|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|
Prior to the revolt in 1783, conditions were so hazardous that Joseph ordered the reannexation of fourteen insecure communities in Szörény County to the Military Border, but the situation still remained unstable.
Thus, in addition to the more general problems of lord-subject relations and religious differences, the existence of robber bands, the large wandering population, and the desperate condition of the state serfs on the imperial estates all combined to make this corner of Transylvania rather unique. In Marczali's words, the area was "selected for a rebellion." Due to these special circumstances, Gyula Szekfû even argued that "the Horea uprising was not a typical nationality movement, nor a typical agrarian rebellion, but something beneath these --- the blind surge of unfortunate masses who had not yet risen to the agricultural level of a village economy." He substantiated this by noting that the rebellion did not spread among the 65,000 Rumanians living in the Saxons' territories, nor in the Szamos (Somes) River valley, nor even in the more densely populated northern counties whose Rumanians had long since been successfully integrated into the agricultural economy.
There appears to be validity in this view, since in the spring of 1783 when Joseph saw the deplorable condition of the Transylvanian peasants with his own eyes he issued his Patent from Nagyszeben (Hermannstadt, Sibiu) abolishing their "servile and menial humiliation." The measure applied to the entire province, and it raised overwrought expectations everywhere. Yet it was only in the southwestern corner that the revolt erupted. It should be noted that there the lower Orthodox clergy were telling the believers that the emperor and the Hungarians were locked in a mortal struggle and, should the Rumanians take up arms against the landlords, the ruler would stand on their side. Accordingly, Joseph's announcement of both a general census and the opening of enlistments in the Rumanian Border Guards in the summer of 1784 proved to be a hapless combination. Almost immediately on August 18 and 25, the Transylvanian central government informed the Viennese Chancellery of trouble in Hunyad County. In defiance of all estate and county authority, entire villages left their lands to enlist, not only to be free of urbarial dues, but under the specious reasoning that the emperor had chosen them to receive arms as a nationality to enforce his imperial will over the lords and the other nationalities. The Imperial Army officers did nothing to discourage this belief, though they did refuse to enroll the peasants en masse and tried to send them back to their villages. However, Count András Hadik, president of the War Council in Vienna, did respond to official appeals.
He canceled the recruitment and authorized the jailing of those who defied authority.
By the end of summer Vienna believed that the crisis was over, and Joseph, who never had taken it seriously, ignored all warnings. János Zeyk, Hunyad County alispán, reported that the good-will of the Rumanian serfs "toward even the best landlords" was very doubtful, and he expected a great upheaval. A second official urged recognition that the conscription had brought the county to the brink of anarchy. Yet, even contrary to the advice of the Transylvanian government, Joseph ordered a resumption of enlistments for October 28. He was busy at the time punishing a rebellious Transylvanian magnate, Miklós Wesselényi of Szolnok County, and was delighted at the opportunity of taunting the Hungarian nobility with one of his customary lectures. Joseph, in fact, misapprehended the situation. In his view the peasant was at most overzealous, but it was the nobles, unforgivable disobedience to his will that was the major source of the Transylvanian problems. On October 31, the very day the Transylvanian revolt of 1784 erupted in Zaránd County, Joseph ordered the Transylvanian military to use armed force against the nobles who resisted the conscription, and he confided with acerbity to his brother that he would punish their "arrogance."
