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East European Perspectives: April 2, 2003

2 April 2003, Volume 5, Number 7


By Richard Andrew Hall


From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, nationalism was a bad word in the official idiom of communist Eastern Europe. It was rarely voiced openly by regime opponents -- when it was, it was in the context of a brief window of political liberalization, as occurred in Poland and Hungary in 1956 -- and was even rarer within the regimes. The reasons for this were multiple in the cases of Hungary and Serbia: Ethnic power and influence in Transylvania and Kosova* muted diaspora politics in the homeland, the regimes remained highly repressive against any type of dissent, and nationalism was effectively denigrated by its association with the interwar and World War II disasters of the region; for young people and students, and particularly regime members themselves, the concept was too foreign and taboo in the existing ideological hegemony.

Nationalist Voices In The Political Wilderness
During the 1960s and 1970s, the place of nationalism in communist Eastern Europe gradually changed. For one thing, the positions of Serbs in Kosova and Hungarians in Transylvania began to change and change for the worse, if slowly at first. The fact that intellectuals attempted to push the envelope with such criticism, and the sometimes muted criticism of the authorities, was indicative of the delegitimation of the ruling ideology and of the transition to a less repressive "post-totalitarian" regime (to use the categories outlined by Linz and Stepan, 1996). It is important to note, however, that such criticism appealed to the statist and centralizing instincts of communist elites, calling for more, not less, party and state involvement in the protection of coethnics who were minorities caught outside the homeland. Still, for those who came to attach great importance to the diaspora issue, these muted efforts by communist elites to incorporate a diluted nationalism came across as half-hearted, cynical, opportunist, and ultimately unconvincing.

In Hungary, the standard-bearer of the diaspora cause was Gyula Illyes (born 1902), a by-then-already-famous populist poet and writer who had been a representative of the National Peasant Party in the first postwar National Assembly until withdrawing from politics in 1947 (Reisch, 1983). Despite the populists' rapprochement with the Kadar regime after 1957 -- especially after Kadar's declaration of his "alliance policy" in 1962 -- Illyes broke the taboo on the diaspora issue in a 9 January 1964 interview with the French magazine "L'Express" in which he criticized the closure of the Hungarian faculty at Babes-Bolyai University. Illyes was severely reprimanded for this criticism (Schopflin, 1988, p. 3). He continued, however, to raise the issue of the Hungarian minorities in his novels "Hajszalgyokerek" (Root Branches, 1971) and "Itt elned kell" (Here you must live, 1976) (Schopflin, 1979, p. 177).

According to an obituary by a Radio Free Europe analyst, although Illyes did address the plight of Hungarians in Czechoslovakia, he did it less frequently and never with the same force that he did in analyzing the situation of Hungarians in Romania (Reisch, 1983). Illyes's most direct comments on the diaspora issue, and particularly the issue of Transylvanian Hungarians, came in a two-part article that appeared in the state-run daily "Magyar Nemzet" on 22 December 1977 and 1 January 1978, even though, as Schopflin points out, he neither mentioned Romania nor Transylvania by name (Schopflin 1979, p. 178). Indicative, however, of the regime's confused and contradictory embrace of nationalism at this juncture, in January 1978 Illyes's "Szellem es eroszak" (Spirit and Violence) was banned because of its focus on the national question and ended up being published abroad (in Munich) in 1980 ("Kronologia," 1978; Reisch, 1983). Thirty-thousand copies of the work had been printed and bound in Hungary in 1978 but were not distributed, and the Kadar regime did not permit Illyes to respond personally to Romanian criticism of his "Magyar Nemzet" articles (Lendvai, 1988, p. 31).

