“A Pearl of Powerful Learning:” The University of Cracow in the Fifteenth Century. By Paul W. Knoll. (Education and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 52.) Leiden–Boston: Brill, 2016. 789 pp.
Publications on the history of the University of Kraków, including the medieval period, would fill a library. The topic has been attracting historians’ interest for a long time now. The very first summaries were published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both in Polish and in French. Since then, several works have examined and presented the history of the university, but most of them were written in Polish. Paul W. Knoll, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Southern California, is an expert in Eastern European and, in particular, Polish history, and he has been dealing with the history of the University of Kraków in the Middle Ages for half a century. The present monograph can be regarded as the essence of his oeuvre.
Knoll examines the history of the Jagiellonian University until the fifteenth century. His work is divided into eleven chapters, framed by an Introduction and a Conclusion, two maps at the beginning, and eighteen illustrations (mainly of the university buildings) scattered throughout the text. The Appendix A–D contains the list of the rectors of the university and deans of the faculty of arts between 1400 and 1508 and the number of the matriculated students year by year at the University of Kraków between 1400 and 1509, classifying them into ten geographical groups. The latter are presented in charts, too. The Appendix includes a short summary of the life and work of Copernicus. The Index of people and place names will be very useful for researchers who are in search of precise data.
The Bibliography is impressive and grandiose, and it merits some emphasis. The 129 published sources in Latin with Polish, English, French, and German comments and the 1,151 (!) bibliographical entries in Polish, English, German, French, Italian, Czech, and Slovak were issued between 1665 and 2015 all over Europe, in the United States of America, and in Canada. Naturally, the bibliography primarily contains works on university history and the history of the University of Kraków, but it also includes publications on the history of Poland and Kraków and its buildings, the history of other universities and the academic curricula, and writings on several sciences (the liberal arts, philosophy, literature, theology, astronomy, astrology, humanism, etc.).
The first, second, and third chapters (Instauracio Studii: The Foundation of a Pearl of Powerful Learning, Cracow and Its University, Institutional History and Development) give a portrait of the origins of the University of Kraków and the history of the university in the fifteenth century. The book provides a summary of the history of the university, which includes descriptions of the academic dignitaries, academic everyday life, and the city of Kraków itself. The fourth chapter (The Personnel of the University: A Statistical, Social, and Academic Profile) discusses the students of the university, focusing in particular on their geographical and social origins and the main tendencies in matriculation and graduation. The fifth chapter (The University in the National Life of Poland) examines the uses of the courses of study for the Krakowian clergy and the role of the university in the spread of the vernacular Polish language and the formation of Polish national consciousness.
The subsequent chapters are dedicated to the curriculum at the Jagiellonian University, including the ideas which shaped it, the works which were used during the lessons, and the professors who interpreted these works. Furthermore, it examines the works by Polish thinkers which became part of the curriculum by the end of the fifteenth century. The sixth and seventh chapters (The Arts Faculty I–II) discuss the curriculum of the most important faculty, the seven liberal arts, and the eighth chapter is dedicated to the other two faculties (Medicine and Law). However, the faculty of medicine was relatively weak in Kraków in the fifteenth century, but the faculty of law had existed since the foundation of the university, and it was very important as a tool with which Casimir the Great consolidated his power and regulated the system of public administration. Although both cannon and Roman law were supposed to be taught in Kraków, the teaching of the latter started only in the sixteenth century. The ninth chapter (Theology) emphasizes the significance of theology. As the “queen of sciences,” it was especially important in medieval education. In Kraków, the second founder, King Władysław Jagiełło, managed to get papal permission for this faculty.
The tenth chapter (Humanism) describes the spread of Humanism from the middle of the 15th century. However, Humanism did not dominate the era, and in the early period the neighbouring countries inspired its spread. It became a significant phenomenon only at the end of the fifteenth century. The eleventh chapter (Libraries and the Library) emphasizes the importance of books and libraries in academic education. It describes the establishment of the first libraries of the University of Kraków, namely the present-day Biblioteka Jagiellońska and the libraries of the students and professors. This chapter is especially worthy of attention since it interprets in detail the works which were used by the masters of Kraków, and it follows shifts in both public and scientific interests and seeks to restore the personal libraries of more than forty scholars of Kraków, completing them with their biographical data.
Knoll’s publication is an essential work, since no other modern English monographs have been published on the medieval Jagiellonian University (except some publications on the whole history of the university). The English translations of the cited Latin sources add to the value of the monograph, as do the shorter and longer biographies of the relevant representatives of the university in the various chapters.
If one takes the above mentioned aspects into consideration, the monograph is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in university history, the history of the University of Kraków, the city of medieval Kraków, the ideas and works which flourished here, or the Polish scholars who exerted important influences on education in the fifteenth century.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences – Eötvös Loránd University,
History of Universities Research Group
Writing History in Medieval Poland: Bishop Vincentius of Cracow and the Chronica Polonorum. Edited by Darius von Güttner-Sporzyński. (Cursor Mundi 28.) Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. 250 pp.
The Chronica Polonorum, written around 1220 but before 1223, is the second historical composition by a single author to be written after the Gesta Principum Polonorum of Gallus Anonymus (written around 1113) about the history of Poland and the Piast dynasty. It is, furthermore, one of the most researched and discussed medieval texts concerning the history of Poland. The narrative’s author, Master Wincent or Vincentius, is the first identified history writer of the Piast dynasty whose career and deeds scholars have studied, and so, since the editio princeps of the text, both the question of the identity of the author and the text itself have been subjects of intensive research.
Master Vincentius, called Kadłubek, studied either in Italy or in France, and he had a wide and deep philosophical, theological, and legal erudition. He was one of the most important and influential ducal officers of Kraków during the second half of the twelfth century, before he was elected Bishop of Kraków in 1207. In 1218, he asked for this dispensation, and he withdrew to the Cistercian monastery of Jędziejów.
His chronicle consists of three general parts. In the first, which is based mostly on legends and classic patterns, he composed the mythical beginnings of Poland. The second is devoted to the deeds of the Piasts in the eleventh century. In this part of his narrative, Vincentius draws strongly on the gesta of Gallus Anonymus, which means that he must have been familiar with at least with one of its manuscripts. Since Vincentius was practically an eyewitness to many of the events which took place during his career, the third part, which contains stories about twelfth-century Poland, is based on his own experiences.
The book which is the subject of this review, which was edited by Darius von Güttner-Sporzyński (one of the Australian Polonica researchers), contains papers contributed by recognized Polish medievalists on Master Vincentius’ chronicle. This collection of studies is the most recent one on this subject, after the basic Latin text edition, published by Marian Plezia, the modern Polish and German translations of the text, and several studies devoted to the author and his work edited by Andrzej Dąbrówka and Witold Wojtowicz some years ago. Due to lack of space, I will refrain from discussing all the contributions in detail. Rather, I offer basic impressions about each individual paper, which I have arranged in thematic groups.
One of the focuses of the volume is the author himself. In addition to Darius von Güttner-Spozynski’s preface, two papers are devoted to this topic, one by Jacek Maciejewski (Bydgoszcz) on Vincentius’ background and family origins and one by Marian Zwiercan (Kraków) on the author’s influence on history writing in Poland. A further contribution by Józef Dobosz of Poznań discusses two general points: the when and the why, presenting all relevant scholarly theories about the time of the writing of the Chronica Polonorum and analyzing the chronicle writer’s causa scribendi.
Since the Chronica Polonorum was composed in a very sophisticated, academic, classical Latin language, using all possible Antique and medieval literary patterns, one of the most significant scholarly questions has always been the issue of the text itself as a literary and grammatical phenomenon and accurate or plausible interpretations of the narrative. Four papers discuss this issue in the book. Two of them were written by Edward Skibiński (Poznań), one of the outstanding experts on medieval Latin philology in Poland. Skibiński presents the problems of the language of the text, and he attempts to interpret the narrative of the chronicle on the basis of philological observations. The third paper of this kind is by Katerzyna Chmielewska of Częstochowa. Chmielewska presents the antique and biblical topoi of the text. The fourth and last contribution in this group is by Zénon Kałuża (Paris). He puts the chronicle and its author into the context of the erudition of the twelfth century, the so called Renaissance of the twelfth century.
Four papers are devoted to questions of social history. In contrast with Gallus Anonymus, who tried to depict the gesta militaria of the Piasts, Master Vincentius, presumably prompted by his erudition, was more interested in social history, and he used terms of Roman law in his work in his attempts to construct and interpret particular social bonds. As one of his terms of social bonds, he refers to Poland as res publica in his work. One finds one paper devoted to this phenomenon by Paweł Zmudzki (Warsaw) on the construction of the nation in the chronicle.
No doubt, the Chronica Polonorum is one of the most ancient sources on the origins and kind of political order in Poland, since Master Vincentius provides us with a tradition about the legitimation of ducal power and the rules of dynastic succession, describing the famous testimony given by Boleslas III the Wrymouth on his deathbed. These particular questions are discussed and presented in Przemysław Wiszewski’s (Wrocław) paper. Marcin R. Pauk (Warsaw) analyzes another aspect of social/political order depicted in the chronicle. Wiszewski’s paper focuses on the transition in society and economy in Poland represented by Master Vincentius, which, we may add, corresponds to the general skills of the European economic and social changes of the late twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth. The last paper in this section, and also the last one in the book, was written by Robert Bubczyk (Lublin). It provides an overview of church life and courtly culture seen though the text of the chronicle.
The book also contains two appendices, both of which are intended to help readers better orient themselves. One is an abbreviated genealogy of the Piasts, representing the main descending line of the dynasty from Mieszko I to Konrad I of Masovia. It is a little jarring that the list of representatives of the Piast dynasty is ordered rather like a catalog and not a proper genealogical chart. The second appendix provides a chronology of Polish history, presenting the most important events from the very beginning of the history of the country up to 1230.
It is not easy to summarize one’s impressions of a book the goal of which is to provide one of the most complicated narrative texts on Medieval Poland. The questions discussed in the book were and still are the subjects of scholarly debates. It suffices to think for example of the question of the time, place, and the intention of the writing of the text. But not only classical issues of research are of significance here. Subjects like the social order and the question of the seniority throne succession system, on which there is a great deal of secondary literature, are issues which remain to be solved by new generations of historians. The publication of this book, which offers a sample in English of all of the relevant scholarly approaches to this important text, is thus an event to be hailed. It will prove of tremendous importance and usefulness for Polish researchers on the text and for Anglophone readers. I hope that this volume will be the point of departure for more research on Master Vincentius’ life and text.
University of Pécs
Kaiser Karl IV. 1316–2016. Ausstellungskatalog Erste Bayerisch-Tschechische Landesausstellung. Edited by Jiří Fajt and Markus Hörsch. Prague–Nuremberg: Nationalgalerie / Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 2016. 703 pp.
