The institutionalization of ethnic economy among Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia

Principal investigator: Zsombor Csata

Participants: Tünde Morvai, Attila Papp Z., Töhötöm Szabó A.

Grant: NKFIH 125276

Period: 2017-2024

Research questions and objectives:

The central question of the research concerns the role of ethnicity in the management of economic cooperation in Transylvania, Romania, and Southern Slovakia.

What are the features of successful ethnic-based coordination at different institutional levels, and how do these „synchronize” with the regulations imposed by the authorities and the market? Using the conceptual foundations of economic sociology and institutional economics, we examine the effectiveness of institutional solutions organized along ethnic lines compared to ethnically neutral strategies. Inspired by the lack of information about how ethnicity and economy interact, we compare Romania and Slovakia because minority policies and regulations concerning ethnic and linguistic governance differ.

Research history:

The economy in Transylvania and Southern Slovakia differs from other social domains such as education, culture or mass media as it is not primarily organized into ethnically separate organizational structures. In spite of this, a series of business initiatives were established during the past decades, which explicitly targeted consumers who belonged to the Hungarian minority in these regions. These enterprises built up their business narratives/discourses in a Hungarian context, employed minority Hungarian workers and collaborated with Hungarian business partners. In addition, the EU adherence brought forward a more relaxed state control upon the economy in Romania and Slovakia, meanwhile a higher market deregulation created better conditions for ethnic markets to be created, for the commodification of the ethnic products and for the cooperation along ethnic networks. In this research, we examine the institutionalization of an ethnic minority economy in the context of this changed environment.

Research methods:

In exploring the size and quantitative characteristics of the ethnic economy, we rely on a secondary analysis of various economic statistics and previous survey data. In addition we are conducting several fieldworks at different sites all over Transylvania and Southern Slovakia where we use typical case-study methods: individual and focus-group interviews, participant observation, document analysis, (media) content analysis, sociometry etc.

Research results in 2021:

Last year we extended our study to two ethnically polarized towns in Romania and Slovakia: Târgu Mureș (Marosvásárhely) and Komárom (Komarno). We focused on ethnic parralelism in the private economy: we realized an extensive mapping of the most important ethnic businesses, and we conducted individual and focus group interviews with their operators. One of our most important conclusions is that the segmentation of the local economy is primarily determined by language, language skills, and the hierarchy of languages rather than by ethnicity in general.

Previous research results:

We started our research with a secondary analysis of statistical and survey data on the increasing ethnic parallelism in the economy, both in Romania and Slovakia. Then we turned our attention to an ethnographic study of rural economic institutions in four Transylvanian and two Southern Slovakian villages. In these locations, we conducted individual and focus group interviews with local community leaders, businessman and leaders of organizations for the management of common pool resources (CPR). We found out that the patterns of (inter)-ethnic cooperation in these local domains shows a greater variety, and that belonging to an ethnic community could be an organizing element of the local economy, but not solely, not primarily and not exclusively.


Csata, Z., Hlatky, R., Liu, A. H. & Young A. P. (2021) The economic effects of the territoriality principle. Evidence from Transylvania, Romania. Language Problems and Language Planning 45(2), 165–187.

Csata, Z., Hlatky, R., & Liu, A. H. (2021). How to head count ethnic minorities: validity of census surveys versus other identification strategies. East European Politics, 37(3), 572-592.

Csata, Z. (2018). Economy and Ethnicity in Transylvania. In Unequal Accommodation of Minority Rights (pp. 345-379). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Press coverage:

In Hungarian:

„Kevesebbet keres ma Romániában egy erdélyi magyar, mint egy román. Miért?” - 2018. január 4., 

„Kényes kérdés” Erdélyben a magyar alkalmazott” - 2018. december 30.,

 „Mennyivel keres kevesebbet, aki nem tud románul?” - 2019. április 19.,

„Felmérés: a székelyföldi magyarok kevesebbet keresnek, mint a románok” – 2019. július 10.,

„Jobban keres a magyar munkavállaló olyan cégnél, ahol román alkalmazottak vannak többségben” 2019. november 14.,

„Ahol kirakat a multikulti, ott a magyar nyelv piaci értéke is alacsony” - 2019. november 27. 

„Etnikai „munkaburok”: jellemző, hogy magyar magyart alkalmaz a kommunikációs gátak elkerüléséért” - 2020. január 18., 

In other languages:

„Piața nu readuce limba maghiară în spațiul public, dimpotrivă: contribuie la enclavizare”  - 2020. január 28.,