Transylvania for centuries has been a crossroads of European cultures. Stefano Bottoni’s book thoroughly covers the history of this multiethnic region of East-Central [End Page 131] Europe in the period from 1944 to 1965, fundamentally from the establishment of a “people’s democracy” in Romania to the rise of Nicolae Ceauqescu as leader of the Romanian Communist Party.
Drawing on previously untapped archival sources, Bottoni analyzes how the Ro-manian Communist regime managed the cohabitation of the four largest national groups in Transylvania—Romanians, Hungarians, Jews, and Germans—during the rule of Gheorgiu Gheorghiu-Dej, including the brief period (1952–1960) of Hungar-ian territorial independence in the eastern parts of Transylvania.
Bottoni has carefully reconstructed the history of this region, using not only a wide range of secondary sources but also many newly available documents from Ro-manian, Hungarian, Russian, and British archives. Bottoni aims to demonstrate how the Communist regime succeeded in creating an ethnocratic state without resorting to massacres or deportation. He analyzes the building of the socialist state and the affirmation in the mid-1950s of so-called national Communism, which adopted various strategies aimed at the “Romanianization” of Transylvania and the assimilation of the Magyars and the gradual extinction of the Jewish and German groups by means of a policy of forced emigration.
With the consolidation of the Communist regime in the latter half of the 1940s, Romania seized Hungarian property, thanks to a policy of nationalization. The regime discriminated against Germans and Jews but adopted a generous cultural policy toward the Hungarians. In 1950 the Romanian government announced the birth in Transylvania of the independent Hungarian Region—the RAU—whose inhabitants were to enjoy extensive rights concerning their language and culture. In fact, the region was not truly independent because administrative and political decisions depended on the Communist party. Nor was it a purely Hungarian region of Transylvania—in only a few of its provinces were Hungarians a majority of the population. Bottoni explains why a regime claiming to appeal to internationalism and social equality in fact created a territorial entity based on the reinforcement of an ethnic identity instead of its abolition.
In creating the RAU, the regime introduced new conflicts and feelings of resentment between the Hungarians and Romanians who lived in the region and those who lived outside. Bottoni leads us through the complex story of the formation of this ethnic enclave, from the strategy of “divide and rule” employed by Josif Stalin, the true creator of the RAU, in order to keep control of both Romania and Hungary, which both held claims on Transylvania after World War II. That same strategy was used by the Romanian Communist party toward the two ethnic groups of the region. Bottoni describes the impact of the regime’s policies on the lives of certain individuals and explains that the main reason for the creation of the RAU was the Soviet Communist regime’s application in Romania of korenizatsiya (“the planting of national roots”). This policy in the USSR’s own republics entailed the recruitment of political and cultural non-Russian elites who would be capable of managing local politics within the framework of a Soviet social and civil identity. The regime was convinced that nationalism would fade as socialism took root in societies that were reluctant to embrace a revolution. This strategy in Romania was successful at the beginning, as is shown by [End Page 132] Bottoni’s chapter on collectivization, and was accepted passively in the RAU in the name of nationalism by intellectuals who had little sympathy with Communism. Bottoni also emphasizes that this concession to autonomy went hand in hand with the construction of a highly repressive, xenophobic system.
To consolidate power, Dej resorted to a purge of Hungarian officials and functionaries, and in Bottoni’s words “the terror was a sinister match to the campaign for the Constitution of the Hungarian Autonomous region.” Bottoni gives great importance to 1956, the year that highlighted the rift between the Hungarians and Romanians. The wave of repression in Hungary...