The Social Roots of Ethnic Conflict in East Central Europe: A Comparative Study of the German Diaspora in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia
Summary of the East European Studies meeting with Balazs Szelenyi, a Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, CA, and a Title VIII-sponsored EES Research Scholar
Balazs Szelenyi examined the social roots of ethnic identity formation as a way to explain the variations among groups of ethnic Germans living in Central and Eastern Europe during the interwar period. Within the former Hungarian kingdom, there were three main groups of German diaspora - the Schwabians, Transylvanian Saxons, and the Tsipsers. Following the partition of the Hungarian kingdom after WWI, the Schwabians, living along the Danube in southern Hungary, remained in Hungary but wanted out; the Transylvanian Saxons became part of Romania and were happy to be out of Hungary's territory; and the Tsipsers, living in the mountainous Tatra region in Hungary's far East, became part of Slovakia but wanted to be back in Hungary.
Each group developed a distinct notion of identity, which was heavily influenced by its economic and social make-up. The Tsipsers, a bourgeois group. were heavily influenced by the Enlightenment and thought of nationhood in the more classical, citizen-based sense. They thus sought re-acceptance into the Hungarian fold. The Schwabs, on the other hand, primarily peasants, did not have such a positive attitude towards the Hungarian state, but viewed the state more as a defender of property rights for the aristocrats. They believed the state was a foreign entity that did not embody the nation and therefore adopted a pan-German identity. The Transylvanian Saxons did not attempt assimilation into the Hungarian or pan-German identities, primarily because they were able to form a mini-state of their own since the Saxons were a relatively large group of over 2 million, consisting of all classes including the bourgeoisie, peasantry and small farmer classes.
Szelenyi also spoke briefly about the Nazification of the German diaspora. He mentioned that Nazi policymakers, aware of the differences among the diaspora, developed a nuanced approach tailored to each individual group. With the Schwabs, the Nazis played up the "downtrodden peasant." The Saxons, being a much more sophisticated group, required a more complex approach involving the Lutheran church - the fundamental element shaping Saxon identity. By taking these tailored approaches, the Nazis were successful in gaining strong support among the German diaspora during WWII.