pdfVolume 2 Issue 4 CONTENTS


Erdélyi külpolitika a vesztfáliai béke után [Transylvania’s Foreign Policy following the Peace of Westphalia]. By Gábor Kármán. Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2011. 484 pp.

The period following the Peace of Westphalia was an era of exciting and far-reaching structural change in the history of Europe. In this book Gábor Kármán, a prominent scholar of the history of the Transylvanian Principality and the diplomatic history of the early modern period, guides his reader through the first ten years following the conclusion of the treaties in 1648, a decade rich with decisive events. He examines the shift that took place in foreign policy over time as denominational elements gradually came to play a smaller and smaller role in the decisions of policy makers, not to mention the justifications given for these decisions, yielding gradually to simple reason of state, which used old sectarian arguments at most as a tool in order to mask other goals. For readers unfamiliar with the subject it may seem a bit odd that Kármán seeks to illustrate this process with the example of the Transylvanian Principality, which was one of the vassal states of the Ottoman Empire, but in the seventeenth century, its limited sovereignty notwithstanding, this successor state of the medieval Hungarian Kingdom, under the leadership of Calvinist rulers, sometimes pursued a remarkably independent foreign policy and appeared as an important actor on the stage of European politics.

The book essentially offers an overview of the foreign policy of Transylvanian Prince György Rákóczi II (1648–1660) up until his entry in the Second Northern War (the military campaign launched in 1657 in alliance with Sweden against King John II Casimir of Poland), which had disastrous consequences for Transylvania. However, since Kármán is most interested in the structural changes that took place, he also includes at the beginning of the book a brief overview of the campaign (1644–1645) led by the Prince’s father, György Rákóczi I, against Ferdinand III, as well as the justification that was given for this campaign. He considers the role that the Transylvanian Principality played in the last stages of the Thirty Years’ War among the Protestant countries and the place it was given in the Westphalia system. In the course of his analysis Gábor Kármán makes use of excellent source materials, including a number of historical syntheses published in Western Europe, publications of annotated sources by nineteenth-century historian Sándor Szilágyi, and works by Ágnes R. Várkonyi, Katalin Péter and Sándor Gebei, twentieth-century historians from the postwar period. In 2010 a collection of essays on the period of György Rákóczi II’s rule was published1 (as it so happens a collection that Kármán and I edited together) that provided a firm foundation for further study of many important questions regarding the period. Kármán’s book, however, differs from other studies of the era in Hungary in that he contextualizes his assessment of the events in a broader theoretical framework and scrutinizes the motivations and justifications behind the various foreign policy maneuvers with considerable skepticism.

The theoretical framework of Kármán’s inquiry is comprised of three paradigms: Heinz Schilling and Wolfgang Reinhard’s theory of confessionalization, which links the formation of denominations to the emergence of the modern territorial state, structural political history, which offers a new approach to the narration of political conflicts, and finally discourse theory, which provides new methods in the analysis of communication. Of these three pillars, the book rests perhaps most firmly on the second, structural political history, which is hardly surprising since the focus of Kármán’s study is foreign policy. One of the virtues of the book is that Kármán only refers to the theoretical underpinnings when actually necessary. Moreover, he does not treat the theories as axioms, but rather as heuristic tools. He therefore offers not simply an array of examples, but an engaging and highly readable analysis which always strives to shed light on the actual motives that lay behind the official explanations of foreign policy decisions.

The main chapters of the book are arranged in chronological order. They address individual nodes of Transylvanian foreign policy. These attentive case studies are followed by a conclusion in which Kármán summarizes the transformation that took place in the strategies that were used to win legitimacy. The point of departure is the campaign launched in early 1644 by György Rákóczi I, in alliance with France and Sweden, against Ferdinand III, one of the conflicts of the Thirty Years’ War that has been characterized with stubborn persistence in the secondary literature as a continuation of the earlier, similar military campaigns of Gábor Bethlen (1613–1629). (It is worth noting that this interpretation is not merely the work of later historians, rather it is implied by the rhetoric of the proclamation issued by Rákóczi, in which he alludes to Bethlen.) The two enemies in the conflict, György Rákóczi I and Palatine Miklós Esterházy (the representative of the royal Estates), had their proclamations published in printed form. Since there were no regularly appearing organs of the press in Hungary in the seventeenth century, Kármán consulted personal correspondence. He makes no mention of the circular letters (which had the tone of manifestos) written by the Prince, the Palatine, and other officials as a separate kind of source, but he makes use of them in his inquiry as well. The Transylvanian Prince presented himself as the defender of the royal Estates in a manner that had been customary since the uprising led by István Bocskai in 1606, but Kármán persuasively demonstrates that Rákóczi quite deliberately placed less emphasis on denominational considerations in his justification of the campaign than his predecessors had, and he presents these considerations more as affronts to the Estates. In contrast, the Palatine’s characterization of the conflict implied that the Prince represented not the Estates, but only Protestant interests, and he consistently added that Rákóczi was motivated by little more than personal avarice.2 Esterházy was not entirely wrong, for alongside the concerns of the Protestant denominations and the Estates, often condemned self-interest also played a role in the launch of the campaign. In the end it was seen as a sectarian enterprise, the Prince’s intentions notwithstanding. As he clarifies this point, Kármán also persuasively refutes two widespread but (at least in my assessment) mistaken views. First, he notes that Transylvania cannot be considered to have been a denominationally neutral state in the seventeenth century. The frequently alleged notion of the multi-confessional nature of the Principality is undermined by the power position of the Calvinist Church over the other denominations (first and foremost the Unitarians and the Catholics). Thus Transylvania should be regarded more as a distinctive example of unfinished confessionalization. Second, Kármán alludes briefly to the fact that the campaign led by Rákóczi should not be linked to the idea of the “national kingdom,” a somewhat vague notion that was given too much weight in postwar Hungarian historiography.

In the subsequent chapter Kármán examines the place occupied by the Transylvanian Principality in the hierarchical international system before the Peace of Westphalia, and his examination rests not on representations of power, but on concrete political acts and the reactions of the great powers. Basing his depiction on the negotiations that took place in 1644–1645 between Transylvania and Sweden and Transylvania and France, the reception of the separate peace concluded by the Prince in Linz in 1645, and the trifling role of Transylvania at the Westphalia peace negotiations, Kármán offers a very disillusioning portrayal of the prestige of the Principality, if nonetheless more precise than any portrait so far. The Protestant powers reckoned with Transylvania, but they hardly considered it an ally or partner of equal rank. As a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, Transylvania was regularly regarded with palpable suspicion, and this became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy when it came to decisions such as Rákóczi’s arbitrary withdrawal from the war. In the end neither Transylvania nor the Protestant powers of Europe showed much mutual trust. Transylvania did not even send an emissary to the Westphalia negotiations, though the Principality did manage to obtain the modest achievement of being included in the Treaty of Osnabrück as one of the allies of Sweden (and at the same time of the emperor!).

The question of relations with Poland was an issue in 1648, when György Rákóczi II succeeded his father, and it remained an issue throughout his rule. Influenced by the (admittedly somewhat distant) example set by Transylvanian Prince István Báthory (1571–1586), the Rákóczi house also sought to obtain the Polish royal title. They had perhaps the best chance of doing so in the fall of 1648, immediately before the death of the elder György Rákóczi, when the Polish elite suddenly found itself in need of military assistance because of a Cossack attack. However, the fact that no one was even named indicates the haphazard nature of the plans. The Transylvanian emissaries sometimes strove to win support for the older Prince and sometimes endeavored to curry favor for his younger son, Zsigmond Rákóczi (1622–1652). (The book has perhaps only one structural flaw, namely that this fact is only mentioned in the middle of the chapter.) The supporters of the Rákóczi house in Poland, however, were almost exclusively either Protestants or Orthodox, and the possible support of the Cossacks, who were also Orthodox, meant more of a disadvantage than an advantage in Polish politics. Furthermore, the efforts of the Transylvanian Principality did not have the support of the European Protestant Powers. György Rákóczi II used the Polish–Cossack war to continue his father’s efforts up until the summer of 1651, though with decreasing chances of success. In 1653 Transylvanian–Polish relations warmed as a consequence of the Cossacks’ armed intervention in Moldova, but this proved only transitional.

György Rákóczi II was able to pursue a relatively independent foreign policy in part because at the beginning of his rule he managed to secure his position with regards to the Ottoman Empire (which was gradually weakening) and Ferdinand III. He came into conflict with the Turks over a threatened (and in the end accepted) rise in taxes and with the Habsburgs over the official expulsion of the Jesuits from Transylvania in 1652. The Viennese court also regarded the marriage of the Prince’s younger brother Zsigmond Rákóczi to Henrietta Maria von der Pfalz (the daughter of Frederick V of Pfalz, who for a short time had been King of Bohemia) in 1651 as a hostile move, though Kármán persuasively argues that the alliance was not based on any concrete political plan, but rather simply on considerations of prestige.

The two chapters on the complex relationship between the Transylvanian Principality and the aristocracy of the Hungarian Kingdom (which at this time for the most part was Catholic) are particularly interesting. Building on the work of Katalin Péter and making small changes to her model, Kármán examines the process whereby, following the ratification of the Peace Treaty of Linz at the 1646–1647 National Assembly (in other words the relatively enduring resolution of debates between the denominations), the traditional coalitions in domestic politics, which were essentially divided on the basis of denominational differences, fell apart and a relationship based on mutually beneficial cooperation developed between the Catholic Palatine Pál Pálffy and the Calvinist Prince György Rákóczi II. Kármán considers the role of the Prince’s brother Zsigmond (who resided in the Hungarian Kingdom) to have been significant only in the maintenance of relationships in the early 1650s, and he contradicts the widely familiar view of Ágnes R. Várkonyi with his assertion that there is no trace in the politics of the younger György Rákóczi of any thought of going to war with the Ottoman Empire until the crisis of power in Transylvania after 1657. At the same time this would have meant that the two sides, having set aside denominational differences, must have profoundly misunderstood each other, since the elite of the Hungarian Kingdom had always sought to expel the Turks from the region. (The presence of anti-Turk nobiliary nationalism in the letters of György Rákóczi II does seem to suggest that he entertained the idea of a struggle against the Turks before 1657.) With the death of Pál Pálffy in 1653 the relationship between the Principality and the Hungarian Kingdom weakened, and in the subsequent political life of the Kingdom, which was dominated by Archbishop of Esztergom György Lippay and was rife with personal and rekindled denominational strife, the Transylvanian Prince could only count on individual members of the aristocracy, such as Miklós Zrínyi (also a famous poet) or Ferenc Nádasdy. (His close relationship with Ádám Batthyány did not begin then, as Kármán suggests, but rather in the early 1650s.)

The need arose in connection with the plans regarding Poland in the early 1650s for the Principality to develop a more detailed and denominationally neutral strategy of legitimation in order to justify any aggressive steps, and Kármán discerns a similar effort in connection with the 1653 Moldovan crisis. When György Rákóczi II removed Vasile Lupu, the inimical Voivode of Moldova, after launching a military campaign in 1653 he characterized his actions as a preventive measure.3 As a consequence of the 1653 military campaign in Moldova and the 1655 campaign in Wallachia, the Romanian Voivodships, which were also among the vassals of the Ottoman Empire but which were in a considerably weaker position, became subordinate to the Transylvanian Principality.

In 1655, following Sweden’s attack on the Polish Kingdom, György Rákóczi II, having gained greater scope for action and increased self-assurance, revived his plans for the Polish lands, and in 1657, in an alliance with Sweden and the Cossacks, he attacked the Rzeczpospolita Polska. Kármán disputes the view of Sándor Gebei and makes a persuasive case in support of the following points: 1) the Prince initiated the relationship with Sweden, 2) in the period of rapid advance, the Swedes did not intent to divide the Rzeczpospolita, and 3) in the course of negotiations with the Transylvanian Prince Swedish King Charles Gustave X conducted himself in good faith. Indeed it was György Rákóczi II who did not ratify the Radnót treaty and throughout the military campaign against Poland he continuously maintained ties with the Poles.4

In the last chapters of the book Kármán offers a kind of summary characterization of the foreign policy of György Rákóczi II and the role of denominational considerations in foreign policy decisions. First he refutes the misconception, prevalent in Swedish historiography, according to which György Rákóczi II was a religious fanatic. Although Comenius and his circle did everything they could to pull the Transylvanian Prince into their political plans, György Rákóczi II himself showed little interest. While he may have taken advantage, from time to time, of the Moravian fugitive scholar’s vast network of connections, he did not share his views, and the Polish military campaign was not prompted by Comenius’ ideas. Kármán provides a detailed explanation as to why he doesn’t accept earlier hypotheses of Hungarian historians regarding the reasons for the campaign and then presents the Prince’s official justification. In his manifesto, Rákóczi emphasizes the earlier offer of the Polish throne, Christian mercy, and the restoration of the rights (first and foremost freedom of conscience) that had been violated in the course of the fighting. He also makes strong appeals, stronger than in his earlier proclamations, to the concept of the just war (bellum iustum). Finally, Kármán endeavors to answer the question regarding the true reason for the military campaign. In his view, it lies primarily in dynastic considerations. Through his conquests (which were presented as peaceful occupations), György Rákóczi II sought to strengthen his family’s reputation and power. If one finds credible the detailed account of György Horváth-Kissevith, an emissary of the Hungarian Kingdom who sought an audience with the Prince before the military campaign was launched, Rákóczi himself alluded to this motive in confidential conversations.5

In his conclusion, Kármán again traces the shift from a foreign policy that was based on denominational interests (or at least derived its legitimacy from denominational considerations) to the autocracy of the reason of state, which served both the interests of the ruler and the welfare of the public and was always able to incorporate other kinds of reasoning. In his view Rákóczi’s Polish military campaign might well have served both his own personal interests and the interests of the Transylvanian state, but given the Prince’s failure to prevail it is assessed as a blunder from the perspective of reason of state.

One should make some mention of the book’s flaws, as well as the underlying concept. It contains an almost trivial number of factual errors. Ever since the publication of János Heltai’s monograph on the subject few historians would claim that the Querela Hungaria was compiled by Alvinczi Péter (p.46),6 the 1645 Colloquium Charitativum (referred to in the book as the Collegium charitativum) was not the initiative of Comenius, but rather King Ladislaus IV of Poland (p.121),7 and the wife of Palatine Ferenc Wesselényi, who visited Zsuzsanna Lorántffy in 1655, was not Zsófia Bosnyák but Mária Széchy (p.289). But these are essentially the only mistakes. Kármán’s analysis of the foreign policy of the Transylvania Principality is a work of unparalleled cogency and precision. However, one may nonetheless entertain doubts concerning the thesis of the work, according to which denominational concerns were gradually relegated to the background. The comparison drawn between the legitimation of György Rákóczi I’s military campaign against the Hungarian Kingdom in 1644–1645 and the theoretical justifications given for the Transylvanian foreign policy of the 1650s is misleadingly simple. Given the strong mental and material connections between the two countries and György Rákóczi I’s expansive estates in Hungary, the first cannot really be considered simply as a foreign policy decision. Its legitimation reminds us far more of the propaganda of a civil war, and the Prince’s attempt to disguise his denominationally motivated statements as non-denominational is suspicious at best. György Rákóczi II’s military campaigns of the 1650s had no real “antecedent,” since no Transylvanian prince had ever interfered so directly in the affairs of a neighboring state, with the exception of the Hungarian Kingdom, which was regarded as part of the Hungarian “homeland.” (Had György Rákóczi I actually helped Wallachia in the conflict with Moldova in the 1630s, there might be some comparison.) In 1653 György Rákóczi II could hardly cite the defense of Protestantism as an explanation for the campaign against Moldova. Drawing distinctions between various strategies of legitimation is also problematic. In the case of conflicts for which we have plentiful sources it is clear that the Prince used a variety of different kinds of justifications, depending on the audience. (Kármán emphasizes this in connection with the campaign of 1644–1645.) However, there is a dearth of sources on the legitimation strategies used in the 1650s, and we have only a small slice of the communications on which to base tentative conclusions.

Whatever we may think of the shift towards reason of state (depicted on the cover of the book with a two-headed figure), Gábor Kármán’s eloquently written, clearly structured book is a milestone in the study of Transylvanian foreign policy and more broadly Hungarian politics of the early Modern Era. It offers new methodological approaches and corrects many misunderstandings found in earlier secondary literature. In its theoretical sophistication, its use of sources, and the equipoise of its analyses it sets an admirably high standard.

Translated by Thomas Cooper

András Péter Szabó

A rohonci kód [The Rohonc Code]. By Benedek Láng. Budapest: Jaffa, 2011. 227 pp.

If there is anything that makes a scholar get out of his armchair and pace his room like a man possessed, chewing on the stem of his glasses or pulling at his beard, murmuring to himself and going through the whole gamut of emotions from optimistic outbursts to utter despair, then it is one of the well-kept secrets of history, an undecipherable text or unbreakable linguistic code. No historian who believed these writing systems to be absolutely unbreakable would take his chance and dedicate a huge amount of his time, money and energies into trying to decipher them. He must have the itchy feeling that he might be the one who finds the missing clue, puts the pieces of the jigsaw into a coherent whole and either breaks the code or proves that it is, indeed, unbreakable.

There are a number of such long known but hitherto undeciphered puzzles in historical research, from the Linear A writing system of ancient Crete and the Rongorongo writing of Easter Island, through the pictorial codes of the Voynich manuscript to the nineteenth-century Beale ciphers. People with very different backgrounds, scholars with an interest in the codes’ historical context, amateur code breakers, experts employed by intelligence agencies, mathematicians, linguists, treasure-hunters and many more have attempted to unveil their mysteries. While the efforts may be heroic, the rewards are often meager. Many famous or ill-famed codes have turned out to be forgeries, (dirty) tricks played on contemporaries and later generations for riches and fame, an intellectual challenge taken a tiny bit too far.

While all of these cryptic writing systems have received intense scholarly interest and been the subjects of large numbers of studies and monographs, a similarly intriguing and undeciphered code had to wait a long time before getting the attention it deserved. The Rohonc code is contained in a 450-page codex, a richly illustrated book with long sequences of ciphers handwritten on 10 × 12 cm paper sheets. It derives its name from the Castle of Rohonc (now Rechnitz, Austria) one of the aristocratic residencies of the Batthyány family, who accumulated an unmatched collection of over 30,000 books there, many of which—the codex in question included—ended up in the library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1838. The Batthyánys had always been known for their bibliophilia, and their passion for collecting caused them to acquire books from the most diverse sources. It is therefore almost impossible to know where this particular codex came from.

After the codex passed to the library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, a few enthusiasts saw in the code some form of ancient Hungarian writing and attempted to decipher it accordingly. When they realized it was not, the codex was discarded as a mere forgery unworthy of a gentleman’s attention. And so it largely remained until a fatal encounter with historian Benedek Láng some time in 2006. How much Láng paced his room rubbing his beard cannot be known for sure, but it seems safe to conclude that the appeal of the Rohonc codex was impossible for him to resist and prompted him to engage in years of research. The result is a monograph that both educates and entertains.

