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

Chapter V

The Civil Rights of the Romanians of Hungary

Since continuous evolution and change are characteristics of all organic forms, individuals and national communities are also subject to continuous change. The circumstances of the Romanians of Hungary changed from year to year, from decade to decade. Continuous development may be noted in their financial situation, their culture, their relations to the state. In countries dominated by a single nation such changes are often to the detriment of other nations. The nation in control of the state is always inclined to regard its own interests as paramount and to disregard the interests of others. Naturally, the nation that feels oppressed will defend itself against its second-class status and against further deterioration of its situation. Since the leadership of the state is not in its hands, it cannot defend itself by armed might. Self-defense may be carried out through the individual and civil rights of the citizens. Civilized and truly liberal states have always granted their citizens the right to legal defense against oppression threatening them. Since the French Revolution, these rights are usually referred to as civil or human rights. Romanians living under Hungarian rule also felt the need to resort continually to defense. According to their perception, the measures adopted by individuals or authorities were directed specifically against them. At such times they resorted to any means available to effect the withdrawal of the harmful measures or obtain compensation for the harm suffered. What rights did the Romanians of Hungary enjoy? The answer is not to be found in the statute books or the ordinances in print, but rather in what actually took place in practice. It often happens that the practical application of the rights guaranteed by law encounters difficulties when resorted to by a given ethnic group. Therefore, as regards to the rights of the Romanians; the evidence presented in Romanian sources, press reports, and secondary works is most important, for these are the materials from which we may determine the degree to which these rights could be applied. Judging from this material, the Romanians of Hungary actually enjoyed individual



freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of assemble, and freedom of worship throughout the period of the Dual Monarchy. In addition to the above rights enjoyed by all citizens of Hungary, the Romanians, as a separate nationality, enjoyed rights peculiar to their nation. These rights concerned the use of Romanian national symbols and contact with Romanians on the other side of the border. In addition, the Romanians also enjoyed political rights, the right of local autonomy; and when these rights were curtailed in any way they resorted to the Hungarian system of justice to defend themselves. The evidence in the Romanian press indicates that the principle of equal rights applied to the Romanians as well.

Individual Freedom

This basic freedom was enjoyed by the Romanians of Hungary until the very end. They had the right to take decisions, to move about freely on the territory of the state, to reside where they pleased. During the era of the Dual Monarchy there were no measures, whether it be states of siege, martial law, forced labor, or quartering of troops in private homes, limiting the freedom of the individual. Consequently, the Romanians of Hungary lived in complete freedom as individuals, doing what they pleased within their homes; they were not troubled by a police state or other monstrosities threatening individual freedom. We have found no complaints along these lines in the Romanian press or in historical works about the Romanians of Hungary.

The Right to Property

The right to private property was completely respected throughout the period by the Hungarian state. Everyone was free to do as he or she pleased with his or her property or wealth, within the limits of the law. These rights were enjoyed not only by individuals but by legal persons as well. Expropriation was very seldom resorted to, and only when it was definitely in the public interest. Buildings or estates in private hands were never expropriated under the guise of any national or state reason. As regards the Romanians, we know of but one case of expropriation: the estate of the Gojdu foundation at Rakos. The foundation owned a villa and adjoining fields, which were expropriated for the purposes of the Hungarian state railways. Expropriation meant that the railways purchased the villa and the fields at a price three times their appraised value. The holdings of the Gojdu foundation increased considerably as a consequence of this expropriation.1


Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press was the most important and significant of the rights of the Romanians of Hungary. The application of this right was determined primarily by the fact that in the period of the Dual Monarchy. from 1867 to 1918, the institution of prior censorship of the press was unknown in Hungary. This kind of preventive censorship had been practiced by the Austrian authorities with regards to the Hungarians as well as the Romanians before the Compromise of 186 f, but after the Compromise the Hungarian state put an end to it. Journalists were held responsible for contravening laws only after their articles were printed. Sentences in press matters were passed by juries. It is possible to determine the exact measure of freedom of the press enjoyed by Romanians from the operations of the Romanian press and from the proceedings against the authors of articles appearing in various Romanian papers.

What were the measures that restricted freedom of the press? In other words, what was the nature of the articles for which the authors were held accountable? What could be published in the Romanian papers appearing on Hungarian territory without entailing prosecution? Furthermore, what sentences were handed down, and to what extent did the execution of these sentences inhibit or frighten the representatives of the Romanian press?

