Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘intercultural communication’ Category

"Subjective Transylvania" – a review

Posted by Andy Hockley on 17 January, 2007

Recently (at the end of a fairly fractious exchange in the comments section of my post on the Romanian Orthodox Church’s attempt to Romanianise Csikszereda), somebody enigmatically signing themselves “MS” suggested I read this book which is available online through OSI (Soros) in Hungary. So I did. And it was well worth reading, I can tell you. If you download it you’ll find that it’s 147 pages in Word, which may be rather daunting, so I’ll attempt to offer a brief review here. Hopefully if this piques your interest you’ll read it yourself.

The book, which I assume was eventually published by OSI, is entitled “SUBJECTIVE TRANSYLVANIA: A CASE STUDY OF POST COMMUNIST NATIONALISM” by Alina Mungiu Pippidi PhD, who is a Romanian social psychologist. It is a throughly researched study into the disagreements between and perceptions of Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, including reams of qualitative data. It concludes with some suggestions into what the future might hold and some suggested models for the future in creating a more harmonious situation. It’s not clear when it was written, but it was obviously (from the context given) at some point during the Constantinescu government of 1996-2000.

I’ll admit that my first impression was a negative one, since early on in the inroduction to the work Dr Pippidi refers to the 1990 ethnic clashes in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely as a “violent outburst” while then going on to refer to an incident in Udvarhely “where the local community instigated by the town council brutally evacuated four Romanian nuns”. Now I’m not familiar with this incident, and have no idea whether the adverb “brutally” is justified (I’m assuming it is), but it seems a bit biased to append it to whatever happened there and to merely refer to the mini-civil-war in which 8 people died and countless others were injured in Targu Mures as a “violent outburst”. Given the context in which I’d received the link, I began to suspect that this would be yet another biased nationalistic tract of which there are so many out there (from both sides).

However, I gave the book a second chance, and am glad that I did. Since in the main the author (aside from the instance above and a later jarring reference to “the Hungarian problem”) is broadly impartial and prepared to let her subjects speak for themselves. What really surprised me, I suspect, was how familiar all the quotes were – she interviews various groups of Tranyslvanians from different places, different ethnic backgrounds, different age groups, etc – and all of them repeat what I hear more or less every day about the differences and similarities between the two communities. I have cut and pasted some examples below:

Some comments on being a Transylvanian Hungarian
“When I was in Hungary I visited the fathers-in-law of a friend of mine. And they were surprised I speak such a good Hungarian. I never felt so insulted in my life.”

“We, Transylvanians, sometimes feel like second rank Hungarians when compared to Hungarians from Hungary and second-rank Romanian citizens when compared to Romanians. We sometimes feel betrayed by both”

and, interestingly, from some of the Romanian subjects:
“It’s more honorable to be from Transylvania than from any other part of Romania. When I am sometimes ashamed of being a Romanian I feel better when I think I am from Transylvania “

On the cultural differences: “Romanians need less than we do to feel satisfied. They watch TV and they feel happy, while we are concerned by one or by other and we can’t get over it so easy. We Hungarians are so deadly serious”

And the following sentiments I have heard so many times that I have lost count:

This is the bosses business, politics that is; we ordinary people get along fine. (Hungarian workers, Cluj)
It weren’t for politics we wouldn’t even know who’s Romanian, who’s Hungarian, as it was in Ceausescu’s times, we were all alike then. (Romanian workers, Cluj)
You just can’t imagine how well we get along with people here [Romanian]. Politics doesn’t let us live peacefully. (Hungarian peasants, Miercurea Niraj)

I think my favourite bit would have to be this:

The most telling fact is, perhaps, that a social representation of nations living like a family within Romania is simply missing, so difficult it is to imagine an in-group including both Romanians and Hungarians. When asked ‘Were Romania a family, how would it look like’ most Hungarian groups told us they cannot conceive it as a family ‘or we would be the intruders’ (intellectual, Miercurea Ciuc). Even Romanians had difficulties. ‘It would be like a mother-in-law with the daughter-in-law’ (classical image of conflict in the Romanian folk-stories) (peasants, Cluj). At the other extreme is this beautiful representation of a young Romanian student in Cluj:
The father should be a German, the Hungarian the cook and the Romanian should take care of the house. Now it’s not working because the father is Romanian, not German.

As I say it is a fascinating piece of research, and well worth reading.

