|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|
On October 25, Károlyi became the president of the newly formed counter-government, the Hungarian National Council, which was supported by the Károlyi party, as well as by Oszkár Jászi's Radical party and the Social Democrats, both of which had no representation in Parliament. The Council espoused Western-style democratic reforms, and recognized the secession only of Croatia. The intention to maintain Transylvania as an integral part of Hungary was indicated by the affiliation of the Transylvanian Committee with the National Council. The former represented the Magyars of Transylvania and was presided over by István Apáthy; and, on the night of October 31, a bloodless revolution brought the Hungarian National Council to power. King Charles recognized the demands set forth by the group and appointed Károlyi to head the new government. Following the king's abdication in early November, Hungary was declared a republic.
On the day of the revolution, Rumanian politicians in Budapest formed their own national council. It was made up of six National party representatives and six Socialists. Their aims were to take over
the administration of those parts of Hungary and Transylvania that were inhabited by Rumanians and to represent them in negotiations with the Hungarian authorities. The Rumanian position, while not synonymous with Hungarian hopes, did not stipulate secession. Contrary to past practices, the Hungarian government was willing to negotiate and offer compromises but was still reticent to change the frontiers.
The frontier question was now up to the victorious Allies and to the upcoming Peace Conference, and the Hungarian government assumed it was in a good position to negotiate. In accordance with Wilsonian principles, it was a democratic state and Károlyi, who headed the government, had a pro-Entente reputation. Confusion about Allied intentions with respect to Rumania also seemed to them to create an atmosphere amenable to an understanding between Hungary and Rumania.
The Hungarian government sought to resolve several problems during the first few days of November. Germany, which was technically at war even after the Austro-Hungarian armistice of Padua, had its troops in Transylvania under General Mackensen. The Hungarians feared that any attempt to disarm them would lead to a German refusal to deliver coal. This alarmed the Hungarians, since on November 5 the Ministerial Council learned that Hungary only had one and a half days' supply of coal. To save the country from economic paralysis, the ministers decided to empower Prime Minister Károlyi to seek a meeting with General Franchet d'Esperey, the Allied commander of the Balkan armies, which were still moving against the German armies. It was hoped that a military convention would be signed in which the terms of the occupation and the demarcation lines would be defined. Agreement, it was felt, would represent a de facto recognition of the Károlyi government and, as a consequence, Allied aid.
The Hungarian delegation's conference with Franchet d'Esperey led to the signing of the Belgrade Military Convention of November 13, 1918, and an Allied demarcation line in Transylvania was drawn along a line extending from the city of Beszterce (Bistrita) to the Maros (Mures) River and the town of Szabadka (Subotica). This meant a partition of Transylvania with the southern part under Allied occupation. According to the terms of the treaty, the present Hungarian administration would remain in place until the Peace Conference decided otherwise, but it remained unclear as to whether the Allies would allow the Rumanian occupation of Transylvania and recognize it as an Allied power. While these issues still had to be resolved, Allied attitudes favoring the Rumanian cause became clearer and the demands
of the enlarged Rumanian National Council became bolder. On November 3--4, the Council shifted its seat from Budapest to Arad, and its initial interest in cooperation changed to rigidity.
On November 6, the Council reiterated its right to "represent the whole Rumanian nation in Hungary and in Transylvania." Three days later, it sent an ultimatum to Budapest in which it demanded the transfer of complete authority over twenty-three counties and partial authority over three others. This included Transylvania as well as areas outside the province, including some purely Magyar-inhabited counties. The Hungarians responded by offering to hold negotiations, which took place in Arad on November 13--14. The Hungarian delegation, led by Oszkár Jászi, offered the abolition of the counties, which were the administrative units of old Hungary. Instead, he proposed the creation of national areas that were similar to the "Swiss cantons" and would have administrative and cultural autonomy. These cantons were to send representatives to the central government in Budapest. As a temporary measure, he proposed the transfer of administrative power to the Rumanian council, where a Rumanian majority existed. A representative of the Rumanian administration could thus find a place in the Hungarian government.
Jászi's offer put an end to the geographical conception of Transylvania. It indicated that the new Hungarian policy favored the reorganization of the state into an "Eastern Switzerland." This plan offered the nationalities full autonomy, thus seemingly fulfilling Wilsonian demands. It was expected that this policy would bring about Allied recognition of Hungary as an independent state, but the Rumanian National Council, led by Iuliu Maniu, Alexandru Vaida-Voevod, Vasile Goldis, and Ion Erdelyi, rejected the Hungarian offer and demanded full sovereignty for the Council. The Hungarian delegation returned to Budapest emptyhanded. However, Maniu's subsequent visit to Budapest at the end of November and his conciliatory attitude there revived hopes for a negotiated settlement.