Kurti summarizes the catalytic role played by Illyes in the expression of nationalist dissent as follows:

"[Among those who did not opt to emigrate] some, such as Illyes or [Laszlo] Nemeth, helped pave the way for the establishment of their youthful alter ego, the neopopulists. The neopopulists, most notably Ferenc Juhasz, Laszlo Nagy, Istvan Agh, and especially Sandor Csoori, demanded attention by opening up a more relaxed political climate that encouraged mild criticism, experimentation, and diversion from the officially favored 'urbanist' (bourgeois humanist) and 'socialist' literary forms. But with the emergence of this group, there was another equally if not more significant literary direction led by those writers whose family and regional backgrounds were located in the geopolitically sensitive region of Transylvania -- Istvan Csurka, Ferenc Santa, Zoltan Jekely, and Zoltan Zelk" (Kurti, 2001, p. 101).

Nick Miller identifies the speech of Serb intellectual Dobrica Cosic at the May 1968 plenum of the Serbian League of Communists (SKS) as "the birth of Serbian dissent" on the national question in communist Yugoslavia (Miller, 1997a, p. 298). Miller has termed Cosic "the herald of the original antibureaucratic revolution" and affirmed that Cosic's speech "established the foundation for Serbian complaints about the devolutionary tendencies of Yugoslav communism for the following two decades" (Miller 1997a, p. 304; 298). Cosic asserted that history, not demography, should determine the character of Kosova, and he displayed obvious disdain for Albanians and fear of Albanian nationalism in his speech:

"We can no longer fail to recognize how much the conviction spreads in Serbia regarding the intensification of relations between Siptars and Serbs, regarding the feeling of endangerment of the Serbs and Montenegrins, regarding the pressures for emigration, regarding the systematic removal of Serbs and Montenegrins from leading positions, regarding the desires of specialists to abandon Kosovo and Metohija, regarding inequalities before the courts and lack of respect for legality, regarding blackmail in the name of national identity" (cited in Miller 1997a, p. 298).

Cosic lost his position as a member of the Serbian League of Communists and resigned from the party three weeks later (Miller 2000, pp. 269-270 n. 7). A like-minded intellectual colleague, Jovan Marjanovic, also was excluded (Miller 1997a, p. 301). Significantly, however, Cosic's criticism lay outside the intellectual mainstream and was not taken up by reform Marxists or humanist intellectuals -- such as Mihailo Markovic and the scholars of the so-called Praxis group -- nor by the reformist wing of the SKS centered around Marko Nikezic and Latinka Perovic.

According to Miller, Cosic's speech in 1977 marking his admission to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts "heralded the opening of the second front, the non-party, intellectual uprising against Titoism" (Miller 1997a, p. 304). Cosic characterized Serbian history as filled with division and betrayal -- both internally and at the mercy of foreign powers -- and claimed that "in Europe there is not a small nation which in the past two centuries, and especially in the twentieth, that has expended so much in the name of the Serbian nation" (Miller 2000, pp. 274-275; Miller 1997a, p. 304). But as Miller admits, the time was not yet ripe for Cosic's form of dissidence, and "Cosic had little influence in Serbia until Tito died and Kosovo's Albanian population revolted in 1981" (Miller 1997b, p. 152).

A Slow, Timid, And Unconvincing Effort By Regime Elites To Appropriate Nationalism
The party in both Hungary and Serbia was slow to integrate and/or voice populist concern for the diaspora raised by the likes of Illyes and Cosic. In the Hungarian case, one can speculate that the Kadar leadership's desire to pursue internal reform -- whether by pursuing a more tolerant political line with dissidents or in implementing the changes of the New Economic Mechanism -- led it to tread carefully on a foreign-policy issue where expression of a nationalist claim might attract greater Soviet interest in Hungary's internal developments. In Serbia, the Rankovic purge, the constitutional amendments of 1968, 1972, and 1974, and finally the post-1972 purge of liberals from among the leadership of the SKS, muted the defense of the Kosova issue by party leaders.

According to a Hungarian populist source, June 1971 was the first time when a leader of the Hungarian Socialist Worers' Party (MSZMP) -- Zoltan Komocsin -- publicly declared that Hungary was interested in the fate of the Hungarian national minority (Joo, 1994, p. 116). As George Schopflin writes:

"the existence of strong popular sentiments on [the Transylvanian question] could not be wholly ignored, and by the mid-1970s a gradual shift took place in official attitudes. [Thus, i]n a speech to the Helsinki summit in 1975 Kadar explictly endorsed a kind of political and cultural nationhood that had positive features" (Schopflin, 1988, p. 3).

