Securitization and Discourses on the Rights of Minorities and Majorities in East Central Europe in the 19th and 20th Century

Subproject A06 in DFG Collaborative Research Center/Transregio 138 "Dynamics of Security"

Project Manager: Prof. Dr. Peter Haslinger, PD Dr. Heidi Hein-Kircher
Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Project-Website: Sonderforschungsbereich/Transregio 138 “Dynamiken der Sicherheit. Formen der Versicherheitlichung in historischer Perspektive”
Duration: 2014 – 2017 (first funding period), 2018 – 2021 (second funding period)

Logo Dynamics of Security

After the rise of competing national movements in the mid-19th century, the multinational border regions between the empires of Eastern Europe became increasingly perceived as places of instability. Depending on the differing perspectives of key players (government authorities, political activists and expert groups), these regions came to be conceptualized and imagined as places torn apart by conflict, suffering from insufficient administration and endangered by irredentism. In the context of the world wars and their aftermath, and as the principles for constructing nations were reconceptualized, the in-between spaces were ultimately seen to be a security risk. Furthermore, during the first half of the 20th century, these (inter)national peripheries were once again subject to border shifts and thereby also to changed parameters in terms of governmental structures. In the process of integrating such territories into the various separate nation-states, governmental players had to take into account the perceived loyalties of local populations in their emerging concepts of national security.

Based on the results of the first funding phase, this project addresses the concepts of national and societal security as well as the way in which questions relating to nationalities and languages were dramatized within jurisdiction and regional administration. The aim is to expand the range of theories currently available to us in critical security studies by taking into consideration the factor of competing interpretations and hermeneutics relating to specific groups. The analysis will center around Hungary during the periods of Neo-absolutism (1849-1859), the so-called “constitution experiments” (1860-1867) and Austro-Hungarian Dualism (1867-1918).

Contested Self-governance: Dilemmas of Security in Western Hungary (1867-1918)

Researcher: Tamás Székely M.A.

In Hungary, the regional authorities (counties) traditionally served as a refuge for Hungarian corporative positions against the Habsburg kings and therefore also constituted an important arena of political opinion making. However, with the Austro-Hungarian Compromise (1867) and modernization of the state structure, the counties went onto the defensive once again due to the centralization and unification policies of their own Hungarian government in Budapest. After 1870, the counties lost an increasing number of legal and administrative responsibilities to the central government, though the county assemblies did retain their function as forums of communication and debate for the politically dominant high and “middle” nobility.

The aim of this research project is to investigate the attitude and conduct of the security elites (local administration, representatives of the state executive, the local aristocracy, representatives of minorities) with respect to the issue of languages and nationalities and also to analyze the ambivalence around matters of security concerning Hungarian nation-state-building. The project combines methods of historical discourse analysis with approaches taken from nationalism studies, local and regional history and will focus, in particular, on two key questions: namely, which security concepts prevailed during the Dualist era in the multi-ethnical counties of Western Hungary (Vas, Sopron and Moson), and which security heuristics did the various competing elites develop.

Furthermore, the study also investigates relevant city council debates relating to language use, patriotism and the political representation of particular social groups with specific reference to the region’s so-called free royal cities: Sopron, Kőszeg, Kismarton and Ruszt. Until now, only limited research has been done – particularly looking at the regional level – on whether, and in what way, local media broached the question of nationalities and whether an independent dramatization of security issues took place.


Securing a nation - Nationality Question and Language Policy in Southern Hungary 1860-1890

Researcher: Szilveszter Csernus-Lukács M.A.

