[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] THE NATIONALITIES PROBLEM IN TRANSYLVANIA 1867-1940

Part I

The Romanian Minority Under
Hungarian Rule, 1867-1918

Chapter I

The Welfare of the Romanians and
Their Means of Livelihood

The economic situation of the peoples of Central and Southeastern Europe in the 19th century was determined by two decisive developments. One was the collapse of a system based on serfdom, i.e. the emancipation of the serfs; the other was the inauguration of a new economic system: modern capitalism. Of course, these two decisive developments occurred at different times, under varying circumstances, and with varying results among each people and in each country. The economic conditions of particular nations evolved according to whether the abolition of serfdom and the inauguration of a capitalist system came about under favorable or unfavorable conditions.

The emancipation of the serfs, which signified a profound change in the life of the Romanian people, occurred in 1848. The abolition of serf obligations was proclaimed first in Hungary, then in Transylvania, in response to the revolutionary demands presented by the middle ranks of the Hungarian nobility. In other words, the feudal system came to an end for the various nationalities living on Hungarian lands as a result of the Hungarian revolution much sooner than in neighboring Russia, or in the two Romanian principalities. As is commonly known, the peasants of the tsarist empire were emancipated from the burdens of serfdom in 1861, but those of the Romanian principalities only in 1884.

The Evolution of the Romanian Peasantry's Situation.

Since the great majority of Romanians* were serfs, the abolition of serfdom in 1848, fundamentally altered their material conditions. As one Romanian author noted: "The liberation of village households from the robot and the tithe, signified a rebirth for these households as


* The term "Romanian", as used in this study, usually refers to the Romanians living in Hungarian territory of the Dual Monarchy, that is, to all Romanians living in the countries of Hungary and of Transylvania.


regards their material and social well-being.'' 1 Before 1848 the former serfs held serf plots ranging between 19 and 30 holds, depending on the quality of the soil. Consequently, after 1848:

the economic condition of the Transylvanian peasantry became bearable, in fact in certain places the peasantry even prospered... the peasant class visibly enjoyed economic well- being from 1848 to 1900. Our villages were flourishing, with well-kept farms.2

This favorable economic situation of the Romanian peasantry resulted from political circumstances. And these favorable conditions in turn were the result of the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848- 49. As we know, an armed struggle evolved between the Hungarians and the Habsburg dynasty in 1848, under the leadership of the Hungarian nobility. In this struggle the majority of the Romanians participated alongside the Habsburgs, against the Hungarians. Once the Habsburgs succeeded, with Russian help, to quench the Hungarian fight for freedom in blood, the country was governed by an autocratic regime from 1849 to 1867. This absolutistic regime was characterized by anti-Hungarian measures designed to take revenge on the Hungarians for the revolution and the war of independence. Because the Romanians had supported the Habsburgs in 184849, the authorities applied the Hungarian laws aimed at the abolition of feudalism in such a way as to protect the interests of the former Romanian serfs; in other words, in all disputed matters, the Austrian authorities were wont to favor the Romanian peasant against the Hungarian nobility. As a Romanian writer observed, the Austrians "had the interest of the people [i.e. the Romanian people] at heart," and the law regarding the abolition of serfdom was "regarded as merely the restitution of lost rights."3 Thus the imperial order issued in 1853 and its execution bore the interest of the people in mind. Through this order Francis Joseph legalized the squatting rights emanating from the occupation of lands which had taken place when the serfs received the news of the emancipation in 1848. At that moment the emancipated peasants immediately moved onto those land and meadows which until then were used by tenant farmers and cotters. The explicit order of 1853 by the Emperor was to the effect that the


* A hold is equal to .057 hectares of land.


former serfs are endowed with full rights of ownership and free disposition over the tenant farms in their possession.... Along with these plots the former serfs also assumed ownership over the legally-enclosed or soon to be legally-enclosed grazing land or pasture, as well as over the forests and marshes which had been handed over for exploitation to the former serfs, or will be handed over to them in the future. 4

Under these favorable circumstances the class of free peasants which evolved from the former Romanian serfs embarked on significant development. In many places, within two decades this class became clearly prosperous, and towards the end of Austrian autocratic rule certain regions boasted of having nothing but well-to-do Romanian villages with well-organized farms and extensive animal husbandry. In the vicinity of Arad there were ten rich, flourishing Romanian villages. Their residents were well off: their economic independence was manifest in their proud demeanor and self-respect.5 The Romanian peasants residing on the territory of certain border regiments which had been abolished in 1851 were likewise well-off. In these areas - the counties of Krasso-Szoreny and Beszterce-Naszod - the former Romanian border guards or their descendants came into possession of exceptional means of livelihood in more than a hundred villages. The peasants of the villages in the region of Brasso and Nagyszeben likewise lived under conditions of relative ease. On the other hand, the economic condition of the Romanian people in Northern Transylvania was not so satisfactory. Here the poorer quality of the soil, the preponderance of large estates, cultural backwardness, and generally unfavorable economic conditions all contributed to the material deprivation of the Romanians, even if the Austrian authorities in the period of autocratic rule did promote the material progress of the Romanian peasantry as opposed to that of the Hungarian peasantry, or of the Szekelys.

