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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 9:231–242.


Transylvania Revisited

Discourse and Historical Representation in Contemporary Romania*


The Context

One of the key issues to repeatedly surface Romania’s public contemporary sphere is the suspicion that her territorial integrity may suffer a change and her national essence may be altered. By and large, this is not a new theme on Romanian discursive landscape. Since her emergence as a distinctive culture, Romania’s has been defined in opposition, either to something external (Europe, the Balkans, the Slavic world) or internal (the Hungarians, the Jews, etc.) However, after 1989 debates on Romania’s place on the European map not only vividly re-emerged but also opened new registers of problems.1

Interestingly, conflicts of identity and unexpected cleavages within the same cultural memory paralleled these discussions, making Romania a classical post-communist example of a society seized by national radicalism. This nuance was also aptly detected by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi in her latest’s book, Subjective Transylvania.2 Attempting to offer an alternative explanation to recent Romanian nationalism, she faces, as many other scholars working in the field, the problem of defining the “national problem” in Romania:

“Obviously, it means different things to different political actors. To the nationalist Romanian parties, mostly post-communist parties, but partly also anti-Communist, the national problem is the lack of loyalty and therefore the danger of irredentism of the 1.7 million Hungarian community inhabiting Transylvania. For the Romanian anti-Communist intellectuals the ‘national problem’ seems to be the regaining of some meaning of the Romanian identity in a world so different from the one before the 2nd World War, the last moment said, – although little evidence supports this – to have presented such a clear identity. For the Romanian Hungarian elite the problem is to find a political formula, which can accommodate their very distinct cultural identity. Finally, for the international community, the ‘national problem’ of Romania is seen only as the containment of the ethnic competition between Romanians and Hungarians in the strict legal and administrative framework of Romania and Europe.3

Contrary to the fact that Romania is being marked by a “national problem,” the significant role nationalism performs in this country is not easily accepted.4 After all, what makes Romania such an interesting case? Similar to other East European national characteriologies, Romania’s combines an ethnic nationalist philosophy (as it developed in the 19th century) with a suffused authoritarianism (determined by the image of the Nation-State). By eliminating references to external historical, socio-cultural and political factors, Romanianness is generally referred to in the public discourse as pure and uncontaminated.5

However, as communism collapsed, Romania alongside other East and Central European countries decided to march for integration into European structures. This intention determined a reconfiguration of the public discourse and the pervasive form of perceiving the Nation and the State as being “only Romanian” received a very strong attack form co-lateral zones of the Romanian political and cultural establishment.6

At present, there is, by the very logic of both nationalism and Europeanisation, an intense conflict among Romanian politicians and intellectuals for their loyalty and identity.7 They are vacillating between glorifying the State and the Nation. But whether the focus is on liberal nationalism of the new elite trying to preserve their goals in a post-communist society, or on the more militant, illiberal and anti-minority nationalism of the old communist elite, I would argue that in Romania nationalism is a necessary practice.8 There is probably no better perspective from which to examine this assumption than to focus on how Transylvania appeals to contemporary Romanian political imagery.

This essay examines this overwhelmingly diffused topic from a different perspective. Firstly, by assessing the vicious orchestration of Transylvania in the public sphere, I attempt to visualise the most attendant political and intellectual themes on the Romanian discursive field. Secondly, by indicating various conflicting discourses, I indicate the existence of an identity conflict within Romania that clearly vies with efforts to sustain a coherent domestic domain. Lastly, I suggest that there is something more than simple adherence to European values Romanians have to come to terms in order to externally be accredited as such and internally create sufficient space to adjust complementary (even if conflictual) political and intellectual visions.

Transylvania and again Transylvania

In modern times, Transylvania was identified a) politically – as the expression of a particular ethnonational group (either Romanian or Hungarian) and b) geographically – as coterminous with that people’s homeland (either Romania or Hungary).9 Representing this region (as either Romanian or Hungarian) endlessly determined intellectuals legitimise power and reproduce conflictuality. Not surprisingly that after almost a century of the existence of the “Romanian unitary national state” or of post-Trianon Hungary, there is – still – a pathologic need to enhance arguments for either “Romanian” or “Hungarian” Transylvania. It seems that this region acts both as a filter through which Romanian and Hungarian cultural, social and political items are exchanged and as a barometer of the real functioning of the Romanian and Hungarian state.