At the end Dr Pippidi concludes with the need to find a solution that satisfies the following (very little of which I can find any reason to disagree with):

1. to secure the right of the Hungarian minority to a shared public sphere of its own, that meaning ‘a communal domain that is constructed not only as an arena of cooperation for the purpose of securing one’s interests but also as a space where one’s communal identity finds expression’ (Tamir: 1993: 74). This space already exists to a large extent: all that is needed are supplementary legal guarantees.
2. to eliminate by a policy of affirmative action the disadvantages Hungarians still experience (proportion of Hungarian students compared to Romanians; proportion of Hungarian policemen, and so on) This was started in 1997, when the University of Cluj (babes-Bolyai) reserved seats for Hungarians applying for the Law School: this allowed them to be accepted with a much lower threshold than the Romanians.
3. Creating incentives for the Hungarian elite to choose moderate instead of radical policies
4. The same for the Romanian Transylvanian elite
5. Eliminating unnecessary competition between the two national groups as groups wherever this can be avoided
6. Preventing a deepening of the division between the two national groups and keeping a decent level of communication and interactivity between them in order to create at least occasionally a ‘in-group’ of both Romanians and Hungarians, instead of having them permanently exclude each other.
7. Eliminating the Hungarian theme from the Romanian internal political debate
8. Adjusting the political system in order to satisfy the listed requirements with reasonable costs and at a pace that would not endanger the stability of the political system (so often threatened both by ethno-regionalism and by the Romanian nationalist reaction).

Sadly, not much seems to have changed since the time 8(?) years ago when this was written – Hungarians are still very underrepresented in the police force, for example. (pt. 2)

And finally, in order to achieve the above, the author presents three models and critiques them. These models are
1. Hegemonic Control [the state controls/coerces/forces the minority group into submission]
2. Federalism [autonomous regions are created – the question remains whether these are formed on ethnic lines (cantonisation) or not (federalism)]
3. Consociationalism (yes, I had to look it up too) [By which power is somehow shared, either formally or informally. She opines that this was beginning when the paper was written, as the UDMR (Hungarian party) was at that time part of the ruling coalition. It has been ever since, to my knowledge]

She seems to lean towards the third, and I would be interested to hear how she feels now, given that to all intents and purposes this consociationalism has been going on for ten years now, and the problems seem to be exactly the same as when the paper was written. (I’ve written to her to ask).

I have been meaning for a while to write a post on the movement for autonomy in Szekely land, and this seems like a good starting point for what will end up being a series of pieces. I realise that there are so many issues to discuss in such a debate (the concept of nationality/ethnic identity; language and culture; balkanisation vs autonomy; centralisation vs de-centralisation; nationalism; discrimination against minorities; and many many others) that to attempt to do so in a shortish blog post would be impossible. I will (over the course of the next months) return to this subject and attempt to build up a picture of what I believe would be the best way forward. Not that my opinion matters as such, but I feel I ought to offer one at least.

Posted in intercultural communication, Szekely Autonomy, transylvania | 8 Comments »

"Subjective Transylvania" – a review

Posted by Andy Hockley on 17 January, 2007

Recently (at the end of a fairly fractious exchange in the comments section of my post on the Romanian Orthodox Church’s attempt to Romanianise Csikszereda), somebody enigmatically signing themselves “MS” suggested I read this book which is available online through OSI (Soros) in Hungary. So I did. And it was well worth reading, I can tell you. If you download it you’ll find that it’s 147 pages in Word, which may be rather daunting, so I’ll attempt to offer a brief review here. Hopefully if this piques your interest you’ll read it yourself.

The book, which I assume was eventually published by OSI, is entitled “SUBJECTIVE TRANSYLVANIA: A CASE STUDY OF POST COMMUNIST NATIONALISM” by Alina Mungiu Pippidi PhD, who is a Romanian social psychologist. It is a throughly researched study into the disagreements between and perceptions of Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, including reams of qualitative data. It concludes with some suggestions into what the future might hold and some suggested models for the future in creating a more harmonious situation. It’s not clear when it was written, but it was obviously (from the context given) at some point during the Constantinescu government of 1996-2000.

I’ll admit that my first impression was a negative one, since early on in the inroduction to the work Dr Pippidi refers to the 1990 ethnic clashes in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely as a “violent outburst” while then going on to refer to an incident in Udvarhely “where the local community instigated by the town council brutally evacuated four Romanian nuns”. Now I’m not familiar with this incident, and have no idea whether the adverb “brutally” is justified (I’m assuming it is), but it seems a bit biased to append it to whatever happened there and to merely refer to the mini-civil-war in which 8 people died and countless others were injured in Targu Mures as a “violent outburst”. Given the context in which I’d received the link, I began to suspect that this would be yet another biased nationalistic tract of which there are so many out there (from both sides).