The development of the peasantry led to social stratification. Romanian artisans and merchants made their appearance, and eventually a stratum of middle-size Romanian landowners. The foundations for these strata were already laid in the period from 1849 to 1867, during the so-called arbitrary rule. Its definitive formation and consolidation, however, occurred during the age of Dualism. This so-called Compromise period, starting in 1867, was particularly favorable to the formation of these Romanian strata and classes, and to their economic progress.

The numerically largest class of Romanians, the peasantry, entered the period of the Dual Monarchy in a rather strong economic position.


The peasantry was not particularly affected by the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Politically it was hardly involved. According to Slavici, the Romanian people basically did not care whether Transylvania remained autonomous, or was united to Hungary. 6 Their only wish was to have the Emperor as their supreme lord, for they had always liked the man. Caring naught about politics, their primary objective was to increase the size of their farms and ensure their own material well-being. The improvement of their economic condition was a function, in addition to the general economic progress of Hungary, of the economic policies of the Hungarian authorities, and their own agricultural know-how, dedication, and thrift.

After 1867 certain strata among the Romanian peasants looked towards the economic policies of the Hungarian government with some foreboding. These strata were made up mostly of veterans of the former border guard regiments and of their descendants. Indeed, their fears were partly justified. They were aware that the Austrian government, after 1849, had rewarded the Romanians economically because they had fought against Lajos Kossuth, whereas it oppressed the Hungarians, including the former Szekely border guards, because they had fought against the Emperor. In 1851 Emperor Francis Joseph dissolved all border guard regiments. In order to reward the Romanian border guard communities for the role they had played during the war of 184849 he left the state forests, amounting to several hundred thousand holds in the territories of the regiments, for their own use, while the descendants of the Szekely border guards were barred from making use of similar forests in their area. Some Romanian leaders were worried about the expected shift when, in 1867, the Hungarians took over. They expected that the Hungarian government, like the Austrian of the preceding period, would favor only those ethnic groups that had collaborated with it, while it would force the Romanians into the background for the role they had played in 1848-49.

Indeed, the Hungarian government would have had no difficulty in securing the vast forestry resources in the areas of the Romanian border guard regiments for the benefit of the state treasury. All the less so, as no final decision had been reached regarding property rights during the period of Austrian arbitrary rule. At the beginning the military administration had given the Romanians an entirely free hand for the exploitation of the forestry resources. Eventually, however, the matter of property rights did arise. According to the directive of August 27, 1861, issued by Emperor Francis Joseph, an Austrian committee was dispatched to determine ownership in the areas formerly under the control of the Romanian border guard units. This committee acted


primarily with the interest of the Austrian treasury in mind. For instance, it declared the Radna [Rodna] mountain area in the valley of the Szamos [Somes] River, part of the mountains in the area of the Beszterce-Aranyos River basin, the so-called ,'regele minere" rights in the territory of fifteen communities of the Borgo [Birgau] and Maros [Mures] valleys, all the Alps, and the official residence of former officers, as belonging to the state treasury. In accordance with the committee's decision, the income from these rights accrued to the state treasury.

While the representatives of the Romanian Commonwealth were naturally not happy with this decision, their dissatisfaction had no effect on the attitude of the Austrian authorities.

When Austria and Hungary made peace in 1867 further decisions on this matter fell under the jurisdiction of the Hungarian government. Although the Romanians did not recognize this government as legally constituted - after all, it came to power on the basis of what the majority of the Romanians had fought against with weapons in 1848, the representatives of the Romanian Commonwealth of the Naszod area turned to it. Ion Florian and Porcius Florian, entrusted by the Commonwealth, filed a complaint with the Hungarian government, requesting a reconsideration of the decision taken by the Austrian committee sent out in 1861, in favor of the Romanians. An interministerial committee was formed with delegates from the Hungarian Interior, Finance, and Religious Affairs ministries to examine the Romanian complaint. This committee decided in favor of the Romanians. "In spite of all the difficulties we had to overcome," states the Romanian report, "we finally succeeded in obtaining a result which is favorable to our communities and villages beyond all expectations."7 This result was indeed significant. Following negotiations an agreement was reached between the Hungarian Minister of Finance, Karoly Kerkapoly and the two plenipotentiary representatives of the Romanian Commonwealth in Budapest, on March 12,1872. According to this agreement the Hungarian Minister of Finance gave up the "regele minere" rights from fifteen communities in the Borgo valley in favor of the Romanian central school fund. He also gave up the property rights to mountain areas and to the former officers' residences.