According to the dialectic of the homogeneous state (the nation-state per excellence), regions such as Transylvania, ethnically and religiously heterogeneous, are politically dysfunctional. As known, after 1918 great energies have been dispersed to articulate a new conceptual repertoire that had to place Transylvania on the map of Romania.10 In other words, Transylvania had to be internalised as part of the new state. Similarly, the very idea of “Romania”- defined by the 19th century Romantic nationalism as the spiritual home of all Romanians – and of Transylvania – regarded as the “cradle of Romanism” – dramatically changed after the Union, as did the different political and administrative functions the new state had to perform in order to acquire consistency and legitimacy. It should be remembered, however, that these legislative reforms and imposed centralism of Bucharest were from the outset intermingled with tropics of opposing discourses (for example, regionalism in the Banat11).

Romania’s long political history of assimilating Transylvania notwithstanding, I refer to recent variations of the subject. As federalism and national autonomy permeated Romania’s public discourse after 1989, Romanian nationalists regarded them as symbols meant to illustrate nothing more but old revisionist themes (as those espoused by Hungary, Bulgaria or Soviet Union in the inter-war period) that are now covered by the interest European Union and her bureaucrats incarnate. Furthermore, recent attempts to foster decentralisation and local autonomy are often being interpreted as eloquent examples of Transylvanian anti-constitutionalism and separatism. The pivotal association these terms imply threatens – so goes their argument – the very essence of the Romanian state, i.e. it being “national unitary.”

It is clear, that despite serious efforts to integrate in the new European order, Romanians should firstly attempt to surpass the endemic problem of “defending” a powerful construction: “Greater Romania.” After all, the identity convulsions Romanians experienced after 1989 may well suggest something that was “avoided” by everybody who discussed political and intellectual issues in Romania, i.e. that the celebrated “unitary Romanian state” might be a powerful, maybe necessary to some, but yet a dying Romantic fantasy. In concrete terms, it is obvious that emerging formulas of European integration (as, for example, those described by Gusztáv Molnár in his Problema transilvană12) can hardly be associated to the image of Romania – seen as the total state, as the only depository of the power of the society.

Intersected Discourses

Similar to other East European discourses, Romanian public opinion on integrating into European structures is fragmented and multifaceted. As Katherine Verdure has observed early in the 1990s, in Romania “Europe meant, for its civil-society advocates, the source of the political and economic forms Romania should adopt; for others, it meant a neo-imperialist menace threatening Romania’s independence. That is, ‘Europe” represented either aid and salvation or imperial domination.”13 This ambivalence – being simultaneously nationalist or communist and Europeanised – is not something to be solely confined to Romania as this type of politician or intellectual can easily be found in all Eastern European countries, but in many ways Romania does present few unique characteristics, I shall refer to in the following.

Three public discourses may clearly be envisioned as defining the present discussion about Romania’s place on the European map. Interestingly, all of them use Transylvania both to cement their argumentation and as the main trope of their political performance. What constitutes the appealing side of this story is the fact that any Europeanised discourse is either paralleled by or produced as a reaction to various forms of nationalism or autochthonism.14 As I suggested above, I would argue that nationalism (as in many ways used to be communism) is still the ideology that satisfies most effectively the historically determined social needs of Romanian intellectuals as well as those of considerable parts of the population. In order to demonstrate this let us briefly point out the main Romanian public discourses.

I. The first and most tumultuous discourse suggests that Romania’s national specificity suffices to defining political goals and historical achievements. Well-represented in Transylvania by the Mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar and in Bucharest by Corneliu Vadim-Tudor, the leader of Greater Romania Party, this national(ist)-communist perspective does benefit from quite large domestic support hence its variations and representations onto public opinion.15 Following Alina Mungiu-Pippidi’s argument this category does refer to what she considers to be the assimilationists nationalists within the Romanian political class.16 Apart from official criticism, it is undeniable, however, that the slogans and populist rhetoric Romanian nationalists utilise – the most common being “Transylvania is in danger to be occupied by Hungarians” – do reflect a common psychological phenomenon, many Romanians spontaneously share.

