|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|
Although this may sound somewhat pretentious to some, and although the kingdom of Hungary also had its share of political misfortunes, I am convinced that in the course of the many centuries of Magyar pre-eminence in the Carpathian Basin there was something that we can call Pax Hungarica. It was this Pax Hungarica that guarded the unity, social order, and nationality peace in the area from the ninth to the nineteenth century. True, there were many problems during those centuries. But most of these problems, which today are often characterized as manifestations of "Magyar oppression" of the national minorities, stemmed not so much from the dominance of the largely Magyar Hungarian nobility over the various nationalities of the Carpathian Basin, but rather from the nature of the prevailing social and economic conditions. The feudalistic and highly stratified social system made the peasant masses --- irrespective of their nationality --- economically and personally dependent upon the nobility. This phenomenon, however, was not limited to the lands of the Hungarian crown; it was characteristic of the social development throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe. Within this area that encompassed the lands of the so-called second serfdom, the peasants of medieval and early modern Hungary were undoubtedly better off than those of Russia or of the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. And this holds true even though the exploitation in those lands was the result of the rule of a native boyar class and not of an alien or nationally distinct nobility. In the case of the Danubian Principalities, between 1711 and 1714 the native princes were replaced by the Greek Phanariots. But even some of these were really Hellenized Rumanians. Moreover, whatever this change may have brought in the ethnic composition of the ruling element of the eighteenth and the early nineteenth century, the latter could hardly be held responsible for the social oppression and exploitation of the earlier centuries under native princes and under a native boyar class. Similarly, the exploitation of the Moldavian and the
Wallachian peasants cannot be blamed upon the Turks alone --- as has become the custom among some historians. Contrary to most other parts of southeastern Europe that fell under Ottoman rule, the Rumanian Principalities were never fully integrated into the Turkish administrative system. Thus, during much of the Ottoman domination the Rumanian peasants were ruled and exploited by their own native princes and by their own native nobility. In other words --- and this is the main point to be kept in mind --- the exploitation of the peasant masses by the nobility --- whether in Moldavia, Wallachia, or in Hungarian or Habsburg-ruled Transylvania --- was basically always a social phenomenon, at least up to the nineteenth century. If the sources are credible, then in this area of social exploitation the Wallachian and the Moldavian (Rumanian) boyars out-performed their counterparts, i.e., they were always more oppressive than the Hungarian nobility in Transylvania. If this were not true, history would not have witnessed the continued and unceasing flight of the Wallachian and the Moldavian peasants into Transylvania throughout most of the medieval and modern periods. Apparently these Rumanian peasants felt that to exchange the rule and exploitation of their own native boyars for the rule and exploitation of the Hungarian nobility was not such a bad deal after all.
In light of these well-known historical facts and developments, it is really a mistake to try to make some of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century peasant rebellions of Hungary and of Transylvania into some sort of "national uprisings" against the allegedly oppressive rule of certain alien landowning classes --- which is a distinct tendency in the historiography of some Eastern European nations. To do so is not only anachronistic and tendentious, but also contrary to the basic facts of the region's history.
The protective mantle of Pax Hungarica, of course, was not completely free from various early forms of national antagonism. But these antagonisms were largely limited to the occasionally tense relationships between various privileged groups within the Crownlands of Saint Stephen. A good example of this phenomenon is the fluctuating relationship among what were called the Three Nations of Transylvania (i.e., the Magyars, the Székelys, and the Saxons), each of which was resentful toward the others for their real or alleged encroachments on its long-standing privileges. As such, even this so-called national antagonism was not much more than the manifestation of attempts to preserve certain group rights derived from medieval royal grants by the kings of Hungary, and from long-standing historical traditions.
In light of the above, therefore, one can conclude that up to the
early nineteenth century, the lands of the Hungarian crown were basically free from national antagonisms. Moreover, insofar as the lands of Pax Hungarica were not really "milk and honey" and also experienced social exploitation, this exploitation fell equally heavily on all lower social classes, irrespective of their nationality.
National antagonisms arose largely as a result of the triumph of the ideology of nationalism at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. The first to fall under its influence in the Danube Valley --- discounting the Germans --- was the educated segment of the Hungarian nobility ("Natio Hungarica"). The nationalism of the non-Magyar nationalities came after, and largely in consequence of, the Hungarian national revival. Of course, this does not mean that there were no scattered manifestations of national consciousness before this period. But these were limited to a very few educated intellectuals and writers. As an example, there is the case of Bishop Inocentiu Micu-Klein and his disciples of the Transylvanian Latinist School of the eighteenth century. But such early manifestations among the non-Magyars in the lands of the Hungarian crown were preceded by numerous and much earlier similar manifestations among Magyar intellectuals (e.g., the poetry and other writings of such sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors as Bálint Balassi, Miklós Zrínyi, and Miklós Bethlen).
The following comments deal specifically with the studies of Paul Bõdy and Istvan Deak. Both authors concern themselves basically with mid-nineteenth-century developments, and both of them attempt to examine some of the roots of the Hungarian-Rumanian national antagonism that has plagued the relations of these two nations for the past century and a half, and which --- in light of recent developments in Rumanian-controlled Transylvania --- does not seem to be subsiding.
