Multiculturalism in Szeklerland: does it work?


by Erika Cunnold-Benkő

A lot has been said lately about multiculturalism and its assumed death, after Chancellor Merkel had a go at it recently. Merkel voiced the frustration of many Germans who fear Islamisation of Germany and this frustration was finally accepted at the highest levels. But what is in fact multiculturalism and why do we care so much about it? Is it a good thing that a certain socio-political paradigm with heavy cultural implications is over? And if it is indeed over, what is yet to come? And more importantly, are we ready for its presumed substitution?

Foto: Alan Grant.

This particular author finds multiculturalism a positive added value to any society. Cultural and linguistic diversity are values that fundamentally shaped my thinking and personality. To find bridges between languages and cultures enhances one’s capacity of understanding others and it also gives a much better insight into how others perceive the very same problem. In fact it helps deconstructing the very frightening concept of the “other”, through knowledge. In my case, I am happy to say, the sugary coated version of multiculturalism worked. But the very same question remains open for the overwhelming majority of Szekler society. What does multiculturalism mean for them and if there is such a thing at Szeklerland does it work at all?

Since Transylvania has been culturally layered for centuries, the existence of cultural parallels is something we accept as rather normal. What Transylvania is today has been shaped by successions of interchanging cultures, where every ethnicity had its own contribution. In the case of Szeklerland we often have the impression that our region was rather isolated due its special military status. But on a closer look I grew to the conclusion that this perception might be fundamentally wrong. In fact, the historical Saxonland is too close to Szeklerland just as well as historical Moldova was. Szekler girls were maids in affluent Saxon houses and Romanian shepherds could be found in almost every Szekler village.

Foto: Alan Grant.

 

And this is what multiculturality is about. An environment where we are faced with the fact of the presence of a person or persons of other cultural background, and as a result of interaction among groups, group members start importing customs, habits and ideas.

Given the multitude of ethnic violence all over the world, I think us, Transylvanians we did a good job by surviving next to each other as well as influencing each other culturally.

Foto: Alan Grant.

 

That said, it must be mentioned though, that there is a fundamental difference between multiculturality in Transylvania and the one that Chancellor Merkel was talking about. Transylvanian communities, among them the Szeklers survived because they were always embedded into their respective environment as a community. From that particular tradition springs the desire for the autonomy of Szeklerland. It is the community’s desire to be integrated into Romanian society not as individuals but more so on a community level.

Many political scientists foreseen the end of an era where individualism as a defining concept will end prevailing. Some raised the valid question of the lack of collective frameworks that should allow the members of minorities to practice some very basic rights, that are rather self understanding for the majority. Among them extremely simple things, like reading a leaflet attached to a prescription pill or seeking justice in a court. Genuine multiculturality allows that. Or should allow that.

Interestingly, the ubiquitous view of individual integration as the only politically correct option was challenged by non-European communities. Non-European communities that started gaining space and rooted into European soil with very strong community traditions. In my view, we are not witnessing the end of multiculturalism, but we are witnessing the emergence of collectivism to the detriment of individualism. And for that I really don’t think liberal Europe is ready for. In that sense I believe liberal Europe is in deep denial, that shall lead to further acknowledgements in this regard. And that means a very bitter pill to swallow for the liberal elite that dreamed of a Europe that was many built on northern type cultural individualism.

But let’s return to Szeklerland, our focus. Again, at a closer look, we might find that century long co-habitation made Romanian and Szekler communities very similar to each other. I could almost say that there are no major cultural differences in between us aside Religion and Language. These two defining factors represent the demarcation lines among our communities, and these lines can be easily crossed. Based on that I would assume that multiculturalism does work here, at least untill we consider that the Szekler community has a sustainable future in Romania.

Foto: Alan Grant.

However, we only have a sustainable future in Romania if the state understands that we are its citizens just as much the majority is. If it allows and supports our community to flourish, as a perhaps somewhat “exotic” element of an otherwise very interesting country. If it regards us as an added value to itself and instead of suppressing our culture, helps preserving it and promoting it. Because without this particular generosity and benevolence, multiculturality at Szeklerland will be indeed…dead.

Foto: Alan Grant.

 

The author is a Political Scientist, living at Sf. Gheorghe/Sepsiszentgyörgy. This text represents solely the author’s opinion, not that of the institutions which she collaborates with.

All photos by Alan Grant, balkanology.com.

Comentariile in romana sunt binevenite. If you don’t know Romanian, you’re more than welcomed to comment in English.

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11 gânduri despre “Multiculturalism in Szeklerland: does it work?

  1. Erika :

    „In my view, we are not witnessing the end of multiculturalism, but we are witnessing the emergence of collectivism to the detriment of individualism. And for that I really don’t think liberal Europe is ready for. In that sense I believe liberal Europe is in deep denial, that shall lead to further acknowledgements in this regard. And that means a very bitter pill to swallow for the liberal elite that dreamed of a Europe that was many built on northern type cultural individualism.”

    Well said. I subscribe to this view.