The historiography of Emperor Charles IV of Luxemburg (1346–78) is closely tied to his anniversaries. In the nineteenth century, some important works on him were published around the 500th anniversary of his death by Emil Werunsky (Geschichte Kaiser Karls IV. und seiner Zeit. I–III. [1880–92]). Another anniversary in 1978 brought the still indispensable biography by Ferdinand Seibt (Karl IV.: Ein Kaiser in Europa, 1346–1378 [Munich, 1978]) and a number of other volumes. In 1978, commemoration of the emperor was linked to exhibitions, like the one in the Nuremberg imperial castle and the memorable exhibit on the artistic and architectural influence of the fourteenth-century Parler family (Die Parler und der Schöne Stil) in the Schnütgen-Museum in Cologne.
The 700th anniversary of the birth of Charles in 2016 has been celebrated both in Germany and in the Czech Republic with several special events, conferences, public festivities, and exhibitions to mark the jubilee. One of the most spectacular events of the festivities was the exhibition organized by the Czech National Gallery and the House of Bavarian History, which was on display both in Prague and later in the German National Museum in Nuremberg in 2016 and 2017. In the case of this exhibition, entitled Emperor Charles IV, 1316–2016 IV, Jiři Fajt acted as the curator of the exhibition, and he and Markus Hörsch served as the editors of the catalogue volume. Fajt, currently the director general of the National Gallery in Prague, has impressive experience as the organizer of major international art historical exhibitions, like the one on Magister Theodoricus in 1998, Prague; The Crown of Bohemia, 1347–1437 in 2006; and Europa Jagellonica 1386–1572 in 2012. Fajt and Hörsch are both well-known experts on the late medieval art of Central Europe, and based on the outcome, there is little reason to doubt that the tasks were in the right hands.
The catalogue is an impressive publication from the perspective of its size and its quality. It constitutes an endeavor to meet the interests of both the general public and the scholarly audience. The volume includes many high quality illustrations, maps, ground plans, and chronological tables. The thirty-one scholarly essays and the approximately 350 page-long catalogue section present a multifaceted image of Charles’s personality and the period of his reign. To make a sound judgment on this new overview one could turn to a similar antecedent volume for comparison. In the anniversary year of 1978, Ferdinand Seibt, at that time the leading expert on medieval Bohemian history, published a volume of collected essays on Charles IV as statesman and art patron (Kaiser Karl IV.: Staatsmann und Mäzen ). The differences between the two books shed some light on the findings of the last almost four decades in the study of Charles IV.
It is clear from the comparison that the traditional approach of political history partly has lost its prestige in the recent catalogue. Some chapters, like the one on the coronations of Charles IV by Olaf B. Rader, the one on the Charles IV’s accession to the imperial throne and the Golden Bull by Eva Schlotheuber, and the one on the analysis of marriage policy by Václav Žůrek, represent the field of political history. The 1978 volume offers more studies in this area, e.g. on the church policy of the emperor, the political contacts with other European countries, and individual chapters on the position of various territories under his rule in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Brandenburg, etc.
There are some attributes which have traditionally been connected to Charles IV not only in the historical literature, but also by his contemporaries. The Luxemburg ruler is often characterized as a wise and learned sovereign, and also as pater patriae in medieval Bohemian literature. These aspects are presented both in the 1978 volume of essays by Fidel Rädle and František Kavka and in the current volume. Here, Eva Schlotheuber discusses the impact of Charles as a medieval author who wrote an autobiography, in which he reflects on the first thirty years of his life. Many contemporary chroniclers referred to Solomon as the Biblical model of the wise ruler, and one can find this concept connected to Charles IV. He was well-educated in theology, as some sermon-like chapters of his autobiography demonstrate, and in practical matters as well. Both the autobiography and the Golden Bull emphasize the importance of having command of several languages, and Charles himself spoke Czech, French, Italian, German, and Latin. The foundation of the Prague university in 1348 also constituted an institutional emphasis on the importance of this concept.
Charles has often been referred to as a pious ruler. This was discussed in the 1978 volume in the contribution of Franz Machilek. His formative paper about interactions of private and state religiosity is still a basic work of reference. In the recent catalogue, Martin Bauch’s essay gives many examples of Charles’ personal and public shows of religiosity. There are a number of sources on the emperor’s interest in relics. He was one of the most devoted collectors of relics among his contemporaries, and he used them very efficiently as a tool to strengthen his legitimacy. Pilgrimages, for instance to Aachen, or royal journeys might also have served as occasions to acquire the sought-after relics, which could be put in the service of his political aims. Similarly, architectural projects, such as the construction of the St. Wenceslaus Chapel in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague or the concept and decoration of the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Karlštejn castle, also exemplify his determination to use the cult of saints and their relics in the service of his own idea of state religiosity.
Studies on Charles’ support for the arts have an important place in both volumes, but the 2016 catalogue brought several new insights to this discussion. If offered a multifaceted discussion of the field itself, reflecting on the courtly art of the Luxemburgs, goldsmith objects, textile works, and the music of the period. Art patronage under the reign of Charles is obviously connected to two other characteristics of his influence. On the one hand, he exerted a decisive influence on the two centers of his realms, Nuremberg and Prague, discussed in the chapter by Benno Baumbauer and Jiří Fajt on Nuremberg and the chapter by Jana Gajdošová on Prague. The latter essay refers to Prague as Grossbaustelle and Versuchslabor (a large construction site and experimental laboratory), i.e. as sites for a new kind of Gothic architecture. On the other hand, Charles’ art and architectural projects were closely interconnected with his sophisticated sensibility towards royal representation. Royal representation, including the presentation of his own portraits in various formats, was a unique characteristic of Charles’s personality. The essay by Markus Hörsch examines the representation of Charles in the German imperial towns, and Martin Bauch discusses the entry of the emperor into Rome in 1368/69. František Šmahel, the doyen of Czech medieval studies, returns in his contribution to the theme of his earlier book about the last visit of Charles to Paris in 1377/78 (The Parisian Summit, 1377–1378: Emperor Charles IV and King Charles V of France ), combining it with a reconstruction of the funeral ceremony (Pompa funebris) of the emperor.
The economic aspects of the reign of Charles IV were presented in detail in the 1978 memorial volume in the study by Wolfgang von Stromer entitled “Der kaiserliche Kaufmann” (The imperial businessman). The writings of Stromer and his concept on the economic policy of Charles still belong to the basic reference works on the period. The 2016 catalogue includes three essays on special aspects of economic life, e.g. mining and long distance trade, monetary history, and the role of the royal forests. Environmental and climate history represents a new and fresh field in the 2016 catalogue. Gerrit Jasper Schenk discusses the concept of a “fourteenth-century crisis,” reflecting on various phenomena connected to this crisis, such as the Great Plague, famine, and the flagellant movement.
Both catalogues include essays on the memory of the Luxemburg ruler. In the new volume, Wilfried Franzen follows the effect of Charles’s rule in the period of his two sons, Wenceslaus IV and Sigismund. Jan Royt surveys his position in the early modern and modern period, and René Küpper discusses his image in the historiography and public view.
The catalogue Kaiser Karl IV. 1316–2016 certainly does not displace or replace the earlier publications on Charles IV, but it does add several inspiring new contributions to the reading list of eventual further works on the emperor. It will be used as an indispensable new overview of the various aspects of his rule. A quick glance at the list of the authors of the individual essays will convince the reader that there are numerous younger or already established scholars who have contributed to our understanding of the personality and period of Charles IV by writing significant new inquiries. The volume will serve its editorial concept well, which was to give a well-structured, up-to-date overview of the present state of research on Charles IV and a nicely illustrated catalogue of his period, which will also meet with interest among the general public.
Eötvös Loránd University
The Art of Memory in Late Medieval Central Europe (Czech Lands, Hungary, Poland). By Lucie Doležalová, Farkas Gábor Kiss, and Rafał Wójcik. Budapest–Paris: L’Harmattan, 2016. 352 pp.
With this volume, the authors have begun to fill a gap in the scholarship on Central European medieval cultural history. One could list numerous reasons for this omission, among which perhaps the most important ones are the unfavorable judgement of the art of memory and the difficulty of uncovering new sources. Adopting approaches to the study of the art of memory which have emerged in the German and Italian speaking world (such as that of Johann Christoph Frh. von Aretin, Paolo Rossi, Frances Yates, and Sabine Heimann-Selbach), the authors have tried to collect and present the late medieval Bohemian, Hungarian, and Polish provenience or origin sources connected to the artes memorativae. As they emphasize several times, this research has remained a largely unexplored field in Central Europe, and they have taken only preliminary steps toward subsequent monographs and, above all, text editions.
In the introduction, editor-in-chief Gábor Farkas Kiss outlines the history of the scholarship on this topic. After a short definition of the ars memorativa, he enumerates antecedents from Antiquity (such as the Rhetorica ad Herennium) and then offers possible explanations as to why an unprecedented growth occurred in the popularity of treatises on the art of memory in the late Middle Ages. According to Kiss, the most important factors included the requirements of new and resurgent universities in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the rising significance of preaching (against either the Ottomans or other confessions), and last but not least, monastic devotion. These factors are continually revisited in the succeeding chapters.
The first chapter, “Artes Memoriae and the Memory Culture in Fifteenth-Century Bohemia and Moravia,” is the work of Lucie Doležalová. Taking into account the manuscripts containing treatises on the art of memory, Doležalová presents the most interesting texts in their context. Of course, many of these treatises pertain to the Hussite environment. The texts of Czech origin are mostly translations or compilations (such as Mattheus Beran’s memory treatise); these frequently survived as fragments or parts of larger works.
In the next chapter, Rafał Wojcik, whose dissertation discusses the printed treatise of Jan Szklarek, presents the late medieval mnemonic treatises in Poland. As in the Czech lands, artes memorativae in Poland first appeared in the university environment, particularlyin Kraków, and in the friaries of the Polish Observants. In disseminating the studies on the art of memory at the University of Kraków, foreign professors, the so-called “itinerant humanists” (such as Jacobus Publicius, Conrad Celtis, etc.) played leading roles. It is worth adding, like the Mendicant communities, these figures connected the entire Central European environment to the written culture in Italian and German speaking world. Furthermore, the Polish Observants created and modernized the art of memory, an apparently successful innovation, since traces of it can be identified later, for instance in nineteenth-century pedagogical treatises.
In the third chapter, Farkas Gábor Kiss introduces the reader to “The Art of Memory in Hungary at the Turn of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries.” Kiss notes that, compared to Bohemia and Poland, fewer sources from the Middle Ages in Hungary survived the Ottoman attacks. Still, thanks to the political connections between Hungary and Poland (and principally the Jagiellonian contacts), several treatises or authors mentioned in the Polish environment can be considered Hungarian as well. Of course, the use of the art of memory as a learning method stands out in comparison to its other uses. Students used it to help them memorize grammatical rules, and preachers were able to learn sermons by heart more easily.
