Volume 9 of the series Mikrotörténelem [Microhistory], edited by Gábor Klaniczay and István M. Szijártó, offers an overview of professor Gyula Szvák’s research career on Russian historiography, a career which stretched over a period of some 40 years. The volume IV. Iván és I. Péter mikrohistoriográfiája [A micro-historiography of Ivan IV and Peter I] contains studies previously published in various journals and other volumes. Szvák explains the importance of publishing these papers again in a single volume in the introduction: “The present microhistory is in fact a micro-historiography, and it seeks to make claims about the entirety of Russian history through excavation. Thus, the series of micro-examinations focusing on the periods of the rule of Ivan IV and Peter I provide a picture of 200 years of Russian historical science” (p.8). As a result, the volume may catch the attention not only of those interested in Ivan IV and Peter I, but, as Szvák suggests, anyone interested in Russian historiography or history.
The introduction is followed by six papers of various lengths. The first two focus primarily on the Russian and Soviet historiography on Ivan IV, while the third discusses all the historiographical works published on Peter I in Russia. These three studies constitute the bulk of the volume (pp.19–136). Although the volume is not divided thematically, after the first section, which clearly deals with (micro)historiography, the second part, which begins with Chapter 4, focuses more on the oeuvre of a selected few historiographers. The first study discusses Russian historian Ruslan Skrynnikov and his historical conception of Ivan IV. The following chapter provides a comparison of Skyrnnikov’s career and the career of Hungarian historian József Perényi. The final chapter, the third thematic part of the volume, is a study on attempts to compare Ivan IV and Peter I.
As my intention with this review is to introduce a volume the studies of which have been published earlier, I will not discuss the studies themselves individually. It is worth paying attention to the introduction, however, which was written specifically for the volume. The introductory chapter consists of four smaller sections. The first one discusses a recent Russian-language anthology of Gyula Szvák’s studies, the main inspiration for the volume reviewed here. Since, according to the author, Hungarian readers are interested mainly in Ivan IV and Peter I, the Hungarian edition only contains studies written about the two rulers. Based on the decades the author has spent in the field of Russistics, this claim is supposedly justified. However, it might have been worth including at least a short list of the studies that were not selected for this volume. In the same section, we are given a brief discussion of the tenets and development of Gyula Szvák’s historiographical works, as well as of his “arrival” at “micro-historiography” as a concept. In the following sections, Szvák reflects on changes in Soviet historiography and the role of Russian studies in Hungary, with special regard to Szvák’s own experiences and expertise. The section provides an exciting insight into life as a historian in the period prior to the change of regimes through the eyes of Gyula Szvák and the “lens” of Russian studies in Hungary, of course. Szvák recalls limitations to academic freedom in Soviet historiography and, later, the loosening of these constraints, as compared with a more enabling Hungarian social and academic life.
The concluding thoughts of the introduction appear to be a summary of a historian’s career in the context of current political events. Although Szvák does not primarily deal with Russian historiography here, he does not fully digress from it either, since as the papers in the volume shed light on the relationship of historians of the given period to the state powers of the times, the final section of the introduction likewise mentions some major conflicts concerning the academic sphere in the past few years. In the author’s view, the parallel between the historical perspective of the volume and the situation report of the present time, formulated at the end of the introduction, is manifested in the tendencies of the development of an authoritarian rule and historians’ relationships to these tendencies. The selected subjects of the volume (Ivan IV and Peter I) practically determine the questions of this kind, as the historical assessment of the two monarchs was never an issue to which state power could afford to be indifferent.
The first three studies present the entirety of the Russian and Soviet historiography on Ivan IV and Peter I, thus achieving the aims laid out in the introduction: they provide a comprehensive picture of 300 years of Russian and Soviet historiography. The relationship between historian and state power, emphasized in the introduction, appears as merely a minor topic next to more imposing themes, such as the use of sources, the importance of belonging to certain schools of historiography, academic discourse, and the impacts of international Russian studies, among others. The spelling of Russian names to Hungarian can be done in several ways, and, in my assessment, Szvák is not consistent in this respect. Nevertheless, this obviously does not affect the value of the studies from the perspective of their content.
The second part of the volume foregrounds the work of historiographers Ruslan Skrynnikov and József Perényi, who have become historical figures themselves. The Soviet historiographer is mentioned in two studies, one of which discusses his works on Ivan IV. The greatest merit of the volume is this very in-depth examination: considering the previous study on the historiography of Ivan IV, the reader is given an opportunity to get to know the deeper connections and the oeuvre and mindset of the Soviet historian. At first glance, the only study which seems to fall somewhat outside of the scope of the topics of the volume is the one comparing the career of the Soviet historian and József Perényi, but the claims made in the introduction and the study on Skyrnnikov’s oeuvre create a logical connection between the studies. The two historians are connected not only by their works but also by the author himself, Gyula Szvák. This paves the way for the final study in the volume, IV. Iván és I. Péter [Ivan IV and Peter I], which is by Szvák and which offers a comparative analysis of the two monarchs. Szvák approaches the comparison from basic perspective, such as systems of historical theory, socio-political processes, autocracy, individual lives, and personality traits. It is important to mention here that, while the other studies in the volume meet the criteria of scholarly publications, the final section lacks proper references. It would have been worth spending a bit more time on correcting these oversights.
Overall, volume 9 of the series Mikrotörténelem offers much more than the title suggests, since, in accordance with the objectives, in addition to an (undoubtedly detailed) Russian historiography on Ivan IV and Peter I, it also provides a comprehensive picture of the entirety of historiography in Russia. It also offers insights into Gyula Szvák’s oeuvre and the achievements and professional life of Hungarian scholars of Russian history and culture in the past few decades, hallmarked by Szvák’s name. I recommend the volume for all those interested in the aforementioned topics.
Eszterházy Károly University
Érzelmek és mostohák: Mozaikcsaládok a régi Magyarországon (1500–1850) [Emotions and stepparents: Mosaic families in old Hungary, 1500–1850]. Edited by Gabriella Erdélyi. Budapest: Research Centre for the Humanities, 2019. 307 pp.
While not entirely unprecedented, it is by no means common for someone to launch her own books series when also working as an instrumental member of a research group. With the support of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Momentum “Integrating Families” Research Group, which has been active for three years now, published both study volumes and source publications in the Hungarian Family Stories series. The fourth volume, entitled Érzelmek és mostohák. Mozaikcsaládok a régi Magyarországon (1500–1850) [Emotions and stepparents: Mosaic families in old Hungary, 1500–1850], was published in 2019. In 2020, the fifth volume, Özvegyek és árvák a régi Magyarországon, 1550–1940 [Widows, widowers, and orphans in old Hungary, 1550–1940] was also published. As the titles (which at first may seem surprising) indicate, these works constitute examples of scholarship on the history of emotions, a trend in the secondary literature which is relatively new in Hungary and which promises an array of important insights and conclusions.
The title is surprising not simply from a linguistic perspective. This linking of something abstract (emotions) with a specific group (stepparents) may arouse some suspicion in the reader. The title, which begs some interpretation, may seem bold or far-reaching, while the subtitle maintains a discrete distance. The image on the cover, however, which depicts the Old Testament scene when Hagar is driven away by Abraham, offers a vivid visual portrayal of the mix of sentiments involved in this relationship, which arguably remains a less familiar part of our image repertoire even today. It also reminds us that these complex relationships were a form of cohabitation in Old Testament times. Apropos of this, one may well raise the question found on the inside cover, which can be considered the basic question of the volume: did family life actually change radically in the eighteenth century, a moment in our history at which, if one is to believe the discourses which have emerged on the subject, there was a new intimacy to the relationships among people living in the same household? The lines which follow this and the chapter by Gabriella Erdélyi, who is also the editor of the volume, make very clear that the authors focus on instances in which the family unit, understood in its classical sense, broke up and new family members (stepparents and stepsiblings) were added to it. Their discussions examine the emotional responses among family members to these changes.