In a 1977 agreement with Romania -- the year when Kadar and Ceausescu engaged in bilateral meetings in Debrecen and then Oradea -- reflecting growing sentiment on the diaspora question, Hungary incorporated the concept of national minorities as forming a bridge that unites different peoples (Joo, 1994, p. 99; Schopflin, 1988, p. 4). Nevertheless, as Joo writes, "during the 1970s and even into the 1980s, official Hungarian policy still reflected a great deal of hesitancy and uncertainty," while those "who demanded a more assertive policy were often regarded with suspicion" and "young people who regularly traveled to Transylvania faced the prospects of harassment by the [Hungarian, as well as Romanian] authorities" (Joo, 1994, p. 99). And, as Schopflin explains, "a communist leadership, especially one as professionally neutral on the subject as Kadar's, was hard put to portray itself convincingly as a credible spokesman for the nation" (Schopflin, 1988, p. 3).

If in Hungary the need to avoid alienating the Soviet patrons who had restored the Hungarian communists to power after November 1956 delayed and muted discourse on the Transylvanian issue, in Serbia the "normalization" of politics that followed the purge of the Serbian party leadership after 1972 delayed and muted discourse on the Kosova issue. Nick Miller claims, "Until the late 1970s, the Serbian party doctrinally ignored or persecuted those like Cosic who claimed anti-Serbianism was integral to post-1966 Titoism" (Miller 1997a, p. 303). Partly in an effort to balance his purge of nationalists from the Croatian leadership beginning in late 1971 (Miko Tripalo, Savka Dapcevic-Kucar, etc.), Tito struck against the reformist, although not necessarily nationalist, Serbian leadership in 1972, removing most notably the president and the secretary of the Serbian League of Communists, Marko Nikezic and Latinka Perovic, respectively (Benson, 2001, pp. 122-123). According to Benson, in the end the total number purged from the party in Serbia "very nearly matched that of Croatia" (Benson, 2001, p. 123). Pavkovic has estimated that approximately 6,000 of those deemed "supporters" of Nikezic and Perovic were purged from the Serbian party (Pavkovic, 2000, p. 68). The "normalized" Serbian party dutifully abided by Tito's constitutional changes giving Kosova the status of an autonomous province in 1974 -- a situation that would discredit the "normalized" party leadership in the eyes of many Serbs.

The trinity of events that many Serbs increasingly came to believe marked their collective humiliation -- especially as regards Kosova -- during these years (Rankovic's purge in 1966, the purge of the Serbian party in 1972, and the 1974 constitution formalizing Kosova's autonomy) demoralized party members and had important structural consequences. Cosic castigated the "survivors" as characterized by "mediocrity and political cowardice" (Miller, 2000, p. 280). Miller writes of the purges:

"The LCS had been purged of its most capable leaders in 1972. The LCS had continued to resist changes to the constitutional status of Serbia after the purges, but they had robbed the party of much of its intellectual capital.... Today, there is significant support for the thesis that Serbia lost its best and brightest in 1972, leaving the field open to talents like Milosevic in the 1980s" (Miller, 1997b, p. 152; Miller, 1997a, p. 302).

Indeed, as Miller demonstrates, after rising from 69 percent to 86 percent from the 1950s to the late 1960s, the number of Central Committee members with higher education fell back to 62 percent following the purges (Miller 1997b, p. 185n.10). The purge extended outside the party and eventually touched "Praxis" in 1975, when the journal was closed down and eight "Praxis" theorists -- including Mihajlo Markovic, Dragoljub Micunovic, and Ljubomir Tadic -- began being suspended from teaching at the University of Belgrade (Benson, 2001, p. 128; Grunewald, 1992, p. 178). According to Leonard Cohen, the "crudely managed repression of neo-Marxist dissidents and other political nonconformist Serbs in the mid and late 1970s" further weakened the republican leadership's political position (Cohen, 1997, pp. 319-320).