However, I gave the book a second chance, and am glad that I did. Since in the main the author (aside from the instance above and a later jarring reference to “the Hungarian problem”) is broadly impartial and prepared to let her subjects speak for themselves. What really surprised me, I suspect, was how familiar all the quotes were – she interviews various groups of Tranyslvanians from different places, different ethnic backgrounds, different age groups, etc – and all of them repeat what I hear more or less every day about the differences and similarities between the two communities. I have cut and pasted some examples below:

Some comments on being a Transylvanian Hungarian
“When I was in Hungary I visited the fathers-in-law of a friend of mine. And they were surprised I speak such a good Hungarian. I never felt so insulted in my life.”

“We, Transylvanians, sometimes feel like second rank Hungarians when compared to Hungarians from Hungary and second-rank Romanian citizens when compared to Romanians. We sometimes feel betrayed by both”

and, interestingly, from some of the Romanian subjects:
“It’s more honorable to be from Transylvania than from any other part of Romania. When I am sometimes ashamed of being a Romanian I feel better when I think I am from Transylvania “

On the cultural differences: “Romanians need less than we do to feel satisfied. They watch TV and they feel happy, while we are concerned by one or by other and we can’t get over it so easy. We Hungarians are so deadly serious”

And the following sentiments I have heard so many times that I have lost count:

This is the bosses business, politics that is; we ordinary people get along fine. (Hungarian workers, Cluj)
It weren’t for politics we wouldn’t even know who’s Romanian, who’s Hungarian, as it was in Ceausescu’s times, we were all alike then. (Romanian workers, Cluj)
You just can’t imagine how well we get along with people here [Romanian]. Politics doesn’t let us live peacefully. (Hungarian peasants, Miercurea Niraj)

I think my favourite bit would have to be this:

The most telling fact is, perhaps, that a social representation of nations living like a family within Romania is simply missing, so difficult it is to imagine an in-group including both Romanians and Hungarians. When asked ‘Were Romania a family, how would it look like’ most Hungarian groups told us they cannot conceive it as a family ‘or we would be the intruders’ (intellectual, Miercurea Ciuc). Even Romanians had difficulties. ‘It would be like a mother-in-law with the daughter-in-law’ (classical image of conflict in the Romanian folk-stories) (peasants, Cluj). At the other extreme is this beautiful representation of a young Romanian student in Cluj:
The father should be a German, the Hungarian the cook and the Romanian should take care of the house. Now it’s not working because the father is Romanian, not German.

As I say it is a fascinating piece of research, and well worth reading.

At the end Dr Pippidi concludes with the need to find a solution that satisfies the following (very little of which I can find any reason to disagree with):

1. to secure the right of the Hungarian minority to a shared public sphere of its own, that meaning ‘a communal domain that is constructed not only as an arena of cooperation for the purpose of securing one’s interests but also as a space where one’s communal identity finds expression’ (Tamir: 1993: 74). This space already exists to a large extent: all that is needed are supplementary legal guarantees.
2. to eliminate by a policy of affirmative action the disadvantages Hungarians still experience (proportion of Hungarian students compared to Romanians; proportion of Hungarian policemen, and so on) This was started in 1997, when the University of Cluj (babes-Bolyai) reserved seats for Hungarians applying for the Law School: this allowed them to be accepted with a much lower threshold than the Romanians.
3. Creating incentives for the Hungarian elite to choose moderate instead of radical policies
4. The same for the Romanian Transylvanian elite
5. Eliminating unnecessary competition between the two national groups as groups wherever this can be avoided
6. Preventing a deepening of the division between the two national groups and keeping a decent level of communication and interactivity between them in order to create at least occasionally a ‘in-group’ of both Romanians and Hungarians, instead of having them permanently exclude each other.
7. Eliminating the Hungarian theme from the Romanian internal political debate
8. Adjusting the political system in order to satisfy the listed requirements with reasonable costs and at a pace that would not endanger the stability of the political system (so often threatened both by ethno-regionalism and by the Romanian nationalist reaction).

