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

Project Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Project Website: DFG Collaborative Research Centre "SFB/TRR 138: Dynamics of Security. Types of Securitization from a Historical Perspective"

Duration: 2014-2017 (first funding period), since 2018 (second funding period)

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).

One branch of the project will focus on the topic of “Regional Self-government and Dynamics in the Politicization of Perceptions of Law in Western Hungary (1867-1918)”.

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

Ethnographical Map of Austia-Hungary, [ca. 1910]
Ethnographical Map of Austria-Hungary, [ca. 1910], Map Collection Herder Institute, call number: K 20 III B 1

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.


Editor: Szilveszter Csernus-Lukács M.A.

After entering the era of nationalism, the Kingdom of Hungary was home to multiple nations, on different levels of their nation-building. The core policy of the Hungarian politics and public life was facing the dilemma of the development of a nation-state and the management of the growing nationalist movements of the region. The nationality question – in practice the the recognition of nations and the heterogenity of language usage – played the most important role after the relation with Austria in both mainstream and everyday policy throughout the period of the Austria-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). The moral of the civil war of 1848-1849 showed the significance of the nationality question, which the Hungarian policy tried to regulate after regaining its independence in internal affairs, after the Neo-absolutist era.

The struggle for finding a solution to the question formulated in two main fields. After several drafts, the parliament concluded the 1868: XLIV. Act on the Equality of Nationalities, which set the conditions of the state policy towards the national minorities for fifty years, the whole dualistic era. The most plausible region to examine this national policy is Southern Hungary, which was the most heterogenous area of the XIX. century Hungary, as it is nowadays. The changes aimed to be made by the seemed-to-be epoch-making Law on the Equality of Nationalities are still undiscovered areas of the historiography, beause no empirical researches have been made regarding to the issue.
This research focuses on the level of the municipalities, where the security issues took place on a local level. The main question is whether practical changes were made in the administrational system, its policy’s according to the 1868: XLIV. Act on the levels of the municipalities. The examination of the local authorities’ language usages and policies towards the nationalities/national minorities could give us an overview on the attitude of the security elite and provide a sight of an interval of the Hungarian (nation) state-building which could have been one of the reasons leading to the loss of the areas inhabited by the national minorities (1918-1920).

The project combines methods of theoretical and empirical historical analysis. The securitization policies could be coped through the parliemental drafts leading to the 1868: XLIV. Act, where the different groups of the society and the securitizing elite, namely the conservatives, the liberals and the national minorities showed their attitute owards the envisaged national policy. The other focus of the study, the local levels of the politics in the outlined region is where the politicial elite implemented the technique of the policies towards the different national groups of the society. Until now research has been done with reference to the Bács-Bodrog county municipality, the free cities of Zombor (Sombor) and Újvidék (Novi Sad) and the non-municipal borough of Apatin. I will broaden my examination on the administrations of the free city of Szabadka (Subotica) and the boroughs of Óbecse (Becej), and Zenta (Senta).

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 phase 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).