Even after the news of the revolt reached Vienna, Joseph did nothing for two weeks. According to the Venetian ambassador's report, he believed the "unpleasant news," as he termed it on November 12, to be exaggerated by the Hungarian nobility in order to block his salutary reforms. Hence, he issued no orders for the military in Transylvania to suppress the rebellion. This suited the inclination of the military commander in Transylvania, General Baron Preiss, as he had bad relations with Governor Bruckenthal, whose frantic pleas for help he gleefully ignored. The military's inaction raised the insurrectionists' prestige beyond all hopes and encouraged an increasing belief that their actions were approved by the emperor. Within a week the rebels burned twenty-seven communities to the ground, and on November 7 they even laid waste to the lands of the Habsburg Military Border and Imperial Mines Treasury. This was in the vicinity of Abrudbánya (Abrud) and Verespatak (Rosia Montana), just across the border from Zaránd County into Alsó-Fehér County. But on the same day, to the south, just across the Maros (Mures) River into Hunyad County at Déva, a hastily assembled bandérium (military muster) of Hungarian nobles broke the rebels' siege of the town and threw them back, inflicting heavy losses. The next day the nobles summarily executed forty-four of their prisoners, and this affair seemed to disturb
Joseph as much as the rebellion itself. He forbade the noble military musters and at last ordered the military to take limited action with small detachments. "Due to advanced age," Preiss was put on the retired list and replaced on November 20 by General Fabris, a Venetian. On November 21, a Lieutenant Colonel Schultz of the Imperial Army was offering the rebels, excepting their leaders, amnesty and rectification of urbarial abuses in return for surrender. The rebels, their ranks swelled with an undetermined number of bandits and deserters, did not accept the proffered amnesty and refused to surrender. Throughout November, Joseph regarded the rebels with a certain sympathy, and on November 27 he issued orders not to treat them too harshly. But on November 29, Horea occupied Illy on the Maros River and openly defied the imperial troops while his followers proclaimed him "King of Dacia." This act and an eloquent appeal from the energetic Hadik on December 2 finally awoke Joseph to the fact that the rebels not only wanted to do away with Hungarian landlords, but with all governmental and social structure. Once the military received firm orders, the revolt was suppressed with relative ease by eighteen companies of Székely Border Guards under Lieutenant Colonel Kray. After their defeat on December 7, the Rumanians themselves turned Horea and the other leaders over to the authorities on December 27. On February 28, 1785, Horea and Closca were broken on the wheel at Gyulafehérvár before a large crowd, and parts of their quartered bodies with those of Crisan, who had committed suicide earlier, were displayed affixed to the gates of four Transylvanian towns.
This was the miserable end to an affair caused in part by Joseph II's rigid faith in his own judgement and uncompromising pursuit of Enlightenment concepts. But with all its fortuitous antecedents and elements, the revolt might still have been avoided, or might not have developed as it did, without the elusive and troublesome Horea. Whether or not he was a carpenter, he came from the lower ranks of society and possessed an active imagination plus a conspiratorial temperament. He was semieducated, according to László Makkai, who added the interesting information that the future leader was "intoxicated with oaths and secret ceremonies" administered by Masonic lodges in Vienna. In Makkai's view, the "King of Dacia" never really knew what he wanted. Marczali and Szekfû believed Horea was simply a Zalatna Treasury estate peasant without any education whatsoever.
Whatever the case, it appears that Horea exhorted the Zaránd County peasants to rebellion in clandestine meetings, so the revolt cannot be called entirely spontaneous. According to General Count Ferenc Gyulay's report, written to Hadik from Nagyszeben on November
12, Horea met with the peasants under a certain bridge as well as in a church on a mountain near the village of Meszták (Mesteacan) not far from Brád. It was there just prior to the revolt that Horea, who had just emerged from jail, showed his followers a gold cross and a Patent from the emperor, written in gold letters, supposedly authorizing them to kill the entire nobility. General Gyulay was at a loss to know where "that rotten guy" obtained such items, and neither has anyone else ever discovered their origin; but according to Gyula Szekfû, it was later discovered that the cross was ecclesiastical, and the Patent was an authorization for Turks to hold religious services in Vienna. In any case, these items had the desired effect, and Horea administered a semireligious oath to his followers to kill all the nobles.
The influence of this incitement, followed so closely by the revolt, appears obvious. In the early days of the revolt, as far north as Torda (Turda) County, a Rumanian was overheard expounding the view that "the Rumanians' star has risen, and the Hungarians should go back to Scythia because they [i.e., the Rumanians] were the oldest inhabitants of Transylvania." And in the initial days of November, the insurrectionists themselves proclaimed that in accordance with the commands of God and the emperor, anyone not of the Orthodox faith and in Rumanian dress was to be impaled on a stake or beheaded.
Given the extreme nature of such emotions, the bloody course, the excessive demands, and the ultimate failure of the revolt were all foreshadowed. The first recorded victims were two Zaránd County magistrates who called upon the rebels to disperse, and by the end of the relatively short uprising, 133 villages were burnt to the ground and 4,000 persons had been killed. General Gyulay's report lists a whole series of Zaránd and Hunyad towns in which many nobles lived. These towns were totally destroyed and a mere three people escaped. The report characterizes the rebels as "howling lions committing unspeakable raving acts of murder." Protestant and Catholic churches were defiled and burnt; in Dühük, the Catholic priests were tortured to death. Literally hundreds of Hungarian noble families were murdered without regard for age or sex, and pregnant women were special objects for dismemberment. Occasionally one of the lower Orthodox clergy spared a young woman and forced her into a marriage ceremony with one of the rebels with the object of making the "Rumanian religion" supreme in Transylvania. Obviously, such crude travesties had no shadow of sanction from the higher Orthodox clergy, who cooperated with the authorities to the utmost to end the rebellion. The Uniate clergy also participated in this effort, and it is of interest that one who
did so was Samuil Micu, a coauthor of the well-known 1791 Supplex libellus valachorum.
