Razvan Maties

This article analyzes various aspects of interethnic relations in a Transylvanian village inhabited by Romanians and Hungarians. As opposed to previous impressionistic studies about relations between Romanians and Hungarian in Transylvania, this research tried to make a fair evaluation of a mixed rural community. Based on previous empirical assessments, we developed an operational hypothesis concerning the underdevelopment of the village compare to neighbor’s villages. We suppose that a better communication among member of the community would lead to a better community development.. Cheia village is a very common example of a mixed community from Cluj County. As a result of a comprehensive evaluation, using various methodological tools, we came to interesting conclusions about the level of interethnic communication inside the mixed community and constructed a possible model of interethnic relations.

1. Introduction

This research was carried out in the summer of 2000 with the generous support of the Ethnocultural Diversity Research Center (EDRC) Cluj-Napoca, member of Soros Open Network Romania, and involved graduate students from Babes-Bolyai University, the Department of political science. The research was part of a larger project called " Interethnic communication and community evaluation in village Cheia", financed by EDRC. This study represents an adapted part from the project, which consists of the methodological tools used in the study and the development of the empirical research with conclusions drawn from it.

2. Theoretical considerations

In the study concerning a typology of ethnic relations in Central and Eastern Europe, Petra Kovacs positioned Romania on a various scale and tables of ethnic relations. For instance, on the scale of ethnic climate, Romania gets 1.25 and therefore belongs to the group of state with an ambiguous ethnic climate. In such countries, interethnic tensions continue to exist, despite recent legal measures to protect minorities. More precisely, Romania is clustered together with Ukraine, Moldova and Croatia. (ibid. p.14) Other variables introduced in this study are "group cohesion", "violence" and "decentralization" in order to measure majority-minority relations on the local level. "Cohesive groups are politically organized and, therefore, are more likely to demand rights and autonomy. In the case of cohesive ethnic groups, conflicts are more likely to be politicized". As about violence, "ethnic relations are considered violent when the life or physical integrity of a certain ethnic group is regularly challenged by either the public authorities of the majority, by other nonethnic members of the community, or by extremist movements".. The last variable, decentralization, refers to the structure of government, which "is considered decentralized if subnational governments (local and regional) are given legal and fiscal provisions that guarantee the autonomy of the decision-making process. … In this case, ethnic relations can be managed by local authorities through institutional and legal practices." (Ibid. p.17) In light of these variables, group cohesion among Hungarians in Romania is strong, violence is not present and the system is decentralized. Another characteristic of ethnic relations in Romania as shown by the study referred above is the concept of "competitive ethnic relations". "In this context, the status of minorities reflects economic and political competition, which is characterized by restriction on citizenship and related privileges (i.e., the right to vote and the right to own property. … With the exception of Hungary and Slovenia, countries in the region have adopted the concept of individual rights for minorities and have recently taken progressive steps to protect them. Nevertheless, there is still much room for improvement." (Ibid. p.20)

There are also many surveys, which gave use useful hints about relations between Romanians and Hungarians in Romania. The most well-know surveys are the "Public Opinion Barometer" surveys conducted by major domestic survey organisations twice a year at the request of the Open Society Foundation, Romania. The main themes of the Barometer include political parties and personalities, welfare and living standards, social and economic policy, social capital and sociability resources, human and physical capital, life styles etc. A similar poll was taken in 1997 by the Research Center on Inter-Ethnic Relations, Cluj-Napoca. For instance, to the question: "In your opinion, is there a conflict among Romanians and Hungarians?" 75% of Hungarians said yes, whereas only 45% of Romanians answered yes. Indeed, the majority of Romanians and Hungarians from Transylvania, according to this research, perceived an ongoing conflict between them.

Irina Ana Kantor made another study concerning ethnic relations in Transylvanian villages. Here, the author emphasizes, "non-nationalist policies on small scale led by nationalist parties", as a characteristic of many ethnic mixed villages. Therefore "no member of the Hungarian community of the village was ready to give up co-operation for hostility".

Cheia village is located in Cluj County, 40 kilometers from Cluj-Napoca, near National road nr. 75 Turda-Abrud. Cheia together with other two villages (Mihai Viteazul and Cornesti) compose Mihai Viteazul village. The population of Cheia is about 556 inhabitants, 420 are Romanians and 136 are Hungarians according to official data provided by Mihai Viteazul city hall. The most of Romanians are orthodox while Hungarians belong to the Unitarian church.

3. Methodology

The empirical research from Cheia village was carried out in July-August 2000. Our hypothesis was based on the following empirical generalization: A better communication among member of the community would lead to a better community development. Nevertheless, setting up this hypothesis allowed us to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of interethnic relations in Cheia. We employed one quantitative and two qualitative techniques.