Sadly, not much seems to have changed since the time 8(?) years ago when this was written – Hungarians are still very underrepresented in the police force, for example. (pt. 2)

And finally, in order to achieve the above, the author presents three models and critiques them. These models are
1. Hegemonic Control [the state controls/coerces/forces the minority group into submission]
2. Federalism [autonomous regions are created – the question remains whether these are formed on ethnic lines (cantonisation) or not (federalism)]
3. Consociationalism (yes, I had to look it up too) [By which power is somehow shared, either formally or informally. She opines that this was beginning when the paper was written, as the UDMR (Hungarian party) was at that time part of the ruling coalition. It has been ever since, to my knowledge]

She seems to lean towards the third, and I would be interested to hear how she feels now, given that to all intents and purposes this consociationalism has been going on for ten years now, and the problems seem to be exactly the same as when the paper was written. (I’ve written to her to ask).

I have been meaning for a while to write a post on the movement for autonomy in Szekely land, and this seems like a good starting point for what will end up being a series of pieces. I realise that there are so many issues to discuss in such a debate (the concept of nationality/ethnic identity; language and culture; balkanisation vs autonomy; centralisation vs de-centralisation; nationalism; discrimination against minorities; and many many others) that to attempt to do so in a shortish blog post would be impossible. I will (over the course of the next months) return to this subject and attempt to build up a picture of what I believe would be the best way forward. Not that my opinion matters as such, but I feel I ought to offer one at least.

Posted in intercultural communication, Szekely Autonomy, transylvania | 7 Comments »

Irredentist

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 October, 2006

Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

ir•re•den•tist
n.
One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one’s nation but now subject to a foreign government.
________________________________________
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
________________________________________
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Posted in hungarian, intercultural communication, nationalism, romanian | 4 Comments »

Irredentist

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 October, 2006

Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

ir•re•den•tist
n.
One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one’s nation but now subject to a foreign government.
________________________________________
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
________________________________________
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Posted in hungarian, intercultural communication, nationalism, romanian | 4 Comments »

In the Lebanon

Posted by Andy Hockley on 9 August, 2006

One of the biggest problems with being stuck at Milan airport for a while, was being able to take a while reading English newspapers and learning of the ridiculous and sick position taken by my government over the possibility of a ceasefire in the Lebanon war. Something along the lines of “There’s no point having a ceasefire now as it may only last a week and we need to find a comprehensive peace agreement”. Are they really that stupid or just trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes? The whole point of a ceasefire is to stop innocent people being killed, maimed, and left homeless. You do that, and then you start to look for an agreement that is workable. Even if a ceasefire does only last a week, at least that’s a week in which no people are dying. For christ’s sake. But no, they just give everyone a green light to keep on killing as many people as they can (and given the disparity of deaths on both sides of the border it looks once again like Arab lives are basically worthless in Blair’s view.) I am more and more convinced that this bastard needs to be taken to the Hague as soon as possible and be tried for his war crimes.

It’s rare that I get this angry over something, but god almighty. How many people have you killed today Blair? Do you ever sleep? Or do you wake up in a sweat dreaming about swimming in the blood of children? I bet you don’t because you’re a wild eyed ideologue who really believes that killing Arabs is a necessary step toward the new world order.

And now, finally, the UN are debating a ceasefire resolution that will allow Israel to continue attacking people as long as they do it “defensively”. Since they claim that everything they do, from the daily brutality of the occupation to various invasions of Lebanon is “defensive”, this doesn’t sound like it’s much of a solution. And our glorious leader thinks he can now act to get a solution for the Palestinians – since he’s said this from day one, and has come no closer than he was then, I find it hard to imagine. And how he expects to be taken seriously by the Palestinian side, now he’s nailed his colours firmly to the side of Israel-can-do-what-it-likes-whenever-it-wants-and-be-applauded-for-it, is anyone’s guess. I despair. Every week I have to remind myself of how bad Thatcher was in order to have something to compare him with, but I’m reaching the point where I think he’s even worse than her. And that takes some bloody doing.

