Rural Saxons in Urban Transylvania in Romania
Before the First World War, Transylvanian Saxons understood their own sense of identity as rooted in their urban standing in Transylvania. Constant fears of a downgrading of their privileged position as one of the pillars of Transylvania ran alongside broader debates of where they belonged: to Transylvania or to the ‘German world’. The wholesale reordering of European political space recalibrated those debates. While early political overtures by Transylvanian Saxon political actors were still part of a conventional ‘urban’ politics, endorsing unification with the new Romanian state, the 1920s witnessed a radical shift in Saxon identity debates towards the rural.
If Saxon concerns about privilege had centred on the urban world and their standing before the war, it was the issue of land that piqued Saxon interest in the 1920s. Local German-language newspapers gave agricultural concerns centre stage while the cultural world turned to Adolf Meschendörfer, a deeply influential Saxon poet and writer, codified the new celebration of the rural world. His widely acclaimed poem, SiebenbürgischeElegie, framed the Saxon world as defiantly rural in 1927 and stood in contrast to hisnovel, Die Stadt imOsten, published in 1931 in which the city served as a place of discord. Meschendörfer’s rural focus was part of a broader Romanian German trend in which the rural world became entangled with a new German blood and soil politics. The Klingsorcircle around Heinrich Zillich in Brașov/Kronstadt, for instance, oscillated in their monthly journal, Klingsor, between highly modernist literature and blood and soil kitsch. All the while, youth movements, ‘rejuvenation’movements, and theso-called Unzufriedenen, turned their attention to nature away from urban society using existing infrastructure and organisations in Transylvania such as railway lines into the uplands and CarpathianAlpine huts. Their ideas stood in opposition to what activists such as Fritz Fabritius and Hans Beller viewedas decadent and old urban politics.
These developments did not go unnoticed. In newspaper coverage in Germany and Austria, in new histories of east-central Europe as well as in travel writing on Transylvania, the region became a more rural place. By the 1930s, Transylvania had gradually become more rural, more German, and less ‘particular’. This paper explores these developments arguing against a straight line to Gleichschaltung.Instead, it gives an insight into the fractured rural andurban Saxon world and, more broadly, into minority politics in the post-Habsburg transition period.