Book review – Scholars on the Transylvanian Hungarians

If there ever was a book expressly written for the readers of our site, this most certainly is one of them. The book provides an in-depth multidisciplinary analysis of the major social and political processes affecting Hungarians in Romania after the overthrow of the Communist regime in 1989. The volume highlights the interdependence between the ethno-political strategies of minority elites and Romania’s minority policy regime on the one hand, and social processes such as ethnic boundary making and ethnic stratification on the other.

The chapters combine perspectives from a variety of disciplines including political science and the sociology of ethnic relations, supported by the findings of a broad array of empirical investigations carried out in Transylvania. It will therefore be of particular interest to scholars and students with a focus on minority politics, ethnic mobilization and nationalism, as well as researchers of ethnic relations, ethnic boundary making, social distances and ethnic inequalities.

Our review:

The book, launched in Kolozsvár/Cluj Napoca which sheds light in the internal dynamics of the Hungarian Community in Romania was presented by Balázs Vizi, senior research fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Centre for Social Sciences. In his opinion, “everyone, who is interested in understanding the situation of Hungarian minority community in Romania would find useful to read the book, because it covers the various sections of everyday life. It contains very important survey, sociological and empirical data and it gives a picture on how the Hungarian community lives in Romania today. It shows what is the community’s position in society, what is the success of maintaining the Hungarian identity in an intra-generational context and how the institutions work in Romanian political and social context, where there is not a clear legal setting for a Hungarian parallel society or Hungarian institutional autonomy. So in this sense it gives a very good overview of the different area from education to demography, to religious life and political and social integration or parallelism of Hungarian minority in Romania.

In my opinion the book challenges the Romanian model of minority protection, which is often seen or often portrayed as a model of accommodation and it sheds light on the faults of this model, saying, that the legal system is not properly working. Existing legislation is not properly implemented and both on micro level and macro level bargaining, claim making, informal negotiations between Hungarian representatives and Romanian representatives count more, than the implementation of existing laws. So in this sense this is why it is under the title Unequal accommodation, because it is not properly a legal accommodation of the Hungarian minority rights and minority claims, but a more informal approach to accommodate on case by case basis the Hungarian claims.”

TN: Based on the book, how could minority and majority best coexist in Transylvania, both legally and in everyday life?

Vizi: “Coming from a legal background, because I am lawyer, I think, that there are two major issues, that are very important in every case, when the dynamics of minority-majority relations are discussed. One is the institutional context. The institutional responsibilities should be very clear and in this sense the autonomy in any form is an important element for the minority community to survive and to maintain its own institutions.

And the other issue, which is very important and many times overlooked is communication. An open communication with the majority, and with the minority and not only the political elites, but also within the society, to know more from the minority community about the concerns of the majority and more importantly to know more about the minority community in the Romanian majority. So to understand what the claims are, what are the realities and who these people are and in what conditions do they live in. Because many times this parallelism is preventing the communication between the communities and I continue to think these two elements are very important: the institutional autonomy and communication.”


Unequal Accommodation of Minority Rights. Hungarians in Transylvania.

Authors: Tamás Kiss, István Gergő Székely, Tibor Toró, Nándor Bárdi, István Horváth

Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Author: Blanka Székely