The enterprise fits well into the arc of family history that has unfolded since the 1970s, following the work of Philippe Ariès and Lawrence Stone, whose contributions constitute points of departure in the field. However, as the work of Hans Medick and David Warren Sabean, whose writings are quoted several times in the volume, shows, historical demographics, which is closely intertwined with anthropology, has been able to spring to new life from its earlier seemingly dead state precisely by adopting this multifaceted approach, so the volume seems to show a sense of the existing anticipation when it sets, as one of its aims, the goal of taking the first steps in research in Hungary on stepchildren in the early modern era (p.11). After this (and thus notably at the beginning of the book and not the end, where one might otherwise expect a summary of the conclusions of the various studies), in the introduction, Erdélyi describes the individual texts and contextualizes them in relation to one another. For a reader who is less familiar with the field and the existing secondary literature, the second half of this introduction may become more difficult to read, since it is structured according to the chapters of the book and thus does not acquaint the reader with the chains of reasoning on the basis of which the final ascertainments are made. Thus, for me, once I accepted the more complex intellectual challenge inherent in postmodern propositions, the introduction was more of a revelation when I read it a second time, after having read the volume itself. Perhaps this was the one of the editor’s goals.
For the most part, the authors who contributed to the volume are researchers tied to the Research Centre for the Humanities and Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), as well as one working at the University of Pécs and one at Central European University. Thus, one finds among them historians, art and literary historians, and an ethnographer.
The overviews of the secondary literature on the subject, which were done quite conscientiously by most of the contributors, are arguably important to research and scholarship in Hungary on the history of emotions. Dóra Mérai, Gabriella Erdélyi, Petra Bálint, and Mónika Mátay all draw on Judith Butler’s theory of performativity. This is understandable, since the essence of the idea that emotions are social phenomena not only in their expression but also in and of themselves already increases the distance between the researcher and his or her topic. This notion forces the researcher to arrive at a premise which has been more scrupulously interrogated and also to ask about the place and validity of each emotion. Thus, the secondary literature on which the individual authors draw is linked to this, necessitating a rethinking of the research questions. This is true whether one is thinking of Susan Broomhall (on whom Gabriella Erdélyi and Emese Gyimesi draw), who analyzes approaches in the study of the history of emotions emphatically from the perspective of family relationships, Richard van Dülmen (on who Eleonóra Géra draws), who specifically examines sexual sensuality, or Thomas Khuen and Simona Cerutti (on whom Mónika Mátay draws), who consider the historical aspects of flexible legal interpretation. Thus, this volume, which can and indeed should be read (also) as a bibliography of the secondary literature on the history of emotions constitutes a major contribution to the secondary literature on the subject in Hungary, a contribution which drastically enriches the available palette of works on the topic.
From the perspective of the questions raised in the book, three chapters help orient the reader. In the section entitled “Family Objects and Practices,” Orsolya Bubryák of the Research Centre for the Humanities Institute of Art History uses the last will and testament of Palatine Pál Esterházy (among other sources) to examine the extent to which the emotional relationships between a testator and his heirs and shifts in these relationships influenced hereditary strategies. Dóra Mérai of CEU draws conclusions about the emotional bonds among close family members on the basis of differences in scripts on gravestones. Dalma Bódai of ELTE examines the gifts given to the daughters of Erzsébet Czobor, who was the second wife of Palatine György Thurzó. The chapter concludes with the study by Gabriella Erdélyi of the Research Centre for the Humanities Institute of History. Drawing on the seventeenth-century correspondence among members of the Esterházy family, Erdélyi examines how family correspondence went beyond the simple exchange of information and became a discursive space for the expression of emotions.
Although the first chapter contains discussions of some arguably acute situations, the second chapter, “Discussions of Family Conflicts,” dwells even more on family relationships that were rife with tension. A micro-historical study by Eleonóra Géra’s of ELTE recounts the story of a woman who married three times. Géra situates the narrative within the interpretative framework of the history of emotions, putting emphasis on the considerations which played a role in the decisions of this woman, who married first because she was compelled to do so, but who later remarried a second and third time as a consequence of her own wishes. The study by Petra Bálint, also of ELTE, begins with a question which may appear shocking at first: “Were girls and women who committed infanticide and child murder really evil and heartless? […] What did they feel, or did they feel anything when they did what they did?” (p.172) Bálint’s study is interesting in part because the protagonists belonged to the lower and peripheral strata of the feudal world. Research which draws on court documents and investigates the fates of women who committed infanticide or who poisoned their husbands is a new element in the scholarship on family history in Hungary. The third author of the chapter, Mónika Mátay, also of ELTE, pursues research on middle-class families in the city of Debrecen. She draws on an array of sources in her discussion of the implications, from the perspective of family history, of the last will and testament of a pig slaughterer who, as a denizen of one of the market towns in Hungary, enjoyed essentially the same rights as a citizen of a free royal city. Mátay makes subtle and sophisticated use of the tools of legal anthropology and offers an analysis of an intricate network of relationships.
The third chapter, entitled “Family Spaces, Identities, and Roles,” offers another exciting installment in Emese Gyimesi’s research on the life of Júlia Szendrey. Gyimesi acquaints her reader with the correspondence of the widowed Szendrey’s children born from her marriage to Árpád Horvát. She strives to arrive at some impression of the image that Szendrey’s children by her second husband had of their closest family members, for instance of their half-brother Zoltán Petőfi and their aunt Mária Szendrey (the complete correspondence among the children has since been published in a volume edited by Gyimesi). Zsófia Kucserka of the University of Pécs examines the diaries and correspondence of Etelka Slachta, sources which have already been published and which have been familiar for a long time to social scientists. Kucserka considers the impacts of the texts which Slachta wrote in various genres on her private life and the roles she played in the public sphere.
Some of the authors make use of an array of different types of sources, while others use a narrower range of source types. Naturally, when available, letters constitute an excellent source for the kinds of inquiries one finds here, and not surprisingly, many of the authors draw heavily on family correspondence (Erdélyi, Gyimesi, and Kucserka, for instance). In the absence of these kinds of sources, however, researchers are sometimes refreshingly innovative. Orsolya Bubryák, Eleonóra Géra, and Mónika Mátay make seasoned use of last wills and testaments, documents from litigation, and lists pertaining to bequests, among other things. Dóra Mérai tears her reader from the world of two-dimensional sources (i.e. the written word) and bases her conclusions on a database containing information pertaining to 314 tombstones from Transylvania. The sheer quantity of sources used by the authors and the impressive variety of sources compel the reader to be creative and open, as if reminding us that even sources which have been familiar to people in the field for a long time can show a very new face if one asks a few well-aimed questions.
I do not intend, in this review, to offer a detailed presentation of the results of the various endeavors. Rather, in conclusion, I would prefer simply to share a few thoughts. Orsolya Bubryák’s article provides a very revealing example of how a nobleman from the so-called highlands (or Upper Hungary, what today is Slovakia) could treat his children very differently in his will even though he loved them equally. Mérai does a masterful job acquainting us with the tombstones on which she basis her conclusions concerning emotional bonds in the family and the community. Dalma Bódai guides her reader through the intimate exchange of information among Erzsébet Czobor and her daughters, and Gabriella Erdélyi calls attention to descriptions of body language in the letters written by members of the Esterházy family (and others), descriptions which serve as expressions of emotion and complement textual communication. Géra Eleonóra offers an enjoyable narrative of Eva Elisabetha Wittmann’s three marriages, full of twists and turns, and she points out Wittmann’s character flaws. Petra Bálint makes a penetrating statement when she notes that what may appear to the historian who draws on court and litigation documents as the witnesses’ lack of sensitivity is more a feature of the source itself, as a type, than of the people involved. Emese Gyimesi’s focused and dense text presents and analyzes the Horvát family home in Hársfa Street and, thus, the private spaces used by the family and the rooms they used as spaces in which to welcome guests and members of the public. She also presents the practices used by the children in their correspondence and the roles of family celebrations. In Kucserka’s discussion of Slachta, writing again is given an important role both as tool and as act in the Biedermeier notion of the family and the ideal of the patriotic Hungarian woman.
