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The Hungarian Optants Question in transnational perspectives. International organizations and legal dispute settlements of economic and minority problems in the interwar period

Jan. 17, 2023

The end of WW I drastically changed the political map of Central and Eastern Europe and disrupted large imperial economic markets. With new or enlarged independent states appearing, their elites were facing diplomatic challenges, as well as legal, and economic problems, both internationally and domestically. This conference focuses on the Hungarian Optants Question, using it however as a case study for the larger scope of exploring fields of a changing statehood in the interwar period.

University of Bucharest, 15-16 June 2023
Deadline for proposals: 15 March 2023

The Optants Question evolved as a consequence of Agrarian laws from successor states’ legislators: the Agrarian reform expropriated large landowners down to a certain maximum of land and obliged the Hungarian landowners in Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia to opt for the respective citizenship, otherwise they would be treated as foreigners and would loose their lands altogether. Hungarian diplomats and lawyers tried to protect their co-nationals abroad and as Optants domestically, claiming that these provisions were in contradiction with the Treaty of Trianon and with the general protection of property in market based societies. The ensuing dispute engaged all available political and legal bodies and mechanisms of conflict settlement within the League of Nations and in its orbit. On the level of conflict settlement, the social and economic aims of the agrarian reforms had to be reconciled with the liberal notion of property rights of Hungarian citizens. While Bucharest, Belgrade, and Prague argued with its sovereign rights to enact domestic social policies, Budapest tried to frame its co-nationals’ right for a fair compensation for expropriated land in line with the sanctity of property in market societies.

These dynamics triggered transnational interactions not only between Hungarian and the successor states’ diplomats, politicians and agrarian specialists but also between international jurists. When the political and legal dispute was resolved in Paris in 1930, “The Agrarian Fund” was created as an international organization with the task of implementing the settlement, while the Bank for International Settlement was endowed with the financial management. Arguably, this solution depoliticized the Optants Question and rendered its implementation into a mere technical question of financial experts.

Beside this transnational traits of the Optants question, there is more traditional foreign policy dimension to it as well, since Hungarian large landowners were faced with the same problems of expropriation and option in Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Within the Little Entente, the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav diplomacies closely watched the trajectory of the Romanian-Hungarian dispute and to some degree, they coordinated their policies with Bucharest.

Regarding domestic policies, in all countries of Central and Eastern Europe agrarian reforms intersected with minority policies, which raised questions of equality before the law vs social equality, of ethnic vs civic citizenship, and of the economic and political costs of redistributive justice. Finally, the reforms in agriculture represented a policy in which the state elites invested in hitherto unknown degree efforts to regulating, governing and even planning of property relations and economic processes in agriculture. As with the legal and financial settlement of the Optants Question, in the agrarian reforms in general, the conference enquires into the potentials and realities of a changed statehood through professionalization.

For this conference, applications for the following dimensions are welcome:

- Diplomatic-political interventions to the Hungarian Optants Question
- The League of Nations and the Hungarian Optants
- Legal decisions of the Mixed Arbitral Tribunals
- The Agrarian Fund’s and Bank for International Settlement role
- The Little Entente in diplomatic, legal, and economic perspectives
- Legal disputes and practices related to other Optants and minority problems in Central and Eastern Europe
- Majority-minority related aspects of redistributive justice in the interwar period
- The consequences of the Optants Question in the scholarship of international law
- Optants’ case studies

Please send an abstract (3,000 characters) and a short CV (3,000 characters) to PD Dr. Dietmar Müller (muellerd@uni-leipzig.de) by 15 March 2023. Applicants will be informed by 28 March 2023, on the acceptance of their proposal.

Accommodation and board will be provided by the organizers. The organizers will publish a selection of the papers presented in a collective volume.

Conference held as a part of the project The Romanian-Hungarian Optants Question in European Comparison. A Transnational, Institutional, and Social History Analysis (PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2020-1508), supported by the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research, CNCS – UEFISCDI.

Contact: muellerd@uni-leipzig.de

Organizing committee:
PD Dr. Dietmar Müller (University of Bucharest / University of Leipzig)
Dr. Marius Diaconescu (University of Bucharest)
Dr. Andrei Florin Sora (University of Bucharest)

Source: The Hungarian Optants Question in transnational perspectives. International organizations and legal dispute settlements of economic and minority problems in the interwar period. In: H-Soz-Kult, 17.01.2023, <www.hsozkult.de/event/id/event-133100>.