Short summary for website
Often told separately, the histories of regional societies within the Danubian space offer common points of comparison. In order to disaggregate the traditional, separate groups presented in the classic historiography, which uses central sources, Work Package 3 focuses on elites, defined as subgroups that have greater access to local resources than others, and their competitors, roughly between 1914 and 1924. Studying their interactions, we have intended to demonstrate how the different forms of capital—economic, political, and cultural or symbolic—were distributed and utilized at the local level.
To put it more accurately, local ways of distributing capital have produced elite groups that until now are scarcely known to historiography: the gentry, local notables, as well as new elites in connection with the industrial revolution. A detailed analysis of archival material has helped to analyse their constituents and how they operated to achieve or maintain their position in society. Established elite groups tended to get closer to each other; middle-class leaders, for instance, adopted the same behavioral family patterns as the gentry. Thanks to diversified professional and relational assets, their members were able to switch from one position to another when the the allocation of capital changed, or when new competitors arose. The newer and less wealthy, the more significant local ties and presence were to local elites. In this fashion, Social Democrats were able to maintain a stronghold on the outskirts of Budapest even after the Hungarian counter-revolution of 1920 thanks to their key roles in providing municipal services. Local ties are particularly highlighted by the changes in 1918—1919, when regional autonomism mushroomed.
The First World War and its aftermath bestowed new significance upon the local level, when domestic resources were tapped for the war effort and then for new, smaller national states. Globally, the position of members of local elites and that of their challengers depended on their ability to cross or entangle different dimensions (in the sense of histoire croisée), particularly if they wanted to maintain or gain a certain degree of autonomy. These included connecting their region to the rest of the state or to foreign countries, finding ways to articulate “horizontal” and “vertical” ties, and allowing different political tendencies to intersect with the local society, as well as obtaining legitimacy from the public through their capacity for solving local problems or conflicts in an acceptable way.
After 1918, the allocation of economic capital remained roughly the same, while the distribution of political and cultural forms of capital was more likely to undergo profound changes. Different patterns of resilience and new relationships with political centers appeared after the war. Integrating a new state could be a quick and violent procedure that sometimes included the removal of the former Habsburg elite. For example, such phenomena occurred on the Adriatic Coast disputed by Italy and Yugoslavia, during the Polish-Soviet War, and in Hungary. However, when the transition went more smoothly, political changes remained limited to certain domains of public life, and state authorities accepted certain compromises. Nevertheless, a closer look at the ways local legitimation was achieved reveals that elites profoundly transformed their responses to social demands in order to secure new legitimacy. Furthermore, radical exchanges of individuals within local elite groups were not exceptional. Eventually, the new interweaving of dimensions that reached beyond the local level was often strained by deep-rooted problems, such as unequal economic development that led to emigration.
On the whole, the changes that Danubian societies underwent between 1914 and 1924 underline the point that conflicts about sharing different forms of capital were not only local matters but were very often linked to external factors. Successful management of relations with external groups was indispensable for the preservation of local elite status or, in the case of their challengers, for reversing asymmetric situations. Therefore, local interactions resulted in the intersection of different dimensions. External dimensions vary from case to case and their diversity offers an explanation of some of the differences between the cases studied. This connected history or histoire croisée of local societies, which is still in progress, will in the end contribute to a new narrative of the Danube region.