Construction of the 'Folk Cultural Heritage' in Hungary and Rival Versions of National Identity.


This study analyzes the process by which Hungarian national culture has been constructed and changed in the last century, by focusing on one set of national symbols: the 'folk cultural heritage'. Competing groups of the elite developed more or less different, rival notions of 'Hungarianness'. In accord with these changing notions, different representations and interpretations of the folk culture emerged. To demonstrate that relationship, the author presents three dilemmas, contradictions of Hungarian self-perception and shows how diverse positions in the political-ideological debates were reflected in rival identity-constructs and rival symbolic strategies. The relation between state and nation was a sensitive question in Hungary, dramatized by abrupt changes of the country's territory and political regime. National membership 'imagined' on the basis of language and culture or on the basis of citizenship resulted in different symbolic economies. Another divide separated modernists and traditionalists - their debates often referred to a richly elaborated symbolism of East and West, to an 'eastern' and to a 'western' image of the folk traditions. Finally, the study surveys the cultural programmes of competing elites, succeeding and replacing each other, the strategies of the 19th century lesser nobility, the 'historic middle class', the upward mobile urban bourgeoisie, the populist intellectuals of the inter-war period, the communists, and their diverse opponents. Ethnographers and folklorists, as professional constructors and interpreters of the 'folk cultural heritage' appear in this picture sometimes in the ideological mainstream, sometimes in opposition or as supporting actors in marginal positions. Professional institutions have a considerable stability or inertia, which gives them some independence from political currents. Nevertheless, the author argues, the history of 'national ethnography' gains in plasticity and depth when placed into the complex process of national identity-construction and reconstruction.

How to Cite

Hofer, T., (1990) “Construction of the 'Folk Cultural Heritage' in Hungary and Rival Versions of National Identity.”, Ethnologia Europaea 21(1), 145-170. doi:


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Tamás Hofer (Museum of Ethnography, Budapest)



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