2016_3_Book Review

pdfVolume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


The Feast and the Pulpit: Preachers, Sermons and the Cult of St Elizabeth of Hungary, 1235–ca.1500. By Ottó Gecser. Spoleto: Fondazione Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2012. xv + 462 pp.


Ottó Gecser, who is a senior lecturer at Institute of Sociology of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, revised his doctoral dissertation and published it as this book. The book is divided into two main parts: the first half is a monograph and the second contains extensive appendices, in which the sources are presented. The aim of the book is to examine the formation and transformation of the cult of St Elizabeth of Hungary (or St Elizabeth of Thuringia) on the basis of the sermons written for her feast day.

St Elizabeth, as a royal princess and the wife of the Landgrave of Thuringia, was an important figure during her lifetime, and her cult emerged immediately after her death, thus several scholars have studied her life. Her cult, however, has not yet been made the focus of scholarly attention. Gecser has successfully tried to fill this gap by analyzing the sermons in question. He collected 103 sermons dedicated to St Elizabeth, and they provide an impressive foundation for his study.

The first chapter can be regarded as an introductory chapter to the other two, which concentrate on preaching. It centers on the emergence of the cult of St Elizabeth, and it provides the context for the subsequent chapters. This chapter focuses on the first legends of the saint, the pilgrimage to Magdeburg, the patrocinia, and the liturgy. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the analysis of the early cult of St Elisabeth among the mendicant orders. Interestingly, the first promoters of the cult of St Elizabeth (i.e. the first people who began to compose legends and sermons about her) were not the Franciscans, but the Dominicans and members of the Teutonic Order. According to Gecser, the widely accepted view according to which Elizabeth was a Franciscan tertiary only began to spread in the fourteenth century. Her affiliation with the Franciscans may have been the result of the failure of the canonization of Umiliana dei Cerchi and Margaret of Cortona.

In the first chapter, Gecser analyzes the geographical spread of the cult. He brings to light the fact that St Elizabeth was venerated primarily in the German lands and in Hungary, which is understandable, given her origins. In the other regions where the saint’s cult appeared, her veneration centered primarily on female (semi-)religious communities, such as Beguines. For example, the Italian cult of St Elizabeth was mainly found in monasteries. Most of the visual representations of the rose miracle can be localized to Italian monasteries, thus this part of the Elizabeth-hagiography might have emerged in Italy and been spread by the Franciscans.

In the second and third chapters, Gecser turns to the preaching on St Elizabeth. He builds his argument on the sermons, which are listed in the appendices. The first appendix contains a register of the sermons on the life of St Elizabeth until ca. 1500, the second lists the themata of the sermons, and the third contains eighteen sermons, all of which were edited by Gecser. He has made available Elizabeth sermons of King Robert of Anjou, Gilbert of Tournai, and others. In the second chapter, Gecser presents the geographical and temporal dimensions of the production of the sermons on the life of St Elizabeth. He takes care to describe the authors or the compilers of the texts and their affiliations with religious orders. The first biographer of St Elizabeth was the Cistercian Caesarius of Heisterbach, then the largest amount of the sermons were authored by the Dominicans and the Franciscans. In medieval Hungary, either the Dominicans or the Franciscans were preaching about her. Two sources from thirteenth-century Hungary, the so-called “Pécs University Sermons” and the Codex of Leuven, contain sermons dedicated to St Elizabeth. In addition to them, two late medieval sermon collections of Observant Franciscan Preachers (Pelbartus of Temesvár and Oswaldus of Laskó) also contained predications about Elizabeth in medieval Hungary. It is reasonable to conjecture that there were other medieval sermons dedicated to Elizabeth in Hungary which have been lost for now.

The sermons and the liturgy depict the figure of St Elizabeth. Priests could shape this figure from the pulpit by dwelling on different aspects of her life. The two most important roles of St Elizabeth as exempla were the conceptions of her as Elizabeth regina and Elizabeth vidua. One of Gecser’s most interesting and important findings is his discernment of a new themata in the strict genre of sermons. Before the sermons representing Elizabeth as an exemplary widow, very few sermons centered on the widowhood. Through her life, Elizabeth experienced the three lawful states of a Christian woman’s life: virgin, wife, and widow. Thus, St Elizabeth set a model to follow for Christian women of all ages through her exemplary life. A significant proportion of the church institutions dedicated to St Elizabeth were hospitals, because she founded a hospital in Marburg, thus an aristocratic women could imitate her model by founding or supporting a hospital.

One question remains open at the end of the book, namely how might one explain the decline of the cult of St Elizabeth in the fifteenth century. The number of new Elizabeth sermons decreased, but the other mark of her cult—dedications by the Church and visual representations—showed no sign of decline.

Gecser has structured his book logically, and he has based it on a large array of sources. The book is reader-friendly, attentively presenting and explaining every aspect of the cult of St Elizabeth and the medieval sermons and preaching in general, providing the reader with a necessary grasp of the context in order to understand the place of the sermons on the life of Elizabeth.

Dorottya Uhrin

Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest


Vitae Sanctorum Aetatis Conversionis Europae Centralis (Saec. X-XI): Saints of the Christianization Age of Central Europe (Tenth-Eleventh Centuries). (Central European Medieval Texts, 6.) Edited by Gábor Klaniczay, translated by Cristian Gąspar and Marina Miladinov with an introductory essay by Ian Wood. Budapest–New York: Central European University Press, 2013. 418 pp.


The volume is part of the very useful Central European Medieval Texts series, which makes sources available to English readers and thus both familiarizes Western scholars with less well-known texts and serves as an excellent resource for teaching on Central European history outside the region. It is also often easier to access the Latin texts through the reprinted versions in these volumes than to find sometimes old and rare original editions. The book consists of five hagiographical texts, each with an introduction, all of them translated by Marina Miladinov except for the Life of St Adalbert, which was translated by Cristian Gąspar. There is also a short, general introduction on the hagiography of conversion by Ian Wood. The volume also includes a select bibliography and information on the hagiography of the saints featured in the book (containing various editions and translations of other texts written about them, but not included here).

Although not indicated in the title, this is part one of a planned two-volume work; as the preface explains, another is forthcoming, and the two volumes together will give more even, although far from complete, coverage of early Central European sanctity. The texts included in this book were chosen with the intention of offering the reader legends that had not yet been translated into English, and for saints with multiple Lives, of choosing one important Vita. (As candidly explained in the preface, the case of the Five Brethren is somewhat different, but the choice is justified because the earlier English translation is hard to find.) With the exception of St Wenceslas and possibly St Adalbert, the other saints (the “five brethren” celebrated by Bruno of Querfurt, the hermits Zoerard and Benedict, and Bishop Gaudentius of Osor, or Ossero) are probably among the obscure local saints whose names are unfamiliar to anyone who is not a specialist.

Ian Wood’s introduction offers reflections on the authors of these Lives and their subjects, focusing on Bohemia and Poland and largely omitting the last two Lives included in the volume. He provides some details on what is known historically about the saints and their hagiographers, and he rightly draws attention to the Roman papal and Ottonian court background, as well as to local backgrounds, in producing sanctity. The scholarship (even in English) on St Adalbert is not quite as bad as Wood suggests: F. Dvorník, L. Nemec and P. Urbańczyk have written articles on Adalbert, and one finds numerous references to him in books on the region. In Western languages more generally, in addition to Gieysztor’s work in French, German readers can consult F. Graus and an edited volume by H. H. Henrix, among others.

The preface to each text by the translator (for the Gesta of Gaudentius, by Zrinka Nikolić) is very valuable. They provide detailed information on the text, and they situate it in the context of other Lives written for the same saint. Notably, in the case of Sts. Wenceslas and Adalbert, various Vitae were composed, some of which borrow from earlier ones. Gąspar, Miladinov, and Nikolić also summarize scholarship in various languages on debates concerning these texts. Finally, they provide information on the significance of the roles each saint has played in his or her local context. Gąspar’s critical apparatus is outstanding, and he also contributes to the revision of the best existing critical edition by footnoting variant readings in manuscripts not contained in that edition.

The Latin texts are not new editions, but rather rely on existing critical editions; the English translations are very readable. Naturally, like all translations, they are interpretations, and for example the translation of “gens” as nation (pp.164-5) is debatable. The footnotes give guidance on Biblical quotations, sometimes on problems of interpretation and in some cases on manuscript variance. They also raise new questions. For example, according to a footnote, the Passio sancti Adalberti’s ‘pleno cornu’ (p.176) is derived from one of Horace’s letters. There is, however, no mention of the fact that the expression was used in the contemporary liturgical office of Willibald (CANTUS database, D-Trb Abt. 95, nr. 5), and this leaves the reader wondering about possible routes of transmission.

Vitae can sometimes reveal more about their authors than they do about their subjects. Thus, Bruno of Querfurt, himself a missionary and the author of one of the Lives of St Adalbert, considered martyrdom at great length in his work. In other cases, barely anything is known about the author named in the text, or authorship is contested. Gumpold, bishop of Mantua, worked at the behest of Emperor Otto II, but otherwise remains in the shadows. Maurus, bishop of Pécs, was one of the earliest Hungarian prelates, but not much is known about him. Iohannes Canaparius has been suggested rather persuasively as the author of St Adalbert’s Life, but this attribution is not uncontested. Gaudentius’ Life was composed by an anonymous monk.

These Lives are valuable not simply for the study of sanctity and the early history of Central Europe. Each text contributes to the emergence of a more varied, richer picture of the medieval world as a whole. Gumpold fashioned St Wenceslas’s image in part by integrating royal duties and asceticism, and thus he created a model for a good ruler. Adalbert’s cult calls attention to the interplay between imperial and multiple local centers in the creation of sanctity. The text celebrating Benedict, John, and their companions sheds light on both eremitical practices and missionary strategies in Poland. The Life of Zoerard and Benedict provides glimpses into the influence of oriental monasticism in eleventh-century Hungary, for example Lenten practices and forms of asceticism. Finally, the Life of the Dalmatian bishop Gaudentius, who served as a point of reference for Peter Damian in his letters as a model for the renunciation of the episcopal office in favour of monasticism, contributes to our understanding of ecclesiastical reform.

Nora Berend

University of Cambridge


Cuius Patrocinio Tota Gaudet Regio: Saints’ Cults and the Dynamics of Regional Cohesion. (Bibliotheca Hagiotheca: Series Colloquia, 3.) Edited by Stanislava Kuzmová, Ana Marinković, and Trpimir Vedriš with an introductory study by Thomas F. Head and concluding remarks by Gábor Klaniczay. Zagreb: Hagiotheca, 2014. xxxi + 462 pp.


Christianity was initially rather reluctant to conceive of holiness as something bound to specific places. As St Paul warned the Athenians on the Areopagus, “[t]he God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man” (Acts 17, 24). But after the end of persecutions, from the fourth century on, through the emerging cult of the martyrs and Constantine’s foundation of churches at significant places of Gospel history, this aversion quickly underwent a transformation into an almost antithetical attitude towards the relevance of place. Portable relics and the veneration of an ever growing number of saints created a landscape in which a plethora of cults and communities, both juxtaposed and overlapping, have been connected on various scales and in various forms. The twenty-six essays of this volume (including the introductory study and the concluding remarks) explore precisely these scales and forms of interrelations between cults and communities in space. The territorial units in or through which cults and communities are or were connected include cities, dioceses, lordships, kingdoms, and even emerging nation states. These units are examined in a time span between the seventh and the nineteenth centuries and in a geographical area stretching from Ireland to Georgia, with a focus on continental Europe in the central and late Middle Ages. I will survey here some of the main socio-spatial categories linked to the veneration of saints in the book and offer illustrations drawn from the essays.

Cults on the scale of (ultimately) national territories come up in four contexts: Ireland’s conversion to Christianity and the creation of an apostolic figure, St Patrick, credited with it (Elizabeth Dawson); the appropriation of royal dynastic saints, the holy kings of Hungary, by the nobility of the realm (Doina Elena Crăciun); the shifting perception of the Madonna of Sinj from an anti-Ottoman miraculous icon to a Croatian national symbol (Ivana Prijatelj Pavčić), as well as the incorporation of King St Ladislaus of Hungary in the pantheon of Illyrian/Croatian saints in the works of Ivan Tomko Mrnavić and Pavao Ritter Vitezović in the seventeenth century (Zrinka Blažević).

Most of the authors, however, seem to have interpreted the term “region” as a territorial unit below the level of modern nation states. They look for the role of saints in creating and maintaining collective self-definitions on a sub-national scale. One recurrent spatial framework of such collective self-definitions is the diocese, especially through the veneration of its saintly founder and subsequent leaders. Graham Jones presents a persuasive argument in support of the contention that there was widespread identification with holy bishops well beyond the immediate readership of their official hagiographies in the early Middle Ages, and Sara Ellis Nilsson and Fernand Peloux examine the cults of bishops as resources with which to legitimize the place of episcopal sees and the independence of bishoprics in Scandinavia and Gaul.

Another recurring territorial unit is the town or the city. Urban cults, especially in Italy, belong to the most researched ones in this field, but the volume offers some new takes on this old topic. As Relja Seferović demonstrates in the case of St Blasius and the Ragusan Republic, medieval patron saints could remain important well into the eighteenth century in a changing geopolitical constellation between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. Anna Munk analyzes urban cults in medieval Venice, not only on the level of the state, but also on the level of individual parishes, and shows the latter to have been the beneficiaries of a continuous influx of relics from the colonies of the Venetian republic, which were used by the parishes to articulate their collective self-definitions.

