Construction of the Székely self-concept in the 19th and 20th centuries

Principal investigator: Nándor Bárdi

Participants: Katalin Daczó, József Gagyi, Norbert Falusi, Tamás Gusztáv Filep, János Főcze, Eszter Kovács, Botond Nagy, József Nagy, Sándor Oláh, Judit Pál, Attila Papp Z., Andrea Sólyom, Enikő Szőcsné Gazda

Period: 1 December 2018 - 1 December 2022.

Grant, funding agency: NKFI128848

Research questions and objectives:

The goal of our research is to reveal the historical roots of the construction of Székely identity as a regional group, its social and cultural impact, and its present-day patterns. How is regional self-image shaped by the managers of institutions and movements aiming at public education, building society, heritagisation? How does regional identity develop a national character after the peace treaty of Trianon? Why does Székelyland, more than any other Hungarian region, assert itself so powerfully on the mental map of Hungarian society? Why are Székelys presented in the public sphere as the most authentic representatives of national identity?
Basic questions:
a) Changes in the elite recruitment of the region, their responses to local, areal (seat – szék), regional (Székelyland) changes in power from the end of the 19th century to the present day.
b) Reactions to the processes of modernisation within the region, and their patterns. Was it the regional elite, or other, outer factors that determined these reactions?
c) Who manages, produces today the symbols of Székely identity, regional identity?
d) What are the elements of this Székely identity, and what are its social divisions? How can one interpret it as part of a Hungarian identity and at the same time as its “internal” opposite, or as a regional belonging and distinction?
e) Within virtual Székelyland, the basic factor is the identity connected to an area (szék – seat) , or a small town. What are the differences, how do they relate to one another, and what are the social historical, cultural precedents of these relationships?
d) What are the elements of this Székely identity, and what are its social divisions? How can one interpret it as part of a Hungarian identity and at the same time as its “internal” opposite, or as a regional belonging and distinction?
e) Within virtual Székelyland, the basic factor is the identity connected to an area (szék)

Research history:

We consider Seclers – Hungarians living on Székely Land – a folcloric and regional group that having been separated from the Hungarian cultural nationhood today constitutes an integral part of the Hungarian minority in Romania, group with a special self definition and way of living in wich the traditions of etnicity as well as the regional culture play a decissive role. The main elements of this Secler identity are: the dominant mountain structure of their settlements and economy, their self-identification with the Hungarian cultural community, and their special historical traditions (the distinct ideas of their origin, the vivid memory of their collective freedom for centuries, their strong identity symbols as well as their nation-building efforts as a minority). During the past two decades as a part of the Hungarian national movement in Romania, there have a tendency been started to institutionalize a region with Hungarian dominance on Székely Land. At the same time the region, the ethnic Hungarians abroad, and their identity symbols played a major role in the patrimonisation of Hungary as well.

Self-image in our perception means identity (who are we?), self-knowledge and situative self definition (what circumstances do we live among?). To these a number of other community self-identifications can be attached, like in case of the Seclers: the local one (by settlements), the sub regional (by ’szék’), the regional (Székely Land) and the national one (Hungarian, Hungarian in Romania).

The parallel process of the Hungarian nation-building and the regional self-image of the Székely Land cannot be separated from each other, as their operators were either identic or they closely cooperated. The revolution and freedom fight against the Habsburg monarchy in 1848-49 remained a collective national experience in which the Secler soldiers’ bravery and loyalty to the nation became later an important part of the folcloric tradition too. This was just supported by the legendary Hun origin and the meritful self image of the Seclers, that was commonly shared among them even beforhand. From the second half of the 19th century Balázs Orbán managed to create the vision of fatherland as a landscape  by his highly popular description of Székely Land, meanwhile János Kriza and Elek Benedek, two devoted collectors of folk songs and tales made the special Secler folk traditions also the prescious parts of Hungarian cultural heritage. Similarily the Secler ornamentics was soon canonized by József Huszka as a distinguished part of the Hungarian folk tradition, and the culture of the region had a great influence on the researchers two right from the funding of Hungarian ethnography. Scientific researches and debates of these elements–the ancvestry of Seclers, the origins of their special traditions, house building, wood carving of Secler gates, wooden headboards–started at the beginning of the 20th century.

From the beginning of the last century Seclers became a kind of metaphor of the perishing, but real ’Hungarianness’ for the overall Hungarian public. This perception was soon added by the national culth of suffering following the loss of Transsylvania, due to the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920. This culth was further strenghtened by the many refugees arrived from the Székely Land to Hungary, who began to use symbols of Secler identity in a demonstrative way, as the signs of true ’Hungarianness’. However, from the mid-1920s a strong movement of patrimonisation as well as nationalisation started in Székely Land initiated by some local educators with European horizons (Vilmos Csutak, János Bányai, Géza Vámszer, Rezső Haáz). At the same time in novels of József Nyírő and Áron Tamási there was created the steady Secler character keep on guarding his home and surviving all vicissitudes, however in György Bözödi’s books one can also find the critical contrast-figure of it. The culth of great historical Secler personalities–such as Balázs Orbán, Kelemen Mikes, and Áron Gábor – also started in the midwar period. At the same time modern, systhematic social, geographical as well as natural scientific researches went on dinamically all over in the region. The institutional framework to this, apart from the key figures of the local communities, was provided by the Secler National Museum, the journal of Brassó Pages together with other cultural movements and associations.

