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The Rise of Nationalism

In our day the word nationalism has a pejorative connotation since it is frequently confused with chauvinism. While the latter is a harmful excess, nationalism is closer to the notion of patriotism. Chauvinism is condemnable because it is a prejudiced belief in the superiority of one's country. Irredentism has also become a "bad" word because it conjures extremism. Actually, as defined by dictionaries it is a "movement that advocates the recovery of lands of which a nation has been deprived or of territory culturally and historically related to a nation but now subject to a foreign government." Irredentism often strives to right a wrong and thus should not be equated with chauvinism.

Although the word nationalism was coined in the last century, national feeling has been a powerful force in the history of nations since time immemorial. Ancient Jewish history as narrated in the Old Testament, the struggle of Greek city-states against Persia and the immortal stand of the Spartans under Leonidas at Thermopylae were all manifestations of that national feeling.

The same element has been present in the history of Hungary since the tenth century, enabling the Magyars to survive the onslaught of the Mongols and the Turks, and the effort of the Germans to subjugate their land. The development of nationalism in Europe had been hindered by the international character of Roman Christianity until the arrival of the Reformation, which allowed the use of national language in preaching the Gospel. In Hungary, the advent of nationalism was prompted not only by the surge of Protestantism, but also by the ever increasing Turkish menace from the south.

The great slogans of the French Revolution, égalité, liberté, fraternité, or rather only the first two, had been eagerly embraced by the various nationalities in the Carpathian Basin, who then transferred their meaning from the individual to the ethnic level as well. By doing so they conveniently forgot to adhere to the third slogan: fraternité. This failure has been the source of great trouble in the area ever since.

These preliminary remarks should serve to put the following conventional explanation of nationalism in historical depth and perspective.

By definition nationalism is "devotion to the nation as a whole" or "a world order founded on the right of each nation to determine its policies unhindered by others." Nationalism exists on various levels and does not necessarily develop from one state to the next. On its first level, it is simply a feeling of belonging to an ethnic group; its second level is the so-called cultural nationalism which preserves the identity of the ethnic group by means of cultural activity without involving political ambitions. On the third level, a national will steps forward to create a coherent entity and power base for the formation of a national state. The last phase is an enlightened state which grants autonomy to its nationalities so that they may preserve their ethnic identities.

The era of European nationalism came to the fore as a result of the French Revolution when French philosophers like Diderot and D'Alambert began to differentiate between nation, state and language, declaring that if the state were to flourish, language must adjust to the requirements of the state.

Until 1825, when the age of reform began, Hungary had been an anachronistic state using a dead language (Latin) as the official tongue both at the state and municipal levels. It took forty years of struggle with the government in Vienna for the Magyar language to be introduced officially in 1833, although it wasn't fully accepted until 1844. At this time Magyar was a highly cultivated language, while the Slovak and Wallachian tongues had yet to reach a literary level.

The Specter of Panslavism

Curiously, the awakening of modern Magyar nationalism was triggered in an indirect way by German philosophers. This awakening was caused mostly by fear - fear of Slavic expansion whose specter was conjured by the German writer Johann Gottfried Herder and others. Herder saw language as the repository of a people's tradition, culture, history, religion, wisdom, heart and soul. Regarding Central Europe, Herder prophesied that the Magyar language, and hence the Magyar people, would soon disappear in the surrounding sea of Slavic peoples. These fears were aggravated by the pronouncements


of Rotteck and Welcker in their famous liberal Staatslexikon, which predicted the Slavic conquest of Hungary.

These frightening words were given credence by the development of the Panslavic movement of this period which in Hungary gripped the Slovak, Croat and Serb intelligentsia. The famous Czech historian Palacky asserted that the creation of a Hungarian state this side of the Carpathian Range had been the greatest calamity to befall the Slavs of Central Europe. According to Palacky and other Slav historians, the expansion of the Czecho-Moravian Empire in the tenth century might have led to a huge Empire which would have united all the Slavs of Central Europe down to the Balkan mountains. This would-be empire was in a loose state of formation when the Magyars, coming from the East, formed a state in the Carpathian Basin, which to this day has prevented the Slavs in Central Europe from uniting into a homogenous Slavic state.

Slavic solidarity had been in such a dormant state for six centuries that national consciousness never passed the first level of nationalism.

While the pioneer of Panslavism, George Krizanich, a Croatian monk, lived in the mid-seventeenth century, it took about 150 years before the seeds he sowed could blossom into what may be termed spiritual Panslavism. Its first apostle was the Slovak poet Jan Kollar, who dreamed of the creation of a common Slavic language and the subsequent establishment of a Slavic Empire.

Characteristic of Slovak awakening were the lines written in that era by the Slovak scholar Matej Bel-Funtik about the Slovak language:

In no respect does it fall behind the ponderousness and grandeur of Spanish, the charm and smoothness of French, the loftiness and strength of English, the richness and emphasis of German, the softness and tenderness of Italian, or the imperious sternness of Hungarian.

This was rather exuberant praise in view of the fact that the first Slovak grammar by Anton Bernolak was compiled in 1787, forty years after Bel-Funtik's death.

In Southern Europe, Panslavism in its incipient form was called lllyrism - a theory that would unite all Southern Slavs on the Balkan Peninsula. The creator of this movement was Ljudevit Gaj, a Croatian, who expounded the belief that these Southern Slavs were descendants of the extinct Illyrians and that all Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Macedonians and Bulgarians should be united to form a "Great Illyria." Gaj's dream remained but a dream because only the Croats accepted the theory.

The Serbs wanted no part of Illyrism. Their aim was to unite Croats and Slovenes and to bring them under Serbian rule in a "Great Serbia." As a matter of fact, Serb energy and political talent later converted romantic Illyrism into "Yugoslavism," which resulted in the partial unity of the South Slavs under Serbian hegemony.

Another Slavic ideology of the 19th century was Austroslavism, (Little Panslavism), a less ambitious concept for uniting only the Slavs of the Habsburg Empire and to reorganize the Monarchy on a federal basis. Its leaders were the Czechs, led by Frantisek Palacky and later by Dr. Kramar, who hoped that the emancipation of the Slavs would in time lead to the Slavic dominance of the Monarchy.

The Awakening of Rumanian Nationalism

The threatening clouds of intolerant nationalism cast their shadow not only over the North and South of the Carpathian Basin, but also over its Eastern regions, namely in Transylvania where the Wallachians constituted, next to the Magyars, Székely-Magyars and Saxons, the fourth group of that region's population. Due to their still undeveloped national consciousness, the Wallachians played a subordinate role in shaping Transylvania's history until the nineteenth century. However, they were the fastest growing group because, living at higher elevations and isolated and protected by natural barriers, they did not have to carry the burden of the continuous wars that decimated other groups.

Their number further increased during the years following 1718, when the area of Hungary known as the Bánát was freed from the Turks, its population having been almost completely exterminated. In the following years a steady stream of refugees from Wallachia - still under Turkish rule - filled the vacuum, settling down not only in the Bánát but also in Transylvania proper.

This development brought about a dramatic increase in the Wallachians' numerical strength, coupled with the first signs of political awakening. In 1784, a bloody revolt of Wallachian peasants broke out under the leadership of Hora and Kloska in the western mountains. As the English historian Hugh Seton-Watson wrote in Eastern Europe:

The rebellion brought unprecedented horror to Hungarian towns and villages. Drunken Vlachs ruthlessly tortured, maimed and murdered thousands of men,. women and children... Though the leaders of the rebellion were finally executed by the Austrian troops, the villages where the Hungarian population was killed were donated by special decree to the same Vlachs who did the killing. Another example of the Habsburg methods of playing one nationality against the other.


In 1791, Wallachian leaders submitted a memorandum to the Emperor. Its Latin title was Supplex Libellus Valachorum; its authors called it simply Lucru Neamului, the "nation's affair." The memorandum asserted that the Wallachians were the oldest original inhabitants of Transylvania, who had voluntarily accepted the domination of the Magyars upon their arrival in the Carpathian Basin, despite being the equals of other nations. The memorandum requested that this lost equality be restored in religious, constitutional and political matters.

King Leopold II refused these demands on the grounds that "the Crown recognizes its subjects as having only different tongues and different denominations, but not different nationalities." The Diet of Transylvania also rejected the Wallachians' request, retorting that the ancient freedom of the three nations, Magyars, Germans and Székelys was based on territorial autonomy which could not be granted to the Wallachians (who had begun calling themselves Rumanians), as they lived scattered all over the country. "The complaint" - ran the reply - "that the Rumanians have been robbed of their rights is contrary to the facts; the Rumanian nobles have exactly the same freedom and rights as the Hungarian and Székely noblemen, nor are the burdens of the Rumanian peasants more onerous than the burdens of the peasants of other races.

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(Read more about this subject in chapter 30)


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