In the initial days of the revolt, as noted, the rebels killed those with noble status. County officials, judges, prosperous town dwellers, estate administrators and overseers, and even some Orthodox clergy who urged the insurrectionists to desist were among the first to be slaughtered. However, shortly after November 12, reports from three of the affected counties noted that the rebels had turned on the Hungarian peasantry as well. Thus, the widespread apprehension among the nobility of a general peasant jacquerie proved exaggerated. Contrary to repeated directives from Joseph, the nobles held hasty military musters in the counties adjacent to the rebellion and even beyond. But in spite of the great alarm, the rebels, increasing attacks on Hungarian peasants made it very unlikely that the rebellion, as large as it was, would include all Transylvania, let alone great areas of Inner Hungary. Even when the revolt did touch Torda (Turda) and Kolozs (Cojocna) counties to the north, it was in diminished form, and "the Székely people rose to protect the Hungarian propertied classes." Despite such early setbacks, the high water mark of the rebellion was around November 19--21, when Imperial Army officers attempted to negotiate a settlement with the rebel leaders. Actually believing they had won, the rebels issued the demands analyzed by Professor Held, which, in essence, called for the abolition of the socioeconomic order and the division of properties among themselves. Moreover, unmentioned by Professor Held, the rebels demanded that everyone in Transylvania adhere to the Orthodox creed. Unknown to them, in a letter of November 20, Joseph had decided they were "people running amok," though he still hoped to return them to "dutiful tranquillity" with negotiation. As noted, when the emperor at last understood the excessive nature of the rebels, acts and demands, Horea's followers were easily beaten by regular imperial forces at Topánfalva (Cîmpeni) on December 7, after which, for all purposes, the bloody revolt was ended.
The nature of the whole rebellion from beginning to end inclines one toward Gyula Szekfû's flat statement that not a single intelligent, educated man took part in it. Beyond Horea, Closca, and Crisan, it appears that the only other leadership came from Imperial Army deserters and the lowest stratum of the Orthodox clergy. There were rumors of a foreign officer who led the peasants, but this was never proven.
The rebels may have received some arms from Mihai Popescu, a Russian agent of Rumanian origin, but according to the November 7 account of András Forray, Arad County alispán, very few had firearms,
and most carried pitchforks and the habitual Rumanian cudgel. In contrast to Professor Held's terminology of "warriors," "independent command," and "tactical know-how," Henrik Marczali concluded that the rebels never were in a condition for warfare, and their successes were due to their great numbers and surprise. To this should be added Joseph's delay in using force against them.
The objectives of the revolt according to Professor Held were the rather moderate demands of political equality, land reform, and equitable taxation, which "reflect the atmosphere of the European Enlightenment." Yet Henrik Marczali concluded that the movement's leaders showed no higher insight than the outlandish hope that the emperor would support them. Gyula Szekfû stated that Horea and the masses behind him were groping for a primitive freedom that would have been independent of all state and social order. He concluded, "genuine national aspirations, or an institutional state structure, or even Horea's phantom of a 'Dacian Kingdom', far surpassed the intellectual abilities of these rebels." One is inclined to agree with his assessment, knowing the gruesome nature of the rebellion and the hopelessly inflated demands issued by its leaders. If the rebellion's demands somehow reflected the rational atmosphere of the Enlightenment, its fanatical objectives of social, racial, and religious exclusiveness did not. In addition, the Enlightenment's panacea of pure and dispassionate reason was likely inadequate when faced with the singular history of Transylvania. In a similar vein, many historians have wrongly assumed that the problems of Hungary or of the total monarchy at any given point in time simply involved the adjustment of relations among peoples all more or less at the same level of historical development.
One thing is certain about the 1784 Rumanian peasant revolt in Transylvania: both the contemporary press and many historians since have saddled the Hungarian nobility and, to a lesser extent, the Hungarian state with the entire responsibility for it. Articles in 1784 and 1785 in the Hamburg Politisches Journal held up the "hated feudal regime of the Catholic and foreign Hungarian tyrants" as the sole cause of the eruption. The Journal did not mention the impossible Habsburg bureaucracy, the miserable conditions on the Imperial Treasury estates, the well-meant but precipitant reforms of Joseph II, the emperor's misapprehension of classes and events, Rumanian immigration from beyond the Carpathians, the endemic robber bands, or even the poor agricultural land in southwestern Transylvania. The Journal, which appealed to the German bourgeoisie of the Enlightenment, did mention, however, that the only difference between Horea and the
"demagogue" George Washington was that the former had not been blessed with the success of the latter.