In varying and arguably mutually reinforcing ways, the articles all proffer answers of a sort to the basic question. Ariès’s contention concerning the process which began in the eighteenth century and which saw emotional bonds come to enjoy an increasingly prominent place in family life has now found corroboration not only in the international secondary literature, but also in the secondary literature, more narrowly, in Hungary, thus prodding further research into the history of emotions. This is not simply some closing flourish, as clearly shown by the fact that, in 2019, a similarly monumental work was published on the subject in Hungary, Az érzelmek története [The history of emotions], a collection of conference papers compiled by the István Hajnal Circle and edited by Anikó Lukács and Árpád Tóth. Thus, this impressive volume edited by Gabriella Erdélyi both fills a lacuna in the secondary literature and will serve to nurture further research.
Eötvös Loránd University
The Fiume Crisis: Life in the Wake of the Habsburg Empire. By Dominique Kirchner Reill. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020. 312 pp.
Dominique Reill, professor at the University of Miami, has done something that Hungarian, Croatian, and Italian historians have failed to do so far: in a coherent monograph, she has broken with a chronological, somewhat nationalist discussion of the political and diplomatic issues of the events in Fiume that followed World War I. This comes as no surprise, since Reill’s thinking has been greatly influenced by the ideas and arguments of István Deák, Pieter M. Judson, and Hannah Arendt, who tended to emphasize the diversity and plurality of the Habsburg Monarchy and reconsidered nationalism, as well as the studies by William Klinger, Ivan Jeličić, and Vanni d’Alessio on Fiume, in which the authors adopted a more modern approach and dispensed with stereotypes. Although Reill does not distance herself from theoretical postmodern theories and models, instead of oversimplifying theoretical discussions and relying on convenient absolutes, she builds her Fiume-narrative on empirical, source-centered research. This means that Reill summarizes the arguments laid out in previous individual studies explicitly and shapes them into a consistent narrative, while also verifying or refuting them by adding her own examples.
The subject matter of the volume is thus neither Gabriele d’Annunzio’s extravagant rule nor the career of some prominent figures or the endless disputes about where Fiume belonged. Reill is most interested in the community’s and people’s attitudes in various situations, as well as the continuation, gradual shift, and waning of structures of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In other words, instead of examining “what happened when,” she searches for answers concerning the reasons for the social and mental processes behind the historical events, such as why the ruling elite, which trumpeted nationalist slogans, so firmly insisted on the annexation of the Italian town when at least half of the inhabitants did not claim Italian as their mother tongue. Why did a multilingual and multiethnic small town want to insert itself into the Italian nation-state? In what ways, with what slogans, and under what conditions did it hope to do so? How compatible could nationalist and localist interests be? And finally, what was the experience of the inhabitants, living in existential uncertainty; in what forms did they experience this transitional phase?
Reill’s first thesis is that the basic situation of Fiume after the war was determined by its extensive autonomy under the Dual Monarchy, its state of being a corpus separatum, a “semiautonomous city-state.” As part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and, within that, the Kingdom of Hungary, the port could count on generous support by Hungarian governments, as well as the hinterland function of the entire empire: it had a large market and was part of a protective network. Without these favorable circumstances, the elites of Fiume were forced to take steps. The town councilors knew that Fiume was incapable of functioning on its own, so they looked for a new strong “protective shield,” a hinterland to replace the monarchy. Under the new circumstances, the most suitable alternative for a hinterland was Italy, regarded as the “Madrepatria” (mother country).
This leads to two other major arguments by Reill. First, the nationalization of Fiume or its transformation into “Italianissima,” as expressed at least by symbols and through statistical ratios, were justified by the abovementioned concerns. Second, although the people of Fiume did all they could to make their town part of the Kingdom of Italy, they remained localists with local interests, including the safeguarding of their privileges, even in their most nationalist moments. For them “Patria” meant their birthplace and place of residence, not Italy. This “theory of continuity” is closely linked to Reill’s fourth thesis, which queries the view that the end of World War I and Gabriele d’Annunzio’s endeavor of Fiume, ending with the Bloody Christmas of 1920, were simple and clear watersheds which divided political systems. Reill foregrounds continuities instead of breaking points, and she emphasizes the political elite’s opportunities and competencies to preserve their positions, as well as their adaptation strategies.
This firm emphasis on interests and the focus on aims could easily lead to a simplified, instrumental concept of nationalism, but that is not the case here. It enables Reill to avoid denying the residents’ zeal for and sentimental attachment to the Italian nation and to examine the local interpretations of “nationalism,” “localism,” and “autonomy” in a period which included the era of the Dual Monarchy as well. Furthermore, Reill offers a more nuanced picture and avoids banalities in part because she analyzes the transformation of structures and changes in people’s life circumstances in five large units, alongside the introductory and concluding chapter, through the dimensions of economic and financial difficulties (money), the relationship between power and autonomy (laws and independence), belonging (pertinency and citizenship), as well as internal and external manifestations of identity (symbols and propaganda), with a list of representative micro-historical examples from everyday life.
The part about the economy, for instance, begins with the example of a young legionary in Italy, who, with naïve enthusiasm, tells his fiancée about the beauty of the town and (an alleged) Italian localism, as well as the pretty, easy girls of Fiume (no doubt his purse was full of Italian lire and Hungarian/Austrian crowns). Reill, on the other hand, points out that the local inhabitants were acquainted with more currencies than these two. Borislavo Gjurić, for example, was arrested because in addition to Italian lire, he also had French francs, Serbian dinars, and Croatian-Slovenian and Fiume crowns on him. With the help of these examples, Reill illustrates how the monetary union of the empire collapsed, and by the spring of 1919, at least four different currencies and fake banknotes were circulating in Fiume. The uncontrolled circulation of money made the economic situation of both individuals and the town unstable.
Although restoring financial conditions was paramount, the elites of Fiume believed that settling currency issues was the duty of the state, so they expected the Italian government to do something about it. This gave a new impetus to the annexation program, indicated by converging Fiume crown to Italian lire, that is, gradually coordinating the economy of Fiume and Italy. Rome, however, believed that the Italian state had the exclusive right to annexation and was appalled by the town’s demand to be annexed in accordance with predetermined conditions (keeping its autonomy). There were further aspects to this questioning of the relationship between power and autonomy, in no small part simply because the issue of where the port belonged was debated for long time to come, so Fiume practically had to function as an independent state for a time. This position was difficult to manage, however, mainly as a result of an economic and financial crisis, growing unemployment, and permanent coal and food shortages due to consecutive blockades and military occupations.
Reill presents one way of dealing with procurement difficulties through the failed deal between Slavko Ivančić, a “trader in comestibles” from Fiume, and Ivan Rošić, an inn owner and agricultural supplier from a Croatian village. The story may also help demonstrate the continuity of the legal system and jurisdiction of Fiume, since it clearly shows that until the fall of 1920, the denizens of the city operated in accordance with the former laws and orders. Furthermore, by offering a comparison of financial and legal conditions, Reill also points out one relevant difference: while the multi-currency system was the result of the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the challenges and opportunities of multi-system jurisdiction had shaped the lives of the inhabitants of Fiume for generations.
In her discussion of the everyday conflicts of the tobacco factory and the post office, Reill identifies similar elements of continuity in terms of the issue of language use. She comes to the conclusion that although the elites of Fiume strove for the establishment of monolingual (Italian) administration, this was mainly a façade to show to the rest of the world, as internal communication continued to be multilingual. The same is true of the implementation of the regulation concerning the Italianization of names, in connection with which Reill notes that while the measure served the purpose of emphasizing the Italian character and dedication of the inhabitants, there were huge differences between theory and practice. All this indicates that these laws were either not implemented at all or only to some degree and that there were individual preferences and choices. To underlie this claim, Reill mentions two concrete examples from among the many: despite their Italian nationalist convictions, Antonio Grossich, the widely respected elderly president of the Italian National Council in Fiume, kept the name Grossich, and his ambitious secretary, Salvatore Bellasich, continued to be called Bellasich.
One of Reill’s greatest merits is that she does not shy away from treating legal categories in a nuanced way. She dedicates a whole chapter to content-related and qualitative differences between concepts of citizenship and residence. This is justified by her emphasis on the continued validity of the municipal statute of 1872 regulating civic entitlement, which provided the elite of Fiume with an effective tool to enforce their rights under the shifting (and financially limited) conditions. In fact, by regulating the conditions of “Fiume pertinency” and concomitant active political participation (electoral reform), the elite of Fiume could both strengthen the support they received and their legitimacy and protect the (in a classical sense) “lawful” members of the community from competition in the form of a flood of “strangers” coming to the town. In this respect, even Gabriele d’Annunzio’s soldiers could not have been exempt from the rule: like the civilian “newcomers,” they could only receive the “citizenship to the Free City of Fiume,” reserved for “others.”