II. The second discourse presupposes that the revolution of 1989 radically changed Romania and now she does pose sufficient guaranties for being labelled a democratic country. This is a perspective supported by the ex- and present government, the president and large segments of Romanian intellectuals. They also assume that integration in European structures is an irreversible phenomenon.17 Even so, when it comes to de-centralisation and regionalism, this “group” acts as nationalistically minded as the first one.18 A recent example of this anachronism refers to the “declaration from Cluj.”19 Attempting to write such a document, some Transylvanian intellectuals aimed at commemorating the famous “Declaration from Budapest” (1989), by which Hungarian intellectuals and Romanians dissidents reacted to the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. An interesting manoeuvre happened on June 4, 1999 in Tîrgu-Mureş. The incipient project received a very fierce response from the Romanian president, Emil Constantinescu who summoned Romanian and Hungarian intellectuals not sign any document that would jeopardise the existence of the Romanian state and foster ethnic strife in Transylvania.20

As it can be seen, there is a national alert to persistently engender any European agenda or, in other words, the Transylvanian problem generates a new and unparalleled discursive instability in Romania.21 Apart from the excitement and political propaganda such a subject generates, recent debates on “integration,” “exclusion” and “Transylvanian separatism” provide a good occasion to inquire how European Romania is – or pretends to be – after the collapse of communism (or for that matter after 150 years of being a modern state).

Since the birth of the modern age, states have either attempted to forge a homogeneous nation from disparate cultural and regional groupings within its domain, or ethnic groups have sought political autonomy in order to establish themselves as independent actors on nation’s stage. Insofar as activities such as those mentioned above focus on questions of state and nationhood, present discussions on “Transylvania” assume two distinct and conflictual discursive forms.

A. The first one calls for unity against foreign forms of ideological oppression, implying that Romanians cannot but be one people within one form of government, “the national Romanian unitary state.” This expression is yet another facet of that phenomenon – earlier emphasised in this study – which describes the nation-state as possessing the only expression of sovereignty. From this perspective, Romanian state, as other similar projects, eloquently suggests how the linear, teleological, Enlightenment model of history serves to create “a false unity, of a self-same, national subject evolving through time.”22 I would name the supporters of this conception integralists, as to them Romania is the “home of all (and only) Romanians,” the eternal state.

B. The second form suggests that its proponents be entitled to dominate their own society irrespective of the centralising methods of Bucharest. That is to say that the supporters of regionalism (or regionalists) believe that a sense of distinctness survived in Transylvania and can successfully be exercised in order to gain various strategically political goals. Thus, within the official national characterology that presents the Romanian nation as being intellectually and morally equal or even superior to the historically more fortunate nations,23 a subaltern mentality has emerged in Transylvania, indicating – as we shall see in the following – a transgression of Romanianness.

III. Within this context a third discourse has emerged and indicated a transformation of Romanian national identity. By pointing out that parts of Romania, such as Transylvania and the Banat,24 may more convincingly – due to historic traditions, multi-ethnic cohabitation, religious tolerance – integrate into European frameworks, this new trend visibly create space for addressing fundamental questions concerning the Romanian psyche, i.e. that there is a difference within Romania in terms of the same national group, or in other words it seems that Europe does embrace on different connotations in Cluj than in Bucharest. Promoting the idea of belonging to Central Europe, intellectuals from Transylvania and the Banat attempt to construct a distinction between their political space, in which civil society and political pluralism had certain traditions than the rest of Romania, putatively associated with the Balkans.25

It is tempting, however, to present these intellectual designs as political manipulation – as processes engineered by “anti-Romanian” or “pro-Hungarian” elements on their own terms.26 On the other hand, these exercises do not delineate new cultural projects of Romania’s political geography. There were in Romanian history similar attempts to manufacture cultural support this way.27 One of these was experienced by Hungarians in the 1920s and amply described as Transylvanism: a form of cultural superiority that suggests the existence of a “Transylvanian soul” or a “Transylvanian consciousness,” simultaneously different from “Hungarian” and “Romanian soul.”28 At present, as it happens to many historical ideas, Romanians in Transylvania have reverted the meaning of Transylvanism for their own purpose and come to consider it as something strictly confined to them.