Posted in intercultural communication, news, rants, xenophobia | Leave a Comment »

In the Lebanon

Posted by Andy Hockley on 9 August, 2006

One of the biggest problems with being stuck at Milan airport for a while, was being able to take a while reading English newspapers and learning of the ridiculous and sick position taken by my government over the possibility of a ceasefire in the Lebanon war. Something along the lines of “There’s no point having a ceasefire now as it may only last a week and we need to find a comprehensive peace agreement”. Are they really that stupid or just trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes? The whole point of a ceasefire is to stop innocent people being killed, maimed, and left homeless. You do that, and then you start to look for an agreement that is workable. Even if a ceasefire does only last a week, at least that’s a week in which no people are dying. For christ’s sake. But no, they just give everyone a green light to keep on killing as many people as they can (and given the disparity of deaths on both sides of the border it looks once again like Arab lives are basically worthless in Blair’s view.) I am more and more convinced that this bastard needs to be taken to the Hague as soon as possible and be tried for his war crimes.

It’s rare that I get this angry over something, but god almighty. How many people have you killed today Blair? Do you ever sleep? Or do you wake up in a sweat dreaming about swimming in the blood of children? I bet you don’t because you’re a wild eyed ideologue who really believes that killing Arabs is a necessary step toward the new world order.

And now, finally, the UN are debating a ceasefire resolution that will allow Israel to continue attacking people as long as they do it “defensively”. Since they claim that everything they do, from the daily brutality of the occupation to various invasions of Lebanon is “defensive”, this doesn’t sound like it’s much of a solution. And our glorious leader thinks he can now act to get a solution for the Palestinians – since he’s said this from day one, and has come no closer than he was then, I find it hard to imagine. And how he expects to be taken seriously by the Palestinian side, now he’s nailed his colours firmly to the side of Israel-can-do-what-it-likes-whenever-it-wants-and-be-applauded-for-it, is anyone’s guess. I despair. Every week I have to remind myself of how bad Thatcher was in order to have something to compare him with, but I’m reaching the point where I think he’s even worse than her. And that takes some bloody doing.

Posted in intercultural communication, news, rants, xenophobia | Leave a Comment »

National Psychology

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 July, 2006

I was wondering recently about the increasing tendency in the media and elsewhere to assign psychological motivations to an entire nation. Israel is worried about its security, the USA has been mentally scarred by the Vietnam War, Tuvalu has Attention Deficit Disorder, that kind of thing. And while it’s obviously bollocks and just lazy journalism, I wondered if there was anything one could glean from this exercise.

I also have this fairly vivid memory of being half the age I am now and talking to an old Italian bloke who put forward the theory that the US was the way it was (in foreign policy) because it had a national inferiority complex and that Germany was the way it was because it had a national superiority complex. At the time I thought this was just rubbush, but as time went on I began to understand where he was coming from (I still think it’s nonsense, but its not completely baseless nonsense).

To be honest, the thing that sparked these thoughts were some comments I read about the recent World Cup and how the great success of the tournament (off the pitch at least) was enabling Germany to at last feel proud of itself again. This ties in (somewhat) with a film that was released a couple of years ago called Das Wunder von Bern about the (West) German football team’s win in the 1954 World Cup. The basic premise behind the film (and I’m paraphrasing considerably, and there is a genuine and apparently fairly moving plot that reveals this message) is that the Germans were a proud people with a strong sense of national identity, who at the end of the war had nothing left to cling to – a destroyed country and economy, national humiliation and nothing whatsoever to be proud of for being German. Then came the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, and against the odds and in the final against the best team in the world at that time – Hungary – the West German team won, giving people a reason to be proud of their country again in a completely non-threatening way (after all it was only football). The radio commentary of the last few minutes of that game is apparently hugely famous in Germany to this day.

Well it seems that Germany in particular has been the subject of the national psychoanalysis more than most places – Hitler’s rise is often painted as a historical inevitability given the national sense of injustice resulting from the post World War I treaties that Germany was made to sign. Indeed this is largely the reason that the Marshall Plan came into effect after the second war – not wishing to make the same mistake again, the US, in what remains possibly the most enlightened foreign policy decision by any nation ever, helped to rebuild (West) Germany from the rubble up.