This agreement, however, did not prove to be final for the Romanian Commonwealth because the property was claimed by the neighboring Saxons and by certain Hungarian landowners as well. The area in dispute included more than one-quarter million cadastral holds* of


* One cadastral hold = 1.42 acres (note of translator).


forests and 85,000 holds of pasture land; hence it is not surprising that several other parties laid claim to some of it. The Romanian communities, moreover, competed against one another and took no heed of the need to control the felling of timber; everyone cut as much as they pleased from the forest, driven only by considerations of profit. In many places timber was cut merely in order to increase the area under pasturage. In other places the forest areas had been given away lightly; when it came to exploitation of the timber the dealers took advantage of the ignorance of the villagers and depleted four times, sometimes up to ten times, the area they had actually paid for. Thus valuable forests belonging to several villages were destroyed for lack of competence and controls. Ultimately, most villages did not earn enough profit from the timber to pay even the state property tax imposed upon it. Consequently the tax arrears had to be paid year after year from the real estate.

In the meantime a suit was filed by Baron Domokos Kemeny and some companions, who laid claim to the estates, against the communities of Naszod. In 1890, because of the sizable arrears, because of the unplanned felling of timber, and, last but not least, because of the political clout of the group of plaintiffs, particularly Baron Kemeny and Dezso Banffy, the state decided to take charge of the forests of Naszod. Then the fate of the Commonwealth and the rights of ownership and exploitation were finally settled by laws XVII, XVIII, and XIX of 1890. These laws declared that the enormous estate, totaling 273,999 holds, were part of the Commonwealth of 44 Romanian border guard communities. At the same time the enacted laws prohibited the partition or division into small parcels as well as the consolidation of holdings, and 59,192 holds out of the vast forest area were reserved for the exclusive use of the inhabitants of the 44 Romanian communities. The remaining 214,807 holds were divided into units of exploitation without regard to the borderlines between the communities, and each community was adjudged a portion of the profits to be derived from the exploitation of these units.8 The first task of the Hungarian Forestry Service, established on the basis of these laws, was to pay up the tax burdens incurred by the Commonwealth. The Service was able to achieve this within its first two years of operation. Then it undertook a geographic survey of the terrain, the drafting of maps, the replanting of areas left barren by indiscriminate exploitation prior to 1890, the construction of factories warranted by a sensible exploitation of the resources, the building of apartments, etc.

At the recommendation of the Forestry Service the management of the Hungarian Railways contributed to the construction of a regular gauge railroad line between Beszterce [Bistrita] and Borgobeszterce


[Bistrita Birgaului], a distance of 32 km's, and between Bethlen [Beclean] and Kisilva [Ilva Mica], a distance of 43 km's. The major portion of the expenses of construction were borne by the state railways. Since, however, the lines were primarily intended to serve the interests of the 44 Romanian communities and to ensure a more advantageous exploitation of the timber resources, the Forestry Service also contributed to the expenses, in the amount of 1,873,500 crowns, out of the proceeds earned by the community forests. These railroad lines made a significant contribution to the development of this region inhabited mainly by Romanians.

Within a decade and a half the Forestry Service was able to replant a previously deforested area of 35,000 holds. It set up a model sheep farm and dairy farm in order to promote one of the major occupations of the Romanian population. Moreover, each year it distributed 10,000 saplings from the state fruit tree nursery at Beszterce, thereby fostering considerably the fruit production of the Romanian communities. The Forestry Service obtained an income of 10,838,127 crowns in a period of sixteen years, for the benefit of the Romanian border guard communities, thanks to its competent management of the timber resources.9

The leaders of the Romanian communities concerned soon had to admit the utility of the state management of the forestry resources; all the more so, as they were well aware that the community property of the Szekely border guard area was in a much less favorable situation. There the state did not object to the division or consolidation of holdings. Thus, in certain Szekely communities where there was no adequate safeguard of community interests, estates were often divided up and sold piecemeal for paltry sums. The possibility of exploiting the forestry resources was far more limited than in the Romanian inhabited Naszod region, for the Szekely region obtained a branch line into the country's railroad network relatively late (later than the Romanians of Naszod), and the ,'circle line" of the Szekelys, built at great difficulty, touched only the periphery of their land. As we know, the larger portion of the county of Udvarhely, the area of Szekelyudvarhely-Parajd [Odorheiu Secniesc-Praid] and of Szekelyudvarhely-Gyergyoszentmiklos [Gheorgheni] remain without a railroad line to this day, as does the area between Erdovidek-Szekelyudvarhely and Barot [Baraolt], even though these areas are rich in forestry resources despite the fact that many forests have been depleted over the past half a century. Consequently, for lack of a goal-oriented state policy, the Hungarians of the Szekely regions lived under far less favorable economic conditions than their Romanian counterparts. Because of the consolidation of holdings and proportioning of their estates, the poorest strata among the Szekelys had


no access to wood or to common pastures. Consequently, once again the Szekelys began to emigrate to Romania.

The Romanian communities around Naszod received yet another railroad line in 1909, in addition to the two branch lines already mentioned: this was the narrow-gauge line along the Les-Ilva valley. The only birth defect of the line, as the newspaper of the Romanian border guard region tells us, was that the Forestry Service and the Ministry had neglected to obtain the prior consent of the owner communities; but the line did constitute the property of the 44 Romanian villages, and the paper was bound to concede with satisfaction: ,'We finally have a railroad line that is owned by the communities. It is quite unlikely that such an unusual thing exists in any other part of the country.'' 10 The narrow-gauge line was built from the income of the Commonwealth and, undoubtedly, its foremost purpose was to ship away the accumulated timber But the line also offered passenger transportation service. Inasmuch as its personnel was Romanian, everything on the train was in the Romanian language: '"What we have here is a Romanian microcosm, as if these particular Romanians did not even live inside Hungary."