Cults of multiple scale are also in the center of the contributions by Nicolas Bock, Eleonora Lombardo, Maya Maskarinec, and Isolde Thyrêt. Bock discusses the presumable role of private chapels in Neapolitan churches of the Angevin period in the creation of a saintly pantheon representing and integrating the major aristocratic families of the realm. Lombardo’s subject is the cult of St Anthony of Padua (or Lisbon) as Pater Paduae, on the one hand, and as a universal role model for preachers in the Franciscan order, on the other. Maskarinec demonstrates how holy men and women whose veneration had originated outside Rome (or, at least, their vitae available in Rome portrayed them as such) helped shape the institutionalized presence of “foreigners” (mainly Greek-speakers) in the Eternal City in the ninth century. Finally, Thyrêt shows how the harsh conflicts between Torzhok and Tver in the Upper Volga region between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries found manifestation, eventually, in the cults of their respective holy patrons, St Efrem and St Mikhail, the first of whom was (allowed to be) venerated only in Torzhok, while the second had a nationwide cult by the seventeenth century.

A last type of socio-spatial category considered in the book consists of various kinds of secular administrative units, such as the counties of Provence and Spiš/Zips/Szepes, discussed by Anne Doustaly and Ivan Gerát respectively. These are the closest to “regions” or, especially, “historical regions” in the now current sense, and the examples of Provence and Spiš reveal how different they were in the Middle Ages in terms of the sources of their collective cultural makeup. In Provence the Angevins made a deliberate attempt to use the cult of the Magdalene to forge a more unified regional identity even on the village level through images and church dedications. In Spiš, in contrast, a range of high-ranking sponsors down from the royal level created a pattern of cult promotion which seems to have been intended to represent various interests in this economically very important but ethnically and linguistically very diverse region, rather than trying to unify it under the aegis of one specific saint.

Ottó Gecser

Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest


Magyarországról és a magyarokról: Nyugat-Európa magyar-képe a középkorban [On Hungary and on the Hungarians: The image of Hungarians in Western Europe in the Middle Ages]. By Enikő Csukovits. (Monumenta Hungariae historica. Dissertationes.) Budapest: MTA BTK Történettudományi Intézet, 2015. 307 pp.


According to her comments in the preface to the book, for roughly a decade author Enikő Csukovits, senior research fellow to the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, has been preoccupied with the question of how the Western world has perceived the Hungarian Kingdom and its people. Over the course of her scholarly career, Csukovits has devoted considerable attention to the subject of Hungarians who made pilgrimages in Europe in the Middle Ages and the period of the rule of the Angevin dynasty in Hungary. Studies of European perceptions of Hungarians in the scholarship in Hungary on the Middle Ages are hardly unfamiliar. In the first half of the twentieth century, the subject was of interest primarily among literary historians. For instance, Sándor Eckhardt (1890–1969) examined mentions of Hungary and Hungarians in French chansons de geste and also studied medieval novels about figures of Hungarian descent. However, until recently few attempts were made to offer analyses that were based on other kinds of sources, in addition to literary texts. After analyses presenting partial findings and focusing on individual or a group of sources, Csukovits’s monograph offers a highly readable summary of the subject, addresses this shortcoming.

As Csukovits mentions in the introduction, her intention was to examine the subject without any limitations from the perspective of genre, geography, or chronology. Her goal was, “drawing on the broadest possible basis of sources,” to offer “the most complete possible panorama” “of the image of Hungary in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.” The book provides a series of examples, beginning with the arrival of Hungarians in Europe in the ninth century and ending with the fall of the Hungarian Kingdom in the early sixteenth century, of perceptions beyond the borders of the Carpathian Basin of the Hungarian people, which won itself fame first with its destructive forays and later with its bold stands against the Ottomans. Csukovits draws on a wide array of sources. Although she relies first and foremost on narrative sources (for instance, annals that make mention of the incursions made by the Hungarians, as well as chronicles and gesta that present some of the pivotal moments in Hungarian history), Csukovits also uses a variety of other sources to address the questions she raises. In some of the chapters, the reader is acquainted with French novels and Italian short stories that offer imaginative portrayal of Hungarian heroes, as well as, for instance, a world map showing the region of “Ungaria,” a crusader treatise in the early fourteenth century that assigned a role to Hungary, a diplomatic letter with information concerning the foreign policy role of King Louis I of Hungary and a report written by a Venetian ambassador on the eve of the Battle of Mohács in 1526, which was a fateful moment in Hungary’s history.

Following a short introduction outlining the aims of her inquiry, Csukovits presents her findings in four relatively long chapters. In the first chapter, she acquaints her reader with the various ways in which Western Europe acquired its knowledge of geography. In addition to the late textual tradition of geographical works of the Antiquity or their rediscovery by scholars of the Humanist era, Csukovits examines how knowledge accumulated by antique authors was complemented by the accounts of crusaders, pilgrims, and simple travelers. This overview of the formation of a geographical concept of the world, which stretches to the eve of the Age of Discovery, provides the context for the discussion of the problems which Csukovits makes the focus of her study.

In the second chapter, Csukovits presents the ways in which people living in distant countries acquired information about a narrower geographical region, namely the Kingdom of Hungary in the Carpathian Basin. As she does not fail to note, Hungarians generally were mentioned in the sources written outside of Hungary when they came into direct contact with another European peoples. It is hardly coincidental that the chronicles and annals frequently include accounts of the devastating incursions into territories in the West in the tenth century and the military campaigns led by Hungarian rulers well beyond the Carpathian Basin. Of the latter, Csukovits makes particular mention of the participation of Andrew II in the Fifth Crusade and the attempts made by King Louis the Great to capture the throne of Naples. Pilgrims and crusaders who traveled overland to Palestine had ample opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Hungarian Kingdom, and the emissaries who spent time in the royal court in the fifteenth century also wrote vivid accounts of their experiences. In the absence of direct contacts, only the events in Hungary that were of dramatic importance were of interest in the West. In the chapter with the subtitle “A félelem irodalma” (“The literature of fear”), Csukovits examines the depictions in the sources of the devastation caused by the Mongol invasion and the attempts of the medieval Hungarian Kingdom to ward of the increasingly menacing threat posed by the Ottoman Empire. Organizing her inquiry thematically (according to the possible routes of information flow), she offers her reader an overview of the ways in which Western Europe acquired more intimate knowledge of the Hungarians. Her method of selecting examples from the various texts also gives a good impression of the wealth of sources that could serve as a point of departure for studies of images of Hungarians.

In the third chapter, Csukovits presents a series of case studies illustrating how this array of source materials sheds light on European views of Hungarians and the ways in which images of Hungarians evolved. The analyses, which are based on individual sources or groups of sources, deal with four basic problems and focus primarily on the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Csukovits is interested in the place accorded to the Hungarian Kingdom in Western Europe, perceptions in the West of Hungarian rulers, perceptions among enemies of the Hungarian army, and views concerning the peoples of the Carpathian Basin. The short story by Matteo Bandello (which takes place in the court of King Matthias), the portrait of Sigismund of Luxemburg by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, the chronicles containing accounts of the conflicts between Hungary and Venice, and the catalogues of stereotypes presenting the allegedly characteristic traits of the various peoples (to mention only a few examples of the kinds of sources on which the author draws) shed light from a number of perspectives on the question of what people in distant lands could have known, or at least could have thought to have known, about the country and its people.

The fourth chapter deals with the interesting question of what information could be found on Hungarians in two major libraries in the late Middle Ages, namely the library of the dukes of Burgundy, who had a particular interest in the lands to the east, and the collection of Hans Dernschwam, who was active in Hungary in the sixteenth century. It is perhaps not surprising that while in the first of these two libraries one found little more, with regards to information on Hungary, than occasional comments scattered throughout the travel literature, the Humanist Dernschwam, who was in the service of the Fugger family, had significant geographical and ethnographical sources at his disposal, in large part thanks to the invention of printing.

In the conclusion, Csukovits observes that the image of Hungarians in the West, however vivid, was very fragmentary. Although there were a few authors who were remarkably well informed, in general people in the West had very little concrete information concerning the distant land, in particular before the advances of the Ottomans in Europe. If one were to attempt, nonetheless, to offer a general assessment of perceptions of Hungary in the West, Csukovits concludes that the Hungarian Kingdom was clearly seen as a wealthy and strong state, the pejorative characterizations of Hungarians that are sometimes found in the sources notwithstanding.

Some of the texts on which Csukovits draws have long been familiar among medievalists in Hungary. The information of Hungary in the Middle Ages that are found in the narrative sources written outside of the Carpathian Basin have been used many times in studies on political history. Csukovits, however, attempts to offer an assessment of comments concerning Hungarians in the medieval chronicles and gesta from a new perspective. As is clear on the basis of the aforementioned features of her inquiry, Csukovits’s analyses are not limited, however, to narrative sources. She compares the conclusions found in the Western European historiography with conclusions drawn on the basis of other kinds of sources. It is worth noting that Csukovits does not simply analyze the passages that make mention of the Hungarians as isolated paragraphs but examine them within their textual contexts taking into consideration questions of genre as well as mentality and perspective of the author. In addition to providing detailed analyses of the perceptions of Hungarians and Hungary that emerge from the texts, she also addresses the question of the influence of individual sources. She always informs her reader of the extent to which the given account was familiar to readerships in its time. In the preface, she notes her intention to provide an inquiry that will fit well as part of a series of international studies on the perceptions among different peoples of one another. Her thorough and detailed overview of images of Hungarians in Western Europe will be particularly useful to anyone seeking to undertake a comparative study of this question.

Judit Csákó

Hungarian Academy of Sciences


Habsbourg et Ottomans (1520–1918). By Jean Bérenger. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015. 360 pp.


This book constitutes a synthesis of the work of Jean Bérenger, intended for a broad readership, presenting the rise and decline of two dynastic powers, the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empires. Evidently, Hungarian history in the early modern era is also given an important place in the narrative. The period selected by Bérenger for his inquiry begins with 1520, with the succession of Suleiman the Magnificent to the throne (followed soon after by the rise of Ferdinand I, who became Holy Roman Emperor in 1558) and concludes in 1918 with the end of World War I and the collapse of the two empires. Perhaps the most striking transition of this longue durée period (four centuries) is the historical process traced by Bérenger over the course of which the two great powers, who had been enemies initially, came eventually to be relatively stable allies.

The chapters of the book are organized in a logical manner, presenting ideas from the author’s earlier works in a style that is both elegant and highly reader-friendly. Following the essential introductory chapters, several exciting observations arouse interest of the readers already familiar with the subject. For instance, in the fourth chapter Bérenger discusses the period of “armed peace” (1568–93). Similarly interesting is the eleventh chapter, where Bérenger presents a chronicle of the wars in the eighteenth century, a period of Turkish successes (a subject often missing in Austrian and Hungarian historiographies). Bérenger also discusses thoroughly the importance of the last war led by Joseph II, a war that had been catastrophic regarding its outcomes. In the chapters preceding this one, Bérenger examines questions that are traditionally subjects of discussion in Austrian and Hungarian historiographies. Bérenger’s analyses are oriented, first and foremost, towards the perspective of military and diplomatic history. With characteristic French elegance, he rises above the frequent, commonplace and overly simplistic models typical for national histories, and in his examination of the conflicts between the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, he cautiously avoids categorical statements. In his description of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, he consistently uses the adjective “relative” (“déclin relatif”). One of the most important messages of the book is that one should be extremely cautious using the “sick man of Europe” stereotype as for in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire was still and remained an influential, great power. Bérenger does not oppose the claim that his narrative bears the influence of his scholarly experiences from Austria and Hungary, and the influence of his extensive professional networks with scholars from Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Central European mentality has also effected the terminology of the work, for instance, the author uses the term “15 years war” (“guerre de quinze ans”) instead of “long war” (“longue guerre”) that is widely used in French historiography. The emphasis is placed on major historical turning points, for instance, on the Battle of Mohács, the Battle of Lepanto, and the second siege of Vienna. This feature is also part of the same greater historiographic tradition, although at times the author’s interpretation of historical events is distinctly and palpably mirrors French traditions. One could mention in this respect, for example, his assessments of the Hungarian independence struggles against the Habsburgs (in which struggles Hungarians were assisted by the Ottomans), the presentation of the Eastern question in the nineteenth century, or the somewhat sketchy presentation of problems connected to World War I. In addition to the wars, Bérenger also devotes considerable attention to peace treaties, which after all, shaped the modus vivendi of the two empires. However, the reasons of providing a detailed, point-by-point presentation of the Treaty of Passarowitz after a fairly summarizing presentation of the Treaty of Karlowitz remain unclear. The treaties that were signed in the wake of World War I (treaties which sealed the fates of the two empires) also would have deserved a separate chapter. Having finished the book, the reader might well wonder why Bérenger devoted two separate chapters to the occupation and annexation of Bosnia. The importance of this section, counting altogether some 30 pages, hardly needs to be emphasized, however, the amount seems a bit disproportionate compared to the chapter on World War I, which is only 10 pages long. The book also includes a short bibliography, a glossary, a list of rulers, and an index of names.

Evidently, the volume of essays, a summary in its nature, can hardly be expected to provide an exhaustive presentation of the history of the proposed, long period. Instead, readers interested in the history of Central and Eastern Europe are offered an enjoyable and thought-provoking reading by Bérenger’s most recent book, while university students are given a useful complement to existing secondary literature. Bérenger’s book has significant professional merits, but there are nonetheless some shortcomings to be mentioned. The bibliography contains only two works from two Hungarian authors in translation. Similarly, Bérenger has made little use of Turkish or more recent German scholarship. In order to provide French readers with an overview of the chronology of possibly somewhat exotic events, it would have been helpful to include a short timeline in an appendix. The most striking misprints and mistakes are in the imprecise and sometimes inconsistent use of geographical and proper names. In summary, as a presentation of the conclusions and findings of Jean Bérenger’s research on the history of Central and Eastern Europe, the book constitutes a significant achievement in an enjoyable style that provides access to the subject for a broad French readership.

