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Socialist Solutions Communist Realities Introduction

Julian Schopflin

The claim is being advanced by the Communists of the Danube region that Marxist-Leninist nationality policy - has brought - or, at least, is in the process of bringing - socialist solutions to the feuds and rivalries of the past. The evidence in support of these claims, unfortunately, is less than convincing.

Between the two world wars, the local Communist parties in the countries of the Danube region carried on a double struggle: the conventional class war as prescribed by Marx and Engels, and a parallel struggle for minority rights against their own national bourgeoisie, under the banner displaying the noble principles of Lenin and Stalin. In socialist and Communist circles great expectations were raised that, once this part of the world had undergone the hoped-for "socialist transformation," minority problems would be solved once and for all, on the basis of full cultural autonomy, economic fair shares, and even political representation. After all, did not the constitution of the Soviet Union declare the noblest, most liberal, principles: freedom of speech and assembly, right to publications, protection of indigenous cultures, and even the right of secession for national entities?

It should have been a warning signal for idealists that, already in the late 1930s - and even more obviously during World War II - the


Soviet Union was increasingly using minority conflicts as a ploy in its cynical power game. For instance, Transylvania was being offered, in turn, both to Hungarians and to Romanians, according to what seemed advantageous to the Soviet Union at the moment.

Since World War II, the constitutions of the Soviet satellites have all duly copied the Russian example, establishing in unequivocal terms the full rights of minorities in every respect. However, just as in the case of Soviet principles and practice, reality stands in stark, almost tragic, contrast to the noble sentiments enshrined in Communist constitutions.

The following significant interview with Edgar Balogh should be read in the context of a "looking-glass world" where words do not mean what they say - indeed, Lewis Carroll's playful story is shading into Orwell's "1984": a world of "doublespeak" and of constant "up dating" of history.

Edgar Balogh is one of the "grand old men" of Hungarian minority politics and literature. His life and career are a telling example of minority fate in the Danube region. He was born in 1906 into a Hungarian family in Transylvania (present-day Romania, that is). In his early years, he was constantly on the move throughout the Habsburg Monarchy since his father was an administrative official in the Austro-Hungarian army. The family lived in Temesvar (today Timisoara), Trieste, Sarajevo, Krakow, and then settled, just before the outbreak of World War I, in Pozsony- Bratislava, that is, the future capital of Slovakia. Thus, young Edgar Balogh grew up in postwar Czechoslovakia and was one of the leaders of a broadly leftist social and cultural movement of the Hungarian minority, called Sarlo. In the mid-1930s, having been forced (as a "native," in postwar legal terms, of Romania) to leave Czechoslovakia, he moved to Transylvania under Romanian rule. There he carried out his activities as writer, essayist, theoretician, and publicist, mostly in and around the highly respected left-wing Hungarian-language periodical Korunk. After World War II, he was appointed professor at the short-lived Hungarian university in Kolozsvar (Cluj). In the 1956 crackdown (following the scare caused to Hungary's Communist neighbors by the anti-Communist revolt in Budapest), he was arrested, with many other prominent Hungarian Communists in Romania, and spent several

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years in prison. After he was freed, he was reinstated as a university professor and now lives in retirement in Kolozsvar. A man of encyclopedic knowledge, of wide reading, with an incisive, brilliant mind, he is the author of many books, countless essays, articles, and treatises. He has been a convinced Communist through out his career; it seems that, in spite of all the vicissitudes and cruel disappointments of his life, he still maintains a belief in Marxism Leninism. Or, at least, he makes use of Communist principles and phraseology - perhaps a kind of lip-service to the holy writ of Communism.

The interview he gave in 1978 to Pal E. Feher of the periodical Kritika (published in Hungary), is a masterpiece of the devious Byzantine style and manner writers and politicians must use in Communist countries in order to speak out - loud but not clear. In a veiled way, he is voicing grievances and demanding justice; between the lines, he is exposing lies and misdeeds.

This approach demands from the writer a fairly lengthy double ritual. Repeated expressions of abject adulation are required for the imminent truths of Marxism-Leninism and for those who have trampled these truths into blood and mud, like Leonid Brezhnev or Nicolae Ceausescu. The writer must couple this with a routine condemnation of everything that happens - or does not happen--in the "declining" West. He must contrast the perfect "solutions" of all problems, including minority conflicts, in the Soviet Union and its satellites, to the "oppression" of minorities in the Western world Basques, Bretons, Catalans, Corsicans, and so on.

