Book Review: The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania

    Nagy-Talavera, Nicholas M. The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania. Iasi: Center for Romanian Studies, 2001.

In The Green Shirts and the Others, Nagy-Talavera traces the emergence of Fascism in Romania and Hungary. The comparative study is justified since both belong to “No Man's Land,” the borderland where West and East meet. Common problems of late and Western-driven modernization coupled with issues stemming from the First World War (loss and territorial reduction for Hungary, victory and expansion for Romania) caused the emergence of corresponding Fascist movements.

Green Shirts extensively explores ethnic and minority-related factors, especially those concerning the Jews, in both Hungarian and Romanian Fascism. Greater minority assimilation in Hungary is ascribed to the higher level of development, but higher rates of Magyarization simply created a different type of ethnic tension. Nagy-Talavera ascribes much of the ultra-nationalistic responses in both states to “the zeal of the neophyte” displayed by newly absorbed members of a minority: e.g., Kossuth, Magyarization policies, and the nationalistic fervor of the Arrow Cross in Hungary and of the Iron Guard in Romania. Nagy-Talavera may ascribe a slightly exaggerated role to the ethnic roots of some of the most vocal leaders, since nationalism, ranging from mild to the extreme was the norm in both states, as he himself recognizes. Moreover, the assertion that ultra-nationalism stems from newly-absorbed minorities underestimates the importance of other causes, thus diminishing the role of the majority or established members of an ethnic community.

The book is a thorough investigation regarding the causes and different types of interwar nationalist thought in both states. Nagy-Talavera offers a balanced picture, providing information and interpretation of related political, historical, military, and cultural dimensions of the interwar era, though leaning towards cultural history. Cultural issues are addressed extensively, drawing particularly on folk proverbs and quotations from personalities, to illustrate points about the characteristics of Romanian or Hungarian politics. Though dangerous because they can lead to over-simplification, his approach is useful for a more intuitive grasp of interwar atmosphere as background to political and ethnic struggles.

The author's discussion of the cultural aspects of the political situation aide his detailed analysis of the motivation behind the actions of both domestic and international constituencies. The presentation and discussion of different Fascist factions in both states is well done, as it stresses the disparities without fragmenting the topic, nor ignoring nuances. One example is the presentation of one of the main dissimilarities between "mass" and "middle class" Fascist movements. While for the "mass" Arrow Cross and Iron Guard "nation" included all the members of a nationality, for the middle class movements the nation was understood in terms of oligarchic interests.

Although Nagy- Talavera presents a very insightful view of the interwar political situation, his analysis is not completely devoid of problems. For example, his use of modernizing dictatorships as a yardstick for success of interwar political movements in general, and Fascism in particular (a concept he states is an adoption from the work of Ernst Nolte), is problematic. Nagy-Talavera explains his use of the concept as a criterion of political success by the fact that both Romania and Hungary needed to modernize. Nevertheless, Fascist movements proposed an alternative modernity, and were not interested so much in the development of capitalism as they were in creating a more secure and less threatening environment or alternative. Therefore, judging the measure of success of these movements in terms of an accomplishment which they were not interested in seems arbitrary.

Minor issues aside, the strength of The Green Shirts and the Others is that it attempts to present a balanced picture, and overall it is impressively well documented and fair, and it is correspondingly useful students of nationalism, Fascism or the history of Central Europe. Its comparative nature also allows for a more contextual understanding of the issues plaguing the Central European states, and as the author notes, to understanding possible problems facing any modernizing states.