The Hungarian Ministry of Transportation found the occasion to point out this particularity when the line was solemnly inaugurated on July 21, 1909. The notary of Nagyilva [Ilva Mare] made some preparations for the reception of the Hungarian transportation committee coming down from Budapest. He taught some of the Romanian peasants to shout "Eljen!" (long live!) in Hungarian the moment the committee detrained. The band hired for the occasion was supposed to play the Kossuth Song, in accordance with the instructions of the notary. Indeed, the "eljen!" did get shouted somehow, but the band had a slight problem; since it felt itself in a Romanian environment, instead of the Kossuth Song it played "Romanian awake from your slumber," the anti-Hungarian anthem, as a matter of habit. The quick intervention of the notary public, however, prevented possible misunderstandings. 11 At other locations along the railroad line there were no such preparations. At the station of Magura [Magura] the Romanian priest Bulbuc greeted the Hungarian ministerial committee in beautiful Romanian.

The conditions in the Romanian border guard area of the Banat (Bansag) [Banat] were similar to those of the Naszod region. These communities also disposed of considerable wealth. This commonwealth was managed and administered by an elected Romanian directorate with headquarters at Karansebes [Caransebes]. This property, referred to as the Karansebes Commonwealth (Comunitatea de avere dela Caransebes) consisted of 215,000 holds of forestry and 33,000 holds of


pastures on the mountainsides. Since, here too, the forests had been depleted without any effort at reforestation, the Hungarian government decided, on several occasions, to introduce state management. "After a great many efforts," we read in a Romanian economic review, "the leaders of the communities did succeed in obtaining permission from the government to be allowed to continue to manage the property through their own organizations." 12

In 1910 the Hungarian government once again attempted to introduce state management, but again it eventually desisted. 13 Indeed, the property remained under Romanian management to the end, in an autonomous form under the indirect control of the governor and of the Ministry of the Interior. Only the specified 72 Romanian communities had a right to its usufruct. They received free wood, primarily for heating and construction purposes. Of course, they also had free access to pasture land. The net income from the timber was turned to educational purposes. 14 The value of the property was estimated, prior to World War I, at 35,075,727 crowns, while the annual income amounted to 560,653 crowns. 15

It is clear from the above that during the Dual Monarchy these enormous Romanian Commonwealths suffered no particular damage on account of the economic policies of the Hungarian state. Rather to the contrary! It was the benevolent attitude of the Hungarian authorities that made it possible for the inhabitants of more than one hundred Romanian communities in these areas to continue to enjoy an advantageous economic position.

The inhabitants of the former Romanian border guard areas were not the only ones to live under such favorable economic conditions; other strata of the Romanian peasantry were also able to increase their economic power without encountering obstacles. If and when the Romanian communities suffered some form of injustice, the Hungarian government undertook to defend the economic interests of these communities upon presentation of due evidence, often on the basis of opinions by legal councilors of Romanian background. In 1869, for instance, upon the presentation of the Romanian councilor Ioan Cavalerde Puscariu, the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior, under ordinance 20.826, declared that the Romanian communities within the area of the Saxon jurisdiction in Szelistye [Saliste] and Talmacs [Tamaciu] were to enjoy equal rights with the Saxon communities of the entire Kiralyfold area. As a consequence of all this, in 1877, the Minister issued two directives declaring that the aforementioned Romanian communities and those of the pass were entitled to participate in the Commonwealth of the Saxon University, since they formed


an organic part of the Kiralyfold. 16 Thus the economic growth and ethnic expansion of the Romanian peasantry got under way in the former Kiralyfold as well.

In many instances, a few decades after the Compromise of 1867, the Romanian peasantry was materially better off than the Hungarian, or the large majority of the Szekelys of Transylvania. In 1884, according to a Romanian priest in the Mezoseg, the Romanian peasants were well aware of their economic superiority in this region, and tended to look down on the Hungarian peasants. 7 The latter were so poor that the Romanians had pity on them, and occasionally gave them handouts to help them survive from day to day. 18 The Hungarian government cared as little for the Hungarians who had become a minority in this zone as they cared for the deprived strata of the Szekely population. The Romanian peasantry owed their prosperity to the fact that the leaders of the Romanians were nationally conscious and placed ethnic considerations at the forefront; furthermore the farming organizations which functioned on an ethnic basis were not hampered in any way by the liberal Hungarian state but, if anything, received help from it. According to Silvestru Moldovan, there were large and flourishing Romanian villages in the area of Szelistye. 19 The residents of these villages were engaged in animal husbandry and pastoral occupations. They regularly took their flocks of sheep to pastures in Romania, Bessarabia, and even Bulgaria. The Hungarian government did nothing to prevent this across-the-border-traffic, except during the few years of the Customs War.