First, we administered 65 questionnaires in Cheia. We selected the subjects randomly, however, taking account of the ethnic composition of the village. Afterwards, we organized three focus groups. We selected participants from subjects who responded to questionnaires. We hoped to have approximately seven participants for a focus group, but time some of the invited subjects did not show up. Thus, six people each made up the first focus group of five persons, the second and the third. For the first focus group we invited only Romanians, for the second only Hungarians, whereas the last one was ethnically mixed. The third method consisted of three interviews with local leaders. We interviewed the mayor of Mihai Viteazul and the two priests from the community: the Romanian and Hungarian priest.

4. The Research

There were two major issues that we tried to evaluate in our empirical research: interethnic relations and interethnic communication.

First of all we made a preliminary visit to the community, where we met the Hungarian priest and the wife of the Romanian priest. The purpose of this visit was to introduce us, and to explain the nature of our research in the village. This proved a very useful step, because some of the locals asked the priests during the Sunday mass about our stay in the village inquiring whether it was safe or not to talk to us.

5. Interethnic relations:

The first step was the analysis of the questionnaires. 90.3% of the respondents answered to the question "How do you consider relations among Romanians and Hungarians in Cheia?" that these are collaborative, 4.9% defined their relations as of mutual ignorance. No subject spoke of a "confliction relationship".

When we asked, do you think that Hungarian children should study together with Romanian children? 70.5% fully agreed, 24.6% agreed and only 1.6% did not agree. To the question about encouraging interethnic marriages, 77% agreed and only 4.5% dismissed such marriages.

During focus groups we asked general "easy questions" about community problems, the needs of the village; and we have also put two "sensitive" questions, from which we tried to see the subjects’ opinions on ethnic relations in Cheia village.

So, during focus groups we asked the following question: "Do you think that Hungarians/Romanians are better householders than Romanians/Hungarians?" The Romanians from first focus group answered:

There is no difference between Hungarians and Romanians.

They are not better householders, but they [―i.e., Hungarians―] are more solidarity among themselves and help each other a lot.

They are not better householders as Romanians, … [but] are more proud of themselves and also very solidary among themselves.

They are just as good householders as Romanians are. It depends on the situation, … some are better some are worse.

A good householder is a food householder [sic!], no matter whether he’s a Romanian, a Hungarian or a Gipsy.

At the second focus group we got the following answers from Hungarians living in Cheia:

Look around in the village and observe peoples’ backyards, and you se if he is a good householder, no matter whether he is a Hungarian or a Romanian.

In the courtyard of people who are not good householders you will see nothing, only poverty.

The second "hard question" posed during focus groups was "It is true that Romanians and Hungarians see only their problems, with no interest for the other?" The participants from the first focus group protested saying:

No, no. We lived here like brothers; there are no divisions among Romanians and Hungarians, we all live the same life, they [i.e., the Hungarians] are as much individualistic as us, they are also disgusted by so many promises.

One subject in the second focus group said:

There are no differences. … We live here peacefully; we don’t have problems with each other.

During the mixed focus group we received the following answers:

There are both Romanians and Hungarians who are worse householders.

Who is a good administrator and hard worker he has …

When we asked about relations between Hungarians and Romanians, the answers were very categorical:

I have always had good relations with Hungarians…there were no problems between us.

I did not hear of such a thing, I have always had Hungarian friends; we did not have any problems with each other.

I cannot say that there are problems…for instance, my child is studying in the Romanian school and he has never complained about somebody offending him for the reason that he is a Hungarian.

During interviews we asked the same question from the focus group, but we tried to have a more "free" conversation. When we asked about the industriousness of the citizens from Cheia, the Hungarian priest admitted that: [Hungarians]…have richer households, have more animals […] work harder than Romanians. The Romanian priest admitted this only partially, considering that "… Hungarians and Romanians are the alike. Here in the village there are all the alike".

We also asked the mayor of Mihai Viteazul village about the relations among Romanians and Hungarians in Cheia. When we asked him about the possibility of some interethnic tensions he replied:

No. We never had conflicts among us and this is clearly not the case. […] In Cheia village, but also in Cornesti and Mihai Viteazul, there are no interethnic problems. We are a case, a happy one, perhaps.

Generally, the mayor considers that there are no differences between Romanians and Hungarians concerning householder ability.

6. Intra-community communication

We also tried to examine the level of interethnic communication, and assess which are the main channels of communication.

To the question, "With whom do you discuss the village’s problems?" 14.8% of the subjects named family, 65.6% mentioned the neighbors, and 9.8% said that they discuss problems with their friends, and 9.8% don’t discuss or don’t know.

As we could see, the bulk of information (ex) change happened among neighbors. In Cheia the neighborhood represents the main communication environment among people. Therefore we asked them "Do you believe that you could solve this problems with your neighbors?" This question together with another question ("Do you think that you could have a certain influence on the decision making process concerning your village?") had the purpose of gauging the importance of local initiatives in solving community problems.

