|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|
The continuing controversies, agitation, and expressions of anger and dissatisfaction by one or another ethnic group inhabiting Transylvania and the corollary attention paid to Transylvanian problems by the countries most involved, Romania and Hungary, and by Great Powers concerned with stability and instability in Eastern Europe would tend to indicate that the "Transylvanian Question" was anything but resolved at the end of World War II.
It is generally agreed that the resolution of the Transylvanian problems recorded at the end of World War I were deficient in most respects. The causes for continuing tensions some sixty years later are, however, less evident even though they have been identified and exploited by interested parties in terms of cynical denial of the root causes of the Transylvanian Question. In the simplest possible terms --- and indeed the terms of identification of the problem have been and continue to be simplistic --- it has been assumed that the irreconcilable historical differences between Romanian and Hungarian national (and nationalist) interests have created conditions that have made peaceful coexistence between Romanians and Hungarians and, by extension, between Romania and Hungary, impossible both before and particularly after World War I. This paramount emphasis on nationality and nationalism, however, ignores the ultimate determining factors for instability in Transylvania, to wit, the concern and actions of the Great Powers in general and of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in particular. Indeed, it seems fair to say that the Transylvanian Question since World War I has been primarily a direct or indirect function of the actual, potential, or perceived dangers posed by the Soviet Union and Soviet communism in Eastern Europe.
Mistreatment and other forms of discrimination against national and religious minorities are a rule of modern history in Eastern Europe. The Hungarian rulers of Transylvania were as intolerant of the Romanians before World War I as the Romanian rulers of Transylvania
were of the Hungarians after the war. And neither Hungarians or Romanians displayed fondness of Jews, Saxons, Szeklers, or Gypsies living in Transylvania. Yet it would be difficult to argue that these conditions, reflective mostly of the political interests of the ruling circles of Budapest and Bucharest, endangered the political stability or precluded coexistence among the various ethnic groups inhabiting Transylvania. What mattered ultimately was the rulers' rationale for holding Transylvania in the Hungarian or Romanian body territorial and politic and the external powers' rationale for exploiting Romanian-Hungarian rivalries for their own benefit.
The Hungarian arguments, which are presented and analyzed in detail in other papers comprising this volume, are self evident. Since Transylvania had been an integral part of the Hungarian body politic for "1,000 years", the loss of the province and its incorporation into Greater Romania was an affront to the Hungarian nation, a symbol of military defeat in World War I and, as such, an intolerable and unacceptable occurrence. Whatever reasons might have been advanced in support of territorial revisionism aimed at reincorporation of Transylvania into Hungary in the interwar years --- such as illegitimacy of possession by the Romanians, abuse of minority rights by Romanian authorities, and other rationalizing arguments --- the fact remains that the ultimate motivation was simply territorial revisionism. The Romanian arguments in favor of acquisition and retention of Transylvania in the twentieth century are hardly more complex. In short, they are based on the assumption that Transylvania has been historically a Romanian province whose inhabitants, even during the long years of foreign rule, were primarily Romanians and that, therefore, on the basis of the eternally valid principle of self-determination of nationalities, Transylvania belongs to Romania. These two adverse and essentially irreconcilable positions of the Hungarian and Romanian rulers of the twentieth century have greatly facilitated the task of the European powers concerned with the advancement of their own political interests through the standard practice of encouraging, fomenting, and exploiting discord among rival nationalities and nations. This, in the last analysis, determined the fate of Transylvania after World War I, and in this determination, at least for Romania, the key factors were those related to Romania's relations with and attitude toward the Soviet Union and Russian communism.
To consolidate claims to Transylvania and, for that matter, also to Bessarabia, the political leaders in Bucharest posed, from at least as early as 1918, as defenders of Eastern Europe (by extension of the Allied Powers, interests in that part of the continent) against communism.
There can be little doubt that the Romanian position, so eloquently stated by Ion I. C. Bratianu, was largely based on genuine concern over the Bolshevik threat to Romanian interests in general and to specific Romanian plans for the incorporation and retention of Bessarabia in a greater Romania. It is also true that the Bolshevik menace was at all times considered a valuable trump card in Bratianu's games with the leaders of the Great Powers in Paris, who, in the Romanians' view, were indecisive in dealing with the Bolshevik threat and in ratifying Romanian plans for permanent incorporation of Transylvania and Bessarabia into the Romanian body politic.