In addition to the redistribution of social, economic, and political privileges, education also served the purpose of preserving the positions and transmitting localist values. Reill proves this by pointing out that even in the fall of 1919, elementary schools in the city used traditional didactic teaching methods and Fiume-centered maps. Although the town seemed to become an “Italianissima” dressed in the Italian tricolored flag, for the locals it remained, for a long time, what it was before: the “true Patria,” which everyone had to know. Thus, mapping the district, the country, and the world could only start after one had acquired a rich knowledge of Fiume itself.
Overall, Reill offers a new interpretation of Fiume, using modern approaches and methodologies. Her volume will surely be one of the most, if not the most influential monograph on Fiume in years to come for two reasons. First, her monograph is impressive in its thoroughness, the precise use of terms, its clever methodological solutions, its welcoming style, and its use of convincing examples based on a rich and diverse collection of sources. Second, thanks to the distance Reill keeps when using theories and examining sources, she is able to see and show different phenomena in all their complexity.
National Archives of Hungary
Language Diversity in the Late Habsburg Empire. By Markian Prokopovych, Carl Bethke, and Tamara Scheer. Leiden: Brill, 2020. 268 pp.
This volume about linguistic issues in the late Habsburg monarchy builds on both recent work in nationalism theory and Habsburg historical sociolinguistics. The contributions vary pleasingly in their geographic and methodological focus, yet converge on a few key issues: the influence of nationalist agitation, the role of the state, multilingualism, language shift, and the social domains assigned to different varieties.
Two initial chapters contextualize the volume in various scholarly literatures. The editors’ forward provides an excellent historiography while signalling an interest in the everyday practices which the volume’s strongest contributions examine. With his customary eloquence, Pieter Judson then considers Habsburg multilingualism in the context of other multilingual states, problematizing traditional assumptions according to which linguistic diversity leads inevitably to national conflict.
The remaining chapters provide the case studies which give the book substance. Csilla Fedinec and István Csernicskó’s study of language use in Transcarpathia is the only chapter to betray a nationalist perspective. The authors on three (!) separate occasions claim that the partition of Hungary transformed ethnic Hungarians into “a new minority” in the region (pp.161, 163, 193), even though Magyars have in fact never been Transcarpathia’s majority community. Their survey of Transcarpathia’s various nationalities treats each in a separate section, thus reifying sharp borders between them. They rely disproportionately on Hungarian-language sources: indeed, their discussion of Rusyns begins with two parish priests who wrote in Hungarian, and thus appear rather unrepresentative of Slavic opinion. Ultimately, the authors contradict themselves, claiming e.g. both that “Hungarian as the language of power did not become prestigious among the local Slavic speakers” (p.190) and that proficiency in Hungarian “was seen as a key to success in life” (p.175); both that “national indifference was also linguistic indifference” (p.193) and that “language has always had a key role in the self-identification process of the nation state and individuals” (p.162). The editors might have done better to have cut this chapter.
Carl Bethke examines the history of Sarajevo’s German-language newspaper, the Bosnische Post. Bethke describes the newspaper’s various editors, their editorial interests, their family lives, and their financial difficulties. Since the newspaper addressed various local constituencies and eschewed nationalism, Bethke ultimately concludes that “the German-language … did not ‘belong’ to one group” (p.114). While a respectable contribution to the history of Habsburg journalism, the chapter seems somewhat misplaced in this volume.
The remaining chapters, however, are not only strong, but complement each other. Anamarija Lukić emphasizes local particularism in a study of language use in Osijek, even providing lexical examples of Osijek German. By studying linguistic usage in local newspapers and the theatre, she documents the linguistic shift to Croatian without national triumphalism. Matthäus Wehowski views linguistic issues through the lens of a secondary school in Teschen, examining school yearbooks and considering student enrolments in Czech and Polish classes. Imperial loyalties and the desire for social mobility feature more prominently than nationalist agitation. Wehowski views his narrative as characteristic for borderlands generally, urging “scholars to take a closer look at the periphery” (p.217).
Marta Verginella considers the expansion of Slavic into Trieste, a town which had hitherto balanced Italian and German. Though Italian-speaking elites looked down on Slovene and sought to exclude it, Verginella’s research shows that Slavic increasingly gained ground in legal documents, such as testaments. Though her narrative follows traditional historiographic themes of discrimination and resistance, Verginella’s conclusion emphasizes “the fluidity of … identities and the fragility of the national historiographical paradigm (p.49).”
While Irina Marin narrowly restricts her attention to four Romanian generals, she compensates for this limited breadth with depth and insight. She shows that her four generals, though loyal to the Habsburg monarch and the Empire as a whole, both formed sophisticated opinions about linguistic issues and engaged in linguistic activism. She finds that they accepted multilingualism and opposed “language hierarchies, whereby one language took precedence over and stifled another,” concluding that such opinions “did not go against the grain of their military standing, but rather were derived organically thereof” (pp.133–34).
In a fascinating study of language use at the urban level, Ágoston Berecz documents the surprising impotence of Hungary’s Magyarization policies. Considering a handful of towns in Transylvania and the Banat, Berecz shows that city governments not only continued using German and Romanian for local business, such as minute-keeping, minor court cases, public notices, and job advertisements, but did so with the tacit approval of central authorities. The surprising and well-documented narrative emphasizes estate hierarchies and social exclusions, but above all the inability of the Magyarizing parliament to affect local use. Berecz also provocatively contrasts the relatively placid situation in Hungary, where “local governments seldom engaged in symbolic politics” (p.157), with the bitter nationalization of local politics of Cisleithania.
Rok Stergar places the military within the context of local politics, specifically examining the role of the army garrison in Ljubljana. While local patriots became involved in Slavic philological controversies and increasingly sought to promote Slavic even at the expense of German, the city council also sought good relations with the garrison, a source of income for innkeepers, tailors and so forth. Stergar shows that different actors invested linguistic acts with different symbolic meanings, grounding his general points with a variety of illuminating incidents laboriously gathered from an impressively diverse array of sources.
Jan Fellerer’s analysis of language use in Lviv also rests on concrete examples from particular events. Examining transcripts of court cases, he pieces together the linguistic backgrounds of the various litigants, persuasively surmising their various linguistic competencies, the means through which those competencies were achieved, and the social domains in which they were exercised. While a tour-de-force of painstaking and tenacious archival research, Fellerer’s chapter offers relatively meagre conclusions: it “offers glimpses of everyday multilingual practices” (p.242).
Jeroen van Drunen, finally, places his analysis of linguistic usage in Bukovina within a broader historiographical context. Problematizing both popular descriptions of Bukovinans as habitually multilingual and what he calls the “multilingualism-monolingualism dichotomy” (p.246), van Drunen documents language mixing affecting speakers of German, Romanian and Slavic. In a provocative conclusion, Drunen urges scholars to cease viewing languages “as monolithic entities without internal distinctions” (p.267).
The question of borders within languages seems most pressing for the Monarchy’s Slavs. The belief that all Slavs spoke the same language, hegemonic in the early nineteenth century, evidently persisted, since traces of Pan-Slavism appear in several chapters. Yet only Stergar alludes to a transition from “Carniolan Slavic” to “Slovene” (p.53–55). Verginella’s texts often refer to “Slavic,” but Verginella usually glosses such usage as references to “Slovene” (p.31, 34, 35, 43). Wehowski seems baffled by the designation “Czechoslavic” (p.205). Fedinec and Csernicskó mistakenly conflate Pan-Slavism with Russianism (p.194).
The various contributions thus differ widely in their geographic focus, though the volume as a whole curiously neglects Vienna, Budapest and Prague. The contributions also consider different social domains: schools, courts, the military, journalism, theatre, and different levels of state administration. Methodologically, the articles obviously vary in sophistication, both in relationship to linguistic theory and nationalism studies, but overall the volume reaches a very high standard. This work enhances our knowledge in myriad ways, and will make a welcome contribution to scholarship.