After entering the era of nationalism, the Kingdom of Hungary was home to multiple communities, building their nations in different places. The main security conflicts of the nationality question could both be coped on a national (state) and a regional level. The most plausible target to examine this national policy of the latter is the municipalities and communes of Southern Hungary, as this was the most diversified area of the Kingdom of Hungary (and of Europe) and this heterogeneity premised security-related political conflicts closing to the age of nationalism. The examination of the former required research on what spheres did the non-Hungarian elite want to secure in matters of language usage, recognition as a nation, national assemblies and symbols etc. and which of these were perceived as a threat to the Hungarian elite’s conception of the integrity of the state. The 1865-1868 legislatures regulated these matters, which provide an assessment on why the compromise attempt failed. On the local level the language usage of the administration and the individuals was the theme where security the security interests collided.

At the end of the 1860s decade, after several attempts, the state level happened to provide some assurances for the Orthodox (Romanian and Serb) cultural identity’s survival, although still not as much as the respective ethnic groups/nationalities deemed necessary for a long-term security. Therefore, the Hungarian state policy was constantly viewed as a threat with fluctuant intensity by the non-Hungarian elites.  We find an overlapping of a vast majority of the interests. Which could be simplified as: one party’s security was seen as a threat to the another party. This stalemate was kept through the era of the Austria-Hungarian Monarchy, however with some differences in the execution of the Nationality Act and different policies on the local (municipal and communal) levels. On the level of the municipalities, the main question is if practical changes were made in the local authorities’ language usages and policies towards the Serb, Bunjevci, German and other nationalities/national minorities.

First funding period

Since the rise of rivalling national movements in the mid of the 19th century, the multi-national border regions of the empires in Eastern Europe had been increasingly perceived as potential sources of unrest and conflict. Depending on the point of view (government agency, political activists, groups of experts), these regions were interpreted in a range of different ways: as places torn apart by conflict, poorly administrated or endangered by irredentism, or even as places that posed a potential security risk during the two World Wars.

Several approaches were taken to solve the problem of potential conflict in these areas. In addition to the approaches which aimed at control and security through the use of the police or military there was an increasing number of attempts to solve the conflicts by means of legal processes or negotiated agreements. The aim of this sub-project is to show how such discourses on legal approaches to conflict resolution corresponded with established approaches and procedures on a local scale, which were based on legal concepts as well as the actual law. In this regard, the legal realization of security concepts is interpreted as a communicative process, which takes place on different levels (national, regional, local) and includes specific groups of participants. Therefore, the focus is on interrelated perspectives on the security concepts of the state, of minorities and
majorities, political parties and the media. Another research topic will be an investigation of the circumstances around external legal concepts
(therefore, approaches by national organizations and parties, political and social movements in neighboring countries or international organizations) and the way in which they were implemented or rejected.

The sub-project of the first funding period consists of separate projects, which focus on the eastern territories of the Second Polish Republic and on Czechoslovakian Carpathian Ruthenia during the inter-war period. The first study analyzes the intertwining of the discourses on securitization between governmental and regional policy, scientific theory and the media. The second study focuses on the actual implementation of these concepts and their repercussions in the affected territories, based on case studies on the regions of Pińsk (today located in Belorussia), Stanisławów (today located in Western Ukraine, Ivano-Frankivs’k) and Užhorod (today located in Western Ukraine, Carpathian Ruthenia).

Projects of the first funding period

Foreign Periphery – Periphery of Unease? The Czechoslovakian
Carpathian Ruthenia from the perspectives of key players in central
government (1918-38/39)

Researcher: Sebastian Paul M.A.

The subproject A06 “Securitization and Discourses on the Rights of Minority and Majority Groups in East Central Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries” comes under the overarching project SFB-TRR 138 “Dynamics of Security”. An initial aim of the subproject is to investigate the degree to which key players and groups, both governmental and independent, acting in particular on a national level during the Second Polish Republic and in Czechoslovakia during the interwar period, dealt discursively with the state’s various eastern peripheries from the viewpoint of concepts of security, and how these discourses are interwoven.

