The end of April 1910 started as a promising period for Ferenc Kovács, instructor at the Count Szapáry family. He spent a well deserved holiday with traveling, visiting – among many other cities – Dresden. He enjoyed not only the famous baroque arhitecture but the cultural life, attended the Opera and the gallery. As a teacher by profession and someone from Hungary, a country whose residents so many times felt themselves inferior to their Western peers, he was certainly glad to see a group of secondary-school pupils, wearing their uniform and Romanian national colors. He was probably curios and certainly eager to begin a conversation with the youngsters coming from an even more easterly country, who were introduced to the Western culture.
However, he was almost immediately shocked. As he described the event in a letter published by the Hungarian newspaper Brassói Lapok from Braşov when he asked them after their place of origin he was expecting to receive an answer pointing to a city like Bucharest, or Iaşi, not to Kronstadt (!). As soon as he learned that the young gentlemen were coming from a city of the Hungarian Kingdom he became furious above all expectations. He demanded from them to use the city’s Hungarian name, to speak to him in Hungarian and to abandon the Romanian national colors, as they were Hungarian citizens. Moreover, his anger had not relapsed until he found in the gallery a fellow Hungarian from Cluj, whit whom he acquainted two days earlier in the Opera, told him what happened and discussed the affair thoroughly with the equally horrified man.
In his letter, addressed to the Hungarian newspaper he expressed his astonishment over the possibility that the pupils could have wear Romanian national colors on their clothes, that they were not tought that such city as Kronstadt do not exist, that even though being „Hungarian subjects with Romanian mother tongue“ they dared to speak Romanian abroad. All in all he called them traitors of the homeland. A widespread debate ensued, newspapers from Cluj, Budapest etc. commenting the affair, demanding action from the government, Gazeta Transilvaniei defending the pupils and the orthodox commercial secondary school in the city, claiming that the whole issue is a new proof of Hungarian intolerance, Kronstädter Zeitung taking sides with the Romanians.
The debate was closed by another letter from Germany, this time written by Aladár Koós, an assistant shopkeeper, that time living in Hamburg for ten years. In his letter he described his own adventures with the respective group. (According to his story he learned about the affair from the Hungarian newspapers and deliberately prepared himself to receive the pupils from Braşov and guide them through the Hansastadt in order to collect personal experiences.) He escorted them for three days, found them very polite, respectful. As he was not capable to communicate in Romanian they spoke with him in Hungarian and never used the dreadful word: Kronstadt. He concluded that it would have been better for the instructor of the Count’s family not to create hysteria claiming that if some pupils worn out caps were not lined with Hungarian national colors than Hungary is lost and not to be surprised when someone in Germany answers a question in German similarly in German.
The story in itself is again not significant, but gives some insight into the mood of the era and the problems of nationalizing space and defining national belonging and into the expectations regarding prsonal behavior attached to certain definitions. Who was Romanian and Hungarian from Kovács’ perspective and what did it mean for him? The concepts were rather confused and fluid, far from having strong contours. Wearing Romanian national colors meant for him being Romanian but only in the sense being citizen of the Kingdom of Romania, the territory of which covered only the Old Kingdom that time. Living as a Hungarian citizen, even if someone’s mother tongue was Romanian implied for him accepting the role of Hungarian patriot. But his concept of patriotism consisted strange elements, like speaking Hungarian abroad, wearing Hungarian national colors, using Hungarian geographical names. To sum up: identification with a Hungarian national idea, a much broader concept than citizenship and civic patriotism. (However, the demand to use Hungarian geographical names had its perverse basis in the latter concept, as those name were stabilized by law and adhering a law is a core element of civic patriotism. But its perversity is better shown by another case, when someone from Kosice/Kassa, in 1917 wrote a letter to István Apáthy, a professor at the university in Cluj asking him to intervene by the government because the German Army’s General Staff published its maps depicting the situations of the different theaters of war using exclusively the German geographical names.)
As the debate proved Kovács’ approach was very widespread and the public was flooded with nationalistic demands for retributions. But even this uproar can not veil the problems and inherent contradictions of such definitions. (Not to speak of the very clever point made by Aladár Koós: Kovács certainly asked the pupils in German because he also was not familiar with Romanian and the answer was correct, with the use of the German name of the city.) Nationality and citizenship was far from identical, and citizenship was distorted by attributes borrowed from the national idea. However, it could have trumped the nationality in certain cases. For Kovács it would have been legitimate from pupils coming from Romania to use Romanian or even German geographical names, even if they wouldn’t have been of Romanian nationality. (Maybe another case can be even more enlightening. Alexandru Citron was a jew – his religion was mosaic -, Hungarian citizen, working in the CFR atelier in Paşcani in the ’20s. When the Siguranţa became suspicious of him as a potential Hungarian spy they step up a data sheet collecting and specifying his personal data. They recorded that he is a jew by religion, and that his nationality is Hungarian and he is a Hungarian subject. However, according to the practice of courts in the same period in case of Romanian citizens nationality meant simply national belonging and Jews were considered as a separate nationality. If Citron would have been Romanian subject he would have been registered as Jew by nationality, but his citizenship trumped nationality.)*
Once again there are no far reaching conclusions. But maybe it is clearer that nationality can not be defined officially. Such definitions will inevitably fall short in some cases and incorporating others who are not ready to accept it.
* Citron’s case reveals another interesting aspect, the ambiguity of borders. The data sheet was filled in 1924 at the first time and it registered the point where he arrived to the country, to Romania. Citron traveled in November 1919 and the police recorded as the border crossing point Oradea Mare – Predeal. Even though Romania officially claimed that the territories from Hungary fell over its sovereignty by the force of popular will immediately after 1 December 1918 the police accepted the ambiguous statement that maybe Citron arrived to Romania only after crossing the border between the Old Kingdom and Transylvania.