Láng starts with an overview of the nineteenth century, which was undeniably a golden age for forgers, particularly those specializing in documents of historical interest. There were many ambitious attempts to fill awkward gaps in the big narrative of small nations and produce examples of greatness of mind and culture, testimonies promoting the cause of people who felt deprived of historical justice. Hungary had a particularly rich pool of well-qualified and even well-known historical and literary scholars who indulged in forays to the dark side and became expert forgers. Such was their skill that some of their alleged products are still sometimes thought to be authentic. Two notable examples are Kálmán Thaly (1839–1909) and Sámuel Literáti Nemes (1794–1842): one because of his peculiar duplicity, being a historian who took great pains to save original documents from decay but at the same time a forger who created historical letters and “old military songs” in the style of eighteenth-century anti-Habsburg movements; the other because of his (possible) connection to the codex of Rohonc.8

Literáti Nemes was an antiquarian who worked for many of Hungary’s best-known contemporary booklovers. He brought to light a great number of fantastic items, but was not averse to supplying his clients with exquisite forgeries. Some of these he made himself, others he probably only passed on to unsuspecting enthusiasts. These forgeries, twenty-three altogether, are now kept in the National Széchényi Library in Budapest.9 They include old maps, diplomas, Hungarian language prayers from the eleventh century and many richly illustrated genealogies and chronicles. Some are better than others, and interestingly, despite firm evidence to the contrary, there still are a few amateur historians who believe in their authenticity, largely because they would support one or another airy theory, such as the linguistic kinship between Hungarian and Sumeric.

It is important to note, however, that all these forgeries were short, a couple of pages at best. Even though Literáti Nemes’ alleged involvement in the appearance of the Rohonc codex certainly casts the shadow of suspicion over its originality, Láng warns that the sheer size of this work sets it apart from the other well-known forgeries associated with Literáti Nemes. Nonetheless, such was the magnitude of the scandals and the wave of disappointment surrounding the documents which Literáti Nemes sold to various clients that the Rohonc codex was too easily assumed to be another of his mischiefs.

The Rohonc codex stands out from other hitherto undeciphered codices by its plainness: it contains no rich, colorful illustrations, indeed its pictures are almost primitive, as if radiating certain piety, and the codes are not especially decorative (unlike those in the Voynich manuscript, for instance). If it is a forgery, it must have been difficult to sell as something precious, and the immense efforts of the forger (he wrote 446 pages, after all) may not have been financially rewarding. All these aspects lend weight to the idea that the codex of Rohonc is not a forgery.

But before revealing any potentially conclusive evidence, Láng goes through the fascinating and occasionally almost ludicrous theories which have been associated with the code. From the Hungarian engineer who simply “read” the characters of the two pages of the codex at his disposal as an Ancient Hungarian prayer (he was not discouraged when it turned out that he held the pages upside down), through the even more far-fetched “reading” of the Romanian archaeologist who dedicated twenty years and a massive volume to deciphering the codex (without realizing she had read the characters in the wrong direction), to the Sanskrit kinship theory, one thing is common: they all serve different ideologies, each heavily loaded with historical-political implications, desires, grudges and ambitions. Other, less biased attempts at deciphering the code did not reach a solution but developed a promising methodology and offered more help for future attempts.

After this overview of his predecessors’ work, Láng tells his own story: how he approached the problem, and what he discovered. From down-to-earth physical examination methods, especially those directed at the watermarks, he found that the paper of the Rohonc codex was made in Northern Italy—Vicenza or Udine—in the mid-sixteenth century, although Láng is cautious about narrowing down the time and place it was made. He further analyses the paper, the ink, the type of pen used to write the codes, and the hand(s) which wrote the lines. With the help of an international expert, Joe Nickell, he draws the cautious conclusion that the writing is probably not (much) later than the paper itself, and goes right to left. There is no obvious indicator of the text being a forgery. Still, the possibility remains that the sixteenth-century paper remained unused, unwritten for centuries, possibly lying low in the Batthyánys’ enormous library, and so Láng determines the terminus ante quem as 1838 and the terminus post quem as 1530.

A close examination puts the possible number of characters at between 120 and 150, but the final figure is still to be determined. The difficulty lies in the fact that there is no punctuation, one does not know where one word or sentence ends and where the next begins. Neither can the presence of a natural or artificial language behind the codes be determined, and if it is a natural language, which one it could be. One is left with more questions than answers, but Láng reminds the reader that whatever the motivation for the making of the codex, and whether or not it contains a natural, shorthand or perfect language, the goal is clear: cryptoanalysis and code-breaking.

Finding little to go on in the codes, the author turns to the 84 peculiar images in the codex. Some of these are relatively easy to recognize: they tell stories from the life of Christ, among them the Annunciation, the Three Magi with the Star of Bethlehem, Christ before Pilate, and so on. Others, however, are less obvious. An art-history analysis of the images—based on the types of churches and buildings, the distorted gothic shapes—suggests that they were drawn in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries; they also have a marked East European tinge. It may thus be possible to narrow down the potential languages associated with the codes (assuming that we are dealing with a natural language) to Latin, German, Hungarian, South Slavic and Romanian.

Láng then goes on to try and identify “cribs” in the text, starting from the short inscriptions in the images. The frequent repetition of certain figures, Christ included, under the same set of codes suggests some promise for this line of attack, but the breakthrough is yet to come. Similar conclusions regarding these inscriptions have recently been reached by other workers. Gábor Tokai and Levente Zoltán Király seem to have produced the most convincing results thus far, and their ongoing work is more than promising. It seems then that the codes of Rohonc conceal notions rather than letters, character strings refer to words, but single characters do not correspond to single sounds.10

If the author’s partial conclusions are true, then we are dealing with a Biblical text of some sorts. This throws up some very exciting possibilities, such as an apocryphal text written for and by a sect like the Bogumils, but something like a Book of Hours, a much more widespread form at the time, is more likely. The fact that the text runs from right to left could indicate the influence of Hebrew or Arabic/Turkish languages. But what is that text? Who encrypted it? Why and for whom? So many are the possibilities in the colorful East European scenario that the question remains open for the time being.

Finding no satisfying solution based on the content, Láng goes on to approach his text from a more technical/practical angle. The following chapter offers an exciting overview of the secret writing systems known in Western Europe and Hungary: monoalphabetic and polyalphabetic methods and homophonic writing, which was the predominant method until the end of the seventeenth century. These code systems were first applied in diplomatic correspondence and were also widespread in seventeenth-century Hungary: the codes used by György Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania, Imre Thököly, Miklós Zrínyi and even Archbishop Péter Pázmány are all examples of homophonic writing. These were by no means easy to break—the code used by Pázmány, for instance, was deciphered only through close collaboration between a historian and a code breaker.11 The historian’s knowledge of historic facts and faces was crucial in suggesting what names of persons and geographical places the nomenclators could stand for, while the code breaker lent his expertise in cryptography and the mathematical regularities in secret writing.

Cryptography was not the only technique. Stenography was also widely used, and when the table matching characters to words or syllables is missing, the text becomes hard or even impossible to read. The Rohonc code may even be an example of shorthand writing, although its pool of characters seems too complicated and unusual for that.

Returning to the problem of what actual language lies behind the codex of Rohonc, Láng discusses the many efforts at creating (or finding a long-lost) perfect single language, a key to all mysteries, a common ground between cultures and religions, and ponders the possibility that the Rohonc code is one of these. Artificial languages were especially popular at the time it was most probably made, the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Still, the earliest known example of an artificial language project from Hungary is the work or the eighteenth-century Hungarian intellectual vagabond, György Kalmár.12

Benedek’s highly complex and intellectually challenging tour-de-force concludes with a chapter which, rather than promising a grand breakthrough, a final solution, a fantastic discovery, modestly offers the reader a summary of “what we know for sure, what we are quite sure we know, and what we have no idea about.” I will not spoil the pleasure of future readers by giving away the author’s conclusions, but I would like to highlight some of the merits of this monograph.

It is unusual for a book on the Hungarian market, combining high erudition (and a digestible amount of endnotes after each chapter) as demanded by academics with a down-to-earth, even entertaining narrative style accessible to general readers. Láng revives a tradition of popularizing science, something snug academics tend to frown on. Having proved enough times his knowledge of sources and methods, he has now made use of them to cater for a much wider audience. In the 1980s, the tradition of renowned academics reaching out to a more general public through popular versions of their scholarly work still flourished in Hungary.13

Nonetheless, the book is not for the faint hearted, delving deep into the world of combinatorics, paleography and historical research, although the reader may choose how far to follow the details. The appendices, one with a list of the illustrations in the Rohonc codex and one with a summary of code breaking methods, actually invites the reader to have a go and try for him/herself. And this is one of the great strengths of the book: it does not state unquestionable truths but invites us to think along. Who knows, maybe the final key to the code of Rohonc lies with one of the future readers of Benedek Láng’s book.

Dóra Bobory

Határok, vándorok, kémek. A magyarokról és a románokról alkotott kép Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli írásaiban [Frontiers, Wayfarers, Spies. The Image of Hungarians and Romanians in the Writings of Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli]. By Levente Nagy. Budapest: Lucidus Kiadó, 2011. 286 pp.

Born in Bologna, Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (1658–1730) entered Habsburg service in 1683 and spent nearly twenty years in the Southeast European region as a solider, diplomat, traveler, scientist and collector. Between 1682 and 1701, he devoted his activities to the liberation of Hungary from the Ottomans: he fought as a soldier in the army of Emperor Leopold I, was active as a diplomat in the peace talks with the Ottomans in 1690–1691 and 1698–1699, and in marking out the frontier between the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire after the Peace of Karlowitz. He had started preparations for the latter work many years earlier, using scientifically based methods. As scientist and collector, he gathered together all kinds of objects, manuscripts, codices, maps, original documents, Roman remains and more, and all kinds of information: geographical, current political, historical, demographic, religious, etc. The lasting outcome of his work is a body of several thousand manuscript pages14 on Hungary and the whole Carpathian Basin, partly based on his own observations and partly drawing on local sources. Through modern analysis, it has yielded much information about the region and gives an accurate account of contemporary political thinking of the time, including attitudes towards the Hungarian people.

Much has been published about Marsigli himself, including his own autobiography15 and biographies large and small by authors of various nationalities, chiefly Italians and Hungarians.16 Levente Nagy has been researching and publishing on Marsigli extensively for several decades. In the first part of the book, he sensibly restricted the biography details to those required for an understanding of events in the Carpathian Basin and the time he spent there. Under the heading Kalandok [Adventures], he gives a detailed account of Marsigli’s attempts to research the Matthias Library of Buda and his diplomatic efforts of 1689–1691. A recently-formed hypothesis regarding the latter, first put forward by Hungarian researchers,17 is that there were political purposes as well as scientific zeal behind the Italian count’s thirst for knowledge, i.e. he was working as a spy.

After the introduction, Nagy goes into the details of Marsigli’s principal works. These concern the whole Southeastern European region, and not just the Hungarians and Romanians. One of these documents, Descrittione naturale, civile e militare delle Misie, Dacie e Illirico libri quattordici, was written to serve the legitimization of Habsburg rule over the lands recovered from the Ottomans. The part covering Illyria was not included, presumably because he had already written about the relations with the Dalmatian and Croatian lands and the sensitive question of their connection with the Kingdom of Hungary. He dealt with the former Roman province of Dacia in considerable depth, markedly manipulating the description for political purposes. He greatly exaggerated the size of the province and gave an account that went back to Roman times, one of the first elaborations of modern Daco-Roman continuity. On the basis of the Dacia discourse, the author plausibly demonstrates that Marsigli described the regional units that made up the Kingdom of Hungary using the names of the Roman provinces, by means of arbitrarily changing their boundaries. This was part of an attempt to find precedents, in the form of previously established states, for the restoration a putative past entity (the Roman Empire) within the Habsburg Monarchy.

Marsigli characterized the nation (nazione) in terms of origin, domicile, language, occupation and costume. Nonetheless, he nearly always referred to ethnic groups in terms of a political unit, a state: Monarchia Hungarica (Hungary), Wallachia, Moldavia, Transilvania, Croazia, Impero Romano Germanico (Holy Roman Empire) and Impero Ottomano, and not as Hungarians, Vlachs, Croatians, Germans, Turks, etc.

Marsigli’s activity can be divided into two distinct periods: up to and after his inglorious dismissal from Habsburg service in 1703. The author pays great attention to the gradual progression and refinement of Marsigli’s ideas in his writing. He shows how different texts deal with the establishment of the Principality of Transylvania as an independent state and how Marsigli’s notion of Dacia formed and evolved. Nagy demonstrates how Marsigli used the information he gathered from local intellectuals and politicians in these texts, and particularly what he incorporated and what he left out. He finds that most of the Descrittione is a compilation. Marsigli added little to the text because his aim was simply to gather together information and not to evaluate it. Only in a few places did he interfere radically with what his informers wrote. The purpose of the Descrittione was fundamentally military: the retention of Transylvania and the annexation of the Romanian voivodeships to the Habsburg Monarchy. As regards the latter, Marsigli thought that Moldavia should be dropped, but he outlined an actual invasion plan for Wallachia. The military plan, however, had to be linked to a legal basis for bringing these lands under imperial control, and Marsigli achieved this by interpreting parts of the Kingdom of Hungary as “predecessor states.” Emperor Leopold I (1657–1705), as lawful king of Hungary, could thus take possession of the lands reconquered from the Ottomans. He reinforced this explanation in a later work showing which voivodeships and principalities belonged to “true Hungary.” This is inherent in the title itself: Monarchia Hungarica in sua regna, principatus et ducatus divisa, nimirum: Hungariam veram, Bosnam, Serviam, Croatiam, Sclavoniam, Erzegovinam, Moldaviam, Valachiam, Transylvaniam, Banatum Temesvariensem, Bulgariam.

Nagy devotes a whole chapter to the information Marsigli gathered on the Hungarian and Romanian languages and linguistic relics: Székely runes, an early Latin–Hungarian–Romanian dictionary (the “Lexicon Marsilianum”) and a word list containing 2500 Transylvanian, Moldavian and Wallachian toponyms. In the story of the research behind the latter, Nagy points out something which previous Marsigli scholars have tended to ignore: Marsigli always arranged the texts himself, whether he wrote or collected them. From his categorizations by subject matter, it is possible to establish the time and purpose of their creation. For example, he started work on the vocabulary—compiling it or having it compiled—because it filled a pressing practical need in his border surveying work of 1699–1701. After summarizes the disputes and opinions surrounding the much-researched Lexicon Marsilianum and makes a new attempt to establish its authorship. He concludes that it must have been the work of several authors, and they must have used several existing word lists.

The long chapter Iratok [Documents] explores three documents on the history of the Hungarians which Marsigli wrote entirely himself. Epitome della ribellione dell’ Ungheria con annesso il Prodromo del Protocollo de’ moderni confini Cesarei Ottomanici, probably dating from 1699, takes the most hostile tone. It consists largely of clichés borrowed from Italian pro-Habsburg propaganda writers. The second, which survives only in fragments, is Memorie ed introduzione all’istoria della ribellione d’Ungheria. Nagy considers this and the foregoing work to have been preliminary studies for the third, Primo Abozzo del compendio storico dell’Ungaria per servire d’introduzione al trattato: Acta Executionis Pacis fatto dal generale co(lonello) Marsili18. The latter, written sometime between 1705 and 1718, was translated into Latin and intended as the foreword, a kind of advertisement, for a planned compilation of his writing, Acta executionis pacis.19 Its wording, and the way it judges and condemns the Hungarians differ at many points from the other two documents, which were written before his fall from grace at Breisach in 1703. His main thrust was the possibility of reviving the old Roman Empire on lands which were occupied by the Scythians and their successors. This would form part of a Christianized world empire where order, security and economic prosperity prevailed and whose trustees would be the Holy Roman Emperors and the Pope. The highly original way Marsigli arranged the information he obtained on Hungarian history to fit his defined conception reveals his conception of the peoples and history of the Carpathian Basin region. He highlights only five basic episodes between the Scythians and the Peace of Karlowitz (1699). In the last part of Abozzo he enlarges his own role, considerably distorting the relative significance of events. Like all of his works, his historical writing can be understood as a kind of biography and speech for the defense. The author wryly remarks at several points how Marsigli, the upholder of the nihil mihi principle, often put forward his own personality, ideas and proposals in his writing, plans and descriptions.

In the final part of the book, the author summarizes and places in a wider European context how nations, particularly the Hungarians and the Romanians, appear in Marsigli’s writing. He finds an imagological discourse conforming to strict rules, with peoples being judged on the basis of their position in the structure of states. In the late seventeenth century, premises based on classical traditions, namely Herodotos, Hyppocrates and Aristotle, formed the basis of thinking about other peoples. Facets of these abound in Marsigli’s writing, even where the basic notions go against his own personal experience. Marsigli claimed that the Hungarians inherited their pride, restlessness and querulous tendencies from their ancestors the Scythians and the Mongols, although the Huns and the Turks also entered the picture as relatives. A view of Hungary espoused by a group of largely Italian-born and Militärpartei-linked generals in the Vienna court, following the insights of Raimondo Montecuccoli (e.g. Antonio Caraffa), found its way into Marsigli’s ideology.20 This had at its center integration of Hungary into the Habsburg Monarchy, the key to the rise of the authority and power of Emperor Leopold. Settling the position of Hungary was considered fundamental in the fight against the Ottomans. Besides the militarist conceptions, intended to represent the security of the Emperor’s subjects, Marsigli greatly valued the development of trade, on which he made specific proposals to the highest government circles in Vienna. These all followed the contemporary ideas of establishing Austrian absolutism and making it competitive. For this, in addition to proper government and maintenance of order, Marsigli, as Leopold I’s commissioner directing the work on delineating the frontiers between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires after the Peace of Karlowitz,21 considered the security of the frontiers to be crucial. The frontiers were what signaled alienness, that which was not to be integrated but segregated. The near obsession for seeking out, delineating and defining borders pervaded seventeenth and eighteenth century rationalist thinking. It was an attempt to create a new and meaningful order at a time when the sacred order of things was collapsing. Marsigli’s aims regarding the Hungarians, as Nagy concludes from his discussion of frontier history, were integration, elimination of rebellious elements, and acceptance by Vienna, to which end he presented the Hungarians as peaceful Austrian subjects.

Since the book brings together research which Levente Nagy has pursued in several directions for more than a decade, its structure is not completely consistent. Its five large chapters are only loosely interconnected, while a few major subjects recur, highlighting their importance. The book has a thorough index, and its extensive bibliography will be of great assistance for further reading.

Overall, although Marsigli research in many areas is still unable to get beyond the level of putting forward new questions and hypotheses, Nagy’s book fits excellently into the concept by which the publisher, Lucidus, intends to promote and disseminate scholarly work on the questions of national self-awareness and Hungarian–non-Hungarian relations. Nagy has dispelled many decades-old myths by putting certain Marsigli texts under detailed philological scrutiny. Since the author is competent in current European research and in early modern Hungarian and Romanian literature and history, he interprets the texts in a suitably broad context and sets them against well-selected control sources.

Translated by Alan Campbell

Mónika F. Molnár

Studies in the History of Early Modern Transylvania. Edited by Gyöngy Kovács Kiss. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 2011. viii + 616 pp.

