Symbolic Geographies and the Politics of Hungarian Identity in the ‘Populist-Urbanist Debate,’ 1925-44

Richard S. Esbenshade


This article examines intellectuals’ debates about national identity in interwar and World War II Hungary to uncover their connection to underlying “symbolic geographies” and “mental maps.” Focusing on the way in which Hungarian identity and history have been informed by, and indeed inserted into, virtual spatial rubrics that rely on the historically developed cultural concepts of “Europe” and “Asia,” and “West” and “East,” the paper looks in particular at the “populist-urbanist debate” that raged between two groups of writers, both opposed to the ruling neo-feudal order. The populists were composed mostly of provincial-born intellectuals who saw the recognition and uplift of the peasant as the key to Hungary’s salvation. The urbanists were cosmopolitan intellectuals, mostly of assimilated Jewish origin, who saw the wholesale adoption of progressive Western rights and norms as the only way forward.


Symbolic Geography, Populist-Urbanist Debate, National Identity, Hungarian History, Intellectuals

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