Paul Bõdy's paper focuses on József Eötvös's efforts to find a solution to the growing national antagonisms in the kingdom of Hungary. It examines the role of this great Hungarian reformer and statesman in the period between the 1840s and the 1860s. But Bõdy also presents a brief summary of what preceded these efforts, including references to both the Hungarian and the Rumanian linguistic, literary, and cultural revivals, as well as to the major Hungarian push for social and political reform during the so-called Hungarian Reform Period of the second quarter of the nineteenth century. He also points out that the majority of the Hungarian national leaders of those days regarded the nation-state as their ideal and simply assumed that social and political reforms would take care of everyone's problems. For this reason,
they failed to listen to those among them, including Ferenc Kazinczy, Ferenc Kölcsey, István Széchenyi, and József Eötvös, who recognized that unless accompanied by special provisions for their national aspirations, social and economic reforms alone would hardly satisfy Hungary's non-Magyar citizens.
In failing to recognize the significance of these factors, the spokesmen of Magyar liberalism erred seriously. Their errors and shortcomings, however, should not be interpreted as errors that were peculiar to them or errors that the leaders of the non-Magyars would not have committed had they been in a position to do so. Today's events, i.e., the violation of the national rights of the Magyars in some of the succession states, provide ample proofs for this assertion. But even in those days, not even the liberal Nicolae Balcescu was willing to exchange his goals in the area of nationalism for gains in the field of liberalism. For as he said: "For my part, the question of nationality is more important than liberty."
Two points of minor disagreements with Bõdy's otherwise worthy essay are his remarks about the Rumanian national revival and his belief about the workability of Eötvös's views on the national minority question.
In his efforts to be absolutely fair and objective, Bõdy has placed an equation mark between the Hungarian and the Rumanian national and linguistic revivals. Thus, he discussed the "movement to develop a literary Hungarian language" at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century as if this development were identical with a comparable development among the Rumanians. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that, in spite of the long dominance of Latin as Hungary's administrative and literary language, the Magyar literary language has a long tradition reaching back at least to the thirteenth century, and by the sixteenth century it had already produced a significant literature both in a prose and in a poetic form. All that had to be done in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was to take this already existing literary language, update it, and expand its vocabulary --- an undertaking that even the Germans had to do. Moreover, the administrative language and the language of the Diet of Transylvania had always remained Magyar, even during the centuries when this was not true for Hungary proper. Furthermore, while the administration of Royal Hungary switched over to Latin, the Turkish pashas of Hungary continued to correspond with Vienna in the Magyar language.
The situation, of course, was totally different with the Rumanians, whose literary language was Old Church Slavonic, written in the Cyrillic
alphabet, right into the nineteenth century. As opposed to the Hungarians, therefore, the Rumanians had to start virtually from scratch in their attempt to create a literary language out of the spoken vernacular. This difference between the Hungarian and the Rumanian linguistic revivals also applies to the level of their respective national consciousness at the time of the initiation of this movement, as well as to the recognition rendered to them by others, including the fathers of Marxist socialism (Marx and Engels) --- a point that was also mentioned by Professor Deak in a different connection. During the Middle Ages only the Magyars, the Czechs, and the Poles were able to establish significant and truly lasting states in East Central Europe. Moreover, notwithstanding their misfortunes in and after the sixteenth century, the Magyars still managed to retain an important position of power within the Habsburg Empire --- a significance that was underlined many a time during these centuries, right to and including their partnership with Austria after 1867. None of the other nationalities of the Danubian Basin, including the Rumanians, was able to match these achievements.
Although a few years ago I too held similar views, today I find unacceptable Dr. Bõdy's claim that József Eötvös's proposals on the nationality question could have solved the minority problems of nineteenth-century Hungary. Eötvös's proposals constituted perhaps the most liberal and conciliatory views in contemporary Hungary. But the failure of the largely Eötvös-inspired Hungarian Nationalities Law of 1868 was due not only to the non-implementation of its spirit and even some of its paragraphs by members of the post-Eötvös generations, but also to the fact that the only feasible solution at that rather late date would have been some sort of federalization. And such a federalization of the kingdom of Hungary, including Transylvania, should have been carried out even at the expense of creating additional minorities in each of the newly formed nationality areas.
While Bõdy concentrated on Eötvös's views concerning the desired restructuring of Hungary to fit the needs of the nineteenth century, Professor Deak dealt specifically with some of the problems created by the revolutionary upheavals of 1848--49 in Transylvania. His study represents one of the most balanced treatments of this question. His conclusions that everyone was good and bad at the same time, that everyone suffered and made others suffer, that for these sufferings everyone has to take a share of the blame, and that in the final analysis everyone lost and won at the same time may be viewed by some as an overly balanced presentation. But his assessment to the effect that although "the real losers of the civil war were the Rumanians..., [yet]
ultimately even... [they] profited..., if not politically then socially and economically" deserves our attention. This is a particularly significant point, for it also underlines some of the earlier assertions of this essay concerning the relative social oppression in Hungarian Transylvania versus Rumanian Wallachia and Moldavia during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Nor should one forget that the serfs of Greater Hungary --- including the Transylvanian Rumanians --- were emancipated nearly two decades earlier than their counterparts in united Rumania. Moreover, even after emancipation, there remained a distinct qualitative difference between the way of life of these two groups of Rumanian peasants --- to the distinct advantage of those under Hungarian rule. Therefore, one can only agree with Professor Deak's claim to the effect that "the Transylvanian balance sheet was not entirely bleak."
Much more could and should have been done to ease the differences and to lessen the burden on the Magyar and non-Magyar peasantry of Hungary. But it is rather easy to judge one's predecessors with the hindsight of a century or more. Instead of simply judging the past, however, one should also ask the question: Have those who are in charge of the destinies of various national minorities today learned from the mistakes of the past? Or are they simply repeating those mistakes and then intensifying their impact through means that only a modern totalitarian state has at its disposal? These are questions that are certainly worth pondering.
|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|