Victoria University of Wellington
Intellectuals and Fascism in Interwar Romania: The Criterion Association. By Cristina A. Bejan. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. xxix + 323 pp.
The relationship between intellectuals and politics in interwar Romania emerged as a crucial topic after the fall of communism, and it generated cultural and often ideological debates that deeply marked the public life of the country. Attitudes ranged from an idealized rediscovery of the interwar period to a more critical approach towards what was a highly complex and controversial period in Romanian history. These debates generated an impressive amount of works, varying in size and quality, which maintain a certain level of interest in the topic even today. In this context, Cristina Bejan’s well-researched book represents a welcome addition to an already very crowded field of study, providing a fresh perspective on a highly controversial topic.
As has been the case with other works on this topic, the broad intellectual drive behind this book is the search for an explanation regarding the fascist sympathies of some members of what was termed “the 1927 Generation” or “the Young Generation” of Romanian interwar intellectuals. Among representatives of this trend, one could mention Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica, Mihail Sebastian, and Petru Comarnescu. Bejan tells the story of this generation by focusing on the Criterion Association, a cultural circle founded in 1932 which included many of the young intellectuals of the time. One of Bejan’s merits is that she has provided the first book-length account on Criterion ever published in English.
While much has been written about the fascist allegiances of a sizable part of the “1927 Generation,” the fact that some of its members did not join their colleagues on the path to “rhinocerisation”(to borrow the metaphor from Eugène Ionesco’s play, Rhinocéros) received less attention, and Bejan’s work is, in this regard, a step in the right direction.
The book is divided into nine chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion. It begins by setting the stage conceptually and historically. In the introduction, Bejan discusses the sensitive issue of the connection between intellectuals and political extremism, and she places the Young Generation in the proper cultural context by situating it among previous Romanian intellectual traditions. She also pays close attention to the historical context in which this generation was active, marked by the growth of the political extremism which ultimately affected its own existence.
The next chapter documents the beginnings of the 1927 Generation and the influence exerted by Nae Ionescu, a philosophy professor at the University of Bucharest who also became a staunch supporter of the Iron Guard. Mircea Eliade’s prominence as a leading member of this generation is also presented in great detail, as well as the way in which these young intellectuals came together as a group, some being from similar backgrounds (former Bucharest high school colleagues), while others came from outside the capital city. Bejan puts particular emphasis on the importance of education abroad, especially for those who chose to study outside of Europe in places such as India (Eliade) and the United States (Comarnescu), instead of going to Western Europe.
Bejan is careful to make an important distinction in Chapter 3, aptly stating that the Young Generation and the Criterion Association did not fully overlap and should be seen as distinct manifestations of the interactions among young interwar Romanian intellectuals. In her discussion of the founding of the movement, the attention she gives to episodes regarding life in interwar Bucharest and the bohemian side of this group of young intellectuals helps further a more nuanced understanding of what brought these people together in the first place, the same way the brutal political turn from second part of the 1930s shows why this camaraderie did not suffice anymore to keep them on the same side. Bejan also points out the inner rivalries that marked Criterion’s activity, thus avoiding a rosy picture that would not do justice to the diversity of the group. Another salient and seldom covered aspect of the volume is the insistence on the way in which Criterion was organized and managed by its founder, Petru Comarnescu.
The activity of the group in 1932, its first and most prolific year of existence, is detailed in Chapter 4, including the public lecture series, which was followed by debates focusing on a wide array of cultural and even political issues, with diverse topics ranging from Lenin to Mussolini, Greta Garbo to Krishnamurti, and Gandhi to Picasso. These topics reflected the desire of the group to serve as a hub which would connect the Romanian audience with the most important cultural and political trends of the day. In a way, the group became a victim of its own success. The conferences, which were held at the Royal Foundation building in the center of Bucharest, were very popular, but with success came controversy, contestation, and also violence. Accused of having a hidden communist agenda, some of Criterion’s public conferences were targeted by far-right agitators, and this brought the group to the attention of the authorities.
Comarnescu’s rich plans for 1933, carefully detailed by Bejan in Chapter 5, were torn apart by what in the terms of that age could be described as history catching up with this generation. The political events of 1933, beginning with the February workers’ strike in Bucharest and ending with the assassination of the liberal prime minster I. G. Duca by members of the Iron Guard in December, paralleled a troubled year for Criterionists, who could no longer hide their political allegiances. The backlash following the assassination was also felt by intellectuals close to the Iron Guard, including some of the Criterionists. The dissolution of the group, thus, became imminent. A last attempt to maintain its presence was the publication of the homonymous journal in 1934, but the Association never returned to its former glory. Bejan credits the publication of the Criterion journal as having been a salient moment, and she offers a close reading of the main topics discussed in the seven issues that were published. While this analysis of the “last throb” (Zigu Ornea) of the group constitutes a novel and useful enterprise, it is also true that the journal never enjoyed the fame or influence that the group promisingly started to have in 1932–1933.
The commonly accepted explanation regarding the dissolution of the Criterion Association underlines the insurmountable political differences that permeated the group following the rise of the Iron Guard. This rise was made possible in part because of the contributions of several young intellectuals, some of them members of or close to Criterion. To this already beaten explanatory path, Chapter 6 adds another possible explanation for the dissolution of the group, namely a well-known public scandal from the mid-1930s in which members of the group were accused of promoting homosexuality. Petru Comarnescu, Criterion’s factotum, was one of the main targets of the scandal. As Bejan notes, this scandal marked the public and even personal trajectories of those involved, and Criterion would no longer be a part of their plans.
The “rhinocerisation” of parts of the Young Generation did not come as a surprise, and it accompanied the growth of the Iron Guard. Bejan documents the paths taken by famous Criterionists who sympathized with and supported this movement, and she also focuses on those lesser-known members who did not join their colleagues down this path. Among those who became fierce Iron Guardists, Marietta Sadova’s case has never been made the focus of serious scholarly discussion, and it is to Bejan’s credit that she has accomplished this by using relevant information from Sadova’s Securitate file, though it may be a bit of an overstatement to call Sadova the Romanian Leni Riefenstahl.
The book is at its best when it takes advantage of the rich primary sources which Bejan has diligently studied over the years in archives and libraries, bringing to light little known aspects such as those regarding the inner management and functioning of Criterion in its beginnings. Her style is neither dry nor pretentious, offering instead a lively and passionate reading experience that does not come at the expense of academic rigorousness.
In a sense, the story of the Criterion Association matches, up to a point, the story of interwar Romania. It is to Cristina Bejan’s merit that she has managed to capture the histories of this group so well, while also providing the reader with a portrait of interwar Romania in its best and worst moments. This well-documented work on a highly intriguing topic has been written in an enjoyable manner, thus making it a suitable reading for specialists and non-specialists alike.
University of Bucharest
Sixties Europe. By Timothy Scott Brown. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. ix+241 pp.
1968 and the “long sixties” have been at the forefront of scholarly and public interest since their rediscovery in 2008, on the 40th anniversary of perhaps the most salient year of the decade. This is true in no small part because “1968,” as a kind of shorthand, is a way to refer to the transnational and global character of contemporary culture and politics. Timothy Scott Brown, professor of history at Northeastern University, Boston, is one of the most important historians of this period, and his contributions have been paramount to dismantling the national framings of the 1960s protests and revolts and the reframing of 1968 in a global setting.1 His new book, Sixties Europe, continues and revisits themes he has touched on before. This book adheres firmly to a discussion of 1968 as a range of cross-national and interconnected struggles and affirms the deeply shared, global nature of its concerns. Admitting the relevance of anti-colonial struggles, particularly, Vietnam for radicals in Europe and their connections to extra-European activists, Brown nonetheless makes an important revisionist claim that Europe was central in shaping the forms and content of 1960s activism worldwide and that 1968 was a deeply European project. In Brown’s words, Europe provided the most important pool of postmaterialist values, movements in Europe rendered ways of living and the role of culture central for any critique of society and it was the most important site of negotiating the ways of organization of societies (p.3).