The chapters discussed above figure as prefaces to the text editions, which comprise more than half of the volume. Most of these are first editions are of these texts edited on the basis of a single extant source. Every text edition is headed by a short exordium about the source itself and its context. Unfortunately, there are only a few references in these three chapters to the texts in the Appendix, and the exordia sometimes contain references to the more detailed analyses in the chapters. More problematically, the chapters are to be read as articles in a series: for example, the volume overall is inconsistent in the citation and translation of Latin paragraphs and in summaries of the main theses. But aside from these formal inconsistencies, it might have been more useful had the original authors and their works been presented not simply in their regional contexts, but also chronologically and with some discussion of their methods. For example, the treatise of Magister Hainricus is discussed in every chapter because of its considerable influence in East Central Europe, but there are problems concerning the text itself, which is included in the Appendix. If there is only one manuscript and several printings containing inserted notes sometimes in Hungarian and sometimes in Slovak, why did the editor choose a printed version with only Hungarian notes? Conversely, why did the authors of this volume dedicate several subchapters to the itinerant humanist Jacobus Publicius, but not include a text edition of his art of memory in the appendix? These choices seem accidental and unconsidered and, unfortunately, this affects the value of the entire volume.
This editorial unevenness notwithstanding, this publication will certainly attract great interest because of its intent and sources. The well-chosen examples and expressive illustrations at the end of the volume will acquaint the curious reader with the different methodologies of the art of memory. In delineating the East Central European sources on the ars memorativa, the authors have opened the door wider to research on this ancilla of late medieval rhetorical studies.
Emőke Rita Szilágyi
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Workers and Nationalism: Czech and German Social Democracy in Habsburg Austria, 1890–1918. By Jakub S. Beneš. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. xv + 268 pp.
While the subtitle of this book sums up the object of Jakub S. Beneš’s inspiring study, its main title simplifies what turns out to be a sophisticated argument about a complex relationship. “This book is … about how the workers that made up one of Europe’s largest Social Democratic movements came to embrace nationalism,” Beneš initially declares (p.2), while in his conclusion he highlights how “Social Democracy played a leading role in the democratization process in Austria … Socialism empowered the growing ranks of industrial workers to lay claim to political rights as well as national culture” (p.239). The Introduction’s triad of “Socialism, Nationalism, and Democracy” would thus have made for a more accurate title, as Beneš agrees with the politician and Austro-Marxist thinker Otto Bauer that genuine commitment to the three can at times be inseparable (p.17).
While the former story has been told by Hans Mommsen and other scholars, the more complex narrative is more original and enriching, in particular because Beneš highlights the autonomy of ordinary workers to form their own views on nationhood, class relations, and political means and aspirations. He does so by analyzing a rich collection of sources, ranging from proletarian prose and poetry to speeches, essays, diaries, and memoirs of rank and file workers and party activists. Within Austrian Social Democracy, Beneš has chosen to focus on the party’s interconnected but increasingly separate Czech and German spheres. The inclusion of other national branches would have enriched the argument, but there are good reasons to accept this particular framing. In the 1907 Reichsrat elections, Czechs and Germans accounted for 87 percent of the Social Democratic vote and won 74 of the party’s 87 seats in parliament. Czech-German relations largely defined the character of the party, and mostly Beneš is attentive to the ways in which Czech stood out from the culturally dominant and “universal” German as a marked ethnic category in Habsburg Austria, which could make Czech Social Democrats look more nationalist than their German counterparts.
The book consists of five chapters. The first, “Narrating Socialism in Habsburg Austria,” explains how, beginning in the late 1880s, the Austrian Social Democracy took shape and evolved as a loose, locally autonomous “poetic organization,” centered more around meetings, manifestations, and the dissemination of socialist periodicals than around tight, centralized structures with clearly regulated membership. Beneš shows how emotion and rationality coexisted quite comfortably within the movement. Epic stories of suffering and redemption proved highly successful, and while for example stories about the sexual exploitation of working-class girls by bourgeois men were common, (while the mention of these accounts is a rare example in the book of the issue of gender), national issues were rarely central to Social Democratic narratives. Beneš points to the many at times conscious parallels and references to religious imagery in these stories of martyrdom, baptism by suffering, and ultimate salvation, but he might have given more emphasis to how bourgeois nationalist narratives and rituals had already done the same.
With the rejection by workers of the nationalist chauvinism exploding in the wake of the Badeni language ordinances of 1897 as its starting point, Chapter 2, “Exclusion from the Nation,” examines how socialist workers reacted to accusations of being nationally indifferent or traitors. In reality, Beneš argues, most workers were not indifferent to the idea of national belonging, and they protested angrily about being excluded from the national communities to which they felt they belonged. This feeling was shared by German and Czech workers, albeit with somewhat different modalities due to the different composition of their national bourgeoisies. Czech Social Democratic workers in particular felt forced to address accusations of being anti-national after 1897, which influenced their views and vocabularies on nationhood.
Chapter 3, “Storms of November,” offers a detailed analysis of the campaign for universal suffrage in November 1905, an event that catapulted Social Democracy into the center of Austrian politics. Mass mobilization linked electoral reform and revolution and released an enormous, at times violent energy among ordinary workers that forced the government to give in. For Czech Social Democrats, the campaign became their entry ticket to the national community, and many activists felt that the party was now ready and entitled to lead the nation. The gap between the German Austrian Social Democrats and the bourgeois nationalist parties remained bigger, but German Social Democrats too now felt that they more than other parties represented the national will of the (German) people.
This growing self-confidence bolstered attempts to claim national symbols for the Czech and German working classes, as discussed in Chapter 4, “Socialist Hussites, Marxist Wagnerians.” Czech socialists stylized themselves as the natural heirs to the radical Hussites in ways that would resonate decades later in the speeches of Klement Gottwald, when the Communists seized power in February 1948, while their Austrian German fellows tried to claim Schiller and Wagner for their cause. Beneš points out how this was not a case of smooth integration into a bourgeois national culture, but a deeply combative battle for control of national cultural icons and political leadership. The socialist versions of nationalism abandoned neither the class struggle nor the idea of solidarity among the international working class.
Still, the years leading up to 1914 witnessed an organizational split between German and Czech Social Democrats, a process discussed in Chapter 5, “The Logics of Separatism.” Beneš initially suggests that rising Czech ethnic nationalism was “the chief driving force behind the demise of the internationalist workers’ movement” (p.175), but his account is more nuanced than this assertion might at first suggest. The national splitting of the Austrian party was institutionally overdetermined, we hear, and Beneš points out how Austrian German socialists’ paternalism or indifference to Czech needs accelerated national separatism. It was a political disagreement about tactics in November 1905 that led the more radical Czechs to favor autonomy from Vienna, not nationalism per se. Even within the trade unions, there were many structural factors and practical local concerns that worked against any all-Austrian trade union centralism.
A shorter final chapter, “War and Revolution,” covers the years of the Great War and the dissolution of Habsburg Austria. The account seems sketchier than the rest of the book, and I missed references to Zdeněk Kárník’s seminal 1968/1996 study Socialisté na rozcestí: Habsburk, Masaryk, či Šmeral (Socialists at a Crossroads: Habsburg, Masaryk, or Šmeral). Generally, however, Beneš covers the secondary literature well.
The short conclusion offers a spirited plea for the relevance of working class history. Class is, as Beneš initially argues, a cultural and ideological postulate that is powerful because it speaks to demonstrable social facts (p.8), and his cultural history of the lives and worlds of ordinary workers is innovative and enriching. My only major reservation is the absence of a proper discussion of the term “nationalism.” The author lets the term cover phenomena ranging from simple identification with a given nation to manifestations of radical chauvinism and denigration of other nations. This failure to explain his use of the terminology more precisely is problematic because Social Democrats (party leaders and rank and file) consistently claimed that their commitment to the nation was radically different from that of the bourgeoisie, and free of chauvinism. “[O]nly a genuine patriot can be a real internationalist” (p.200), the carpenter Vojtěch Berger wrote in his diary in 1912, and for all the occasional bickering and mistrust among Czech and German Social Democrats, this was, Beneš convincingly shows, the predominant socialist view. I therefore find that the true message of Beneš’s book lies not in narrating the failures of Austrian socialism as a conventional “workers-into-nationalists” story, but rather in his conclusion (p.244) that the “conviction that wage-earning people possessed the right to determine the character of national politics and culture was … a major achievement.”
Die Habsburgermonarchie und die Slowenen im 1. Weltkrieg. By Walter Lukan. (Austriaca 11.) Vienna: New Academic Press, 2017. 260 pp.
Austro-Hungarian politics in World War I and its role in the eventual demise of the Habsburg Empire are topics which have interested historians and other scholars since 1918. Slovenian historians are no exception, and Slovenian politics during World War I has also been given a great deal of scholarly attention. Walter Lukan, a retired professor at the University of Ljubljana, has been researching Slovenian politics for decades and has published a number of articles in journals and edited volumes on the subject, as well as a book in Slovenian. His current book is a synthesis of his research and also the first book about Slovenian politics in Austria-Hungary during World War I in a language other than Slovenian. This makes it especially valuable.
The book begins with a short chapter on Slovenian politics in the pre-war years and then tracks its development from the outbreak of the war to the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (i.e. Yugoslavia) on December 1, 1918. In six chronologically arranged chapters, Lukan describes and analyzes the evolution of Slovenian high politics from its predominantly ultrapatriotic and loyalist beginnings in the autumn of 1914 to its break with the dynasty four years later. A supplement with seven crucial documents (some of which have been translated into German for the first time), a ten-page English summary, an extensive bibliography, and a name index complete the book.
Building on the existing secondary literature and his own research, Lukan shows how Slovenian politics recovered from the shock of Sarajevo, which shattered the dream of an autonomous Slovenian-Croatian administrative unit, to be established by Francis Ferdinand upon his accession to the throne, and how the political elite slowly started showing some initiative beginning in the summer of 1915. The attempt to use the entrance of Italy into the war as a means of pushing for some semblance of autonomy in the form of an anti-Italian “military border” (Lukan was the first historian to write about this plan, decades ago) was unsuccessful. While parts of the army, including chief of staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, were not unsympathetic to the idea, several generals did their best to nip it in the bud. In the end, they prevailed, and the plan was shelved.
