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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2020

Ethnic Triangles, Assimilation, and the Complexities Of Acculturation in A Multi-Ethnic Society



The ‘national’ histories of ‘Hungary’, ‘Poland’, and ‘the Jews’ are entangled. In the course of the nineteenth century the territories of the national states of Europe acquired an ethnic character. Being Jewish had to relate to the national identity proclaimed by the state. One consequence of the ethnic ‘nationalization’ of states has been defined as follows:

People adopt their ethnic and national identities depending on the national context and are responsive to political and economic incentives. Even though people might believe that they belong to a particular ethnic or national group, they are included into or excluded from ethnic and national categories by elites for political, economic and cultural reasons.

In the political discourse of the late nineteenth century, Jews became a ‘race’ which was labelled ‘semitic’. In conjunction with the emergence of the concept of race and the application of labels used by linguists for classifying languages, a similar confusion occurred everywhere in Europe as speakers of different languages became classified as ‘ethnic groups’. The concept ‘lingual’ coalesced with ‘ethnic’ and led to the concept of ‘national minorities’, which was codified at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919–20. The new states were obliged to safeguard the collective rights of the national minorities.

After the First World War the League of Nations was created as an international organization to monitor the collective rights of national minorities. Jews became a national minority. The difference from other national minorities was that the Jews did not have a national state of their own. They became hyphenated citizens with different ‘national’ connotations. This implied bivalence—a positive connotation—or ambivalence—a negative connotation—in an individual Jew's self-identification and in the eyes of non-Jews.

In the process of the emancipation, secularization, and democratization of society, Jewish individuals might identify with Polish or Hungarian as well as with Jewish culture. The concept of bivalence has been used to denote the coexistence in an individual's mind of ‘non-conflicting interlinking of elements selected from two cultures, possessed, approximately, in the same degree and accepted as close to e's value system’.