It is unnecessary to recapitulate here the complex, well-known negotiations involving these questions at the Paris Peace Conference. It should, however, be emphasized that the action of the Romanian armies directed against Béla Kun were in no small measure undertaken by genuine Romanian fears of Communist imperialism. Moreover, the discrediting of Kun and, by extension, of the "Judeo-Communist" character of Hungarian and Russian Bolshevism was considered imperative for unequivocal and unrestricted Romanian rule in both Transylvania and Bessarabia without any obligatory acceptance of participation in governance by minority groups, by political organizations representative of minority group interests, or, for that matter, by circumscription of Bucharest's total power through imposition of minority-rights guarantees in the peace treaties affecting Romania. In sum, to Bratianu and the Romanian leaders who regarded Greater Romania as a country to be ruled by Romanians alone for the benefit of the ultimate exponents of Romanian nationalism --- the Bucharest "mafia" --- the Bolshevik menace was an essential and invaluable asset.
Whether the ratification at Trianon of Bratianu's demands would have occurred even without Romania's military intervention against Kun is a matter of speculation; but there is no speculation about the ratification of Romania's incorporation of Bessarabia and the recognition by the Powers concerned with Russian imperialism and revisionism after 1920 of Romania's paramount role in the "struggle against Bolshevism."
It is also clear that in the 1920s the Romanian rulers were relatively unconcerned over Hungarian revisionism with respect to Transylvania and with the possibility of Budapest's receiving support for its demands from Mussolini's Italy. Nor was Bucharest concerned about criticism of its minority policies in Transylvania emanating from abroad since it regarded any intervention seeking observance of minority treaties as interference in Romanian internal affairs and, in any case, as unenforceable as long as Romania stood in the forefront of the opposition
to Bolshevism and Soviet territorial revisionism. On the other hand, Bucharest remained preoccupied by Moscow's determination to deny the legitimacy of the incorporation of Bessarabia into Greater Romania and by specific Russian actions designed to undermine Romanian rule in Bessarabia and, by extension, to place in jeopardy the validity of Romanian claims to and rule in Transylvania as well.
The evidence of direct anti-Romanian actions undertaken by the USSR in the 1920s is abundant. The convention of October 28, 1920, whereby the British Empire, France, Italy, and Japan recognized Romanian sovereignty in Bessarabia, was rejected as invalid by the USSR. Moscow even denied the validity of that part of the convention that stipulated that, upon Russian request, the Council of the League of Nations could be empowered to arbitrate the Russo-Romanian dispute over Bessarabia. In short, the Kremlin insisted that Romania was illegally occupying Bessarabia. And it was because of this intransigent attitude that the Soviet Union refused to make any concessions. Romania's attempts, in the early 1920s, to seek accommodation with the USSR on all issues except the Bessarabian fell on deaf ears as the Kremlin encouraged revolutionary activities by Bolshevik elements in Bessarabia. The establishment in October, 1924, of the Autonomous Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic as a focal point for eventual reincorporation of Bessarabia into the USSR indeed eliminated the possibility of peaceful resolution of Russo-Romanian differences.
Whether there was a direct linkage between Soviet and Hungarian revisionism in these years is not known. However, such a danger was perceived by Bucharest, which evidently realized that its actions against Béla Kun's Hungary, its anti-communist positions in Bessarabia, and the official banning of the Romanian Communist party after the crushing of the Russian-inspired revolt of Tatar Bunar, in Bessarabia, in 1924 augured badly for the future. In fact, the protracted negotiations with the USSR, which continued on an intermittent basis during the 1920s and 1930s and which failed to resolve the Bessarabian question to the satisfaction of Moscow, were assuming increasingly greater importance in Romania's foreign policy in the 1930S as the Transylvanian question reared its potentially ugly head in the wake of the renascence of German power.
Romania's desire to secure a resolution of the Bessarabian question was prompted by pressure from France as Paris became increasingly more apprehensive over the rise of Hitler and the activities of Mussolini in areas of vital French interest. Yet no amount of pressure could persuade Bucharest to abandon possession of Bessarabia. By the same token, no matter how desirous of promoting its relations with
France the Soviet Union might have been it was never sufficiently anxious to renounce its territorial claims to Bessarabia. It is noteworthy that France never tried to persuade Bucharest to make any compromises in matters territorial except in the case of Bessarabia; in other words, the Transylvanian question was not considered to be one that could jeopardize the interests of France in Eastern Europe. It is also noteworthy that Germany was for a long time uninterested in exploiting the potentially advantageous opportunities provided by Hungarian revisionism in Transylvania and that until 1938 the only power that encouraged and supported Hungarian revisionism in that province was Italy. This is not to say, however, that Germany, the USSR, and to a lesser degree France and Great Britain were indifferent to actual and potential advantages or disadvantages that could ensue from the escalation of Hungarian revisionist clamor, which began to assume increased stridency by 1938. It is also essential to note that until 1938 not even Romania displayed undue concern over Hungarian revisionist agitation. In 1938, however, following the extraordinary and unanticipated showing of strength by the extreme right in the Romanian elections of December, 1937, and the parallel acceleration of Hitler's Drang nach Osten, the Transylvanian question assumed, at least for the Romanians, potentially dangerous proportions.