In the second half of 1916, however, the improved political atmosphere in the Empire and a reshuffle within the dominant Slovenian People’s Party resulted in a definitive change of course. The new Emperor slowly dismantled military absolutism, and in the People’s Party and the Croatian-Slovenian caucus in the Reichsrat Anton Korošec and Janez Evangelist Krek pushed the hyper-loyal Ivan Šusteršič to the side. Consequently, as Lukan shows, passivity was replaced with a much more ambitious approach to politics. The People’s Party managed to prevail on the liberals to collaborate with them in the pursuit of their vision, and the pre-war goal of a Slovenian-Croatian state within the Empire was revived. For a while, Korošec and Krek toyed with the so-called subdualist solution, which would have united the so-called Slovenian lands and Croatia within the Hungarian half of the Empire. However, beginning in early 1917, Slovenian politicians and most Croatians from Istria and Dalmatia started talking seriously about trialism, i.e. the establishment of a third, South Slav unit of the Habsburg Empire. While this could not have been achieved without the dismantling of the existing dualist structure, a large majority of Slovenian politicians remained loyal to the Habsburgs and could only envision the new South Slav state within the Habsburg framework.
When the Reichsrat finally reopened in May 1917 and the Slovenian and Croatian MPs presented their program for the reform of the Empire, the so-called Habsburg clause was an inseparable part of the May Declaration; only a few MPs were privately already thinking about alternatives, while most were deeply convinced that the Empire was going to survive and that it could be reformed. As it became clearer, however, that the emperor and his successive governments were unwilling to fulfil the demands put forward in the Declaration, this attitude began to change. For mainstream politicians, Lukan shows, the Habsburg clause increasingly became a tactical instrument which shielded them from accusations of disloyalty and allowed them comparatively unfettered freedom of action. Additionally, the clause was very important in popular propaganda as a large majority of the Slovenian speaking population would only support a South Slav state “under the scepter of the Habsburgs.”
During the last year of the war, Slovenian (and Croatian) politicians gathered in the newly established Yugoslav caucus were, as Lukan persuasively shows, deeply hypocritical in their politics. Publicly they still pursued the goal of a South Slav unit within the Habsburg Empire, but privately they were increasingly working for full independence and, at least in some cases, unification with Serbia and Montenegro. Beginning in early 1918, even public proclamations became more radical, and the Habsburg clause was often missing. As South Slav politicians from the Austrian and the Hungarian half of the Empire gathered in Zagreb in the first days of March 1918, the document they prepared, the so-called Zagreb Resolution, demanded a South Slav nation state without even mentioning the Habsburgs. Anton Korošec, by that time a leading figure in the “Yugoslav movement,” later claimed that they “threw the Habsburg scepter out of the window then and there” (p.147).
These developments were the result of the changed international situation (the survival of Austria-Hungary was by then far from certain) but also of disenchantment with the emperor and the government. As Lukan’s detailed analysis shows, neither Charles nor his ministers were willing or able to support a reform of the empire that would have satisfied Slovenian politicians, who were leading figures of the Yugoslav movement. Korošec and his allies were not really prepared to compromise anymore. While the leaders of the Slovene People’s Party were ready to accept partial autonomy within Cisleithania in the autumn of 1915 (possibly limited to Carniola and the Littoral) and would probably have agreed to the unification of Cisleithanian Croatians and Slovenians in an Illyrian Kingdom in the first half of 1917, they were not prepared to give any ground in 1918. Their greatest fear was an incomplete reform within the dualist framework (unification of Croatia-Slavonia with Dalmatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and, possibly, Serbia, was often talked about in government circles) which would have left the Slovenians isolated. They therefore pushed for a unification of all the Habsburg South Slavs, within or without the Habsburg Empire. Thus, the October 1918 manifesto of Emperor Charles, which was a last-minute attempt to save the Empire, was rejected outright, and on October 29 the new State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs was simultaneously proclaimed in Zagreb and Ljubljana.
Lukan’s well-written and comprehensive synthesis presents wartime events and developments clearly, and his interpretations are balanced. Yet the book has a few flaws. First, his analysis is focused almost exclusively on the politics and politicians of the People’s Party. This is understandable to a point (the party had dominated Slovenian politics for years), yet a more comprehensive examination of liberal and social democratic politics would offer the reader a more complete picture. Similarly, the book would also benefit from a wider focus when it comes to the visions of the future within Slovenian politics. Namely, Lukan writes primarily about the developments which led to the break with the Habsburg Empire, and he only mentions alternative ideas sporadically. Finally, Lukan rarely goes beyond high politics, yet when he does, he shows that this would be a worthwhile endeavor. For instance, when he compares the visions of the future held by large parts of the population with those advocated by politicians, a non-negligible divide emerges. It is therefore a pity that his inquiry is focused so narrowly on elites.
Yet on the whole, Walter Lukan’s book is an important contribution to the historiography on World War I Slovenian politics, and it is a must read for any historian dealing with the political history of the Habsburg Empire during the Great War. It provides a pithy summary of the existing secondary literature and presents many new insights based on original research. In short, it is the new standard work on the subject.
University of Ljubljana
Radikálisok, szabadgondolkodók, ateisták: A Galilei Kör története (1908–1919) [Radicals, freethinkers, atheists: The history of the Galileo Circle 1908–1919]. By Péter Csunderlik. Budapest: Napvilág, 2017. 400 pp.
An amazingly well documented first book was published by young historian Péter Csunderlik based on his PhD dissertation (defended in 2016) on a subject known for its extremely polarized and ideologized interpretations in Hungary. After having been monopolized by counterrevolutionary narratives during the Horthy regime in the 1920s, according to which the Galileo Circle was responsible for the rise of the postwar Soviet Republic in Hungary (1919), later the memory of the Galileo Circle became entirely dominated by Communists in power between 1948 and 1990, who sought to cast the members of this circle as forerunners. Nevertheless, the last historical volume on the subject was published in 1960, which might indicate that student radicalism was also seen as a challenge to the Hungarian communist regime, which in many regards was of a conservative mindset. Whatever the case, this diachronic aspect was much better known than the “story” itself, which has remained a something of a lacuna in the historiography until now. By putting aside these diametrically opposed and ideologically biased images, Csunderlik has opted to dig out what was hidden by these posterior interpretations: namely ideas and practices based on empirical documentation (press, publications, minutes, registers, memories, correspondences, etc.) linked to the Galileo Circle itself around the 1910s. To the Circle’s reception during the Horthy era, he dedicated only the last chapter of his book, which remains essentially separate from his comprehensive narrative of the Circle itself.
Originally, the Galileo Circle, launched in Budapest in 1908, was a student branch of the Szabadgondolkodás Magyarországi Egyesülete (Hungarian Freethinking Association), itself part of a larger, international network. According to Csunderlik, this student group, which was composed originally of students in the humanities and medical sciences and never numbered much more than 1,000 men and women, soon turned out to be a literal countercultural institution (including networks of media, associations, schools, aesthetic and scientific activities, happenings, etc.) opposed to liberal-conservative norms and institutions as they had been in force since 1867. If one considers conflicts with the establishment in the arena of higher education, for example, effectively a vivid antagonism can be drawn. By claiming anti-clericalism and articulating a harsh criticism of the conservativism, backed by political power, in the arts and sciences (the choice of Galileo as a name was a gesture to the well-known scientific figure, and it was considered a sort of “battle cry”), the Galileo Circle, thanks to its membership’s radically critical endeavors, effectively challenged in many ways hegemonic practices and institutions. (However, power felt even more challenged by “adult” radical bourgeois thinkers directed by Oszkár Jászi, who was also by the way a mentor of the Galileo Circle, because of their democratic views on the question of ethnic and national minorities in historical Hungary.) According to Csunderlik, this peculiar group was not only a student intellectual milieu but also a breeding ground for new revolutionary attitudes.
The book successfully mixes the history of ideas and social history in order to obtain an image as complex as possible of the peculiar backdrop to the young intellectuals’ revolt against patriarchal society, which began much earlier than 1968. At this point, Csunderlik misses a (not so much diachronic but) horizontal comparison: a transnational perspective both on youth movements and on secondary and higher education would have shed light on similar phenomena in the larger European context (for instance Robert Wohl, The Generation of 1914 ; Mark Roseman, ed., Generations in conflict ; Giovanni Levi and Jean-Claude Schmitt, eds., History of Young People in the West, vol. 2 ; David Fowler: Youth culture in modern Britain, c.1920-c.1970 ). Student precarity, about which the Galileo Circle collected statistics for Budapest in 1909 (statistics which were published in 1912), was a problem all over Europe in the pre-war years, and it was often connected to a growing dissatisfaction. In France, for example, the most representative and influential opinion poll, Les jeunes gens d’aujourd’hui, published by Henri Massis and Alfred de Tarde in 1913 indicated a return to traditional ideals, a change of mood that was going to being exploited by war nationalism, which promoted patriotic redemption and salvation (Koenraad W. Swart, The Sense of Decadence in Nineteenth-Century France , p.196). In this regard, Csunderlik leaves the reader hungry to know more, because he fails to address the cultural context of conscription of a certain part of the Galileo Circle’s membership in World War I by switching too rapidly to their antimilitarism later in the conflict (so an eventual exacerbation of patriotism, as short as it could be among them, was not taken into consideration).
When the topic at hand is more a question of philosophical and ideological currents than practices, Csunderlik effectively turns to transnational comparison: he detects, for example, the European circulation of freethinking, anti-clericalism, atheism, and Marxist ideas, which were widely used by members of the Galileo Circle. The group was in fact marked by internal divisions in terms of these very ideas: one faction, led by the young Károly Polányi (the first president of the Circle and a subsequent polyhistor, economist, sociologist, and philosopher known for his work later written in London entitled The Great Transformation, a model for historical sociology) was stuck in a more apolitical freethinking (based on the theories of Ernst Mach), while many members progressively opted for Marxism and, in the second part of World War I, even for revolutionary Socialism.
Thus, Csunderlik discuses the role of the Galileo Circle not exclusively within the political field or the scientific one, but also within a broader cultural context; he examines many of its social and cultural factors and conditions: its recruitment practices, its locations, its events, its media, its scholarly activities, its receptions, and its audiences. In order to discuss all this, he needed to abandon the linear chronology within the greater, nevertheless chronologically limited parts, i.e. the so-called “great” (1908–14) and the “short” (1914–19) periods of the Galileo Circle, and opted instead for thematic organization. The Galileo Circle was linked to discussions of politics, ideologies, war, science, history, youth, gender, sports etc., in other words a wide array of important discourses of political and cultural currents of the epoch. Csunderlik describes how the Circle’s manifestations were perceived by contemporaries in political and intellectual arenas, but also in society at large. Csunderlik successfully traces the contributions of the Galileo Circle to the shaping of the ideas of cultural and political modernity in early twentieth-century Hungary, and he has assembled a balanced and well-founded historical work on this youth group.
Petőfi Literary Museum – Kassák Museum/Kodolányi University of Applied Arts
Europe’s Balkan Muslims: A New History. By Nathalie Clayer and Xavier Bougarel. Translated by Andrew Kirby. London: Hurst, 2017. 285 pp.