The cultures of the peoples of Central Europe differ significantly from the cultures of Western Europe. The region is characterized in particular by a diversity of languages, religions, and power structures.22 It is vital for the historians of Central Europe to ensure that their findings and research are accessible to the wider international community. The series entitled Atlantic Studies on Society in Change, which publishes current research on the history of Central Europe, has been an essential contribution to this effort since its founding in 1977. Published by Columbia University Press and consisting now of some 140 volumes, this English-language series addresses not only readerships in Great Britain and the United States, but now, given the spread of English, an increasingly large global audience. As part of the series, a three-volume work on the history of Transylvania was published one decade ago under the editorship of Béla Köpeczi and Zoltán Szász.23 It continues to represent a fundamental work of scholarship on Transylvania. The theme of this collection of essays, Studies in the History of Early Modern Transylvania, is more narrow in its focus. The essays concern the history of Transylvania in the early modern era, i.e. the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Most of the authors are Hungarian historians living in Romania who have studied the history of the region they regard as home.

In the introduction, Gyöngy Kovács Kiss, who is also the editor of the collection, offers a brief historical overview of the Transylvanian Principality. It is not easy task to provide a pithy characterization of the political circumstances and constitutional state of the princedom, since questions pertaining to its status continue to be subjects of debate today. The fact that Kovács Kiss herself refers to Transylvania as a “semi-independent” vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in the opening lines and then, not much later in the text, as an independent state that existed from the middle of the sixteenth century to the end of the seventeenth (i.e. until the expulsion of the Turks) is a clear illustration of this. In her brief overview she nonetheless captures with keen insight the essence of the double-dependencies of the princedom (Habsburg on the one hand, Ottoman on the other), and she provides a balanced depiction of the principal characteristics of the reigns of the individual princes. She guides her reader through the political history of Transylvania up until the end of the eighteenth century. The introduction concludes with a description of the nascent Romanian national movements and offers a concluding paragraph on the early nineteenth century, the Napoleonic wars, the Congress of Vienna, and the Metternich Era.

According to the introduction, the essential goal of the essays is to present new perspectives on the complex history of Transylvania in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The contributors to the volume have set aside questions of domestic and foreign policy and focus instead on issues pertaining to social, administrative, cultural, and everyday life. The book is divided into three sections. The first is entitled, “Structure and Organization – Society – Interpersonal Relations.” It includes topics such as the history of the princely court, the organization of the counties, and various social strata.

A study by Annamária Jeney-Tóth entitled “The Transylvanian Princely Court in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century” is the opening essay of this section. True to its subtitle (“On the Basis of the Account Books of Kolozsvár”), the essay presents the structure of the prince’s court during its stays at various times in the city of Kolozsvár (Cluj in Romanian, Klausenburg in German) and the different groups of court society on the basis, first and foremost, of account records, with a separate chapter on the court nobility, court stewards, and court “school,” where the children of the nobility prepared during their years in the court for the later roles they were to assume as adults. In addition to offering portraits of the prince’s postal service, retainers, soldiery, and Master of the Horse, Jeney-Tóth also touches on people (musicians, kitchen staff, people affiliated with the chancellery) who were not strictly part of the court, but who often were with the court during its time in the city. In the conclusion to the essay Jeney-Tóth summarizes the most important elements of the court, determines the approximate number of people belonging to it, and establishes that the composition of the court, which was diverse and complex, depended to a great extent on the personality and family of the individual princes. A separate table offers an overview of the data concerning the courts of each prince. This essay, a valuable contribution based on thorough source work, is missing only a brief introduction to the secondary literature on the subject and an examination of the development of the princely court.24

Veronka Dáné, an expert on the official organization of the counties of the Transylvanian Princedom,25 uses the records books of Torda county as the foundation of her examination of the judicial practices in the county and the institution of the Lord and Deputy Lieutenant (the főispán and alispán). The essay clearly traces the formation of the county sedria in the seventeenth century and Dáné demonstrates that the “golden age” of Transylvanian history (the age of Prince Gábor Bethlen) bore witness to important attainments in the administration of justice (one might think of the achievements in the standardization of legal practice of the 1619 Diet). We must state however that while there were some similarities between the organizations of the individual counties, they nonetheless varied substantially and one should not venture any general conclusions on the basis of only one or two counties.

In the next essay in this chapter Mihály Sebestyén (Spielmann) presents “The Tragedy of Dénes Bánffy.” As the brother-in-law of the prince, Dénes Bánffy established relations on his own authority with the Ottomans and the Hungarian Kingdom, presumably with the goal of averting threats to the security of the Principality. His actions, however, gave rise to the suspicion that he was aspiring to assume the throne. His enemies, a group of influential Transylvanian aristocrats with chancellor Mihály Teleki at their head, looked with mistrust not only on his machinations in foreign policy, but also on the fact that he had acquired enormous estates. In the end the prince had him executed. This is the only essay in the collection that addresses a question pertaining to the higher nobility, although the internal conflicts of the Apafi era are given an even larger role in the story. The author offers a narrative of Bánffy’s fall (1674) on the basis of the available sources and the secondary literature. Sebestyén offers new insights into the story by revealing and explaining the interrelationships between the aristocrats of Transylvania.

Mihály Hermann Gusztáv continues this presentation of the varied social layers in a fascinating essay entitled “The Virtual Székely Past.” He guides the reader through a later centuries on the basis of the Csíki Székely Krónika [Székely Chronicle of Csík] and legends from other forged chronicles. It would have been interesting to have included, alongside this excursion into Geistesgeschichte, an essay on the role of Székely society in the early modern era.26

In his essay on the Romanian nobility of Transylvania in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries Ioan Drăgan offers an overview of the nobility of Romanian descent in the early modern era. He demonstrates that the upper echelon of the Romanian nobility essentially abandoned its Romanian identity and became Hungarian. This process of assimilation among the elite took place in parallel with the immigration of broader Romanian masses from the areas around Kővár (Chioar in Romanian), Fogaras (Făgăraş in Romanian, Fugreschmarkt in German), Zaránd (Zarand in Romanian) and Bihar. The members of this broader social group belonged to the poorer nobility, and in time they came to replace the older nobility of Bánát (Banat in Romanian), Hátszeg (Haţeg in Romanian), and Máramaros (Maramureş in Romanian). In the nineteenth century they were closer to the Romanian speaking population and became part of the Romanian national movements. It might have been nice to have had, alongside this essay on the Romanian nobility, a contribution on the role of the higher and middle Hungarian nobility in the history of Transylvania as well, building for instance on the research that is underway even at the moment on social elites. There are also no essays on the Saxons either, the so-called “third nation,” a regrettable omission given the prominence of their role in the economic, social, and political life of Transylvania.

Judit Pál has contributed an essay on the Armenians of Transylvania in the eighteenth century. As she persuasively shows, the arrival of Armenians in Transylvania cannot be tied to any concrete date. Her thoroughly-footnoted essay acquaints the reader with the story of the spread of the Armenian community, the foundation of Armenopolis, their conversion from the Armenian Church to Catholicism, and the role they played in economic life.

Sándor Pál-Antal looks at the social composition of Marosvásárhely (Târgu-Mureş in Romanian, Neumarkt in German), a Transylvanian city that could hardly be characterized as typical, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Marosvásárhely was the only civitas of the Székely Land, in other words the only settlement to be given the status of royal free city, which it was granted in 1616. One of the distinctive features of the city was the mix of burghers and members of the nobility. The nobility enjoyed a number of privileges, but the burghers dominated the bodies of municipal government, so the differing rights and privileges led to conflicts. It might have been nice to have included something on the long, gradual process of change as the settlement grew into a city. This process slowly freed Marosvásárhely from the influence of Marosszék and created conflicts between the city and the Székelys.

The last essay in this chapter was written by István Imreh (1919–2003), a scholar on the laws in the Székely villages. Regrettably, it is not made clear whether this essay was simply part of his bequest of manuscripts or possibly an extract from one of his writings published in the 1960s and 1970s (these writings are listed in the first footnote). The dominant concept of economic history in the article implies an approach that dates back some forty or fifty years and therefore should be regarded as out-of-date if not obsolete. It seems a bit out of place in a volume that promises to offer “new perspectives” in the study of history. The article provides a brief presentation of the statutes in the Székely villages and the villages belonging to demesnes. There is also some discussion of the regulations in cities and a short presentation of some economic instructions of the demesnes and of the estates belonging to the princes.

The theme of the second section of the book is the intellectual, cultural, and religious life of the era. According to the title there are three topics: “Scholarship – Culture – Architecture.” In the opening essay of this section Dezső Buzogány examines the Reformation in Transylvania from the perspective of theological history. This superb essay acquaints the reader with the eras in which the ideas of the Reformation spread to and took hold in Transylvania. One of Buzogány’s fundamental theses is that the Reformation was not a renewal of faith, or more precisely that the adherents of the Reformation did not demand the establishment of a new Church, but rather sought to restore the medieval Church and return to the model of the Church of the first centuries of Christendom and of the Bible. The formation of a new Church structure was a response to the hostile reaction of the Catholic Church.

In his essay, Gernot Nussbächer’s examines the life of Johannes Honterus (1498–1549), a saxon humanist, polyhistor, church organizer, and reformer. Born in the city of Brassó (Braşov in Romanian, Kronstadt in German), Johannes Honterus was a scholar, pedagogue, publisher, and lawyer all in one, a great figure of the Reformation with a variety of talents. The essay is complemented by a bibliography on Honterus’ writings and the secondary literature on his life and work. Nussbächer is a devoted scholar of Honterus’ work, and he has published numerous articles and monographs on his findings. However, this essay, which essentially offers a summary, seems to have been written as something of an overview for non-experts (as is indicated by the complete lack of footnotes), and it was published in German and Romanian in 2009.

The inclusion of an essay written some twenty years ago by Zsigmond Jakó (1916–2008) is another indication of the heterogeneous nature of the volume. The essay, which examines the life and work of bishop Ignác Batthyány, was originally published in 1991 in Erdélyi Múzeum.27 Its republication in this collection represents a gesture of respect for and commemoration of its author. Jakó establishes that the bishop’s ambitions to become a historian did not begin to take root in the Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum in Rome, but rather during his years at the University of Nagyszombat. He acquaints the reader with Batthyány’s work collecting sources on Church history, which was an integral part of the Jesuist school of history at the time. One of the indisputable indications of the high standards Batthyány set in his work as a collector is the fact that, of the medieval Latin codices in Romania today, 80 percent are from his library. His death at an early age was a tragedy in part because it prevented him from realizing further plans to create a society of scholars and maintain an astronomical observatory. With his “far-sighted, wide-ranging cultural conception” (p.301), Batthyány was a worthy heir to the cultural and educational efforts of István Báthory, Gábor Bethlen, and György I. Rákóczi. It is regrettable that there is not a single essay on any of the latter three Transylvanian princes in the collection.

An essay by acclaimed art historian András Kovács summarizes the findings of research on the city of Gyulafehérvár, offering a detailed presentation of the history of the most important buildings of the city in the course of the sixteenth century. Kovács begins with a brief discussion of the complexities of research on architectural history and then examines the topography and fortifications of the castle on the basis of available sources, touching on the complexities of establishing a water-supply system and the formation of an armory and a canon foundry. The reconstruction of the seat of the princedom, which was created out of the buildings of the medieval bishop’s palace, raises many questions to which only archeological excavations could give precise answers, such as the date of the construction of the “inner courtyard” or the ground-floor corridor. The illustrations nicely complement the text.

Klára P. Kovács’ essay on the sixteenth-century bastion fortifications is a thorough summary of modern architectural history Kovács takes both pictures and written sources into consideration in her study, but she does not use archeological data, which might have enabled her to provide a more thorough and detailed examination of the subject. The early dating on the basis of written sources of the construction of the castle of Szamosújvár (Gherla in Romanian) seems dubious. The supplemental illustrations are a useful inclusion and complement the text.

The chapter on culture comes to a close with an essay by Albert Fekete in which he examines the garden culture of the early modern era from the perspective of landscape architecture. His goal is not simply to present the sources on Renaissance garden culture, but to present the tools that were used at the time to shape the landscape and to examine how this continued into the second half of the eighteenth century. His principal thesis is that the Transylvanian garden culture (of the Székelys and the Saxons, of the prince’s court and the aristocracy) had a decisive influence on the natural environment. The essay offers numerous illustrations of how prominent gardens (the gardens of castles and curiae) transformed the surrounding areas and how important they were from aesthetic, ecological, and economic perspectives. While this second part of the volume is interesting and at times contains new findings, as an overview it is nonetheless flawed, as it presents only a small slice of the rich cultural life of Transylvania and the research that has been devoted to it.

The third and final chapter, entitled “Claudiopolis – Transylvaniae Civitas Primaria,” presents the social and cultural world of the city of Kolozsvár, quite rightly referred to as the most important city in Transylvania. The essays offer insights into the various social layers of Kolozsvár and the everyday lives of the denizens of the city. These essays were already published in the first decade of the twenty-first century in Hungarian, with the exception of the essay by András Kiss, only the first part of which had already been published.

The essay by László Pakó examines the conflicts between the burghers of Kolozsvár and the members of the nobility who settled in the city. The denizens of the city tried many times and adopted various strategies to prevent the nobility from purchasing real estate in the city, and when a member of the nobility succeeded in buying a house, they attempted to purchase it back from him.

In her essay Ágnes Flóra presents the elite of Kolozsvár in the early modern era. She touches on historical precedents, the so-called “geréb patricians,” and the rotation of the Saxon and Hungarian nations in the governance of the city. Endogamy was common among the elites of the city, as Flóra demonstrates with the example of the daughters of Tamás Budai, a Kolozsvár goldsmith. The lifestyle of the elite of Kolozsvár resembled the lifestyle of the nobility in the rest of the country. Renaissance tastes prevailed and book collecting was a common passion. Flóra also notes that while the meaning of the word patrician varies from case to case, there are general criteria, and the burgers of Kolozsvár in the sixteenth century did not meet these criteria, since they did not constitute a closed community possessing privileges, unlike for instance the burghers of Nuremberg. In time, the more influential families would leave the city and integrate into the nobility.

The essays by Gyöngy Kovács Kiss and András Kiss take the reader into the world of everyday people of Transylvania. Kovács Kiss provides insights into the everyday lives of the citizens of Kolozsvár. The first part of her essay deals with games and leisure spaces. It presents the practices surrounding wine retail and the regulations pertaining to the importation of wine. The customers in the taverns in Kolozsvár came from various backgrounds and social layers. Alongside the local burghers one also found soldiers and “idlers.” The shooting range was another site of leisure activity. Young men came to indulge in target practice with bows and arrows. The essay also informs the reader which games were popular among the people of Kolozsvár in their free time (dice, cards, ninepins, etc.). The second half of the essay examines the modes of gossip and slander (accusations of witchcraft, lechery, debauchery, and illegitimate pregnancy) and the most important sites. The reader is acquainted with the market, where various implements and remedies were sold, the public bathhouse, the mill, and the bakery.

An essay by András Kiss constitutes a fine conclusion to the collection. He recounts the story of the first and last witch trials of Kolozsvár and examines the social and psychological motives behind witch trials in general. In the first trial the accused, Prisca Kewmies (Piroska Kőmíves), was a midwife who was condemned to death in 1565, before Klára Bócy, who earlier had been seen in the secondary literature as the first woman to have been burnt at the stake in Kolozsvár. Kiss suspects that one of the people who may have played a significant role in instigating the trials was a tailor named Péter Grúz, and he identifies some of Grúz’s possible motives. The last “witch,” a hapless beggar named Kata Kádár, was executed in February, 1734. Kiss provides a vivid and well-documented account of her life, the gruesome tortures to which she was submitted, her beheading, and the incineration of her body. This chapter, gripping as the stories are, would have been more interesting had it not been limited to the city of Kolozsvár, but rather had also included the cities around the salt mines, the Saxon cities, Marosvásárhely on the western fringes of the Székely Land, and the princely capital of Gyulafehérvár. This would have given the reader some perspectives on the scholarship of the last few decades concerning urban history and urban society.

One of the strengths of the collection is that it contains biographical details at the end of the essays concerning the more important historical figures mentioned. This represents a useful complement to the essays themselves, and it is followed by brief introductions of the authors, a selected bibliography, and an index of places and proper names. Regrettably, there are inconsistencies in the use of English. For instance the term főispán is translated as “lord lieutenant” in some articles and “main county head” in others.

There are some printing mistakes in the volume, as well as typos, for instance, the contention according to which Dénes Bánffy was born around 1630 but nonetheless was 54 or 55 years old at the time of his death in 1674. According to another contention in the essay Mihály Apafi was freed from Tatar captivity sometime around 1600 (in fact this happened 60 years later).

Nonetheless, considering the thoroughness of the essays, this volume constitutes a valuable collection that will be highly useful to scholars both in and outside of Hungary.

Translated by Thomas Cooper

Angelika T. Orgona

A városi élet keretei a feudális kori Magyarországon. Kassa társadalma a 16. század derekán [The Settings of Urban Life in Feudal Hungary. Kassa (Košice) Society in the Mid-Sixteenth Century]. By György Granasztói. Budapest: Korall, 2012. 415 pp.

Urban history did not come into the focus of Hungarian historical research until the second half of the twentieth century, before which research on urbanization and urban society was regarded as the reserve of local historians. It was only when the history of events started to lose some of its dominance and disciplines such as economic and social history made more headway that Hungarian scholars turned their attention towards towns as the mediator spaces of craftsmanship and commerce.

Historians researching the towns of medieval and early modern Hungary cannot rely on the same sources as are used for the study of, for instance, political history. In addition to charters and other legal documents, they have to use accounts, tax lists, wills, tithe lists, etc. These sources were discovered by archivists as early as the late nineteenth century and many of them were even published then or in the early twentieth century, but they attracted little attention from researchers.

The first written urban privileges date from the early thirteenth century, and literacy became widespread in Buda, Sopron, and towns in the north of the Hungarian Kingdom (in present day Slovakia) in the fourteenth. Literacy became slightly more diverse as some of the towns employed professional notaries. In the late medieval period, the free royal towns (towns subject to the direct jurisdiction of the kings of Hungary, and having the most privileges) had quite sophisticated systems of administration28 This increasing complexity is well reflected in the appearance and rapid diversification of town books (Libri civitatum).29 Apart from their judicial affairs, towns had their own tax administration, and numerous tax and tithe lists are preserved from fifteenth and sixteenth-century Hungary. Apart from these serial sources, one finds household conscriptions and—in the case of Kassa—ambulations (ambulationes), documents that served both economic and military purposes.

Despite the early publication of these sources, they were not subjected to systematic research until the 1960s. That was when more and more scholars began to follow historians of the Annales-school who were increasingly shifting their focus to serial sources.30 Systematic analysis of these sources went on in parallel with the development of computer technology, which gained the attention of several French historians of the period.31 Hungarian historians also showed growing interest in the use of computers in fields such as historical demography and economic history, where the use of mathematics and quantitative methods was fundamental.32 These included some historians who were already well established, such as Erik Fügedi, Vera Bácskai and József Kovacsics, and others, such as György Granasztói, who were at early stages of their careers.

Granasztói’s extensive volume on the sixteenth-century society of Kassa (Košice) is a fruit of the early phase of computer-based quantitative historical research in Hungary. He started to work on towns in Hungary in the early 1960s, and from early on his output had two facets: one was social structure and demography, and the other urban layout. In the 1960s and 1970s he analyzed serial sources to gain insight into the urban structure of major towns from the Hungarian Kingdom such as Győr, Sopron, Kassa and Nagyszombat (Trnava).

The book reviewed here is not new; Granasztói wrote it in the early 1970s, and completed it in 1975, when it earned him a degree from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. It remained a manuscript, however, until the editors of Korall, a leading journal of social sciences and social history, recently decided to publish it as part of a new series: Társadalomtörténeti Monográfiák (Studies in social history).