In response to his favorable stance and expecting moderation, the Hungarian government agreed to provide transportation for Rumanians in Transylvania to attend a Popular Assembly sponsored by the Rumanian National Council in Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár). On December 1, the Alba Iulia meeting overwhelmingly decided to unite the twenty-six counties with the kingdom of Rumania. Interwar Hungarian historiography, misjudging the reasons behind the Hungarian government's action, branded it as treachery, which was a baseless charge. The Rumanian Marxist claim that Jászi was informed by Maniu about the Assembly's intention to unite Transylvania with the Regat was also
incorrect. Equally untrue and tortuous has been the Rumanian argument that the Hungarian government, whose actions had been prompted solely by its desire for reconciliation, had symbolically recognized Rumanian sovereignty over Transylvania by providing the transport.
According to the Hungarian minister of welfare, the socialist Zsigmond Kunfi, the Hungarian ministers recognized that "Magyar hegemony was lost." The moral was that only "radical democracy and autonomy to the nationalities" could lead to the survival of the state. On November 29, Minister of Nationalities Jászi reiterated his belief that the nationalities in Hungary would use self-determination for the sake of a confederation. He admitted, however, that if they decided otherwise, the Hungarian government could do nothing to stop them.
The Alba Iulia decision forced the Hungarian government to consider alternatives to confederation. One course of action was outlined by Jászi in a message to the worried Hungarian National Council of the Erdõd (Ardud) District. The council leaders reacted negatively to the Alba Iulia declaration, which had also called for Rumanian sovereignty over their county, Szatmár. They sent objections to Budapest, wondering why their district, with a slight Magyar majority and with many purely Magyar villages, should belong to Rumania.
To allay the council's fear, Jászi replied that the plan of a Rumanian imperium over Szatmár was not accomplished yet, but in such an eventuality, the Hungarian government would see to it that the national rights of the Magyar minorities would be protected. This message indicated that government officials considered overlapping sovereignty as an alternative solution to the Transylvanian question. Put into practice, the concept might have reconciled the self-determination of the Rumanian majority with the needs and expectations of the large Magyar minority in Transylvania. Jászi's plan could also be considered as the minimum program, in contrast to the maximum, represented by the project for a confederated Hungary within the confines of the former Hungarian kingdom. Although the Hungarian government continued to press for the maximum, fully expecting this position to be challenged at the Paris Peace Conference, the existence of Jászi's minimum program was evidence that a compromise solution would have been considered.
The legitimacy of the Alba Iulia decision was rejected. According to Jászi, the Rumanians could not speak in the name of the majority since the combined Magyar and Saxon population of the contested counties represented fifty-seven percent of the total inhabitants. It was significant that the Allies also questioned the legitimacy of the Rumanian claim on the same basis.
The Rumanian government's initial response to Alba Iulia was guarded, as it seemed to offer a lesser prize than the one Bucharest wanted. In fact, the advancing Rumanian troops in Transylvania were told that the government's aim was to establish a greater Rumania, stretching to the Tisza River. If this could be considered as Rumania's maximum aim, no minimum plan similar to Jászi's overlapping sovereignty for Transylvania seemed to be entertained by the Rumanian government. Its objection to the minority treaties a year later indicated that the royal government sought no compromise and wanted absolute control over its new subjects.
Responding to the developments in Alba Iulia, the new Hungarian tactic emphasized fostering the non-Rumanian national councils in Transylvania. These had not been consulted nor were they represented at Alba Iulia. The National Council of the Hungarians in Transylvania was encouraged to organize a counterassembly and to call for a Hungarian Transylvania. The Hungarian government also favored the organization of a separate Székely national council and approved plans for the creation of a Székely republic. The major purpose of these activities was to show the West that the Rumanians were not the sole inhabitants of the contested territories.
On December 4, the Ministerial Council decided to appoint István Apáthy as commissioner of the twenty-six counties demanded by the Rumanians. His role was to prevent the transfer of these counties to Rumania.