Furthermore, a re-definition of Transylvania has been imposed. In the context of a particular frustration, generated by political marginality and economic disparities, intellectuals from Transylvania contoured this region as a distinct zone, with a particular identity, neither “Eastern” nor “Western,” but “Central European,” simultaneously different and superior than the rest of Romania. In many respects, this putative supremacy profoundly permeated all Transylvania’s inhabitants opinion about themselves and the rest, so that today this discrepancy not only functions as an alteritist cliché, but also perfectly serves to defining identity clashes within Romania.

To sum up: assessing the interaction of these discourses, it is not difficult to observe that Romania is emblematically positioned. My argument is that within this framework, a mimetic competition to gaining political domination emerged and simultaneously augmented the elaboration of a subaltern discourse, an internal Orientalism within Romania.29


Internal Orientalism: Transylvania and Romania

Explicit or diluted alteritist discourses have permanently existed in the modern history of Romania.30 However, after 1989, the simultaneous acceleration of economic poverty and attempts to administratively decentralise the country produced conflicting principles of legitimacy with respect to the place Transylvania occupies within Romania. Consequently, Transylvania proved to be a domain of contested power and competing national mythologies, in which local and national groups permanently and horizontally negotiated relationships of subordination and control.31

The internal Orientalist paradigm has gained prominence in political rhetoric after 1989 as the axes of Romanian politics centred on inclusion or exclusion in “Europe” and European organisms. These processes of inclusion and particularly of exclusion are central to the redefinition of any post-communist Eastern political attitude. In many ways, the so-called “Central Europeans” construed a new image of themselves, defined in opposition to images of an external “Eastern European,” often identified with the Balkans. Balkanism, although latent for decades, explicitly surfaced the political and academic discourse in the 1990s, as a corollary of tragic events that accompanied the dissolution of ex-Yugoslavia.

As previously mentioned new efforts were made after 1989 to reconfigure the ethnonational myth of the Romanian state. These attempts were paralleled by initiatives aimed at abandoning the Balkan image of Romania, the depressing sense of poverty, civic violence and homeless children associated to it.32 As Maria Todorova illustratively suggested, the Balkans have been transformed into “one of the most powerful pejorative designations in history,”33 thus compelling everybody to repel this image. This suggests yet another well-rooted cliché: similarly to Transylvania being considered the most advanced bastion of Romania so is Romania regarded as the last bastion of European civilisation in the face of “Oriental barbarism.”

Today, both representations compete to gain ascendancy within Romanian public rhetoric. Thus, Transylvanians would never conceive of themselves as being “Balkanised,” affirming that such a contamination had happened only to the rest of Romania, while intellectuals from Bucharest, although implicitly accepting “Balkan” features as being part of the Romanian Weltanschauung would never fully integrate them or accept a dichotomic division of Romanian culture and politics. Contrary to what Romanian intellectuals accept, internal Orientalism does reflect an identity conflict, a division based on ineluctable polarities – Transylvania and the Regat, Central Europe and the Balkans, etc.34



There is nothing new in pointing out the importance of reception for the understanding of a cultural or political construct. I have attempted to argue in this essay, via the discussion of recent discursive tropes in Romania, that my vision of Transylvania is really a critique of constructing a superfluous difference.35 This is why, in many respects, I think that both the regionalists and the integralists ignore a very important element. In eighty years new vertical power relationships have been formed in Transylvania that absorb their vitality from the very existence of Bucharest. This is a fact that cannot be oversimplified by affirming a cultural memory of separate cultural spheres, one Romanian and one Transylvanian.36 Apart from futile variations on this allegedly self-imposed superiority, Transylvania is too profound a part of Romania, to be dispersed so easily. Respectively, Transylvania is not a separate piece of the national puzzle that respects the present political arrangement as effect of coercion (as regionalists advocate) nor is she a part of Romania since immemorial (as integralists suggest), but the result of a process that conflated points of reference – i.e. the myth of a common history, a unified land and the shared destiny of all Romanians – with favourable historical circumstances (the First World War).

On the other hand, there is a sense of difference within Romania that should not be discarded. Benefiting from co-habituating with various ethnic groups, Romanians from Transylvania have gained a sense of enrichment, clearly used in the present debates on Romanian identity as powerful arguments. With respect to this form of difference, a variable scale of symbolic boundaries does indeed separate Transylvania from other parts of Romania and indicates a political competition for national affiliations never to be ended. The important idea Romanians should embrace on is that pathetic nationalist attitude is obsolete in today’s Europe. Appending to the tradition of the endless dialogue between East and West, they have to understand that any political re-construction of Europe is above all an operation of discursive mapping. Instead of fruitfully co-exist with this idea they, by and large, exaggerate their importance and implicitly advance the idea that Europe cannot do anything but accept them.