The essential elements of the Transylvanian problems and of the evolution of European diplomacy until the Vienna Diktat of August 1940, have been familiar to students of European diplomacy and of Eastern European problems for some time now. One key aspect, that of the connection between Soviet and Hungarian revisionism per se and in the general context of Russo-German and Russo-French and British relations, however, has been largely neglected. It is true that the data are scanty, but such information as exists tends to assign primary significance to direct or indirect Russian actions in the resolution of the Transylvanian question in the manner determined by Hitler in 1940.
The posing of Hungarian demands to Germany and Italy is now traced back to 1936. The German response, prior to 1938, was discouraging to the extent to which Berlin repeatedly stated its lack of readiness to support Hungarian territorial claims to Transylvania. However, on the eve of 1938, Germany sought to direct such claims toward Czechoslovakia, clearly Germany's primary priority at that time. By contrast, Mussolini was basically supportive of Hungary's aspirations in Transylvania, but verbal support mattered little to either Budapest or Bucharest, given the reserved attitude of the Germans.
It has been suggested that Hitler's reluctance to encourage the
Hungarian aspirations was due, in part, to his desire to use the extreme right-wing political organizations in Romania, particularly the Iron Guard, as instruments for Berlin's policies of penetration into Romania. Such an assumption is at least partly correct inasmuch as the Romanian right, despite its opposition to King Carol's rule and to his pro-French orientation, was united in the general Romanian opposition to any alteration of the status quo in Transylvania. It has also been suggested that the German policy of moderation reflected concern over the anti-Hungarian attitudes of the Saxons of Transylvania, who clearly preferred Romanian to Hungarian rule. However, these considerations were essentially minor in 1938 when Hitler's primary thrust was in the direction of Czechoslovakia and when German policies were designed to minimize any risks from premature encouragement of revisionist moves against Romania. Hitler realized that it would serve no purpose to consolidate the weak French system of alliances in Eastern Europe at a time when the resoluteness of France and Great Britain in opposing German territorial demands appeared to be faltering, by injecting the issue of Hungarian territorial claims. Moreover, Hitler was anxious to prevent any possible action directed against Romania by other revisionists, most notably the USSR but also Bulgaria. Thus, despite the lack of overt support, the Hungarians were satisfied that the Transylvanian question had at least been posed and, as 1938 progressed, the Romanians became concerned over the posing of that question.
The exact position of the USSR on these issues is unknown except for Moscow's unwillingness to make any concessions to Bucharest on Bessarabian issues. Recent tracts by Romanian historians have emphasized the support given by Romanian Communists to the "democratic forces" opposed to alteration of the status quo in Transylvania in 1938 and subsequent years. True as this may be, there has been no evidence presented in support of any fundamental change in Moscow's traditional anti-Romanian positions with respect to Bessarabia in 1938 and subsequent years. Thus, the attitude of the Romanian Communists in the late 1930s must be related merely to the "popular front" policies perpetrated by the Kremlin and was evidently not reflective of actual Russian territorial aims. In fact, from such evidence as has become available, Moscow was singularly unconcerned about the possibility of alienating the anti-Hungarian members of the Romanian movement by any action it may have decided to take and was supporting pro-Romanian manifestations purely for tactical purposes.
It is also evident that after Munich and particularly after the First Vienna Diktat, which, on November 2, 1938, awarded southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia to Hungary, neither Hitler nor Mussolini
were in any way anxious to allow Hungarian revisionism to upset their ever more ambitious plans for hegemony in Eastern Europe. The better orchestrated Hungarian demands for restitution of substantial parts of Transylvania to Hungary elicited only prudently negative responses from Berlin and Rome as Hitler was mapping a total strategy for Hungary, Romania, and the USSR. The Romanians, by early 1939, were fully aware of the game plan of the Axis powers and were paying much closer attention to those than to the guarantees issued belatedly by France and Great Britain with respect to the territorial integrity of Greater Romania. Nor was Bucharest reassured by the continuing professions of support for the Romanian cause in Transylvania emanating from the pro-Axis right and from the pro-Soviet left. For Rumania realized that Hitler and Mussolini were obviously using the Transylvanian question as an instrument for dividing and conquering the rest of Eastern Europe at a time when King Carol and his advisers were growing increasingly more leery of Russia's intentions toward Romania and more apprehensive over the willingness and ability of the guaranteeing powers to abide by their commitments.
