Gábor Egry: Regional elites, nationalist politics, local acomodations: Centre-periphery struggles in late dualist Hungary

Hungary is usually an outlier in the histories of the Habsburg Monarchy due to its seemingly unitary character and status as one of the two equal composite bodies of the Monarchy after 1867. The nationalist politics dominating its life during dualism also contributes to the image of an ever more centralized and nationalizing state that is hard to reconcile with diversity and imperial structures of rule, most notably co-optation of local elites. Still, Hungary offers exciting examples of how centre-periphery relationship evolved during the last fifty years of Monarchy’s existence with a broad range of political struggles, accommodations and reconfigurations according to the local circumstances, first of all integration of non-Hungarian elites into the structures of the country.

My paper aims at comparing three cases of peripheral and regional developments. Classic regionalism in the form of early Transylvanism around 1910, the politics of the elites in Máramaros (Maramureș), and the reorganization of Hungarians in Brassó (Kronstadt, Brașov) before the WWI. The first case illustrates the dynamics of regionalist discourses and their shift between a distinct regional one and a subsidiaristic form of nationalism in their struggle with the centre. Tranyslvanian Hungarian politicians were able to swiftly move between nationalist positions and denying the agency of the centre, often using the presence of minorities as a resource, while in extreme cases they went as far as the possibility of a separate nation building. The second case shows how local elites could draw upon the resources of the centre with the help of self-colonization. In this effort they appropriated the discourses of the centre in order to further their own goals, while due to the common social status, they were able to integrate the local Romanian speaking elite too. The third one is an example of a local group of the dominant nationality turning to classic minority nation building while facing a modernized and culturally dominant minority, the Saxons, in an environment where Romanians were also well in institutional terms. Despite their political dominance in Budapest Hungarian national activists still struggled to establish national institutions and integrate the mainly lower class immigrant Hungarian speaking population, and finally they announced the program of unitary minority national organization, bridging political differences among Hungarians, but drawing a strict boundary toward others.

The three cases demonstrate how much Hungary was „imperial” in terms of centre-periphery relations, even if only informally. They could also reveal how the presence of other nationalities changed the conditions of social life, offering a broad range of options for local elites to reconfigure politics and society, well beyond the binary opposition of majority-minority, and often successfully negotiating their position vis-á-vis the centre too. Taken together they are also helpful to integrate Hungary’s story more closely into the broader story of the empire.


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