Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one's nation but now subject to a foreign government.
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)


Anonymous said...

Very interesting Andy.

I, being an Irishman from Co. Down have often forwarded the wacky idea of national reunification on various Irish blogs. This has sometimes led to me being accused of the very sort of dentistry to which you refer.

Personally, I don't believe the phrase has any relevance to the Six Counties (where the "ethnic" Irish are outside the state but still, quite clearly, in the country) but I digress...

The accusation of irredentism is generally an attempt to associate any belief in a change in national boundaries with the nationalistic excesses of the 1930s (by those who do not agree with such changes). Thus, as you say, it is pretty similar to my fellow travellers on the liberal-left who accuse all who disagree with them as being fascists, nazis and the like.

Is there much support for unification with Hungary in the Szekelyfold or merely more autonomy?

Andy said...

Thanks for the comments Reg. No, there is almost no interest in unification with Hungary in Szekelyfold or among any other ethnic Hungarian communities in Romania. More autonmy definitely, and for some people the ulitmate dream is an independent Transylvania, but I can honestly say I've never met anyone who wants to be unified with Hungary

Unknown said...

Hello Andy...

I first want to say that your musing are interesting...I lived in Csikszereda for about a half of a year and another year in Udvarhely...where I did meet wife...In Csik that is...

I can assure you that after living in Budapest for the past 4 years that life is very different btw székelyföld and Hungary...

As we were driving back for a wedding in Udvarhely two weeks ago on smooth pavement which by the way is a miracle, I cannot help but feel much more relaxed among the Székelys...Maybe it is the difference btw city and small town, but I think there is smthing innately more than that...People there are just more friendly and enjoy life...

Keep up the good work and avoid the Morpheus...

Anonymous said...

There may be something goofy with your last link there. Please delete my comment after inspection.