When people refer to “European Muslims” or “Islam in Europe,” they tend to forget the eight million Muslims in Southeastern Europe. Sophisticated studies on Islam and Muslims between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean are rare, and there are almost no comparative studies on the subject, probably due to the obstacle posed by the linguistic diversity of these communities. In Europe’s Balkan Muslims: A New History (first published as Les musulmans de l’Europe du Sud-Est (XIXe-XX siècles) ), Xavier Bougarel and Nathalie Clayer undertake the monumental task of synthesizing their knowledge of this heterogeneous Muslim group and presenting a historical overview of it from the early nineteenth century to 2001.
Clayer and Bougarel are professors at the Center for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan, and Central Asian Studies in Paris, with complementary research profiles. Bougarel specializes in Slavic-speaking Muslims in Yugoslavia from the Second World War to the violent dissolution of the Yugoslav state, and Clayer’s emphasis is on the Albanian and Turkish side and the Ottoman and post-Ottoman period. They are thus able to compare the situations of diverse Muslim groups in several countries in different political periods, many of which were extremely turbulent.
The process of Islamization in Southeastern Europe during six hundred years of Ottoman rule was by no means uniform, and the authors also emphasize that religious diversity is one of the region’s main characteristics. Although the vast majority of the Muslims in the region are Sunnis of the Hanafi rite, there are significant regional, social, and ethnic differences among them, and there is also a great intra-Islamic variety in terms of religious interpretations, practices, and affiliations. This heterogeneity is made vividly clear throughout the book, as the authors explore the complex character of Muslim identity formation in changing contexts. At the same time, the authors also point out the Muslim population’s exposure to and interaction with a myriad of political and religious impulses from both East and West. Bougarel and Clayer’s approach is based on the premise that Southeastern European Muslims cannot be understood simply in relation to the dismantling of empires and the emergence of nation states, but must be situated in a broader political, social, and cultural perspective.
The chronological structure of the book functions as a framework for presenting the diversity of these communities and the ruptures and continuities of their histories in an orderly manner, and it gives a good understanding of their development from the early nineteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire really started to lose control over its European possessions. The first chapter discusses reforms, bureaucracies, and new elites before the Eastern Crisis in 1876, with emphasis on changing Muslim-Christian relations, intellectual enterprises, different Islamic networks, and national identity discourses. The second chapter covers the five decades between the Eastern Crisis and the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. In this period, Muslims in Europe found themselves in a precarious situation between a crumbling empire and Christian-dominated nation building projects (with the exception of Albania), projects which included population exchanges, migration, and the forced displacement of minorities. While identities were politicized, nationalism developed more slowly among Muslims, who were often influenced by Islamic reformist currents. Chapter three explores the interwar period and World War II, which was marked by important political changes, including new territorial divisions, agrarian reforms, ideological struggles, nationalization programs, and the rise of authoritarianism. Outside Albania, Muslims were in a minority in all the states of the region. Islamic institutions were reorganized and subjected to nationalization, and local forms of Islam became parts of new networks.
Chapter three covers the communist period from the end of World War II to 1989, i.e. the general context of the Cold War, nationalisms, and authoritarianism. At the end of World War II, Albanian-speaking Muslims were massacred and violently expelled from northern Greece, and the 1950s saw the migration of other Muslim groups in the Balkans to Turkey. Modernization and collectivization reduced the influence of Muslim elites, and “Islam” was often portrayed as a reactionary force. From the outset, the communist regimes introduced antireligious policies, and scientific socialism became the cultural norm. Muslim groups developed different national identities, depending on factors such as ethnic distribution. The reorganization of Islamic institutions reflected the states’ attitudes towards their Muslims groups and towards religion in general. Bosnia was the only place in the region where pan-Islamic and Islamist currents maintained a continuous presence after 1940.
The last chapter discusses the dramatic years between 1989 and 2001, when the communist regimes collapsed, Yugoslavia disintegrated, and the countries of the region generally reoriented themselves towards the European Union and NATO. In this period, religious freedom was restored and institutions were revived and reintegrated into global religious networks. At the same time, the 1990s was traumatic for many of the Muslims in the region. Bulgaria had forced 300,000 of its Muslims to flee to Turkey, and warfare in Bosnia and Kosovo included massacres and ethnic cleansing of Muslims. Religious symbols were destroyed. The Muslims in the Balkans emerged as victims, but also as a political actor. In Bosnia, Muslim identities have to a certain extent become re-Islamized after the war. In the other countries, political Islam has been marginal or nonexistent. While religious life in public was revitalized after communism, liberalization and globalization have led to the diversification of religious practice and the fragmentation of religious authority. Muslim identities in Central and Southeastern Europe are also related to questions of economic, social, and political status.
One important observation is nevertheless that the post-Ottoman history of this region is characterized by the violent expulsion of Muslims from new Balkan states with Christian majorities. The last “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnian Muslims and Albanians from Kosovo in the 1990s was part of a recurrent pattern which began in the early nineteenth century with the expulsion of “Turks” from Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece. At the same time, the authors draw attention to the demographic changes which took place in Southeastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in part as a consequence of Muslim emigration, particularly to the remaining parts of the Ottoman Empire and later to Turkey, but also to the West. Furthermore, large Muslim communities have remained in the region and grown, and today three Balkans states have Muslim majorities (Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania).
The authors admit that the end of communism inevitably led to a certain desecularization and in many cases a strengthening of the link between religion and nation, but they do not agree that this necessarily means that religious practice is on the rise or that there has been a general de-secularization of society. While a minority of Muslims have become very pious, most notably neo-Salafis (who insist that religious precepts must regulate every detail of daily life), the vast majority are non-practicing. Southeastern European Muslims’ religious development basically has followed same pattern as religious development in the rest of Europe, with the pluralization and individualization of religious life, and most of the Muslims in the region do not practice their religion.
Bougarel and Clayer emphasize the need to consider “the diversity of national and provincial historical trajectories, the complex interactions between local, national and supranational actors, and moments of rupture and uncertainty” (p.209). The nation state has not been the only actor in Southeastern Europe, and the Balkan states must be understood in a wider political context, including from the perspective of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Great Powers’ interest in the region, the logic of the Cold War, Yugoslavia’s copy of the Soviet model, international factors in the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, the United Nations, and Euro-Atlantic integration. Another observation is that one cannot really talk about one Balkan Islam or treat the Muslims in this region as an “Islamic curiosity,” cut off from the rest of the Muslim world. They are part of the wider Muslim world and connected to many of the same religious, cultural, and political developments. Their Muslim networks are not simply Ottoman or Middle Eastern, but have points of contact with global Salafism and with Sufi networks in Asian and African countries.
Against this backdrop, it is almost impossible to generalize about Southeastern European Muslims, and the overview provided by Clayer and Bougarel of this complex topic is impressive. The 13-page glossary, nine maps, and various demographic tables are useful. Europe’s Balkan Muslims fills a hole in the academic literature and is accessible and relevant to non-academics. It contains food for thought for anyone interested in processes of religious change, secularization, globalization, nationalism, religion and politics, the privatization of religion, religion and nationalism, Islam and pluralism, Islamic diversity, Islam in Europe, and Islam and Muslims in general. Moreover, it can be recommended to various policymakers, security analysts, and others with a practical interest in Muslims. Hopefully, Bougarel and Clayer are already preparing a book covering developments after 2001, which have been as complex as the processes and changes in the period covered in this book.
University of Oslo
A magyarországi németek története. [The history of the Germans of Hungary]. By Gerhard Seewann. Translated by Zsolt Vitári. Budapest: Argumentum Kiadó, 2015.
There are few works of scholarship in Hungarian which examine the histories of the religious, linguistic, and national minorities in parallel with the other processes of the region, the country, or the majority society. Gerhard Seewann has undertaken to address this shortcoming (or at least to address one of the lacuna in the secondary literature) by presenting the history of the German community of Hungary as part of European and regional processes and the prevailing interethnic relations of these communities with the Hungarians, as well as in comparison with the circumstances of other minority groups. Published originally as Geschichte der Deutschen in Ungarn in 2012, in his synthesis, which spans historical eras, Seewann considers the German minority not simply as a kind of passive object of the events of history, but rather as a subject or agent in these events. Thus, his work can serve as a basis for modern textbooks on the history of this community. The monograph will be of interest and relevance to scholars of the subject, members of the community, and readers who take an interest in history.
In order for Seewann to be able to achieve his admittedly complex aim, he needed not simply to draw on and rethink the existing secondary literature, but also to break with the nation-centered mode of historical narrative which is so prevalent in the scholarship on (Central) Europe. Of course, at the same time, in connection with the individual eras in the history of the region, he had to present the relevant political, economic, and social processes in Hungary in order to be able to analyze the various events which took place on different levels (transnational, regional, and significant from the perspective of the German minority) in their complex interaction with one another. In his presentation of the connections and interconnections, for the most part he demonstrates a good sense of proportions.
The first volume of the two-volume work, which with the appendices is more than 1,000 pages long, concludes with the year 1860. The second begins with the negotiations between the Hungarians and the Habsburg court which preceded the Compromise of 1867 and presents the history of the German minority in Hungary until 2006. Seewann divides his narrative into periods on the basis not of individual events, but rather according to the points at which historical processes began and came to an end, an approach which is praiseworthy. However, while the chapters on the period beginning with the early Modern Era and concluding in 1860 are based exclusively on the events of Hungarian history, the structure of the second volume also seems to take into account pivotal points which influenced the fate of the German community, for instance their situation at the end of World War II and the expulsion of many members of this community from the country.
The structure of any major work of historical scholarship which covers several centuries of history is inevitably a bit uneven at times, since there are different quantities and qualities of source materials for each individual period, and in many cases the research methods also differ. Although the structural disproportionalities of Seewann’s work are due for the most part to this, some scholars on medieval Hungarian history and the period of Ottoman occupation, notably Márta Fata and Tobias Weger, have made a few concrete remarks concerning the chapters on these periods. Their fundamental objection is that Seewann does not offer an adequately deep comparison of the German-speaking communities in Hungary with other linguistic or national minorities, nor does he address the German aspects of the occupied territories in his discussion of these periods.
He also does not make adequate use of the most recent findings in the historical scholarship on Eastern and Central Europe, so the chapters in question must be regarded more as outlines or sketches. Reviewers of the monograph have also criticized the Seewann for having failed in some cases to clarify the precise meanings of the terms he uses. The section on the socialist era is similarly schematic, as indeed its relative brevity makes clear, and it is difficult to understand why Seewann did not devote a separate chapter to the period after 1989. Since there is almost no basic research in the secondary literature on the decades of socialism, Seewann might have done better simply to include this section at the end of the second volume as a kind of overview, thereby indicating that it is not yet possible to offer a thorough narrative summary of the period. In my view, he should have taken this into consideration when deciding when to bring his narrative to an end. He also should have included a chapter summarizing the main tendencies in the history of the German minority in Hungary.