Anyway, enough digressions, and back to the point. When I say “back” of course I mean I’m now about to touch on the point for the first time. Going back to “the Miracle of Bern”, the untold story is of the Hungarian team. Now every football fan knows that Hungary were the best football team of the 50s (just as every football fan knows that Hungary are now utterly rubbish – I notice Ujpest lost 4-0 to a team from Liechtenstein this week. Sorry, digressing again). So how did this defeat affect the Hungarian national psyche? What, indeed, is the Hungarian national psyche? You see, when you go back and take a look at the 20th century it’s hard to find a European nation that had such a bad 20th century. Like Germany, at the end of the first world war in a treaty signed in a French chateau (Trianon this time, rather than Versailles), Hungary was sliced up and fed to its neighbours. Only Hungary lost 2/3rd of its territory and millions of its people in the deal – significantly more than Germany lost, though unlike Hungary, Germany did also have colonies in various other parts of the world which it also ceded control of. The “historical inevitability” of then ending up with an expansionist genocidal maniac in power somehow wasn’t quite as inevitable in Hungary. At the end of the second world war, Hungary ended up on the wrong side of the iron curtain, unlike most of Germany, and hence not only did not benefit from the Marshall Plan, but also had to put up with communism. When Hungarians actually started protesting about this state of affairs they promptly got invaded by the USSR (and sold out by the west) and crushed even further into the dirt. In fact it’s only since 1989 that things started to get better for Hungary. All in all it was a pretty miserable century. And they didn’t even get to win a World Cup in the midst of it all. So why are we not bombarded with analytical pieces of journalism analysing the national state of mind of Hungary and how all this misery must have traumatised the Hungarians? (To be fair, I don’t read the Hungarian press, and it may be that this subject gets debated interminably there)

I do know, for example, that Hungary has a startlingly high suicide rate. One of the highest in the world as far as I know. (Also Harghita county has the highest suicide rate in Romania, but that maybe just because it’s bloody freezing for 4 months of the year, rather than because it is full of manic depressive Hungarians). Whether there is any connection between the effect on the “national psyche” of a century of desperation and the suicide rate, is of course debatable (I’d go as far as to say that there is no connection, but that’s mostly because I don’t really believe in the concept of “national psyche”).

I suspect that the reason that there isn’t much coverage of the Hungarian psyche in the world’s media is because Hungary doesn’t matter that much. It’s only the strong nations that get anthropomorphised in this way (I’m guessing for example that the effect of Versailles on the Germans wasn’t looked into until Germany started once again to assert itself). We look at the effect of the war in Vietnam on the American psyche but not on the Vietnamese. Only this morning, for example, I read about the effects of Hizbullah’s rocket attacks on the Israeli psyche, and nothing about the effect of Israel’s bombardment of Beirut on the Lebanese psyche. (I made up the Tuvalu thing in the first paragraph, you may be surprised to learn). Is this because we don’t like to present our enemies (or the enemies of our friends) in psychological terms for fear of humanising them too much?

I’ve gone on long enough, and will stop now, without ever really having made any kind of point. You’ll have to supply your own conclusion for whatever makes any sense out of this. I do have some points to make about the relationship between Hungarians and Romanians based on all this, but I will wait till I get back from holiday to do it. I bet you can’t wait, can you?

Posted in hungary, intercultural communication | 4 Comments »

National Psychology

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 July, 2006

I was wondering recently about the increasing tendency in the media and elsewhere to assign psychological motivations to an entire nation. Israel is worried about its security, the USA has been mentally scarred by the Vietnam War, Tuvalu has Attention Deficit Disorder, that kind of thing. And while it’s obviously bollocks and just lazy journalism, I wondered if there was anything one could glean from this exercise.

I also have this fairly vivid memory of being half the age I am now and talking to an old Italian bloke who put forward the theory that the US was the way it was (in foreign policy) because it had a national inferiority complex and that Germany was the way it was because it had a national superiority complex. At the time I thought this was just rubbush, but as time went on I began to understand where he was coming from (I still think it’s nonsense, but its not completely baseless nonsense).

To be honest, the thing that sparked these thoughts were some comments I read about the recent World Cup and how the great success of the tournament (off the pitch at least) was enabling Germany to at last feel proud of itself again. This ties in (somewhat) with a film that was released a couple of years ago called Das Wunder von Bern about the (West) German football team’s win in the 1954 World Cup. The basic premise behind the film (and I’m paraphrasing considerably, and there is a genuine and apparently fairly moving plot that reveals this message) is that the Germans were a proud people with a strong sense of national identity, who at the end of the war had nothing left to cling to – a destroyed country and economy, national humiliation and nothing whatsoever to be proud of for being German. Then came the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, and against the odds and in the final against the best team in the world at that time – Hungary – the West German team won, giving people a reason to be proud of their country again in a completely non-threatening way (after all it was only football). The radio commentary of the last few minutes of that game is apparently hugely famous in Germany to this day.

