Discussing European identity in Transylvania

From Dr. Olga Gontarska, German Historical Institute Warsaw

From 17 to 19 May, the Faculty of History and Philosophy of the Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj–Napoca (Romania) hosted the international conference “Cultural Pluralism and Identity in European Politics after 1945”. The event was organised by the university and the Institute of European Network Remembrance and Solidarity in partnership with the German Federal Institute for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe and the Hungarian Committee of National Remembrance.

Participants of the international conference “Cultural Pluralism and Identity in European Politics after 1945”
© Cristian Bota / ENRS

Participants and guests discussed European identity and regional entanglements in Aula Ferdinand, an auditorium decorated with portraits of King Ferdinand I of Romania, his wife Maria, and prominent scholars who have worked at the university. Reflections on the concept of European identity, especially from a Central European perspective, were facilitated by the transnational atmosphere of the city of Cluj-Napoca.

The discussions featuring participants revolved around the processes of democratisation, Europeanization, and the very concept of Europeanness. The latter, in particular, is a challenge for researchers because, as Annemarie Franke from the Federal Institute for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe pointed out, we all, in fact, have doubts about what it refers to and constantly ascribe a new meaning to the term. The presentations referred to various aspects, including ethnicity, culture, language, the general question of belonging, security and sovereignty in domestic, transnational, and supranational policies. The opening lecture “History as a casus belli: the historical roots of the Russian war against Ukraine” by Georgiy Kasianov (Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Poland) provoked the question of how the current war in Ukraine will affect the European identity.

The participants tackled the problem of the communist past of new EU-member states and the role of memory in this process. Commenting on presidential elections in the first post-communist decade in Romania, Marius Muresan (Babeș-Bolyai University) referred to the aforementioned communist experience as an inseparable element of regional identity. Interested in how politicians refer to the past, he identified specific notions in the local Eurosceptic discourse, including the imagined threat of the economy being colonised by western powers, the Leviathan of globalisation, and the decisions on the division of Europe after World War II. Hungarian researchers, Balázs Ablonczy and Balázs Balogh, both from Eötvös Loránd Research Network, addressed the problem of national cultures and identities with Transylvania as a case study. Balázs Balogh took as a topic shifting identity of the “men of the frontier”, and the problem of external determining cultural belonging and conceptualising regional identity with the complex question of coexistence and transnational links in the community. Very stimulating was a question on the common recognition of the shared European heritage, while the history curricula have been shaped according to the national perspective. It was noted by Melinda Harlov-Csortán (Apor Vilmos Catholic College) in her presentation on heritigization – the official process of constituting elements of material and non-material culture as a legacy- as a tool for constructing a narrative on the past and its ideologisation. In turn, Nikola Bakovic, in his talk on Yugoslavian ritualised trans-local networking, raised a provocative question regarding the failure of this experience as a lesson for the ritual framing process of EU identity. The linguistic aspect as a contentious issue was discussed by Liudmyla Pidkuimukha (Justus Liebig University Giessen) who referred to the Ukrainian case and also briefly addressed an aspect of minority rights and state responsibility for protecting on equal terms.

Olga Gontarska during her presentation
© Cristian Bota / ENRS

As the cultural identity is defined through various legal acts but is also a question of self-definitions responding to institutional policies, an important issue for the participants was to mark elements of cohesion and roots of dissent regarding that concept of the European identity. Thus the (De)constructing Europe project fell within the general thematic scope of the conference. The case of using historical references in the Polish discourse by actors contesting common European identity, presented by Olga Gontarska, served to highlight the general assumption of the (De)constructing Europe project, which includes the historicisation of the phenomenon of Euroscepticism as well as placing local Eurosceptic positions into a wider pan-European context.


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