Ferenc Tóth

Hungarian Academy of Sciences


Egy magyar származású francia diplomata életpályája: François de Tott báró (1733–1793) [The career of a French diplomat of Hungarian descent: Baron François de Tott (1733–1793)]. By Ferenc Tóth. Budapest: BTA MTK, 2015. 313 pp.


Since the end of the eighteenth century, François de Tott has often been celebrated for his attempt to modernize the Ottoman military. He popularized his own activities through information published in the gazettes and in his memoirs, a true best-seller of pre-revolutionary Europe: Mémoires du baron de Tott sur les Turcs et les Tartares (Paris, 1785). After the treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774, at the beginning of what will later be called the Eastern Question, his works arrived in the nick of time. They reinforced the idea of the backwardness of the Ottoman world, a position that fit the opinion of the men of his generation and of his social background in an age of Enlightenment and cosmopolitanism. Efforts made by this diplomat in order to invert the decline were regarded as a meritorious, if hopeless enterprise. All the same, knowledge brought by this connoisseur of the Turkish language and customs in Crimea, Anatolia, and Egypt remained important for years: seen from this perspective, François de Tott is credited with having inspired Napoleon’s expedition in Egypt, and he is considered a forerunner of Orientalist writings.

Although he makes some precious observations on these points, Ferenc Tóth does not center his book on this subject. On the contrary, focusing on the diplomat and military adviser’s vocation requires putting aside the anachronistic role he would have played in the Orientalist narrative. This biography reveals new sides of François de Tott’s career, distant from the simplistic image of the learned observer of the Near East. In order to do this, Tóth has based his study on first-hand sources, preferring handwritten correspondence and works to published ones: mainly from the French military (Vincennes) and diplomatic (Nantes) archives, but also from the French national library, the municipal library of Versailles, and the Viennese Haus- Hof- und Staatsarchiv. The Hungarian readership will discover the findings of more than 15 years of research and publications, frequently in French, by Tóth about his famous namesake of the eighteenth century.

De Tott appears to have been a typical diplomat of the Age of Enlightenment. The analysis insists on the significance of personal relations connected with patronage and a language of friendship. After serving as soldier, de Tott began his career as a diplomat, and following the path of his father, András, he also started serving under Louis XV (Chapter 2). He spent some years in Istanbul, learning Turkish and the “tricks of the trade,” before he returned to France in 1763. Tóth shows how de Tott benefited from family support and patronage at the Versailles court. Of his supporters, Charles Gravier de Vergennes, the French ambassador in Istanbul who gave him advice from a distance, was the most important. He was given his first appointment in 1767. He was sent against all odds to Neuchâtel (Chapter 3). This episode presents the historian with an opportunity to underline the still little-known significance of this Swiss border territory in eighteenth-century European diplomatic relations. The property of the king of Prussia since 1707, the semi-autonomous and quite small principality of Neuchâtel was actually at the center of Frederick the Great’s diplomacy (see also Nadir Weber, 2015).

The long-expected appointment to a position in the Ottoman Empire finally occurred on June 1767. De Tott was not assigned to a post in Istanbul, where he could have aided Vergennes (who was recalled one year later) in his work. He was sent to the imperial periphery as French consul in Crimea (Chapter 4). The Russo–Turkish war of 1768-1774 offered him an opportunity to broaden the scope of his activities. While his task was of a political, commercial, and “cultural” nature at first, it rapidly became centered on military issues. His vast though shallow experience in this domain allowed him to implement reforms in several fields (Chapter 5): the fortification of the Dardanelles, in artillery, and naval science. This relatively short period of time (1768–74) and his later travel to Egypt (1776–77, Chapter 6) is what he is probably best known for.

At this point, it is useful to go back to the connection between de Tott, the Ottoman world, France, and Hungary. Despite the early, strong French presence in Istanbul, it would be misleading to think that de Tott inherited his position and his knowledge entirely from this diplomatic tradition. Born in France, he was sent to Istanbul in 1755 to replace his father, who was one of Francis II Rákóczi’s followers in exile in Tekirdağ (Rodostó), on the Bosporus. The Hungarian origin of de Tott is rightly evoked in the book’s title. It does not serve simply to appeal to a Hungarian readership. It reminds us that French diplomacy took advantage of a situation in which hundreds of exiled kuruc soldiers stayed in the Ottoman Empire for decades and served the French King’s interests in southeastern Europe. However, the resulting benefits of this situation were sometimes mutual: this happened in the case of the family of de Tott as well, who enjoyed upward social movement. Of course, this was made easier by the fact that de Tott belonged to a new generation, which came of age at a time when the dreams of a Hungary independent from the Habsburg Empire had faded almost entirely. Between the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 and the French Revolution of 1789, de Tott and his children found different ways, sometimes unrelated to diplomatic activities, to integrate into French society (Chapter 7). He spent the last years of his life as a military commander in a Northern French town before fleeing to Tarcsafürdő, in Hungary, in 1790. The last section of the book (Chapter 8) examines the intellectual influences (political theory, military technique, and literary patterns) that inspired his published texts.

This book undoubtedly fills a gap in current historiography, both in Hungary and internationally. No complete biography of this often mentioned but poorly known historical figure and writer existed. The contextualized approach and scholarly explanations shed light on each stage in the life of François de Tott. At the same time, the biographical genre has its own defects, insofar as it cannot address broader issues. It is regrettable that the author did not consider the arguments found in numerous recently published works on intercultural diplomacy, a topic about which he would have had a lot to say.

Benjamin Landais
Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse


“Zsandáros és policzájos idők”: Államrendőrség Magyarországon, 1849–1867 [“Times of police and gendarmes”: The state police in Hungary, 1849–1867]. By Ágnes Deák. Budapest: Osiris, 2015. 662 pp.


The period examined by Ágnes Deák in her recent book (1849–1867) is something of a neglected chapter in Hungarian historiography. To oversimplify and possibly overstate, one of the central elements of the traditional Hungarian historical narrative is the notion of passive resistance among Hungarians to Austrian absolutism. Recently, however, several research projects have focused on this period and have interrogated the stereotypes that were crafted by earlier generations of historians, stereotypes that have gradually become part of popular perceptions. Deák has played an important role in this. Both her works on the period as a whole and her studies on individual questions (the nationality question, the state police, the history of the press, communal autonomy) are important links in the chain of this process.

In the volume under review, Deák examines the institution of the state police that has not been made the subject of rigorous study even by Austrian historians. (The series entitled Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, which is being written by an international team of authors, examines the history of the institutions of the empire from different perspectives.) The main text of the book, which comes to 582 pages, is complemented by 19 tables and other appendices. As the primary and secondary sources reveal, Deák has studied an impressive array of manuscripts and printed sources. The 232 bibliographical entries clearly indicate that this is a work of thorough historical scholarship.

Given the structure of the book (in the first half, the chapters are arranged chronologically, while in the second they are organized thematically), one does encounter repetitions and overlaps. However, given the complexity of the topic, this is perhaps not a shortcoming, and indeed Deák herself calls her reader’s attention to these overlaps.

As she notes in her introduction, Deák’s aim is to present the structure of the institution of the state police, outline the mechanisms according to which it functioned, examine the methods according to which information was collected, and “unveil” the informants. She presents the entire network of institutions and people who took part in the gathering of information, including the police, the gendarmerie, the army, the people who were responsible for secretly opening letters, and the administrative authorities, but she focuses first and foremost on the state police.

The first half of the book gives a logical presentation of the “police affairs” of the given years, offering insights into the state police system of the previous era as well. Deák’s examination of the period between 1849 and 1859 is organized around the policies and acts of two of the decisive figures of the decade, Minister of Interior Alexander Bach and Lieutenant General Johann Kempen von Fichtenstamm. In her discussion of the 1860s, it becomes clear how police affairs in Hungary and the police affairs of the Empire gradually parted ways and how, in the period just before the Compromise of 1867 (which meant the establishment of an independent Hungarian governmental apparatus), the leadership in Vienna made preparations to turn police affairs over to the new state within a state.

The second half of the book takes the reader into the world of the people who worked confidentially in the service of the police. These chapters suggest that the contention according to which the Habsburg Empire and, within it, Hungary were thronging with police agents is not accurate. The actual number of agents is surprisingly small in comparison with contemporary estimates, even if one takes into consideration the absence of some sources and the contributions of collaborators who were not named or registered.

With regards to the people who submitted reports, Deák notes that at the time there was no such thing as a trained spy or agent, which explains the complex and diverse backgrounds of the agents one can identify. People had various reasons for taking positions in which they acquired or provided information for the authorities, the most obvious of which, of course, was simply financial gain. Serving as a police agent was not a profession at the time. Rather, it was something people did either temporarily or as a kind of side job. The chapter entitled “The agents seen through the eyes of their employers” sheds light on some of the details of the everyday lives of the people in the network of agents. The next chapter approaches the question of the “informants” from the perspective of public opinion, focusing in particular on the “lists of informants” that began to circulate in the 1860s. Perhaps the most interesting feature of these lists was that, of the people whose names were included, most were not actually active as informants. No one was ever actually exposed, neither at the time nor later, though the accusation of having served as an informant survived and sometimes surfaced in the rhetoric of political campaigns.

At the end of the book, Deák raises a question that clearly most readers are also likely to raise: was the state police of the era actually effective? In order to address this question, one must take into consideration Deák’s cautionary observation that one can really only reconstruct concepts and visions on the basis of the surviving proposals and plans. As far as the effective implementation of these plans and the success of the system are concerned, one can sketch at most only a somewhat mosaic-like image. We can be quite certain of one thing, however, namely that in the 1850s and 1860s the political and military efforts and initiatives in Hungary that were intended to rekindle the movement for independence were always exposed in time, and whatever passions may have been stoked, they were effectively extinguished. The summary brings up further considerations, for instance the relationship between the police and dynastic politics. It also discusses similar organizations and institutions in other countries, offers a comparison with the prevailing circumstances before 1848, addresses the question of continuity in the employment of agents, and draws on the distinctive characteristics of the Hungarian network.

I would draw attention to three of the ideas in Deák’s closing thoughts as a kind of conclusion to the volume and to the research she has undertaken. In the period in question, the police were unable to compensate or serve as a substitute for the absence of political consolidation. Indeed on the contrary, the actions and policies of the state police hampered attempts to foster trust in the ruler and the central government. This was true of the other organizations and institutions entrusted with the task of maintaining order, and even of the “civilian” authorities. It is important to consider, however, how the practice of keeping the population under close watch—a practice which applied to all social strata and therefore exposed many members of society to an entirely new experience—increased the effectiveness of the police network, the number of informants, and people’s fear of the watchful eye of the central government. Thus, the long shadow of the Metternich era was cast on the emerging system of civil state administration, while at the same time one could still dimly foresee the coming upheavals of the twentieth century.

The book will provide a very useful point of departure for studies of the state police in the other Austrian crownlands and even for scholars who are studying the institutions of state police in the twentieth century, including agents, informants, and the people who were kept under observation.

Orsolya Manhercz

Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest


An Exiled Generation: German and Hungarian Refugees of Revolution, 1848–1871. By Heléna Tóth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 295 pp.


Research on the history of emigration in the nineteenth century has flourished in Western European and North American historiography over the course of the past two decades, due in large part to the 150th anniversary of European revolutions of 1848. The criteria and methods of social-historical and anthropological investigations substantially transformed perspectives in the field of migration as well. In contrast, in Hungary, after the 1920s and 1930s, which would be regarded as a first golden age of research on the individual and collective fates of Hungarian political exiles scattered all over the world after 1848, it was only in the 1970s and 1980s that further comprehensive works were published on the topic, and since then, scholarly interest in this field has decreased. In Hungary, social history has focused predominantly on analyses of the mass emigration to North America at the end of the nineteenth century, while research on political emigration after 1849 followed the same old path. The everyday experiences of exile, including the hardships, triumphs and crises of emigrating and adapting and the daily struggles to earn a living, have rarely been given much if any emphasis in historiographic narratives.

In her 2014 book, Heléna Tóth attempts to provide a comparative social-historical analysis of the fate of the political exiles of 1848, who were forced to leave the Grand Duchy of Baden, Württemberg, and Hungary, by investigating the life stories of exiles who settled for a shorter or longer period of time in one of four host countries: the Ottoman Empire, Switzerland, Britain and the USA. She aptly points out that one cannot always clearly separate the groups of political exiles, or “émigrés,” and the people who left their home countries in the hope of finding a better life, or “regular immigrants.” Several “Forty-Eighters” returned home, while others stayed abroad, giving up political activities and assimilating into the microcosm of the “regular immigrants”. And we have not even talked about the “gray zone” between the two categories. Into which category would one put László Újházy, a Hungarian who, having played an important role in the Revolution, emigrated to the USA at the beginning of 1850 and stopped being actively involved in political matters, but nevertheless criticized the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 every bit as harshly as Lajos Kossuth did, and refused to return to Hungary, since for him this would have meant an unacceptable compromise.

Tóth emphasizes that she is as interested in the emigrant experience of average men and women as she is in that of prominent politicians. (What her investigation lacks, however, is the point of view of children, i.e. what it meant to grow up in exile.) Emigration was a general phenomenon in mid-nineteenth century, involving a broad spectrum, each and every stratum of societies, thus there could not have been a uniform, standard emigrant experience for all. There were a multitude of patterns, depending on the emigrants’ social and financial status, background, political views, and the particularities of the countries they left and the countries they went to, as well as, in the case of German emigrants, regional differences. The author presents this complex and diverse world through an examination of five issues: departure from the home country (“Leaving”); the role of family ties in emigration and emigrant life, as well as in the writing of clemency pleas (“What good does it do to ruin our family?”); the problems of making a living in a foreign country, including the preconditions and complexities of maintaining the status of a sort of professional revolutionary on the one hand and the possibility of pursuing one’s former civilian jobs or being compelled to start a new career on the other (“Exile as a profession, professions in exile”); interaction and evolving networks within emigrant communities and among the emigrants, the former home country, and the host society, which helped (or hindered) the emigrants in adapting to the new social climate (“The roots of the uprooted: émigré networks”); the possibilities, mechanisms, and ethical and political dilemmas of returning home, and the difficulties of readjusting to the homeland, which in the meantime had undergone changes (“Returning”).