Brown makes three important points when he explains why Europe was of central importance in making 1968 a global event. First, he argues that politics was the emphatic concern of the revolt of the 1960s. Second, he highlights that 1968 presumed the transformation of everyday life as a condition for political change and strove for a coalition of movements in art, ways of life, and politics proper. Third, Brown considers the European scenes as vital in transforming decolonization and the antiimperialist struggles into a genuine global issue. However, while it is impossible to cover everything in equal depth, the narrative which he presents seems to miss a few important points. It ignores the fact that one of the crucial motors of the revolt of the 1960s was a generational shift. The book also underestimates the centrality of the Third World in making 1968 a genuine political revolt. The similarity of rebellion in the West and in the East is often taken for granted too hastily. Last, violence and gender, perhaps, were more important in shaping 1968 than Brown seems to assume.
Brown explores the intensification of personal encounters of activists from various countries and the emergence of international networks. Nonetheless, as the book argues, internationalism for 1968 activists meant more than the physical crossing of national borders. As Brown convincingly shows, activists in Europe were deeply convinced that “all struggles were connected” and that their revolt in Europe against their national establishments were parallel with the anti-imperialist fights overseas. The apparently shared concerns to fight oppression and authority led activists both in the West and in the East to believe that rebellion in Paris or Prague and the war in Vietnam were interconnected, they were parts of the same struggle against imperialism outside of Europe and exploitation at home, and they also saw themselves as members of the same international army of revolution.
Social criticism (ideology) and action furthering social change (politics) went hand in hand in the 1960s. One of the book’s most original points is that these programs were sensitive to history. Brown explores how various groups and movements evoked historical antecedents of revolt, particularly the anarchist and libertarian communist traditions of Rosa Luxemburg, the Kronstadt mutiny, the Spanish Republic, or the workers’ councils in 1956 Budapest. The revival of suppressed knowledge of alternative forms of social organization provided intellectual and political ammunition in the assault against both capitalism in the West and official socialism in the East. Brown emphasizes that the politics of 1968 was inherently a politics of the left, and as such, it embraced ideas like liberation from exploitation, self-determination, and social organization based on solidarity. This left, the “New Left,” as Brown highlights, was based on knowledge suppressed both by capitalist and official socialist establishments. Hence, it represented alternative socialisms.
1968 activists had to reconcile anti-capitalism and the abrogation of private ownership of capital and means of production with the emancipation of the individual, who apparently was not alienated only amidst the soul-breaking routines of factory production in the West, but also living under the overly bureaucratic labor regimes of collectivist state ownership in the socialist dictatorships of Eastern Europe. Brown argues that such tensions explain why the question of what the left really was in this new context became inevitable for 1968. Notwithstanding the broad consensus in the East and the West that the new left must be defined against the Stalinist type of official socialism in the East and like-minded communist parties in the West, the character of the left in the 1960s was seen as most clearly discernible in the field of culture in a broad sense. The most typical forms of organization were various movements of lifestyle, famously, the communes of K1 in West Berlin and their followers across Europe. Brown is keen to establish that 1968 activism understood political liberation from authority and oppression as a fundamental liberation of the self, which included experimentations with new forms of living, work, leisure, sexuality, and womanhood.
Brown is shrewd to note that the move beyond the conventional frames of politics was not always peaceful. Protesters in France, Italy, and Yugoslavia were not reluctant to attack police squads, party headquarters, or office buildings of the press. Brown argues that activists were prone to see their violence as defensive and as a response to the violence of oppression used by the authorities. In this perspective, they understood violence as a strategic choice of resistance: to fight against oppression and authority sustained by inherent forms of violence, one needed to become violent, too. Post-1968 terrorism in Europe should be considered in this context, Brown argues. Whereas many discovered the possibility of change in the field of everyday life when the direct political protest began to flag in the West and was clamped down in the East, some embraced clandestine urban guerrilla violence as the proper form of triggering change in an ever-narrowing field of political opposition.
Brown’s discussion of violence and feminism suggests that both were conclusions to the story of 1968. Nonetheless, the story of these components as presented by Brown opens up new perspective from which to approach the history of activism in the 1960s. How important was gender in shaping the character of 1968? What were the implications of staging of the revolution as men’s affair and the iconic macho image of 1968 portrayed by Cohn-Bendit, Dutschke, or Che for reconsiderations of the meanings of revolt, resistance, and protest? Similarly, how was violence important in shaping the politics of 1968? How did the legacies of revolutionary cultures which embraced the violent smashing of the system shape activists’ programs and expectations? These questions suggest that both violence and gender may have been core constituents of 1968 activism, rather than elements of its outcome.
Connections with the extra-European world were crucial here. Radicals in Europe swiftly became passionate about what they perceived as the intransient commitment to revolutionary change: wars of liberation in the extra-European world. This, however, provided more than simple templates for the use of violence at home, and it did more than prompt global solidarities in Europe, as Brown seems to argue. Wars of liberation and antiimperialist revolutions in Asia, Africa and Latin-America were evidence for young revisionists, new left radicals, and, in some ways, old left elites of the validity of class-based revolutionary theories and the vitality of socialism. In short, the left (in its many groupings) saw the revolutionary struggles of Europe coming to new life in the jungles of Vietnam and the mountains of Cuba. Links to the Global South were crucial to a narrative of the politics of 1968 in the language of the left. In turn, one may wonder if the demise of the left in Europe and the loss of belief in viable anti-capitalist alternatives were linked more to the dissolution of the promises of decolonization as a cradle for possibly more just and democratic states in these regions. 1968 was a global event not simply because it was made so in Europe, but rather because the extra-European world had crucial agency in making 1968 a leftist project worldwide.
Whereas the Czechoslovak and to some extent the Polish cases may fit the portrait of 1968 as painted by Brown, other societies in Eastern Europe, particularly, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia, were different in many important ways. Several major concerns of the left, such as working-class autonomy, third worldism, and the power of art, helped mobilize activism in these countries, as well. But many activists were motivated by different reasons. Some activists in Hungary were keen on protecting national sovereignty and allegedly authentic, traditional village lifestyles, issues which tend to have more resonance with the populist and conservative right than with a revolutionary left. Nationalism and national self-determination were crucial concerns of the Croatian Spring movement, too. Furthermore, religious activism was important in both Hungary and Poland. This activism strove to reform Christian culture and render it more flexible and socially concerned, including Christian practices such as the introduction of beat music and modern popular culture. Thus, the groups and scenes of 1968 were connected by a solid idea and the consensus of generation, which went beyond political comradeship.
Timothy Brown’s book proves that 1968, as a shorthand term for the complex process of reshaping contemporary Europe and the world, was an immensely multifaceted moment in history which cries for a plurality of approaches and interpretations. Sixties Europe pinpoints extremely important aspects of this history, such as the roles of politics, the global imagination, the reinterpretation of the agendas of the left, and communication across various areas of the world. It renders this history open to contestation and also offers a persuasive illustration of the potentials of polyphonic narratives of the past. It thus constitutes a work worthy of the admiration of any historian.
Research Centre for the Humanities
Censorship in Czech and Hungarian Academic Publishing, 1969–1989: Snakes and Ladders. By Libora Oates-Indruchová. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020. 384 pp.
In Snakes and Ladders, Libora Oates-Indruchová constructs a rigorous theory of censorship based on the case of normalization-era Czechoslovakia (with Hungary as an asymmetrical comparison) and offers a compelling methodological vision for the future of cultural histories of state socialism. The book has been long in the making and, as a result, is layered in its source material and analysis. Originating in late 1990s Czech Republic with the author’s interest in the scholarly writing and publishing practices of her own professors before 1989, its main source base was collected in the early 2000s: twenty oral history interviews with Czech academics and eight interviews with their Hungarian peers. The interviewees were chosen from among scholars active before 1989 who still enjoyed the professional appreciation of their peers in the post-socialist period, which underscores Oates-Indruchová’s case for taking knowledge produced under state socialism and the agency of scholars seriously, yet also raises the question of how the boundaries between the scholarly and the non-scholarly have shifted over the past 50 years.
