Minorities from East-Central Europe in the Twentieth Century: A Retrospective

Sorin Arhire

Frontiers, self-determination, interethnic conflicts, exchanges of populations, emigrations.


Before the twentieth century, the existence of countless ethnic minorities was nothing new to East-Central Europe. The German Empire, Austro-Hungary, the Tsarist Empire and the Ottoman Empire controlled this part of Europe, even though Romania, Montenegro and Serbia had received international recognition as independent states since 1878, Bulgaria had declared its full sovereignty from the Ottoman Empire in 1908 and Albania had gotten independence just before the outbreak of the First World War. During the first half of the twentieth century there were countless minorities in East-Central Europe, but in the late twentieth century, the states of East-Central Europe looked entirely different in terms of ethnicity compared to the picture from before the Second World War. The disappearance of Jews and Germans, the exchanges of populations which took place at the end of the Second World War, and the volunteer and forced emigrations all played their part.


1. The area of Romania as it was before the First World War was 130,177 square kilometres and its population 7,160,682 citizens. Joseph Rothschild, East Central Europe between the Two World Wars (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1977), 281.

2. Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York, London and Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 222.

3. Rothschild, East Central Europe, 89.

4. Jean-Marie Le Breton, Europa Centrală și Orientală între 1917 și 1990 [Central and Eastern Europe between 1917 and 1990], trans. Micaela Slăvescu (Bucharest: Cavallioti, 1996), 20.

5. Rothschild, East Central Europe, 36.

6. Lucian Boia, De ce este România altfel? [Why Is Romania Different?] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2013), 74.

7. Anuarul statistic al României 1937 și 1938 [The Statistic Yearbook of Romania] (Bucharest: National Printing House, 1939), 58–61.

8. Rothschild, East Central Europe, 208.

9. Ibid., 155. All these statistics were obtained following the last census carried out in Hungary before the First World War, conducted in 1910. See the official statistical yearbooks of the Central Royal Hungarian Office of Statistics, Annuaire Statistique Hongrois (Budapest: A Magyar Kir. Központi Statisztikai Hivatal).

10. Ibid., 328.

11. Poland signed on 28 June 1919, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia on 10 September 1919 and Romania on 9 December 1919.

12. After the Second World War, the European frontiers remained the same as in the interwar period, except that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were integrated into the Soviet Union, the western and eastern borders of Poland were changed, Istria was given to Yugoslavia by Italy, and Romania lost Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Southern Dobruja, which were given to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria respectively.

13. Lucian Boia, Două secole de mitologie națională [Two Centuries of National Mythology] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2012), 74.

14. A. Golopenția and D. C. Georgescu, Populația Republicii Populare Române la 25 ianuarie 1948 [The Population of the Romanian People’s Republic on 25 January 1948] (Bucharest: Central Institute of Statistics, 1948), 8, 22.

15. Ion Alexandrescu et al., Enciclopedia de Istorie a României [An Encyclopaedia of Romanian History] (Bucharest: Meronia, 2000), 408.

16. Sorina-Paula Bolovan and Ioan Bolovan, Germanii din România. Perspective istorice și demografice [The Romanian Germans: Historical and Demographic Perspectives] (Cluj-Napoca: The Centre for Transylvanian Studies, 2000), 78–80; Dennis Deletant, Ceaușescu și Securitatea. Constrângere și disidență în România anilor 1965–1989 [Ceaușescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965–1989] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 1998), 125.

17. Robert D. Kaplan, Fantomele Balcanilor. O călătorie în istorie [Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History], trans. Diana Grad (Filipeștii de Târg: Antet, 2002), 170.

18. Lucian Boia, Cum s-a românizat România [How Romania was Romanised] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2015), 115.

19. Rezultati ot Prebroiavaneto na Naselenieto [Census Results], t. 1 (Sofia: National Statistical Institute, 1994), 106. Apud Nuri Korkmaz and Serpil Güdül, “Accommodation of Minorities in Nation-States during the Twentieth Century: The Turkish Minority in Bulgaria and the Policies of Communist Rule between 1945 and 1989,” AUASH 23/I (2019): 254.

20. Korkmaz and Güdül, “Accommodation of Minorities,” 255–256, 260.

21. Kaplan, Fantomele Balcanilor, 203.

22. Le Breton, Europa Centrală și Orientală, 279.

23. On 30 August 1940, following the Vienna Award, Romania lost a significant part of Transylvania to Hungary; this region had over 2.5 million inhabitants, of which more than half were Romanians. On 9 March 1945, Romania regained the territory it had lost five years before. Rebecca Haynes, Politica României față de Germania între 1936 și 1940 [Romania’s Policy towards Germany, 1936–40], trans. Cristina Aboboaie (Jassy: Polirom, 2003), 159.

24. See Eleonóra Matkowits-Kretz, “Calvary of the Germans in Hungary at the End of WW II,” AUS 7 (2015): 51–59.

25. US Bureau of the Census, International Population Reports, Population of Hungary (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Libraries, 1952), 34.

26. Tony Judt, Epoca postbelică. O istorie a Europei de după 1945 [Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945], trans. Georgiana Perlea (Jassy: Polirom, 2008), 608.