In her analyses, Tóth works not only with sources that are arguably somewhat overused in the field of political history, such as diplomatic correspondence and records of cabinet meetings, but also considers amnesty pleas, personal letters, diaries, memoires, and literary sources found in German, Austrian, and Hungarian archives. She made extensive use of a rich historical literature written in German, which, along with thorough knowledge of the secondary literature in Hungarian, is one of the merits of the book. However, with the exception of a few studies, this Hungarian secondary literature does not offer many handholds in an analysis of the anthropological, social-historical, and moral problems of being an exile. In part because of this, the stories about German figures in the book are much more colorful and complex.

The main strength of Tóth’s study derives from the stories she found in the dusty corners of archives, such as the anecdote about Johann Georg Holzschreiter, an innkeeper and postmaster from Baden, who settled in the border region in Switzerland but continued visiting his family back home for years until Prussian soldiers captured him, despite the support he got from the townspeople (pp.70–71), or the story of Joseph Dietrich, likewise from Baden and similarly someone who regularly crossed the border (pp.67–69). These personal stories exemplify the diversity of the emigrant experience. At the same time, Tóth examines the loose solidarity of the émigré community, as well as the commonly perceived elements of this experience: the uncertainty that accompanied dependence on financial aid, the frequent experience of boredom, apathy, and the sense of confinement, financial dependence, which was considered humiliating, and their consequences.

Tóth’s book also puts particular emphasis on examining “the legacy of the revolutions of 1848,” since the emigrants contributed substantially to the formation of the collective memory of the revolutionary era with their mere existence, as well as their stories, memoires, clemency pleas, and the letters they wrote to their families, not to mention the fact that they were sadly missed at home. Tóth should perhaps have considered including an assessment of this in conclusion.

Not all of the chapters are convincingly comparative in their perspective, presumably at least in part because of the differences between the different kinds of sources and the unevennesses of the secondary literature. The three subchapters of the chapter dealing with careers, for instance, present three different methods: concerning the professional revolutionaries who tried to base their existence and/or political activities abroad on the memory of the revolution we are given information only in the case of exiles in the United States. In contrast, the possibility of having a career as a doctor is discussed in connection with the United States, Britain, and the Ottoman Empire, but not Switzerland, whereas the pitfalls of the military profession are delineated in detail with regards to all of the relevant countries. Furthermore, the comparison appears to be incomplete at some points from a regional perspective as well. For example, in the chapter about returning, there is a subchapter on former politicians who did not return home, but spent the rest of their lives far from their motherland. However, the only example dealt with in any detail, is that of Lajos Kossuth, without any reference to comparisons with other Hungarian or German exiles.

In some respects, members of the Hungarian and German political émigré communities faced different challenges with regards to their prospects of integrating, owing to the essential differences between the original social statuses of emigrants. These differences would have merited some discussion. For many Hungarian emigrants, it was particularly problematic, for instance, that as Hungarian noblemen they typically only had training in law, which, due to the specificities of the Hungarian legal system and jurisdiction before 1848, was hardly useful abroad. Most of them did not have firsthand experience in farming either, while in Hungary professions in the handicraft industry and trade had been seen as occupations unbefitting of a nobleman. Generally speaking, these Hungarian emigrants, who had grown up in a feudal society, “had to jump over a wider ditch” in their new social environment, as there were far more differences between their pre-1848 world and the host societies in the 1850s than was the case for those who had come from the states in southern Germany. Similarly, Tóth shows little interest in language as a factor that fundamentally affected integration. Although at one point (p.170) she mentions the fact that German emigrants could use their mother tongue, German, in Switzerland and there were populous German émigré communities in Britain and the United States, while Hungarians had no such local communities on which to rely and most of them initially had no command of English whatsoever, she apparently attaches little importance to this. Furthermore, Tóth does not mention the possible role of confessional belonging in adjusting to the host society, although for Catholic emigrants, for example, which was quite unfriendly to Catholics, generated a peculiar sense of uneasiness.

Tóth provides lengthy commentary on how the host societies viewed the various emigrant groups, but she does not touch on what the emigrants themselves thought about the host societies (with the exception of mentioning Baden-born Carl Mayer’s positive opinion of the Swiss Confederation). Some discussion of this question would have enriched her analysis of the problems of integration and adaptation.

Finally, one must mention a few factual inaccuracies: the Hungarian Revolution did not start with the declaration of independence (April 14, 1849) (p.37). Rather, the revolution led to the dethronement of the Habsburg dynasty. In the summer of 1849, Dudley Man’s task was not to win American “diplomatic recognition” for the Hungarian political leadership, but rather merely to collect information and establish connections (p.57). Count Gyula Andrássy was the common foreign minister of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, but he never served as the minister of finance. Count Lajos Batthyány was not executed in Arad (and not in late August), unlike the generals, who were (p.263).

In spite of the abovementioned shortcomings, Heléna Tóth’s book will offer new ideas and inspiration for further study of the phenomenon of migration during the 19th century.

Ágnes Deák

University of Szeged


Franz Joseph I. Kaiser von Österreich und König von Ungarn 1830–1916: Eine Biographie. By Michaela Vocelka and Karl Vocelka. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2015. 458 pp.


Karl Vocelka, a retired professor at the University of Vienna (a renowned scholar of the history of the Habsburg dynasty and monarchy), and Michaela Vocelka, a historian and also his wife, published a biography of Franz Joseph I on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of the monarch, who stood at the helm of the empire longer than any other ruler. Succeeding generations may be interested in Franz Joseph not simply because of his record-setting period of rule, but also because of a peculiar contradiction: while the monarch’s name became the symbol of a period that has been decisive in the modern history of Central Europe, a rather uniform portrait of him has emerged in the secondary literature as the embodiment of “bureaucratism lost in the details, impassive routine, and featurelessness,” to cite historian Péter Hanák.

The monograph sums up the present knowledge in the secondary literature on the life and personality of the monarch with impeccable competency and, yet, an enviable effortlessness. It is written in a style that is a joy to read. Despite the fact that the authors used almost exclusively German literature, the book is based on an impressive array of source publications and monographs (more than 600 entries). The authors did not use any unpublished archival sources, but relied instead heavily on egodocuments (letters, diaries and memoires) written by people who were in Franz Joseph’s immediate surroundings.

The authors adhere closely to the classic principle of historiography, sine ira et studio, i.e. without anger or fondness. They distance themselves from both apologetic sources and summarily negative assessments. (Works belonging to the latter type were written primarily in the decades following the collapse of the empire.) Instead of attempting to offer a definitive, one-sided judgement, they strive for an interpretation that allows contradiction, while always writing in a pleasantly professional style. They repeatedly remind their reader of the limits of our abilities to arrive at a coherent psychological portrait of a historical figure. Thus, the fragmented image they present of Franz Joseph, including the apparent ruptures in his personality and the inconsistencies of his deeds, strikes the reader as a virtue of the monograph, not a deficiency that should be explained away. Here are a few examples of the contradictions: the monarch was raised in the spirit of dynastic legitimacy, but had to rule in an era of virulent nationalism, within a system of institutions established under the principle of popular sovereignty; despite his deep Catholic faith, he was the leader of a multi-confessional, considerably secularized state; and for decades his private life was strained by the tense relationship between his mother and his wife.

The book develops its message around issues and concepts that are still relevant and can be easily interpreted by readers today, and it does so without following any unhistorical (anachronistic) approaches in its findings and assessments. Following from the conventions of the genre, the monograph addresses personal elements (events in the life of the monarch and his personality traits), as well as events of imperial representation that served as expressions and assertions of his power as ruler, securing his figure the attention of the masses both at the time and today. The young Franz Joseph is portrayed as the “product” of his lineage and surroundings: his upbringing successfully nurtured in him the ideal of the absolute monarch who rules by the grace of God. The authors attribute his standoffishness primarily to his socialization, i.e. the desire to keep his distance from others, which was characteristic of Franz Joseph throughout his life and, as he aged, led to increasing social isolation. (It would have been interesting to have provided a comparative overview of the norms and practices of education in the period, and of the circumstances with regards to education and upbringing in other European dynasties at the time.)

The authors embedded the personal history of the monarch in a minutely portrayed historical background. The reader learns of the main problems in foreign and internal politics during the monarch’s 68-year reign, as well as the processes that fundamentally transformed society, the economy, the material culture, and the mentality of the empire. The authors continuously emphasize and call the reader’s attention to the fact that between 1830 and 1916, i.e. the dates of Franz Joseph’s birth and death, almost every single segment of life underwent fundamental change. As time passed, a man with average mental and intellectual abilities like Franz Joseph was less and less able to give adequate answers to the challenges of the modern era. This is perfectly understandable, but in the increasingly complex world of the Monarchy, in which the monarch retained control of essential competencies, it had serious consequences.

Meanwhile, some questions remain unanswered, especially concerning Franz Joseph’s personal role in the shaping of events in the first fifteen decades of his reign. We learn little about how active a role the young emperor played, as an initiator, leader, and decision-maker, in the establishment of the system of neo-absolutism and later, around 1860, its inevitable loosening. This apparent oversight is probably not to be attributed to the authors’ forgetfulness: it can be difficult or even impossible to reconstruct processes of decision-making in a system in which there was no political transparency or clear division of responsibility.

The authors’ attempt to devote equal attention to events in Cisleithania and the Kingdom of Hungary reminds the reader of the dualist system, which was keen on parity. Thus, there is a lengthy chapter dealing with the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, and the coronation (the ceremonial culmination of this process) is discussed in detail as the highlight of Franz Joseph’s life. In their narration of the events in Hungary, the authors generally adopt the narrative that is dominant today in Hungarian historiography. One finds only a few exceptions to this, for instance in the presentation of the policy towards national minorities in Hungary, in which they base their assessments on the more negative standpoint of the rival successor states, and in the discussion of the role of Empress Elisabeth in the Compromise, which Hungarian historical scholarship today considers somewhat exaggerated.

The biography by Michaela and Karl Vocelka does not dramatically challenge the image of Franz Joseph drawn by contemporary historical scholarship, but it provides a reader interested in the nineteenth-century history of Central Europe with a persuasive work written on the basis of a modern approach and in an accessible, current style which debunks several romantic misconceptions. For the historian studying the period, the book may be of particular value because of its wealth of data and its source criticism in the field of secondary literature on Franz Joseph. Furthermore, by shedding light on the internal affairs of the court and the family, the monograph provides an alternative to historical discussions that tend to consider “Vienna” (i.e. the imperial court) a homogeneous space.

Zoltán Fónagy

Hungarian Academy of Sciences


Forging a Multinational State: State Making in Imperial Austria from the Enlightenment to the First World War. By John Deak. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015. xvii + 355 pp.


“States are fragile things” (p.274) is one general moral that U.S. historian John Deak draws from this study, and the seeming fragility of the Habsburg Monarchy was long taken for granted by generations of historians of modern Europe. In this work, Deak seeks to build on recent scholarship that has questioned this alleged fragility by focusing on the theme of state building. In the introduction, six main chapters and an epilogue, he devotes himself to questions of state making in the shape of administration, the construction of a bureaucracy, constitutional organization, and political participation from the mid-eighteenth century to World War I. Thus, this “new history of the Austrian state-building project” (p.4) moves the focus away from what the Habsburg Empire allegedly failed to do and towards what it actually did achieve in developing central state institutions and striking the various bargains that had to be made in order to maintain the Habsburg polity as a coherent entity. In essence, the author suggests, the success of this state-building project—as seen from the political center—has generally been underestimated. Rather than being a state in decline between 1740 and 1914, the Habsburg Monarchy was “a continually evolving polity” (p.16). This polity constructed stronger and more elaborate state institutions than is often supposed, and it reacted flexibly—even with dynamism—to moments of crisis in order to find new ways to govern and bind together its heterogeneous territories.

Various aspects of this story—such as the state-building reforms under Maria Theresia and Joseph II or the “modernizing” policies of the 1850s with regard to administrative reorganization—may be familiar in their outlines, but Deak goes decisively beyond previous scholarship in two respects. Firstly, he provides a highly valuable overview of the state-building process, synthesizing in impressive fashion a considerable body of research. In other words, he focuses on the core theme of state building over the long term in a way that allows new insights into a complex topic. Secondly, he adds a lot of new material to the discussion on the second half of the nineteenth century, where the main focus of his analysis lies. As well as explaining the development of the administrative apparatus, he provides several illuminating vignettes on the bureaucracy from local and individual perspectives, and he discusses in detail various proposals for reform. All in all, therefore, Deak takes the trouble to get to grips with a large number of legal texts and constitutional proposals, and future historians will benefit greatly from his careful exposition of the workings of key mechanisms of the Habsburg state. Overall, this is a substantial, much needed study, which will undoubtedly oblige scholars to engage more fully with debates about the nature of the Habsburg polity, even if they may not agree with all of his conclusions.