By the time the interviews were done, the “archive fever” of the 1990s was being critically reviewed,2 whereas the “ethnography of the archive” strand of research had not yet been fully articulated in studies of state socialism.3 This shows in Oates-Indruchová’s approach to the book’s archival source base. Chapter 2 reconstructs the official policies regulating scholarly life during normalization based on officially published documents from the Czechoslovak press that were collected in the 1960s and 1970s by the Radio Free Europe Research Institute and are now held at the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest. The complex context of their collection, classification, and archival processing remains largely unexplored, and although this is unlikely to change the general outline of the party policy which they document, one wonders what Oates-Indruchová’s sophisticated methodological approach to the oral history interviews would yield if it were applied to this archival source base as well. As for the archives of the Editorial Board of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, they represent the counterpart to Chapter 4, where they are carefully discussed in the footnotes. To use the author’s conceptual distinction borrowed from James C. Scott, the “public transcript” of party and state institutions is thus “hidden” in what is doubtlessly Oates-Indruchová’s conscious choice to put the voices of the scholars themselves center stage.
These voices form the core of the book, five chapters which weave together the interviewees’ recollections on themes related to academic writing and publishing during the normalization period in Czechoslovakia: the institutional and personal strategies for surviving and navigating the constraints on academic scholarship after the Prague Spring (Chapter 3); the “highway code” of the publication process which saw a manuscript through various institutional loops (Chapter 4); censorship (including self-censorship, “friendly censorship,” and post-publication censorship) and how it related to authorship and authoring, that is, the articulation of the authorial self (Chapter 5); the language of publishing, from the acceptability of various research topics to the scholarly vocabulary to the use of subversive “code” (Chapter 6); and perceptions on the past and the afterlife of state socialist scholarly practices in the narrators’ present (Chapter 7). These five chapters are structured as “imagined conversations” among the Czech scholars in which Hungarian authors intervene as a counterpart to the Czech story. They consist of quotes from the oral history interviews, identified through a pseudonym (which indicates the age cohort, gender, nationality, and profession of the narrator) and ordered by the author with minimal textual interventions in her capacity of a “novice” initiated by her “mentors” in the workings of academic publishing under state socialism. This unique approach, dubbed “post-academic writing,” takes inspiration from feminist methodology and literary studies. As Oates-Indruchová argues in the introduction, it seeks to “make visible the lives and experiences of my narrators, treat them ethically by allowing them to represent themselves to the greatest possible degree, make visible the power relationship of the research situation, and lay the research process bare, while not shunning the emotional and the subjective.” Eight photographs placed immediately before and after the oral history chapters stand as visual representation of this fraught, usually invisible process.
The last chapter of the book is a rigorously crafted theory of academic publishing and censorship under state socialism, which (despite the fact that the author gives her reader permission to skip it in the introduction) is likely to become the go-to text on the topic for the university classroom and for scholars of intellectual production under late socialism. Oates-Indruchová argues that although the system of ideological control tightened from 1969 onwards, there was a noticeable shift in its target from content to form, or from scholars’ convictions to the appearance of loyalty. The system suffered from over-centralization, and scholars responded by developing a host of individual and institutional strategies to survive repression, the access to and experience of which were divided along generational lines. The “publish and perish” dynamics of academic publishing under state socialism meant that a manuscript’s entire journey from inception to publication was fraught with danger and regulated by an intricate code which was neither transparent nor entirely predictable.
Oates-Indruchová considers who could publish, how a text was approved, how the process could be helped or hindered and through whose agency, what was considered unpublishable, and what happened when the unpublishable was published. She distinguishes between (the authors’ experiences of) no censorship and preventive, post-publishing, and self-censorship, offering rich accounts of each. Most interestingly, Oates-Indruchová pairs censorship with authorship, highlighting how the pervasiveness of the first, especially in its preventive forms, contributed to the attrition of the latter. It is on the issue of censorship that the cases of Czechoslovakia and Hungary appear to diverge the most, suggesting the potential for a broader comparative analysis of the issue in the countries of East Central Europe. As a consequence of the politicization of research topics and the erosion of scholarly language, Oates-Indruchová argues, authors invested in the idea that a “code of communication” existed between them and the readers. Showing how elusive such a complex code is, she concludes that what developed was rather a vocabulary of expressions – the meanings of which were quickly lost for the post-1989 generations. The latter observation in particular leads Oates-Indruchová to explore the authors’ perceptions of the past and the consequences the system had for the interviewees in the present, both in terms of a lasting ideological dualism and the practices of academic research, publishing, and employment.
Oates-Indruchová has crafted a study of censorship at a time when both the fervent debates of the 1990s over issues of coercion, collaboration, and, importantly, moral responsibility have waned and the notion of writing against the totalitarian paradigm in studies of state socialism has itself become something of a cliché. This allows her both to state carefully and to answer unequivocally the main dilemma of the book in the introduction: why do some authors experience censorship as a set of practices which has the potential to nurture creativity while other authors experience it simply as stifling? The key is in the double effect of censorship, broadly defined, of creating (self-contained) academic communities of trust on the one hand and instilling a hyper-attentiveness to language in both authors and readers on the other. Oates-Indruchová shows that both have productive and restrictive dimensions, reflected in the authors’ contradictory evaluations of the past. Ultimately, however, she concludes that the game of “snakes and ladders” to which she compares academic publishing under state socialism worked to the detriment of authors, scholarship, and readers. Oates-Indruchová’s volume stands as an innovative model of how to explore a complexly mediated past through oral history and overcome legacies of dualistic thinking, overly cautious scholarship, and limited communication within and among self-contained academic communities.
New Europe College, Bucharest
Polio Across the Iron Curtain: Hungary’s Cold War with an Epidemic. By Dóra Vargha. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 254 pp.
In the early spring of 2020, steps were taken by governments in the so-called West which would make what was a long-forgotten part of world history an everyday reality again. In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, measures were introduced which compelled societies to rethink their value systems and perceptions, and even many experts in various fields had little clear sense of the long-term consequences these changes would have. The current epidemic prompted nation-state governments to implement rapid and, in some cases, comparatively effective policies. In general, in the secondary literature on epidemiological history, pandemics have been viewed as transient and clearly defined periods which begin with the first cases and end with the last. This approach has exerted a considerable influence on the communication concerning the current pandemic. In her first monograph, which was published in 2018, Dóra Vargha, a lecturer at the University of Exeter, discusses the various waves of the polio epidemic in Hungary and the fight against it in the second half of the twentieth century. Significantly from the perspective of the health crisis today, she offers an entirely different approach to the concept of a “pandemic.”
Vargha’s monograph raises a question of historiographical significance when she asks whether the history of an epidemic in a given country should really be seen as coming to an end when mass illness has come to an end. This is a question with moral, biopolitical, and general implications for the writing of epidemiological history. Are we embarking down the right path, when we seek to write an epidemiological history within a “nation-state framework,” by examining a well-defined period of time? In part to investigate this question, Vargha discusses the flare-ups of polio in Hungary between 1952 and 1963 in a broader international context, and she traces the fates of survivors until the change of regimes in 1990.
The spread of polio in Hungary may serve as an appropriate empirical context for Vargha’s analysis in part because the illness was a concern not because of the high number of cases or the high rate of fatalities. It was dreaded, rather, in no small part because of the serious risk of permanent bodily harm to members of a social group whose health was seen as symbolic of the country’s allegedly bright future. According to the logic of the era, this group was supposed to determine the ultimate outcome of the Cold War as an ideological and socioeconomic conflict. Polio therefore could not be treated merely as a (nation) state affair. This is precisely why Vargha raises the question of how and within what framework it was possible, ten years after the beginning of the Cold War, to organize a wide-ranging cooperative international medical and humanitarian effort to defeat an enemy “unfamiliar with the Iron Curtain.” And what were the social consequences of this cooperative endeavor in Hungary, a country which abutted the Iron Curtain and a country in which the protection of the population from biological threats (such as polio) was indeed an ideological question which cut to the heart of the emerging welfare society, but where the political changes which were underway at precisely this moment of history determined the country’s domestic and foreign policy positions?
Vargha addresses these questions, but she does a great deal more than that. She sheds light on the social status of modern, Western medical knowledge in Hungary in the 1950s, which was precarious in many ways. At times, it met with a skeptical or even hostile reception. Vargha also helps her reader understand a situation which, at first glance, seems contradictory. If the authoritarian political-social systems were never hesitant to use physical force to harass or even destroy individuals who lived under their reign when it seemed to serve their interests, how is it that, at other times, they were capable, when facing challenges similar to the challenges faced by the democratic societies of the West, sometimes to address the needs of their citizens, from certain perspectives, even more effectively?
