A state is defined as “a body of people occupying a definite territory and politically organized under one government.” It is the goal of many peoples to establish a state so that they may find peace in the security of their definite borders. Numerous people have founded states throughout the course of European history. There are still more peoples in Europe that did not found statesand exist within the confine of states which are not their own. Such groups possessed a national identity, or sense of self in distinction to other peoples, yet, were not compelled by the force of this identity to establish a state to protect and strengthen that distinctiveness.
Identity is a force that has many subtle gradations. It can be derived from a common language or geography as well as from migration and encounters with peoples who already possess a strong sense of identity. There are examples of peoples whose identity is based solely upon their language, most of these peoples did not establish a state because, in many cases, an identity based solely upon a common language doesn’t possess enough force. The development of an identity with enough force to propel a people into statehood requires more than a common language. It requires a number of catalysts in addition to common langue such as migration, an encounter with another people who have a strong sense of identity, as well as beneficial geography. The examples of the Basque illustrate the insufficient force of an identity based solely upon language while that of the Magyars displays the desire for statehood which arises out of an identity which is developed by reacting to these catalysts. The Magyars developed an extremely strong sense of identity that had its roots in a common language yet developed with the aid of other catalysts into a force sufficient to propel them into statehood.
Language forms the most basic sense of self among a people. The language of today’s Hungarians developed within the large language family of Finno-Ugric, which is a component of the Uralic language family. Thus at one point in history there was a single group of people speaking a language which would develop into the nineteen Finno-Ugric languages. (Fodor, 19) These people undoubtedly recognized the distinctive nature of their language. Language forms the foundation upon which all concepts of a distinct self can be built. The expressions specific to the proto-Hungarian language helped them to place themselves in distinction to the other peoples who did not understand them. This awareness of the difference between one's language and the language of an other, comprises the most fundamental sense of solidarity amongst a people. It compels them to state: “we speak THIS language, we are THIS people.” However, awareness of a distinct language and the basic identity that followed was not forceful enough to engender a desire for statehood among the early Magyars. Rather, they still had to be exposed to other catalysts.
Following the development of their language and the realization of its distinctness, the Finno-Ugric community under went its first migration. The migration, which resulted in the split between the ancestors of the Finnish and Hungarian peoples, was likely a result of climatic change. The steppes that supported the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the proto-Hungarians had receded due to a prolonged drought and were replaced by semi-arid deserts. They then migrated to different a geographical area that suited their style of farming. (Fodor, 156) the proto-Magyars settled in the southeastern Urals near the Ob River while the proto-Finns took up residence across a wide territory between lake Lagoda and the Volga River. (Fodor, 86) As geographical distances between these formerly unified people grew, the differences between them were exaggerated and their languages grew even further apart.
The second migration of the proto-Hungarians extended the distance between their kinfolk and increased the strength of the Magyar sense of self. This migration was also driven by a climatic change, this time towards colder temperatures. (Fodor, 157) It was at this time that the Magyars probably developed their ethnonym as they realized the distinctness of their particular language from the languages of the others who inhabited the regions to which they had migrated. It is unclear how the term Magyar developed but it may be that it was its roots in the “Hungarian word of the Ugrian period ‘mond’ meaning speak” and the ancient Finno-Ugric word “er” which means man. Thus the Hungarian's own name for their people would mean “speaking man.” (Fodor, 171-2) The migration itself however, had substantial influence upon the development of the Magyar’s identity.
The role of migrations in the development of a forceful identity is substantial. The whole scale of migration of a population numbering between fifty and two hundred thousand souls required a number of things for it to succeed. (Bartha, 111) One such thing is the necessity of strong leadership. A migration engenders constant hardship as the people struggle to find food and shelter. Such constant struggle requires constant leadership. A population of this size does not just up and move, the migration requires organization as well as some form of agreement among the people’s chieftains and sub-chiefs.
Imagine one family’s decision to join the migration. They join because they realize that outside of the group their chances for independent survival are slim. They will face assimilation, or worse, enslavement by another group. The decision to move with the leaders to a better locale and the epic quality of migrating with tens of thousands of other people goes a long way in creating a feeling of solidarity with others in your group as well as an identity as a separate people. Without the heat of the migratory kiln to forge a feeling of identity, the Magyars probably would have disintegrated as a people and assimilated into the empire of the Khazars, a people they encountered on their second migration.
The Khazars were the first people the Magyars encountered who had already forged a state and possessed the force of identify with which to create it. They themselves were of Turkish descent and had migrated from Asia three to four hundred years prior. (Bertha, 9) The Khazar Kaganate occupied the territory between the Black and Caspian seas and what is today The Ukraine. They created a fairly organized state that traded with the Kievan Rus’, possessed a governmental hierarchy and class structure, received tribute from a number of Slavic peoples, and also had established Judaism as the official state religion. (Bartha, 17,20,25)_ The Magyars were most likely awed by the relative cosmopolitanism of the Khazar Kaganate. They settled in the western portion of the Khazar territory near the Dniepr River. (Fodor, 216)
The Magyars were compelled, in the face of this organized state, to accept Khazar supremacy. (Fodor, 213) They most likely lived under Khazar domination for two to three hundred years. (Fodor, 213) they fought on the side of the Khazar army and “had ample opportunity to gain experience about the burdens of peoples used as auxiliary forces.” (Bartha, 59) the domination of the Magyars by the Khazars undoubtedly helped strengthen even further the Magyar’s sense of identity. One always binds closely to those one has the most in common with in the face of adversity. The Magyar encounter with the Khazar identity helped to strengthen the force of the Magyar identity as identity is always fortified when required to identity itself in the face of an other. The example of the Khazar statehood also provided the spark that grew into a fire of desire for a Magyar state when they were threatened by the migration of the Pechenegs.
