Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

"We Have Wines of All Kinds: Red, White, and Green": Romanian Reactions to the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 *

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

"We Have Wines of All Kinds: Red, White, and Green": Romanian Reactions to the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 *

Article excerpt

According to a prank advertisement in Hungarian allegedly found on a bulletin board at Babe-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca (Koloszvar), the ancient capital of Transylvania, a certain Mrs. "Farkas" ("wolf" in Hungarian) requested a tutor for her twins. The contact address she provided was that of the Capitoline Wolf Statue (Statuia Lupoaicei) on Eroilor Boulevard, depicting a she-wolf suckling two human baby boys, Romulus and Remus. Italy had presented the statue to the city of Cluj in 1921 to symbolize the Latin heritage of all ethnic Romanians. The ersatz advertisement not only mocks the intelligence and independence of the human twins, especially of Romulus--legendary founder of Rome--but also connotes the autochthony of Hungarians in Transylvania and the need for Hungarians in general to teach the Romanians.

Before the collapse of communism in Romania in 1989, a stereotype prevailed that, in contrast to the youth in Hungary, as well as in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Romanian students were too "cowardly" to voice their opinion of the events of the 1950s, including the Hungarian revolt. After the communist regime's collapse, Romanian scholars working with new archival documents debunked this conception, claiming that a student protest "movement" and widespread "demonstrations" (manifestarile) did indeed occur throughout Romania. A kind of "post-communist bias", or--as British historian Dennis Deletant called it--a "tendency toward hyperbole" resulted. (1) The true nature of student dissatisfaction in Romania in 1956 lies somewhere in-between these two extremes. Romanian university students were neither too "timid" to speak their minds about the need for reforms, nor tightly united in a movement with a central leadership and specific agenda. (2) Moreover, the extent of unrest varied from city to city. Scholars tend to refer very broadly to demonstrations in Romania, perhaps because detailed information on individual cities has been hard to obtain. In 1956 foreign diplomats were actually forbidden from traveling to key cities in Transylvania and the Banat. No doubt a perfectly comprehensive study is impossible to write, since many eyewitnesses have died without leaving behind memoirs. (3) Drawing on archival documents, memoirs, and recent scholarship, this article will examine and compare events in just three Romanian cities--Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, and Timisoara--and show how the Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej regime's swift, multifaceted crackdown, capitalizing on lessons learned from the Hungarian example, precluded the formation of a nationwide revolutionary movement in Romania in 1956. (4) Only in Timisoara were two mass meetings or demonstrations able to occur, due to a combination of psychological, logistical, and historical factors. Both were quickly dispersed by the Securitate.

Bucharest

One of the first stormy student meetings that can be documented took place in Bucharest, the capital city nicknamed in the interwar period as the "Paris of the East" or "Little Paris" (Micul Paris). Located in the southeast of the country on the banks of the Dambovita River, the city is reputed to have acquired its name from its legendary founder, the shepherd Bucur. (5) In 1956 Bucharest had 1,177,661 citizens, at least 11,626 (about one per cent) of whom were ethnic Hungarians. (6) The meeting was held at "C.I. Parhon" University of Bucharest on 27 September from 4:00 p.m. to 2 a.m. The purpose of the meeting was to elect leaders to the Union of Working Youth (Uninea Tineretului Muncitoresc or UTM) organization among the fourth-year students in the faculty of philology. (7) Conspicuously absent from the students' comments at this meeting that long predated the first Hungarian student revolt (23 October) were larger political questions or demands concerning Romanian-Soviet relations, such as the withdrawal of Soviet troops; they mostly concerned living conditions and basic human rights. As the Politburo members remarked later: "We should emphasize that the meeting was held in an atmosphere of economic and material demands (atmosfera de revendicari economice-materiale). …

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