The monograph consists of six chapters, which are arranged in chronological order, given the fundamental importance of the course of epidemics over time. The organizing thread, however, is not merely chronology. Rather, it is provided by the three major issues raised in the discussion, issues which are turned into analytical perspectives and which, with varying emphasis, run through the argument as a whole and outline the macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis. One of these issues is the problem of the global production and distribution of knowledge concerning polio in a global policy context in which the biological protection of citizens and the production of scientific knowledge in general were the basis for competition. Vargha’s analysis clearly shows something that historians of medical science in the second half of the twentieth century have been striving in recent years to emphasize in more and more empirical fields, namely that the Iron Curtain proved to be a “loosely woven fabric” when it came to the flow of scientific knowledge. The joint testing of polio vaccines which were originally developed in the United States (it is perhaps worth noting that the vaccine developed by Albert Sabin was first tested in the Soviet Union on large populations a few years before it was used in the United States) and the polio-conferences held until the early 1960s clearly indicated wide-ranging cooperation. At the same time, an examination of the discourses in the countries involved in the fight against the epidemic also allows Vargha to identify subtle distinctions: the East-West opposition appears as a topos to be broken down, but one also has a clear sense of the dilemma that was created by the fragility of the trust the two sides had for each other in the Cold War, despite their shared achievements.
By adopting an approach that goes beyond the national framework, Vargha reminds us of the permeability of the Iron Curtain and the global nature of the flow of knowledge. Furthermore, she offers an alternative to the approach based on the assumption according to which the flow of scientific knowledge generally considered to be modern consistently went from West to East. She argues convincingly that the immunization campaign introduced in Hungary in 1959, the manner in which the state-organized program was administered, and the monitoring of vaccinations and complications later served as a model in Cuba and Brazil, and they were also points of departure for the global strategy adopted by the WHO to eradicate polio. Hungary, which was the first country to introduce a vaccination program on the national level, served as a prominent example in these efforts, but, as Vargha indicates, so did several other communist countries.
The meso-level of Vargha’s study is her analysis of biopower intentions, which she presents mostly in the context of the fight against and prevention of epidemics in Hungary. Given her comparative approach, these phenomena can be traced, at least in part, in the context of the Soviet Union and the United States, and she shows how, due to certain historical features, similar tools available in epidemic management led, at least temporarily, to different successes in the prevention of infection. In the case of Hungary, for a health care system which had suffered catastrophic damage in World War II, the measures taken in the course of the 1956 Revolution and the offers of international assistance created the foundations for the fight against polio at the end of the decade.
In the case of Hungary, the state had a strong intention to provide care for the population, and there was, similarly, a strong demand for intervention. Nonetheless, the question of state jurisdiction over children’s bodies still put the issue of the relationship between power and the individual in the foreground, as well as the question of paternalism as the fundamental stance of the socialist state. Although policy with regards to children in the modern state has tended to see state participation in the rearing of children as essential even from the moment of birth, in order for the campaign to slow the spread of the virus to be effective, the state still needed to convince parents of the importance of its efforts and to clarify their role. Vargha shows that, at the initial stages of the epidemic, attempts by the state to insist on the urgency of protective measures appeared in the press and the narratives of health policy-makers as a common struggle by the state and parents, even if there were paternalistic motifs in the discourse. However, this rhetoric also made it possible to blame parents for the failure of the Salk vaccination in 1957.
The micro-level of the analysis concerns the discussion of the problems which arose in the everyday lives of individuals, problems which, effective international cooperation and state intervention notwithstanding, sometimes made it impossible or at least more difficult to protect the population. As Vargha’s analysis shows, the epidemic was not always taken as seriously by the general population as it should have been, and compliance with state regulations fell short of expectations, as did the actual number of vaccinations. When the epidemic flared up in 1959 and caused more destruction than it had in earlier bouts, it may have been tempting to attribute this to the decisions made by parents who went against the will of the state. However, as Vargha makes clear, defiant parents were not the only cause of the flare-up. The administrative confusion of the first vaccination campaigns and the early technical uncertainties concerning inoculation with the Salk vaccine, which was used first as a prophylactic measure, created a situation in which even large-scale immunization did not provide complete protection for the population belonging to the most vulnerable age group.
Vargha offers subtle insights into the contradictory and tense relationship between the paternalistic state and society through a discussion of a pressing issue of health care policy, and she also considers the ways in which the intentions of the state and the wishes of the population diverged or collided, sometimes because of problems with implementation and sometimes simply because of individual aims or perceptions. She does a great deal more than this, however. Because she uses a conceptualization of “epidemic” which is broad both in time and space, she also incorporates into her discussion an examination of the circumstances of those who survived the pandemic, stretching all the way up to the change of regimes in 1990. Thus, she also considers phenomena which were part of the larger strategies used by individuals during the Kádár era to assert or achieve their perceived interests, and she casts light from a new angle on the social and political dysfunctionalities which were, ultimately, the foundation on which these strategies were built.
Furthermore, since the early 1960s, the social circumstances of the individual fundamentally determined the circumstances of survivors of the polio epidemic. Since new cases of polio began to decline, polio itself no longer constituted a medical, social, or political problem. The Heine-Medin Hospital, which had been set up during Imre Nagy’s second term as prime minister, was closed, and knowledge concerning the disease was less and less a part of a practicing physician’s immediate repertoire. In the absence of reliable, organized state care, the quality of life for the people who had survived polio and who had been left with lasting handicaps depended on their circumstances and/or the circumstances of their families. By dwelling on this question, Vargha very justifiably suggests that, even if the epidemic was cured on the larger societal status, the Kádár regime ultimately failed to provide professional medical care, available regardless of one’s social background, even though this was one of its most prominent sociopolitical aims. For survivors of polio, differences in social level were factors which had a strong influence on the individual’s ability merely to exist.
Vargha makes persuasive use, in support of her various propositions, of a diverse array of sources, including archival documents, printed sources and sources from the press, an impressive body of secondary literature, and even oral history interviews done earlier with patients. Her use of the interviews allows her to present subjective perspectives on the illness and care and treatment, thus providing, to some extent, a “patient’s view,” or in other words, a perspective which is often seen as a worthy goal in the scholarship on medical history, but which, given the nature of the sources, is hard to provide (in the case of Vargha’s book, this perspective is particularly significant in the second, fourth, and sixth chapters). The interviews also enable her to make the changes of scale which are used in the other chapters and which constitute the most exciting points of her analysis. These changes of scale vividly show the reader how the decisions that were made in the interests of protecting the population from disease (decisions which, with small changes, ultimately did provide protection) were different, during the first wave of vaccinations, on the individual level because of the administrative chaos. In other cases, the shifts in scale show how, as gradually there were no cases of new infections, the question of providing care for polio survivors was no longer an issue that could be easily integrated into the communist social vision, and thus the provision of care essentially became the task of the families and friends who lived with or around people grappling with handicaps of various seriousness.
It is difficult to imagine a subject which could be more pertinent at the moment, considering the pandemic currently underway. But beyond its immediate relevance, given the questions she raises, the scholarship on which she draws, and the scientific and social-scientific perspectives she offers, Vargha’s book will be an essential work in the international scholarship on medical history in the next few years, as well as a substantial contribution to the scholarship on state socialism in Hungary during the Kádár era.
Eötvös Loránd University – École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
1 West Germany and the Global Sixties: The Anti-Authoritarian Revolt, 1962–1978 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
2 For example, Stephen Kotkin, “The State—Is It Us? Memoires, Archives, and Kremlinologists,” Russian Review 61, no. 1 (2002): 35–51.
3 This strand of research has picked up in the 2010s, in works such as: Cristina Vatulescu, Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010); Katherine Verdery, Secrets and Truth: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014); Ioana Macrea-Toma, “The Eyes of Radio Free Europe: Regimes of Visibility in the Cold War Archives,” East Central Europe 44, no. 1 (2017): 99–127, and her introduction to the edited issue.