Only then, having performed this double duty, can he - very cautiously and in a deliberately obfuscating style - point out certain "misunderstandings" or "slight distortions" that have occurred (of course, only accidentally) regarding the safeguards and principles embodied in Communist constitutions. Thus we learn, between the lines, of the linguistic oppression of Hungarians in Romania, the systematic destruction of their schools and cultural institutions, the denial of opportunities to Hungarians in every walk of life, the blatant discrimination in economic matters, going against masses of people because they are Hungarian.

Knowing something of the corrupt and vicious regime of Ceausescu and his cronies, we should recognize that Edgar Balogh has probably shown a measure of courage - the courage of despair. The theoretical


convolutions of his writing, the careful weighing of words throughout the text, the flashes of his old debating skill, all this serves as a care fully fashioned framework for exposing the glaring injustices committed by Romanian chauvinism, the "cultural genocide" of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania.

The interview culminates in a demand for restitution, the implementation of constitutional safeguards, and in a subdued cri de coeur for the birthright of today's national minorities whose forebears lived for many centuries and where their descendants live now.

Excerpts from an Interview with Edgar Balogh

P.E.F.: For the periodical Kritika, I would like to ask you a few questions concerning the current state of minority problems. Are we [in 1978] right in thinking that the recent meetings between Janos Kadar and Nicolae Ceauaescu may herald a Marxist-Leninist solution to the problem of nationalities?

E.B.: Yes, I think there are hopes for a socialist solution. I have lived more than half my life-in fact, more than half a century-as a member of a minority, first in Czechoslovakia, then in Romania, so I hope I know what we are talking about. Yes, I agree that time and circumstances have put the question of minorities very much on the agenda. We must have an exchange of experiences, we need comparisons, to find a way toward this burning problem.

The liberation of colonial peoples has been going on now for more than three decades, and it is not quite complete yet. This historical process demands that the not-yet-independent nations in the capitalist West should also achieve their freedom. Furthermore, national minorities in the West should also gain full autonomy. Here, in the socialist East, we can be proud of how much better we have managed the questions of national independence and of coexistence between nations, than in the capitalist West.

The growing intensity-, let us hope, an early solution-of the Basque and Catalan problems in the young Spanish democracy, the sharpening autonomist efforts by Bretons and Corsicans in France, the crisis in Northern Ireland, the conflicts between Walloons and Flemings in Belgium-all these testify to the inevitable conclusion

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that, following the great movements of emancipation in Asia and Africa, the problem of nationalities within the boundaries of the erstwhile colonial powers is also demanding a solution. And not only in Western Europe; there are conflicts galore elsewhere [in the capitalist world], such as the confrontation of the Turks and Greeks in Cyprus, the Palestinian tragedy, the unsolved problems of the Kurds and of the American Indians.

In sharp contrast to this, we can observe the coming together and growing cooperation of nations controlled in principle by the pattern of the new Soviet constitution. Of course, we can see that economic and social developments do give rise to new claims, new demands, in the socialist world too, proving again that we have to exert constant vigilance while perfecting the heritage of Lenin.

It was Leonid Brezhnev himself, who, in his speech to the Supreme Soviet, gave proof of the vigilance of 140 million Great Russians, when he rejected the misguided conclusions of those who had argued that Leninist progress requires the abolition of national differences. He struck down the ideas aiming at the liquidation of different republics and autonomous areas of the Soviet Union and promulgating a uniform Soviet "nation" and abolishing the Council of Nationalities. . . .

Said Brezhnev, bearing witness to the inseparable unity of national independence and international solidarity: "The friendship of Soviet nationalities is indissoluble. In the course of building socialism, our nationalities come ever nearer to one another and their cultural life is a source of continuing mutual enrichment."

The natural demands of the present day are little different in those countries that set out on the course of socialist development later than the Soviet Union. Here, I can answer in a positive fashion the question you asked about the historic meetings of Nicolae Ceausescu and Janos Kadar in the course of last year [1977]. The full moral weight of the Romanian Communist Party and of the Hungarian Socialist Workers, Party has been brought to bear on an agreement concerning the significance and role of national minorities in the two countries. Proof of this lies in the possibilities that can be realized by applying socialist integration to the problems of nationalities in our homelands.

According to the joint declaration issued after these meetings, the status of nationalities in both countries is based on equality before the law, on Marxist-Leninist ideology, and on the Charter of the


United Nations. The solution of all problems is facilitated by the fraternal relations of the two socialist countries. The true role of nationalities is that of a bridge between neighbors. In the spirit of principles, Romanians living in Hungary and Hungarians living in Romania should become active factors in socialist consolidation in Eastern Europe, nay, the heralds of a convergent development, in shining contrast to those retrograde phenomena, all those violations of human rights, that characterize the backwardness and internal con tradictions of the capitalist world, particularly as regards the question of minorities.