One may attempt to compare present discussions on Romania’s place in Europe with corresponding dilemmas experienced after 1848 or 1918. After all, many questions Romanians posed after 1989 are largely similar to those posed by the Pasoptists or by the Interwar generation, a detail suggesting not only “perseverance” but also an unfinished identity crisis. See Adrian Marino, Pentru Europa. Integrarea Romaniei. Aspecte ideologice şi culturale (Iaşi: Polirom, 1995).


Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Transilvania subiectivë (Bucureşti: Humanitas, 1999). The quotations here are from the English version, available onhttp://www.osi.hu/ipf/ publications.




For a good discussion of this problem see Iordan Chimet, Momentul adevărului (Cluj-Napoca: Dacia, 1996).


I shall specify that this tendency dominates mainly the nationalist publications. I would argue, however, that implicitly almost everybody in Romania thinks in these terms.


See Katherine Verdery, “Civil Society or Nation? Europe in the Symbolism of Romania’s Postsocialist Politics,” in Ronald Grigor Suny, Michael D. Kennedy, Intellectuals and the Articulation of the Nation (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999), 301–340.


By and large, this is not a new conflict as Romanian society has recurrently been split between two camps. As Sorin Antohi observes: “In Romania, the efforts aiming at a transfiguration of the national symbolic space have fallen traditionally into two main categories: the former includes arguments rooted in the Westernising ‘invented traditions,” while the later includes the Autochtonist ‘imagined community.’ Both Westernizers and Autochtonists are rather ideal types, the mutually exclusive, if interwoven, and ultimately contaminated, extremes of a continuum: Romania’s political imagery.” In “Putting Romania on Europe’s Map,” paper presented at the workshop Euro-Balkans and Balkan Literature, Budapest (February 6–7, 1998), 36


In a similar vein George Schöpflin argues that the post-communist governments are rather interested in representing the nation than the society. “The nation – considers Schöpflin – in its ethnic dimension functions in politics as a category that is connected primarily to the establishment of the state and to definitions of identity. [...] The nation is sacralised and cannot be the subject of the bargains and compromises needed for the smooth functioning of democracy.” George Schöpflin, Politics in Eastern Europe 1945–1992 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 278.


Following a description offered by George W. White, it can be said that: “At the macro-scale, Transylvania is seen as an integral component of a broader national territory that is viewed as an organic and inviolable unit; within these broader organic units Transylvania is the cradle for both Romanian and Hungarian civilisations. At the micro-scale, Transylvania contains within it a number of places of great cultural and historical significance.” George W. White, “Transylvania: Hungarian, Romanian or Neither?” in Guntrom H. Herb, David H. Kaplan, eds., Nested Identities, Nationalism, Territory and Scale (New York, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 1999), 268.


See Irina Livezeanu, Cultural Politics in Greater Romania. Regionalism, Nation-Building, and Ethnic Struggle (1918–1930) (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).


See Dr. Romul Boil, Studiu asupra reorganizarii statului român întreg – conţinînd un anteproiect de constituie cu o scurtă expunere de motive (Cluj: Tipografia Naţională, 1931).


Gusztáv Molnár, “Problema transilvană,” in Gabriel Andreescu, Gusztáv Molnár, eds., Problema transilvană (Iaşi: Polirom, 1999), 12–37.


Verdery, “Civil Society or Nation?” 302.


In communism this phenomenon has been analysed by Katherine Verdery in National Ideology under Socialism. Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu’s Romania (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991).


In spite of their politics of ethnic antagonism, Corneliu Vadim-Tudor is still well represented on the public polls and Gheorghe Funar is by far the most successful mayor of Romania (after having survived scandals such as “Caritas” or the collapse of “Dacia Felix” bank).


