Habsburgi şi Romani. De la loialitatea dinastică la identitatea naţională

TitleHabsburgi şi Romani. De la loialitatea dinastică la identitatea naţională
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsSzele, Áron
Author(s) of reviewed materialMaior, Liviu

book. Title translated: Habsburgs and Romanians. From Dynastic Loyalty to National Identity.

PublisherBucuresti: Editura Enciclopedica
ISSNISBN (10) 973-45-0535-1
Review year


Full Text

The Romanian historian Liviu Maior, continuing his lifelong research on questions related to Romanians in the Habsburg Empire, approaches a new topic in Habsburgi şi Romani.  De la loialitatea dinastică la identitatea naţională: he analyzes the special relationship between the national consciousness of the Romanians and the Imperial authority of Vienna, tracing the birth of both as well as the decay of the latter in favor of the former. The problem of initial congruence between loyalist sentiment towards the Habsburg Emperor and the nascence of nationalism among the Romanians of Transylvania has already been hinted towards in his work Romậnii în armata Habsburgică. Soldaţi şi ofiţeri uitaţican  (Romanians in the Habsburg Army. Forgotten soldiers and officers). This book continues and further develops the theme, making an interesting analysis of the two types of mental phenomena. Maior claims that from an initial standpoint of total complementarity, the two sentiments evolved, due to the historical-political and social context, towards becoming totally antagonistic by the end of the year 1918. The reasons behind such a structural transformation are to be found in the loss of direct imperial authority over its own peripheral subjects – substituted by a “malevolent,” nationalistic Hungarian state, as was the case with the Romanians of Transylvania.

In the first part of the book, Liviu Maior makes an analysis of the birth of national sentiment among the Romanians of Transylvania, linking it with the positive effects the protective central imperial authority exerted. The Emperor safeguarded their status and identity against a “malicious” Hungarian national elite on the rise in cases such as the Revolution of 1848-49. In his investigation, Maior makes use of case studies of nationalist loyalists, such as Baritiu, Alexandru Vaida-Voievod and even the poet Mihai Eminescu. He describes their attitude towards the Habsburg dynasty and the gradual decay of trust that ensued after the failure of the Memorandist movement. The shift towards the circle of Franz Ferdinand gave the loyalist project new hope for a while, but this current of thought was practically doomed after the Archduke´s assassination in 1914, he concludes.

Maior identifies the imperial army as one of the major agents which contributed towards the creation of loyalist sentiment among Romanians: it was inside this institution that loyalism was created, fostered and manifested itself directly. To this end, in his second chapter the historian makes a succinct analysis and gives an account of the Romanian contribution to the Habsburg Army – this part of the book can be seen as a resume and synthesis of the information and points already brought forth in his former book, Romậnii în armata Habsburgică. This is done in order to underline the special importance of the military institution as a determinant of the positive relationship between the Emperor and his Romanian subjects. The army was the single most important establishment that had a trans-national, imperial character, at the same time it fostered “minor nationalisms” on the principle of divide et impera. From the time of the Napoleonic Wars, through the Revolutions of 1848, and until the First World War, the Romanian military contingents remained loyal and fought under the yellow-black imperial banner with pride and conviction. The “crisis of loyalty,” as Maior calls it, comes about with the entry of Romania proper into this last conflict, bringing about its downfall.

In the last three chapters of Habsburgi şi Romani.  De la loialitatea dinastică la identitatea naţională Maior carries out a systematic and seminal analysis of the institutions in which loyalism and nationalism manifested themselves through identifying three main institutions besides the army: the administration, the Church and the educational system. He devotes a chapter to each and investigates the diachronic changes that transform these establishments and the behavior of Romanians as participants in them. In the part dedicated to administration and the practice of justice, he resumes the ideas put forward in his famous book, 1848-1849 Romanians and Hungarians, describing the Romanian attempt at successful self-administration. He also illustrates the relationship between religion, dynastic loyalty, and the national sentiment. He states that religion, while being a bulwark of nationalism, eventually lost out to the liberal side.

The most interesting and promising part is the analysis of the educational system and its association with the processes of identity formation. The way a new type of Romanian political elite was formatted in Transylvania by the educational system was quite different and even opposing before and after 1867. From an initial encouragement towards education and elite-building, it went to an obstructionist tactic after 1870 meant to suppress the national identity of Romaniannes. But the ill-famed Trefort and Apponyi laws on education and instruction were met with due resistance and proved to be unsuccessful, revealing the power with which the Transylvanian Romanian society had absorbed the idea of nationhood, Maior claims.

The final conclusion of the work is in line with the traditional interpretation of the factors that brought about the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, identifying nationalism as one of the main ones. Maior situates the nationalism of Romanians from Transylvania as an integral part of this process, and the decay of loyalist feeling as another, by this time complementary symptom.   

Habsburgi şi Romani.  De la loialitatea dinastică la identitatea naţională is another chapter in the rich bibliography of Liviu Maior [with several important previous works such as 1848 - 1849 : romani si unguri in revolutie (1848 - 1849: Romanians and Hungarians in revolution) andMişcarea Memorandistă. Filozofia politico-istorică a petiţionarismului românesc (The Memorandist Movement. The political-historical philosophy of petitionarism)], it makes a valuable contribution to the emerging field of the study of political legitimacy in the 19th century and its intriguing relationship with nationalism, and should be essential reading in the field of Habsburg studies.