The villages in the area of Brasso, with a predominantly Romanian population, were likewise flourishing. 20 Originally the Romanian villages in the area of Torcsvar [Bran] were also prosperous, but, as the pastures in Romania had become overgrazed during the last decades of the century, they too became impoverished. The Romanians living in the Barossag (Barcasag) [Tara Birsei] and Haromszek areas, as well as those living among the Csangok, also led some of their flocks to pasture in Romania. The Romanian men of the Hetfalu [Sapte Sate] area "preferred to live in the highlands and in Romania together with their sheep.'' 21 The Romanians of Kovaszna [Covasna] were also well off. 22 We have already noted the relatively favorable condition of the Romanians of Beszterce-Naszod in the northern parts of Transylvania. In other parts of the north the Romanians were less well off. The residents of Maramaros and of the highlands lived in very modest circumstances. In several places among the Moc, however, particularly in the gold producing areas, the Romanian peasants grew rich along with those involved in mining.


Purchases of Land by the Romanian Peasantry.

The well-to-do Romanian peasants were able to purchase significant amounts of land in several areas. Taking advantage of the indebtedness of the Hungarian smallholders, they bought up lands, increasing their own holdings. Their land-purchasing activities were promoted by the loan policies of the fast-growing Romanian banks.

The first Romanian bank, the Albina, was founded in 1872. Within two decades more than fifty Romanian banks were founded along the same formula. Most of these were altruistic banks striving, first of all, to strengthen the Romanians economically and help them acquire land. Practically all these banks made the objectives of the Albina their own: namely, according to one paragraph of their basic statutes, "to obtain the means necessary for maintaining and developing the farms of the Romanian peasantry; to awaken in them the spirit of thrift, improve their credit and promote national economic interests." Of course, the Romanian banks also awarded loans to the intelligentsia, including lawyers and bank officials, thus promoting the wealth of the stratum of middle-size landowners among the Romanians. It seems, however, that the peasants were adequately represented among the buyers of the land. The case of the Romanian peasants of Kristyor [Cristior] was not an isolated instance. In about 1880 four-fifths of the farms in this area were in the hands of the Hungarian nobility. Fifteen years later the ratio was exactly the reverse for, in the meantime, the Romanians had bought up four-fifths of the farms and only one-fifth remained in Hungarian hands. 23

It is difficult, today, to determine the total amount of land purchased by the peasants prior to 1900, for the statistics mention only the numbers of Romanian purchasers without any reference to social status. Slavici, one of the foremost experts on conditions in the period of the Compromise, states that in the space of fifty years, from 1850 to 1900, "the land owned by Romanians in the kingdom of Hungary increased tenfold." 24 According to certain authors the land purchased by Romanians from the beginning of the Compromise to the turn of the century amounted to close to one million holds.

At the end of the century the pace of purchases of holdings by peasants slowed down temporarily; in some areas the peasant farms even suffered bankruptcy. As Slavici noted:

Lightly-contracted loans, successive years of bad harvests,

lack of cash, the decrease in the number of animals, but most of

all the lack of intensive and sensible exploitation of the land


gave the already unfavorable economic situation an aspect of economic crisis.

All this led to an even greater misfortune: the sale of farms, the consequence of which was the "atomization of peasant holdings" and the growth of the large estates. "Many a well-organized farm disappeared mainly as a result of two sins: alcoholism and senseless spending. These and many other sins, especially the lack of sensible exploitation, deeply and mercilessly undermined the basis of the peasant economy." 25

The peasant holdings were often bought up by members of the Romanian intelligentsia and by those Romanian landowners who already owned sizable holdings. Often their acquisition of land was promoted by the very banks which had placed the land of the indebted peasants under auction. This resulted in considerable backlash, not 1

only among Romanians but even in Hungarian circles. A Hungarian daily brought up the matter, condemning the procedures employed by the Romanian banks which, in many places, resulted in a major blow to the Romanian peasantry. The Tribuna, the daily of the Romanian chauvinists, took up the cudgels in defense of the banks, while admitting that errors had been committed by them. The Romanian daily wrote in its reply:

We also know that the foundations on which these banks were built were not always the healthiest. We cannot claim that those who obliged peasants to sign bills for a three-month period, while well aware that they wouldn't be able to repay in less than a year, have acted morally. We do not deny that there are Romanians here and there who take advantage of the straitened circumstances of their brothers from the village, of their lack of competence, of their naiveté, and who entice them into business deals that are not appropriate to their economic condition. We are also aware of cases of inhuman exploitation, and we know of lawyers who have bought up farms auctioned off for no good reason at ridiculously low prices.26

Often there seemed only one way left to the indebted and bankrupt peasant: emigration to America. Indeed, this was the period when many a Romanian peasant emigrated from Hungary. True enough, emigration affected the whole country, without distinction of nationality. Though a relatively larger number of Hungarian peasants opted for emigration, the phenomenon frightened the Romanian press and public


opinion. The authors of a number of articles and essays sought the reasons for the impoverishment and bankruptcy of peasant farms, and resorted to the time-honored device of finding a scapegoat in the Jew. Alcoholism, fancy mode of dress, and lack of sensible agricultural practices were part of the picture. The author of a pamphlet asked:

Why is it, that for the past few years we have been becoming poorer and visibly weaker? Where only five to six years ago, four or eight calves could be seen in the barnyard of a tidy farm, not even the tail of a pet can be detected today. We are blaming everyone except ourselves. We keep saying that the state and the emperor, the priest and the teacher, are responsible for our plight.... Indeed, all of them take advantage of us, skin us alive.... This is the way we are, nearsighted, for we cannot see beyond our noses. We fumble here and there in search of the causes of our misery and degradation, yet the reason is among us, even inside ourselves.... We do not weigh ideas, the notion of thrift and economy is totally lacking among us.27

These rational and accurate observations would have had a beneficial effect on the reader had the author not detracted from their value by resorting to extremist anti-Semitic incitement, in the following pages of his pamphlet. There Romanian peasants could read that the Jewish innkeepers were the lords of the village, granting loans and credit to the Romanians until suddenly, their homes must be auctioned off. Sly shopkeepers and innkeepers carry the Romanian onto thin ice, and then laugh at his stupidity. While peasants hand over their wealth, Jews pay back with poison and rags. They exploit the peasant while they get fat and enjoy themselves at the peasant's expense. "The damned Jewish innkeeper hisses slandering and demeaning words against the Church and God, and the person softened by the administered poison takes his words at face value. He begins to suspect everyone from the priest to the bishop."28

These unbridled racial attacks were hardly conducive to providing the groundwork for sensible ideas or thrift. All the less so, as the same tone characterized the daily newspapers. In the second half of the 19th century racial attacks became a standard feature of the Romanian press. slanders against Jewish innkeepers in the village, combined with a call for a general boycott, were the by-word. As so many times in the course of history, it was once again the Jews who were blamed as scapegoats for mistakes the slanderers themselves had committed. After all, alcoholism, spendthrift ways, and fancy dress derived from an inner

l 4

urge, and the Romanian innkeeper who came to replace the expelled Jewish one exploited peasants in the same ways as his predecessors. The entire campaign gives the reader the impression that its true purpose was to ensure or maintain exclusive Romanian control over the Romanian villages. This is intimated by one of the slogans in the above-cited pamphlet: "Beware of the Jewish swindler and of foreign banks." 29 Such declarations were meant to convince the public that they need beware only of the foreign, i.e. non-Romanian, shopkeeper and banker, whereas Romanian shopkeepers or banks were deserving of trust because they had the interests of the people at heart.

Indeed in the first decade of the 20th century the Romanian banks expanded their activities, as regards purchase of land. The banks increased in number, and the persistent propaganda paid off. As the Romanian expert noted: "the financial policies of the Romanian banks came rapidly to the rescue" of the peasantry in crisis.

As a result of loans for mortgage and the division of lands, the equilibrium of their economic situation was restored somewhat. The peasantry could breathe more freely and recover. The peasant begins to understand the importance of the Romanian money in our banks; most of all he understands how to exploit his holdings more sensibly and how to invest the loans more fruitfully. Purchases of farms by groups of peasants became the order of the day, and the banks adopted corresponding measures, as a result of which the purchased farms were divided among the peasants. In the decade immediately preceding the war, Romanians purchased 719 estates, or almost 170,000 holds of land, valued at 60 million crowns. These estates could only be bought from Hungarian landowners. Their old noble manors gradually vanished; they fell partly into the hands of the former serfs and partly into the hands of the Jewish race which penetrated into Hungary as into a second land of Canaan.

The data regarding Romanian purchases is confirmed by Hungarian authors. According to a collection of data from 1913, in fourteen out of sixteen counties of Transylvania it was the Romanian peasantry that bought most of the land. The sellers were almost invariably Hungarian. The Romanian peasants bought 29 estates totaling 5,160 holds in Also- Feher [Alba de Jos] county, 2,611 holds in Beszterce-Naszod, three farms totaling 286 holds in Csik, five estates in Fogaras [Fagaras] totaling 1,181 holds, twelve sites totaling 3,573 holds in Haromszek, 11,237 holds at 43 locations in Hunyad [Hunedoara], 6,860 holds in 39 locations


at Kis-kukullo [Tirnava Mica], 16,537 holds at 90 locations in Kolozs [Cluj], 4,580 holds at 31 locations in Maros-Torda, 5,512 holds in thirteen locations in Nagy-Kukullo [Tirnava Mare], 15, 183 holds at 73 locations in Szilagy [Salaj], 25,665 holds at 96 locations in Szolnok- Doboka [Solnoc-Dobica], and 9,717 holds at four locations in Torda- Aranyos [Turda-Aries]. Even the county of Udvarhely, the most Hungarian one, constituted no exception; 820 holds fell into Romanian hands at three locations. 31