Slowly but fitfully, however, the Kosova issue worked its way into official discourse. In 1977, a party working commission under the guidance of Serbian President Dragoslav Markovic gathered arguments against the enhanced autonomy of Kosova since the 1974 constitutional changes, but the so-called Blue Book was too politically sensitive and thus was never publicly discussed. (Vickers suggests that the "Blue Book" was craftily modeled on the "Blue Book" printed for the 1899 Peace Conference in The Hague that detailed Albanian violence in Kosova [Vickers, 1998, p. 183 n. 29].) That such views remained officially proscribed was clear at the 15th Session of the SKS Central Committee in April 1978, when Mirko Popovic and other speakers inveighed against the Serbian chauvinism that Popovic maintained had become more serious "in the last year or two" and was tendentiously attempting to exploit every friction (Ramet, 1992, p. 199).

Grounds for Consensus and Activism: The Slide toward Second-Class Citizenry (1968-81)
The greater concern of the Hungarian intelligentsia for Hungarians in Transylvania reflected a response to the deteriorating situation of the Hungarian minority in Romania as the 1970s wore on -- an issue that became all the more galling and beckoned for attention as a result of the favored role of Romania in Western capitals because of Nicolae Ceausescu's sometimes anti-Soviet foreign policy decisions at a time when, at least in the foreign-policy arena, Hungary continued to toe a reliable Soviet line.

The Deteriorating Situation Of Transylvanian Hungarians
The decision in 1968 to gerrymander out of existence the Mures-Maghiar Autonomous Region merely formalized the process of the jurisdiction's dwindling significance as a distinct entity over the preceding years. However, even in the early 1970s, the Ceausescu regime was still careful to offer ethnic Hungarians piecemeal concessions -- in part because, in the immediate wake of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the Romanian regime seemed to interpret this as a way to deny the Soviets a vulnerability that they could potentially exploit to divide and weaken the regime. In 1969, the University of Bucharest reopened a department of Hungarian literature and philology and the Kriterion publishing house for minority languages, while in October 1970 the Hungarian weekly "A Het" (The Week) was allowed to begin publication in Bucharest (Joo, 1994, p. 116).

Matters began to change, however, as the 1970s progressed. An educational decree law in 1973 established a minimum number of students requirement for the teaching of minority languages, with no such minimum established for Romanians (Joo, 1994, p. 117). Also around this time, a decree reduced the size of newspapers and number of pages per publication -- ostensibly because of an emergency paper shortage. Although both Romanian and Hungarian-language papers were initially equally affected, while Romanian-language papers were eventually returned to their original sizes, Hungarian ones were not (Deletant, 1995, p. 125). On 9 December 1974, a law came into effect that prohibited Romanian citizens from hosting foreign visitors in their homes -- inevitably this was to have a disproportionate impact upon ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania hosting relatives from neighboring Hungary ("Kronologia," 1974).

As Dennis Deletant suggests, Helsinki changed the equation somewhat:

"By committing Romania to the Helsinki Agreement of 1975, Ceausescu opened the door to international scrutiny of the regime's treatment of the Hungarian and German minorities in Transylvania and the Banat and at the same time offered encouragement to those governments who wished to press the matter to do so.... A second development was the opportunity afforded by the Helsinki Agreement to the Hungarian minority to release its pent-up anger at what they regarded as discriminatory policies.... A string of protests began to be heard from Transylvanian Hungarians in the spring of 1977" (Deletant, 1995, p. 121).

For example, there was the 1975 case of Janos Torok, a textile worker from Cluj who complained at a factory meeting on behalf of worker and Hungarian minority rights and was detained while speaking, severely beaten by "Securitate" officers, and then interned at a psychiatric hospital, where he was injected with large doses of drugs (until his conditional release in 1978) (Deletant, 1995, pp. 121-122). Or the cases of Lajos Kuthy, a Hungarian teacher from Brasov who had been collecting signatures for a petition to set up Hungarian classes and was found shot dead in a forest near the city in 1976, and Jeno Szikszai, another Brasov teacher who was arrested by the "Securitate" in spring 1977 -- for allegedly encouraging parents to send their children to schools with Hungarian sections -- beaten, and then committed suicide upon his release (Deletant, 1995, p. 122).

1977 also saw a series of memorandums and letters from senior ethnic Hungarian officials of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) criticizing the deterioration of the cultural and educational situation of the Hungarian minority. A memorandum from Lajos Takacs -- a former rector of Babes-Bolyai at the time of the 1959 merger -- detailed how decreasing opportunities in Hungarian-language instruction had led to a sharp decline in the number of ethnic Hungarians attending universities or with the possibility to do so (Deletant, 1995, pp. 122-126). Karoly Kiraly, who had resigned as a candidate member of the PCR Executive Committee and first secretary of Covasna county in 1972 -- officially for "personal" reasons but in actuality to protest discriminatory policies against ethnic Hungarians -- outlined in three letters to senior party officials how in leadership positions at major industrial plants and cultural institutions -- even in areas with significant Hungarian populations, such as Targu-Mures -- ethnic Hungarians were systematically being replaced with Romanians (Deletant, 1995, pp. 126-128). As Kiraly noted, the Hungarian State Theater in Targu-Mures had a Romanian director who did not speak Hungarian, the mayors of the largely Hungarian towns of Sovata and Targu-Mures had Romanian mayors, and bilingual signs and the designation of place names in Hungarian on maps were rapidly disappearing at this time. Kiraly was briefly arrested in early 1978, and the "Securitate," according to Deletant, turned "hundreds of homes belonging to members of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania" upside down in search of copies of Kiraly's letters (Deletant, 1995, p. 129).

Finally, between 1981 and 1983, Hungarian intellectuals in Transylvania attempted to produce their own "samizdat," exposing the Romanian regime's treatment of the Hungarian minority. Nine issues of the publication "Ellenpontok" (Counterpoints) appeared between December 1981 and January 1983, when the editors were detained, beaten, and expelled to Hungary (Deletant, 1995, p. 131; Kurti, 2001, p. 109). A second samizdat publication "Erdelyi Magyar Hirugynokseg" (Transylvanian News Service) appeared first in May 1983 and then on an irregular basis thereafter.

The Deteriorating Situation Of Kosova Serbs
The deterioration of Serb influence in Kosova was arguably more dramatic and deeper than the corresponding situation of Hungarians in Transylvania. Ethnic Albanians in Kosova and many outsiders saw the Albanians as the victims -- and they undoubtedly were -- of the 1981 violence that seized the province and over time spilled into neighboring Macedonia and Montenegro (as in 1968). Serbs, on the other hand, saw these events as the last straw, as the clearest evidence that their cession of power and influence in the province was leading to the very demands -- Albanian autonomy -- that they feared most.

The impact upon Kosova of the founding of the Albanian-language university in Prishtina in 1969 was extraordinary. By the 1981/82 academic year, the university had over 20,000 students, or nearly one out of every 10 adults in the city (Mertus, 1999, p. 29). Kosova, thus as Mertus notes, "had the dubious honor of having the highest ration of both students and illiterates in Yugoslavia" (Mertus, 1999, p. 29). At university, many students would focus on the liberal arts -- especially Albanian language and literature -- rather than technical subjects, reinforcing their chances of unemployment upon graduation, particularly if they were to leave the republic (Mertus, 1999, p. 28). This intellectual proletariat -- now with heightened expectations and hopes, and with a more developed sense of self and national identity -- looked to the republican bureaucracy as essentially its sole outlet for employment. According to Fred Singleton, there were few jobs outside of "the inflated administrative machine and in the cultural institutions which had also been the recipients of [federal] funds which ought to have been spent on projects of greater economic relevance" (cited in Mertus, 1999, p. 28). Seventy percent of those unemployed were under the age of 25 (Poulton, 1991, p. 60). At the same time, the situation for non-Albanians at the university had become inhospitable: "at Pristina University and in high schools students boycotted non-Albanian classes, ostracized 'hostile' teachers, and refused to study Serbo-Croat" (Vickers, 1998, p. 188).

According to Vickers, the 1974 constitution "began the virtual Albanianization of public life in Kosovo." The constituion "caused 'positive discrimination' in favor of the Albanians in Kosovo: bilingualism became a condition for employment in public services; four-fifths of the available posts were reserved for Albanians on a parity basis; and national quotas were strictly applied when nominations were made for public functons" (Vickers, 1998, p. 180). Between the end of 1974 and 1980 alone, the proportion of Albanians employed in the so-called "social sector" increased from 58 percent to 92 percent, while that of Serbs declined from 31 percent to 5 percent -- far below the proportion of Serbs in Kosova's population as a whole (Ramet, 1992, pp. 192-193). By 1981, over two-thirds of party members in Kosova, and three-quarters of provincial police and security-service personnel, were ethnic Albanian (Malcolm, 1998, p. 326). Vickers concludes that "during the years 1971-1981, Kosovo's administration operated with minimal restraint from either the Federal or the Serbian Republic government" (Vickers, 1998, p. 183).

The apex for Kosova Albanians -- and in many ways, from the perspective of the Serbs, the corresponding nadir -- must have been the joint celebrations launched in 1978 between Yugoslavia and Albania to mark the centenary of the founding of the League of Prizren, the historic watershed of Albanian national revival in the 19th century (Magas, 1993, pp. 38, 11; Vickers, 1998, pp. 187-188).

On 24 September 1984, the Belgrade weekly "NIN" reported that between 1961 and 1981, 112,600 Serbs and Montenegrins left Kosova (Benson, 2001, p. 143). According to Malcolm, such numbers are generally confirmed by 1981 census statistics on the number of people in Serbia proper who declared themselves as having come from Kosova (110,675, of whom 85,636 had come between 1961 and 1981) (Malcolm, 1998, p. 330). The proportion of Serbs in Kosova, which had stayed relatively constant at about 23 percent between the late 1940s and early 1960s, fell to 18.3 percent in the 1971 census and 13.2 percent in the 1981 census. More alarming still from the Serb perspective was that, in absolute terms, the number of Serbs had dropped between 1971 and 1981 by over 18,000 (Ramet, 1992, p. 198). Indicative of the contingent and historical character of why particular diaspora issues become politically predominant instead of others is the fact that, according to Malcolm, Bosnia saw an outflow of 111,828 Serbs over this same period, one that was proportionately greater than the outflow of Serbs from Kosova (Malcolm, 1998, p. 330). Whereas in 1961, Serbs had made up 43 percent of Bosnia's population and Muslims 26 percent, by 1981 the figures were 32 percent and 40 percent, respectively (Benson, 2001, p. 144). Yet, as we know, the diaspora issue of greatest concern for Serbs during the 1980s was Kosova, not Bosnia.

Writing in the summer of 1983, RFE's Zdenko Antic identified the growing spread of Serbian nationalism and concluded, "If anything provoked this new wave of Serbian nationalism it was the Kosovo events [of 1981]" (Antic, 1983). What began as student demonstrations by ethnic Albanians in Prishtina in March 1981, turned into protests for republican status for Kosova, and then rapidly spread throughout the province in the weeks that followed, eventually spilling over to the ethnic Albanian populations of Macedonia and Montenegro (Ramet, 1992, pp. 195-197). The response of federal officials, spearheaded by Stane Dolanc (a Slovene), was a brutal crackdown -- administered by the federal arm of the state-security services and military counterintelligence -- and even by Dolanc's own account resulting in 1,500 arrests for serious crimes against public order and 4,500 for "lesser offenses" (Benson, 2001, p. 136). The climate between the remaining Serbs and Albanians inevitably worsened, and Serbs continued to stream out of the province primarily for economic reasons, but also because they felt increasingly the subject of indirect, and in some cases, direct, pressure (Malcolm, 1998, p. 331).

*Author's Note: Spelling per editorial request.

(Richard Andrew Hall holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University and a B.A. from the University of Virginia. He currently works and lives in northern Virginia. Comments or questions can be sent to him at


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