We get a very interesting picture from the answers to these questions. Most of the time Romanian newspapermen got into trouble for the reasons described in paragraph 172 of the BTK (Criminal Law Code). This paragraph referred to agitation against an ethnic group:

Whoever addresses or disseminates a direct appeal against a law, or against ordinances and decisions issued by authorities acting within their legal competence, in a manner determined in paragraph 171 (at some assembly, publicly, verbally, or by the distribution or exhibition of printed materials, documents or illustrations) is punishable by incarceration up to two years and by a maximum fine of 1,000 forints. The same punishment may be meted out to someone who, in the manner defined under paragraph 171, stirs up any social class, nationality, or religious denomination against another, as well as the one who agitates against the institution of private property and marriage.

The concept of nationality mentioned in the text was defined, in principle, by the Supreme Court, in the following terms: "by separate


nationality is meant those ethnic groups that are identifiable by their language and their historical past, and who insist on retaining their mother tongue."

On the basis of the quoted measures, if some Romanian newspaper published an article agitating against the Hungarians, or against the constitution of the Hungarian state (the Compromise of 1867 and the Dual Monarchy that is against the leading role of the Hungarians within Hungary), the state prosecutor might initiate a press trial. The first press trial against the Tribuna, initiated in 1884, was caused by an article published in its November 30, 1884, issue. The article was by the Romanian writer, Ion Slavici, who had returned to Nagyszeben from Romania in the wake of the resolutions adopted by Putna. He debated the issue of the official language of the state in connection with the sentence passed over two Saxon armed robbers. Among other things, he wrote: "They force us inevitably into blind animosity towards the Hungarian state; and we must seek opportunities to shake it to its foundations by any means necessary, to rally and unite with all its enemies everywhere, and to turn people against the Hungarian state wherever we go." The prosecutor placed charges against Slavici. The trial came before the jury at Nagyszeben, and the members of the jury were of Saxon nationality. They found the charges unwarranted, and Slavici was exonerated. In the first year of its publication not a single author of any article in the Tribuna was found guilty. The prosecutor did not even place charges when the Tribuna published the following words in the fall of 1884:

If it is not possible to strengthen the Romanian race within the Hungarian state then the only alternative that remains to us is the annihilation of said Hungarian state; the struggle for this annihilation, alliance with the enemies of the Hungarian race, appear to us as organic necessities. 2

After 1885, in view of the attitude adopted by juries composed of Saxons, the Hungarian government referred press trials to the Hungarian court at Kolozsvar. This was where most press trials launched against certain Romanian journalists for agitation against the Hungarians or against the Hungarian state came up for adjudication. The reasons given by the prosecution for initiating these trials are illustrative. For instance, another press trial was launched against the Tribuna in 1885, on account of an editorial which appeared in its November 28 issue. The author of the editorial explained the objectives of the Romanians of Hungary in polemics with the Kolozsvari Kozlony.


The Kolozsvari Kozlony claimed that if the Romanian demands were met, this would be tantamount to the realization of union with neighboring Romania. First the Romanians would request autonomy for Transylvania. Then they would demand the recognition of the special rights of the Romanians within the autonomous state. After this demand was met, they would join, at the first opportunities, with the related and neighboring state if there were such a thing, and if not, they would achieve complete independence and secession. The Tribuna noted that the semi-official paper of the Kolozsvar was mostly correct in writing that "whatever concession granted U8 Romanians, we would use to prepare union with our brothers on the other side of the Carpathians and for the establishment of the Greater Romanian state extending between the Danube, and Dniester [Nistru] and the Tisza." Our answer is: "the semi-official paper of Kolozsvar is right in assuming that the Romanians are imbued with the desire of national unification. This desire is most natural, and it has penetrated the large masses of Romanians far more deeply than the Hungarians realize." According to the Tribuna the only way to fight against this desire would be for the Hungarians to grant all the rights the Romanians demanded. In vain did the Hungarian newspaper point out that the autonomy granted to the Croatians did not make them content; and, therefore, the state and its leaders must retain their Hungarian character. The Romanians would never reconcile themselves to such a solution. It would lead straight to civil war.

This land is not the home of the Hungarians, nor of the Romanians, but the home of us all. The Hungarians should not keep coming with the claim that it is Hungarian and nothing but Hungarian, because by so doing they force the Romanians to demonstrate stubbornly that it is either Romanian or a wasteland.3

As we have seen, there were serious grounds for the press trial. The state had to defend itself against such tones which, resorting to emphatic words and grandiloquent style, spread daily among the avid Romanian masses. The need for self-defense also forced the Hungarian prosecutor's office to initiate yet another press trial at the end of the same year, with similar arguments. The cause for legal action was the following sentence:

If the Hungarians could, in spite of the Pragmatic Sanction and against our will, unite Transylvania with Hungary; it is


difficult to convince the Romanians that they may not, likewise in spite of the Pragmatic Sanction and the will of the Hungarians, strive towards the unification of Transylvania with some other state. 4

