|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|
While this Hungarian-inhabited area now was put under Rumanian sovereignty, Stalin wanted to restrain the Rumanian quest for revenge. Therefore, he demanded of the Rumanian authorities the guarantee of nationality rights. At the same time, he also demanded that a damper be placed on nationalist sentiments, particularly in the sensitive area of majority-minority relations. It is because of this that the Daco-Roman theory was left out of Rumanian historical studies. Only after Stalin's death did the nationalist elements creep back into the Rumanian national self-definition. This revived nationalism was already evident by 1955--56 in Rumanian travel guides and popular, nonscholarly historical articles and interpretations.
The Hungarian Revolt of 1956 signaled the real return to the unfettered symbols of Rumanian nationalism. Two years after that event, the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Rumania as a reward for its assistance --- providing a staging ground --- in crushing the Hungarian revolt. From then to the present, Rumanian nationalism has been
undergoing a constant revival. Parallel to this, the Daco-Roman theory has received a new lease on life and has been transformed into the official state myth. The rehabilitation of this interpretation --- and of Nicolai Iorga --- has been the task primarily of the historical revisionists Daicoviciu, Pascu, Constantinescu and Giurescu, through whose efforts the myth has acquired new strength, although it has undergone some slight alterations in content.
The new Daco-Roman myth places much more stress on symbols that link it to the "peoples' struggles" to overcome oppression through the ages. The roots of the workers' movement are intertwined with the whole theory of national origins. If a comparison of the Daco-Roman myth of the interwar years is made with its postwar counterpart, the first and most striking difference is the extensive discussion of the Dacians and the relatively more modest role of the Romans. There are probably three explanations for this. First, the Dacians have more "folk," or "peoples'," appeal, while the Romans are the representatives of a form of world "imperialism." In this context, the Dacians can be more easily fitted into the ideological prerequisites of present-day Rumania. Thus, the discussions of national origins focuses more on the roles of the Dacian leaders Burebista and Decebalus than on the role of the conquering Roman emperors Hadrian or Trajan. A second reason for the Dacian emphasis is that their settlements preceded those of the Romans on Transylvanian soil. In fact, most references to the Dacians give the impression that they had been the inhabitants of the environs of the Carpathian Mountains from time immemorial. The third reason is that the Dacians are known only indirectly via Greek or Roman written sources. Remnants of the Dacian language and culture are scarce indeed. Hardly any Dacian words have been preserved. (According to the historian László Makkai, only some sixty names have been identified as "Dacian" by the Rumanian historian C. C. Giurescu out of some 3,000 names that remain from inscriptions of the Dacian period.) The relative lack of evidence about the culture, history or language of the Dacians provides a field day for those who like to write history on the basis of assumptions and theoretical speculation. Too much is known about the Romans to be able to trace direct Rumanian descent to them. This is not the case with the Dacians, and via speculative theories the Rumanians can be linked to them without too much difficulty.
In the fashion indicated above, the Daco-Roman myth pervades all aspects of life in Ceausescu's Rumania. The people who can appreciate this most are those who systematically follow Rumanian historical research and historiography. An average history of Rumania or Rumanian
historical chronology, without regard to number of pages or overall length, will devote c. one-fourth of its content to ancient history, i.e., to the elaboration and proof of the Daco-Roman theory. Another one-fourth of the book will be devoted to the period between A.D. 275 and 1700, mainly concerning the question of Rumanian "continuity" in Transylvania and the efforts of Wallachian and Moldavian voivodes to realize the unification of the Rumanian-inhabited "countries." The last half of the content is devoted to the period since 1700. In this way, approximately the same number of pages are devoted to the first 165 years as to the next 1425 years, while intense attention is again provided for the last 280 years. It would be hard to duplicate the distortion of events that results from this strange allocation of attention to only a selected part of historical time. The feverish archeological activity in present-day Transylvania attests to this same skewed perspective. Almost everywhere digs are in progress that attempt to find the evidence that will conclusively link the Rumanians to the early history of Transylvania. The latter is indeed a thankless task, since the tangible evidence in written documents, architecture, and art testifies primarily to a Székely, Magyar, and Saxon past. The archeological finds within the Carpathian Basin --- including Transylvania --- reveal at least as many traces of the Celts, Huns, Avars, Goths, or Romans as of the Dacians. The theories and assumptions are nonetheless reasserted and the finds are claimed for their support. Many of these finds have even been "Rumanianized."
