stratification, political activity, national consciousness, social policy, and various forms of deviance. The structure of the book is logical. The individual chapters provide answers whether we are examining specific, focused questions or are interested in larger trends, which provide daily fodder for the public media. One such issue is low birth rates in contemporary Hungary. The birth rate was decreasing in the socialist period, but it was in 1998 that it first fell below 100,000 births a year, and it has remained below this level ever since. There are many explanations for this decline in the number of births: interrogation of gender roles just as traditional gender roles are largely reinforced by mainstream politicians, an increase in the number of single people, emigration to the West (one should not forget that it is typically young people of childbearing age who leave the country), and the impoverishment of large segments of the population. The unstable job situation (flexible employment, public work, informal work, etc.) can be also a frequent cause of childlessness. It is worth mentioning here that Stefano Bottoni, who investigated the post-1944 history of Eastern Europe, considered the emigration of members of the younger generations as one of the most important challenges that the East Central European societies and governments would have to face and to which they have to find a political answer (Stefano Bottoni, A várva várt Nyugat: Kelet-Európa története 1944-től napjainkig ).
The second, similarly neuralgic point is the large inequality that characterizes Hungarian regions. The underclass is concentrated in small settlements, where the lack of job opportunities leads to other inequalities. These inequalities include the lack of quality educational opportunities, the lack of health care, the lack of public transport, and the failure of the majority society to encourage or allow the populations of these settlements to integrate. Thus, whole regions lag behind and/or lose contact with the Hungary of the twenty-first century. The main characteristic of the underclass is precisely this cumulative deprivation, and as a result, the opportunities for the generations growing up in these settlements have also been cumulatively deteriorating. New poverty does not mean that there is not enough clothing for the needy, but rather that there is no chance for upward social mobility. The children of the poor (and the majority of the Roma population is poor) are effectively segregated in ghettoized settlements, in part due to ineffective social and educational policy, which, indeed, is so ineffective in addressing social inequalities that one is tempted to think that it is meant to preserve rather than challenge the status quo.
The chapters on social stratification and the transformation of the elite are especially illuminating in part because Valuch examines the ways in which Hungarian society differs from the Western ideal. Without going into detail concerning the inequalities that existed under state socialism, one can safely state that the new capitalist society in Hungary has produced much greater inequalities. As Zsuzsa Ferge concludes, post-1989 Hungarian social policy could not counterbalance these negative trends effectively. Furthermore, in certain cases it reinforced existing inequalities because it primarily favored the middle class (Zsuzsa Ferge, Vágányok és vakvágányok a társadalompolitikában ). I have only one critical comment regarding these chapters: the issue of integration into the job market would have merited more emphasis, since membership in the middle class today presupposes a job and job security. It is important to remember that the specific and distinctive aspect of social change in Eastern Europe is precisely the fact that, while in Western Europe we can still speak of a large middle class (in spite of the crisis of 2008), in Eastern Europe neither wages nor employment security developed in a way that would have led to the emergence of a middle class of a similar position and size. We can also add, on the basis of the research of Erzsébet Szalai, that the national elite is divided: the interests of the so-called national middle class often differ from the aspirations of the international elite, which is linked to global capital. The book would have greatly benefitted from a more analytical discussion of the reasons behind the manifest differences between contemporary Hungarian society and the Western model as envisaged by the liberals of the post-socialist era. This critical observations, however, does not influence my general opinion that the book is highly worth reading for anyone who seeks to understand post-socialist Hungarian society based on objective indicators.
In order to understand the post-socialist social milieu, it is essential to have a deep and less ideologically biased knowledge of state socialism, which remains a challenging task both for historians and sociologists. The “conspiracy of silence,” by which I am referring to the aspiration to exclude the socialist era from Hungarian history or present it as a regime which was simply thrust upon the country, is little more than a gross repetition of the academic policy of the Rákosi regime, which sought to equate the whole Horthy era with Fascism. Valuch’s book shows that it is possible to include competing narratives in a book on national history while also fostering real academic debate about the meaning and content of state socialism and the change of regime.
1 To be sure, some authors already speak of post-postsocialism.