P.E.F.: What are the traditions-the heritage with practical applications-of the scientific study of the problems of nationalities here in East-Central Europe? You, yourself, like most members of the leftist intelligentsia, have dealt with these problems in your work.

E.B.: It is no accident that the study of minorities-nowadays we prefer to call them nationalities-is being reborn today. After all, it had achieved some serious results already between the wars. All nations and nationalities have generated quite a library on the subject, but the first attempt at international-more precisely, intra-national analysis and methodology based on scientific comparisons was made here in Transylvania.

I refer to the twenty-one uninterrupted years of the [Hungarian language] fortnightly Magyar Kisebbseg that was published in the small town of Lugos [in Romania] between 1922 and 1942. These twenty-one volumes are virtually the basis of studies of our nationality problems in a broader European context.

The periodical was founded and edited throughout its life by Ele mer Jakabffy. He started his political career as a Hungarian conser vative, but the impact of minority status in Transylvania gradually transformed him into a populist defender of minority rights and, fi nally, into an antifascist. True to his liberal beliefs, he also championed the cause of the Catalan and Basque minorities, declared his support for the Spanish democratic republic and condemned Franco's imperialistic chauvinism.

This [Hungarian-language] periodical, with its two supplements- Die Stimme der Minderheiten in German and La voix des minorites in French-supported the cause of minorities throughout its existence. Furthermore, Jakabffy, a member of the Romanian parliament, championed the rights of minorities at the League of Nations, attending

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several conferences in Geneva. He and his collaborators protested against the arbitrary arrest of a leader of the Slovene minority in Mussolini's fascist Italy (who happened to be also president of the League of Nations, conferences on minorities); they opposed the racist ideology and anti-Semitism of Hitler; at home [in Romania], they condemned the oppressive policies of Romanian feudal capitalism, but in the same spirit pilloried the totalitarian sympathies emerging within the ranks of the Hungarian minority in Romania.

The study of minorities was carried on at the same time in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, too. (It would be worthwile, for instance, to disinter the juridical, sociological, and statistical writings of Masaryk's pupils and followers.) However, only Magyar Kisebbseg, pursuing the inner logic of its struggle, came to appreciate the Marxist-Leninist approach and Soviet practice in the treatment of minorities. One of its contributors, Imre Miko, as early as 1932, quoted Lenin's views on the minority problem in a treatise on the nationality question in Transylvania. The journal championed, in the same spirit, the rights of Ukrainians and Belorussians oppressed in prewar Poland, as well as the rights of Poles in Eastern Germany.

After World War II, a truly socialist analysis of the nationality problems in the Danube Valley had only appeared in the sixties. In Czechoslovakia, Yugoslava, and Romania, scores of sociologists, writ ers and publicists have published treatises, commentaries, and articles on the problem. And, in 1974, the Seminar on Minorities, organized by the United Nations in Ohrid (Yugoslavia), elevated the subject from a regional topic to a worldwide one. Finally, in 1975, the Helsinki Agreements dealt with minority rights, both in legal terms and in terms of fundamental human rights. Thus the minorities of socialist southeast Europe-Slovenes, Slovaks, and Romanians in Hungary, Turks in Bulgaria, Germans in Romania, and of course, the most numerous among minorities, the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia-have since been internationally placed on the same legal platform as the minorities of the capitalist countries and of the ex-colonial world.

P.E.F.: How do you assess recent literature dealing with the problem of nationalines using the Marxist approach, taking into consideration the experience of socialist countries in this field?

E.B.: The question of nationalities has, in fact, become a world wide problem. As Magyar Nemzet [a Hungarian daily published in


Budapest] wrote: "Internationalism aims at supporting and nurturing ethnic minorities, not at doing away with them. The Soviet Union is the shining example, proving that nationalities, minorities, or ethnic groups can only achieve their full fruition, their complete equality of rights, in the era of socialist internationalism." The article was in spired by the publication of two important books in Hungary, dealing with the historical, social, and political aspects of minority problems: Nationaliiies and the Minority Problem in Western Europe by Rudolf Joo, and Minorities-Nationalities by Laszlo Kovago. Both books [in Hungarian], written in the wake of the Ohrid conference, treated the matter on the basis of international equality before the law. Drawing comparisons with the socialist achievements, they pointed out the unsettled conditions in the capitalist countries. Joo surveys the reap pearance of minority problems in Western Europe, ever since the sixties, in particular under the impact of the anti-colonial liberation movements. The author gives many examples of attempts at forcible absorption (or the even more dangerous policies aiming at assimilation) on the one hand, and minority movements on the other, demanding the right to equality and autonomy. He draws attention to the policies of Western Communist parties which have been calling for the joint struggle of majority and minority workers to obtain these rights.

