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The Evolution of the Transylvanian Economy over the Last One Hundred Years

Dénes Sályi 2018.10.12.

Transylvania was annexed to the Romanian Kingdom in 1920. Studying its last 100 years, we can conclude that despite all of the various changes the region has undergone, somehow it has preserved its peculiar and magical atmosphere. On the other hand, there are many good reasons to doubt that its huge natural, economic and human potential have been sufficiently exploited.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Romanian majority and political elite have concentrated primarily on how to use political ideology and excessive shows of power instead of implementing regional development plans and policies. Transylvania differs geographically, historically and culturally from the other parts of the Southeastern European country. It isn’t surprising considering the fact that Transylvania belonged to the Hungarian Kingdom for one thousand years and then to the Habsburg Monarchy from 1526 until 1918. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1967, Transylvania experienced a very rapid development. Its cities, especially in Partium (Temesvár, Arad, Nagyvárad), made colossal progress even by western standards. A dense railway network was built, higher educational institutions were utilized, public hospitals appeared, the streets were given modern public lighting, industrialization and urbanization advanced and the middle-class grew stronger. Transylvania stepped into the 20th century with well-established hopes for its economic prospects. After the Romanian annexation, however, the Romanian state was in constant fear that Hungary would recapture Transylvania and therefore it made great efforts to make the area Romanian ethnically. Transylvania lost economic momentum and the regions beyond the Carpathians didn’t make much progress either. The only exception was Bucharest, which enjoyed a great construction boom and a flourishing cultural life. As a result, it became known as the Paris of the East.

After World War II and the brutal consequences of the communist takeover (nationalizations, putting the previous economic elite out of business, deportations and imprisonments of people etc.), Transylvania was even further behind. Although there were signs of modernization – electrified households and an expanding housing stock – several other fields were poorly developed, like the railway network and the roads, and conditions worsened when Ceausescu came to power in 1965. Similarly to other socialist countries, Romania pursued the policy of forced industrialization. As a result, efficiency in industry improved slowly, whereas pollution increased dramatically. At the end of the eighties, a village destruction program was launched and first demolished the Hungarian village of Bözödújfalu. The settlement on the Maros had been inhabited by a multicultural community including Catholics, Calvinists, Unitarians and Jews. The houses were pulled down and a reservoir was built in their place, but the hydroelectric power station installed on the dammed brook hardly produced any electricity. Due to this, a prosperous community was destroyed by a totally unnecessary, barbaric and loss-inducing project. Sadly enough, such pointless and extreme measures were typical in communist Romania at the time. As most of the ethnic German population was persecuted and sold to Western Germany, a number of advanced cities and villages were depopulated. The once thriving Saxony still hasn’t reached the standard it used to enjoy, though lately some measures have been taken to revitalize the area.

The Complicated Relationship Between Romania and Its Ethnic Minorities over the Last 100 Years

The 1989 Romanian Revolution was followed by a rather turbulent and often chaotic transition period, not uncommon in other post-communist countries. The establishment of a market economy and democratic institutions proved to be slow and controversial. Many jobs were lost and when Romania joined the EU in 2007; emigration to Western and Southern European countries increased and the population rapidly declined as a consequence. Infrastructure hasn’t developed as required, and though the highways of Transylvania are of excellent quality already, the motorway network is sparse and its extension is happening very slowly. The railway is not efficient and a modern network is in high demand so that major cities can be reached easily and quickly. This is also true for the capital because it isn’t centrally located and is difficult to access by public transport.
From the beginning of the 2000s, the Romanian economy grew swiftly and a considerable improvement occurred which could be felt in some regions of Transylvania (Kolozsvár, Temesvár etc.). However, due to poor infrastructure, even today a number of multinational companies are still not present in Transylvania. It is well illustrated by the BMW story: the Bavarian car manufacturing giant originally wanted to go to Romania but, because of the lack of motorways and underdeveloped railways, they finally decided to build their new Central European factory in Debrecen, Hungary.

After the lack of progress Transylvania has had the past one hundred years, it certainly deserves a more dynamic and fruitful future.

By Dénes Sályi

featured photo by szabadsag.ro


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