Kassa, the scene of Granasztói’s book, first rose to significance in the Kingdom in the Middle Ages. In the classification of medieval Hungarian towns according to a detailed set of criteria devised by the influential Hungarian urban historian András Kubinyi, Kassa accompanied eight other towns in the highest category. Kassa stood out even in this group, and only Buda, Pozsony (now Bratislava, Slovakia) and Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania) are thought to have been more significant centers.33 Kassa’s importance in many respects decreased during the sixteenth century, but that certainly did not affect literacy there: only Sopron and Pozsony have equally rich archives from this period. Despite its shrinking role as a center of the urban network, Kassa remained an important town.

An analysis of this transformation is part of Granasztói’s agenda for the book. He attempts to reconstruct as many parameters of the sixteenth-century Kassa society as possible using serial sources and with the aid of a computer analysis. Before turning to that, he lists some factors that might influence the accuracy of the datasets he used: 1) the total population of the inner town; 2) the occupations of the population as derived from the tax lists; 3) the ownership of the estates; 4) the distinction of family and household; 5) missing streets. These are all valid problems, especially considering the sensitivity of the analyses he based on the datasets. They could have been partly treated by the study of other sources preserved in the archives of the town, such as the large number of charters or letters which are known from this period. These sources could have greatly helped him to determine, for example, what proportion of the inner town population was represented in the documents. It is also true, however, that at several points in the book, Granasztói carefully refers back to these problems, and makes an indication that they are all general methodological problems when using tax lists and conscriptions to reconstruct the characteristics of a certain society.34

Granasztói starts the analysis of social structure of the town by reconstructing the population of the (inner) town. His precise figures, based on conscriptions, show that it fluctuated between 2000 and 2700 during the sixteenth century. The population was relatively high in the late medieval period, but decreased significantly during the 1530s as the town was deeply affected by the wars of succession to the Hungarian throne. The analysis goes into the details of the family structure of the town center population, but omits a significant part of the population—those living in the suburbs and those connected with the military. The latter are particularly important as most of them lived in the direct surroundings of the “Ring”, the main market street of the town, and as such were important factors in its everyday life.35 In recent years—thanks to the works of István Németh H.—scholarship has a better insight to the problem of military population living in the town of Kassa.36 Despite this problem, Granasztói’s analysis of the inner-town population makes a fundamental contribution to two long historiographical debates concerning: 1) the distinction between the family and the household in the urban context in pre-modern societies 2) the size of families in towns. Here Granasztói places his results in the international context by comparing his results with those of similar investigations of towns elsewhere, mostly in the German speaking areas and England.

The value of computer-based analysis shows up best in the chapter on professions and social stratification in Kassa. Granasztói applies a method by which he clearly demonstrates, for example, the strong correlation between the amount of grain and wine kept in households and the wealth of families. Later scholarship has shown that many burghers had a share in the export of Hegyalja wine to Poland,37 and those who were involved in long distance trade seem to have had more reserves than others in the town.

After the analyses of social stratification, the presence of professions in the town and the financial status of the burghers, Granasztói turns to Kassa’s role as a trade center in the region. He is most interested in determining why Kassa never became as important as Buda, Kraków or Vienna in the urban network of Central Europe. Granasztói shows how the town lost its importance in long distance trade by the mid-sixteenth century. The two key factors were the loss of medieval privileges and a lack of assets. Without investments, Kassa could not play a role in the long distance cattle trade, provenly one of the most profitable businesses of the century. Granasztói also shows the structure of industries to have changed, putting Kassa at a disadvantage against other towns in the region. As the price of agrarian products rose after the end of the Middle Ages, Kassa’s industrial role decreased and its market shifted towards the exchange of agricultural products. The change in the town’s industry was accompanied by a transformation in the composition of its population by nationality. Throughout the late medieval period, like the other major towns of the Hungarian Kingdom, Kassa was dominated by a German elite, but the influx of a substantial Hungarian population in the period following the battle of Mohács changed power structures of the town.38

In the 1970s, Granasztói’s work was a ground-breaking study in many senses. He pioneered the use of computer-based quantitative methods to reconstruct characteristics of the population of an area, and was one of the first to study the social dynamics of a community based on previously underestimated serial sources.

Granasztói’s monograph remains an undoubted achievement even if significant improvements in two areas over the last 40 years have challenged the validity of his results. Firstly, historians and archivists have studied a huge amount of archival material kept in the archives of the Habsburg central administration and apart from that hundreds of charters, private letters and accounts relating to the history of Kassa are now available online or in source publications. These sources have led to significant progress in issues such as the military population and the changes in Kassa’s economic role in the late medieval period and the first decades of early modern times.39 Secondly, the computer methods used by Granasztói have gone through significant transformation, and historians have expressed their doubts about the validity of studies based exclusively on the analysis of variables. Despite these changes, the results of Granasztói’s painstaking analysis of the unique sources preserved in the archives of Kassa are still used by Hungarian historians. It has therefore been well worth publishing the study, and we can only regret that it did not happen in 1970s.

Translated by Alan Campbell

András Vadas

1 Szerencsének elegyes forgása. II. Rákóczi György és kora [Mixed Turns of Fate. Rákóczi György II and His Era], ed. Gábor Kármán and András Péter Szabó (Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2009).

2 It is worth noting one detail not mentioned in the book. On November 6, 1644 at one of the sittings of the peace negotiations in Nagyszombat (today Trnava in Slovakia) the emissary of Bártfa (today Bardejov in Slovakia), who was a supporter of Rákóczi, thus recounted Miklós Esterházy’s words: “Nu, vos domini conjicitis culpam huius mali in nos, cum tamen vos estis autores, vos praetenditis speciosum titulum religionis et libertatis, sed falsa sunt, ut etiam Betlehemus fecit, ad quae haec tria potissimum ipsum appulerant: 1. Cupido habendi. 2. Libido dominandi. 3. Ambitio ulciscendi. Ita et vester princeps non aliis rationibus motus, quam his, et pretiosum vel speciosum titulum, et hac ratione vult vos subjugare, immo jam colla vestra subjugavit, privabit vos libertatibus, devastabit regnum. – et alia plurima incompetentia dixit.” Štátny archív v Prešove, pobočka Bardejov, Archív mesta Bardejova, Mestské kníhy, Nr. 690, Acta diaetalia 1644–1655. f. 47r.

3 Kármán presents the justification given for the war on the basis of a letter that the Prince wrote to the Polish King John II Casimir, though one finds other signs of the legitimation strategy in Transylvanian sources as well, such as in the unpublished chronicle of the notary of Beszterce (today Bistriţa in Romania): “Ob supra memoratas procul dubio nefandas practicas per Basilium Moldaviae despotam ac vaivodam in Porta Othomanica motas, quamobrem jure merito insurrectio publica contra eundem facta est.” Serviciul Judeţean al Arhivelor Naţionale Cluj-Napoca. Primăria oraşului Bistriţa, a. III, p. 3, 329.

4 Kármán recently published an engaging article on the diplomat steps taken during the Polish campaign of György Rákóczi II. Kármán Gábor, “II. Rákóczi György 1657. évi lengyelországi hadjáratának diplomáciai háttere” [The Diplomatical Background of the 1657 Military Campaign in Poland of György Rákóczi II], Századok 146, no. 5 (2012): 1049–84.

5 György Horváth-Kissevith’s report to the King on his visit to the Transylvanian Prince in early December. At the end of the last meeting the emissary, at the suggestion of chancellor György Szelepcsényi, praised Transylvania and Rákóczi, who had conquered Wallachia and Moldova and even had control over part of Hungary and therefore could be quite satisfied with his attainments: “Respondit princeps: eam esse naturam principum et quorumvis aliorum, ut modum, quo familiam suam ad altiora evehere, et dignitatibus maximis ampliare et condecorare possint, studeant adinvenire, sic et se dictus princeps, si – ita inquit – Deo visum foret, eiusmodi occasionibus merito parere posse.” Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, A 98, Magyar Kancellária, gyűjteményes fondok – Transylvanica, b. 12, f. 16 (1650–1658), no. 47 (cs. 13, f. 1117.) Kármán makes use of the source in his discussion of the standpoint of Zsuzsanna Lorántffy, but does not refer to it with regards to this.

6 János Heltai, Alvinczi Péter és a heidelbergi peregrinusok [Péter Alvinczi and the Heidelberg Pilgrims] (Budapest: Balassi Kiadó, 1994), 129–54.

7 Milada Blekestad, Comenius. Versuch eines Umrisses von Leben, Werk und Schicksal des Jan Amos Komenský (Oslo–Prague: Universitetsforlaget–Academia, 1969), 398–407.


8 Ágnes R. Várkonyi, Thaly Kálmán és történetírása [Kálmán Thaly and his History Writing] (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1961); Ákos Kelecsényi, “Egy magyar régiségkereskedő a 19. században. Literáti Nemes Sámuel (1794–1842)” [A Hungarian Nineteenth-Century Book Collector, Samuel Literati Nemes], Az Országos Széchényi Könyvtár Évkönyve 1972 (Budapest: OSZK, 1975), 307–27.

9 National Széchényi Library, Fol. Hung. 1365/1 and 2.

10 Gábor Tokai, “Az első lépések a Rohonci-kódex megfejtéséhez” [The First Steps Toward an Undeciphering of the Rohonc Codex], Élet és Tudomány 55–56, no. 52–53 (2010), no. 2 (2011): 1675–78, 50–53; Levente Zoltán Király, “Struktúrák a Rohonci-kódex szövegében. Helyzetjelentés egy amatőr kutatásról” [Structures in the Text of the Rohonc Codex: A Status Report on an Amateur Research], Theologiai Szemle 54, no. 2 (2011): 82–93.

11 Péter Tusor, “Pázmány bíboros olasz rejtjelkulcsa: C.H. Motmann ‘Residente d’Ungheria’: A római magyar agenzia történetéhez” [Cardinal Pázmány’s Italian Codebook: C. H. Motmann ‘Residente d’Ungheria’. On the History of the Hungarian Agenzia in Rome], Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 116 (2003): 535–81; Zoltán Révay, Titkosírások. Fejezetek a rejtjelezés történetéből [Ciphers. Chapters from the History of Cryptology], (Budapest: Zrínyi Katonai Kiadó, 1978); idem, II. Rákóczi Ferenc és korának rejtjelezése, XVIII. század [Cryptography of Ferenc Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania and His Age] (Budapest: Magyar Néphadsereg Híradó Főnökség Kiadása, 1974).

12 Praecepta grammatica atque specimina linguae philosophicae, sive universalis (Berlin: D. Iacobaeer, 1772).

13 Many such books were published in the Magyar História (Hungarian History) and the Labirintus (Labyrinth) series.

14 Endre Veress, A bolognai Marsigli-iratok magyar vonatkozásai [Hungarian Aspects of the Marsigli Documents in Bologna] (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1906).

15 Emilio Lovarini ed., Autobiografia di Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli messa in luce nel secondo centenario della morte di lui dal Comitato Marsiliano (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1930).

16 See inter alia John Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680–1730: The Life and Times of Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, Soldier and Virtuoso (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); Magda Jászay, “Marsili, a katona, diplomata és tudós Magyarországon a török kor alkonyán” [Marsili: a Soldier, Diplomat and Scientist at the Twilight of the Ottoman Era in Hungary], Történelmi Szemle 41, no. 1–2 (1999): 42–49.

17 For the history of research in Hungary, see Levente Nagy, “Le generazioni di studiosi ungheresi e il Fondo Marsili,” Quaderni di storia 59 (2004) gennaio/giugno: 205–22; idem, “Magyar kutatógenerációk és a Marsigli-hagyaték” [Generations of Hungarian Researchers and the Marsigli Legacy], in Humanizmus, religio, identitástudat. Tanulmányok a kora újkori Magyarország művelődéstörténetéről [Humanism, Religion, Identity. Studies in the Early Modern Cultural History of Hungary], ed. István Bitskey and Gergely Tamás Fazakas (Debrecen: Kossuth Egyetem, 2007), 252–73; Mónika F. Molnár, “Le ricerche ungheresi del Fondo Marsigli di Bologna,” Annuario. Studi e documenti italo–ungheresi (Rome–Szeged: Accademia d’Ungheria in Roma Istituto Storico ‘Fraknói’–Università degli Studi di Szeged, Dipartimento di Italianistica, 2005): 38–49. Significant Marsigli researchers in Hungary today, apart from Levente Nagy, include Sándor Bene (Croatian aspects), Deák András Antal (maps), Mónika F. Molnár (Ottoman contacts) and Zsuzsa Kovács (bibliographic history, catalogues).

18 In Hungarian, see Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, A Magyar Királyság történetének kivonata [Extract from the History of the Kingdom of Hungary], trans. Levente Nagy (Máriabesnyő: Merhavia, 2009).

19 On the Peace of Karlowitz and its implementation, i.e. his collection concerning the marking out of the frontier. For more detail on this, see Sándor Bene, “Acta Pacis – Béke a muzulmánokkal. Luigi Ferdinando Marsili terve a karlócai béke iratainak kiadására” [Acta Pacis – Peace with the Moslems. Luigi Ferdinando Marsili’s Plan to Publish the Documents of the Peace of Karlowitz], Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 119 (2006): 329–72.

20 See Fabio Martelli, “Generali italiani a Vienna tra scienza nuova, empirismo e ideali assolutistici,” in La politica, la scienza, le armi. Luigi Ferdinando Marsili e la costruzione della frontiera dell’Impero e dell’Europa, ed. Raffaella Gherardi (Bologna: Mulino, 2010), 45–100; Raffaella Gherardi and Fabio Martelli, La pace degli eserciti e dell’economia. Montecuccoli e Marsili alla Corte di Vienna (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2009).

21 A small part of the surviving documents on this have appeared in print: Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, Relazioni dei confini della Croazia e della Transilvania a sua Maestá Cesarea (1699–1701), ed. Raffaella Gherardi, vols 1–2 (Modena, 1986).

22 See the preface to the series by Ignác Romsics (viii.).

23 Zoltán Szász and Béla Köpeczi, eds., A History of Transylvania from the Beginning to 1919, vols. 1–3, Atlantic Studies on Society in Change, no. 106–108, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000–2002).

243 One finds these, however, in another writing by Jeney-Tóth: Annamária Jeney-Tóth, “A fejedelmi udvar az Erdélyi Fejedelemségben” [The Princely Court of the Transylvanian Princedom], Korunk 24, no. 3 (March 2013): 27–33.

25 Veronka Dáné, “Az Őnagysága széki így deliberála.” Torda vármegye fejedelemségkori bírósági gyakorlata [“His Honor’s Bench thus Rules.” Jurisdictional Practice in Torda County in the Time of the Princedom] (Debrecen–Kolozsvár: Debreceni Egyetem–Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006).

26 The author does this in an essay that was published later: Gusztáv Mihály Hermann, “Pillantás Erdély fejedelemség kori társadalmára” [A Glimpse of Transylvanian Society in the Era of the Princedom], Korunk 24, no. 3 (March 2013): 43–49.

27 Jakó, Zsigmond, “Batthyány Ignác, a tudós és a tudományszervező,” Erdélyi Múzeum 53 (1991): 76–99.

28 Katalin Szende, “Towns and the Written Word in Medieval Hungary,” in Writing and the Administration of Medieval Towns: Medieval Urban Literacy I, ed. Marco Mostert and Anna Adamska, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 27 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013) (in preparation).

29 On the role of town books in urban administration, see Judit Majorossy and Katalin Szende, “Libri civitatum. Városkönyvek a középkori Magyar Királyság közigazgatásában” [Libri Civitatum. Town Books in the Medieval Hungarian Administration], in Tiszteletkör. Történeti Tanulmányok Draskóczy István egyetemi tanár 60. születésnapjára [Lap of Honor. Historical Essays in Honor of Professor István Draskóczy on his 60th Birthday], ed. Gábor Mikó, Bence Péterfi, and András Vadas (Budapest: ELTE Eötvös Kiadó, 2012), 319–30. On urban administration in late medieval towns, see also Judit Majorossy and Károly Goda, “Städtische Selbstverwaltung und Schriftproduktion im spätmittelalterlichen Königreich Ungarn—Eine Quellenkunde für Ödenburg und Pressburg,” Österreichischer Arbeitskreis für Stadtgeschichtsforschung [NF] 13 (2008): 61–100.

30 For instance, see the collection of the studies on the topic written by Pierre Chaunu between 1960 and 1975: Pierre Chaunu, Histoire quantitative, histoire sérielle (Paris: A. Colin, 1978).

31 For instance, see the works of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie.

32 Judit Pál, “‘Wouldn’t it be Better for Me to Enroll in the Mathematics Department?’—Interview with the Historian Vera Bácskai,” Colloquia. Journal of Central European History 18 (2011): 186–95, esp. 189–90.

33 András Kubinyi, Városfejlődés és vásárhálózat a középkori Alföldön és az Alföld szélén [Urban Development and Urban Network on the Great Hungarian Plain and its Fringes in the Middle Ages], Dél-alföldi Évszázadok 14. (Szeged: Csongrád Megyei Levéltár, 2000); András Kubinyi, “Városhálózat a késő középkori Kárpát-medencében” [Urban Network in Late Medieval Hungary], in Bártfától Pozsonyig: Városok a 13–17. században [From Bártfa (Bardejov) to Pozsony: Towns between the Thirteenth and Seventeenth Centuries] (Társadalom- és Művelődéstörténeti Tanulmányok 35), ed. Enikő Csukovits and Tünde Lengyel (Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézet, 2005), 9–36.

34 For the example of Sopron, see Károly Goda, “The fluctuation of the number of taxpayers and the sum of the annual regular tax in Sopron, 1424–1686,” in Hungarian Atlas of Historic Towns No. 1 – Sopron, ed. Ferenc Jankó, József Kücsán and Katalin Szende with the contribution of Ferenc Dávid, Károly Goda and Melinda Kiss (Sopron: Győr-Moson-Sopron Megye Soproni Levéltára, 2010), 55–57 and the associated maps.

35 On the conflicts between the army and the burghers, see István H. Németh, “Kassai polgárok és katonák a 16. században: a hadsereg beköltözésével járó társadalmi és közigazgatási jelenségek a felsőmagyarországi városok életében a Mohácsot követő évtizedek során” [The Košice Burghers and Soldiers in the Sixteenth Century. Social and Administrative Concomitants of Military Settlement in Upper Hungarian Towns after the Battle of Mohács], Levéltári Közlemények 68, no. 1–2 (1997): 143–97.

36 Cf. footnote 8.

37 István Draskóczy, “Borkereskedelem a 15–16. század fordulóján” [Wine Trade at the Turn of the Fifteenth Century], in Borok és korok [Wines and Eras], ed. Ferenc Benyák and Zoltán Benyák (Budapest: Hermész Kör, 1999), 99–114, 325–30. (2nd ed. Budapest: Hermész Kör, 2002, 115–30, 379–82).

38 Zsuzsanna J. Újváry, “Kassa polgárságának etnikai-politikai változásai a 16. század közepétől a 17. század első harmadáig” [The Ethno-Political Changes of the Kassa Bourgeoisie from the Mid-Sixteenth to the First Third of the Seventeenth Centuries], in A magyar polgári átalakulás kérdései. Tanulmányok Szabad György 60. születésnapjára [Questions of the Hungarian Civic Transformation. Studies in Honor of György Szabad on his 60th Birthday], ed. Iván Zoltán Dénes, András Gergely, and Gábor Pajkossy (Budapest: ELTE BTK, 1984), 9–36.