The narrative is nicely complemented by the source materials which are included in the monograph (36 in the first volume and 23 in the second), and these materials strengthen the work as a kind of “handbook.” Almost all of these source materials have been published before, and it would perhaps have been preferable to have selected source materials which have not yet been published and include them with the appropriate annotations. The first volume includes four maps, two of which (one of the Habsburg Empire, 1699–1795, the other of Hungary, 1867–1914) have no information concerning the ways in which the lands in question were divided by nationality. The second of the two, furthermore, should have been included in the second volume, which in fact does not contain a single map. In general, given the tremendous breadth of the material and the span of history covered, Seewann would have done well to have included more maps, diagrams, tables, and illustrations, as these kinds of additions would have made the book more useful in an educational setting. Indices of names and places at the end of both volumes and the register of concordance are integral parts of the work and so is the list of primary and secondary sources containing several hundreds of items. Since Seewann completed the original German manuscript in 2011 and six years passed before the work was published in Hungarian, it would have been worthwhile to have added the most recent works of secondary literature to the list of sources on the subject.
Quite understandably, Seewann examines the main questions of his work, which as already noted covers a millennium of history, in chronological order. Accordingly, the titles of the main chapters refer in general to the defining trends of a given era and thus also the main reference points of the analysis. The main chapters, however, are divided into thematic subchapters. The only exception is the short introduction, in which Seewann compares the main tendencies of German settlement in Hungary in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era.
Since in a brief review, one could not possible give a summary of such an ambitious work, I will limit myself to a few observations and explanations offered by Seewann which I consider important contributions to the existing scholarship, both in content and approach.
The most important part of the chapter on the period between 1526 and 1699 is the discussion of the demographic legacy of the Ottoman occupation and the political and economic general conditions of the settlement and resettlement of the country. Seewann persuasively refutes a cliché which has become a commonplace in Hungarian historiography, according to which the territories which were occupied by the Turks were almost completely deserted. Interpretations resting on this contention tend to ignore the fact that a large proportion of the population simply moved to larger settlements in the hopes of surviving. Seewann also offers a detailed analysis of the South-North migration of hundreds of thousands of people and refutes a “romantic” German interpretation which was vigorously instrumentalized in the 1930s according to which the settlers created the villages (which later blossomed) out of little more than blood and sweat (i.e. out of nothing, creatio ex nihilo). He convincingly shows that the period between 1688 and 1711 did indeed bear witness to a kind of dress rehearsal for the later large-scale importation of settlers, the primary purpose of which was to ensure a workforce for the owners of large estates and food for the soldiery and the cities. The arrival of settlers was also important for the development of agriculture, the improvement of the work ethic, and from the perspective of reliable taxation incomes.
The most extensive and also most thoroughly developed section of the first volume is the chapter dealing with the period between 1711 and 1790, which Seewann refers to as the century of new settlers. He approaches this very complex process from the perspective of the actors, taking into consideration the motives of the settlers, the landowners, and the state, as well as the various steps they took, the results they achieved, and the consequences of the influx of new inhabitants. Seewann presents the efforts that the landowners and the state had to make to lure members of the workforce in German-speaking territories to Hungary, efforts they were compelled to make in part because they were in competition with Prussia and Russia for this workforce. This competition ultimately determined the concessions and allowances that were offered to the settlers. Seewann also refutes the notion that the settlers were impoverished. Most of them came to Hungary as peasants, smallholders, artisans, or day-laborers with at least modest financial means. In Hungary at the time, however, this capital was not insignificant, and it was often complemented by bequests paid by family members who had remained in the settlers’ ancestral homelands. The German settlers were also motivated by the opportunity to achieve a better social status than before. Having acquired the right to move freely, they could accept the best or at least better offers of land and plots and the most advantageous conditions offered to incoming settlers, which included the freedom of religion for Protestants, which Joseph II’s Edict of Tolerance guaranteed. In his presentation of the perceptions and perspectives of the people who were affected by this process, Seewann makes excellent use of various ego documents (memoirs, correspondence, last wills and testaments), thus offering his reader a wealth of knowledge relevant to the social history and the history of the mentality of these communities.
Of the chapters on the history of the Germans in Hungary in the Early Modern Era, “The Period of Political Mobilization, 1914–1945” merits particular mention as perhaps the best section of the monograph. In this chapter, which fundamentally addresses political history, Seewann puts emphasis on the questions of political mobilization, ethnic identity, and the construction of identity. He goes into considerable detail and offers a persuasive portrayal of the process which began with the efforts of the Ungarländischer Deutscher Volksbildungsverein (led by Jakob Bleyer, the Verein initially sought only to secure rights concerning cultural affairs and education) and ended with the rise of the Ungarisches Volksbund der Deutschen, which was led by Franz Basch and which served the great power interests of the Third Reich. Seewann shows the interconnections among the events in the coordinate system of the efforts and actual measures taken by the German minority and the German and Hungarian states. Fundamentally, he seeks an answer to the question of how, by the second half of the 1930s, for a significant segment of the German minority, which at the beginning of the era was for the most part apolitical, the notion of the indivisible Hungarian nation had been replaced as the principal orientation point by attachment to its own ethnic group, the community of the German folk, and the “mother country,” i.e. Germany.
My critical remarks notwithstanding, I consider Gerhard Seewann’s groundbreaking work an important contribution to the secondary literature. His monograph provides a summary of the scholarship on and knowledge of the history of the Germans of Hungary which is critical and in many respects innovative in its approach, and which also goes beyond simple descriptions and analyzes subtle interconnections. The unevennesses in his synthesis call attention first and foremost to the dearth of research on the subject, thus also suggesting new avenues of inquiry.
Export Empire: German Soft Power in Southeastern Europe, 1890–1945. By Stephan Gross. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 398 pp.
Export Empire engages with an often neglected aspect of German relations with Southeastern Europe before World War II: German attraction and influence, projected through peaceful, voluntary commercial and cultural exchange. It discusses soft power as one of two alternative views on empire, which were advanced by different elite circles and administrative departments in a polyarchic Nazi state and by different non-state organizations. It studies the ideas of hard power, formal empire, and informal empire or sphere of influence based on soft power from their conception in the imagination of German elites in the late nineteenth century to their application in policy, and it makes a definitive assessment of their efficiency and effects.
Gross convincingly argues that it was precisely soft power, based on the export of goods and cultural products and advanced primarily by non-state institutions, that delivered to Germany valuable economic resources and political influence in the Balkans and helped sideline the traditionally leading power, France. Soft power is the answer to how Germany regained economic positions which had been lost after World War I and how it managed to shift its foreign trade away from its Western European creditors. Soft power also paved the way for Nazi economic exploitation during World War II. But this book demonstrates that economic exploitation was not the result of carefully designed, planned entrapment. Rather, it was the result of a power shift within the German state, whereby the proponents of soft power and informal empire lost influence over the region or switched sides and adopted the Nazi approach of hard power colonial imperialism. The hardline Nazi vision of Lebensraum took over the private institutions’ liberal view of Mitteleuropa and Grossraumwirtschaft or greater economic space. As Gross shows, 1941 was the turning point of the soft power decline, when, after the unsuccessful German operations in the Soviet Union, the war effort meant greater demands for food, labor, and raw materials. The “economic miracle” achieved through soft power in the 1920s and 1930s, which no doubt was in line with German interests, was destroyed completely by the brutal force of occupation and resource extraction, which left behind devastated economies and war ridden societies. However, the principles at work which won Germany its status as a desired and legitimate partner (and even a modernizing mentor and “natural” ally), may also be observed in other informal empires in the past and today.
Competing concepts of German power in Europe and competing imperial visions ran almost in parallel among German elites from the Wilhelmine Empire to the Weimar Republic. The traditional understanding of empire as colonial rule or hard Weltpolitik was shared by nationalist-minded elites after 1880 (Admiral Tirpitz and Chancellor Bismarck, for instance) and intellectuals including Max Weber, Gustav Freytag, Heinrich Class, and others who believed Germany “had a historical mission to either uplift or rule over the Slavic peoples of the Russian Empire” (p.15). These ideas informed the perception of Russia shared by the highest military officials, such as Moltke and Kaiser Wilhelm: “after 1910 they believed any future war would be a ‘struggle for existence between Teutons and Slavs’” (p.16). The concept of Lebensraum, which motivated Nazi atrocities in Poland and Russia during World War II, derive genealogically, even if indirectly, from such a vision.
The liberal vision of an economic federation in Central Europe, the Mitteleuropa project, was advanced most notably by Gustav Stresemann, for whom the economy, rather than the nation, was to transcend state borders and win Germany its reputation and prestige. This view grounds German power on the quality of German exports, the reliability and adaptability of German traders, the precision of German technology, and the knowledge and prosperity that Germany spreads through its economic relations. Germany as a “developmental mentor” within an economic and cultural hierarchy was viewed here as a sustainable source of power and prosperity.
Trade and cultural diplomacy are the two pillars of soft power. Yugoslavia and Romania represent the region as a whole, because they were of the highest economic importance for Germany, Yugoslavia due to its minerals and Romania due to its oil. They are also compared to each other in the book to highlight nuances of soft and hard power. The central focus of the new contribution is on non-governmental organizations. The Leipzig Trade Fair, the Mitteleuropaeischer Wirtschaftstag, the German-Romanian Chamber of Commerce, and others such forums provided crucial points of contact for traders from different countries; they supplied information on the markets where Germany had lost its positions and investments after World War I; they served the small and medium-sized businesses looking to export and import under the confusing conditions of bilateral clearing; and they were the social platform where trade actually happened. The remarkable increase in trade between Germany and the Balkans is attributed to a great extent to the effective operation of these organizations.
Cultural diplomacy in the form of academic exchange programs made Germany the most desired destination for people interested in pursuing the study of economic, technical, and medical subjects, and graduates from these kinds of programs in Germany often took high government positions back home. Not only were they pro-German by conviction and loyalty, they also had access to certain material rewards, and they had a vested interest in fostering and perpetuating the subordinated relations with the Reich. Development work was also high on the agenda. Although less industrially and infrastructurally developed, the nations of the Balkans were seen as capable of advancement. Furthermore, they were seen as suitable for “Germanization,” meaning advancement under German mentoring. Aryanization (the ethnic cleansing of the territory and its repopulation with non-Jewish people) was not the main message of these programs. In contrast to Poland, southeastern Europe was not seen as a space to be populated with Germans as part of their Lebensraum, but rather as a place where the Reich should play its “civilizing mission.”
None of these policies of trade and cultural diplomacy in the Balkans were controlled by Nazis belonging to Hitler’s inner circle. It was other groups, consisting primarily of businessmen and academics, which shaped the vision of an economic space. And no doubt these groups worked to secure the empire Germany sought to create by providing reliable deliveries of food and raw materials and maintaining a hierarchical division of labor in which the agrarian states developed, but still remained agrarian. In response to some of the earlier debates on this issue, Gross argues that hindering the development of the Balkan states was not a German objective, but increasing their purchasing power was.