Indeed, the Hungarian state initiated the above actions as a matter of self-defense. The freedom of the press which prevailed in Hungary made it possible for the Romanians to express their yearnings and complaints in extreme form, although they were occasionally held accountable for it. Contrasting the mildness of the sentences imposed with the impact of the agitation on the minds of the people, it becomes obvious that the sentences were not excessive, nor did they have an inhibiting effect. In cases of press offenses, prison terms or fines were handed down. But the state prison, particularly the one at Vac, was not in the least a deterrent in that period. We know this from the book titled My Prisons by Slavici, the editor-in-chief of Tribuna, published after World War I. 5 The book reveals the situation of the journalist sentenced to a jail term. Slavici was not arrested after sentence was passed; the court allowed him time to travel to Bucharest and settle his pending affairs. He was allowed to specify the date when he intended to report at Vac. Slavici actually reported on the day he had specified. This was not the prison at Vac, but a separate building which the Hungarian state had rented specially for those sentenced in press trials, political trials, or for dueling.

Slavici was assigned to a private room, the only window of which opened onto a clean courtyard. The furniture consisted of a bed, two chairs, a small table, and a wardrobe. The bed was equipped with a horsehair mattress, a feather pillow, and an eiderdown. An employee of the prison cleaned the room for the fee determined in the regulations. Slavici was allowed to order his meals from the outside, so his wife moved to Vac with their two-year old son, and stayed in a furnished room not far from the prison. She cooked and kept her husband company in the daytime as he was allowed to spend the entire day in his room in the company of his family. Other inmates had the same situation. Their afternoons were usually spent in the garden behind the house. Here they could entertain each other or receive visitors. If the weather was pleasant and they felt like having an excursion, they went to the island of Szentendre across from Vac. The boat and oarsmen of the prison were made available for the purpose. Slavici frequently availed himself of the privilege. On such occasions he would walk, accompanied by a guard, to the banks of the Danube where his wife and child awaited him. Here they embarked in the boat and the oarsmen


sped to the island where the family stayed together in "complete freedom" to enjoy the pleasant weather and picturesque surroundings. Slavici wrote:

This was not some kind of privilege granted me alone but an indulgence to which all those sentenced for longer terms were entitled, because the purpose of the punishment was not the destruction of body and soul, and certainly not to make the prisoner immoral and an even greater threat to society. 6

During the prison term Slavici's wife was nearing her time for giving birth to another child. Slavici, the great enemy of the state, was seized with considerable anxiety. He would have liked to remain by the side of his wife in her hours of need. The prison warden advised him to turn to the Minister of Justice and request leave for that period. Slavici turned in the request which was immediately granted. The Minister instructed the prison warden, by cable, to have the prison doctor examine Mrs. Slavici, and assign a permanent doctor to her; Slavici was granted leave for the period of the delivery. Thus Slavici spent two weeks by the side of his wife and could go anywhere he pleased in the town without being subjected to guard or police supervision or surveillance. The delivery took place without complications under the supervision of the prison doctor. Two weeks later the newborn was baptized in the presence of twenty Romanian university students from Budapest who had traveled to Vac to honor the editor-in-chief of the Tribuna. Once the anxiety surrounding the arrival of the baby had dissipated, after his furlough of two weeks, Slavici returned to the small house which symbolized detention.

During his entire term of imprisonment Slavici busied himself as he pleased. He was entitled to read any book or periodical. The director of the prison loaned him books from his own library gladly; but even at this time Slavici preferred to deal with the affairs of the Tribuna, and edited the text of the Eudoxiu Hurmuzaki archives to be published in Bucharest. The printers in Bucharest sent the galleys straight to Vac where Slavici performed the proofreading, often with the help of the prison warden. Sometimes, instead of proofreading, he wrote articles which he sent off immediately to the Tribuna, criticizing in strong words the "anti-Romanian nationalities policies of the Hungarian government." 7

Slavici's recollections of his experiences at Vac constitute an accurate description of the predicament of Romanian journalists


sentenced to jail terms. Had the objective of the Hungarian press policy been to repress freedom of thought by instilling fear, the incarcerated journalists would surely have been treated differently. As Slavici noted, the punishment was not aimed at the "destruction of body and soul," hence the condemned were treated with kid gloves. The treatment in the state prison at Szeged was somewhat less lenient, yet the human dignity of the inmates was respected. Lucaciu, the most radical representative of Romanian irredentism, could continue to write his sociological treatise during his entire period of incarceration there. "While his fellow-prisoners read or entertained each other," writes the author of the monograph on Lucaciu, ,'he wrote at his simple table, absorbed in his subject, and the writing filled up the pages line by line."

