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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter IV. The Nation and Its Neighbors in Europe: Problems of Coexistence


Lajos Mocsáry
Traduction de Dávid Oláh

Texte intégral

1Title: Nemzetiség (Nationality).

2Originally published: Pest, Ráth Mór, 1858

3Language: Hungarian

4The excerpts used are from the reprint (Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó, 1987), pp. 126–132.

About the author

5Lajos Mocsáry [1826, Kurtány – 1916, Andornak (northern Hungary)]: politician. His family was from the Protestant middle nobility of Upper Hungary. He studied at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Pest. During the revolution of 1848–49 he was taking a cure in the sanatorium at Gräfenberg (Láznĕ Jeseník, present-day Czech Republic), where he became a friend of Miklós Wesselényi. After the end of the revolution and the death of Wesselényi, he married his widow. He was active in the 1850–60s in the left wing of the Hungarian political opposition to Vienna, and became a member of Parliament in 1861. After the Compromise of 1867 he remained in opposition to the political system, and as a prominent figure of the Independence Party (from 1874 on) he was one of the most committed advocates of reconciliation between the nationalities of the country. He criticized the increasing chauvinistic tendencies of the government and eventually of his own party. In the 1888 elections he ran as a candidate of a preponderantly Romanian electoral district in Krassó-Szörény county (Banat). In 1892 he withdrew from parliamentary politics, but remained active in the political press until his death. His mantle was inherited by the civic radicals at the turn of the century, and he became a symbolic, though rather unexplored, figure of the tradition of attempted national reconciliations in the region.

6Main works: A magyar társasélet [Hungarian social life] (1855); Nemzetiség [Nationality] (1858); Programm a nemzetiség és a nemzetiségek tárgyában [Program on the issues of nationality and the nationalities] (1860); Néhány szó a nemzetiségi kérdésről [Some words on the nationality question] (1886); A régi magyar nemes [The Hungarian nobleman of old times] (1889).


7The 1848–1849 revolutionary fight from the moment it ended supplied a crucial myth of ‘national unity’ in Hungarian politics; yet it was also a traumatic experience. The leadership of the Revolution was unprepared for the complex interplay of social and ethnic differentiation catalyzed by the revolutionary upheaval among the other (especially Serbian, Croatian, Slovak, Romanian and Transylvanian Saxon) nationalities, which altogether made up more than half of the total population of the country. Although these communities were also divided along social, political, and often denominational lines, claims to some sort of national self-government projected onto a territorial framework were articulated within all of them. Thus, in the event the Hungarian revolutionaries had to face not only the Austrian and Russian troops but also the mass movements of Croats, Serbs, Romanians and Slovaks, all seeking their national emancipation in opposition to the Hungarian project which adhered to the idea of one ‘political nation’ incorporating the various ethnicities.

8Mocsáry’s essay, ‘Nationality,’ was an attempt to reconsider the national program of Hungarian liberalism in the light of this experience. In a fundamental breach with the classical conceptualization of political nationhood, he interpreted ‘nation’ as a community of people who are of the same origins, speak the same language, and consider themselves to be of the same kin: therefore, he conceded that in the territory of Hungary there was more than one nation (and in the text he explicitly mentioned the Slovak, Serb, Croat and Romanian nations). At the same time, arguing for the historical basis of nationhood, he sought to preserve the unity of ‘historical’ Hungary, stressing that there should be something even more generous and more altruistic than national sentiment: namely, patriotism—an allegiance not only to one’s own ethno-cultural community, but also to one’s country (which might thus involve different national groups).

9In the pages of ‘Nationality,’ Mocsáry argues for the institutional advancement of this kind of patriotism and formulates an agenda of mutual concessions. On the one hand, Hungarians must restrain themselves from any aggression towards the other national communities of the country, thus conciliating them through generous-minded provision regarding matters of common interest. On the other hand, he tries to prove that the ‘centrifugal’ tendencies of the nationalities are not so strong as the clashes of the revolutionary years made them seem to be. Especially, he argues, the principal ‘shibboleth’ of Hungarian nationalists, Pan-Slavism, is not as unitary as it might seem; it is rather a phantom created by frightened onlookers. In addition, he pointed out that the Slavs of the country also admitted the impossibility of creating a national movement without a historical basis, and this historical basis was extremely divergent in the case of different Slavic nations.

10Thus, it is its common history that makes Hungary a patria for more than one nation. History creates a feeling of community, which is the only real basis of multi-national coexistence: “The Slavs of our country are closer to us than any of our philologically established linguistic relatives.” Mocsáry recapitulates one of the crucial arguments of the Reform Age, claiming that the only country that provided “constitutional existence” to a Slavic population (i.e., the Slovaks) in the past was, in fact, Hungary. Thus, while the liberal nationalists of the forties were offering constitutionalism in return for assimilation, Mocsáry depicts the Hungarian constitutional tradition as the principal cause of the preservation of Slavic national existence. Along similar lines he deals with another favorite theme of the Reform Age discourse on nationality, the “Russian threat.” Here too he tries to sooth the fears of the Hungarian public. Faithful to his Herderian convictions, he claims that imperialism contradicts nationalism, and thus he can conceptually separate the Slavonic national movements in Hungary from Russian interests.