39 See the works of István H. Németh and Zsuzsanna Újváry in the topic.


pdfVolume 2 Issue 3 CONTENTS

The Politics of “National Character”: A Study in Interwar East European Thought. (Routledge Studies in Comparative Political Thought). By Balázs Trencsényi. London–New York: Routledge, 2012. 227 pp.


In his most recent study on the history of national characterology in Eastern Europe, Balázs Trencsényi provides the reader with an in-depth and comparative analysis of intellectual discourses on national specificity in Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria respectively. This highly erudite study is published in Routledge’s series of “Studies in Comparative Political Thought,” which aims to “change the landscape of political theory by encouraging deeper comparative reflection on the structure and character of the discipline and to arrive at a richer understanding of the nature of the political” (p.II). It is in this ambitious spirit that the book is written, and it is the author’s background in philosophy that lends the study an impressive level of creative intellectual interdisciplinarity. Trencsényi, Associate Professor of history at the Central European University, has written extensively on the topic of modernity and identity discourses in East European political thought and belongs to a very exclusive category of scholars intellectually equipped to undertake a comparative study of three countries, modulating virtuously between the national case studies and covering an exhaustive range of intellectual activity in all of them.

The author’s main objective is to demonstrate the development of discourses of national specificity and national character in the interwar period, in relation to the advent of radical nationalism and transforming notions of historicity and temporality. Seemingly antagonistic concepts such as modernism and anti-modernism, autochthonism and Westernisation, constitute the conceptual framework for the analysis of the divergent discourses on national specificity in the three countries. In his approach to the complex subject of national characterology, Trencsényi is inspired by Carl Schmitt’s concept of ‘political romanticism’ and Armin Mohler’s idea of ‘conservative revolution’, originally referring to the cultural and political currents in post-World War I Germany. Both of these concepts accommodate the portrayal of the long-term evolution of identity discourses, and connect them to intellectual developments preceding the interwar period. Taking into account the influence of older currents, like Romanticism´s role in the disconnection of national institutions and national identity, or Nietzschean justifications of collective egotism, the character of the interwar discourse is determined by the unprecedented association of national character with the problem of political modernity. Traditional linear conceptions of history were in many cases replaced with a new cyclicity, linking the realization of the primordial national to modernism as much as to anti-modernism, and complicating historicism’s traditional call to restore some glorious past. The dehistoricization of national character and changing attitudes towards time itself are recurring themes in the book and are discussed with considerable profundity.

After having introduced these general themes in the introductory chapter, Trencsényi points out that, even though they may all have played an important part in the countries under scrutiny, the three local discourses are not in the least identical. Initially, the author had planned to include only two case studies in his comparative analysis, but he decided to include Bulgaria as well in order to accentuate the differences and similarities between national discourses in Eastern Europe. Although the book focuses primarily on developments in the interwar period, the case studies are embedded in their historical contexts, and each chapter introduces the reader to the early modern and (especially) nineteenth-century debates on national characterology as well. This is important, since many of the interwar debates on the topic of national identity refer back to these earlier discourses.

The first case study is Romania, which consisted of the Old Kingdom of Romania and Transylvania prior to 1918. In his investigation of the historical roots of Romanian characterology, Trencsényi points out that the advent of political journalism, a lively pamphlet culture, and a new public sphere in the 1830s and 40s revolutionized the debate on Romanian identity, divided between revolutionary and evolutionary thinkers. Especially in the wake of the national-liberal revolutions of 1848, the question of whether the Romanians should follow foreign examples (as proposed by Mihail Kogălniceanu) or, instead, focus on their own autochthonous culture became a pressing one. A new phase in the debate occurred in 1860, when the Junimist movement, championed by Titu Maiorescu and inspired by German philosophy and Romanticism, challenged the dominant narrative of Romania´s undefiled Roman origins. The Junimists propagated an unprecedented new version of Romanian history, in which they accentuated the evolution and organicity of the people, while at the same time criticizing modernity and its detrimental effect on the national character. This organic conception of national identity radicalized towards the end of the nineteenth century and gave shape to A. D. Xenopol’s Romanian adaptation of Völkerpsychologie and the idea that a people without a history was necessarily a people without character (D. D. Drăghicescu). Through the authochtonists, who sought to reconcile political modernism with traditional and rural culture, the Romanian self-image had become a very ethnically orientated one by the early twentieth century. This trend radicalized in the interwar period, especially in the works of those considered part of the politically divergent young generation. Trencsényi traces the intellectual career of influential thinkers like Emil Cioran and Mircea Eliade and highlights their contributions to what he refers to as the ‘a-historical turn’ in Romanian national thought. To Eliade, myth and symbol, not history, became the primary denominators of national identity. A nation had to transcend its own history and aspire to universality. It was this paradoxical blend of nationalism and universalism, characteristic of the interwar period, that contributed to the emergence of a Romanian brand of Fascism.

In the next chapter, Hungary is subjected to a similar discourse analysis. After having traced the concept of Hungary back to a multi-ethnic, pre-modern nobility, Trencsényi outlines the relationship between these earlier ideas and nineteenth-century debates on national character. The Hungarian intelligentsia, more influenced by Herderian philosophy than the Romanians, developed (especially from the 1860s onwards) a strongly ethno-cultural sense of identity, which is interesting in a country that eventually consisted of over fifty percent non-Hungarians. Attempts to Magyarize an ethnically mixed population and create a national school of philosophy based on national characteristics balanced between reason and sentiment (Gusztáv Szontagh) are scrutinized and presented in their relation to opposing intellectual camps. Many of the main themes resemble those from the previous chapter on Romania, e.g. the discussions on the importation of foreign culture (which those connected to the periodical Szép Szó applauded), and the ambivalent relationship between political progress and cultural specificity. Interestingly, the Hungarian discourse of the interwar period resembled the Romanian one in that the nation became a spiritual category (Bálint Hóman), rather than a character based on national history, and that the political ideas of the new generation were so amorphous and ambivalent that they formed the intellectual breeding ground for later generations of fascists and communists alike. A typically Hungarian feature is the Asian, nomadic component of the interwar debate. The Hungarians differed from the rest of Europe, since they regarded themselves as descendants of a wandering steppe people which embodied the ‘soul of Asia’, rather than that of the West. Consequently, Sándor Karácsony could argue that national characteristics typically considered vices in a European context were actually virtues from the oriental perspective and fundamental constituents of the Hungarian soul. Amidst this myriad of competing and overlapping models of identification and ‘alternative histories’, it is remarkable that the author hardly mentions the Habsburg legacy at all. Did the Austro-Hungarian past leave no traces in post-1918 Hungarian characterology? Furthermore, the Finno-Ugric connection, which at times was rather unpopular in Hungary but which had a major effect on ideas about the origins of the Hungarians, is entirely discarded.

The last case study, Bulgaria, is the only Slavic nation in Trencsényi’s comparative study. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, the protochronistic idea that Slavs were the original progenitors of European civilisation played a significant part in the Bulgarian identity-discourse, arguably in part to compensate for the very narrow historical and institutional foundation of modern Bulgarian identity. One of the primary markers of this discourse was a sense of ‘inbetweenness’ and belatedness, of being caught between ‘not anymore’ and ‘not yet’. By tying the Bulgarian nation to the former greatness of the Slavs and even to that of the Indo-Europeans, the ancient cultures responsible for the cultural and political oppression of Bulgaria (Byzantine Greece and the Turks), as well as Western civilisation (e.g. ancient Gaul), could be presented as being indebted to and having originated from the Bulgarians’ mythical ancestors. These images of prehistoric greatness notwithstanding, many Bulgarian intellectuals came to the agonizing conclusion that modern Bulgarians were barbarians, and that the Turks, who functioned as the ‘significant others’ with which the Bulgarians contrasted themselves, were to blame for this. In order to achieve national emancipation, Bulgarians have looked to foreign examples like Germany and even Japan, and to a more authentic pagan past, before Byzantine Christianity had defiled the free and sensitive national spirit. Inspired by Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Bulgarian intellectuals like Pencho P. Slaveykov envisioned a pagan resurrection, a messianic return to primordial Bulgarianness. After 1918, in the wake of the traumatic Second Balkan War, the Bulgarian brand of national psychology, narodnopsihologia, became an important factor in the formulation of Bulgarian identity. Throughout the interwar period, the lack of historical continuity posed a serious problem for Bulgarian intellectuals, who sought their refuge in narodnopsihologia (Naydew Sheytanov) and glorifications of the medieval past (Peter Mutafchiev).

In the final chapter, the author offers an outline of the “common features and factors of divergence” in his comparative study, and concludes that, although the developments in all three countries are in many respects similar, the regional character of the three discourses should not be downplayed; they all had to “cook with local ingredients”. In all three cases, Trencsényi identifies nineteenth-century Romanticism as the starting point of the modern identity discourse, and crucial years like 1918, 1933 and 1940 as turning and breaking points in their intellectual development. In the conclusion he also provides the reader with a concise overview of the legacy of these interwar identity discourses after 1945, when some of their anti-Western tendencies found themselves strangely in line with Soviet ideology. The trauma of being considered peripheral and not fully Europeanized, at a time when Europe itself was entering a period of ideological crisis, has in many ways determined the ambivalent and antagonistic position of Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria towards the West, and has left a mark on their national self-images. The herculean task of describing, analysing, and comparing these complicated developments in three equally complex case studies makes the work necessarily a densely argued intellectual tour de force in which little space remains for the proper introduction and contextualisation of its many protagonists. Arguably, the book may, with its 227 pages, simply be too thin to do justice to the immense complexity of Trencsényi’s endeavour. However, to those properly introduced to the intellectual history of all three countries and Eastern Europe in general, this study constitutes an innovative and fascinating contribution to the field.


Simon Halink


pdfVolume 2 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Horvátország a 7. századtól napjainkig [Croatia from the Seventh Century up to the Present Day]. By Dénes Sokcsevits. Budapest: Mundus, 2011. 846 pp.


Once upon a time there was an 800 year-old Hungaro–Croatian confederation. Croatia was the only single ’foreign’ state that permanently stood under the reign of the Holy Crown of Hungary. An occupation army from Hungary was never stationed on Croatian territory—it simply was not necessary. The coexistence of these states was based on a general agreement and was secured by several internal and external interests. This peaceful coexistence made this confederation unique in Eastern Europe. In general Croatia had had no secessionist ambitions, even when the existence of the Hungarian kingdom was thrown into question by the Mongol invasion of 1241 and the interregna of 1301–1308 and 1526. The first considerable differences appeared in the seventeenth century, when the Croatian ambitions for autonomy gained strength. An armed conflict between the two states broke out only once during the 800 year period of coexistence (in 1848–1849). But even that war was far from being a real obstacle in the later political negotiations between Hungary and Croatia. Despite these facts, both national historiographies turn a blind eye to the history of this coexistence.

The book by Dénes Sokcsevits is the first monograph about Croatia published in Hungary.8 The author based his work primarily on Hungarian and Croatian archival and secondary sources. The book is very informative with regard to historical events and it has a clear train of thought. The different periods are presented through political, economic, social and church history. The author sometimes focuses his investigation on a region like Dalmatia or Slavonia, sometimes on a town like Trogir/Trau and Dubrovnik/Ragusa, sometimes on a family like the Šubić family, or sometimes on a politician like Martinuzzi Fráter György/Juraj Martinušević. His main aim is to demonstrate that the history of country and nation cannot be regarded as a straight line of historical events. In contrast with traditional Croatian historiography, which constructs a simplified history of Croatia with the nation in its center, Sokcsevits intends to present the history of the state as a whole made up of several different mosaic tiles. It is a particular virtue of the author’s approach that he interprets and analyzes each and every disputed question and opinion with regard to Croatian history. One should also note that Sokcsevits does not fail to deal with problems to which Hungarian historiography has turned a blind eye (e.g. why the Croatian nobles refused to join the uprising led by Rákóczi).

From a structural point of view the book can be divided into three major parts. The first part deals with the history of Croatia until 1918, focusing on Hungarian–Croatian coexistence and later the process of succession. The differences of opinion and interests between the political elites of the two states appeared in the second half of the fifteenth century, when the Hungarian king proved unable to protect the Croatian counties from Ottoman attacks. That is the very beginning of the relationship between Croatia and the Habsburg dynasty. Two important phenomena of the seventeenth century influenced the Hungarian–Croatian relationship profoundly in the long run. On the one hand a difference in the interpretation of constitutional law emerged between the two states. While the Croatian estates began to emphasize that the state connections were based on equal rights, so Croatia had to be regarded as a joint and not as a subordinate state, the Hungarians insisted on their concept of Croatia as a conquered state (i.e. in their perception Croatia had been conquered by the Hungarian kingdom in the eleventh century). On the other hand, the aristocratic conspiracy against the Habsburg dynasty in 1671 proved an especially tragic turning-point in the relationship between the two states. The conspiracy was organized by families that were the main representatives of Hungarian–Croatian coexistence. After exposing the plans for an uprising, the Habsburgs practically ruined the families of Zrínyi/Zrinski and Frangepan.

The period of 1790–1848 can best be characterized by the fact that the national idea gained primacy both in Hungary and in Croatia. Due to the perception of Hungarian nationalism as a threat, Croatian politicians began to build up closer connections with Vienna, and the Habsburgs refused to take the Hungarian opinions into consideration in their Croatian policy. According to Sokcsevits, however, even in that period both nations shared a common feature: their nation-building process and language reforms were modeled on the same patterns. It was Lajos Kossuth who in 1848 questioned the autonomy of Croatia on the basis of constitutional law, and it was also Kossuth who adamantly rejected any proposal regarding the federative transformation of Hungary. Furthermore, he intended to make the Hungarian language compulsory south of the Sava. It was therefore hardly surprising that the Croats could be easily instrumentalized by Vienna during the 1848–1849 Hungarian War of Independence. It was the first time that these countries had gone to war with each other. It is worth noting, however, that the troops of Banus Jelačić were regarded as enemies by the Croats of the Transdanubian counties. And as a “reward” for having sided with the Habsburgs, Croatia lost its autonomy and sank to the level of a crown-land.

Both political elites turned a blind eye to the consequences of the 1848–1849 events. They proved unable to reach an acceptable compromise during the negotiations of 1866–1868. One the one hand, the Habsburg Empire was transformed into a Dual Monarchy, which was obviously unacceptable to the majority of the nations of the empire. On the other hand, the Croatian–Hungarian Settlement in 1868 was judged by the Croatian politicians as a bad compromise. It had the potential, however, to bring about positive change. It was Ferenc Deák who suggested a real union and broad autonomy for Croatia, but his suggestions were ignored by the other members of the Hungarian delegation (Gyula Andrássy and Menyhért Lónyay). It is also an unknown detail of the 1868 negotiations between Pest-Buda and Zagreb that Deák warned his Croatian colleagues against South-Slav unity. According to Deák, South-Slav unification would be led by Belgrad and not Zagreb. On the whole, Croatia could attained autonomy than it had set out to win, but it is important to mention that the autonomy it did obtain was unique in Europe at the time. The Home Rule Bill, elaborated by William E. Gladstone in 1880, was modeled on the Croatian–Hungarian Settlement. (The British parliament refused to accept the bill, because the members wanted to save imperial integrity.9)

After the Settlement of 1868 was accepted, the quality of the relationship between Pest-Buda and Zagreb went from bad to worse; trust was gradually lost. Both sides began to pursue a policy based on emotions. One illustrative example suffices to demonstrate the regrettable aftermath: Croatia had a bad economic structure and taxation moral in the second half of the nineteenth century, and it was one of the most underdeveloped countries within Austria–Hungary (pp.400–1). The Hungarian authorities tried to transform the economic structure and develop a taxpayer culture on an administrative basis. (The construction of an effective bourgeois state can be characterized by authoritative methods in the whole of Eastern Europe – even in Hungary.) The structural reforms were regarded by the Croats, however, as new forms of oppression. At this point, citing the Czech example, Sokcsevits refutes the popular thesis of Croatian historiography according to which independence was the most important condition of economic development. By 1918 the dual system of Austria–Hungary had fallen. The political forces of Croatia anticipated the total defeat and the reorganization of the empire; but it remained an illusion.

The second part of the book deals with the position of Croatia within Yugoslavia. The creation of the new state was due first and foremost to the policies of Great Britain and France. The concept of the new federal state was laid on uncertain foundations from the outset. On the one hand, the idea of a united South-Slav nation was a simple utopia. On the other hand, the most crucial assurance of internal state cohesion was the violence practiced by the government on administrative and military grounds. The responsibility of the different Croatian political groups must also be emphasized. In the very moment of the collapse of Austria–Hungary it was only Stjepan Radić who consistently protested against giving up all Croatian national ambitions during the negotiations with Belgrad. In the end Croatia became part of a South-Slav state that was ruled by the Serbs. The Croats, who were accustomed to living in a constitutional state, found themselves in a Balkan country where democracy and state administration stood at a lower level than before 1918. The federal government adopted a violent policy towards Croatia and solved the main political problems with the use of security forces. The Serb politicians were simply unwilling to make any compromises until 1939. The sabor was not convoked for 20 years. The new situation provoked new social ruptures in the twentieth century. The transformed party structure of Croatia was characterized by more or less radical attitudes towards autonomy, federation and independence. The political ambitions restricted and hindered by violence and the disappointment in the federal states resulted in a complex set of armed conflicts in World War II. There was a war between Croats and Serbs on the one hand but also between Croats and Germans and Italians. The warriors of the Ustaša movement and civil organizations fought against the communist partisan divisions. The last scene of genocides can be regarded as particularly tragic, because it was supported by the British and Soviet armies. The allied forces handed thousands of Croat prisoners of war over to the partisan troops of Tito, who let them be butchered. The denial and memory of this event have remained one of the heaviest burdens in the relationships between the South Slav nations.

The second Yugoslav federal state was born in blood and could only have been governed by a dictator. Although the system of Tito brought some novelties, such as federalism and the intention of assuring equal rights to all nationalities, it was characterized by state violence, the inability of the political leadership to reach compromises, dictatorship, and collective amnesia forced upon the population. The Yugoslav states in the interwar and post-war periods shared another common feature: the most essential external cohesive force of the federal state was primarily the interests of the great powers. The fake propaganda image of Tito’s Yugoslavia, according to which the Croats could be regarded as fascists and the Serbs as victims of the war, also proved a grave burden. According to one of the extreme but tenacious assessments of Tito’s state, the 1960s and 1970s were a period of economic development and material growth. Since the archival materials are far from completely processed, Sokcsevits’ aim is to approach the history of the second Yugoslavia from many points of view. The conclusion of the second part of the book is that Yugoslavia was on the verge of collapse in the late 1980s from all points of view and its existence was maintained only by the Western great powers.

Although there are numerous monographs and articles dealing with the period between 1991 and 1995, because many of the archival sources remain closed, the history of the war of independence has to be interpreted extremely cautiously. Sokcsevits has done so. The interpretation of the events is laconic and analytical. He outlines the psychological path that led to the bloody showdowns, lists the acts of violence committed by both sides, and criticizes European policy, which was unable to handle the armed conflict. The very last chapter of the book summarizes the post-war history of Croatia.

