Rural Reactions to Modernization: Anti-Modernist Features of the 1883 Anti-Hungarian Peasant Uprising in Croatia

Veronika Eszik
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 12 Issue 1  (2023):37–65 DOI 10.38145/2023.1.37

In the post-Compromise Croatia–Slavonia (1868–1914) several peasant uprisings indicated a deep crisis in the rural world. Previous literature abundantly discussed the economic and social motives of these protests and interpreted the tensions as signs of the peasantry’s national awakening. In the present article, through a rereading of archival documents related to the 1883 protests, I draw attention to the perplexity of peasants when they should have identified national symbols. I argue, that the attitude of the peasants towards symbols turned against every kind of power symbol regardless of its link to a given nation. Adding a layer of nuance to the canonical explanations of peasant unrest allows us to draw attention to popular sensibilities to the ever-expanding state’s intrusion into rural areas and to the state’s modernizing interventions perceived as coercion. The ways in which the peasantry responded with hostility and violence to spaces, symbols, and figures associated with modernization make it very clear that modernization was seen by the peasantry as a potential danger (hence the anti-modernist epithet of the 1883 events). Thus, we should abandon the assumption that elite imaginations of modernity and modernization simply trickled down to the peasantry or that peasants accepted the teleology of modernization without criticism or anxiety. This article is also an attempt to read peasant rumors as historical sources independently of their truthfulness at the factual level, concentrating rather on what they tell us about the peasants’ fears and motivations and the strategies they used to cope with rapid changes in their lifeworld.

Keywords: Croatia–Slavonia, Hungarian Kingdom, peasant movements, rural history, anti-modernism, rumor theory

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