Little is known about the role played by Transylvania and Bessarabia in the negotiations between Moscow and the Western Allies and/or Nazi Germany in the spring and summer of 1939. But it stands to reason to assume that the two questions were discussed and that acceptance by Germany of the validity of Moscow's claims to Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, as incorporated in the secret clauses of the Hitler-Stalin pact of August, 1939, had to be related to Moscow's acceptance of the proposed revision of the territorial status of Transylvania in Hungary's favor. Actual evidence in support of such a hypothesis is, however, available for the period immediately antedating the prolonged negotiations that led to the Vienna Diktat of August, 1940.
It is noteworthy that the Hungarian demands for restitution of Transylvanian territory assumed a peremptory character at the very moment of the issuance of the Soviet ultimatum of June 26, 1940, for the restitution of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Although the possibility of advance German and Hungarian knowledge of the date of the Soviet ultimatum cannot be excluded, there is no doubt that a linkage between Moscow and Budapest was firmly established by July 1, when the Soviet minister to Budapest and the Hungarian minister to Moscow were advised of the Kremlin's endorsement of the legitimacy of Hungary's claims to Transylvania. Other supportive evidence is available for the same period from Hungarian and Romanian sources that reinforces the view that the dismemberment of Romania was indeed
envisaged and desired by Moscow at that time. Whether, however, Russia's encouragement of Hungarian, as well as of Bulgarian, revisionism was motivated by a desire to insure the neutrality of these countries in the event of a foreseeable German-Russian war or whether it was part of a master plan for the attainment of all Russian revisionist desiderata in Eastern Europe at a time of Nazi commitment to the attainment of more immediate goals in Europe is unclear. What is known, however, is that Molotov's support of Hungary's demands precipitated Romania's decision to negotiate with Hungary for the best terms available. Budapest's demands were, however, unacceptable to Bucharest, and the result was the Romanians' quest for arbitration by Germany.
It is noteworthy that even as late as August, 1940, Hitler was apparently unprepared to grant the optimum Hungarian demands, since the Germans were convinced that Romania was of greater military value to the Axis than Hungary both because of the former's fears of Russia and because of its natural resources, which, in Hitler's view, were not to be controlled by the Hungarians in any manner. It is in this context that the intervention of Russia, which took place during the five days preceding the Vienna Diktat, assume great significance. The Russians staged a series of border incidents on the Prut River between August 23 and August 25 while actively and concurrently encouraging the Bulgarian demands for the restitution of southern Dobrudja and at least tacitly encouraging the "minimum" Hungarian demands, which were regarded as outrageous by Bucharest. It has been suggested that the Russian actions were deliberately exaggerated by the German negotiators in Vienna to appease the Romanians and justify the magnitude of the award made to Hungary on August 29. This hypothesis, however, is questionable (since Ribbentrop was free to make any decision) unless one were to assume that Germany was afraid of a possible arrangement between Hungary and/or Romania and the USSR designed to frustrate Germany's plans for both countries. Such an assumption, however, cannot be made in good conscience. A more likely explanation for the Russian actions toward Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary is to be found in Stalin's determination to support all revisionist causes, to have a voice in the determination of the frontiers of Romania, and by extension to weaken Romania's allegiance to Germany following the dismemberment of Transylvania by a German Diktat. In fact, as soon as the award that favored Hungary's claims was announced in Vienna, the Romanian Communists joined in the violent mass protests staged against the Axis
powers and Hungary throughout Transylvania and other parts of Romania.
Although the Russian policies did not prevent the advent to power of General Ion Antonescu and the eventual Romanian joining of the Germans in the war against Russian communism and for the recouping of the Romanian territories lost to Russia in 1940, the Kremlin was able to exploit the resentment against the Vienna Diktat, which remained alive in Romania during World War II. Stalin's sanctioning of the return of Transylvania to Romania in 1945 was indicative of the significance attached to Transylvania by both Moscow and Bucharest and of the role assumed by the Kremlin in the determination of the Transylvanian question.
Whether the Kremlin envisaged this entire scenario in August, 1940, is uncertain. But that this possible scenario was within the realm of Russia's long-range plans for Romania and Eastern Europe cannot be doubted. The Romanians were aware of Russian intentions throughout the interwar period, and the Hungarians were also conscious of the potential advantages to be derived from Russia's anti-Romanian attitudes in an eventual resolution of the Transylvanian question. And it is undeniable that the Romanians and the Hungarians remain aware of Russia's interests in Transylvania forty years after the Vienna Diktat.
|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|