This served as a basis for a parallel society, a self organized network of the Hungarian minority.

This Hungarian minority network, as an imaginary community, proved to be especially strong and viable on the Székely Land not only due to the Hungarian ethnic dominance, but also because the region in fact seased to exist in 1876 as an administrative entity, and even though it kept being preserved by the common daily talk, and mental maps of the local community. This minority self organization was transformed by the ideology of the ’returned Hungarians’ int he period of 1940-1944, forcibly integrating local public life of the region into the Horthy regime. However, this was soon replaced by another major imperium change, and the demand of democratic social transformation in between 1944 and 1948. The regional consciousness of the community in the period of the state socialist transformation (1954-1957) could only appear as a ’progressive tradition’ in the local patrimonizing, in folk art, the culths of the Secler ancestors or in local patriotism around the high peaks of Hargita mountain. Following 1990 the Seclers’ consciousness apears as an integrative ideology of the region dominated by the Hungarians, yet with various attitudes and contents.

Research methods:

The historical aspect: 1. Instead of the standard point of view common in Budapest concentrating on developmental policies, we will focus on local processes and capabilities, looking for example at common charges between 1880-1944; development plans; land ownership; the region within strategies of national policy. 2. The recruitment and fluctuation of the political elite between 1910-1989; the content of the Székely discourse used by them; the administrative and political conditions of the counties between 1940-1944. 3. The reproduction of regional traditions: the myth of origin; identity in symbols; in military memory; in family and female roles. 4. The most important movements and institutions: the Székely National Museum; the newspapers Székelység and Brassói Lapok; movements revitalising the production of homespun materials, and cottage industry in general; the activity of János Bányai, Vilmos Csutak, Pál Péter Domokos, Rezső Haáz, Géza Vámszer.

The anthropological aspect: by means of interviews, we attempt to reveal the life stories of the people involved in the reproduction of local traditions, and the folklorisation of identity markers (anthem, writing, flag, gate, historical sites).

The sociological aspect: the characteristics of present-day Székely identity; the pillars of self-knowledge; social and geographical distinctions.

Recent results:

Demeter Lajos: A Székely Nemzeti Múzeum periodika katalógusa.

Főcze János – Kovács Szabolcs összeáll. (2019): Bányai László kéziratos hagyatéka (katalógus)

Nagy Botond: Közteherviselés és fejlesztéspolitika a dualizmus kori Háromszéken. Magyar Kisebbség, 2017/3-4. sz. 7-95.

Oláh Sándor: Földhasználat a Kis-Homoród mente falvaiban a 20. századbanMagyar Kisebbség, 2017/3-4. sz. 96-114.

Kacsó Sándor: Válogatott írások. Vál., jegyz., utószó Filep Tamás Gusztáv, Hargita Kiadóhivatal – Székelyföld Alapítvány, Csíkszereda, 2019. 271 p.

Bárdi Nándor - Zahorán Csaba: Utopias in the Shadow of Catastrophe: The Idea of Székely Self-Determination after the Collapse of Austria-Hungary. In: Blick ins Ungewisse. Visionen und Utopien im Donau-Karpaten-Raum 1917 und danach. Angela Ilic – Florian Kührer-Wielach – Irena Samide – Tanja Zigon (hgg.), Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 2019. 73—94.

Fehér János (összeáll.): Erdővidéki honismereti olvasókönyv, digitális szövegtár

Nagy József (összeáll): Gyergyó digitális szövegtára

Pál-Antal Sándor – Sebestyén Mihály (összeáll.): Maros-Torda megyei olvasókönyv

Interjúleltár -- Daczó Katalin újságíró – Csíkszereda (Gépelt interjúk – vagy írásban készültek, vagy elveszett az eredeti hangfelvétel, 70 tétel)

Interjúleltár – Daczó Katalin újságíró Csíkszereda (hangfelvételek, 76 tétel)

Interjúleltár – Nagy József történész Gyergyóremete (hangfelvételek, 372 tétel)

Bárdi Nándor (összeáll.): Bányai János (1886-1971) kéziratos hagyatéka (katalógus) 

Paál Árpád válogatott írások. Válogatta, az utószót és a jegyzeteket írta: Bárdi Nándor – Horváth Sz. Ferenc, Csíkszereda: Hargita Kiadóhivatal – Székelyföld Alapítvány, 2020. 279 p.