The circumstances surrounding the most significant purchase were described by one of those involved in a interesting article in the newspaper of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Telegraful Roman. The incident took place at Nagygalambfalva [Porumbenii Mari] the home of the Orthodox Romanian priest Ion Ganea, a pastor to 72 Romanian families. The members of these families had already abandoned their Romanian folk attire, and were on the verge of absorption into the masses of the Szekelys. They had even forgotten the language of their ancestors. Yet they remained Romanian in feeling, and their clergyman kept this feeling alive in them. With the help of the director of the branch of Albina at Erzsebetvaros [Dumbraveni], Ganea founded a credit union. The director of the branch, one Octavian Tobias, and the Orthodox priest formed an alliance to buy up for the benefit of the Romanians and with the help of the credit union, the 600-holds property offered for sale in the outskirts of the community. The purchase was effected in 1911. Of the 600 holds, 228 were parceled out among the Romanian members of the union, and the rest was retained as pasture land. Since the community had no pastures beforehand, the 72 Romanian families were now able to attain a leading economic role, above the Szekely farmers, dominating animal husbandry - all this owing to the zeal of the Romanian farmers, the business acumen of the Romanian priest, and the activities of the Romanian banks.32

A similar process took place beyond Transylvania, in the so-called Partium counties. The data collected here, however, do not reveal the social status of the Romanian buyers. The only thing we can say for certain is that between 1907 and 1912, 5,000 holds of forestry in the county of Temes, and over 20,000 hold s in the counties of Szatmar [Satu Mare] and Arad were bought up. In the county of Torontal [Torontal] 11,000 holds of prime arable land and pastures came into Romanian possession.

In view of these figures, the confident, often even arrogant, tone assumed by the Romanian press of Hungary becomes understandable. As early as 1903 the extremist Romanian paper of Szaszvaros [Orastie] observed that the land purchases caused justifiable anxiety among the


Hungarians. "But just as they cause justifiable anxiety among the Hungarians," continued the author of the article:

by the same token they give us a feeling of harmony and confidence in the future. Because the proverb remains essentially true: whoever owns the land owns the country. And the earth is shaking under the feet of the Hungarian lesser nobility throughout Transylvania.34

Similar comments, and plots for sale, were advertised in the Romanian papers for the benefit of those interested. In 1912 the Tribuna of Arad once again warned the Romanian public: "Buying land from the foreigner is a gain for the nation, whereas selling land to the foreigner is a betrayal of the people." 35 In the fall of the same year the great Romanian daily of Brasso addressed a similar exhortation to the Romanian reader: "We encourage our people never to lose sight of the proverb, 'he who owns the land has the power'." 36

These developments do indicate that in many places the Romanian peasantry had learned how to farm sensibly and how to invest profitably. These accomplishment, however, were not the results of anti- Semitic attacks, but much rather the result of the spread of agricultural expertise. The economic education of the peasantry was sponsored by Astra and other organizations, by the cooperatives, and by the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture. Contemporary Romanian sources provide interesting details regarding the latter.

The Activities of the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture.

The land-acquiring movement of the Romanian peasants and the virtual disappearance of the holdings of the Hungarian lesser nobility could occur only if the Hungarian state remained entirely neutral. Indeed, Hungarian economic policies in the age of Dualism were characterized by non-intervention. Not only did the state refrain from interfering with the free exchange of estates, but it actively encouraged the economic education of the peasantry. It promoted rational farming practices among the Romanians. It was constantly preoccupied with raising the standard of living in the village, including the Romanian village. It instructed the pertinent farming committees to tackle the agricultural problems of the counties by enhancing the agricultural know-how of the peasantry. In the ethnic areas it sponsored lectures in the language of the ethnic groups. It devoted the greatest attention to improving the material conditions of the peasantry and to the economic


education of the inhabitants of the Romanian areas precisely in the decade immediately preceding the First World War. The most detailed Romanian data regarding this activity come from the county of Beszterce-Naszod.

On November 1, 1906, the director of the National Dairy Association went to visit the community of Olahszentgyorgy (Singeorz-Bai) (Romanszentgyorgy), accompanied by the chief administrator of the Radna district and the county veterinarian. They spoke to the people about the significance of the Dairy Association and urged them to form a local association of their own. The Romanian teacher of the village expressed enthusiasm, encouraging the Romanian residents to receive this initiative favorably. The initiators of this venture demonstrated their concern for the progress and education of the people. "Let the honorable initiators rest assured that their words will find an echo in our hearts," concluded the teacher in his report. 37

The work of economic enlightenment and education ordered by the Ministry was carried out systematically throughout the country, under the direction of the county farm committees. In addition to lectures they resorted to distributing leaflets in order to get people to abandon bad habits In Beszterce-Naszod the lectures for the inhabitants of Romanian villages were delivered in Romanian. The leaflets were printed in one of three languages for the benefit of readers of Romanian, Hungarian, and German. "These leaflets," observed the Romanian weekly, "contain precious information and, under the leadership of the hardworking county veterinarian, Sandor Szekely, they are written in the language of the farmers themselves. Their goal is uplifting and timely." 38 Kalman Daranyi the Hungarian Minister of Agriculture disbursed a state stipend of 1,000 crowns yearly for the printing of the leaflets. 39

