Majorities And Minorities In Documents From The Interwar Period

excerpts Over the last few years, one of the more or less impartially analyzed issues has been the relationship between Romanians – as majority population – and "the others" represented, broadly, by ethnic, religious, cultural communities etc. The current approach is not intended as a comprehensive survey of this complex and highly sensitive issue, but rather as a modest point of view on the topic under discussion.  The legal frameworkRomanian legislation has kept close contact with similar European models – from which, in fact, it has drawn its inspiration – but completely out of tune with local realities, which in turn sustained the collective imaginary. The latter becomes manifest, ultimately, as a final reaction of the local, traditional mentality to the process of modernization represented by the decisions of the legislature. The evolution of the majority-minority relationship pays tribute, at least at an institutional level, to the modernity barometer. From a legal point of view, Romania's position – united in a single national political system after 1918 – towards minority communities has reflected the split between the legislative model of European inspiration and the local elements that bear the mark of the confluence between Central Europe and the Orient. This reality is especially predominant in Walachia, whose institutional, political, cultural and even behavioural model will be exported and assimilated into the new historical provinces, which will be part of Great Romania after 1918. Nonetheless, the 1923 constitutional act reckoned with the new ethnic realities in Romania. Unlike Walachia, where there was only one major minority issue, itself having to do rather with identity than with ethnicity – the Jews –, in post-union Romania the coming together of provinces with a very diverse ethnic composition resulted in a new mapping out of minority identity and, at the same time, a new dimension of the minority-majority relationship. Transylvania, Banat, Crisana, Bukovina and Bessarabia had important minority communities, which, in their turn, made up very dynamic cultural, religious and identity complexes, strong enough to assert their personality. Modern Romania after 1920 had no longer any correspondent in pre-war Romania. At a later date (1938) the official politics of the corporative state was to homogenize the society by reducing it to a huge collective monolithic mechanism, meant to do away with cultural asperities which marked the minority-majority relationship. This objective is turned into state politics and the intended mechanisms for achieving it were propaganda and corporatist-type collective organisms like the National Renaissance Front, youth organizations like Country Sentinel, The Archers and The Lady Archers etc. King Charles (Carol) II's political regime even went so far as to set up a General Commissariat for National Minorities and boasted of its unprecedented tolerance and openness to the plight of minorities in the country. From a legal and constitutional point of view, the minority-majority relationship in the modern Romanian state bore significant similarities to those in the rest of Europe. It owed much, however, to the myth of the Great Romania, which first took shape in 1848 and received further emphasis after 1878. It inserted into the Romanian – and especially Walachian – imaginary an ideological and political expression later transferred to the model of the centralized unitary national state. Its political accomplishment in 1918 will strongly influence the minority-majority relationship, particularly in Transylvania, Banat and Bessarabia. Starting with 1919 the Romanian political universe becomes diversified as some minority groups – the Hungarians, the Germans and the Jews – set up remarkably active political parties.  Theory versus realityIn order to better understand Romanian realities, we should look at a complex document in connection with ethnic minority issues in inter-war Romanian society and thus also come to fathom the realities of day-to-day life. Following reports from the field, a commission appointed in 1927 by the American Committee for the Religious Rights of Minorities was designated to draw a report on the "rights of religious minorities" in Romania. The report renders in an impartial manner the great split between modern, European legislation and its inadequate enforcement throughout the country. Despite appropriate legislation, ethnic and religious minorities in Romania were facing serious problems ranging from anti-Semite attacks to deficiencies in the education system which deprived the minority population of their constitutional rights. The preliminary report was completed with the speech given by Mr Lathorp Howland, one of the presidents of the commission: "The Romanians wish to form a national middle class is, no doubt, worth encouraging. The middle class is formed, in Romania, by Jews. Thus, the problem consists in hindering the Jews' access in schools, so that Romanians have all the opportunities. (…). The Ukrainians have been the most terrorized of all minorities. Every Russian is a Bolshevik, to the Romanian authorities. Of religious minorities, the Baptists suffer more than any other sect, because they are the only ones who, like the Adventists, have crossed the Carpathians (to make proselytism). (…) The buildings are requisitioned in haste and turned into Romanian schools. The exams are held with Romanian teachers, and the children are asked all sorts of unfair questions, so they can be rejected." (Minutes taken during Mr John Howland Lathorp's conference at Neighborhood Club, 104 Clark Street, Brooklyn Heights, on 14 December 1927. Records of the Ministry of National Propaganda, file no. 18, 1927-28).  