11In contrast to the other liberal attempts (most importantly, those of József Eötvös) to solve the nationality question after 1849, Mocsáry’s conception of nationhood was not state-centric. Rather, it represents a variation on some of the key tenets of the Romantic nationalism of the Reform Age, although it was unusually open towards the symbolic incorporation of the other national communities living within the borders of historical Hungary. His doctrine was built on the conviction that peace and prosperous co-existence were not only compatible with, but in fact represented the core of any ‘sincere nationalism.’

12Altogether, Mocsáry’s intellectual position was atypical, and his views on the nationality question did not have a powerful resonance in mainstream political discourse, even though his personal political importance as one of the leaders of the opposition was considerable. For a while the political activists of the various nationalities (especially the Romanians) subscribed to his ideas; but once they began to formulate their own ‘nationalizing’ agenda, Mocsáry’s importance decreased. By the end of his life the emerging civic radical political movement (see Oszkár Jászi, The future of the Monarchy) regarded him as a symbolic figure of the anti-nationalist political discourse. After 1945 he was for a short period revived as a symbol of cooperation between the Hungarians and other Eastern European nations, but as the nationality questions of the region remained unsolved, his figure once again was marginalized.



14It has been a thousand years that we have inhabited and possessed this land together, a thousand years that we have lived together, tilled its soil together and shared our sufferings and joys. Is it possible to show a single feat that can be said to have been achieved by Hungarians or by Slavs alone; hasn’t everything been done by joint efforts? The troops that fought so valiantly against the Turks, the Tartars and so many other adversaries have always included Hungarians, Slovaks, Croatians, Serbs, Germans and Romanians as well, and many a Hungarian warlord has led Slavic troops to glory, just as Croatian and Serb commanders have achieved similar victories with Hungarian troops. And haven’t they all served a common cause, with a common glory and lesser or greater success, and haven’t they all regarded each other as brave sons of the same homeland, as valiant champions of the same cause? […]

  • 1 The name of an eminent south-west Hungarian noble family of Croatian background in the sixteenth-s (...)

15And let our Slavic kinsmen re-claim from us, if they please, all the heroes whom we take pride in and whom they profess to be from their race. We shall not be ashamed, even if they succeed in proving that Zrínyi1 was not purely Hungarian, and that his and many other clans did not in fact spring from our race. This will not to the slightest degree lessen the reverence we cherish for them in our hearts. If our Slavic fellow-countrymen claim them, then let them accept as theirs all the exploits that these heroes performed: we are pleased to share with them the glory and shall not grudge them the laurels. The sole result of this sentiment will be that we shall see them and us as one, and regard all that we have from the past and the present as our common property.

16Let scholars and linguists put us into separate columns, let them classify us into separate language families and say that our real kinsmen are wandering somewhere on the plateaux of Asia and shivering around the Arctic Sea, and that the Turks with whom we lived in such a pleasant fraternal harmony for centuries are in fact our dear kinsmen: we shall still reckon our Slavic compatriots to be more closely related to us. Even though we are classed as a separate group of people linguistically, we shall still hold dearer this long-standing proximity, friendship, compaternity and the intertwined branches of quasi-kinship than that other distant kinship that goes back to Adam and Eve.

17It is unthinkable that our Slavic relatives could ever forget all these historical memories and extinguish from their bosom the sentiments that they evoke. And as soon as they take a historical point of view, they are ours. Yet without history there is no nationality; without it there may be an enthusiastic zeal for a language, there may be a temporary sense of irritation towards one or another race, but this is no genuine national sentiment, just an artificial movement labeled with some name, which can never be permanent and enduring.

  • 2 “In which I played a great part.” Vergilius, Aeneis, 2.6.

18Just as we reckon our Slavic compatriots to be more closely related to us than any of our linguistic relatives already discovered or to be discovered, likewise, soberly considered, they will surely hold us to be closer to themselves than the Russians, the Czechs and other Slavic tribes with whom they have had no real contact whatsoever save as foes. In a certain sense, it is a new discovery that they are kinsfolk, and why should mere fancy make them more concerned about their fate, their past and future than about ours, with whom they have lived in the closest contact for a millennium and about whose past deeds they may justly proclaim, as indeed they must, that “quorum pars magna fui.”2

19And if they intend to form an independent nationality without joining others, where shall they obtain its independent historical fundament, when this historical fundament is used by another nationality to build upon. Or will they eradicate from their memory their entire historical past and return to the days wrapped in the hazy mist of legends and tales? What fundament can this provide for national enthusiasm? Can the sentiments of the bosom be thus impelled and mystified enduringly, and isn’t it just skirting the boundaries of absurdity, a deviation from the simple and natural path of common sense?

