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Transylvania is situated in the south-eastern corner of the Carpathian Basin. Its area is roughly 100,000km2 (40,000 sq. miles). The Carpathian Mountains, reaching above 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) in places, form its boundary to the east and the south, separating it from the Romanian regions of Moldavia and Wallachia. Easy to cross hill country borders it to the north, while to the west its limits are defined by the Great Hungarian Plain.

The first known state that existed in this area was that of the Dacians, an Indo-European tribe, in the 1st century B.C. The Roman Emperor Trajan vanquished Decebal, King of the Dacians, after a bloody struggle in A.D. 106, and annexed the area to the roman Empire. During the subsequent period of migrations, waves of conquerors passed through the region: the Goths, the Gepidae, the Huns and the Avars, none of whom were able to establish a durable state. Around 890, when the Hungarians arrived, Transylvania had a sparse Slavic population, who owed nominal allegiance to the Bulgarian Empire centred on the lower Danube.


Hungarian tribes occupied the Carpathian Basin, including Transylvania, during the ninth century. The first Christian King of Hungary, St. Stephen, was crowned in the year 1000. From that time on, right up to 1920, Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. At first, the horse-riding, cattle-raising Hungarians settled in the river valleys of central Transylvania. The defence of the eastern borders was entrusted by the kings of the House of Árpád (the first Hungarian royal family) to one of the Hungarian ethnic groups, the Székelys (Szeklers). The southern borders of Transylvania were settled in the 12th century by colonists invited from the Holy Roman Empire, i.e. Germany. In Hungary these German settlers were known as Transylvanian Saxons. While most Transylvanian peasants were serfs of the nobility, the Szeklers retained their status of free soldiers, and the Saxons obtained the right of self-government.

The ancestors of the Romanians first appeared in the high mountains of South-Transylvania towards the end of the eleventh century. They were shepherds who migrated in from Wallachia and lived in scattered settlements in the mountains. They were distinguished from the roman Catholic Hungarians and Saxons by belonging to the Greek Orthodox religion. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Transylvania had a population of about 800,000, of whom 65% were Hungarians, the rest split evenly between Saxons and Romanians.

In 1526 the Kingdom of Hungary was defeated by an invading Turkish army in the battle of Mohács, the King himself dying on the battlefield. The heart of the country was conquered by the Turks, while its western and northern parts passed, together with the Hungarian crown, to the Habsburgs in Vienna. Transylvania became an autonomous principality, paying tribute to the Turks, but ruled by Hungarian princes. This principality, now Protestant, became for a time the center of Hungarian culture, and it was here that the political traditions of Hungary survived at their best. At the end of the 17th century the Turks were expelled from Hungary by a coalition of Christian armies, and Hungary regained its unity. The Habsburgs however, although Kings of Hungary, did not allow Transylvania to be administered by the Hungarian authorities, and ruled it directly from Vienna.

Living mostly in the plains, the Hungarians had borne the brunt of the warfare against the Turkish and Mongolian invaders during the preceding two centuries. Consequently, their numbers were heavily reduced. Meanwhile the Romanians, protected against the invaders by being high up in the mountains, had increased their numbers considerably. Their population was further increased during the 18th century by the influx from Wallachia of numerous refugees fleeing rulers installed by the Turks. By the middle of the 18th century the number of Romanians in Transylvania had increased to 50% of the population. This was the period of national awakening among Romanians, when the theory of Daco-Romanian continuity was invented. According to this theory, Romanians are the descendants of the Dacians and of Roman legionaries, and Transylvania is theirs by right of inheritance.

After the Hungarian revolution of 1848 against Habsburg rule, the Transylvanian Diet (Parliament) voted union of the principality with Hungary. After the defeat of the Hungarian War of Independence in 1849, this union was dissolved in Vienna, but it was restored when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was established in 1867.

With the Trianon Peace Treaty (1920) that followed World War I, Hungary lost to Romania not only historical Transylvania, but also parts of the Hungarian plain bordering in the north and west, in total disregard of the ethnological realities. Among the inhabitants there were 1.650,000 Hungarians. The newly created Great Rumania, whose national minorities included Germans, Ukrainians, Serbs, Jews, Armenians and others in addition to Hungarians, declared itself a 'national' state, which endeavoured, in all fields of activity, to diminish the influence of minorities - in particular that of the Hungarian minority, judged to be the most dangerous.

These infringements of minority rights were in complete disregard of the engagements undertaken by Romania at the Peace Conference, where full protection had been promised to national minorities.

The Second Vienna Award in 1940 cut Transylvania in half. Northern Transylvania and the region inhabited by the Székelys (Szeklers) were returned to Hungary. However, the Paris Peace Treaty following World War II restored once again the boundaries established by the Treaty of Trianon.

After 1945, while Prime Minister Groza was the leader of Romania, there was a brief flicker of hope that Romania would assure the economic and cultural development of its Hungarian minority, by then over 2 million strong. But starting in the 1950's an opposing trend prevailed: the increasingly clear aim of the Romanian Government became the crushing and assimilation of the Hungarian and other minorities in the country. This policy has gone to extreme lengths under President Ceausescu: the Hungarian universities and other historic Hungarian education institutions were closed, Hungarian primary schools are constantly diminishing in number, Hungarian-language theatres are closed or are forced to show Romanian plays, there are hardly any Hungarian books published and Hungarian-language newspapers are simply transmitters of official Romanian nationalist propaganda. Hungarians rarely get into managerial positions, the great majority of Hungarian students can only attend Romanian-language primary and secondary schools, and a Hungarian can hardly ever get into university.

No Hungarian cultural institutions survive, books and newspapers published in Hungary are not allowed across the border, and the use of the Hungarian language is prohibited in public places. There has been a systematic settlement of non-Hungarians into purely Hungarian-inhabited areas in order to break up their continuity. Historical Hungarian cities, such as Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca), Nagyvárad (Oradea) and Marosvásárhely (Tirgu-Mures), are flooded by the influx of Romanians. Hungarian intellectuals are moved to Moldavia or Wallachia, while teachers and civil servants moved to Transylvania speak Romanian only. Workers in some factories are forced to move with their families to 'old' Romania, to be replaced by ethnic Romanians. The Romanian families receive as an incentive a resettlement allowance.

Several thousand Hungarian villages in Transylvania have been declared 'unviable' to be bulldozed into the ground, and their population to be forcibly scattered and resettled in Romanian-speaking areas. The press, broadcast media and the schools all present Transylvania as historically Romanian territory, where the Hungarians are 'barbarian and fascist invaders, who for centuries had oppressed and exterminated the peaceful and civilized Romanians'.

To divert attention from the inhuman living conditions and the disastrous economic situation in the country, government propaganda turns Hungarians into scapegoats, blaming them for all problems. The hatred stirred up against Hungarians is such that their daily life is filled with terror. There are frequent atrocities against them, and nothing is done against the perpetrators. If anyone dares to protest, he is imprisoned or sentenced to forced labour in the Danube delta camps.

By Dr. Kálmán Benda, Historian, Institute of History, Budapest, 1988.

[1] New research results show that strong groups, such as the Székelys, - most likely forming parts of the Avar realm (567 - approx. 800) - had settled in the Carpathian Basin prior to the 9th century an0,000,d spoke a Uralic language akin to Hungarian/Magyar used by the newcomers. L.K.

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