Creating Otherness and Reifying Ethnic Boundaries in Court Romanians, Hungarians, and Jews in Transylvania in the First Decade after 1918

Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:50 AM
Astoria Room (Hilton Chicago)
Bogdan Dumitru, University of Florida
The creation of the Romanian nation-state at the end of the First World War and the social, economic, cultural, and political consequences of the Union of 1918 have been analyzed from various innovative perspectives. Historians have examined how the tension between the ideal of a culturally homogeneous nation-state and the reality of a diverse and multiethnic society influenced the state’s nation building policies, the variety of nationalist discourses, the emergence of fascist groups, and the national minorities’ status in the new state. Much of the existing literature, with few notable exceptions, has focused on elite discourse and state policies. The ordinary people’s behavior and engagement with the Romanian state after 1918 is less understood. Based on newly released court records from the local archive in Cluj-Napoca, this study examines the way in which ordinary Romanians, Hungarians, and Jews perceived the new Romanian state and engaged with its nationalist discourse. Court records offer a unique window into the values and behavior of ordinary people, and into the way in which ethnicity and nationhood were reified in everyday intergroup interactions. Most cases that I analyze in this paper refer to legal disputes over land ownership and brawls involving members of the three communities mentioned above. I argue that the focus on state and nationalist activists offers only a partial explanation of the mechanisms through which ethnic boundaries were reified and hardened in Transylvania during the interwar period. Ordinary people, far from being passive actors who were rather acted upon by state actors and nationalist elites, played an active role in resisting, trying to alter or, especially in the case of the Romanian-speaking population, radicalizing the state’s nationalist discourse.