“According to the ideology of this group Hungarians are or ought to be, in fact, ‘Romanian’. They see the political organisation and self-awareness of the Hungarian minority as a perpetual cause of instability and dissent inside the Romanian State. They consider ethnic parties should not be allowed to exist and cultural difference should be reduced as not to have any political implications. This political view is well matched with a paranoid theory on the political history of Romanians, considered to be the eternal prejudiced and scapegoats of international conspiracies, which leads to the rehabilitation of various authoritarian leaders, ranging from right-wing Marshall Ion Antonescu to left-wing Ceausescu, both praised in the Greater Romania weekly, the main ideological manifesto of the nationalists.”


In 1994, for example, Teodor Meleşcanu – then minister of Foreign Affairs – declared emphatically that Romania is at the same level with other Central European countries with respect to the European integration. One could go on endlessly giving examples like these.


This group falls clearly under what Alina Mungiu-Pippidi regards as statists nationalists. To them “regions should be clearly subordinated by the centre, and of course the centre is the expression of the dominant culture. Their view is that control by the state is the important thing, other notions such as accountability or effectiveness being ranked under control. They see the prefects appointed by the government as the real powerful men in the regions, more powerful than elected local governments, the budget as being decided with the national priorities above regional or local ones, the army and the police playing an important political role. Sovereignty is seen as the main values in this ideology and subsidiarity a form of anarchy. Statist nationalists are against any devolution of powers and believe that as expression of the popular vote the central government is the only one supposed to have real power, the rest of the administration having only to implement its policies. In theory they accept a plural society; in practice they reject institutional pluralism.”


For a discussion of this “Declaration” see the special issue of 22 no. 24, June 15-21, 1999.


See Naţional, June 8, 1999.


As expressed by a Romanian intellectual: “To think of the state as unitary, national, sovereign, etc. is anachronistic. If we think this way, it’s only because we’re unsure of our identity as Romanians The underlying question is always, Is Transylvania ours or not.” See“ Masă rotundă la GDS: Ultimele luări de poziţie ale U.D. M.R. privitor la minorităţi şi problema naţonală,” 22, November 12–18, 1992. Quoted in Verdery, “Civil Society or Nation?” 322.


Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995), 65.


This is one of the features of conservative nationalists or the autochthonists in Romania. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi views this attitude as a “residual, nostalgic trend [that] is based upon an identity problem. The value of being Romanian is one hand overvalued, and on the other a reason for anxiety as the Romanian culture is crossing a difficult time in being recognised as a European culture. To be a Romanian, a Christian, peasant-born becomes a value in this ideology. To defend the ‘Europeanness’ of Romanian and to render justice to east Europeans when compared to Western ones conservative nationalists overestimate the value of the Romanian culture as an European culture and display the belief that Romania could have been a sort of France under more favourable circumstances.”


Regions described by Gusztáv Molnár as “fragmentary regions of Mitteleuropa that have been left outside the new eastern frontiers of the West.” Molnár, “Problema transilvană,” 21.


However, as Sorin Antohi observes: “Such negative views of the native space are not central to the way Romanians imagine their Sitz im Leben, but they show how the most stable landmarks of collective identity meld down eventually, and cannot be taken for granted. Thus, we realise how unstable, artificial, recent, and even unpredictable the co-ordinates of the national existence can be.” In Antohi, “Putting Romania on Europe’s Map,” 37. See also the radical discourse of Sabin Gherman and his “M-am săturat de Romania,” Monitorul de Cluj, September 16, 1998.


As in fact it happens in Romania whenever such discussions surface the public opinion.


In his Spirirul critic in cultura româneasc (1909), Garabet Ibrăileanu suggested the existence of an essential difference between Moldavians and Wallachians. To him, Moldavians are more “spiritual” and predisposed to cultural activities than Wallachians; they are animated by a “critical spirit,” a necessary ingredient in the construction a national culture.


To George W. White: “Despite decades and even centuries of domination by outside forces, ethnic Romanians and Hungarians of Transylvania still stand apart from their ethnic brethren who live outside the region. Although it seems unlikely that Transylvanians will establish a political state that is necessary to cultivate a distinct Transylvanian national identity, the uniqueness of Transylvania as a place will continue to make Transylvanians stand out from the peoples around them.” White, “Transylvania,” 286.


Orientalism was originally conceptualised by Edward Said in his Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978). My argumentation here depends heavily on arguments developed by Sorin Antohi, Milica Bakic-Hayden and Robert Hayden. As the latter suggest: “Orientalism can be applied within Europe itself, between European ‘proper’ and those parts of the continent that were under Ottoman (hence Oriental) rule. The evaluation implied by this distinction can be seen in the rhetoric typically applied to the later: Balkan mentality, Balkan primitivism, Balkanization, Byzantine, Orthodoxy. Milica Bakic-Hayden and Robert Hayden, “Orientalist Variations on the Theme ‘Balkans:’ Symbolic Geographies in Yugoslav Cultural Politics,” Slavic Review 51: 1 (spring 1992): 3.


See Sorin Antohi, Imaginaire culturel et ralite politique dans la Roumanie moderne. Le stigmate et l’utopie, traduit du roumain par Claude Karnoouh avec la collaboration de Mona Antohi (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999).


Once again it is important emphasise the importance of territory for the definition of national identities. “Territory is a component of ethnic and national identities, and because of that, ethnic groups and nations become very protective of the territories that they use to define their identities. The control and maintenance of territories is as crucial as the control and maintenance of a national language, religion, or a particular way of life.” White, “Transylvania,” 267.


Sorin Antohi complements my argumentation suggesting that: “This is why a post-1989 Romanian minister of Foreign Affairs, carried away by a belated enthusiasm for Mitteleuropa, placed the eastern border of this useful regressive fiction on the Dniester. As a matter of fact, he was doing just what Kundera had done: including one’s own country in a prestigious space by means of the exclusion of others” Antohi, “Putting Romania,” 37.


Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 7.


“The Balkans may well be the ultimate in terms of stigmatic European geography, and a proverbial inspiration for all kinds of Orientalist assessments of the continent’s coherence and legacy: a quick review of only the symbolic fights over who and what is more Balkan in the former Yugoslavia, long before the current Bosnian tragedy, is a crucial reminder of the potential violence embedded in the apparently arcane, ethereal scholarly disputes over the utopian transfiguration of ethnic, confessional, national geographies.” Antohi, “Putting Romania,” 37.


I realise that this statement could easily and mistakenly be interpreted as a pro-integralist one. As it should have become transparent by now I am criticising both perspectives.


At this point, I agree with Sorin Mitu’s scepticism regarding the separate cultural memory of Transylvanians. “Regardless of what Transylvanians thought, were there not in fact real civilizational structures, values, attitudes, mentalities, capable of conferring a distinct character to this province? The Habsburg heritage – the Empire’s well-ordered bureaucracy or the spirit of Central Europe – has not imprinted a character on this region, which categorically distinguishes it from other Romanian provinces? The answer, in my opinion, is that almost nothing concrete has survived of such a heritage, with the exception of a sea of memories, regrets and nostalgia with nothing to back them.” Sorin Mitu “Illusions and Facts about Transylvania,” The Hungarian Quarterly 39: 152 (winter 1998): 72.


Selective bibliography:

Antohi, Sorin, “Putting Romania on Europe’s Map,” paper presented at the workshop Euro-Balkans and Balkan Literature, Budapest (February 6-7, 1998), 35-37.

Bakic-Hayden, Milica and Robert Hayden, “Orientalist Variations on the Theme ‘Balkans:’ Symbolic Geographies in Yugoslav Cultural Politics,” Slavic Review 51, no. 1 (spring 1992): 1-15.

Chimet, Iordan, Momentul adevărului (Cluj-Napoca: Dacia, 1996).

Marino, Adrian, Pentru Europa. Integrarea Romaniei. Aspecte ideologice şi culturale (Iaşi: Polirom, 1995).

Molnár, Gusztáv and Gabriel Andreescu, eds., Problema transilvanăë (Iaşi: Polirom, 1999).

Mungiu-Pippidi, Alina, Transilvania subiectivă (Bucureşti: Humanitas, 1999).

Schöpflin, George, Politics in Eastern Europe 1945–1992 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993).

Verdery, Katherine, “Civil Society or Nation? Europe in the Symbolism of Romania’s Postsocialist Politics,” in Ronald Grigor Suny, Michael D. Kennedy, Intellectuals and the Articulation of the Nation (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999), 301–340.

White, George W., “Transylvania: Hungarian, Romanian or Neither?” in Guntrom H. Herb, David H. Kaplan, eds., Nested Identities, Nationalism, Territory and Scale (New York, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 1999), 267–287.