The Transylvania Tangle
Driving through the rolling Transylvanian countryside from Cluj toward Tirgu-Mures one wintry Sunday afternoon some six weeks after the fall of Ceausescu in December 1989, I passed a group of about 100 peasants---virtually the entire village, it appeared---clustered with their priest around a cenotaph. Curious, I backed up the car and joined them. The cenotaph commemorated Romanian heroes of former wars. It was being dedicated again that day to include, especially, the fallen heroes of December. When I approached, the peasants were angry, and suspicious. At first they were afraid I was Hungarian. Their fear was palpable and, I have no doubt, genuine.
Eventually the stories poured out. "It doesn't matter what will occur, only that the Hungarians don't come back," one very old woman told me. "I have lived under the Russians. I have lived under the Germans. Anybody but the Hungarians." Although Romanians formed an absolute majority of the population of Transylvania, and had for centuries, Hungarian nobles---a minority within a minority---had been their overlords for most of the preceding 1,000 years. The woman who addressed me had, in fact, been born in the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when Transylvania was under direct Hungarian control and the Hungarian government pursued a harsh policy of Magyarization among all its subject peoples. She had lived through two world wars under who monarchies, through the unification with Romania in 1918 and the annexation by Hungary from 1940 to 1944, and finally through 45 years of communism. And today, or maybe yesterday, Hungarian peasants had attacked Romanians in their fields, in their villages, with pitchforks. They had burned their houses.
Research, browse, and discover more than 35 years of articles, essays, and reviews by preeminent scholars and writers. Our searchable archive of back issues is free for WQ subscribers.