The final migration of the Magyars was driven by a threatening people from the east and by the realization that the Carpathian Basin possessed a geography that would lend itself to the establishment of a Magyar state. The frontiers of the area occupied by the Magyars at the time could not be defended against surprise attacks by the Pechenegs, who were at war with the Khazars and naturally attacked their allies. In contrast, it “was possible to guard against unexpected attacks by closing the passes” of the Carpathians. The features of the Carpathian Basin were ideally “suited to the Hungarian's farming methods of the time.” (Fodor, 277-8) The area was also sparsely populated by the remains of the Avars, a people who had earlier migrated to Eastern Europe. (Fodor, 278)
Raiding parties appeared at that time in the Carpathian Basin. Soon, they were engaged by the Byzantine Emperor Leo in a treaty against the Bulgars. (Fodor, 279) Following this they entered into a treaty with Svatopluk of Moravia, who occupied what was later to become Upper Hungary, against the eastern Frankish leader Arnulf. Upon Svatopluk’s death, the treaty was no longer binding and the Magyar chieftains realized an opportunity to conquer the Carpathian Basin was at hand. (Fodor, 279)
The troops of Arpad, the Magyar chieftain, occupied the region and sent word to their people still residing along the Dniepr. The final migration of the Magyars was horrific. The Pechenegs realized the vulnerability of the Magyars along the Dniepr and “descended upon the unprotected population who fled across the passes and defiles of the Carpathians. They (Pechenegs) could not prevent their crossing the passes of Transylvania, but they inflicted heavy losses on the Hungarians in an extremely bloody struggle.” (Fodor, 281) The horrible tragedy perpetrated upon the Magyars by the Pechenegs did not “influence the course of the prearranged occupation of the new homeland, merely prevented its being carried out entirely according to plan.” (Fodor, 202)
It appears the Magyars were searching for a land to call their own. They found this land in the Carpathian Basin, whose geography lent itself to the establishment of a Magyar state. The basin had easily defensible and definable borders. The forging of a force of identity strong enough to create a desire for statehood among the Magyars was the result of the epic nature of their migrations and their encounter with the Khazars, who presented them with an example of statehood as well as forced them to identify themselves in the face of assimilation. The final migration of the Magyars was a conscious decision based upon the fact that if they had “chosen submission to the Pechenegs or to Byzantium…their political and ethnic attrition would have been but a matter of time.” (Bartha, 83) The importance of migration, encounters with peoples such as the Khazars, and geography to the development of statehood and a compelling force of identity becomes apparent when one examines the Basque, a people who did not develop an identity with sufficient force because they lacked the aforementioned catalysts.
The Basque have retained a sense of identity up to the present but as we shall see, this identity was not forceful and did not create a desire for statehood among them. The origins of the Basque are clouded in mystery. Their ethnonym, Euskaladum, means those who posses Euskera. Euskera is the language of the Basque. (Blaud, 7) Attempts at arriving at the origin of the Basque people have been made for centuries. Two of the most common approaches to the question of Basque origins lie in language analysis and attempts to discover their physical origins, i.e. where they came from. These two approaches are intertwined as language analysis leads to insights into their physical origins.
There have been innumerable attempts to link Euskera with existing language families. Parallels have been drawn between Euskera and Japanese as well as the languages of the American Indians. (Blaud, 30) In addition, limited points of similarity between Euskera and many non-Indo-European languages of the Caucasian family have been drawn. (Collins, 10) the only conclusion that has been reached concerning the linguistic identity of Euskera, is that it is definitely non-Indo-European. There are examples of non-Indo-European speaking peoples, such as the Magyars, establishing themselves in Europe but this establishment has always been within the historical period. (Collins, 11) The Basque were definitely established in the Pyrenees at least one thousand years before the Magyars arrived in the Carpathian Basin. (Collins, 11) The conclusion that one is compelled to arrive at is that Euskera is a remnant of the ancient languages that were spoken in Europe prior to the Indo-European invasions of the second millennium B.C. Thus analysis of the Basque language, and attempts to classify it, lead one to questions of their physical origins.