A word about assimilation. Individual cases occur everywhere and all the time; there is nothing wrong with this. It is one of the fundamental human rights, if it is voluntary. On the other hand, we must condemn "racist" attitudes that attempt to prevent the free choice of people to belong where they wish. Therefore, forcible assimilation of a national minority, bent on breaking up a historical entity, is a crime against the inalienable rights of communities.

Joo's book also reveals the glaring differences in minority policies among certain Western European states. Yet, the exemplary behavior of Switzerland or Finland can hardly counterbalance the oppressive policies pursued in France or in Sweden. The unitary concept of the "French nation" denied the right to autonomy to three Latin groups (Occitans, Catalans, and Corsicans), two German fragments (Alsatians and ethnic Germans), to the Celtic Bretons, and the Basques. Twelve million non-French people are being forced into "Frenchness." In Sweden, it is true, only forty thousand Finns are subjected to forcible assimilation through monolingual [Swedish] schooling, in

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sharp contrast to the privileged position of the Swedish minority in Finland. But, it is not the quantities that count!

Kovago's book is a virtual catechism of the study of nationalities. After assessing the history of the problem, leading up to its emergence at the United Nations, he clarifies the nature and types of various minorities, offering a more precise definition of the south-east European variant. Pinning down the tendency toward a worldwide awakening of ethnic self-assertion, he correctly recognizes that only the Marxist-Leninist principles and practices of the socialist countries offer satisfactory solutions: "It is largely thanks to the efforts of certain socialist countries, that the question of minorities appears, increasingly, in international agreements. It is to their credit that the United Nations is gradually becoming the world forum for settling nationality problems." To prove his point, he quotes a Hungarian document submitted to the UN-sponsored Ohrid seminar on minorities, and he praises the manner in which the Hungarian Peoples' Republic has so generously settled the rights and freedoms of its minorities (admittedly smaller in numbers-and, therefore, also a smaller problem-- than in other countries).

East and West equally reject nowadays "racist" discrimination against languages, ethnic absorption through forcible assimilation, all forms of minority liquidation, although, in Western bourgeois nation state systems, there is still much to be put right. Moreover, their bad examples may still have some influence even in our own socialist system. That is why we must become fully aware of the potentialities of our own socialist solution, and must spread our message thereof throughout the world. Our moral authority relies on our rational treatment of the problem, on our recognition that only equal rights can serve as a basis for a fraternal community of nations.

P.E. F.: In your view, how does actual practice reflect these theoretical clarifications? We know that daily life can throw up new problems, even though we are following the right principles.

E.B.: We should never forget that the problem of nationality has two aspects: On the one hand, it affects the minority and, on the other, the majority. We expect the solutions, both in the moral and the legal sense, to come from common patriotism, from national har mony, supported by both sides. This dual approach is essential to generating mutual trust, a friendly atmosphere. The majority must always be reassured that minority rights would not hurt its ultimate


sovereignty, indeed its existence (for, history has countless examples of minority grievances covering up hostile intentions against the majority). The majority must become convinced that the well-being and prosperity of a minority actually benefits the free and peaceful development of the state as a whole. The minority, in turn, must recognize that the full flowering of its national life-certainly in the troubled Danube region, but probably elsewhere, too-can only be achieved through constantly improving mutual understanding, and not through chauvinistic resistance.

The present boundaries in Europe were largely created through wars in the course of the emergence of nation-states. Conflicting territorial claims were inevitable following the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. Serbs and Romanians wanted to join their independent compatriots; Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians desired their own sovereign countries. The Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919 did make an at tempt at a federal Danubian union. Following its debacle, national minorities had to suffer a double oppression. They were oppressed as workers by the bourgeoisie and oppressed as national minorities by the "master races."

Nevertheless, the newly found independence had its beneficial effects too. Social, economic, and cultural changes-as in the case of the Slovaks, or the Romanians of Transylvania-meant overcoming the backwardness of centuries. And, among the Hungarian minorities in the new countries, there were quite a few people who rejected the idea of a "Greater Hungary." They fully recognized the rights of Slovaks or Romanians to national rebirth and fought for a common front, uniting all democratic forces of both the majorities and the minorities. Alas, we know that these movements carried a moral weight only against the onslaughts of chauvinism. It was only follow ing World War II that a way was opened toward a peaceful solution of minority problems.

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