Well it seems that Germany in particular has been the subject of the national psychoanalysis more than most places – Hitler’s rise is often painted as a historical inevitability given the national sense of injustice resulting from the post World War I treaties that Germany was made to sign. Indeed this is largely the reason that the Marshall Plan came into effect after the second war – not wishing to make the same mistake again, the US, in what remains possibly the most enlightened foreign policy decision by any nation ever, helped to rebuild (West) Germany from the rubble up.

Anyway, enough digressions, and back to the point. When I say “back” of course I mean I’m now about to touch on the point for the first time. Going back to “the Miracle of Bern”, the untold story is of the Hungarian team. Now every football fan knows that Hungary were the best football team of the 50s (just as every football fan knows that Hungary are now utterly rubbish – I notice Ujpest lost 4-0 to a team from Liechtenstein this week. Sorry, digressing again). So how did this defeat affect the Hungarian national psyche? What, indeed, is the Hungarian national psyche? You see, when you go back and take a look at the 20th century it’s hard to find a European nation that had such a bad 20th century. Like Germany, at the end of the first world war in a treaty signed in a French chateau (Trianon this time, rather than Versailles), Hungary was sliced up and fed to its neighbours. Only Hungary lost 2/3rd of its territory and millions of its people in the deal – significantly more than Germany lost, though unlike Hungary, Germany did also have colonies in various other parts of the world which it also ceded control of. The “historical inevitability” of then ending up with an expansionist genocidal maniac in power somehow wasn’t quite as inevitable in Hungary. At the end of the second world war, Hungary ended up on the wrong side of the iron curtain, unlike most of Germany, and hence not only did not benefit from the Marshall Plan, but also had to put up with communism. When Hungarians actually started protesting about this state of affairs they promptly got invaded by the USSR (and sold out by the west) and crushed even further into the dirt. In fact it’s only since 1989 that things started to get better for Hungary. All in all it was a pretty miserable century. And they didn’t even get to win a World Cup in the midst of it all. So why are we not bombarded with analytical pieces of journalism analysing the national state of mind of Hungary and how all this misery must have traumatised the Hungarians? (To be fair, I don’t read the Hungarian press, and it may be that this subject gets debated interminably there)

I do know, for example, that Hungary has a startlingly high suicide rate. One of the highest in the world as far as I know. (Also Harghita county has the highest suicide rate in Romania, but that maybe just because it’s bloody freezing for 4 months of the year, rather than because it is full of manic depressive Hungarians). Whether there is any connection between the effect on the “national psyche” of a century of desperation and the suicide rate, is of course debatable (I’d go as far as to say that there is no connection, but that’s mostly because I don’t really believe in the concept of “national psyche”).

I suspect that the reason that there isn’t much coverage of the Hungarian psyche in the world’s media is because Hungary doesn’t matter that much. It’s only the strong nations that get anthropomorphised in this way (I’m guessing for example that the effect of Versailles on the Germans wasn’t looked into until Germany started once again to assert itself). We look at the effect of the war in Vietnam on the American psyche but not on the Vietnamese. Only this morning, for example, I read about the effects of Hizbullah’s rocket attacks on the Israeli psyche, and nothing about the effect of Israel’s bombardment of Beirut on the Lebanese psyche. (I made up the Tuvalu thing in the first paragraph, you may be surprised to learn). Is this because we don’t like to present our enemies (or the enemies of our friends) in psychological terms for fear of humanising them too much?

I’ve gone on long enough, and will stop now, without ever really having made any kind of point. You’ll have to supply your own conclusion for whatever makes any sense out of this. I do have some points to make about the relationship between Hungarians and Romanians based on all this, but I will wait till I get back from holiday to do it. I bet you can’t wait, can you?

Posted in hungary, intercultural communication | 4 Comments »

Heavy Tools

Posted by Andy Hockley on 5 March, 2006

There has been a growing tendency in Csikszereda to name shops and other businesses in English. I was told that this was because it avoided the dilemma of using both Romanian and Hungarian. You see, if your shop has a Hungarian name, you also have to use the Romanian one, and vice versa – all üzlets are also magazins, and all restaurants are also vendéglõs. You can get around this limitation by using English or some other non-local language, and negate the need to translate anything.