The theories concerning the Basque origin go a long way in explaining the reason why their identity never developed the force necessary to create a desire for statehood among them. Many early theorists have linked Euskera to the original language of humanity that existed before the Tower of Babel. (Baud, 24) People have tried to link the Basque to African peoples such as the Iberians who occupied Spain prior to the Roman invasion, but these have proven inconclusive. (Baud, 26) A ridiculous theory attempts to link the Basque with the inhabitants of Atlantis as well as the American Indians. This theory holds that the ancestors of the American Indians, who themselves descended from the Atlantians, moved eastwards across Asia while those of the Basque moved west. (Baud, 28) The fact that none of these theories has proven conclusive in connection with the apparent ancient origins of Euskera, point to the identification of the Basque as remnants of the Neolithic pre-Indo-European population of Europe.
As the case of the Magyars displays, migrations are crucial in the development of a forceful identity. The evidence concerning Basque origins leaves on wonder if they ever experienced an epic migration. Archeological evidence expresses the reasonableness of a hypothesis maintaining that “the Basque have descended from the indigenous Neolithic/Bronze age inhabitants of the mountainous zones” of the Pyrenees. (Collins, 30) If the Basque are not remnants of the Neolithic population of Europe, then their migration most likely occurred so far in the past, that language itself had not developed enough to harbor abstract concepts such as ethnic identity. The fact that the Basque lack a migration of the nature that would help to forge a forceful identity is apparent. The Basque also lacked the geographic catalyst necessary to the formation of a forceful identity.
The area that the Basque claim as their homeland is intersected by the Pyrenees Mountains. This mountain chain casts decisive influence on climate, communications, and forms of human society in the region. (Collins, 17) The Pyrenees region is marked by a large number of valleys that effectively separates this area into “Micro-worlds.” (Collins, 18) Unlike the Carpathian Basin, which the Magyars found so easy to mold into a unified state with definite borders, the Pyrenees defy unification. The micro-world quality of Pyrenees lent itself to the foundation of what are known as Fueros. Fueros are politically autonomous Basque regions that developed in the early medieval period. Each region was politically autonomous and does not reflect a unified Basque state, as the Basque Fueros were never united under a single government. (Heiberg, 20) the geography of the Pyrenees also inhibited the growth of a version of Euskera that was mutually intelligible among all Basque. “They (Basques) spoke an ample variety of tribal dialects of Euskera which in some cases were mutually unintelligible.” (Heiberg, 13) The Pyrenees formed a barrier to Basque unity that was seemingly insurmountable. Although the Basque lacked the migratory and geographical catalysts they possibly could have formed a forceful identity as a result of their encounter with the Roman Empire.
The Romans possessed one of the most forceful identities known throughout history. However, the Basques were never challenged by the Romans to identity themselves in the face of Roman identity. Most of the original Basque region was never directly occupied by Roman arms. (Payne, 10) Once again, it was the geography that played a role in the development of the Basque identity. “The Romans were not generally interested in the Basque territory because of its remoteness…and they apparently accepted the theory of overall Roman sovereignty in return for general local autonomy in most individual districts of the region.” (Payne, 10) Even though the Basques accepted the overall sovereignty of the Romans, the nature of the Roman’s localized rule, Pamplona (Popmpeypolis) was the only outpost, and the limits of their interest meant that Basque control of the Pyrenees was never challenged. (Collins, 58) Unlike the Magyars, who were subjugated by the Khazars, the Basque never faced adversity in the form of Roman oppression. Without the catalyst provided by a co-existence with a people whose forceful identity compelled them to identify themselves, the Basque identity did not develop a state compelling force.
The unchallenging nature of the Roman occupation coupled with the imposing geography of the Pyrenees and its effect upon the development of a universal version of Euskera affectively stifled the development of a forceful Basque identity. A forceful sense of identity was not felt among the Basque until the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth century. The long delay in the rise of a forceful Basque identity can be linked to their lack of a migration within the historical period as well as the geography of their homeland that hindered the creation of a mutually intelligible language and left them relatively isolated from any peoples with challenging identities for thousands of years.
The present day identities of today’s Basque and Hungarians are the result of innumerable events and ideas. However, the fact remains that the Basques are stateless while the Hungarians are represented in the U.N. The reason for this statelessness can be found in the foundations of Basque identity. This identity is based only upon a common, yet fractitious, language and the fact that they have inhabited the micro-worlds of the Pyrenees valleys for centuries. Contrast this to the foundations of Hungarian identity, an identity tied to an easily defined geographical area to which they purposefully migrated en masse while suffering the subjugation of the Khazars and the torments of the Pechenegs. The exploration of the contrast shows the critical role which migration, geography, and substantial contact with a people possessing a state, plays in the development of an identity which sufficient power to propel a people to statehood.
- Bartha, Anta. Balaza, K. Trans. Hungarian Society in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries. Akademiai Kiado Budapest. 1975
- Blaud, Henry C. The Basques. R and E Research Associates San Francisco. 1957
- Collins, Roger. The Basques. Basil Blackwell Ltd. Oxford. 1986
- Fodor, Istvan. In Search of a New Homeland, the Prehistory of the Hungarian People and the Conquest. Kner Publishing House Gyoma, Hugary 1982
- Hieberg, Marianne. The Making of the Basque Nation. Cambridge University Press Cambridge. 1989
Payne, Stanley G. Basque Nationalism. University of Reno Press Reno, Nevada. 1975
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