20Looking at the past from yet another aspect, can it be that the memories of the past should rouse hostile emotions in their bosom? Which Slavic tribe, or the sons of which Slavic tribes have had a more auspicious fate than those who have lived in our homeland? That the Hungarian nobility used to have all the authority in this country – can this be regarded as a national grievance? After all, the nobility used to be the dominating class in each and every country. As much as the other classes of Hungary’s population suffered from them, they shared this suffering, and the Hungarian peasants had to endure their yoke just as the Slavs did. But a major part of the nobility enjoying such rights and authority were Slavs, and but for Poland, Hungary was the only country where the Slavs could live a constitutional life. Only here could they practice Protestantism and gain through it rights, independence, political importance and self-government, all of which they were destitute of in other countries.

21Whatever view we take about Protestantism, we cannot deny that it originated in the sentiment of and yearning for liberty. It was a peculiar and irresistible manifestation of this very sentiment. It was the name of Protestantism that was blazoned on the standards and the sentiment of freedom that nested in the bosoms. It was the work of this striving for freedom, if the peoples succeeded in attaining rights and legal standing, if they could inquire into the Word of the greatest authority of all, the Church, if they became free to participate in the management of the most sacred matters linking man to God: the matters of the Church. (…)

22Only in Hungary could the Slavs partake of this majestic, large-scale and national education with its boundless moral consequences, an education that could not but have an ennobling and intense impact upon the character of a people. Here then is another link connecting us tighter than we would imagine; tighter than those newly fashioned, dreamt-up sympathies between the nationalities which can kindle a zealous enthusiasm and provoke imprudent demonstrations only in the most out-of-touch scholars as well as in a peasantry sunk into the deepest ignorance, but not in men with common sense. This link leads back directly into the shared history of our homeland, to those magnificent struggles which, like mighty pulse-beats of our often waning and nearly swooning national life, stand in common between our histories. We do not demand our Slavic compatriots to thank us Hungarians for this gain; we do not claim to have been the ones who attained it for them and then, having attained it, handed it over to them as a gift. Nay, we know full well that they fought in company with our forefathers on this and other occasions; we do not boast, we do not wish to attribute the merit of these struggles to ourselves. All we want to point out is that we have achieved this and so much else together, and that here indeed is a common endeavor, a common task again, here is a link joining us once more.

23But in more recent times, when the struggles for liberty are no longer about abstruse denominational questions but more practical issues, where have the Slavs tasted the sweet, albeit sometimes deceptive fruits of the spirit of freedom and reform other than in Hungary? The other Slavs as yet knew nothing at all about these concepts when they were already becoming the subject of public reflection and public debates here, with an elevating and ennobling effect on their character that is still discernible now that the questions themselves have long been swept aside from the forum of debate. Only here did the Slavs have an opportunity for this more elevated, this nobler spiritual preoccupation.

24But, more importantly, where have the Slavs enjoyed a constitutional life for centuries outside Hungary? Even if this advantage was not general, being the lot of only a privileged class: where else were they able to attain even this much? Only the Slavs of Hungary can have a notion about what a centuries-long constitutional life is, only among them has a constitutional outlook been embedded deep in their minds, thus granting them the spiritual aptitude that is the surest guide for a people towards developing a real sensitivity for what is the single precondition of a permanent, partly liberal and partly conservative national spirit. It is most imperative and most important for all of us that this notable aspect of our history and present situation should be carefully considered and duly appreciated by all who speak to the Slavic peoples, and particularly our Slavic compatriots, about their past, present and future as well as the claims they are entitled to make towards the world and us. If I may express it thus, the Slavs have nowhere, with the possible exception of Poland, enjoyed so fine a life as under the Hungarian crown. For it appears that bondage and the state of servitude were the ill fate and destiny of this great race which constitutes a substantial part of the whole of mankind. I say ill fate; far be it from me the presumption that they do not possess just as many loftier spiritual qualities and susceptibilities as any other race. I do not claim that they have only us Hungarians to thank for the aforementioned advantage; I do not say that we gave them, let alone forced on them liberty, for as I have already stressed several times, all we have has been earned together and is our common property: but this detracts nothing from the truth and merit of the fact at issue.


1 The name of an eminent south-west Hungarian noble family of Croatian background in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries. Miklós Zrínyi (Nikola Zrinski, 1508– 1566) died heroically while defending the castle of Szigetvár against the Turks. His great-grandson of the same name (1620–1664) was a famous politician, military commander, political theoretician and the greatest Hungarian Baroque poet. His brother, Péter (Petar Zrinski) translated Miklós’s literary epic, ‘The peril of Sziget,’ into Croatian. Subsequently, he was implicated in the anti-Habsburg conspiracy of the Hungarian estates and was executed in 1671.

2 “In which I played a great part.” Vergilius, Aeneis, 2.6.


Dávid Oláh (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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