One answer of the Romanian sideThere were, naturally, objections to the conclusions drawn by the above-mentioned guest speaker. A certain A. I. Popescu tried to deconstruct Mr Lathorp's discourse by stressing the principle – still widely resorted to today – according to which the erroneous understanding of the Romanian context arises from our country's distance from the decision centres in Europe. Thus the myth of Romania's peripheral position in the European space is again fuelled by a supposed deliberate ignorance which inevitably leads to misunderstanding Romanian realities. A. I. Popescu stated that, in order to understand "the plight of the minorities in our country", several issues needed clarification and one most of all: "today's minorities are yesterday's oppressors of today's majority. Subconsciously, I'm not saying consciously, they are not asking for a minority treatment, but rather for a return to their preferential situation before the war." We are dealing here with another type of discourse which is not totally refuting the statements of the previous speaker, but tries to deconstruct his image, thought to be distorted because of a poor understanding of the situation on the field. His arguments are somewhere on the borderline between a half-defined propagandistic discourse and the reality of things. "It is common knowledge that the Hungarian state apparatus was of old used to oppress, denationalize and convert the Romanian minority to a different religion. We have redistributed these estates directly proportional to the ethnic minorities, so that neither the schools, nor the churches enjoy any longer the preferential status they had before the war. I am not saying no one has been wronged. But we should all agree on one thing once the minority opinion will accept the situation resulting from the democratic principle of majority government. Minorities have not yet adapted to this state of affairs and are still nourishing hopes to somehow return to their pre-war privileges. It would be preposterous on your part to believe that we, the native majority of these lands, could possibly agree to tolerate this unjust retrocession of assets to some minority languages or religious denominations. I wonder why before the war your hearts did not go out to the majority the way they do now to the 'oppressed' minorities. And why similar investigation committees are not dispatched to Hungary, Yugoslavia etc. We wish to have no religious wars in the 20th century if we managed to avoid them in the Middle Ages. If you appreciate and respect our point of view, then we are willing to discuss one by one the injustices you seem to hold in high esteem as such. And I assure you that we understand when we are understood." (The State Archives. Records of the Ministry of National Propaganda, file no. 18, 1927-28). The minority issue was at the core of numerous analyses that sought recipes for an impartial solution. Among these analyses was the one signed in 1930 by the Transylvanian publicist Aurel Ciato and broadcast on the radio in Lugoj, Timisoara and Cluj-Napoca, therefore in Transylvania. Aurel Ciato's project was aimed mainly at the "dissention between Romanians and Hungarians". The author was keen to remind that there had been no conflicts between Romanians and Germans and supported his arguments with the words spoken by Daniel Roth in May 1848. The latter emphasized the fact that both communities were faced with the "wave of misfortunes" coming from the Hungarians. (The State Archives. Records of the Ministry of National Propaganda, file no. 125, 1928-41).  Iuliu Maniu and a possible conclusion The minority issue – subject to various analyses in the inter-war period – was in reality a European issue. It is from this perspective that Iuliu Maniu (leader of the National Peasants' Party) attempted to approach it in his article entitled "Are minorities still a threat to peace in Europe?" Iuliu Maniu highlighted the improvement in the overall predicament of minority populations in Transylvania, only to develop an interesting theory. According to him, "should the old Hungary be restored tomorrow to its former boundaries, it would not last one single day if its population were granted universal suffrage and full liberty to vote as they please." Cultura, January 2005

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)