After outlining the nature of the eighteenth-century reforms and stressing the crucial legacy of Josephinism as an ethos of the state, Deak posits a period predominantly defined by stagnation after 1790 as “Joseph’s successors increasingly turned away from reform and political change in order to maintain stability” (p.20). At the same time, however, Deak rejects older narratives of “decline” in the period after 1790, pointing towards the reinvention of the Habsburg state that would come mainly after 1848. This is one area in which some historians may feel that Deak overdraws the contrast between the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. On the one hand, he overlooks recent work on the early modern period, which lays more emphasis on the “partnership” aspect of the relationship between provincial estates and the political center. On the other hand, his concentration on the view from the center and the aims of Jopseh II perhaps overplays the degree of centralization that actually had been achieved by 1790. This is not to deny that the period of government under Francis II/I was conservative and cautious in political terms, but it is to suggest that the key difference pre- and post-1790 lay more in the reform of society than in the realm of state building. Arguably, there was more continuity in this respect than Deak allows, for instance with regard to the professionalization of the civil service, the catastral surveys, economic harmonization (tariff reforms), the fuller integration of Galicia into the Habsburg state and the absorption of new territories after 1815, and the expansion of the judiciary (for example, no real mention is made of the Allgemeines Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch of 1811 and its implications, and more could have been said about the post-1815 administration in places like Lombardy-Venetia and the maintenance of Napoleonic reforms there).

However, the real focus of Deak’s analysis lies in the period from 1848 onwards, where he looks first of all at the various constitutional and administrative experiments proposed in the revolutionary period of 1848/49, the 1850s, and the early 1860s. He pays close attention to Franz Stadion’s reform plans, because of their long-term impact on the administrative restructuring of the monarchy and their attempt to integrate political participation into government. A key feature of these reforms was the idea of local “autonomy” in the form of municipal self-government. The question of how to reconcile this objective with the aims of central government and the interests of the provinces proved to be a key theme in all subsequent discussions. Although the political counterrevolution of the 1850s restricted constitutional freedoms, Deak points out that some aspects of the revolutionary changes survived (a degree of municipal autonomy), while other measures in 1848/49 necessitated profound reforms.

The emancipation of the peasantry and the abolition of noble jurisdiction required a far-reaching recalibration of the structures and duties of the state administration. Hence, the new state system that emerged in the 1850s sought to rationalize and standardize all of the monarchy’s administrative units and create a genuinely uniform central administration for the first time (Hungary included). While indicating that the Habsburg state dealt reasonably successfully with the challenge of resources involved in this reform, Deak makes clear that the government’s problems by the end of the 1850s lay in connecting this phase of state building to the question of political participation, as well as the well-known foreign political difficulties. If the author generally underplays the role of the Hungarian parliament before 1848, it is now made clear how agreement with that body—and other representatives of national interests—was necessary. The various constitutional experiments of the early 1860s had not only political but also administrative implications for the role to be attributed to the crownlands, and the adjustments made in this period proved to be of long-standing importance.

The basic framework laid down by Interior Minister Alexander Bach in the 1850s would remain in place in imperial Austria after 1867, namely a framework comprised of provincial governors and district officers, while Hungary went its own way with a system of county administration. Yet, along with a reaffirmation of municipal autonomy, the tacking between federalist and centralist options in the early 1860s also led to the assertion of the role of the provinces (crownlands) in the administrative structure of the state. From 1862 onwards, there existed a “dual track” system of administration: an autonomous track incorporating political participation through the parliament (Reichsrat), provincial assemblies (Landtage), and municipalities and communes; and a state administration through the central ministries, governor’s offices (Statthaltereien), and districts (Bezirkshauptmannschaften). The number of the latter was scaled down from nearly 900 in the Austrian half of the state in the 1850s to 324, and the Bezirkshauptmannschaft was consolidated in a new law of 1868.

The final two chapters of the book concentrate solely on the workings of this system in the Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy formed in 1867, Cisleithania (notwithstanding the depiction of late nineteenth-century Budapest on the book’s cover). Deak shows how the range and scale of administrative activities expanded enormously, as infrastructural projects were undertaken and educational and welfare institutions were constructed. In this sense, the “progressive” features of the Austrian state are effectively revealed, as civil servants sought to guide and foster social and economic transformation. By around 1900, however, problems with this system were also becoming evident, both structural and political. In the first place, much of the state’s administrative activity was in practice delegated to the crownlands and towns (for example, with regard to building schools), but this led to financial problems for provinces and communes with limited means (and a finite tax base) and a blurring of lines over respective administrative responsibilities. Secondly, the role of political participation in the autonomous administrative track became increasingly complex and contentious as the franchise expanded and competition between national interests groups intensified. In addition to creating obstruction in the political arena (whether in the Austrian parliament or the provincial assemblies), these developments underlined the need to refine and rebalance the structure of administration. Deak concludes with an examination of various reform proposals to confront this issue, whether by Prime Minister Ernst von Koerber or the Commission for the Promotion of Administrative Reform (which met between May 1911 and June 1914, with the likes of Josef Redlich playing a leading role). However, none of these proposals came to fruition before war broke out, and whether they would have had the support of a parliamentary majority or not had they been drafted into a bill is a moot point.

Deak sees these attempts to restructure the administration as a sign of the ongoing evolution of the Habsburg state, with the war putting an end to this evolution as the military in effect took over the administration from 1914 onwards. He suggests, furthermore, that this meant that the Habsburg state thereby went “down a different path from the one which it had followed since the days of Joseph II” (p.260). Moreover, he even contends that, in devoting much of its resources prior to 1914 to “building infrastructure” and “public-sponsored progress,” the Habsburg state “was out of step with the rest of Europe, which was preparing precipitously for war” (p.273). However, this begs the question as to why the Habsburg state then went to war in 1914 and how it collapsed in 1918. In the final analysis, one can accept many of Deak’s arguments about the achievements of Habsburg state building having been greater than previously assumed, but one must call into question his overall conclusion. On the one hand, the position of Hungary in this state building project needs fuller consideration; on the other hand, the military was also a central part of the state building process, with ambivalent implications for administration and civil society. Here too, the continuities are important, for the Habsburg army was an equally significant legacy of the eighteenth-century reform period, and Joseph II had done much to lay it down.

Laurence Cole

University of Salzburg


Yugoslavia in the Shadow of War: Veterans and the Limits of State Building, 1903–1945. By John Paul Newman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 287 pp.


Like many other Central European countries that appeared on the political map of Europe in 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929) was a state born in the First World War. Yugoslavia in the Shadow of War: Veterans and the Limits of State Building, 1903–1945 by John Paul Newman is a long-awaited study of the political, social, and cultural consequences of the “long First World War,” which included the Balkan wars of 1912–13, for the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Newman looks for structural causes of political instability and the failure of liberal democratic institutions that characterized the interwar decades. He finds them in part in the difficulties that the new state encountered in creating social cohesion in a country marked by an array of war-time experiences, especially given that war veterans often had fought on opposing sides (for the Kingdom of Serbia or for the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and the legacies they brought with them to the common state were often diametrically opposed.

Parts I and II of the book are devoted to an analysis of patriotic and war veterans’ organizations, e.g. the Association of Reserve Officers and Warriors and National Defense and the contrasts between the Serbian veterans’ stories and the accounts of the experiences of those who fought for Austro-Hungary. A few “portraits” of the protagonists serve as illustrations of the state’s failure to help the veterans find a place in the new political and social reality and their consequent disenchantment with liberal democracy and party politics. Newman demonstrates how these relationships between the state and the veterans often left the latter unhappy and dissatisfied. This in its turn contributed to the political radicalization of a fraction of these groups and led to their association with Croatian and Serbian nationalists and far right groups in the Second World War, the Ustasha in Croatia and Chetniks in Serbia (discussed in Part III). Thus, the book not only unpacks the meaning of the contention that Yugoslavia was forged in war, but also connects the First and the Second World Wars without succumbing to the banal argument of “the innate violence of the Balkans.”

The book is meticulously researched, and Newman skillfully guides his reader through the labyrinth of interwar Yugoslav politics and personalities. One of the most appealing characteristics of the book, beyond its in-depth narrative, is that it places the Yugoslav stories in a wider European context and critically engages with the relatively recent argument about the differences between the “cultures of defeat” and the “cultures of victory” in post-war Europe. Newman argues that in Yugoslavia “cultures of victory collided with cultures of defeat, but the former were always privileged over the latter: the panoply of veterans’ war experiences tended to be reduced to an edifying story told by those who had won the war. The culture of victory brought the center of commemorative and celebratory gravity towards one group of veterans whilst marginalizing and distancing others” (p.11). As Newman observes, this led to a paradoxical tension between opposing tendencies: “The culture of victory, then—the culture of ‘liberation and unification’, intended to strengthen the position of Yugoslavia at home and abroad—also threatened to undermine the unity of the state and to inhibit the process of cultural demobilization” (p.53). “While Serbians celebrated a decade of liberation and unification, many Habsburg South Slavs spoke of ‘ten bloody years’” (p.110), and there was a clear if invisible line drawn across the country. Austro-Hungarian veterans were “largely absent from the monuments and plaques which appeared in the Serbian lands after 1918; they featured instead as passive subjects waiting to be ‘liberated’ by Serbia and ‘united’ with the South Slav state” (p.148). Their legacy was much more fragmented and self-contradictory and could be seen as unitary only from the external point of view as being unworthy of either welfare or public respect.

Newman’s book takes issue with the static understanding of the political conflict between the Serbian and Croatian political elites as it was characterized by Ivo Banac in his classic The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics (1984) and instead emphasizes the importance of the personal and generational experiences of war veterans and the different trajectories of their relationships with the Yugoslav state in the two post-war decades. For example, it tells a famous story of the shooting of the Croatian deputies in the Parliament in 1928 that led to the imposition of the Royal Dictatorship from a new angle, and Newman very convincingly links the experiences of the shooter, Puniša Račić, in the newly acquired lands in the south to his radicalized ideological position. By making these kinds of connections explicit and providing ample evidence to give substance to the claims, the book enriches our understanding of Yugoslav history and makes it much more nuanced. I only wish that the book also included the very interesting histories of Montenegrin and Bosnian veterans, and I remain hopeful that this very important if understandable omission will be addressed in the future.

The book is written in a very clear and readable style and makes the complex and multi-layered history of Yugoslavia, if not an easy read for an un-initiated and non-specialist audience, at least very accessible, and this makes the book excellent reading for students of modern European history at an undergraduate and graduate level. At the same time, war studies experts, specialists in the interwar period, and students of the Balkans will enjoy the depth of detail arising from the wide range of archival and published sources and an impressive command of historiography of political and cultural history of Europe and Yugoslavia, and the primary and secondary sources on which our knowledge of this history is based.

Maria Falina

Dublin City University


With their Backs to the Mountains: A History of Carpathian Rus´ and Carpatho-Rusyns. By Paul Robert Magocsi. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2015. 550 pp.


Paul Robert Magocsi has authored numerous books on the history of Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and particularly the region he calls Carpathian Rus´. In his new book, With their Backs to the Mountains: A History of Carpathian Rus´ and Carpatho-Rusyns, he understands Carpathian Rus´ as a territory inhabited predominantly by a people whom some consider part of the Ukrainian nation, others a distinct ethnographic group within it, while still others, including Magocsi, an entirely separate nation. The belief that Rusyns are an independent nation with a history the roots of which stretch back to the Middle Ages can be seen as the central thesis of the book, which is, like most works that have the character of a textbook, more descriptive than analytical. The territory dominated by this group ranges on both sides of Carpathians from eastern Slovakia to the Ukrainian–Romanian borderland. Most of it once belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary or Habsburg Galicia. Today, it is divided among Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland. There are also numerous communities of people originating from this region all around the world. One such group lives in Serbian Vojvodina as a result of eighteenth-century migration organized by the Austrian state, whereas another resides in North America as a result of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century migration. Magocsi himself belongs to this group.

Magocsi estimates that the number of Rusyns around the world amounts to about 1.7 million today, though he admits that the number of people who declare themselves Rusyns is much lower, about 110,000 (p.1). The large majority of the estimated 1.7 million may understand themselves as, more or less, Ukrainians, or the question of ethnic identification may simply have little relevance for them. A key aspect of Rusyn identity is that it has widely different levels of support in various regions. Only 10,000 inhabitants of Transcarpathia, the supposed historical heart of Rusyndom, identify with the Rusyn ethnicity, while about one million people declare themselves Ukrainians according to official censuses. Similarly, the Lemko ethnic group in Poland does not identify as a majority with the Rusyn project, but rather sees itself as a distinct group among the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian orientation seems to be strong in Vojvodina as well. Slovakia is a different case, since in Slovakia the Rusyn identity prevails over Ukrainian by a ratio of ten to one, and the number of people who declare themselves Rusyns has even increased since the 1990s, while the number of Ukrainians has decreased. Even the Slovakization trend has slowed down, and the proportion of Rusyns in Slovakia has slightly increased over the course of the last two decades (pp.380–81, 385), though Rusyns still amount to less than about one per cent of country’s overall population. While the decision of Czech authorities to integrate this region into Slovakia after 1918 was considered a serious injustice by nationally conscious Rusyns at that time, ironically it helped sustain the Rusyn identity here: had the region remained with Subcarpathian Rus, it would have been integrated into the Soviet Union and, as a likely consequence, as is the case in Transcarpathia, the Ukrainian orientation would have prevailed here too.

Magocsi decided to follow chronology, dividing his book into thirty rather brief chapters from prehistorical times up to the present. For the period since the late nineteenth century, the chronological organization is combined with a geographical one, which presents the history of Rusyns in separate regions: Subcarpathian Rus, Eastern Slovakia, the Lemkivshchyna region of Poland, and the diasporic communities in Vojvodina, the United States and Canada. This is a wise decision, because an exclusive focus on Subcarpathian Rus would overlook many other Rusyns. It is therefore justified to depart from the territorial perspective, which has come to prevail in the modern history, and concentrate on the ethnic community.

Concerning the individual chapters, the parts dealing with the prehistorical and medieval times have a rather central European or Hungarian focus, as there is a dearth of specific sources on Rusyns. These chapters largely reproduce well-known narratives on the earlier history of Central and Eastern Europe, but the inclusion of these narratives can still be considered useful if one keeps in mind that undergraduates may well be the main audience for the book. Magocsi also repeatedly mentions the discussions about old history in modern political debates, such as the contention that the region once belonged to Kiev Rus, which was used as a justification for Russian and Soviet expansionist plans.