The answers showed rather distrust in local initiatives. Just 41% believed that they could solve some of the problems in cooperation with their neighbors, while 54.1% gave a negative answer. Furthermore, only 19% believed that could influence the decision-making process, while 73% responded with no.

We also asked "How often do you discuss these problems?" 28.3% discuss this daily, 38% weekly, 3.3% monthly and 20% discuss such things only if specific problems occur.

Another point of interest constituted the main channels of in formations in the community. Since local elections were held just a month before, we tried inquiring about the ways in which people from Cheia got information about candidates and parties. So, we asked subjects from where did they know about the candidates for the race to the city hall.

From the subjects, 19.7% said that they knew the candidates from direct meetings with them, 29.5% from electoral posters, 27.9% from discussing with their neighbors, family or friends and 23% did not respond. No one mentioned media as a source of information.

7. Community problems

During our research we noticed some problems that the local community faced. Generally, subjects were very unsatisfied with the current situation from their village. 84.1% considered Cheia village the poorest among neighboring villages. The reason lied in the fact that they compared it to other villages making up Mihai Viteazul commune. In such a context, Cheia received less attention from the local administration. In the third focus, group people told us that:

Until now, Mihai Viteazul village treated Cheia as a stepson. This the most burning issue here in the village.

The new mayor of Mihai Viteazul confirmed this state of affairs:

They did not get the same treatment on local level. … They have been ignored … significant problems have been taken care of in other villages, like water and gas facilities, but not in Cheia

The mayor told us that some of community problems are solved such as the restoration of the school and the kindergarten, the repairing of some roads, public lighting, piped water supply to an extent of 70%. So, according to local officials, significant steps have been taken and other measures will shortly follow.

7. Conclusions

As a result of our research in village, Cheia we did not find a conflict or any kind of ethnic tension among Hungarians and Romanians. At least, this is the result of our empirical research. We noticed that interethnic relations are a very sensitive issue. Questions concerning this issue incite a lot of emotions in respondents. Nevertheless, they do not mention specific, ethnically related problems. Actually, they gave us generous answers, stressing the lack of ethnic tensions. The community leaders confirmed what people said. But, the level of community co-operation is very low. Albeit Romanian respondents often mention very good relations among Hungarians as a group ("they are more solidarity with each other"), the social relations among all members of Cheia community are low. People, i.e., Hungarians and Romanians, are more concerned with their own backyard than with community problems. It is difficult to mobilize people from the village to do something, due to the profound distrust in local initiatives. The former mayor did nothing to help Cheia community, therefore people become very dissatisfied with the local administration. At the time when we made the research (a month after local elections were held) people were on a stand-by position. They voted with the hope that the new administration will turn a concerned eye towards them. Some respondents, 31.1%, said that they know well the new mayor, while 8.2% said that they know him very well. The cumulative percent of those who know something about the mayor is 60.7%, which proves that people from Cheia have cast an informed vote in hope of a better administration.

Another important issue discovered in the village was the true "sense" of a mixed community. We knew that we will find a mixed community, but inside the village we expected to find a distinct separation of houses, an invisible line: "down the village are the Romanians" and "up the village are the Hungarians". But this was not a realistic assumption, moreover, we found a genuinely mixed community. We couldn’t find a separation line, or any distinctive line: even the churches (Orthodox and Unitarian) are located very close of each other.

People from Cheia community, both Hungarians and Romanians, are having the same social and economical problems that create a sense of serious discomfort in the community. Ethnicity and the mix we noticed do not explain lack of activity in the community.

The explanations for the lack of activity rely on different grounds. A possible explanation could be the less attention from the local administration in solving local demands. But such hypothesis belongs to another research.



Edroiu, Nicolae, Puscas, Vasile The Hungarians from Romania, (Cluj-Napoca: Centrul de Studii Transilvane, 1996)

Farnen, F. Russell, ed. Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Identity, (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1994)

Ilut, Petru, Abordarea calitativa a socioumanului, (Qualitative approach in social science), (Iasi: Polirom 1997)

Krueger, D. Richard, Developing Questions for Focus Groups, (Sage Publications, 1998)

Manheim, B. Jarol, Empirical political Analysis. Research Methods in Political Science, fourth edition, (Longman, 1995)

Morgan, L. David, The Focus Group Guidebook, (Sage Publications, 1998)

Rotariu, Traian ed. Metode statistice aplicate in stiintele sociale, (Statistical methods in social science), (Iasi: Polirom, 1999)

Rotariu, Traian, Ilut, Petru, Ancheta sociologica si sondajul de opinie, (Sociological inquire and poll survey), (Iasi: Polirom 1997)

Razvan Maties, MA in Political Science, Faculty of Political Science and Publica Administration, Babes-Bolyai University