Within the regions under investigation, specific focus is on territories that were assimilated by either the Polish or Czechoslovakian state after the First World War in the course of military conflicts and where the political situation, both internally and in terms of foreign policy, was seen to be precarious. These border zones were described by those at the geographical and political center as backward and lagging behind and they were also considered to be potential breeding grounds for conflict, where it was assumed that a significant section of the population was disloyal (in particular the Ukrainians in Eastern Poland and the Hungarians in the Carpathian Ukraine). These regions were also the subject of irredentist and revisionist undercurrents that posed an existential security problem for the entire state. From the perspective of key players in central government, these problems were countered using various strategies, whereby the approach of the Polish state authorities was more rigid than that of the central government in Prague, whose policy centered instead around concepts of compensation and inclusion.

The intended aim of this subproject is to demonstrate and analyze how these problematic issues of national security were perceived from the perspective of central government, how they were discussed, and how they were addressed through political action. To these ends, we have drawn on the knowledge of the security elite (historians, lawyers, ethnologists etc.), whose influence on government policy in Prague and Warsaw should be taken into equal consideration alongside the impact and repercussions of media discourse, whereby a basic assumption is that media debate and debates among specialists were interwoven, and that there was an overlap of key players and key groups. From the perspective of security, these processes should be analyzed as an overarching discursive process free from preconceived conclusions and applying the methodological approach relating to securitization that has been used in the SFB “Dynamics of Security”.

Cover Studien 53_Ramisch-Paul
Sebastian Ramisch-Paul: Fremde Peripherie - Peripherie der Unsicherheit? Sicherheitsdiskurse über die tschechoslowakische Provinz Podkarpatská Rus (1918-1938), Studien zur Ostmitteleuropaforschung 53, Marburg 2021.

Local Securitization – between Discourse and Practice. The Rights of
Minorities and Majorities: Stanisławów, Pińsk und Užhorod, 1919-1938

Researcher: Felix Heinert M.A.

This subproject investigates securitization discourses with a specific focus on how they were applied in practice and their impact and repercussions in local contexts. The regional study is based on mid-sized towns in the eastern border regions of the Second Polish Republic and the Carpathian Ukraine that came to function as regional centers via their (various) administrative roles, and thereby also operated as centers of (sub)regional jurisdiction, policy making and, in some cases, administration. During the period under investigation, these towns formed part of the eastern periphery of Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The general aim of the subproject is to analyze the interconnectedness between discourses on the legal status of “minorities” as well as practices around securitization and “de-securitization”. The legal implementation of concepts of security is understood within the project framework to be a communicative and overarching process operating at various levels (national, regional, local) and also encompassing specific influential groups. Against this background, the aim is to examine various concepts of security and threat associated with local group constellations as well as corresponding juridification discourses and practices. The subproject will also explore how different constellations of passed down practices relating to the reconciliation of interests were to manifest in local contexts and in which ways and under which circumstances legal concepts from “outside” were received locally. In this respect, a particular area of interest within the project are key local figures and local representatives of the state. It was here, and not at the “abstract” level of central government, that, according to the working hypothesis, the various successes and failures of state securitization practices and civilizing missions were determined.

Especially in Poland – and here, in turn, in East Galicia and towards Jews in the 1930s – the state engaged in the drafting of repressive legislation from time to time, in some cases using considerable violence in its implementation. This scenario, known to us through existing literature from research and memoirs, should be re-examined and, where necessary, re-evaluated using bottom-up processes. According to one working hypothesis, it is at the local level, beyond the reach of the great conflicts and arenas of discourse, that we can expect to find differentiated findings and modes of negotiation.

Using case studies, the project will look at, among other examples, the local food market as a place of intensive physical and discursive interaction and communication, thereby bringing into focus the relevant negotiations and conflicts as well as discourses and practices around legalization and securitization. As a result, the project will allow us to analyze and negotiate a wide range of questions from tax collection to hygiene, and from denominational and secular differences (Sunday rest, regulations for Jews, rules around Jewish kosher slaughter, etc.) to violence.