    It should be noted that this is not a new problem in Europe’s history.
    The original nationalism of the West-Europe , the nationalism of the French Revolution, was understood as civic-nationalism (Lockean). However, when this political concept reached the lands of Central&Est Europe it underwent a mutation (degeneration) form civic into ethnic-nationalism” (Herderian) and each ethnic tribe launched itself frantically into the project of building its (ethnically pure) nation-state..with WW1 and WW2 as direct consequences.

  2. part II-

    In my view, it is not „multiculturalism” which has failed, it is the civic nationalism which has failed to become the dominanat political ideology, it has failed to become the tie which binds the body-politic. The feudal state (with its loyalty to the king, religion, and estate) did not transform into a civic-state but instead it became an ethnic, and collectivist, state.
    The ideology of ethnic („blood”) ties is still today the main force which drives the politics of the state-nations form Est-Europe and it has as a consequence the tendency to suppress and eliminate the minority cultures (because they are threats to the integrity of body-politics).

    Only in a civic-state multiculturalism is possible. It is not politically charged ( just as it was during the medieval times) thus it does not create conflict/tensions along the cultural divisions.

    • „Only in a civic-state multiculturalism is possible. It is not politically charged ( just as it was during the medieval times) thus it does not create conflict/tensions along the cultural divisions.”

      lipsa tensiunilor este un ideal. Nici in SUA, statul civic prin excelenta, nu lipsesc tensiunile din diferentele culturale. Oricum, tensiunile astea variaza de la tara la tara, in functie de realitatile sociale, politce dar si de temperamentul oamenilor. De asta mi se par mie trase de par comparatiile Kosovo-Secuime: albanezii si sarbii au un anume temperament, romanii si ungurii, altul, mai asezat, zic eu.

  3. I might be wrong but my reading of the Merkel statement in question is this:

    Multiculturalism [as a concrete German policy of the past 20-30 years with regards to integration of immigrants into German society] is dead, long live Multiculturalism [an abstract ideal that is worth striving for].

    Obviously she would not speak against multiculturalism as an ideal, as she said just a few days earlier (or later?) that she found the multiculturalism at UBB Cluj exemplary.

    Did she make the statement ambigous on purpose, so that people from the whole political spectrum can find something to chew on, while she maintains plausible deniability – probably. Politician manipulates public discourse – news at 9 🙂

    • I think you are wrong. Merkel was clear : the German language and the German ‘kultur’ is the language and the culture of the country, anything else has no place.

      „Attempts to build a post-war multicultural society has failed. The so-called ‘multikulti’ concept – ‘that we are now living side by side and are happy about it’ – does not work. This approach has failed, utterly. We feel bound to the Christian image of humanity – that is what defines us. Those who do not accept this are in the wrong place here.”…..”Those who did come must adapt, and learn German as quickly as possible ” (read „assimilate”)

      Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1321277/Angela-Merkel-Multiculturalism-Germany-utterly-failed.html#ixzz13YJRpW3s

      @she found the multiculturalism at UBB Cluj exemplary.

      She found it so wonderful precisely because it isn’t any real multiculturalism in UBB-Cluj but what is is a masquerade of it engineered by the Romanian majority. But that’s exactly her own position in such „multi-kulti” matters thus of course she thought it was exemplary.
      László Tőkés , out of touch with reality as usually, merely got it backwards : Merkel was so pleased by the UBB-univ NOT because she didn’t know enough about it but because she knew all too well that UBB was no real multiculturalism.

      UBB is to multiculturalism what rape is to love-making because the hungarians do NOT want such an university but they want one of their own. For multi-culturalism to exist there must be first two distinct cultures and then these two -(which were allowed to function also alone if so desired by each)- nevertheless interact and function. That is, if there were frist two separate and autonmous universities and yet they would find it useful, in their mutual interest, to cooperate, to join resources and do research&publish joint papers then that would be indeed multiculturalism.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1321277/Angela-Merkel-Multiculturalism-Germany-utterly-failed.html#ixzz13YI2LZNK

  4. „In my view, we are not witnessing the end of multiculturalism, but we are witnessing the emergence of collectivism to the detriment of individualism.”

    This is an insightful remark about the sources of anti-multiculturalism dissent in Europe. The mutual enjoyment of cultural pluralism may really be exclusively a modern phenomenon, deeply entranced in our individualistic mentality. As Ovidiu pointed out, ethnic nationalism is most inhospitable to multiculturalism – taking into account both the practice and the ideal. However, in recent years, otherwise well established civic national states have become more and more tribal and collectivist in nature. I blame the populist politics and all the forces that conspire against education, against culture, against reason… y compris Nicolas Sarkozy.

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  6. Megérne egy misét eltöprengeni azon, hogy a ‘multikulturalizmus’ mellett nem volna-e célszerű a ‘plurikulturalizmus’ terminusát is bevezetni/használni.

    Imi da de gandit a posibila depasire a termenulul ‘multiculturalism’. ‘Pluriculturalism’ cum suna? 🙂

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