The author often reflects on the assertions of Croatian historiography. According to Sokcsevits, the majority of historians more or less submit to the national discourse. They are inclined to neglect Hungarian–Croatian coexistence and search instead for separatist movements in the past. (Sokcsevits often compares and exemplifies the differences between the conclusions drawn by Hungarian historians and the conclusions reached by Croatian historians; see the maps on pp.270–71). The author criticizes the East European view of the British historiography as well. According to Sokcsevits, even today the majority of British historians approach the history of this region from the point of view of the (imperial) British state, and they are therefore unable to understand local problems and realities (see the assessment of fascism and communism).

As far as the weaknesses of the book are concerned, the presentation of the Hungarian–Croatian relationships is sometimes too dominant. In order to demonstrate the main problems of Croatian history better, Sokcsevits would have to provide a wider historical background and give more reference points (about the Orthodox commonwealth of the Balkans, the overseas empire of Venice, the imperial ambitions of the Habsburg dynasty and the nation building processes in Italy). It is not clear how the different territories (like Dalmatia or Slavonia) and social groups (like the Italian speaking Dalmatians) and strata became “Croatian” in the nineteenth century.10 The author often refers to how the Serbian Orthodox Church made “Serbs” out of the different Orthodox groups of Vlachs and Balkan Slavs. This statement, however, is also true in the case of the Croatian Catholic Church: it was not just the Orthodox population that had escaped from the Middle and South Balkans. Dalmatia, Szerémség/Srem and Határőrvidék/Vojna krajina (Military Frontier) were the last station for Catholic Albanians as well. E.g. Arbanas (in Hungarian Orbonás, ital. Borgo Erizzo) near Zara and the Catholic villages of the regiment of Pétervárad / Petrovaradin were established by Albanians, and it was the Croatian national church that made them Croatian in the nineteenth century. (Not to mention the origins of several villages in Slavonia that were established by Hungarians from Transdanubia.)

According to Sokcsevits, Croatian history only began to share close affinities with Serbian history in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (pp.200–2). Considering that the abovementioned nations lived next to each other and spoke closely related languages, this claim needs to be challenged, too. The Christianization of the Serb territories was organized in Rome, and not until the thirteenth century was it decided that the Serb state would be Orthodox. The Serbs were part of the Catholic world for centuries.11 Furthermore, South Dalmatia had connections to the Serb zhupas that were similar to the connections between Croatia and Middle-Dalmatia.12

In the chapters dealing with the history and the collapse of the second Yugoslavia, Sokcsevits does not touch upon one essential factor: the Tito system tolerated and contributed to organized crime. Furthermore, Tito instrumentalized crime to promote his political aims: several intellectuals and politicians of the opposition were killed by criminals in the service of the Communist Party. Organized crime became an independent factor after 1989–1991 and played a significant role in the South-Slav wars. The clarification of this role calls for complex and refined research.

The writing of the history of a nation or a country can never be finished. As time passes, new sources and approaches emerge that raise new questions and offer new answers. Sokcsevits’s book, however, will remain a valuable part of this ongoing conversation in the long run.

8 The most crucial Hungarian historians dealt with the Croatian history: Endre Arató, Kelet-Európa története a 19. században [The History of East-Europe in the Nineteenth Century] (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1971); László Bíró, A jugoszláv állam 1918–1939 [The Jugoslavian State 1918–1939] (Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézete, 2010); László Katus, “A nemzetiségi kérdés és Horvátország története a 20. század elején” [The Nationality Question and the History of Croatia in the Early Twentieth Century], in Magyarország története, vol. 2 of 7, ed. Péter Hanák (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1978); Gyula Miskolczy, A horvát kérdés története és irományai a rendi állam korában. [The History of the Croatian Question and Its Writing in the Period of the Estate State], vols. 1–2. (Budapest: MTT, 1927); Emil Niederhauser, A nemzeti megújulási mozgalmak Kelet-Európában [National Renewal Movements in Eastern Europe] (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1977); Imre Ress, Kapcsolatok és keresztutak [Connections and Crossroads] (Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2004).

9 Imre Ress, Kapcsolatok és keresztutak, 120–21.

10 Cf. Konrad Clewing, Staatlichkeit und nationale Identitätsbildung: Dalmatien in Vormärz und Revolution (Munich: Oldenbourg,,2001).

11 Cf. Viktor Novak, “The Slavonic-Latin Symbiosis in Dalmatia during the Middle Ages,” The Slavonic and East European Review 32, no. 78 (1953): 1–28.

12 It follows from the foregoing that according to the writer of this review the pope of Duklja is neither part of Croatian nor Serbian history, he belongs to the history of Duklja.

pdfVolume 2 Issue 3 CONTENTS

A szlovák nemzet születése: Ľudovít Štúr és a szlovák társadalom a 19. századi Magyarországon [The Birth of the Slovak Nation: Ľudovít Štúr and Slovak Society in Hungary in the Nineteenth Century]. By József Demmel. Pozsony: Kalligram, 2011. 373 pp.


After publishing an innovative collection of papers under the title The Whole of Slovakia Fit on a Raft: Studies on the Slovak History of Nineteenth Century Hungary,13 the young historian József Demmel wrote an important monograph about Ľudovít Štúr (1815–1856), the most important figure of modern Slovak nationalism. Demmel, a research fellow at the Research Institute of the National Self-Government of Slovaks in Hungary in Békéscsaba, is held by many to be the emerging star of historical Slovak studies in Hungary. By writing on Štúr, Demmel chooses a hot topic, as the interpretation of the mid-nineteenth-century Slovak linguist-politician radically differs in Hungarian and Slovak historiographies. Hungarian historians generally neglected him; Demmel’s book, which is based on his PhD thesis at the University of Budapest, is the first monograph about Štúr in Hungarian ever. If Hungarian authors commented on his activities, they mostly treated him as a Russia-based traitor and troublemaker without any genuine popular support.14 At the same time, Štúr became the indisputable core hero of the national fight in the Slovak national canon.15 Since the 1880s thousands of works of academic and popular literature were devoted to Štúr, which anachronistically canonized his figure and thus prevented any critical approach. It goes without saying that these parallel running narratives were made for “inner use” (for the respective national communities), so they never met. The goal of Demmel was to undermine both interpretations in order to provide an understanding of Štúr that can be valid both in Slovakia and Hungary. Demmel’s ambition is without doubt challenging, as he could hardly rely on the secondary literature of the canon, but rather had to explore a vast number of primary sources and find an appropriate method to avoid falling in the trap of reproducing politically biased ideas.

To solve the problem of parallel national master narratives, Demmel distances himself from the classical, chronological and not thematically based style of biographies of “great men”. Instead, he suggests a thick description à la Geertz of the social contexts and individual choices as a method (pp.23–24). Only thus can the canonized, stable and anachronistic image of Štúr be deconstructed and replaced with a living and dynamic figure, who made his decisions in a complex social environment the members of which cannot simply be divided into good and bad individuals (pp.19–24). However, this method implies a certain fragmentation, as it does not permit the construction of a linear life story. Yet Demmel consciously undertakes this risk, which results in a book resembling more a loose collection of essays then a coherent monograph.

The book is divided into two main parts. The first part is dominated by the perspective of the individual. In the first chapter Demmel carefully analyzes the social strategy of the Štúr family, which led through several generations of weavers in the Northwestern Hungarian town of Trencsén (in Slovakian Trenčin) to Ľudovít’s father Samuel, who became a teacher in the Lutheran elementary school in Zayugróc (in Slovakian Uhrovec). The other main topic of the chapter is the Lutheran environment in which Štúr began his career. The second chapter examines a well-known topos of the Štúr hagiography regarding the origins of his national identity; here Demmel proves the deficiency of the Slovak national canon by combining a critical reading of the sources and some Hungarian secondary literature which has been largely neglected by the canon-making historians. Here the sources enable Demmel to discredit the Slovak national interpretation, but they do not permit him to offer an alternative understanding; the specific reason why Štúr subscribed to the Slovak national idea remains unclear, much as it remains unclear when he made this decision. The third and fourth chapters are devoted to an issue crucial in any individual life story but fitting into the hagiographic picture of the national hero only with some difficulty: the financial background of Štúr. Coming from a family with a modest income, Štúr had to face financial difficulties throughout his life. He worked as private tutor for several families, however, the wide range of his employers can be explained only by the fact that he was motivated by varying considerations at different times of his life, such as his Slovak national vision and his membership in the Lutheran Church. The latter was the case when he worked for the Prónay family, the head of which, János, was well-known for his support for Lajos Kossuth, Štúr’s greatest rival. From a Slovak nationalist angle, this job can hardly be understood, but a thick description of the Lutheran society of Upper Hungary provides a more plausible interpretation. The fifth and sixth chapters examine Štúr’s controversial relation to the nobility. The Slovak national canon is dominated by the view that Štúr’s main opponents were nationalist Magyar gentrymen, with the exception of one particular, pro-Slovak family, the Osztroluczkys. Replacing this black-and-white picture, Demmel positions Štúr’s relation to the nobility into the patron-client pattern, still an important motif in late feudal Hungary. The last chapter of this section investigates Štúr from a gender perspective and deals also with his alleged homosexuality.

While the first part of the book examines Štúr’s life story from his individual perspective, the second part is devoted to an analysis of the social environment and political conditions in which he worked. Demmel analyzes first Štúr’s unquestionably most relevant deed, the making of the Slovak literary language. Demmel seeks the motivations and possible options for the creation of the standard Slovak language. He points out the important yet incidental role of the Slovak speaking nobility of the Tatra region and then puts it into the Slovak speaking public space of contemporary Hungary. By investigating the subscription data of literary yearbooks and newspapers and the Tatrín association, Demmel is able to provide a detailed composition of the potential supporters of the Slovak national movement, mostly Lutheran provincial intellectuals, teachers, ministers and some members of the petty nobility of the Tatra Mountains. One of the most interesting parts of the book deals with Štúr’s activity as a member of the last feudal Diet of Hungary in 1847–1848. Traditionally, the Slovak national canon cast Štúr’s role in the parliament as that of an advocate of Slovak national ideology, indeed, as a friend of and spokesman for the people among the oligarchic Magyar gentrymen. First, Demmel examines the city of Zólyom (in Slovakian Zvolen), which delegated Štúr to the Diet, and finds that a mere two dozen local aldermen voted for him, indeed, to represent the interests of the city only; the sources make no mention of any Slovak national issue. While a member of the Diet, Štúr delivered a speech about a particular Slovak case only once. Instead he mostly dealt with questions of the cities and some general issues. The “urban question” was a key issue in the politics of the 1840s, as the reform-minded liberal gentry aimed to modernize the conservative political system of the cities and introduce democratic reforms in their administration. Therefore Štúr’s activity in the Diet can be understood far better as the work of a politician in the transition from feudal to liberal society than it can as the efforts of a Slovak nationalist. Another chapter of the book is devoted to a topic slightly different from the abovementioned. While the questions Demmel raised before were central to the Slovak national canon but rather marginal in Hungarian historiography, the chapter on the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 touches upon one of the most important points in both national narratives. Demmel points out some incoherent parts of the Slovak national canon, yet avoids passing judgment on Štúr and the civil war he provoked in North Hungary. The final chapters examine Štúr’s last years, in particular the position of Modor (in Slovakian Modra), the town to which he moved in 1851, and the legend of his suicide in 1856. Based on a close reading of the sources, Demmel refutes the view that Štúr lived in isolation in Modor, persecuted by the police, nor does he find any evidence of his suicide.

This relatively long description of the book’s content offers an understanding of the novelty Demmel brings to the discussion. Dissociating himself from the conceptual framework of national master narratives, Demmel provides a much more lively, colorful and plausible picture, not only of Štúr but of mid-nineteenth-century society in Hungary and thus the wider context of Slovak nationalism. Microhistory, the history of mentalities, thick description, and network analysis are Demmel’s keywords, and even though the application of these methods is not novel in the social history in the region, the investigation of a national hero using these approaches is definitely new.

The multiplicity of the applied methodology precludes the construction of a classic linear life story, yet this fragmentation opens the field for similar studies. Some important chapters of Štúr’s life did not fit into Demmel’s book, even though as subjects of study they would have been at least as challenging and probably would have yielded similarly exciting findings. For instance, Štúr’s studies in Germany completely fall out of the scope, and the evolution of his political ideas is touched upon only incidentally. Indeed Demmel was so preoccupied with the deconstruction of the Slovak and Hungarian master narratives that he did not reflect on the recent “Western” literature on the topic, so one is a bit surprised not to see references to the works on Slovak history by Josette Baer,16 Tomasz Kamuszella17 and Alexander Maxwell.18

Nonetheless, Demmel’s book is unquestionably a key reading for anyone interested in the Slovak and Hungarian history of the nineteenth century. The extent to which Demmel has reached his original goal, to provide an understanding of a Slovak national hero that will be considered valid both in Hungary and Slovakia, remains a question, as neither an English nor a Slovak edition has appeared. What is sure is that Hungarian historical scholarship has overwhelmingly praised Demmel’s contribution, so half of the goal has been completed. As the Kalligram publishing house plans to translate the book into Slovak, soon it will be evident the extent to which Slovak historical scholarship is open to a reinterpretation of a central hero constructed by earlier generations that is radical both in its methodology and its narrative content.


Bálint Varga

13 József Demmel, “Egész Szlovákia elfért egy tutajon…” Tanulmányok a 19. századi Magyarország szlovák történelméről [The Whole of Slovakia Fit on a Raft: Studies on the Slovak History of Nineteenth-Century Hungary] (Pozsony: Kalligram, 2009).

14 See László Csorba, A tizenkilencedik század története [The History of the Nineteenth Century] (Budapest: Pannonica, 2000): Štúr is mentioned as the organizer of Slovak cultural life in the 1840s, but his activities during and after the 1848 revolution are not addressed (p.111). In a standard book in Hungarian university education, András Gergely, ed., Magyarország története a 19. században [The History of Hungary in the Nineteenth Century] (Budapest: Osiris, 2003), Gergely interprets Štúr’s activities as unrealistic, lacking popular support, and in fact contributing to Viennese neo-absolutism (p.248).

15 The heyday of the Štúr-hagiography was the 1950s and 1960s, marked by the publication of Štúr’s correspondence, books and pamphlets (the most important: Jozef Ambruš, ed., L’udovít Štúr: Dielo v piatich zväzkoch [The Works of L’udovít Štúr in Five Volumes] (Bratislava: Slovenské vydavateľstvo krásnej literatúry, 1955–57). The Marxist canon was fixed in 1956, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of Štúr with a representative conference: L’udovít Štúr: život a dielo 1815–1856: sbornik materiálov z konferencie Historického ústavu Slovenskej akadémie vied [L’udovít Štúr: Life and Works, 1815–1856: Proceedings of a Conference of the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences] (Bratislava: Vydavatel’stvo Slovenskej Akademie Vied, 1956). An uncritical and hagiographic attitude was present in the Western emigration, too (Jozef Kirschbaum, L’udovít Štúr: and His Place in the Slavic World (Winnipeg: Slovak Institute, 1958). The first critical attempts were published as late as the 2000s (a thematic issue of the journal OS, no. 1 (2007).

16 Josette Baer, Revolution, Modus Vivendi or Sovereignty? The Political Thought of the Slovak National Movement from 1861 to 1914 (Stuttgart: Ibidem, 2010).

17 Tomasz Kamusella, The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009).

18 Alexander Maxwell, Choosing Slovakia: Slavic Hungary, the Czechoslovak Language and Accidental Nationalism (London: Tauris Academic Series, 2009).


pdfVolume 2 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Maps of Remembrance. Space, Belonging and Politics of Memory in Eastern Europe. By Máté Zombory. Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2012. 311 pp.


Máté Zombory’s impressive monograph examines maps of remembrance. By using the metaphor of a map of remembrance in the title, Zombory indicates the conceptual and methodological framework of his post-1989 research on Hungarian national identity. The metaphor refers to Appadurai’s concept of ’scape’ or ’ethnoscape’ used for the study of complex cultures, their coexistence, and the characteristic differences of the respective societies.19 However, in identity research the further consideration of the concept of lieu de mémoire introduced by Pierre Nora, which is part of the discussion in this book, has become increasingly unavoidable.20 What does this mean exactly? In this regard, these are maps drawn by the memory, specifically emerging identity maps that are bound to people of Hungarian nationality and Hungarian mother tongue whose national belonging became problematic for some reason in the twentieth century.

The author structures the book around three key concepts: nationality, space and remembrance. The theoretical part of the monograph is an interpretation of these concepts. The topic indicated in the title is introduced by three theoretical and three empirical studies. The main purpose of the book is to focus on the relationship between the individual and the nation, as well as to study the national phenomenon and the role of particular states. The author examines and illustrates the spatial practices based on analyses of memory constructions.

The empirical part is mainly a representation of practices of the identity strategies used by the state and the individual. In the case of the first, the author analyzes political speeches, while in the case of the second he examines life stories using the method of oral history. The key question of the book can be summarized as follows: “The question is: what role does the representation of the space in memory play such that it produces national belonging as a natural factor?” (p.8).

The first chapter of the work, entitled Nationalism and Spatiality, concentrates on the spatial representation of nations in Eastern Europe. In this chapter Zombory observes that the world of nations is pervaded by a sort of spatial dynamism which contributes to the formation of national belonging. Zombory offers a reinterpretation of nationalism and revision of the nation’s raison d’etre. As he notes, “attachment to a place is not self-evident or naturally given, consequently the spatialization of (national) culture—including territorialization—is a historical, political and social process” (pp.29–30). The main aim of this chapter is to highlight, alongside the notion of the immobility of the nations, spatial movements whereby the differing problems of homeland and home arise.

In the second theoretical part of the book the author raises the issue of “spatial practices constructing belonging” connected to remembrance (p.50). At the beginning of the chapter, entitled Between Place and Memory: the Practices of Localization, Zombory claims that the spatial aspects rarely appear in the memory-discourses. In this section he tries to fill a lacuna. He redefines the problem of belonging. “Briefly, it is by reformulating the contexts of sites and memory according to the problematics of spatial practices” (p.52). Alongside the analyses of memory and space, Zombory presents theories related to the topic, theories that help determine the concept of spatial practices of remembrance. The author specifies this at the end of the chapter: “The spatializing practice of remembrance I examine is narration: I analyze national narratives of the past given as a reaction to spatial challenges” (p.84).21

This turn leads into the first empirical chapter of this work, The Return to Europe: State Politics of Memory and Hungarian Belonging. This case study offers an analysis of the Hungarian national localization procedures after 1989. The main issue of the chapter is “how the Hungarian state produced national-spatial belonging after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc” (p.9).

The author dissects the speeches at the commemorations of August 20 between the period of the political change and the accession to the European Union (the period from 1989 to 2004), narratives of the prime ministers and presidents of the Hungarian Republic related to the national history. The first part of the study provides information on the role of East-West differentiation, which is closely connected to the meaning and the significance of Hungary’s ’return to Europe’. In the introductory part of the analysis of the political speeches, Zombory plainly indicates that he is going to present ritual cartographic practices with which “Hungarian state leadership has redrawn the ideological world map that disintegrated with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc” (p.92).

The analysis of the political speeches is important for this reason: “The state localization tracing out the space for national belonging thus produces a map that creates the characteristics of the subject constructed by the commemoration, the nation – in other words, (narration) national identity” (p.93). The succeeding subchapters contain analyses of the speeches held by the official Hungarian state representatives, presidents and prime ministers on state commemorations. Zombory regards these commemorations as political rituals that are localizations, thus they reconstruct national belonging in the bodily-material dimension of past. He refers to these practices of remembrance as the national cartography, illustrating them with examples from the Hungarian state politics of memory after 1989.