However, I suspect that many of the new places, such as the “Office 1 Superstore” are actually chains that exist beyond the limits of Harghita County, and are thus named in English purely because it’s fashionable and modern and westward looking and all that. A new restaurant (or “Restaurant & Pizza” as it has cunningly labeled itself) has just opened on Petofi street, called “Bandido’s”, thus being fantastically international. A Spanish word with an English grammatical form taken from German (that ‘s bit, otherwise known as the saxon genitive). I’m hoping it serves high quality Mexican food, but I strongly suspect it will be pizza, pasta, burgers, csirke paprikas and mamaliga, and so merely add to the number of restaurants serving “international food” with some Hungarian and Romanian options thrown in to appease the local palates.

This Anglicization does lead to some odd names though. A few weeks ago, for example, a clothes shop opened in the middle of town called “Heavy Tools Clothing Division”. This too, must be a chain of sorts since it is way too fancy looking to be purely a Csiki business. A mischievous part of me would really like to go in and tell the manager what slang meaning “tool” has.

March 1st

An English friend who is married to a Romanian woman sent me a message on March 1st to remind me that it was Marţişor. Marţişor is the first of March, and functions as a kind of Romanian Valentine’s Day, when men give little red and white brooches to the women they know. He was anxious that I should be reminded so that I wouldn’t commit the ultimate faux-pas of not giving my loved ones these tokens of my affection. I had to admit I’d never heard of it so I checked with Erika, who informed me that it’s a Romanian thing and Hungarians don’t do it. Which let me off the hook, but made me imagine that it must be hell for Romanian teenage boys going out with Hungarian girls (or just hoping to be noticed by them). If you give the subject of your attention a Marţişor brooch, you just know she’s going to turn around and tell you she’s not Romanian and she doesn’t do that (thus crushing you, her emotionally fragile suitor). If you don’t, she’s going to ask you why you didn’t and don’t you love her and tell you I’m sorry it’s over (ditto). It’s difficult enough being a teenage boy and knowing that you will never understand how girls’ minds work, without throwing in an added inter-cultural counndrum.

Posted in csikszereda, intercultural communication, language | 3 Comments »

Heavy Tools

Posted by Andy Hockley on 5 March, 2006

There has been a growing tendency in Csikszereda to name shops and other businesses in English. I was told that this was because it avoided the dilemma of using both Romanian and Hungarian. You see, if your shop has a Hungarian name, you also have to use the Romanian one, and vice versa – all üzlets are also magazins, and all restaurants are also vendéglõs. You can get around this limitation by using English or some other non-local language, and negate the need to translate anything.

However, I suspect that many of the new places, such as the “Office 1 Superstore” are actually chains that exist beyond the limits of Harghita County, and are thus named in English purely because it’s fashionable and modern and westward looking and all that. A new restaurant (or “Restaurant & Pizza” as it has cunningly labeled itself) has just opened on Petofi street, called “Bandido’s”, thus being fantastically international. A Spanish word with an English grammatical form taken from German (that ‘s bit, otherwise known as the saxon genitive). I’m hoping it serves high quality Mexican food, but I strongly suspect it will be pizza, pasta, burgers, csirke paprikas and mamaliga, and so merely add to the number of restaurants serving “international food” with some Hungarian and Romanian options thrown in to appease the local palates.

This Anglicization does lead to some odd names though. A few weeks ago, for example, a clothes shop opened in the middle of town called “Heavy Tools Clothing Division”. This too, must be a chain of sorts since it is way too fancy looking to be purely a Csiki business. A mischievous part of me would really like to go in and tell the manager what slang meaning “tool” has.

March 1st

An English friend who is married to a Romanian woman sent me a message on March 1st to remind me that it was Marţişor. Marţişor is the first of March, and functions as a kind of Romanian Valentine’s Day, when men give little red and white brooches to the women they know. He was anxious that I should be reminded so that I wouldn’t commit the ultimate faux-pas of not giving my loved ones these tokens of my affection. I had to admit I’d never heard of it so I checked with Erika, who informed me that it’s a Romanian thing and Hungarians don’t do it. Which let me off the hook, but made me imagine that it must be hell for Romanian teenage boys going out with Hungarian girls (or just hoping to be noticed by them). If you give the subject of your attention a Marţişor brooch, you just know she’s going to turn around and tell you she’s not Romanian and she doesn’t do that (thus crushing you, her emotionally fragile suitor). If you don’t, she’s going to ask you why you didn’t and don’t you love her and tell you I’m sorry it’s over (ditto). It’s difficult enough being a teenage boy and knowing that you will never understand how girls’ minds work, without throwing in an added inter-cultural counndrum.

Posted in csikszereda, intercultural communication, language | 3 Comments »