The end of World War II struck a final blow to the hard imperial ambitions of German foreign policy, along with the racism and unilateralism of National Socialism. The soft power of German exports and cultural diplomacy are palpable elements of German international influence today. As a study of the mechanisms of soft power, this book is relevant to our understanding of other imperial systems of the same period and also to a more nuanced grasp of the role of soft power in other spheres of influence.
The main contribution of the book is its disaggregation of the Nazi state into a battlefield of worldviews and its presentation of the ways in which private actors were able to achieve various results under certain conditions of autonomy: soft power was indeed effective. Furthermore, soft power wins a worthier victory than nationalism. More generally, the book addresses fundamental problems concerning economy and society and the formation and competition of elites. It raises questions about the role of society in bringing to power one worldview over another, and it warns indirectly of the brutal human costs paid for the rise and fall of some ideas. Export Empire offers a safe way of learning a valuable historical and theoretical lesson. Comprehensive, balanced, and well-argued, it is a must read.
A terror hétköznapjai: A kádári megtorlás, 1956–1963 [The everyday weekdays of terror: The reprisals of the Kádár Regime, 1956–1963]. By Zsuzsanna Mikó. Budapest: Libri, 2016. 286 pp.
Around the time of the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a vast array of writings was published on the events of the momentous year, including scholarly essays, commemorative volumes, and memoirs. With this outpouring of publications came new opportunities for the presentation of the findings of profound scholarly research as well. The monograph by Zsuzsanna Mikó, which is the result of ten years of dedicated research, was one such work. It offers a complex analysis of the reprisals and repressive measures implemented by the Kádár regime and memories of these reprisals.
The study of the reprisals which were implemented between 1956 and 1963 alone would merit a thorough historiographic overview. The first analyses, which were essentially political in nature, had an important role in ensuring that the “Hungarian case” remain a prominent agenda item among Hungarians in the émigré communities and that the memory of 1956 remain vivid. The early historical essays, some of which were samizdat publications, shaped the historical and scholarly discourses on the period during the change of regime. After archives were opened, numerous research initiatives were launched to study the newly accessible files. In addition to the various monographs on the revolution, beginning in the 1990s CD-ROMs and online databases were also produced. Mikó’s book constitutes a continuation of this scholarly discourse. She presents and analyzes the findings of the various projects which strove to foster and spread historical knowledge of the events and their legacy, as well as the fragmentary nature of some of the projects and the various ways in which they might be continued. Her book, which she published as the head of the Hungarian National Archive, can also be read as a kind of platform of an institutional leader.
The essential focus of the book concerns justice and compensation (in addition to questions concerning history and, more narrowly, the history of law). The tension between the various approaches to the study of historical events shapes the entire text. The cases presented and analyzed by Mikó offer a vivid illustration of how juristic solutions are unsuitable as approaches to historical questions or attempts to understand the recent past, whether we are speaking of the 1989 rehabilitation proceedings launched by the last government in power before the change of regime or the 2011 “lex-Biszku” bill (which was intended to allow the prosecution of people suspected of having committed crimes in the suppression of the revolution). In the course of her analysis, Mikó emphatically notes that “the historian raises questions (…) and searches not for juridically sound answers, but rather for answers which are appropriate from historical, professional, and moral perspectives, and she does not judge” (p.29).
Unquestionably, in the best-case scenario, the study and narration of the past should remain the task of the professional historian. In this spirit, Mikó’s analysis seeks to restore the “logical order” to the process of the repressions and reprisals. She presents the various measures that were taken, from the decisions of the political actors to the composition of the laws and the procedures adopted by the prosecutors and the courts. The cases which she has examined earlier and the systematically structured series of data shed light on the functions and the dynamics of the retaliation in the wake of the revolution. Her presentation of the internal statistical data and the political debates which took place in 1957 concerning the process of launching the mechanisms of reprisal reveal the dilemmas and ambitions of the leaders of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and the reorganized party state. The statistics concerning the summary rulings are evidence of a raw desire to take revenge and deter any and all shows of opposition, while the later data shed light on the tactics of the practice of power. One of the most interesting parts of Mikó’s analysis—and an aspect of her findings to which she gives considerable emphasis—is her presentation of the way in which people in power were confronted with the falseness of the official ideology and propaganda: as the initial reports on the reprisals made clear, the active participants in the revolution had come from the working classes, and they could hardly have been considered class enemies or “reactionary” elements known from previous epochs. The statistical and linguistic conjuring in which the party machinery engaged after having received these reports gave rise to one of the most fundamental propaganda texts.
After having presented the “constituent elements” of the mechanism of repression and reprisal, Mikó examines some of the problems that arose in the functioning of this mechanism. She examines the question of the responsibility of the judges and prosecutors, shedding light on the reestablishment of the so-called People’s Tribunals, which had served as an instrument of the communist takeover between 1945 and 1949.
In recent years, the study of the roles of collaborators and people in power has become a subject of increasingly pressing interest in public life in Hungary. This may be due in part to a kind of craving for justice, which has also become increasingly palpable in recent years, and it may similarly be due to growing recognition of the interrelationships between the databases and the various datasets which are available, as well as the lacunae in these datasets. At various points in Mikó’s narrative, she discusses persons who were active participants and collaborators in the measures that were adopted and the policies that were implemented. In the accounts of the period of reprisals and any study addressing the issue of responsibility, an assessment of their part in the events is one of the most exciting questions. Within the framework of her narrative, Mikó addresses the resistance and hesitancy of the judges and the collision of legal procedure and political expediency. The directions that were given by the Board of the Supreme Court reveal perhaps better than any other source that the trials held after the 1956 Revolution were indeed political in nature.
One essential precondition of Mikó’s analysis – and in fact of any analysis of the legal and ideological language that was used – is a clarification of the terminology and a kind of linguistic deconstruction. One of the strengths of her work is her examination of the terms (and the contexts of the terms) used in the written documents produced by the organs of power and also used in the secondary literature. She sheds light on the meanings and usefulness of the terms used to designate someone’s background. Similar key terms include conceptual, constructed, and show trials; because Mikó offers precise definitions of these terms, they prove useful tools in her analysis. True, in her assessment some of the terms should simply be rejected, as they have no meaning. For instance, the term “socialist legality,” she claims, is beyond definition. A more nuanced approach would admit the adjective ‘socialist’ in this context may simply mean ‘the lack thereof’, but could also refer to a decisive emphasis on social origins or to a formal respect for procedure.
In the wake of the conferences that were held as part of the anniversary of the revolution and the publication of almost innumerable documents on the events, both within academic circles and in public life, debates concerning the source documents on the reprisals have again flared up. According to Attila Szakolczai’s 2017 publication Koholt perek (Invented Trials), the “1957 narratives” (the narratives that were constructed by the machinery of repression) tell us nothing of 1956. Even though the book includes a photograph of Ilona Tóth, whose life and execution during the repressions is in the center of the debates among historians and people involved in the politics of memory, Mikó’s analysis does not deal with this question. And yet the study of our knowledge of the events of 1956 and the revolution could become even more complex if we were to apply similar perspectives to the individual requests and amnesty documents.
The individual cases, histories, and sources presented in the book do indeed shed light on the less familiar consequences of the reprisals. The excerpts found in the second half of the book give a strong sense of the social psychological effects of the measures that were implemented and the existential crises in people’s everyday lives (first and foremost the absence of a father or child who supported the family). The documents which constitute the main source base (files found in the Pest County Archive and the Military History Archive) provide an overview of processes which lasted decades. Interestingly, the illustrations in the book demonstrate the difficulty of presenting the local histories. The pictures present the prominent events (the trial of Imre Nagy and his alleged co-conspirators, for instance), but not the procedures which affected the masses, which perhaps cannot be presented in pictures at all. When it comes to the closed-door negotiations and the proceedings which took place far from the public eye, at most we have mug shots.
Mikó’s contentions concerning the historical research on the present also constitute a clear stance in the discourse among her contemporaries. Indeed, in many cases her suggestions seem inspiring, for instance regarding the pre-planned process and pace of Sovietizing the administration of justice. Some of her ascertainments, however, may well meet with a critical response, for instance her summary assessment that the 1963 amnesty is depicted as a watershed in mainstream historiography and her comments on the alleged failure, for the moment, of the community of historians to confront and deal with the past.
Another point of (temporal) reference in this book, which was published for the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, is 1989 and the process of regime change. At the beginning of her discussion, Mikó, drawing on the familiar essay by János Kornai, raises the following question: “is seeing justice done a necessary precondition […] of proclaiming the change of regime complete” (p.12). By raising this question, she addresses a topic that again has come into the foreground of the discussions in public life and professional circles. At the book launch of on October 20, 2016, Hungarian historian János M. Rainer, who authored the preface to the book, drew on the writings of Timothy Garton Ash and called attention to the ambivalent results of attempts to confront, study, and narrate Hungary’s past. In Hungary, measures adopted involving injured parties, victims, agents, and questions of responsibility proved both productive and unproductive in various spheres. Fundamental research is indispensable if we hope to untangle these intertwined questions (questions of justice, compensation, open files, the writing of history, and public discourses).
Zsuzsanna Mikó’s book, a monograph on the repressive measures and reprisals implemented by the Kádár regime, is an example of such a research. It is, moreover, a work of scholarship that will inspire further research in part because of Mikó’s use of sources to present the fates of individuals and in part because of the questions she raises in the individual chapters. From the perspective of the structure and organization of scholarly and scientific life, she has also provided an example of the directorial platform of a major institution. Finally, Mikó’s book can be read as a kind of progress report on the state of the historical research and scholarship on the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution.
1956 Institute – Oral History Archive
Gender in 20th Century Eastern Europe and the USSR. Edited by Catherine Baker. London–New York: Palgrave, 2017. 259 pp.
This volume, edited by Catherine Baker, lecturer at the University of Hull, on the everyday lives of and activism among women in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century is the seventeenth publication in the series Gender and History. The fifteen contributors range from PhD students to the most acknowledged experts of gender studies and women’s history, all of whom teach at universities in England and the United States. In addition to the general introduction, written by the editor, the book consists of 14 chapters. They are organized into four thematic sections which follow a chronological order. Drawing inspiration to write this book partly from social media, users of which have been preoccupied for years by certain issues related to socialist ideology (e.g. sex, fashion, traditions, etc. in the Eastern bloc), the authors seek answers to the following questions: what was the socialist woman and man supposed to be? How was the power to intervene in the structure of gender relations contested under state socialism? How did women experience the positive and negative effects of the democratic transition until the end of the 2000s?