The chapter The Nation as Imaginative Laboratory is part of the theoretical framework of the book. The author undertakes to investigate the politics of belonging. In this context, he examines the theoretical aspects of identity. Hereafter the question of the subject and the discursive relation of power comes to the fore. The author tries to explore this: “I deal with on one hand the way individual identity strategies can be examined in the context of state normalization [...]” (p.9). The discussion of the theoretical questions is followed by the remarks on the research methodology.

The next section of the work belongs to the empirical part consisting of the study The Museum of the Self: National-Ethnic Belonging and the Memory of Expulsion. This section analyzes the life story interviews of people who were directly involved in the forced migrations and expulsions in the twentieth century. In particular, Zombory examines the construction of national-ethnic belonging using the life stories of people of German origin who were resettled or deported to the Soviet Union. The identity strategies in this section are constructed in the context of forced relocation. Through a reconstruction of the relationship created with the past, the flashbacks create a certain ’self-musealization’.

As the author describes it: “The borders of homeland constructed by self-musealization are qualitatively equivalent to the borders of the homeland according to the territorial norm of the nation-state, but the strategic marking out of them invalidates the unquestionable unity of state and nation” (p.286).

The chapter entitled Hungarian Homelands: National Belonging “Beyond the Border” analyzes the life stories of Hungarians living in Slovakia. Zombory examines the interviewees’ relationships to the Hungarian state politics of memory with respect to the discourses of existence “beyond the border”. In addition, he raises the question, how is it possible for Hungarians to remain Hungarians outside the borders of Hungary? The author notes in connection with the examination of national belonging that in contrast to the previous chapter he analyzes spatial displacements regarding the Trianon Treaty (1920), which was predicated on the enforcement of the territorial norm of the nation-state and was implemented without any mass movement of the population. The author summarizes the main purpose of this chapter: “The field of my examination is delimited by the conflict between Hungarians living outside the borders and the political practices of the Hungarian state in the discourse addressing them” (p.211).

To lay down the basis of the theoretical part he uses Rogers Brubacker’s theoretical framework. The author concentrates on the spatial displacement that takes place in Hungarian–Hungarian relations,” giving rise to alternative homes. The participants in these relationships are individuals living in the Hungarian state and outside the Hungarian borders. The context of the analyses is given by Hungary’s official diaspora politics between 1989 and 2010. In part of this chapter Zombory writes about the Hungarian state’s political practices regarding the Hungarians living outside the borders, as well as individual identity strategies and the localization of the national home.

The seventh chapter is a kind of summary of the work. The author writes about the objectives and conclusions of the book. The title of this part is State-free Nationalism, Natural National Resistance. The question of national belonging is joined with the spatial dynamics of nationalism. So the object of the investigation is the nation state’s reaction to the spatial displacements that presented a challenge to the concept of national belonging. By maintaining practices of national cartography, the official Hungarian nation-state representatives constructed a natural relationship attached to the inert homeland, portraying the homeland as a permanent, natural entity which must be protected from change.

As the author puts it: “The ’national body’ materializing in this discourse is apparently not a political quality, but a natural one” (p.284). This means, furthermore, that anyone who is fashioned by the nation as a foreigner becomes an outcast.

Another important question raised by Zombory is how the outcast finds voice in the national discourse. The author examines two cases in this respect. In the first case, the displacement caused by the territorial norm of the nation-state is linked to the movement of the individual, but in the second it is not: “The spatial dynamic makes possible the constant construction of national belonging. However the construction of non-nation-state homelands means a cultural form of the national relationship of individual and places that rejects the territorial ideal prescribed as a norm of nationalism, according to which the borders of nation and state must be congruent” (p.286). Thus, localization processes can create ’alternative national homes’. Zombory thus questions the doctrine of nation-state nationalism. However, he also draws attention to the fact that the territorializing localization processes under examination repeat the territorial norm of the nation-state.22

In connection with the natural functioning of national belonging, the examples indicate that national belonging becomes natural through the spatial-material identification of present and past. On the other hand, Zombory implies how the national discourse challenges natural belonging. The author also draws attention to the fact that alongside the “social strength” of the localization practices, one has to face its physical-material nature (pp.288–89).

The most important result of the work is to explore new nationalism, spatial belonging, and the questions of remembrance. Zombory highlights the relationship between these three concepts and presents them as inseparable. Next to the nation’s static nature, he points out its dynamic movement, thereby recasting it according to a new approach. Spatial practices must be made part of the scholarship on nationalism, and in order to further our understanding of these practices, Zombory uses the memory research. He points out that past is reconstructed not only in time, but also in space.

The language of the monograph is the language of the scholar, but the registers and style are exciting and diverse. The great advantage of the monograph is that it approaches the subject from different perspectives. However, Zombory arguably attempts to adopt too many approaches. In my opinion, the processes and examples should be described in more detail and the scope of the examination of national belonging should be also widened. At the same time, in the Hungarian secondary literature Zombory’s book constitutes one of the most nuanced contributions to the new approaches to nationalism and national issues.

19 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

20 Pierre Nora, “Entre Mémoire et Histoire. La problématique des lieux,” in La République, ed. Pierre Nora, vol. 1 of Les lieux de mémoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1984), XVI–XLII.

21 The author defines the concept of narration as follows: “Narration is a discursive practice which is not identical to text: the utterance has a bodily-material dimension, and the narration localizes not only in time, but also in space” (p.84).

22 After all, these practices construct ethnic homelands within the nation-state territory and national homelands outside the nation-state, which however, in a manner equivalent to the nation-state ideal, are externally delimited in space, homogenized internally, and rooted in the soil (p.287).

pdfVolume 2 Issue 3 CONTENTS

What Made the Kádár Era? Two Books on Hungary’s Recent Past
Népuralom ötvenhatban [People’s Rule in ’56]. By Éva Standeisky. Pozsony–Budapest: Kalligram–1956-os Intézet, 2010. 597 pp.
Bevezetés a kádárizmusba [Introduction to Kádárism]. By János Rainer M. Budapest: 1956-os Intézet–L’Harmattan Kiadó, 2011. 352 pp.


Hungary has its own extensive literature on the era of state socialism, with a steady stream of monographs (re)assessing the whole of the period. Previously well-established ideas on the state and society of state socialism have come under review in recent years. The approaches of social and cultural history and the history of mentality are gradually making inroads into the study of recent history in this country. The assessment of the Kádár era has become a question of heightened interest in the last few years. The limits of power, the scope ordinary people had for action (including against the system) and how these shaped the world and everyday life of state socialism are among the fundamental questions of interest on the state socialist system and the Kádár era.

No assessment of the Kádár era can completely dissociate it from 1956 and the period that preceded it, the Stalinist Rákosi era. Books on the events of the 1956 Revolution have proliferated in Hungary since the political transition. Éva Standeisky’s Népuralom ötvenhatban stands out among these. The author examines the aims that motivated the everyday participants in 1956 and the individual and collective actions which shaped the historical events. She takes a history-of-mentality approach to the events of the Revolution, assembling and interpreting data that has already been published, and focusing on individual cases and local events. Although to a large extent building on previous political-history and local-history treatments, the book examines the mentalities in the background of the events from close up. The scale changes several times from chapter to chapter, progressing from the mass to the group and then to the individual, and giving an insight into the Revolution from a micro-history perspective. These changes in viewpoint in themselves set the book apart from the idealized accounts of the Revolution familiar in general history books and from the image of 1956 constructed in the West.

Foreign accounts of the Revolution were heavily influenced by the work of Hannah Arendt. In the second edition of her book on totalitarianism, Arendt wrote about the workers’ councils set up in the Hungarian Revolution. These have been widely interpreted in Western left-wing accounts as repositories of the revolutionary will (the aims of the “working class”). Several, following Arendt,23 described Hungary’s Revolution as a workers’ revolution against a totalitarian regime which called itself a workers’ state. Bill Lomax directly described the Hungarian revolutionary workers’ organizations as a self-administering state of workers’ councils.24

By contrast, Standeisky shows the diversity of organizations which sprang up (revolutionary committees, national committees, national councils, workers’ councils, etc.). She sees the collapse of the dictatorial regime as a state of grace that gave people the chance to produce truly democratic arrangements, setting up new organizations at a local level and at their own initiative. She argues that direct democracy (or more precisely various spontaneous forms of that) can truly work in extraordinary circumstances, because of the special ability of ordinary people to create a meaningful and workable order—at least temporarily. This, in the interpretation given in the book, is what happened in Hungary in 1956. At one point, she says of the achievements of ordinary people: “they put the world that had fallen apart during the Rákosi dictatorship back together: they created real people’s power, and order” (p.272).

Despite being based on a selection of individual events, the account of the Revolution is not overly idealized or one-sided, because it makes the diversity of these events very clear, and presents some less-known features of the Revolution, such as manifestations of anti-Semitism and lynchings. Hannah Arendt claimed in her classic work that there was almost no robbery or looting in 1956, i.e. mob rule did not take hold. Relying on published sources, Standeisky presents some of the more carnival-like moments of the Revolution. She shows that revolutionary and workers’ councils did not form immediately, and all kinds of things happened from day to day. It is not easy to confront or convey the dark side of 1956 in Hungary. As recently as 2006, a play written by András Papp and János Térey for the fiftieth anniversary raised a storm of controversy.25 Kazamaták is the stage “adaptation” of a notorious historical event, the siege of a Communist Party headquarters building in Köztársaság Square. It confronted informed public opinion with a different face of the 1956. The rebels besieged and occupied the building of the Budapest Party Committee on 30 October 1956 and killed 24 people. Among the dead was the Communist leader Imre Mező, a supporter of Imre Nagy. Standeisky distances herself from those who see that event as a “people’s judgement”, and describes such phenomena as “the inflamed mass brutally taking out its anger—a lynching” (p.53). Occasionally, even myth-busting stories turn out not to displace the myths so neatly. Éva Tulipán’s recent book, which treats the events of Köztársaság Square in great detail, tells us that one reason for the siege of the party building may have been that the Communist Party was actually trying to organize security there. The security forces inside had clashed with the rebels several times in the days leading up to the siege, and the defenders of the building used firearms for the first time on 30 October.26 Thus a variety of assessments and judgements are possible for every individual and collective action, not just the larger events.

Retrospective social awareness has conditioned us to see the Revolution as a fight between good and bad, and Papp and Térey’s play was the first since the political transition to confront a wide public with how complex the events of the Revolution actually were. The idea that “goodies” can sometimes behave badly is somewhat jarring. The closing line of the play, “The single story disintegrates/Into one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-six pieces” is a wry pun: the word for “piece” in Hungarian also means “stage play”. Returning to Standeisky’s book, we read that every individual and group action has its own special driving force, behind which we can recognize the general characteristics of human nature. These driving forces, from the evidence of this book, seem to be autonomy and love of freedom. This hardly differs from Hannah Arendt’s insight that the antidote to totalitarianism is spontaneity, the capability of autonomous action, which totalitarian systems try to eliminate, but exists in everybody. But here, individual and community autonomy takes its meaning in democracy, and not within the Marxist ideal of revolution.

Standeisky’s book seems to tell us that in the individual and group actions behind the events of 1956, the force which stood in opposition to dictatorship and everything associated with it was the freedom-seeking spirit inherent in modern society. (The Western treatments quoted assessed the totalitarian system against Marxist ideals, whereas here the moral gauge, or rather the counterpoint, is democracy, which the author claims showed up in 1956 as the alternative to dictatorship). This is definitely true if the research approaches the events of 1956 from the perspective of democratic values. In modern times, according to Hannah Arendt, we can give meaning to our own time by regaining the past. The pearl diver does not dive to the bottom of the sea to discover everything that is there; he is only interested in pearls and coral.27 This applies even if she sets out to present nearly every phenomenon, including those less important for her own interpretation.

According to Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism, terror is a phenomenon that pervades every aspect of social life. In this interpretation, terror is actually the trigger of social resistance and revolution (true also for 1956). The question remains of how to explain how a totalitarian system can survive for a long time, i.e. why it does not prompt members of society to form groups for collective action.28 This, or how the totalitarian system built itself into the everyday world, is really the central question of the historiography of the Kádár era.

The nature and operation of Kádárism, the new order which was set up in Hungary to stifle the democratic initiatives of 1956, is the subject of the book by János Rainer M. The essays making up Bevezetés a kádárizmusba extend their scope to the preceding Rákosi era and the subsequent political transition. Rainer claims that Stalinism and the Rákosi era did not break down every social tradition in Hungary, and the Kádár era made fewer changes to the Stalinist system after 1956 than contemporary discourses might lead us to think. The center of the author’s interest, as implied by the title, is the assessment and interpretation of the Kádár era and Kádárism.

The book reflects on the best-known foreign interpretations of the state socialist system, theories of totalitarianism, various schools of revisionism, and interpretations of Stalinism as a civilization. Rainer notes that “the paradigm of ‘totalitarianism’ was to no small extent reborn in Eastern Europe before and after 1989” (p.125). It is difficult, however, to judge the validity of theory from what are often purely ideological applications of it; the oversimplifying interpretations are usually what the revisionists turn against (p.49). In Hungary, the totalitarianism paradigm is usually taken up together with right-wing, highly ideologized anti-Communist rhetoric. Nowadays, however, we see these systems as being as open to left-wing criticism (indeed in a democracy they can only be approached critically) as Western capitalism, and even some elements of totalitarianism theory fit into this criticism. The author, in the restrained tones of these essays, implies that he finds the best route to interpreting the Kádár era through methodological multiplicity and a combination of approaches, and that is what he tries to do in this book.

For a long time, the “Kádár system” appeared in both Western and Hungarian historiography as a version of state socialism with a special human face, approaching Western welfare states, a system which made Central and Eastern European totalitarianism liveable, and in fact fundamentally changed it (taming the system from arbitrary and totalitarian to merely authoritarian). Rainer claims that Kádárism was not a system in its own right, but only a shift within the system. These internal changes did, however, combine into some kind of organic whole which might be called Kádárism, a liveable system for a large proportion of ordinary people. The author argues that Kádárism was not as different from the previous era as the contemporary discourses legitimating the rule of János Kádár, and hence today’s discourses, would have it. It is striking, for example, that the word “reform”, regarded in both Hungary and abroad as a uniquely applicable to the system, was almost never used in a positive sense by Kádár himself (p.185–86).

In analyzing the essence of Kádárism, Rainer mentions a “Kádárist feeling” (p.146). He claims this derived not only from the sure knowledge that the country was “the best of existing worlds”, but also from the sense that everything could get worse (and only worse) at any time. He uses this as the general explanation for how the new regime managed to consolidate after the bloody reprisals. The author highlights the eponymous leader’s cynicism (p.27), which was perhaps not so much cynicism as the—not necessarily always conscious—recognition of public expectations, the day-to-day bounds of dictatorship and the limitations of rule. The author characterizes Kádár, who openly distanced himself from his predecessors, as not being associated with personal cult (p.200–14). He implies that the party leader’s behavior also contributed to the consolidation of the state system after its violent restoration. The question remains, however, as to how much this consolidation was directed from above and how much it derived from the will and deliberate action of a leader who seemed (and presented himself as) different from the other state-socialist leaders. In the revisionist approach, this could much better be interpreted as a jointly-developed social practice to which the First Secretary adapted than as a compromise between “regime” and “society”.

Individuals do not simply subordinate themselves to state power in a dictatorship, but by their actions they accept, transform and—in their own everyday worlds—even create it. State power to some extent depends on the character and actions of its citizens/subjects. It follows from the work of revisionist historians who adopt Foucault’s concepts of power that we can get close to understanding the system via the collective and individual actions which enable it to operate. Stephen Kotkin claims that “Stalinism was not just a political system, let alone the rule of an individual. It was a set of values, a social identity, a way of life. When it comes to Stalinism, what needs to be explained and subjected to detailed scrutiny are the mechanisms by which the dreams of ordinary people and those of the individuals directing the state found common ground in this Soviet version of the welfare state.”29 The same might be said of totalitarianism in general, and the approach does not actually contradict the essential claims of totalitarianism theories (which link the substance of dictatorship to modern forms of violence) but examines the everyday implementation of totalitarianism and seeks the explanation of the sustained existence of totalitarian systems in the world of everyday life.

What ordinary people actually got from Kádárism, and what compromises or everyday practices confirmed the system’s legitimacy in the Kádár era, are fundamental questions. The discourses of the period hold that the system, starting in the 1960s, created rising standards of living and relative welfare in Hungary (Rainer also mentions the complex relationship between these discourses and everyday realities). Recent research, however (books by Béla Tomka and Sándor Horváth) largely refute this.30 This work no longer looks to the other countries of the Soviet system for a basis of comparison but to Western democratic social policy, whose fundamental aims diverged from those the social system built up in Hungary after 1956. Hungarian social policy was aimed at legitimizing state institutions, the state, and even the social system itself. It was a system which gave no opening for real representation of interests, and especially not public collective representation.

According to Kotkin, what emerged under state socialist regimes was an “uncivil society”. The establishment was the only formation which was a real organized unit (set against unorganized groupings).31 The contemporary elite and bureaucracy, through their organization and their positions within society, thus arranged the systems of distribution to operate according to their interests. The uncivil logic, i.e. the lack of autonomy and solidarity and the imposition of narrow interests ran through not only the old establishment (i.e. top down) but society as a whole (nearly everybody had something to lose). The paternalist policy ultimately proved successful because—until the nineteen eighties—neither the social injustices nor any other cause triggered mass protests.32

Rainer’s book gives us a much more textured account of the Kádár era and the operation of the state socialist system in general than previous approaches, which confined themselves to political history. It challenges the assertions that the Kádár era can be sharply delineated from the Rákosi era and that the system’s internal changes during the period directly led to the political transition. This may encourage us to examine the state socialist system in Hungary as a separate civilization and its operation according to its own rules. If we give up the notion of all-embracing total power, we also have to reject the idea that dictatorship was driven initially purely by violence and later by compromises offered by the regime. Nonetheless, we are left with the question of why the society that was the champion of freedom in 1956 (in its own and the world’s eyes) uniformly accepted—or seemed to accept—the framework and existence of the state socialist system. Viewed from close up, how can we explain the phenomenon Rainer calls the “Kádárist feeling”?

Today, it seems that consolidating state socialism, after the feeling of permanent threat and vulnerability of the period of catastrophe and the Rákosi era, created a kind of peaceful opportunism in Hungary. After 1956, the unalterability of the system (and the need for collaboration/cooperation with the regime) did indeed seem to become a general awareness, or almost a shared attitude to life. A basic question in this regard is whether individual and collective anger against the system existed or could have existed in the Kádár era, and if so, in what form. Another question is how these behaviors relate to the individual and collective behaviors seen in 1956. In my view, two social science concepts could be adapted to interpret the formation and everyday working of Kádárism, and they cannot be understood solely by the theoretical models of totalitarianism.

