Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Ice Hockey and Discourse on the Other in the Romanian Press

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Ice Hockey and Discourse on the Other in the Romanian Press

Article excerpt

At the end of 2011 the world of ice hockey in Romania was hit by a scandal: during a match of the national team against Hungary, the Romanian players started singing the Hungarian and Székely anthems but remained silent for the Romanian one. A few weeks later, on December 1, a player of the national team "under 16" was beaten up in the locker room by his teammates because he had asked them not to speak in Hungarian between each other but in Romanian "at least on Romania's national day". The Romanian tabloid press then gave important coverage of both events and showed allegations of strong nationalism on the side of the Hungarian members of the Romanian ice hockey teams1. Indeed, the vast majority of the players in the Romanian national team belong to the Hungarian minority of the country. These players mostly operate in the club of Miercurea Ciuc, a city in Transylvania located in the Harghita county in the region of Transylvania where most citizens belong to the Hungarian minority. The city itself, with less than 50.000 inhabitants, has about 80 per cent of inhabitants of Hungarian origin, part of the Székely ethnic group.

This scandal occurred in Romania at a moment of renewed tensions between the Hungarian minority in the country and the Romanian majority. Firstly, tensions were due to the Hungarians' People's Party in Transylvania. Founded in 2011, the party was claiming a greater autonomy for the minority. Secondly, while treaties of friendship between Budapest and Bucharest were signed in 1996 and had help the restoration of a climate of trust and appeasement of the minority issue2, the coming to power of Viktor Orban in Hungary and what is perceived as a nationalist turn changed the game. Thirdly, at the time of the scandal, Romanian authorities were working on an administrative reform in which the forty-one departments of the country would be grouped into eight major regions, which would dilute the power of local elected Hungarians3. In this context, the question arises for members of the Hungarian minority as whom to give first their loyalty4, Romania or Hungary. At the same time, rivalry between the two countries is not new and football matches between each other often trigger violence between supporters demonstrating nationalist and revenge discourses. For example, a qualifying match for the World Cup 2014 between the two countries was played behind closed doors5. All this demonstrates that in the context of an ongoing economic crisis in Romania after 2008, it seems that "shared patriotism" can difficultly be put forward6. Ice hockey is somehow the "sport of Hungarians" in Romania and represents "a repository of traditional practices" which allows its practitioners to anchor their identity at the local level7. The minority group is perceived as a threat to the majority, and its control of a sport like hockey pinpoints the general fear of the majority of a loss of power and control over its destiny. While the balance of power between the established majority and the marginal minority seems to be reversing8 in the field of sport, the scandal takes enormous proportions in the press in the context of tenuous links between sports, business and politics in Romania.

The scandal was put forward by the daily tabloid Libertatea (Freedom). A series of articles with a strong nationalistic tone were then published for several weeks. The aim of this paper is to analyse these newspapers articles and to show how the interaction between the Hungarian national minority and the Romanian majority is discursively constructed in those chosen newspapers. The paper demonstrates that Hungarians in Romania are systematically constructed as an "other" and that they are seen as threatening the country. Such discourse is then taken over by politicians trying to capitalise on the event. But the paper goes further and shows that this discourse is not only to be perceived in a tabloid or in the speeches and comments of some extreme-right party leaders, but the same constructions are made available in mainstream quality newspapers. …

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