Altogether four chapters focus on gender (in)equalities in the Soviet Union. Additionally, one study discusses the Sovietization of Armenian women, and three chapters analyze gender relations in Yugoslavia (and the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia). Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland are each represented by two chapters, occasionally in comparison with other countries of the Eastern Bloc. In contrast with these geographic units, one chapter examines the effects of the Cold War on the region’s gender history and LGBT politics from a transnational perspective. The last chapter of the book, written by Baker, is based primarily on methodologies from sociology and political science. It offers a short overview of LGBT rights after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The first part of the book provides a detailed discussion of the fin-de-siècle and interwar periods in Bohemia, the South Slavic area, and Armenia in the 1920s. The chapter on the artistic depiction of the “Czech National Mother” suggests that women’s lives were not at all separated from Bohemian nationalist politics within the framework of the Austro–Hungarian Empire. Cynthia Paces suggests that maternal symbols like the Jan Hus Memorial in Prague (which features a mother breastfeeding at the feet of Jan Hus) and the images of Anna Fischer-Dückelmann’s Die Frau als Hausärztin (The Woman as Family Doctor) demonstrated women’s fundamental roles in processes of nation building and public health and also embodied the strict expectations placed on women. The second chapter describes the characteristic features of the lesbian relationship of Nasta Rojc, the Croatian/Yugoslavian painter, and Vera Holme, the British suffragette and ambulance driver during the First World War in the territory which became Yugoslavia. Using archival sources (above all, correspondence), Baker and Dimitrijevic have developed a methodology for researching lesbian networks. In the third chapter, Jo Laycock and Jeremy Johnson compare and contrast traditional and modernized features of Armenian women’s lives (customs concerning dress and the wearing of veils, education, and paid work). According to the study, the complete Sovietization of these women did not occur in the 1920s, and the women preserved certain characteristics of their local (rural) lives. Together with the effects of the genocide against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, this created a peculiar mixture of traditionalism and modernity within Armenian society.
The second part analyzes the impact of revolution and war on the lives of ordinary people and soldiers. Erica L. Fraser concludes that revolutions follow different social and geographical trajectories. She studies the Russian Revolution (1917) within the theoretical framework of the French and the Latin American revolutionary models. Kerstin Bischl outlines the wartime conditions of the 800,000 women who fought in the Red Army between 1941 and 1945 as medical orderlies, radio operators, snipers, and pilots. This chapter is distinguished by its reliance on oral history interviews. The study by Katherine R. Jolluck also focuses on the Second World War. She examines the opposition of various groups in Poland to mass arrests, executions, acts of sexual violence, and the deportation of civilians committed by Nazi and Soviet troops. Jenny Kaminer argues that, as a consequence of Stalinization and the brutal intervention into family life in Russia after the October Revolution, the burden of childrearing was shouldered by the collective and also led to the crisis of fatherhood that persisted in the post-Soviet period.
The third thematic unit examines gender politics of state socialist regimes in the satellite states. Judit Takács presents historical evidence about the “lists of homosexuals” compiled for official state use in Hungary beginning in the 1920s. Takács provides an evaluation of the statistical data, and she emphasizes that regimes of different stripes made use of these lists. The chapter by Ivan Simic analyzes how the Yugoslav Communist Party directed its gender policies towards the youth in the second half of the 1940s. He offers a case study related to a large governmental project (“Youth Work Action”), which tried to mediate ideas about desirable gender roles. Maria Bucur applies the methodology of Alltagsgeschichte as developed by Alf Lüdtke to reconstruct the difficulties a woman living in an urban environment had to face during the Ceauşescu regime, such as lack of running water, no central heating, the scarcity of food in the shops.
The last section of the book focuses on gender during and after the democratic transition. Maria Adamson and Erika Kispeter draw interesting conclusions by comparing the labor market of the Soviet Union and Hungary. Even though several legal acts in principle established equal rights for working women, women nonetheless continued to work in positions of low prestige until the 1990s. Anna Muller analyzes gendered representations in the letters of Polish male political activists (some of whom belonged to the Solidarity movement) which were addressed to their wives. She also studies the types of relationships among political prisoners and criminal prisoners. The study by Adriana Zaharijevic delineates the place of women in the violence of war, which erupted during the transition process in Yugoslavia. She argues that feminist activism was highly determined by this war, as it continued to oppose party politics until the turn of the millennium, when feminists started to handle the state as a partner in their efforts to enforce European democratic values.
The volume builds on the growing scholarship on gender in the formerly state socialist parts of Europe, epitomized, perhaps above all, by the pioneering volume Gender and War in Eastern Europe, edited by Nancy M. Wingfield and Maria Bucur. It extends the themes and methodologies of gender studies to the post-Communist countries, in which old and new prejudices make LGBT lives the subject not only of scholarly debates, but also of political contestation. Apart from the first chapter on Czech visual culture, the volume is not rich in visual materials. The authors aim to address fellow scholars and call their attention to the importance of reconstructing local gender histories. The accurate historiographical overviews in each chapter and the selected bibliography at the end of the book serve as excellent points of departure for this.
University of Pécs
A Contemporary History of Exclusion: The Roma Issue in Hungary from 1945 to 2015. By Balázs Majtényi and György Majtényi. Budapest–New York: Central European University Press, 2016. 242 pp.
A researcher in legal studies and a professor of history, both tending to use the tools of the social sciences and be sensitive about the ethical and methodological aspects of their own work, this is an excellent combination to raise the questions which are raised in the book under review (henceforth The Roma Issue). The book examines the public discourses and the policies regarding the Hungarian Gypsies/Roma from the end of World War II until the present. Despite the seeming simplicity of this formulation, the mere naming and definition of the protagonist group are far from simple matters. In the international literature, writers frequently opine that the term Roma ought to be regarded as the single correct name (analogous to the contemporary use of African American) because the more conventional cigány (Gypsy) is considered pejorative. This is not “just” a moral or political issue, but a methodological one as well, because in Hungary many more people are regarded as “Gypsy” by their non-Gypsy environment than identify themselves as Gypsy or Roma. The reasons are, on the one hand, the apparently negative associations of the word and, on the other, the fact that in most cases the mother tongue of person who is identified as “Gypsy” by the people in his or her surroundings but who does not identify as “Gypsy” him or herself is Hungarian. However, the situation is more complicated, because there are people in Hungary, including some young intellectuals and students, who, instead of the term Roma, prefer the term cigány as their self-label. The Majtényi brothers (the authors of the book under review are siblings) reflect on this problem and take neither self-evidence of the terms nor consensus concerning the definitions for granted. Instead of ignoring this question by opting for a single term, they use both as synonyms, they use both terms, in each individual case preferring one over the other for a specific contextual reason, and in some cases using the terms together: “Roma/Gypsy.” This solution is perhaps adequate inside the book, where there is room for explanation, but the term “Cigánykérdés,” or “Gypsy question,” in the original Hungarian title has been changed to “Roma Issue” in the English. This may have been a prudent choice on the part of the translator, but it does somewhat sidestep the problematic nature of the terminology.
Cigánykérdés in Hungarian, because of the secondary meaning of the word question as “problem,” is less adequate as an analytical term than the Roma/Gypsy issue in English, but it is a useful term to deal with the (social) policies and the (public) discourses regarding the Roma with the same theoretical tools. The use of this term is often met with the criticism that this kind of history cannot be equated with the history of the Roma. This is eminently true, but any attempt to narrate Roma history from inside raises other, similarly grave moral/epistemological issues, the most relevant of which is the inherent risk of ending up depicting the Roma communities in an ahistorical, essentialist manner. The perspective of The Roma Issue, to formulate it in a slightly provocative way, theoretically integrates the Roma/Gypsies into Hungarian society, even if it does so through an analysis of the social mechanisms that were and are used to discriminate, exclude, and disintegrate communities.
The book presents an exciting narrative. Between the theoretical Introduction and Summary, The Roma Issue consists of four chapters divided according to historical sub-periods. In the first of these chapters (“Comrade, If You Have a Heart…” The History of the Gypsy Issue, 1945–1961, pp.31–62) we encounter a paradox. After 1945, the communist regimes initiated and implemented radical (although not always planned) changes in every sector of society. The life of Roma, however, changed probably less than the lives of any other group, even if discrimination against them may have become less harsh and the neglect of the Roma in public discourses became less definitive in this first sub-period than it had been in the interwar era. The paradigmatic types of sources in that period were produced by the authorities, very often by the police, at a time when these institutions were “overburdened” by endeavors to discipline the whole of society. For those familiar with the history of the socialist system, the most surprising findings might be that high inherited unemployment rates among the Roma did not decline, at least not until the early 1960s, because later and for some years there was indeed almost full employment among the male Roma/Gypsies.
The Roma underwent radical social changes from the early 1960s to the end of the socialist system, as discussed in the next chapter (“Life Goes On…” The Hungarian Party-State and Assimilation, pp.63–118). The prevailing discourses of the period tried to present this development as the product of the social policy initiated due to the benevolence of the leadership and of “society” (in that order). Meanwhile, the real driving force of the process was the soft budget constraint (a concept introduced by János Kornai), in other words the insensitivity of the socialist economic units to the costs of and insatiable demand for any and all kinds of sources, including the manpower of unskilled industrial workers. This key tendency ultimately led to the fall of state socialism, but it had a favorable side-effect: the positive change of the Roma/Gypsy population’s social situation from around 1960 to the system-change in 1989/90.
During this same period, there was an (admittedly slow and limited, but in the context of the Soviet bloc, nonetheless highly relevant) process often referred to as the “softening” of the political dictatorship. Paradoxically, the authorities’ disciplinary measures taken against the Roma became harder or, more precisely, more systematic in this period. Meanwhile, the Roma and the non-Roma populations’ housing conditions, working status, lifestyle, etc. began to resemble the housing conditions, working status, and lifestyles of the non-Roma population more than even before, but the everyday expression of prejudicial attitudes and sentiments in everyday life also became more common than ever. A redefinition of the relationship between the Roma/Gypsies and the non-Roma majority would have required profound and sustained change in social discourses. But the proposals and attempts to promote this kind of discourse in the Kádár era were labeled an “oppositional political activity” (which was just a little “softer” than calling these acts “the political activity of the enemy” would have been).
It is a cruel irony of history that the system change which ushered in the freedom of political organization and the freedom of the press, while in theory it brought new opportunities for the Roma too, in fact combined the old and the new disadvantages without the advantages of any of the two previous periods (see the chapter Roma Policy after the Regime Change, pp.119–86). To cite two examples, first, the most important development of the Kádár era—full employment among the Roma—faded with the regime change. Second, although a new and more extensive discourse has emerged regarding the Roma/Gypsies in the twenty-first century, this discourse has not been defined by representatives of Roma movements or civil right activists. Furthermore, the “civil rights activism” on behalf of the Roma is again viewed as an illegitimate form of political activity in present-day Hungary (Panopticon: Roma Policy, 2010–2015, pp.187–203).
The Majtényi duo strove throughout their inquiry to remain scholarly and analytical. The thoroughness with which they approached the issues and questions made it inevitable that they would highlight moral and political aspects. Theirs is a dangerous, but respectable enterprise.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences