Nationalism – between feeling and ideology


“Nationalism is a condition of mind, feeling or sentiment of a group of people living in a well-defined geographical area, speaking a common language, possessing a culture that expresses the aspirations of the nation, having a common tradition and, in some cases, a common religion.”

An intellectual creation stemming from a strong positive feeling, as many others that originated from man’s desire and dreams for the better and for progress but which, like so many others that appeared throughout history, ended up not only failing to bring about the well-being dreamt but also causing harm that was to manifest itself in hundreds of years of suffering and millions and billions of terrorised, humiliated and literally eliminated human beings.

Pre-modernists defined nationalism as a plague whose rapid spread among nations, starting in the 18th Century, has generated an immense wave of catastrophes and psycho-social mutations: wars, hatred, oppression and genocides.

Few are those who understand and especially know that nationalism – the one practiced, the one directly applicable in socio-political terms, the one we catch a glimpse of or the one waved around in various ways in the form of patriotism, of high and inestimable love of country and people, traditions and state brotherhoods – in fact and by definition represents an ideology and political doctrine. A phenomenon that, throughout time and all over humanity, as well as in Romania, became a dangerous weapon in the mind and hands of some people.

I believe the Romanian historical episode called the Legionary Movement is one of the examples that can leave no kind of doubt or debate as to what nationalism – translated into a ferocious extreme – meant for Romanians.

After religion, nationalism holds the second position at emotional-motivational level as determining factor for many human thoughts and actions that have a profoundly personal and empathic character.

Forward in time, to the days of the 21st Century and of a Romania that has went through numerous sieves and historical tests and through a fundamental transformation which occurred in almost 30 years of democracy, I confess with profound sadness and concern that things do not seem to have changed for the better in what concerns the way nationalism is understood and works at the level of national consciousness, unitarily or territorially and, mainly, politically.

And this trend, as usually happens in the case of any type of poorly understood nationalism even more poorly set in agreement with the particular reactions of the current Romanian state, has created an obsessive-national “blemish” fixated on the topic of the eternal “Hungarian issue.”

For centuries, Romanians and Hungarians, but also other minorities and ethnicities living on Romanian lands, lived the same way and contributed to a common history that, in the end, created what today we can call a heterogenous but unitary and indivisible Romania. We have behind us hundreds of years of territorial-political and identity segregations created and produced in good part by the Romanian state’s geopolitical position.

For hundreds of years, Romania has been at the crossroads of huge and important empires that dominated this Balkan area and that left their imprint on generations and generations of people and on their separate and, later, common history. An imprint that, now, exactly one century since the Great Union of 1918, does not cease to generate its effects on the current mentalities and generations of people from various parts of the country.

In the first years after 1989, when Gheorghe Funar was elected mayor of Cluj, a city with an extremely important past from the standpoint of its centuries-old multiculturalism, particularly in what concerns the aspect of the Hungarians’ presence on these lands and of this national minority’s contribution to the life, culture and history of this part of the country, the old nationalist conflicts and frictions were reborn and reverberated with great intensity.

Throughout the 28 years that followed, the conflict mimetically spread at the level of the entire country, escalating and degenerating on several occasions. And the hostility was and is being stoked on both sides, Romanian and Hungarian, by the very ones who, theoretically, should have ensured that national climate of good understanding and good neighbourliness among all Romanian citizens regardless of their ethnic origin, who were born, live, work and contribute to the proper functioning of the state whose citizens we have all been for dozens of generations: the politicians.

To an equal extent, throughout time, both the Romanian political side as well as the Hungarian one, present almost uninterruptedly in Government through its representatives, saw fit to express their personal and political group interests by stoking a nationalism with extreme and bellicose hues, completely deleterious for Romania and its image in the world.

For almost three decades, the leaders and members of various Romanian parties transformed Romania and its people into the field of ideological and demonstrative clashes whose hostility and unbelievable ill will only served to render anarchic and to undermine even further the relations between the Romanians and Hungarians who are living in and sharing, day by day, the same territories and living areas.

The eternal leitmotif of this continuous psychological and identity war was and remains the Hungarians’ so-called pretention to render autonomous the Romanian territory that they consider a historical right.

Flags (other than the Romanian one) were put up, anthems of the local minority were passionately sung, speeches full of zest (and, unfortunately, of venom and hatred too) were delivered, local symbols were ostentatiously offered to Romanian dignitaries who visited those areas on various occasions, and during moments of too little personal lucidity some representatives of the Hungarian community went abroad to make gestures and dithyrambs that do no credit in any way to any person who was born, has lived and has shared the same country and the same life with those people about whom they had to say anything but nice things.

I wonder what would happen if, out of an ultra-minority nationalist impulse, the Chinese community for example, or the Italian one on the U.S. territory were to petition the American President and the American Congress or any other world political organisation, claiming their centuries-old right to territorial autonomy based on the numerical criterion.

Going beyond the obvious rhetorical nature of the question above, there is a truth that all of us – Romanians, Hungarians or any other inhabitant of this country’s territory – should understand and accept, and which would alleviate (if ever possible!) a huge problem created in an entirely artificial manner and stoked in the same way for more than obvious reasons.

Namely that these distortions of mentality have their origin in a confusion that is as grave as it is frequent and extremely well and insistently stoked by most of those who claim to be staunch lovers of the Romanian nation or of any other nation – that which completely overlaps and identifies nationalism with the idea of patriotism.

A feeling such as the patriotic feeling does not have too many things in common with a politically subjective doctrine and ideal, most often predisposed to anarchy and social, identity, cultural and historical extremism such as those who were and are often cultivated and generated by nationalism.

Formally and theoretically, patriotism is assigned to the idea of nationalism. However, in actual fact, a person who feels sentimentally connected with and proud of their country and its people should not automatically have the desire to minimise, distort and infringe on the constitutional rights and stipulations that all other fellow nationals – regardless of their origin and citizenship status – must and do observe, or to issue absurd pretentions that have to do with an entirely different side than the really patriotic one.

And in the case of the Hungarian ethnicity in Romania, things are even more difficult to understand since the people who make it up were born and have lived on Romanian land – not Hungarian land – for dozens of generations. Why does a rational, coherent and healthy mind still entertain any dilemma in what concerns the eternal topic of territorial autonomy, the bilingualism of public signs or the language mandatorily or optionally spoken between a Romanian who asks for a coffee in Harghita and a Hungarian who sells that coffee and understands – or does not understand – the Romanian language and what the Romanian wants from him?

Statistics show that minority populations total 11 percent of the 20 million people on the Romanian territory. And these 11 percent are made up by Roma, Ukrainians, Armenians, Turks, Tatars, Serbs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Greeks, Jews, Italians, Poles, Czechs, Russians, of which the Hungarians represent 1.23 million.

Yes, it is true. Percentage-wise, the Hungarian minority tops the list in this Romanian multicultural and multi-identity kaleidoscope. This also being one of the reasons why Hungarians – not the Roma, Ukrainians or Tatars, and not even the Moldovans from Bessarabia – have managed to convince the Romanian politicians to accept their presence in key positions and at key moments in countless Governments throughout these 28 years of Romanian democracy and to offer them national privileges of great significance, in contrast to the rest of their “minority brethren.”

And if we are to talk about how much the minorities matter for Romanians, it is well known and has been visible throughout time that the presence of national minorities (other than the Hungarian one) in the Romanian Parliament often tipped the scales in the political decision-making process, and not with the most favourable of results for us all.

The latest example is the “beheading” of the Grindeanu Government. When the minorities – namely the 7 votes that came not from the Hungarians but from “the other minorities represented in Parliament” that voted “as their conscience told them to” – helped Liviu Dragnea defeat in the end the inertia and stubbornness of the rebel Sorin Grindeanu.

So, as a conclusion, what is nationalism useful and necessary for?

We can give and receive an answer next year, which marks 100 years since the Great Union.