The work of economic education in Romanian took place everywhere under optimistic circumstances. Most of the lectures were under the chairmanship of the sub-prefect, and followed an introduction by a local Romanian leader. On January 30, 1910, for instance, there was a lecture in Romanian to an audience of about five hundred residents of Sajonagyfalu [Mariselu], Serling [Magurele], Zselyk [Jeica] and neighboring villages. The speakers were introduced by Janos Pap, the local deacon. Then the chief veterinarian of the county, Sandor Szekely, "who is practically the organizer of these very useful didactic presentations, and the tireless spirit of the entire farm committee" gave a lecture in Romanian "regarding the mistakes in farming and the means recommended to eliminate these mistakes."40


The Hungarian Minister of Agriculture resorted to yet other means to promote farming knowledge among the Romanian population. He often gave support to Romanian associations devoted to this type of activity. A few years before the outbreak of World War I, Astra, the Greater Romanian Cultural Association, hired an agronomer and lecturer to hold a series of lectures on farming in Romanian villages. This lecturer held a five-day course in the village of Alsopian [Pianul de Jos] on the subject of viticulture, with an audience of 50 to 60 in continuous attendance. The expenses of the course were borne by the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture. 41

The Ministry also felt it was its duty to promote animal husbandry and fruit growing in the Romanian districts. It gave away, for this purpose, breeding animals and saplings of fruit trees to individuals, associations, and villages. Moreover, it encouraged the most successful farmers with rewards. We find many reports of similar instances among the short notices in Romanian newspapers. In 1904 the Romanian villages of Petrozseny [Petrosani], Lupeny [Lupeni], Merisor [Pusztaalmas], and Banica [Banita] all received, free of charge, a Pinzgau bull as a present from the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture, in order to improve the breed of livestock. 42 In 1908 the Minister of Agriculture rewarded Linul Macedon, the teacher at the Romanian primary school of the Naszod foundation, with a sum of 200 crowns and a certificate of achievement for results obtained in fruit production. 43 The same Ministry rewarded a Romanian village near Szaszsebes [Sebes] with 1,000 crowns the following year, because its inhabitants had stopped mud-slides in a certain area by planting trees. 44 Evidently the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture rewarded deserving individuals and communities regardless of nationality.

One of the contributors to the already-quoted Romanian work in the area of animal husbandry, wrote:

The state is making tremendous efforts. In each region it promotes a different breed, the one best suited to the local soil and climate. Thus it improves the indigenous species, partly by selective breeding, partly by cross breeding. It ensures wide- ranging progress in animal husbandry at the state model farms. It has distributed, either gratis or at favorable prices, bulls and other animals, to individuals, various associations, and even to communities.

The statistics, by county, of animals distributed for the purpose of improving the breed, are as follows:


County Amount in Crowns Special Assistance
Arad 149,661 20,391
Also Feher 53,765 9,286
Hunyad 74,883 10,185
Fogaras 33,256 4,446
Maramaros 65,055 10,517
Szolnok-Doboka31,214 5,994

"In the past decade," the already-quoted Romanian authors state:

as a result of the sacrifice and assistance provided by the state, the breeding of cattle has made considerable progress, not so much quantitatively as qualitatively. It is safe to assert that the value of the animals increased by 50%. Moreover, we must bear in mind that, in Hungary, two-thirds of the cattle belong to smallholders.45

State support to individual communities was, to a large extent, a function of how

clever and able the village leaders were. If the leader had the required qualities and was a conscientious person, he was usually able to secure significant state support. Thus for instance, the judge of the community of Oltszakadat [Sacadate], in Szeben [Sibiu] county, one Toma Prie, was decorated with the silver cross and crown by King Francis Joseph, under ceremonial circumstances, on Christmas Day in 1910. A retired teacher of religion, Prie had served the community for 32 years as its elected judge. During this time he had visited Budapest on many occasions to request large amounts of aid, which were granted by the government for the regulation of the Olt River, for the construction of a fire hall, community buildings, and stables, and for the introduction of pipe-borne water. Chief magistrate Patkovsky, who delivered the medal, pointed out to the villagers assembled for the occasion, Prie's role in improving the village: ,'Your courtyards are filled with animals. Even the poorest inhabitants of our village have at least one cow for milking and some pigs."46

In those regions where the leaders of the communities collaborated for the sake of improving the standard of living, practically-model villages came about. Petru Stefanescu, a citizen of the Kingdom of Romania, the director of the institute of administration Curtea de Arges, visited the village of Szelistye in Szeben county in 1918. Upon his return to his country he gave a glowing account in a newspaper of Bucharest. 47 He wrote, among other things, that:


the streets are paved and clean. There is a park with a beautiful pavilion. They have a credit union which handles deposits of two million. They have a cooperative for making cheese. They have a public school with ten teachers, a kindergarten, and an assembly hall, something even secondary schools can hardly boast of in Romania. They have two churches, three clubs, a chorus, a mutual-help society, volunteer firemen, etc. Their judge, their notary and their magistrate are all Romanians. Every notice is published in Romanian, and the language of communication everywhere is likewise Romanian.

Stefanescu concluded his writing by adding that the students of the course for notary public in Romania should strive to imitate this model of "wonderful administration" in Szelistye.

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