Apáthy, who was the president of the Magyar National Council in Transylvania, was reputed to be a Magyar chauvinist, and his appointment, therefore, represented a hardening of attitudes in Budapest. This was prompted by the realization that the Belgrade treaty had been flaunted by the Czechs, with French acquiescence. The Yugoslavs had occupied Baranya County and now it was feared that Rumania would detach more than just Transylvania from Hungary. When Jászi was questioned about the advisability of Apáthy's appointment, he brushed the objection aside by noting that he was trusted by the Magyars in Transylvania.
Preparations for military resistance were also undertaken. Early in December, a staff for the Székely division was organized. Its members were soldiers of the former Székely battalions and some Transylvanian infantry divisions. According to Apáthy, the strength of these troops reached 3,000 by the end of the month. These preparations for defense were necessitated less by the declaration of Alba Iulia than as a consequence of the announced intention of Rumania to gather for
the kingdom those territories that had been promised it by the Entente in 1916.
Although the Rumanian army did not reenter the war against Hungary, it did march into southern Transylvania. The first troops crossed the Carpathians on November 13. Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures) was occupied on December 2, Beszterce (Bistrita) on December 4, and Brassó (Brasov) on December 7. By mid-December, the royal troops reached the Allied-Hungarian demarcation lines set by the Belgrade Convention. On December 24, the Rumanian troops entered Kolozsvár (Cluj). General Presnan, the commander in chief of the Rumanian Army, reiterated the Rumanian desire to continue its advances to the Nagykároly (Carei)-Nagyvárad (Oradea)-Békéscsaba line. In contradiction to the Belgrade Convention, the Rumanians took over the administration in the occupied areas.
In northern Hungary, the French government approved the territorial changes in the name of the Allies, while in Transylvania territorial changes were made without Allied sanction but with the approval of General Henri Berthelot. Berthelot, as commander of the Allied forces in Rumania and in southern Russia, disregarded his commander Franchet d'Esperey and seemed to give a carte blanche to Rumania. Possibly, his actions were partially prompted by a desire to atone for his failures in 1917. More importantly, he expected that the fulfillment of Rumania's demands would buy Rumanian support for France's anti-Bolshevik intervention in southern Russia. General Franchet d'Esperey disapproved of Berthelot's pro-Rumanian stance and protested his insubordination.
In response to further Rumanian advances, apparently supported by the French, the Hungarian Council of Ministers were forced to decide on appropriate governmental measures. Consideration was given to the resignation of the government and a call for the Entente to govern Hungary, which was on the brink of chaos. Passive or active resistance to the piecemeal absorption of Hungarian lands by Rumania was also discussed. Oszkár Jászi proposed that the ministers should take direct leadership over the counties, which meant ten ministers governing ten defined areas. Kunfi suggested that, instead of decentralizing, the government ought to map out its imperium along a solidly Magyar ethnic frontier. He concluded that this was the price Hungary would have to pay for a lost war.
The cabinet finally decided to issue instructions to Apáthy to agree to the occupation of Transylvania by Rumanian troops, but only as representatives of the Allies. Apáthy was to insist on Rumanian acquiescence to the retention of Hungarian police forces in the occupied
areas. These were to be representatives of the Hungarian administration, as sanctioned in the Belgrade Convention.
Instead, on January 3, at the Rumanian-occupied city of Kolozsvár (Cluj), Apáthy was pressured by Berthelot into accepting a new demarcation line. The new agreement allowed the Rumanians to hold the Nagybánya (Baia Mare)-Kolozsvár-Dés (Dej) line, which separated them from Hungarian troops by a fifteen-kilometer-wide neutral zone.
The new line pleased neither the Hungarians nor the Rumanians. Budapest objected because it appeared that the Hungarian government had accepted a revision of the Belgrade demarcation lines without an overall settlement. For this reason the cabinet disavowed the agreement, claiming that Apáthy was not empowered to agree to changes in the terms of the Belgrade Convention. The Rumanians also disregarded the Apáthy-Berthelot agreement because it curtailed the further expansion of their imperium. Under the circumstances, the hapless Apáthy could do nothing but resign his post soon thereafter. This did not prevent the angered Rumanian authorities from arresting him, and with the intention of putting him on trial they took him to Nagyszeben (Sibiu, Hermannstadt). An indemnity was put on Kolozsvár (Cluj).