In conclusion, the tragic events of 1784 were recorded in numerous Transylvanian family chronicles and long remembered in an area where long memories abound. A generation later the surprise was not that the long-suffering Rumanians and Hungarians fought one another, but that the Rumanians and Hungarians of the Liberal age so nearly cooperated in 1848.
Professor Deak is, of course, correct to emphasize the diversity bordering on confusion that existed in Transylvania in 1848 and 1849, a subject too often characterized in Western text references as a racial war of aggressive Hungarians oppressing unfortunate Rumanians. Yet it is known, for example, that the Fifty-fifth Battalion of the forces fighting for Hungary was composed largely of Rumanians. Moreover, the Transylvanian events of 1848, especially in Rumanian historiography since at least World War II, are seen as an important manifestation along a continuum leading inevitably to irredentist goals. Yet, in reality, virtually all of the Rumanian leaders in 1848--49 sought the solution to their people's problems within the context of the Habsburg Monarchy. Bishop Andreiu saguna, rather ignored by recent Rumanian historiography, even hesitated to apply to the Habsburgs for a national territory. In this respect Professor Deak's references to a "Great Romania" and a "Great Romanian Empire" must be taken advisedly. It is true that the erudite Gyula Szekfû, for example, was convinced that the Rumanian intellectual classes for decades before 1848 had been encouraging the growth of a "Dacian dream," and it is also true that there were many references in contemporary speeches to the "descendants of Dacians and Trajan's Legions." Yet Stephen Fischer-Galati, for one, has had the fortitude to suggest that irredentism had little concrete appeal for the majority of Transylvanian Rumanians until they were confronted with the reality in 1918. This also applies to the Saxons, who, though they lost their power in 1868, as Professor Deak indicates, continued their opposition to the Hungarian state until 1890, at which point they made their peace with the Hungarian government and reversed themselves only in 1918 when news of the Paris peace decisions reached them.
If not primarily for irredentist goals, why then did the Rumanians of Transylvania oppose the union of this historic principality to Inner Hungary in 1848? Professor Deak states that the Rumanians wanted domestic reform first and the union only at an unspecified date, and he saddles the liberal nationalists with "a main responsibility for the bitterness
of the civil war." But he also makes a most significant statement, since he is an internationally recognized authority on Kossuth, that in all of Kossuth's pre-1848 writings there is no anticipation of nationality problems in Transylvania. Elsewhere he has maintained on many occasions that Kossuth had no intention of oppressing Hungary's minorities but intended to liberate them, a point entertained with doubt by modern Rumanian historians. Finally, Keith Hitchins has remarked that all the Rumanians wanted was social justice and recognition of their nationality. If all this is true, then just what was the cause (or causes) of the rupture between the Transylvanian Rumanians and the Hungarian state in 1848?
It would appear from all these elements that the Rumanians and Hungarians were not terribly far apart in 1848, a fact noted by both Zoltán I. Tóth and Professor Bõdy in his paper. Certainly, it could only have been to the advantage of the Rumanians to see serfdom abolished and to receive equal civil rights in a union of Transylvania with Hungary. This union would do away with the old estates system of three privileged nations, which was a medieval constitutional structure formed when the Rumanians were either numerically insignificant or without political organization, and which was, as C. A. Macartney termed it, suspended in time "like a fly in amber."
With these considerations in mind, it is possible to suggest a different emphasis to explain the 1848--49 Rumanian-Hungarian conflict in Transylvania than that in Professor Deak's able overview. Whereas Professor Deak states, with some reason, that it would be useless to determine which camp was more progressive or had justice on its side, the problem might also be approached more in the view of Zoltán I. Tóth and others: namely, that it was in the best interests of the Rumanians to come to terms with the Hungarians, providing their nationality received reasonable recognition; that in the context of the situation the liberal nationalist Hungarian reformers were the more original and perhaps also the more sincere progressives; and that the dissident Rumanians, while subscribing to the same social ideals, were prisoners of their habit of looking to Vienna and were duped into fighting to uphold a reactionary absolutism. Moreover, the responsibility for this development may weigh a bit more heavily on the Viennese and Transylvanian absolutists of the Ancien Regime than Professor Deak indicates.
