CST Transylvania
Pleading for a multicultural society

A working paper for a conference on "Romanian-Hungarian relations in the year 2020" in Cluj-Napoca on 16 October 1998



1. Introduction
of the project

2. The different
ethnic groups in
3. Conclusion and
further reference
The conference homepage
in Cluj-Napoca
(external link)


1. Introduction of the project
    Who we are, what we did and what we examined 

The following paper is based on the Case Study Trip organised by the East-West Working-Group of AEGEE and local antennae in Romania in summer 1998 (19th July until 2nd August). 16 students from nine different European countries (Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Romania) travelled together in Transylvania and Maramures region. 

The focus of the two-week study trip was the approach to the region, the social and economic transformation after the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime, and especially the different people and ethnicities: The students examined the unique mixture of nationalities in Transylvania (Romanian, Hungarian, German, Gypsy, and Jewish). Due to the short time given, our Case Study Trip could not discover the whole situation of the society in Transylvania, but at least some, very different personal opinions of inhabitants. 

The group spoke with representatives of different ethnicities, such as some Romanian politicians, a Hungarian major, the German Bishop, the King of the Gypsies, the German Democratic Forum and the Jewish and Greek community in Brasov (Brassó/Kronstadt) and many people of the street. 

The group visited Cluj-Napoca (Kolosvár/Klausenburg), Savadisla (Tordaszentlászló), Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár/Weißenburg), Sibiu (Nagyszeben/ Hermannstadt), Biertan (Berethalom/Birthälm), Sighisoara (Segesvár/Schäßburg), the Szekler's land (Székelyföld), Brasov (Brassó/Kronstadt), Sighetu Marmatiei (Máramarosszíget), and Baia Mare (Nagybánya/Frauenbach).

Aim of the trip was, of course, to get an understanding for problems what it means if people from different ethnic groups live together. But even more it was our concern, as the title of the Case Study Trip already defines 'Transylvania - an example for a multicultural society?', what we, people from other countries might learn from the region within the Carpathian basin, to apply it to a broader European context.

2. The different ethnic groups in Transylvania ("state-of-the-art")

Transylvania has seen many different nationalities ruling in the last centuries - Hungarians, Turks, or Austrians. Minorities were not always been well treated, such as during the last decades under Ceausescu. In the latter one minority rights were well elaborated and written down but not very much respected. Romanians were aimed to settle in Transylvania to change the population structure.

Of course, now, many things have changed. Romanian Hungarians, for instance, have the opportunity to learn and study in Hungarian language, from primary school to university level. Though they even do not need to use almost any Romanian. In the Szekler's land, a region in Eastern Transylvania, which is mainly settled by ethnic Hungarians, we examined that people did not use (because the could not or did not want?) any Romanian. This is a questionable success of minority policies.

The more people speak as well another language, that one of their neighbors, the better is the mutual understanding. Especially in ethnically mixed areas it seemed to us this happened more often in rural but in town environments.

In terms of language and culture Transylvanian Saxons, as the Germans in Romania are called, are the other large community which preserved well their traditions, through the centuries. Especially during the last ten years most of them achieved to return to Germany, though it is very probable that this minority will disappear in Transylvania within the next few years. This might be one cause, as the German Bishop emphasised, why the two cultures (the Romanian and the German) are merging more and more together and reciprocally enriching each other. 

Romania passes through massive transition processes. Economical problems might create a vicious circle of prejudice and tension against minorities, seen in many countries. The Romanian population has an important task not to blame other groups for problems - vice versa. The country has potential for economical prosperity. This can only be done if the whole population works together. 

The Case Study Trip group examined a rich cultural life in Transylvania based on conserving the own tradition - Romanian, Hungarian, and German, just to mention the large ones. Folk music, costumes, and church service play still an important role especially in the rural societies. On one hand side we can emphasise that different ethnic groups living together in Romania are an enrichment for the whole community. On the other hand side we have noticed that they do not really live together in inter-ethnical terms. The social integration of the different groups might need improvement because the mixture among the ethnic communities is sometimes only on very small level. Nevertheless, their co-existence functions better than it is sometimes represented in the media.

3. Conclusion and further reference

Transylvania has always been a cultural region. As elsewhere in (South-) Eastern Europe different ethnicities lived on the same lands for decades. From town to town, from village to village, often even within the village people with various ethnic backgrounds lived together. 

For us it was surprising to see how much importance people attach to history. It seems that it matters so much who came first to settle the land. Nowadays Transylvania belongs to Romania, just 80 years ago it belonged to Austro-Hungary. Romanians can proof by historical evidences that Transylvania is originally Romanian, since they settled it first. Interestingly Hungarians have historical evidences that they were first. But does it really matter if Transylvania was in the past more Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish, or maybe German? Historic developments, even if nowadays they turn out having been unjust, cannot be reversed without being unjust to those living there today. History is past, while we live today.

Fact is that Transylvania belongs to Romania today, but it is not only Romanian. That's why Transylvania belongs to all the people living there, no m atter what ethnic background they have. 

A living together of people from different ethnic groups is never easy, but it is always an enrichment for all sides. Learning from someone else's culture, learning someone else's language, learning to understand someone else, prevents prejudices and broadens the mind. Transylvania has the best presumptions, despite 40 years of surpressing, Transylvania has preserved much of its richness. Despite economic tension, the land surrounded by the Carpathian mountains has a big wealth: its landscapes, its history and its people.

Of course, it is difficult to form one society out of different ethnicities but not a disadvantage - a challenge.

The concept of a state territory for one nation has been very important for the Western countries in the past centuries. The same people formed a nation statehood. This concept has been exported to Central and Eastern Europe as well. At present especially the Western countries are getting closer together. The EU represents a community of different states where its population started to join the same juridical and monetary background. Borders within the Schengen-Treaty are diminishing and open for free travel and movement. The population is getting more and more multicultural.

But growing together does not mean to loose the own identity. He or she will remain the same. A Bavarian will remain German as he might consider himself as European at the same time. What will change is the fact that we all will learn to develop a higher degree of understanding for our counterparts to be able to live together. 

World-wide the phenomenon of globalisation shows that borders do not have the same meaning they had in the past. The co-operation on regional level is getting more and more important, such as the Lake Constance or the SaarLorLux region. 

The concept of nation state is getting obsolete. We need to find other definitions for people living together. Transylvania has a good starting point for this challenge and might be a future reference.


Ralph Böhlke & Brigitte Krech

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last update: 11 JUL 2002 by Ralph