German historians of everyday life developed a highly influential theory to describe the legitimacy of dictatorships and the effect and significance of individual actions in these regimes. This theory borrows from German literature and philosophy the concept of Eigensinn (“sense of one’s own interests”) to describe the behavior and motivations of the “majority”, i.e. people who were neither enthusiastic disciples nor active opponents of the Nazi or Soviet dictatorships but whose everyday work and passive behavior, by not presenting resistance, helped these systems to build up and endure. The word implies a kind of self-sufficiency and independence; not the free will of free persons, but the will of citizens who can (and do) adapt to various kinds of regime while keeping their own direct interests in view.33 Set against this is the concept of autonomy, the kind of everyday behavior which inhibits the emergence and persistence of totalitarianism and which should, in principle, be typical behavior in a democracy. Whether it is democracy which creates autonomous behavior, and dictatorship which creates Eigensinn and everyday forms of collaboration, or these things happen the other way round, is a complex question, and the perspective of study obviously has a bearing on the answer.

The social sciences, following Nietzsche,34 use the term ressentiment to denote the impotent vengeance and collective passions aroused in ordinary people by unjustly inflicted injuries and expressed in terms of justice or their own sense of “right”. This is violently suppressed resistance, the post-terror condition, the forced renunciation of resistance. At such times, ordinary people—having no defeatable opponent or space for real action—become incapable of resistance. The actions of individuals thus serve purely their own personal interests and act against, and restrict, each other. Today, we do not look back on these individual and collective authoritative behaviors as revealing aspects of the past or points of reference (going back to the pearl-diver metaphor: as pearls or coral), but they may nonetheless have been important driving forces behind the events.

In the Kádár era, the majority were not true disciples of the dictatorship, but neither were they its opponents. As simple citizens, they adapted to it because they were concerned with their own interests. These were the behaviors that may have created “Kádárism” in everyday life. It was in the basic interests of the new regime that the party leadership not be the target of suppressed or repressed resentments, and that people should seek the enemy in invisible forces or external, occupying powers. Nearly every symbolic act of the era’s eponym (who retained a long grip on power) was directed at having the truly suppressed groups of society see him as a man of ressentiment, someone who really was no different from them, the ordinary people, and who represented their interests.35 Totalitarian systems have given rise to innumerable forms of collaboration, and the concepts of terror and resistance in themselves are insufficient to explain them, in Hungary as elsewhere. What made the Kádár era? Very briefly, a social need for it in the prevailing conditions of dictatorship; this is one of the uncomfortable lessons of studying “Kádárism”.


Translated by Alan Campbell

György Majtényi

23 Hannah Arendt, “Epilogue: Reflections on the Hungarian Revolution” in idem, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Meridian Books, 1958), 480–510.

24 Bill Lomax, Hungary 1956 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1976); Bill Lomax, ed., Hungarian Workers’ Councils in 1956 (Boulder, Colo.: Social Science Monographs, 1990). For the latest criticism of this view, see Mark Pittaway, The Workers’ State: Industrial Labor and the Making of Socialist Hungary, 1944–1958 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 230–56.

25 András Papp and János Térey, Kazamaták,” Holmi 18, no. 3 (2006): 292–383.

26 Éva Tulipán, Szigorúan ellenőrzött emlékezet. A Köztársaság téri ostrom 1956-ban [Closely Observed Memory. The Köztársaság Square Siege in 1956] (Budapest: Argumentum Kiadó, 2012).

27 “Like a pearl diver who descends to the bottom of the sea, not to excavate the bottom and bring it to light but to pry loose the rich and the strange, the pearls and the coral in the depths, and to carry them to the surface, this thinking delves into the depths of the pastbut not in order to resuscitate it the way it was and to contribute to the renewal of extinct ages.” Hannah Arendt, “Introduction,” in idem, ed., Illuminations, essays by Walter Benjamin (New York: Schocken, 1969), 50–51.

28 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Meridian Books, 1958), 498.

29 Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 23.

30 Béla Tomka, Welfare in East and West: The Hungarian Welfare State in an International Comparison, 1918–1990 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003). Béla Tomka: Szociálpolitika a 20. századi Magyarországon európai perspektívában [Social Policy in Twentieth-Century Hungary in a European Perspective] (Budapest: Századvég, 2003); Sándor Horváth, Két emelet boldogság. Mindennapi szociálpolitika Budapesten a Kádár-korban [Happiness on Two Storeys. Everyday Social Policy in Budapest in the Kádár Era] (Budapest: Napvilág Kiadó, 2012).

31 Stephen Kotkin (with a contribution by Jan T. Gross), Uncivil Society. 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (New York: Modern Library, 2009).

32 Horváth, Két emelet boldogság, 242.

33 On the Eigensinn concept, see Alf Lüdtke, “Geschichte und ‘Eigensinn’” in Alltagskultur, Subjektivität und Geschichte. Zur Theorie und Praxis von Alltagsgeschichte, ed. Berliner Geschichtswerkstatt (Münster: Berliner Geschichtswerkstatt, 1994), 139–53.

34 Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1969). The historical adaptations of the concept: Robert C. Solomon explains the English expression resentment as always being directed to people of higher rank, anger to those of the same rank, and contempt to those of lower rank. Robert Solomon, “One Hundred Years of Ressentiment: Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals,” in Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality: Essays on Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, ed. Richard Schacht (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 95–126. In one of Sheila Fitzpatrick’s essays, following Arno Mayers’ study of revolutionary violence—Arno Mayers, The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001)—she analyzes the role of vengeance and ressentiment in the Russian Revolution, by which she means the four decades of Soviet history following 1917. This ascribes the main driving force of the series of events labelled “the revolution to the resentment of everyday people. The collective anger of the mass was directed at the bourgeois elites at the beginning of the revolution, the Russian intellectuals in the late 1920s, the Communist administrative elite (or bureaucracy) by the late 1930s, and the Jews by the late 1940s and early 1950s. Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Vengeance and Ressentiment in the Russian Revolution,” French Historical Studies 24 (2001): 579–88.

35 An adaptation of the concept of ressentiment to the Kádár era: György Majtényi, Vezércsel. Kádár János mindennapjai [Queen’s Gambit. The Everyday Life of János Kádár] (Budapest: Libri Kiadó–Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár, 2012).

pdfVolume 2 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Iron Curtain. The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956. By Anne Applebaum. New York: Doubleday, 2012. xxxvi + 566 pp.


In 1983, during the Cold War, Milan Kundera coined a new definition of Central Europe as Un occident kidnappé—“the kidnapped West.”36 To the present day, his essay has remained an important contribution to studies of the mental mapping of Europe. This is due to his partly very emotional appeal to regard his Czech homeland as well as Poland and Hungary as a part of a western cultural sphere that is “under the Russian yoke” but nonetheless still belongs to the West. His article, published in the western press, was meant to draw attention to the lands inside the Iron Curtain and to show that they are not a homogeneous and gray terra incognita, but rather have a rich and variegated history and culture of their own.

Thirty years later, a study has appeared that describes and analyzes the act of “kidnapping” or “crushing” of Eastern Europe: The Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum. The American historian and journalist, who is well known for her Pulitzer Prize winning study of the Gulag,37 spent six years collecting archival materials and personal memories of contemporary witnesses. The result is impressive. The author manages not only to tell in clear words the general history of the region after the war,38 but also to convey this history through the individual stories of ordinary people. Since the postwar generation is passing away, Applebaum’s efforts can hardly be overestimated. She conducted a series of interviews in Hungary, Germany, and Poland, and studied the archives of secret police and government organizations. The book is very well researched and I have been able to discover only one factual error: Ivan Maiskii was never a foreign minister of the Soviet Union (Applebaum claims he was, p.XXVIII).

The author begins with the story of how the new socialist regimes were established in Poland, East Germany and Hungary, where socialism à la Moscow was experienced as foreign, if not downright hostile rule. According to Applebaum, one of the main reasons why the new rule of liberators could be established in these countries was because the postwar suffering and distress of the people there caused them to yearn for “normality.”

The imposition of Soviet priorities and Soviet thinking on all three countries (which had gone through a rather nationalistic period in the 1930’s) presented a considerable challenge to the Soviet rulers.39 The difficulty of this task was in turn responsible for the rather undemocratic, violent methods of its imposition, such as making the “Moscow Communists” Mátyás Rákosi, Bolesław Bierut, and Walter Ulbricht top leaders and carrying out acts of political repression in preparation for “elections.” Although Soviet influence was carefully camouflaged, Applebaum manages to reconstruct the mechanisms of how the Soviet Union went about ruling and exerting political and social control in the satellite countries of Eastern Europe.

Applebaum chose the geographic frame of the study not so much to make comparisons between three countries, but to show the common mechanisms involved in how Soviet power was introduced and how interactions between Moscow and the politicians of Warsaw, Budapest and East Berlin took place. She makes clear, too, that there were other institutions throughout Eastern Europe that followed similar patterns: she describes the “class work” of Soviet-taught secret agents (p.68), the Soviet-style organization of loyal youth from kindergartens (p.151–73), and the total control exerted over mass media, where “soviet equipment, soviet transmitters, soviet advisers, [and the] soviet worldview” (p.181) were employed, as well as the construction of socialist cities such as Sztálinvaros, Stalinstadt and Nowa Huta, which were built in Soviet fashion like the Russian Magnitogorsk had been built in the 1930s. However, Applebaum also describes the differences peculiar to each of the regions. There were opponent players as well, such as the Catholic Church in Poland or the Petőfi Circle in Hungary. In the case of Poland, the ruling party officially tolerated regime opponents. The most moving example is that of Boleslaw Piasecki, who turned from the extreme right to the extreme left. As a former member of the Home Army, he wasn’t punished by the regime, as were most of his comrades, and he was even able to found Pax in 1952 as a paradoxically loyal opposition Catholic Party (p.408). These kinds of “deviations” would have been impossible to imagine in Soviet Russia during the Stalinist era. It is therefore legitimate to ask if we can speak of political and social life in Eastern Europe in terms of totalitarianism, the conceptual approach that Applebaum uses in telling her story.

Applebaum claims to “gain an understanding of real totalitarianism—not totalitarianism in theory, but totalitarianism in practice, and how it shaped lives of millions of Europeans.” (p.XXXVI). This is a crucial feature of Applebaum’s study: for her, the conception of totalitarianism is a “useful and necessary empirical description” (p.XXIV) of postwar Eastern Europe. In her study, the understanding of the totalitarian state is that of a regime that aspires to total control: due to this, she uses the term totalitarian to analyze methods and techniques of total control that were exported from the Soviet Union after the war (p.XXIII–XXIV). According to the classic totalitarian school of the 1950s,40 the totalitarianism model means excluding society and people from the analysis. The main topic of Applebaum’s book is—quite the contrary—precisely the role personality played in the postwar socialist systems: she describes her book as being about “how ordinary people learned to cope with the new regimes, how they collaborated, how and why they joined a party, how they resisted, actively or passively […]” (p.XXXVI). The use of a totalitarian model is problematic even in the case of Soviet Russia,41 and even more so in Central Europe—it should more properly be used to describe ideology. Regarding this period of history in Central Europe, it would be more precise to speak of authoritarian dictatorships rather than totalitarian societies. Apart from this theoretical problem, Anne Applebaum’s study nonetheless remains an intelligently conceived work containing an encyclopedic wealth of details, and it is written with considerable empathy for those who lived through the period in question.

Applebaum levies a harsh verdict regarding the attitude of “ordinary people” towards the Soviet mentality: “human beings don’t acquire ‘totalitarian personalities’ with such ease.” (p.461). Her explanation of why “ordinary people coped with the new regime” is that they depended on the state and their “circumstances were not dramatic.” (p.393). In this way, Applebaum raises a core question for historians and social-anthropologists, but also for those who lived through the period: did ordinary people really live “double lives” and become adjusted to a double way of thinking? Or did they adopt the rules of thinking and speaking, the rules of Foucauldian discourse? The answer is left to the reader.

The author gives us examples of people who consciously adopted the discourse of socialist reality. One women says of the Party Song, “that song, ‘the party, the party,’—we thought it was really the truth, and we behaved that way.” (p.387). Here Applebaum departs from totalitarianism as a theory and seems to share some of the views of revisionists regarding the “rapid social mobility” (p.392) that brought the possibility of social promotion for many young workers.42

One of the recurring themes in Applebaum’s study is the way violence was used to establish loyal societies. Despite the large-scale expulsion of local populations from almost all regions of Eastern Europe (multiple migrations) and politically motivated purges, governments went about establishing Soviet-style camps, often at the sites of former Nazi concentration camps. According to the author, the aim of the Soviet camps was to frighten people and to prevent dissent, and not to punish (p.108). This point must be regarded critically. First, conditions in the Soviet Gulag were much more inhumane than they were in the German postwar camps. Applebaum’s source, Wolfgang Lehman, maintains that the opposite was true (p.105), but as we know, human memory is not reliable. Second, the people in the Speziallager were not necessarily innocent: some of them had taken part in the mass murder programs of the Third Reich as lawyers or doctors, and many of them returned to their civilian professions after imprisonment, which lasted a number of years.43 Denazification is of course not the topic of Applebaum’s study, but this should have been mentioned in order to make her discussion more nuanced.

In the book one rarely finds the stories of convinced Communists, apart from the top leaders of the Communist Party, such as Bierut, Rákosi and Ulbricht. For some of them love and loyalty to Stalin was fatal: Bierut died of a stroke or a heart attack after he heard Khrushchev’s destalinization-speech, while Rákosi was “rescued” by Moscow in the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising and banned to Kyrgyzstan, from where he never returned to his homeland.

However, Applebaum describes a very striking phenomenon in the circles of the intellectual elite: some of them tried to “transform” themselves into “New Men.” One such example was Max Lingner, the artist and painter of the mural Aufbau der Republik, the man who “wanted to conform [...] and went through a kind of psychological transformation.” (p.342). His story seems to be typical of those who had sympathies for communism but despaired at the permanent feeling that the state had total control over the artist’s work (while working on the mural Lingner was publically criticized by Otto Grotewohl, the prime minister of East Germany).44 Nonetheless, Lingner tried to “transform” himself into the New Man who is a “thinking and acting Bolshevik” by engaging in the practices of self-criticism and self-discipline.45 This point is remarkable because it demonstrates how people outside the borders of Soviet Russia, using the same practices of “soviet subjectivization” as the Russians, learned to “speak Bolshevik.”46

All over Eastern Europe there were well-known, talented artists who praised Stalin: Wisława Szymborska in Poland, Salomea Neris in Lithuania, Konstantin Simonow in Russia and many others. Some of them were later ashamed of this and deleted these poems from their anthologies, some remained proud of it. Just what motivated them to do so remains a fascinating question.

Applebaum’s study also touches on the important topic of the memory of the socialist period. Applebaum’s sources not only demonstrate that people were often uncritical regarding the past, as indicated by the fact that they reproduced the official rules in their recollections, but that they even cherished feelings of nostalgia:

Julia Kollár remembers her stint at the construction site of Sztálinváros as “a happy time.” In addition, the author describes a phenomenon that almost all researchers of communicative memory encounter: that the people who experience injustice and pain at the hands of a system avoid talking about these topics because they were taboo not only in public, but also in the private, family sphere. One such case is that of Elisabeth Brüning, who insisted at first that she didn’t know about the violence perpetrated by Red Army soldiers, but after some time told the author what she had really experienced. This demonstrates clearly how traumatized people attempted to erase traumatic memories by forgetting, a strategy that has been described well by Aleida Assmann and Paul Ricoeur.47

Applebaum’s book is structured around contrasts highlighting the discrepancy between propaganda and reality: the erection of “ideal socialist cities” at the industrial sites of Stalinstadt, Sztálinváros, Nowa Huta and the realities of alcohol abuse, venereal disease, political apathy and catastrophic housing; the drive to exceed quotas by using shock workers and the low quality of the production and the economic harm that ensues (p.319); the propagation of literacy and the massive emigration of many specialists to the West because of their unwillingness to take responsibility for teaching false ideals to their children (p.308).

Applebaum tells the story of socialist rule in Eastern Europe as a story of failure. The resistance to the system, the unwillingness to “live within a lie” (Václav Havel) resulted not only in such more or less harmless forms of opposition as wearing “jampi” [dandy]- shoes48 or telling political jokes, but also in tragic ones, as for example exile for the East Germans or suicide (see, for example, the moving story of the Hungarian psychoanalyst Lili Hajdú Gimesné (Lily Haidu-Gimes in Applebaum’s book) (p.394–96).

The socialist “brave new world” did not collapse until 1989, but the seeds for this collapse had already been planted in the crushing of Eastern Europe—a process that was violent, inhuman and full of failures. Applebaum’s study documents the extent of this failure in a clear and compelling way.


Ekaterina Makhotina

36 Kundera Milan,  “’Un occident kidnappé’ ou la tragédie de l’Europe centrale, Le Débat 27, no. 5 (1983): 3–23.

37 Anne Applebaum, Gulag: a History (New York: Doubleday, 2003).

38 There have been many studies devoted to the particular regions, but no study that takes up the challenge of providing a broader, more general perspective (p.XXXIV).

39 The mental dispositions of the societies had been affected by the nationalist or even fascist values of the postwar societies of Eastern Europe. Applebaum mentions this example by referring to anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland and Hungary (p.138–39).

40 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Meridian Books, 1958); Zbygniew Brzezinski and Carl Joachim Friedrich, Die allgemeinen Merkmale der totalitären Diktatur, in Wege der Totalitarismus-Forschung, ed. Bruno Seidel and Siegfried Jenker (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1974), 600–17.

41 See the discussion by Stefan Plaggenborg, Die wichtigsten Herangehensweisen an Stalinismus in der westlichen Forschung, in Stalinismus. Neue Forschungen und Konzepte, ed. Stefan Plaggenborg (Berlin: Berlin-Verlag Spitz, 1998), 13–33.

42 Cf. in particular, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 19211934 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); idem, “New Perspectives on Stalinism,Russian Review 45 (1986): 357–83; as well as Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: a study of collectivization (New York: Norton, 1975 [1968]).

43 Cf. Bettina Greiner, Der Preis der Anerkennung. Zur Debatte über den Erinnerungsort der Speziallager, in Instrumentalisierung, Verdrängung, Aufarbeitung. Die sowjetischen Speziallager in der gesellschaftlichen Wahrnehmung 1945 bis heute, ed. Petra Hausstein, Annette Kaminski, Volkharg Knigge, and Bodo Ritscher (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2006), 114–32; Petra Haustein, Geschichte im Dissens. Die Auseinandersetzungen um die Gedenkstätte Sachsenhausen nach dem Ende der DDR, in Instrumentalisierung, Verdrängung, Aufarbeitung, ed. Hausstein et. al., 133–48.

44 “The painter had not understood the importance of industry to the development of socialism […]” (p.341).

45 As has been described by researchers of Soviet subjectivity, see Jochen Hellbeck, “Fashioning the Stalinist Soul: The diary of Stefan Podlubny (1931–1939),” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 44, no. 3 (1996): 344–73; Idem, Revolution on My Mind: Writing a Diary Under Stalin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).

46 Cf. Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, Stalinism as Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Oleg Kharkhordin, Obličat’ I licemerit’. Genealogija rossijskoj ličnosti [Expose and Hypocrisy. Genealogy of Russian Identity] (Saint Petersburg: Evropejskij universitet v Sankt-Peterburge, 2002).

47 Cf. Aleida Assmann, Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit. Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik (Munich: Beck, 2006), 218; Paul Ricoeur, La memoire, l’historie, l’oubli (Paris: Seuil, 2000).

48 This form of protest through fashion was used to demonstrate unwillingness to conform to totalitarian reality. In Hungary this meant wearing shoes that resembled American sneakers (jampec shoes), in Poland there were bikiniarze, and the juvenile subculture in East Germany had so-called Halbstarke.