Berthelot's superiors, General Franchet d'Esperey and even the prime minister and minister of war, Clemenceau, were displeased with Berthelot, who had entered into the agreement without consulting his superiors. They, however, were forced to accept the agreement as a fait accompli. In his report, Franchet d'Esperey expressed his hope that the new agreement would finally satisfy Rumanian aspirations.
The Hungarian government, powerless to change the situation, recognized the futility of insisting on the integrity of Transylvania and accepted Apáthy's resignation. His position was left vacant, which meant that the Commissariat for Transylvania was eliminated, and on January 23, 1919, the Council of Ministers decided for the first time that no other option was left to the government but military resistance. To stop further Rumanian advances, it decided to order a holding action along the county line of Bihar (Bihor). An all-out war against Rumania was still rejected, since the Council had neither the manpower nor energy supplies available with which to fight.
The Peace Conference, which opened in Paris in mid-January, did not include representatives from the defeated countries, and although the Hungarians were not present, the conferees disapproved of Rumanian expansion. The Peace Conference also refused to accept the Entente commitments made to Rumania in 1916, and on January 25, the day after Alba Iulia was acclaimed in the Rumanian Parliament, the peacemakers accepted President Wilson's resolution against the
use of force for territorial gain. They set up a "Commission for the Study of Territorial Questions Relating to Rumania" in order to examine its claims to parts of Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Hungary.
Ignoring Allied wishes, the Rumanian troops continued to advance. By the end of January, they held a line running from Máramarossziget (Sighetul Marmatiei) to Zilah (Zalau), Csucsa (Ciucea), Nagysebes (Valea Draganului), and the Szamos (Somes) River and occupied most of Transylvania. By then, the Székely division had amassed some 7,000--8,000 men and almost reached divisional strength, while according to Hungarian estimates, the Rumanians had three divisions, with a total of 10,000 poorly equipped men. Military clashes between the Hungarians and the Rumanians already had taken place and further conflict was imminent. Franchet d'Esperey, therefore, requested that the peacemakers in Paris establish a neutral zone between the Rumanians and Hungarians. He expected that the Rumanians would be ordered to withdraw to the Apáthy-Berthelot line. Instead, on February 26, the Peace Conference, on the recommendation of the French General Staff, accepted a demarcation line allowing Rumania to occupy a line outside historical Transylvania. This established a neutral zone, with the Hungarian line being reminiscent of that accorded to Rumania in 1916. The French General Staff favored this arrangement so as to assure a united front against the Bolsheviks in Russia. They depended on Rumania to be a natural ally in the anti-Bolshevik crusade, and Hungary's territory served as the price for Bucharest's loyalty. The Allied representatives, who were not informed of the French military's true intentions, acquiesced. Satisfying Rumanian demands at the expense of defeated Hungary seemed to be the easiest way to bring about peace in that "remote" area.
The Transylvanian question was thus resolved by the great powers, who were responding to their own interests, and Hungary and Rumania were not permitted to work out a bilateral agreement, which would take into consideration the national interests of the Hungarians, Rumanians, and Saxons. On March 20, the terms for the new demarcation line were transmitted to the Hungarian government in the form of an ultimatum. They were rejected, and the Hungarian government resigned. The fall of the Károlyi regime spelled the end of the democratic Republic of Hungary.
The new government, made up of a communist-socialist fusion, ushered in a second revolution. The Socialist Federated Soviet Republic in Hungary (Magyarországi Szocialista Szövetséges Tanácsköztársaság) aimed to fight an all-out war against the Rumanians. This policy went further than was favored by the Károlyi government. Led by Béla
Kun, the regime embraced a maximum policy of a federation, but now it was to be within a Soviet system. At a time when a Europe-wide proletarian revolution was expected, this program, tainted with a new ideology, foreclosed any compromise with "boyar" Rumania. The Hungarian Soviet Republic hoped to achieve its aim by making an alliance with the Red Army and fighting against the common enemy: "Entente Imperialism."
The Kun regime, therefore, depended on the "new Russia" to help preserve a Hungarian Transylvania, which was first promised to Rumania by "old Russia." These hopes, like the Károlyi government's expectations of Allied fairness, remained unfulfilled. The Bolsheviks were too busy defending their own perimeters and did not, or could not, come to Soviet Hungary's aid. This led to the demise of the commune after 133 days. The Rumanian demarcation line set down on February 26 soon became the political boundary between Hungary and Rumania. It left a Magyar irredenta in Rumania and a revisionist state in Hungary, and both have kept the Transylvanian question alive.
|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|