The chapters dealing with developments since the nineteenth century focus on changes in ethnolinguistic identity, tracing the development of the Russian, Ukrainian and Rusyn language movements within the community under analysis. As in his earlier works, Magocsi pays particular attention to the Rusyn orientation. Concerning socio-economic issues, he offers a balanced assessment, showing both the level of progress and major difficulties during the periods of Hungarian and Czechoslovak rule. As ethnic diversity was an important feature of Subcarpathian Rus, the book also discusses other nationalities. Of particular interest regarding the post-1945 era are the descriptions of the desperate attempts made by Rusyns in 1944 to propose the integration of the region into the Soviet Union as an autonomous republic (p.297), the “national awakening” of Slovak Rusyns during the Prague Spring connected with the reestablishment of the Greek Orthodox Church after it had been unified with Orthodoxy by force in 1948 (p.330), and the Rusyn autonomist movement of the 1990s (pp. 355–68). On the other hand, the chapter dealing with the development of Transcarpathia within the Soviet Union between 1944 and 1991 is far too short (pp.305–19). Here Magocsi might have discussed socioeconomic developments, the history of the Hungarian minority, or Soviet historical writing about the region in much greater detail. A more comprehensive history of Transcarpathia during Soviet times remains to be written.

Magocsi embarks on many excurses within special frames, which make for pleasant reading. The maps are of excellent quality, something which characterizes Magocsi’s entire oeuvre. Particularly valuable is the last chapter, which provides readers with an overview of scholarly works on key issues. What the book lacks most is an attempt to place the Rusyns into the broader context of other European ethnic groups in a comparable situation. Among Slavic peoples, no other group seems as close to becoming a distinct ethnicity as the Rusyns. There are, however, other Slavic ethnographic groups which some consider distinct nations, such as, for example, the Kashubians in Poland or the Moravians in the Czech Republic, but they are much less advanced in the process than the Rusyns. Macedonians and Montenegrians could also be usefully compared with Rusyns, as they have been considered part of the Bulgarian and Serbian ethnicities, respectively, for a long time, but after 1945 their distinct ethnicity was increasingly accepted and their nation building processes can in many ways be considered completed.

The book is certainly the most comprehensive work on the topics in English, and it has a good chance of becoming a standard textbook at English universities where courses might touch on the subject. In the field of Rusyn studies there are no other comparably comprehensive or well-informed books. Although some might call the author a nationalist, on most of the pages he remains a serious scholar. He shows respect for and interest in the other ethnic groups of Subcarpatian Rus, and I find no idealization of Rusyns in the book. Magocsi has devoted his life not only to scholarship, but also to Rusyn national activism, the latter task being particularly arduous, as formerly the Soviet and today the Ukrainian authorities have not been welcoming of the idea. Despite the marked identification of supposed Rusyns with the Ukrainians not only in Ukraine but also in other countries, and the assimilatory trends in North America, Serbia, and Poland, Magocsi closes his major work with the contention that the future of the Rusyns remains in their hands. His lifelong commitment to the weaker side is worthy of admiration, even if one has doubts concerning the chances of his project.

Stanislav Holubec

Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena


Falukutatás és társadalmi önismeret: A Sárospataki Református Kollégium faluszemináriumának (1931–1951) történeti kontextusai [Research into village-life and social self-knowledge: The historical contexts of the Sárospatak Reformed Theological College village seminars, 1931–1951]. By Ákos Bartha. Sárospatak: Tiszáninneni Református Egyházkerület Hernád Kiadó, 2013. 328 pp.


In recent years, several volumes have examined the populist movement, a remarkable intellectual and socio-political initiative in Hungary in the interwar period. In 2012, two monographs were published dealing, if in very different ways, with its history, the social criticism written by the populist writers, and the solutions they offered to social problems and conflicts. The monographs by historian and archivist István Papp (A magyar népi mozgalom története 1920–1990, [2012]) and sociologist and historian Bulcsu Bognár (A népies irányzat a két háború között, [2012]) offer impartial and profound analyses and interpretations of the populist movement, and the two authors were clearly following in the footsteps of historian Gyula Borbándi (A magyar népi mozgalom, [1983]). The more recent works aim to provide a synthesis of findings from the various social sciences (first and foremost historical scholarship, sociology, and literary history) and situate the populist movement in a larger international context. The Hungarian populist movement can be understood as a manifestation of an alternative attempt at modernization (i.e. an attempt to carry out modernization by emancipating “the people,” that is, the peasantry), which was not without parallels in the period. The social programs of several political movements and parties (from the American populist movement to Eser, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party in Russia) resembled the platform of the Hungarian populist movement in many respects. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the peasantry represented a majority of the population in (of the regions in the Western world) Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean region, Scandinavia, and Latin America. At the same time, there were deep tensions in these regions between the peasantry and the elites, and this gave rise to movements in support of the economic and political emancipation of the peasantry. The Hungarian populist movement should be seen in this international context.

While historians have increasingly adopted global perspectives in their research, regional and local histories of the populist movement have failed to draw much interest until now. This contradiction is even more striking if one takes into consideration the fact that sociologists working on village-life have always aimed to understand and introduce society to the everyday reality of rural life precisely through the study of regional and local problems and social discrepancies. The monograph by Ákos Bartha fills the gap between studies dealing with individual experience and attempts to present the national history of the populist movement. While Papp and Bognár chose the “leaders” and the “prophets” of the populist movement as the “protagonists” of their works, Bartha’s work commemorates the anonymous “common soldiers,” who were in charge of the “drudgery” of exploring village life, i.e. the students, their teachers, and the minstrel scouts of Sárospatak. Bartha first examined the history of the village seminars conducted by the Sárospatak Reformed Theological College, a segment of interwar and post-1945 Hungarian history that has unjustly been thrust into the background, in his doctoral thesis, which he then made into a book. The book consists of four chapters. The first presents the political-history and social-history precursors to the Sárospatak-based study of village life, the second familiarizes the reader with the history of the village seminars, the third analyzes the sociographic works written by the leading figures of the village seminars, and the fourth summarizes and clarifies the often conflicting viewpoints of those who intended to resolve the agrarian question. The book also contains an English-language summary and an exceptionally rich appendix.

Given the subject, it is perhaps not surprising that Bartha makes extensive use of various memoirs, journals and interviews, which are connected primarily to the figure of cultural historian Kálmán Újszászy, who was the founder and organizer of the Sárospatak village seminars. Bartha’s work manages to call attention to the frequently disregarded but nevertheless important fact that the Hungarian populist movement was neither without intellectual antecedents nor did it function in an intellectual vacuum. The volume makes it evident that the folk writers (for instance Géza Féja, János Kodolányi, László Németh, Péter Veres, Gyula Illyés, Imre Kovács, Zoltán Szabó, József Erdélyi and István Sinka) were working in a lively intellectual, social, and political atmosphere, in which the so-called peasant or agrarian question (that is, the situation of the peasantry and the agricultural proletariat) gradually became not simply a topic of theoretical discussions, but also a major subject of public debate.

Bartha quite accurately observes that the state was not the only entity that was problematic for representatives of the populist movement. From a different perspective, its members also criticized contemporary ethnography. They accused ethnographers of presenting an idyllic portrait of rural life, an idyll that never existed (258). In contrast to this, the village seminars conducted by the Sárospatak Reformed Theological College strove to explore the everyday realities of rural life parallel by collecting the remaining elements of the folk tradition. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Romantic mythicization of peasant life was finally replaced by a confrontation with the actual conditions of the peasantry and more objective assessments of village life, a shift that became palpable in ethnography as well.

The beginning of the twentieth century proved to be a historical moment particularly suitable for the exploration and the preservation of the folk traditions of the peasantry. On the one hand, by this time technology had already provided the apparatuses necessary for recording various elements of the folk tradition. On the other, in several European countries peasant life was still largely untouched by the influence of urban culture, and folk songs and folktales had not yet been superseded by songs by known authors, which in the larger cities had already been in vogue. The village seminars of the Sárospatak Reformed Theological College joined this remarkable international endeavor to collect various elements of folklore.

After providing ample descriptions of the political debates dealing with the agrarian question and touching on the cultural and hygienic conditions in the villages, the book dwells on the diverse traditions of Hungarian ethnography. In the course of this discussion, Bartha does justice to the Hungarian reform conservatives by mentioning their efforts in the collecting process, which they effectuated mostly within the framework of the National Széchenyi Association. Bartha also makes mention of the role played by the Scout Association, founded in Hungary in 1912, in the sociological study of village-life and the collection of folk songs (referring primarily to the minstrel scouts), even if the scout mentality did not suit the traditions of the students of Sárospatak in every respect.

Before turning to the philosophical system developed by Újszászy, Bartha provides a detailed analysis of the various attempts of the Catholic and the Reformed Churches to find a solution to the social and welfare problems of the period (pp.68–71). Bartha does not fail to mention that a web of Catholic and Reformed movements and associations surrounded the populist movement. On the Catholic side, the American Settlement Movement initiated and organized by Jane Addams and the Slovakia-based (or as it was known in Hungarian at the time, the Upper Hungary-based) Association of the Ottokár Prohászka League (Prohászka Ottokár Körök Szövetsége) come to mind, and on the Reformed side, one could mention the Soli Deo Gloria Youth Movement and the Gábor Bethlen Circle (Bethlen Gábor Kör) (p.70). Újszászy was influenced in particular by Basel-born Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, whose Barthian school proclaimed the need for a “human-centered Church that works for the people.” After elaborating on the antecedents in the first chapter, the second chapter of the volume presents the formation of the village seminars in 1931, as well as their history, during which the students and their teachers visited as many as 44 villages from 1933 onwards. One of the major merits of the book is that it deals extensively with two themes that scholars of the history of the populist movement usually regard, at best, as peripheral; the history of the sociological study of village-life in the territories in Slovakia that were reincorporated into Hungary after the First Vienna Award in 1938 and the history of the sociological study of village-life in the period following 1945.

The third chapter is devoted to the sociographical works that were written during the village seminars, but it also provides a definition for the genre of sociography, while also touching on the Hungarian tradition of the genre that preceded the village seminars. The way in which Bartha analyzes the compositional features of the student community of Sárospatak, together with the club and social life, the “main cells of the student community,” is particularly noteworthy (214), as it accentuates the multilayeredness of the Sárospatak student body, calling attention to the different ways in which the students were treated on the basis of the social status and the social prestige of their parents. The most original approaches to the theme of the sociological study of village life are based on the sociographical works found in the Documentation Department of the Sárospatak Reformed Theological College, since these volumes provide the most thorough descriptions of the conditions under which the leading figures of the village seminars worked, their everyday lives, and their perceptions of the social problems of the peasantry.

In conclusion, Ákos Bartha’s book is accurate, rich with information, and highly readable. Importantly, it reveals the serious need for regional studies in the scholarship on the populist movement. The structure of the book, however, is not always logical. Themes that are clearly and closely intertwined are kept strictly separate. A few ideas are not given proper elucidation, and some of the names are given without explanation, in all likelihood simply because Bartha makes assumptions concerning his reader’s familiarity with the topic. These critical remarks, however, do not detract from the groundbreaking significance of the book in the scholarship on the Hungarian populist movement, both on the regional and the local levels. One can only hope that this work is not the conclusion of research into the local and regional networks and institutions of the populist idea, but rather the beginning.

Ádám Paár

Méltányosság Politikaelemző Központ (Centre for Political Analysis)


A történelmi Magyarország eszménye: Szekfű Gyula, a történetíró és az ideológus [The ideal of historic Hungary: Gyula Szekfű, historian and ideologue.] By Iván Zoltán Dénes. Pozsony: Kalligram, 2015. 542 pp.


Gyula Szekfű is undoubtedly one of the most prominent figures in Hungarian historiography, if not the most prominent one, and his works have always been given a great deal of attention. Moreover, in many respects his oeuvre is inseparable from the history of Hungary in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as from its Geistesgeschichte. Therefore, the clarification of his work may fundamentally further an understanding of several details of these histories. Szekfű had significant works published in each period of his professional life: A száműzött Rákóczi [Rákóczi in exile] (1913), which led to the outbreak of perhaps the greatest scandal in Hungarian historiography; Három nemzedék [Three generations], later called “the Bible of the Horthy regime”; Magyar történet [A history of Hungary] (1928–1934), written in collaboration with Bálint Hóman and still considered the best synthesis of Hungarian historiography by many; Állam és nemzet [State and nation] (1942), which received the Grand Prize of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1943; and Forradalom után [After the revolution] (1947), published after World War II.

Among Hungarian historians, none has had more analyses and studies written on his work than Szekfű, especially if we take into account his reception by his contemporaries. There are innumerable works of secondary literature on his oeuvre, and Iván Zoltán Dénes, the author of the volume reviewed here, has examined Szekfű’s work several times before. In fact, Dénes’ career as a historian started with a monograph dealing with Szekfű’s early period. Later, he wrote studies on the relationship between Zoltán Kodály and Szekfű, for instance, and he compared the views of the latter with the ideologies of author László Németh and sociologist István Bibó. He also published a book (now used extensively as source material) on Szekfű’s entire oeuvre, as well as writings on Szekfű’s relationship with historians Henrik Marczali and Bálint Hóman, among others. Apparently, the extensive secondary literature focuses primarily on analyses of certain segments of Szekfű’s oeuvre, with the exception of Irene Raab Epstein’s English monograph. Historians studying Szekfű’s works were cautious for a reason. They were aware for a long time that preparing a substantive monograph about Szekfű would prove a Herculean task with a number of pitfalls. Against this backdrop, Dénes has endeavored to write a monograph about Szekfű, the greatest merit of which is perhaps its presentation of Szekfű’s entire oeuvre and Dénes’ use of several previously unknown sources, which may deepen our knowledge of his work as a historian. (In particular, I would highlight Szekfű’s correspondence with fellow historians, such as Dávid Angyal, as well as letters and notes by Károly Tagányi, Árpád Károlyi, and István Egyed.)

There are three significant features worth emphasizing in Dénes’ argumentative evaluation of Szekfű’s oeuvre. First, the concept of “key experience” has a crucial role. According to Dénes (and in fact he is restating the basic idea of his 1976 book), the key moment in Szekfű’s oeuvre was the scandal generated by his 1913 book on Transylvanian prince Francis II Rákóczi and the resulting experience of being dragged through the mire, so to speak, by critics. In his book Szekfű had tried to rebel, both from an ideological and a professional perspective, against the “national romantic” perspective of the age of Dualism. However, ultimately he did not take up the fight that went with this gesture of rebellion, and he failed to go beyond the standpoint of his contemporaries, as indicated by the fact that his former critics reacted positively to his Three Generations. According to Dénes’ argument, in Szekfű’s work, as in the work of his contemporaries, democracy and general progress sink beneath the concept of the nation, while ideological motifs overwrite professional opinion (in other words, Szekfű qualifies less as a historian and more as a publicist).

The second feature derives from the first one: as a result of the scandal, Szekfű formulated his concept of the so-called “great Hungarians” and “little Hungarians,” which, in the Dénes’ view, he asserted in his later works, especially in A History of Hungary, as a “master narrative.” According to Szekfű’s theory, the embodiments of a “great Hungarian,” Transdanubian attitude represented a positive, European alternative to the modern history of Hungary. These “great Hungarians,” with their pro-Habsburg stance (which, in Dénes’ opinion, means an alignment with the prevailing power) and Catholic beliefs insisted on reforms coming from above and carried out by means of state power. The contrasting notion of “little Hungarians” denoted rebellious, Protestant, nationalistic, anti-Habsburg tendencies prevalent in East Hungary, whom Szekfű held responsible for historical failures.

According to the third element on the basis of which Dénes summarizes his analysis of Szekfű, Szekfű’s aforementioned view can also be seen as a symptom of a more general anti-modernist, “historicist” position, which professes the omnipotence of the state and the prevailing powers. This position later became alloyed with “ethno-protectionist” elements and eventually led him to assume the previously highly criticized position of “little Hungarians.”

My first objection to the monograph is that, although Dénes promises to present Szekfű’s entire oeuvre, in the second half of the book (encompassing the period after the publication of A History of Hungary) he seems a bit exhausted and ultimately fails in this task. He does not use the method adopted in the first half of the monograph. In other words, he does not analyze contemporary responses to and texts about Szekfű’s work. When presenting Szekfű’s career in the 1930s, he fails to provide an analysis of some fundamental works, such as Állam és nemzet [State and nation] and its French version; he offers hardly any discussion of the similarly significant A magyar állam életrajza [A biography of the Hungarian state] or Történetpolitikai tanulmányok [Historico-political studies]. Dénes has nothing important to say about Magyar Szemle, the semi-official social scientific journal of the 1930s, edited by Szekfű, nor about his work as a journalist in various journals. The disproportionateness of the volume is made especially palpable by the fact that the parts discussing Szekfű’s work in the period of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic, when he basically did nothing of any great importance, take up 30 pages, while the section dealing with the period between the 1930s and 1945, in which Szekfű wrote the majority of the books that are not featured in Dénes’ monograph, seems to have merited the same number of pages.

All this has fundamental consequences regarding the scholarly structure of the monograph. As a result of the aforesaid shortcomings and disproportionality, Dénes does not mention a significant number (about 40 percent) of the works of secondary literature on Szekfű, neglecting authors who have made essential contributions. Nor can one simply accept, as a justifiable scholarly method, his inclusion in his rather extensive bibliography of several works to which he makes no references in the monograph at all. At best, this merely gives a misleading impression of thoroughness.

The second problem with the monograph concerns the issue of approach. The author practically repeats the main theses of his 1976 book, or rather he attempts to extend it to Szekfű’s entire oeuvre. In summary, after Szekfű’s “key experience” (trauma) in connection with Rákóczi in Exile, he did not transcend the standpoint of his critics. In his case, as in the case of so many of his prominent contemporaries, scholarship and democracy were both subordinated to the concept of the nation. In other words, Szekfű was neither a scholar nor a democrat. In his monograph, Dénes complements these views with his (rather confused) contention that Szekfű embodied a kind of “anti-modern historicist” attitude in historiography. But nowhere in his monograph does Dénes define what he means by “historicism,” nor does he refer to any international secondary literature on the notion, so one can only presume that he has probably adopted certain theorems from the rather one-sided Anglo-Saxon secondary literature (dating back to at least Karl Popper) in this case.

The somewhat confused nature of Dénes’ narrative is palpable in his assertion that Szekfű’s “historicist” position indicates his inclination towards an “ethnoprotectionist” stance as early as the 1920s, when, according to Dénes, this tendency became dominant in Szekfű’s oeuvre. We are given virtually no evidence of this change, since (as I mentioned earlier) only 30 pages are devoted to this period. The conceptual disarray is hardly lessened by Dénes’ attempt to summarize Szekfű’s views with the contention that Szekfű gradually backed away from his idea concerning “great Hungarians” and instead advanced the notion of “little Hungarians.” The fundamental problem with this interpretation is that Dénes cannot provide an answer to the following question: why was there a constant confrontation then between Szekfű and, for example, the populist writers (László Németh, Dezső Szabó, Géza Féja, and, to a certain extent, Endre Bajcsy Zsilinszky), historian Elemér Mályusz (Dénes has apparently ignored Mályusz’s ethno-historical school of thought, although it may offer the most obvious explanation for Szekfű’s position), and the national romantic school, which attacked Szekfű practically throughout his entire career (often in a fairly vulgar fashion)?

What I find most problematic is not that Dénes classifies “historicism” in a negative way, dismissing it as an anti-modern position (he may well have every right to do so, although Karl Mannheim, Herbert Butterfield, Frank Ankersmit, and Fulvio Tessitore have a completely different opinion on the matter), but rather that he does not define the concept, just as he does not analyze how it finds expression in Szekfű’s views. An in-depth analysis of State and Nation and its French version would have been absolutely indispensable from this perspective, since in this book Szekfű primarily builds on a concept of the nation that defines Hungarian nationality as a historical and political unity, an interpretation that already appears in his 1924 book, Historico-political Studies. Thus, strictly speaking, it can be viewed as the cardinal idea of Szekfű’s entire oeuvre. Moreover, this is in absolute harmony with Szekfű’s position concerning Geistesgeschichte, which distinguishes him from both the “national romantic” school and representatives of a popular approach to history.

On the whole, I am of the opinion that Dénes’ monograph on Szekfű was written rather hastily; it would have needed further preliminary studies, a more profound theoretical foundation, and a broader grasp of the general development of historiography. Thus, while it perhaps deserves recognition as the first attempt to present Szekfű’s oeuvre to the Hungarian reading public in its entirety, it offers at times a distorted picture and ultimately falls short as a work of conscientious scholarship.

Vilmos Erős

University of Debrecen


Une diplomatie culturelle dans les tensions internationales: La France en Europe centrale et orientale (1936–1940/1944–1951). By Annie Guénard-Maget. Bruxelles–Bern–Berlin–Frankfurt am Main–New York–Oxford–Vienna: P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2014. 364 pp.

The book by Annie Guénard-Maget examines the roles and forms of French cultural diplomacy in Central and Eastern Europe in the period between 1936 and 1940, on the one hand, and 1944 and 1951, on the other. In other words, she deals with the period immediately preceding the outbreak of World War II, right up to France’s surrender, and the period after the war, during which the region, under Soviet influence, had undergone a drastic transformation and the new frameworks of power had become rigid. One of Guénard-Maget’s points of departure is the idea that in the 1920s and 1930s the region was a priority for French foreign policy, and it remained a priority after 1945, when Paris again sought to position itself as a great power. In order to ensure the coherence of her inquiry, Guénard-Maget examines six states that fell under Soviet influence in 1944 and 1945: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria. In the years immediately preceding and immediately following the war, this region was one of the main objects and sites of international tension. Thus, it constitutes an ideal subject for an examination of the ways in which the French state used varying tools in varying ways in its diplomatic efforts, in particular with regards to culture as an implement in foreign policy.

In this book, Guénard-Maget uses the term cultural diplomacy in a broad sense, and she examines not only the activities of the traditional intelligentsia and university communities, but also the roles of the natural sciences and technology, information politics, and propaganda. Her research is closely tied to the most recent French schools of the study of international relations. In his preface to the book, Robert Frank situates it quite clearly in the frameworks of French and international scholarship. Antoine Marès began to study French cultural diplomacy and the French presence in the 1980s. Marès also leads the research program on the mediators and sites of mediation of knowledge of Central Europe (the region that falls between German and Russian territories) that was formulated in France in the twentieth century. Guénard-Maget’s book is a significant contribution to this work. The series entitled “Enjeux internationaux,” in the framework of which this book was recently published, is similarly groundbreaking in the historiography on international relations. It takes the work of Pierre Renouvin, who examines the economic and cultural tools with which a state pursues its interests, as its point of departure.

Guénard-Maget divides the book into two sections, each of which presents one of the two periods in question. These sections are further divided into chapters on sub-periods. Each of the two periods began with significant challenges for French cultural diplomacy in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1936, France had to struggle to counter the influence of Nazi Germany in the region, and in 1944 and 1945, the Soviet Union, which had grown stronger over the course of the war, was the primary competitor for influence. Each of the two periods concluded essentially with a complete loss of French cultural influence in the region. In her conclusions, Guénard-Maget offers a persuasive comparison of the two periods, drawing attention both to similarities and differences. The tables in the appendix (presenting, for instance, the sums of money that were set aside in the French budget for cultural expansion for the individual countries of Central and Eastern Europe, broken down by year) and the five documents that are included clearly and eloquently illustrate the findings of her inquiry.

What were the similarities and the differences in French foreign policy in the region in the two periods? Was there any continuity? According to Guénard-Maget, in each of the two periods France pursued a genuine policy of cultural diplomacy initiated by the government and planned and structured strategically. In each of the two periods, French foreign policymakers drew clear distinctions among the target countries. The countries which at one time had been political and military allies, primarily Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania, were given particular attention. The continuity in policy in the two periods in question was further strengthened by the fact that in both cases cultural diplomacy was shaped by France’s geopolitical interests and its desire either to strengthen or reestablish its influence in the face of the rise of totalitarian great powers. Furthermore, the agents of French cultural influence strove to achieve long-term influence both before and after the war. They therefore assigned considerable importance to the legal circumstances of French institutions, the educational system, and the provision of proper materials for the libraries.

Guénard-Maget also notes the essential differences between the two periods. She quite accurately observes that the geopolitical circumstances in Central and Eastern Europe had changed dramatically from France’s perspective. In the middle of the 1930s, France was, at least apparently, an influential great power with four allies in the region. However, following the Munich Agreement, the French surrender in 1940, and the rise of the Vichy government, the status of Paris became highly questionable. Thus, in the first period, cultural diplomacy was more of a tool that complemented political, economic, and military elements of France’s foreign policy. However, in the second period under discussion, culture became the primary and indeed almost only tool with which France could assert its presence in the region, essentially replacing all other factors. The fact that members of the younger generation were given important positions in French cultural diplomacy was a symptom of the attempt to adapt to the new circumstances in 1944 and 1945. Members of this younger generation represented the “progressive direction” of a “renewed” France. The target audience was no longer exclusively the elites, as essentially had been the case before, but rather the “people,” from whom France expected the new leaders to be drawn. Another sign of the “winds of democracy” was the increasingly palpable tendency among the people responsible for ensuring France’s cultural presence in the region to negotiate with their Central and Eastern European partners on the basis of equality and mutual reciprocity. The cultural accords, mixed committees, and appearance of new bilateral societies (which represented something of an innovation) were all signs of this tendency.

The sources on which the author has drawn are impressive in their quantity but also peculiarly one-sided. The collected archival materials are remarkably rich and could even be regarded as almost exhaustive. With regards to the materials held in the archive of the French Foreign Ministry, Guénard-Maget diligently studied the documents of the divisions responsible for cultural expansion, as well as the dossiers documenting relations between France and the six countries. For instance, of the materials available in the national archive (CARAN), she examined the documents of the secretary of the office of the prime minister, and she also studied materials available in the archives of the Institut d’Études Slaves and the Alliance française. The archival documents are complemented by the interviews which Guénard-Maget conducted with people who had been responsible for French diplomatic and cultural policy in Eastern Europe after World War II. However, her examination of French cultural diplomacy in Central and Eastern Europe is made a bit one-sided by the fact that Guénard-Maget makes almost no reference whatsoever to archival materials held in any of the countries of the region. Indeed, she makes almost no use of the secondary literature in French on these sources. (For instance, with regards to Hungary, she could have offered a more subtle understanding of French cultural diplomacy had she consulted works by Viktória Müller, Anikó Macher, Gergely Fejérdy and Sarolta Klenjánszky.) Her description of the acquisition of influence by Germany and Italy is based exclusively on French documents. Thus, Guénard-Maget offers a detailed discussion of French cultural expansion in Central and Eastern Europe in the two periods under discussion, from the emergence of the French vision for the region to the attempts to realize this vision on the local level (including assessments of France’s influence), but her sketch of the broader international context is incomplete and therefore sometimes misleading.

From time to time, the reader comes across oversimplifications in the book, which may be due at least in part to the fact that it is only one-third as long as the original dissertation on which it is based. For instance, in her introduction to the first section, the author does not emphasize that French foreign policy failed after the First World War to create a system of economically and militarily strong allies that could have been used against Germany, even if appearances suggested this. The approach that emerged following the withdrawal of Russia from the alliance in 1917, an approach that rested on the victorious small state allies, was based on an illusion. France’s new partners were not real allies, and even as a block they did not represent a military or economic power comparable with the army or economy of a great power. Nonetheless, Guénard-Maget’s book constitutes an indispensable contribution to the study of French cultural diplomacy and relations between France and Central and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. It also provides a fine complement to the secondary literature on the Sovietization of the region.

Gusztáv D. Kecskés

Hungarian Academy of Sciences


L’amiral Horthy, régent de Hongrie. By Catherine Horel. Paris: Perrin Editions, 2014. 467 pp.


The latest book by Catherine Horel, a distinguished French specialist on Hungary, deals with a controversial figure in Hungarian history, Admiral Miklós Horthy, who was the Hungarian head of state for a quarter of a century (1920–44). Horel begins with a thorough foreword about historiographic trends in Hungary, issues related to archives, and more generally why more biographies of Admiral Horthy are needed. Indeed, Horthy appears to be a controversial figure in part because of the way he was dealt with during the communist era and, because of that, during the years following the democratic transition in Hungary. Horel disagrees with the conclusions of both the communist and the apologetic historians. Thanks to her thorough knowledge of the Habsburg Empire and the interwar period, she is able to offer a nuanced critical analysis of Admiral Horthy’s responsibilities in the outbreak of violence in the early post-First World War period, the period of stalemate of the political regime, the occupations of Hungary by German and Soviet troops, and, finally, the genocide of the Jewish population. Relying on comparisons with other European countries and, more specifically, with Central European countries, Horel draws a parallel between Admiral Horthy’s regime and Emil Hácha’s and Josef Tiso’s regimes during World War II. More broadly, she draws another parallel with two other authoritarian and conservative regimes, namely Antonio Salazar’s and Philippe Pétain’s regimes in Portugal and France. Admiral Horthy’s political and ideological views appear to have been heavily influenced by his past as an officer during the Habsburg era, and his ability to rule Hungary appears to have been limited by the narrowness of these traditional views in social and political affairs, as well as by his revisionist diplomatic program. Eventually, he proved unable to keep Hungary out of a vicious cycle and even actually to make decisions when it would have been necessary.

The book is divided into three different parts. First Horel deals with the life of Admiral Horthy in the frame of the Austrian-Hungarian navy, until 1918. The future head of state of the independent Hungary to come appears to have been, at the same time, typical of post-1867 Hungary and of the post-1867 Austrian-Hungarian Compromise. Members of Horthy’s family were drawn to the various Hungarian political trends, while he himself, because of his military career, seems to have been particularly loyal to the King and Emperor Franz Joseph. However, Horel emphasizes that Admiral Horthy was actually both typical and in some ways unique, and this may shed some light on why he eventually became the new head of State after the First World War. In the second part of the book, Horel places Admiral Horthy in the broader context of the Interwar period. She does so by examining the issues that came up following the defeat, such as the issue of a potential restoration of the Habsburg family, revision of the Treaty of Trianon, the communist threat, and the acts of violence perpetrated against the Jewish population. With regard to the 1920s, 1930s, and the period of the Second World War, Horel describes the mechanism which, internally and internationally, drew the regime closer and closer to Nazi Germany, and she examines how this contributed to the genocide of the Jewish population. The last part deals with the period of exile and the life of Admiral Horthy and his family among a certain kind of political émigré community, after Central Europe had been transformed into a communist buffer zone by the USSR. But the book does not close with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 or Admiral Horthy’s death. Indeed, the final chapter examines the ways in which Admiral Horthy’s memory has been reintegrated into the Hungarian intellectual and political landscape through thorough analyses of the construction of memory in post-communist Hungary. Relying on András Zempléni’s analyses of “funerary democracy” and “patriotism anthropology,” Horel draws a parallel between the new funerals of Admiral Horthy in post-communist Hungary and the funerals of other Hungarian historical figures, from Ferenc Rákóczi to László Rajk, Miklós Kállai and Cardinal Mindszenty. From this point of view, the new funerals of Admiral Horthy in 1993 seem to have marked the very moment at which Horthy began to come back into Hungarian collective memory and, more generally, the moment at which the interwar period began to come back into public debate, thanks to scholarly works such as the biography of Count Bethlen by Ignác Romsics or works by Jenő Gergely and Balázs Ablonczy. At the same time, however, it also seems to have been the moment at which the period in question and Admiral Horthy’s regime specifically were reevaluated by political movements, even if this sometimes led to historical and political contradictions, for example concerning Hungary’s role in Europe and more specifically in the European Union. On some parts of the political spectrum, it appears that a historical approach has been hard to adopt because of confusion between issues related to the Treaty of Trianon, the interwar period, the communist era, the years of democratization, and the new issues related to Hungary’s place within the European Union, in other words within a political community in which the questions of national sovereignty and Hungarian minorities have to be addressed once again, but in a different way. Strikingly, the critical approaches that have been adopted in the scholarship on the period of Horthy’s rule have done little to prevent the emergence of numerous hagiographical publications intended for the general public.

Pierre Bouillon

Center for Research at the Schools of Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan


The Politics of History in Croatia and Slovakia in the 1990s. By Stevo Đurašković. Zagreb: Srednja Europa, 2016. 225 pp.


Focusing on the hegemonic politics of history and nationalist ideologies in Slovakia and Croatia during the 1990s, Stevo Đurašković examines in detail how the two “catch-all parties” or “all-embracing national movements,” regardless of faction, strove to embody a synthesis of their entire nations’ historical state-building legacies (p.6). The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Franjo Tuđman and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) led by Vladimír Mečiar, utilized the politics of history and nationalist ideologies for gaining and maintaining power throughout the decade. As Đurašković argues, their success was, to a significant degree, based on convincing a decisive mass of voters that they were responsible for the attainment of national independence, and by presenting themselves as the representatives of the “true national spirit.” The ideologies of these parties were formed in an antiliberal manner, and they both aimed to construct organic ethno-national policies, and drew on the idea of “national reconciliation.”

Đurašković’s analysis demonstrates how these parties’ particular politics and ideologies were related to similar national historical legacies, and to the concrete political context of the 1990s, especially the dissolution of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, making the two cases eminently comparable. The striking resemblances include the similarity of the different states’ national historical narratives: the popularity of the teleological concept of the “1000 years struggle for independence”, the ambiguous perception of the World War II era, their position as “junior partners” in their respective former states, and their “senior partners’” accusations of separatism, which eventually led to the break-up of these multinational countries. Đurašković examines how such similarities, as well as some notable differences in the historical legacies of Slovakia and Croatia, contributed to the development of the ideologies and politics of the HZDS and HDZ

The most visible contrast was, of course, the cardinal difference between the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia and the “velvet divorce” of the Czechs and Slovaks. Consequently, Croatian grievances were much more politically convincing than those of the Slovaks, and therefore, Tuđman’s HDZ had a much stronger political position. The second significant differentiating factor was the perception of the socialist past. Franjo Tuđman based his ideology on strict opposition to “yugo-bolshevism”, by which he meant an evil mix of communism and Serbian domination over Croats. To define Mečiar’s strategy in Slovakia, Djuraškovič uses the term, the “preservation of past within present,” introduced by Gil Eyal. Due to the different pattern of Slovak development, and the attitudes of HZDS supporters, Mečiar had to adopt a much milder stance on the communist past and the Slovaks’ shared history with the Czechs. There was also a significant difference between the personalities of the two leaders. Tuđman became a veritable “prophet of the nation”, an intellectual who practically singlehandedly created an extensive and complex ideology for his party. Conversely, Mečiar utilized his plebeian charisma to present himself as an ordinary “man of the people,” and it was the “red nationalists” – former national communist intellectuals, that is – who formulated his politics of history. The author rightly claims that his book is the first one to explain how exactly the Slovak communist usage of history in politics was appropriated by the HZDS to its full potential (p.7).

The book consists of three core chapters. The first deals with the history of Slovak and Croat national identity construction up to the fall of their communist regimes. It identifies the main influences forming the HDZ’s and HZDS’s politics of history. The focus is on post-1918 developments, with an emphasis on World War II and the post-1945 period. In the Slovak case, this chapter is crucial for explaining the birth of “red nationalism,” which connected traditional collectivist patterns of Slovak political thought with the socialist idea of collective socio-economic modernization (pp.34–35). In the Croatian case, the chapter focuses on the relationship between the communist regime and the concept of Croatian national identity, a topic closely connected with the legacy of the Ustaša. The central assertion concerns the development of Tuđman’s political thought over three decades, which was a blend of communist and non-communist master narratives on the nation which he subsequently transformed into the ideology of the HDZ (pp.61–62). Despite some simplifications, the first chapter fulfills its chief purposes by offering an overview of the prehistory and the roots of the HDZ’s and HZDS’s respective political hegemony during the 1990s.

The second chapter focuses on the development of both parties during the transition. The author emphasizes that, out of all East Central European and Baltic states, it was only in Slovakia and Croatia that the “national question” dominated the transitional processes in a way that resulted in serious democratic deficits. Đurašković, therefore, writes not about a triple, but rather a quadruple transition, which also included the processes of state- and nation-building. The resentments vented by the “senior nations” (the Czechs and the Serbs) during the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia helped the HZDS and HDZ gain substantial electoral support (p.10), particularly because they mobilized traditional national resentments more effectively than moderate nationalists (mainly the Catholic ones), and had a better reputation than the far right.

However, the disparate contexts of dissolution resulted in the two states’ divergent national ideologies, as well as their different politics of history. Đurašković shows how Tuđman’s vehement insistence on his political ideology and the strong position of the far-right émigré faction in the HDZ led to the higher integration of factions with visible pro-fascist inclinations while Tuđman also did less to suppress the anti-fascist legacy than was the case in Mečiar’s Slovak Republic. Tuđman’s attempted historic reconciliation of Ustaša and partisan narratives, however, proved impossible, as the subchapter about “Mixing the Bones of the Fallen” clearly demonstrates. As a result, the leader of the HDZ constructed an entirely new myth of national unification based on the recent events connected to the “Croatian war for independence”. For his efforts, Tuđman achieved more success than Mečiar in Slovakia, a fact that is repeatedly emphasized in the book. In the latter, the public holidays linked to the creation of the Slovak Republic that he introduced never acquired much popularity or respect among the general public.

As the author convincingly demonstrates, the politics of both the HDZ and HZDS eventually reached their limits. By the end of the 1990s, the legitimizing potential of state- and nation-building had been exhausted, while the hegemonic parties proved unable to resolve emerging problems. Consequently, to consolidate their electorate, both parties turned toward more strongly nationalistic rhetoric and a more authoritarian style of government, which resulted in sharp social cleavages, developments that stood in utter contradiction to their original vision of building a “harmonious ethno-national organic community” (p.143).

The final chapter explains how national ideologies were transformed into concrete policies of history such as national symbols, banknotes, holidays, commemorations and school curricula. Đurašković claims that the primary aim of these efforts was to obtain legitimacy for the ruling parties and their leaders (p.178). He analyzes how the vision of national reconciliation hampered transnational justice, or the processes of Vergangenheitsbewältigung in both countries. The weak spot of this chapter is Đurašković’s comparison of the motives behind the design of the Croatian and (former) Slovakian banknotes. In this case, he relies too much on the explanations provided in existing literature. For example, while he states that the portraits on the Croatian Kunas reflect the statehood-building struggle and the importance of language for national identity building, he writes that the images on the Slovak Crowns are devoted to a particularly Christian vision of national history and the “thousand-years struggle for statehood.” However, these pictures could also be interpreted slightly differently, especially once one acknowledges the centrality of language in the formation of the concept of Slovak national identity from the beginning of the 19th century onward. If we look at Slovak banknotes from a different angle, we see not only the Christian vision and national martyrs, but also language codifiers. The book’s insufficient attention to this aspect of Slovak identity construction is its only significant shortcoming. Additionally, none of the personalities can be viewed as advocates of Czechoslovak unity, nor are they symbols of a common Czechoslovak history. It seems that a combination of national reconciliation, striving for “Slovak visibility”, the centrality of language as the foundation of national identity, and the presentation of an independent Slovak national narrative “freed” from Czech (and Hungarian) claims and influences may be in closer accord with the politics of history pursued by the HZDS.

I would venture one more critical remark. Although the book does well at comparing the politics of history in Slovakia and Croatia, it would have been worthwhile to explore whether there was any influence of the HDZ’s politics of history among the representatives of the HZDS and vice versa. Mečiar must have known about Tuđman’s political strategy and ideology given that Matúš Kučera, one of the most influential historians supporting the HZDS, served as the Slovak ambassador in Zagreb between 1993 and 1998.

These few objections and reservations notwithstanding, Đurašković’s book offers a well-researched, sophisticated analysis of the politics of history and the ideologies of national identity construction utilized by the ruling parties of Slovakia and Croatia in the 1990s. It is worth reading for all scholars dealing with the processes of political transition, not only those in Central and Eastern Europe. As the author concludes, the comparison in the book can be extended to explain democratic deficits in other countries with similar historical trajectories. Moreover, the current upsurge of antiliberal, all-embracing nationalist movements in Central and Eastern Europe also suggests that the Slovak and Croat cases were not as unique as they might have been appeared back in the 1990s. In his conclusion, Đurašković offers a hypothesis that democratic deficits could appear among other, so called junior partners, during the dissolution of other federations, especially if there is a significant number of people advocating for supranational identities (p.185). As we can see, nowadays, a number of ruling parties and coalitions in East Central European states eagerly depict themselves as “junior partners” in the EU while verbally attacking their domestic “Euro-optimists”. For this reason, Đurašković’s analysis could soon become even more useful than he had intended.

Adam Hudek

Slovak Academy of Sciences