Gyula Szekfû stated that the responsibility for instigating a bloody racial war lay with Vienna and that as early as March, 1848, Kollowrat ordered the strengthening of the anti-union forces in Transylvania. Fearful of a stronger Hungary, Vienna deliberately delayed its approval
of the Transylvanian Governor József Teleki's urgent request to convoke the Transylvanian Diet. Long accustomed to dominating the lifeless constitutional structure of Transylvania, Vienna then attempted to forestall the Diet's vote in favor of union by the sequence of its instructions of subjects for debate. In addition, tacit encouragement was given to the nationalities. In contrast to the enthusiasm for the Hungarian reforms exhibited in March and April by Rumanian gatherings in the Transylvanian towns of Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures), Abrudbánya (Abrud), Balázsfalva (Blaj), Topánfalva (Cîmpeni), and Zalatna (Zlatna), and in contrast to the early articles written in favor of the union in the Rumanian paper Gazeta de Transylvania one finds the Rumanians turning against the union by mid-May. The contemporary Hungarian historian Mihály Horváth ascribed this remarkable about-face to a coalition of reactionary Transylvanian office holders, large land holders, and Saxon patricians who took their cue from Vienna; agitators successfully fostered the idea among the Rumanians that the union constituted a threat to their nationality and accused Hungary of traitorous separation from the monarchy.
These fears were reflected in the sixteenth point of the May 15 Rumanian meeting at Balázsfalva, a rather backward-looking demand that the Rumanians should constitute a fourth privileged nation in a presumably separate Transylvania. The other points were, as King Ferdinand told a Rumanian delegation to Innsbruck on June 11, already guaranteed by the Hungarian April Laws. With the Rumanian demands for social justice thereby assured, Rumanian-Hungarian negotiations revolved foremost around nationality guarantees. Although these negotiations promised some success in September of 1848, the Rumanians still cast their lot with the absolutists of the court. Even when the Austrian Constitution of March 4, 1849, brought little satisfaction to Rumanian aspirations, renewed Rumanian-Hungarian contacts in May, July, and August of 1849 failed to bring a settlement.
If it is true, as Professor Deak states, that the real winners of 1848 were the great Hungarian landowners of Transylvania, saved by the repressive Austrian-Russian intervention, this had hardly been the intention of the reforming nobles of Inner Hungary who had brought forth the progressive April Laws for the benefit of everyone --- including the Rumanians who fought against them.
In reading Professor Bõdy's excellent essay, one is struck by how much flowed from the Hungarian legislation of 1848 and 1849. The post-1867 Hungarian legislation guaranteeing the Rumanian Orthodox church and its educational system was really born in Laws XIII and XX
of 1848. Eötvös's famous Nationalities Law of 1868 was foreshadowed in Szemere's Project of Pacification for the Transylvanian Rumanians and in the Szeged Nationalities Law of July 2, 1849, which, according to Gyula Szekfû, was one of the first such laws in all of Europe.
Certainly, as Professor Bõdy notes, it is undeniable that the Hungarian April Laws of 1848 had "serious limitations." But this was to be expected in a body of legislation that --- though the changes had been debated for sixteen years --- was passed in the space of about two weeks. Still, one wonders just how the April Laws assured the continued domination of the Hungarian nobility in the Parliament and governmental process, since the franchise for Inner Hungary at least was one of the most liberal in its property qualifications for the Europe of that day; if the July Parliament of 1848 consisted of seventy-two percent noble landowners, this was due to social and economic patterns rather than legal stipulations. Further, one wonders if the real weaknesses in the April Laws were, in fact, responsible for the defeat of the revolution. The peasant uprisings throughout the period reflected very complex and maddening problems of land tenure hardly solved in some instances by 1918. It is certain that the contemporary historian Mihály Horváth discounted these peasant disturbances, while subsequent historians have attributed considerable significance to them. Concerning the failure of the April Laws to satisfy the nationalities, Gyula Szekfû stated that many of the extremist leaders of the nationalities wanted only the unrealistic and unattainable goal of territorial separation and they would have rejected minority guarantees, which until then were unknown in their modern form. In any event, neither the dissident nationalities nor the Austrians caused the failure of the Hungarian Revolution, but rather the Russian intervention. Whether the adherence of the nationalities to the Hungarian side would have reversed the outcome is problematical.
Finally, as Professor Bõdy ably indicates, Eötvös's 1868 Nationalities Law could well serve as a model for the present day. But it should be noted, as he intimates, that once Eötvös (and Deák) passed from the scene, it was largely ignored in favor of Magyarization in Transylvania. The Springtime of the Peoples occurred in 1848 and, sadly enough, not in the 1867--1918 period.
|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|