Contemporary Rumanian historians do not question the validity of the Daco-Roman myth. For them it is a matter of faith and the official interpretation of the origins of their people. Its acceptance as the official position is demonstrated in the recently published article of Ilie Ceausescu --- the historian brother of Nicolae Ceausescu --- who contends that we can trace the Dacian civilization back at least 4,000 years and that: "The Dacians and their industrious descendants, the sons of the Romanian people, were the predecessors and contemporaries of the great civilizations of antiquity." He goes on to state in this same essay that the Rumanian Communist party's Central Committee also affirms this thesis and that: "As the reality of history over its multi-millenia existence [sic] attests, the Romanian people has itself retained its distinct traits. Never was it dislodged from its ancestoral [sic] lands and never did it merge or mix with other peoples which moved into the Carpathian Danubian-Pontic region." Even the "migratory populations" (i.e., Huns, Goths, Avars, Magyars, etc.), which were "at a lower level of civilization... could not budge the Romanian people from the ancestoral [sic] homeland..."
The Daco-Roman myth also finds its way into history textbooks. It is presented as unchallengeable fact rather than as tentative theory that still requires substantiation. In a history textbook translated for Hungarians in Rumania we encounter the following:
The emergence of the Rumanian language and people was the result of a long evolutionary period of about a thousand years, and it lasted from the first to the tenth centuries.
The Daco-Roman population, which came into being under Roman rule in Dacia, sustained itself even after Roman authorities evacuated Dacia. During this time period the indigenous population underwent a process of Romanization, in the course of which most of the population adopted the Latin language. Romanization --- a process begun even before the actual conquest --- continued under the influence of the Romanized provinces on the right bank of the Danube also after the evacuation of Dacia. Almost constant contact between the peoples on both sides of the Danube perpetuated the Roman influence at least to the beginning of the seventh century... The emergence of the Rumanian people is closely related to the development of the Rumanian language. For this reason, the evolution of the Rumanian language corresponds closely to the development of the Rumanian people. Thus, the period between the first and fourth centuries is from a linguistic perspective characterized by the Daco-Roman Latin phase and corresponds to the blending of the Dacian and Roman peoples, while the seventh to tenth centuries witness the close existence of Slavic and Daco-Roman peoples which produced the Rumanian language and the Rumanian people.
The myth is mirrored in all aspects of cultural life, not just in historical studies and the contents of school curriculum and textbooks. Elements of the myth find their way into the everyday existence of the people via the channels of popular education. As recently as the summer of 1976, visitors noted that museums with a historical character, without exception, had a large area set aside to prove the Daco-Roman theory. At the same time, the past of the minorities, particularly the Hungarians, is now presented in Rumanianized fashion with all the key heroes receiving Rumanian names (e.g., Iancu de Hunedoara for János Hunyadi, Gheorghe Doja for György Dózsa, etc.) The film industry also follows suit. Three of the most advertized and popularized films have been "Decebalus," "The Dacians," and "The Column," all dealing with the Dacian past.
In the historical interpretation of events and the role of individuals, top priority is also given to those that have in any way contributed to the "reestablishment" of the Daco-Roman "state-system" or "country." In this way, great importance is attached to every voivode of Moldavia or Wallachia who contributed to the struggles against Turkish, Habsburg, Hungarian, or Polish control of their destinies. The role of Mihai Viteazul is considered particularly significant. He is presented
as the first successful reunifier of the "Rumanian countries" (Moldavia, Wallachia, Transylvania) in the course of the chaotic power vacuum of 1599--1600. From this point onward, each event is evaluated by Rumanian historians in terms of its contribution to the instinctive struggle of their people against oppression and for the independence of a reestablished Daco-Roman state. Thus, the peasant rising of Horea, Closca, and Crisan in 1784, the activities of Bishop saguna and of Avram Iancu in 1848--49, the "mass meeting" at Blaj (Balázsfalva), all the way to the events of 1918--20, are all considered to be links in a chain of events that re-create the Daco-Roman state. In fact, these historians claim that the realization of this ideal is only now reaching full fruition under the leadership of Nicolae Ceausescu within the context of the Rumanian Socialist Republic.
The leaders of the Rumanian Communist party and the Rumanian government consistently and consciously propagate and utilize the Daco-Roman legacy. Under Ceausescu's leadership, the myth-making process has even been accelerated. While between the two world wars it was popular to give Roman names like Victor, Trajan, or Ovid to children, so at present Dacian names are being popularized. This change is also apparent in the displacement of old monuments and the erection of new ones. The monuments or artifacts that remind people of the Hungarian and Saxon past are all but eliminated. At the same time, the Romulus and Remus statues, so popular in the interwar years, are now being eclipsed in popularity by the statues of the Dacian heroes Decebalus and Burebista. Street names and even city names are being "re-Dacianized." Thus, Turnu-Severin is now called Drobeta and Cluj (Kolozsvár) has been renamed Cluj-Napoca.
With Ceausescu this process of myth-making occupies such a central position that the names of Burebista and Decebalus even made their way into the Rumanian Communist party program of 1974. Even more significant was Ceausescu's pronouncement on cultural and political education at the June, 1976, Congress deliberating issues relative to education and national consciousness. Both at this meeting and at the October, 1976, meeting of the cadres involved with political and social education, he revealed his impatience concerning the shortcomings and delays encountered in the propagation of the state's myth-system. According to Ceausescu, the origins and development of the Rumanian people is not dealt with enough or treated adequately in existing educational programs. The general secretary of the Rumanian Communist party felt that the historians had an obligation to demonstrate the importance of the Thracian-Dacian civilization on the "nomadic peoples" and "immigrant peoples", i.e., Hungarians, Saxon-Germans,
and other non-Rumanians, who settled "here" later. He contended it to be a well-known fact that these peoples did not bring with them a developed civilization, but, on the contrary, adopted the civilization existing "here," thereby to enable them to reach a higher level themselves. A realistic understanding of history demonstrates, Ceausescu continued, that the nationalities' cultural debt to the Thracian-Dacian civilization strengthens and links more closely the "coinhabiting nationalities" to the destiny of the Rumanian people. To phrase it another way, the use of the past in this fashion will contribute to the "homogenization" of contemporary Rumanian society, i.e., the absorption of the minority nationalities.
Ceausescu's pronouncements reveal not only the close link between political objectives and the role of history in Rumania, but also that the state's myth system, or at least some of its elements, are given different prominence depending on circumstances. As was already pointed out, the myth-system's original formulation emphasized the role of the Romans in the Rumanian ethnogenesis. After World War I, historians began to write more about a Dacian-Roman synthesis. In the new "Socialist" Rumania, on the other hand, the Dacians receive more and more attention. And now, at the behest of Ceausescu, the Thracian-Dacian-Roman synthesis receives ever increasing consideration. In addition to ideological factors, these alterations in the development of the myth-system are probably due to the inability of historians and archaeologists to prove the myth's contentions. Therefore, it is constantly necessary to amend the myth-system and to provide it with new life as it begins to grow stale, via new theoretical assumptions. It is difficult to find something new to say about the Dacians that would reinforce the myth, so it is now important to expand the Rumanian connection to all the Thracian tribes. The data supportive of the myth-system must be gathered with all due haste since Ceausescu is feverishly preparing Rumania for the celebration of the foundation of the Dacian state's 2050th year anniversary.
Besides Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár) and Turnu-Severin, other cities have also held renaming and myth-generating mass meetings and celebrations. Not very long ago Ceausescu was present in Satu Mare (Szatmárnémeti) and Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár) to celebrate the alleged 2000th anniversary of their existence. The myth is present in reference to every other phase of existence as well. From problems of industrialization to military preparedness, the party and government leaders are not want to exercise restraint in reference to the examples set by the heroic Dacian forefathers. Almost every larger city has a hotel named "Dacia" to serve the tourist trade. The automobile manufactured
in Rumania is also called "Dacia." Whenever party leaders discuss agriculture, they inevitably make references to the flowering of agriculture in "Dacia Felix" (Happy Dacia). Whenever military training and preparedness are discussed, talk about the struggles and wars of Decebalus and Burebista is also inevitable.
What are the consequences of the Daco-Roman myth-system for the existence of Rumania's minority nationalities? The official designation for the Hungarians and the other nationalities is "coinhabiting nationalities." On this basis: "The coinhabiting nationalities --- organically part of the unified Socialist people --- associate themselves with the aspirations and destiny of the Rumanian people forever, and take part in a creative manner in the Socialist construction of Rumania."
By associating themselves "forever" with the destiny of the majority, the Hungarians are assured a second-rate citizenship status, at least within the context of the Daco-Roman myth system. Both the Hungarians and the Saxon-Germans are labeled "latecomers" and are considered "colonists" who have been settled in the land later than the Rumanians. Furthermore, they are considered to be the instruments of exploitation of previous regimes. They have even been excluded from Socialist Rumania's major mythicized event, the switch of sides on August 23, 1944. This event, establishing the new Rumania, pitted the Rumanians against both the Hungarians and the Germans. Thus, contemporary Rumania came into being through a struggle against Germans and Hungarians, rather than on the basis of joint struggle with them. The myth, at any rate, labels them as the fascist forces that had to be overcome. With this interpretation, the "coinhabiting nationalities" are effectively excluded from the recent past as well. Being deprived of any role in the myths defining Rumania's past and present, the minorities receive protection against the abuses of nationalism only in the context of Communist ideological commitments and certain domestic and international political alignments.
The existing ideological and political restraints do not guarantee, however, that the rights of the minorities will be defended "forever" in perpetuity. The official myth of Rumanian self-definition implies instead that the Hungarian and other minorities are only temporarily tolerated. Under Ceausescu's leadership, the Rumanian self-definition is closely linked to two other conceptions: first, to a unitary and centralized state and government order and, second, to a society that is undergoing a process of "homogenization." Within these parameters, minorities cannot have a history of their own, nor can they have developmental opportunities that are uniquely tailored to their own needs. At the same time, they are excluded from the Rumanian national myth-system
until they abandon their own minority consciousness and become "homogenized" with the majority. If they melt down, blend in, and become absorbed in the majority, then of course they too can become part of the Daco-Roman self-definition of present-day Rumania.
In spite of the pressures, the latter development is not likely to take place, since the Hungarians are a large minority and possess a rich and hardy culture of their own. Rumanian pressure to "homogenize" the minorities seems to have the opposite effect and makes the Hungarians even more conscious of their Hungarianness. The monopoly enjoyed by the Daco-Roman myth-system does not really contribute to the assimilation of the minorities. On the contrary, the childish simplicity of the myth-system and its aggressive propagation have only led to the alienation of many Hungarians from their Rumanian "coinhabitants."
In the long-run, this polarization of Transylvania's peoples can serve only the interests of those major powers that want to dominate Eastern Europe. It perpetuates the divisions of Eastern European peoples and thereby fosters the likelihood that outsiders will continue to play the old game of divide and conquer. The Daco-Roman myth is tailored to the nation-state system; as such, it tends to encourage divisions, since it has an exclusive trait that provides only the Rumanian Staatsvolk with a historical role. It is tragic that the leaders of contemporary Rumania do not realize that this scheme of reference can only feed the illusions of the past and the interests of the interventionist powers of the present.
Inadvertently, the Daco-Roman myth-system may be providing concerned and thinking people in Eastern Europe with an opportunity to rethink the consequences and ramifications of the Ceausescu-sponsored new chauvinism. Its patently primitive formulation and destructive repercussions may help to discredit the remnants of the nation-state as a means to govern multiethnic societies. It may contribute to the demise of the very state it has tried to rationalize. Instead of an exclusivist Rumania, the bankruptcy of exclusivist myths may very well convince Rumanians as well as Hungarians, Saxon-Germans, and others that Eastern Europe needs a supraethnic, tolerant, and pluralistic myth-system that legitimizes a new multinational and federalistic state-system based on the appreciation of both diversity and uniqueness.
|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|