The journalists knew well that prison was not a terrifying experience, hence they were not afraid of the sentences meted out and, once released, they continued their agitation. They made full use of the freedom of the press. Though the biographer of Lucaciu refers to this as merely "the beginning of freedom of the press," he immediately adds that "the Romanian leaders used this freedom to speak to the masses. It hardly mattered that they may be sent to jail as a result of their articles censored after publication; the main thing was the impact of the articles." 8

The other manner of punishment was fines. This was not a deterrent either, considering the financial situation of the various strata of Romanian society, improving year after year, and the generous financial support granted by the Romanian government. Thus, fines did little to restrain the authors of articles in Romanian newspapers from sharp attacks against Hungarians and the Hungarian state. Agitation committed verbally also entailed but mild punishment. A few examples will shed light on the procedures of the Hungarian judicial system.

In 1896, in the community of Kurtos [Curtici], county of Arad, there was a torch-light parade on the occasion of the millennial celebrations. Palcu Dumitru, a resident of Kurtos watching the parade, shouted to the marchers; "Down with the Hungarians!" When questioned about his outcry, he gave the following explanation: "I have the right to speak this way, because this land is not Hungarian, but Romanian." The Tribunal in the first instance absolved him for lack of proof, but the prosecutor appealed the decision. The Supreme Court sentenced him to three months in jail and a fine of 50 forints. 9

On May 16, 1902, after the laying of laurels at the foot of the statue of Andrei Muresanu in Brasso, the Romanian printer Draghici shouted: "Long live the Romanians, let the Hungarians croak!" He was sentenced to one month in state prison and fined 100 crowns. 10


Florea Berdean a Romanian landowner from Ujszentanna [Sintana], requested a ticket in Romanian at the local railroad station in l909. He was refused, because the cashier could not understand Romanian. Then, within earshot of several witnesses, the Romanian landowner shouted: ,'This government keeps the Romanian people in jail and is a true curse on the country. The whole country has to be partitioned, as was done with Poland!" He was sentenced to 15 days in jail for these weighty statements. 11

We could cite similar incidents over many pages. But the ones already mentioned should suffice to show that agitation in words was penalized less heavily than inciting articles published in the press. The courts were probably more concerned about the impact of the agitation; articles in the press could be read by large numbers who, in turn, created public opinion, whereas the impact of oral statements remained isolated.

Of course, whether the sentences were mild or severe often depended on the tensions of the moment in the relations between Hungarians and Romanians. Trials regarding agitation were by jury. The members of these juries were usually persons who read newspapers and were not always immune to the influence of the views published there. Hungarians who understood Romanian sometimes read the original article, others obtaining information from reports in the Hungarian press. The anti-Hungarian tone of the Romanian press, pandering to feelings of hatred, appeared even meaner when reinterpreted in the Hungarian press. This appearance was occasionally reflected in the decisions handed down by the juries. It also happened, however, that the Hungarian press deemed the sentence for agitation too harsh. This was the case when, in 1905, a court in Kolozsvar condemned the author of a Romanian poem to one year in jail; the Hungarian daily Kolozsvari Naplo objected to the sentence. The Romanian paper of Szaszvaros quoted the reaction of its Hungarian counterpart with some satisfaction. "The excessively harsh sentence has elicited great astonishment everywhere," and added, "after this anyone would understand and sympathize with the rebellious bitterness of the nationalities.'' 12

A year in prison was indeed an unusual sentence for agitation. Only during the "Memorandum trial" were longer sentences passed over a Romanian accused. Vasile Lucaciu was sentenced to five years and several of his companions to two years each. As we know, the condemned did not have to sit out the sentences, since they were to benefit from an amnesty after a year and a half.

Most press trials were initiated for arousing hatred against the Hungarians. The justification of the prosecution for the press trial


against the author of the article "Romania for Us', published in the Foia Poporului of July 23, 1893, may be considered typical. According to this justification, excerpts from the article present "Hungarian rule," the "Hungarian nation," and the "Hungarians" as the most adamant enemies and destroyers of the Romanians, administering them blow upon blow and torturing them with illegal and unjust oppression, persecution, and political terror. Since these endeavors attributed to the Hungarians were appropriate to incite those Romanians who are more easily misled to hate the Hungarians, they bear all the traits of the crime "agitation against a nationality." On the basis of paragraph 172, the prosecutor initiated a press trial against the author of the above article and the editor-in-chief of the periodical. 13 The usual punishment for such articles was incarceration in a state prison for a few months, half a year at most. Sentences were also handed down by the courts because of anti-Semitic agitation. The Romanian poet Goga sat in the prison of Szeged for such an article. In cases of agitation against the constitution or the integrity of the state, the sentences were more severe.

In spite of the press trials, freedom of the press offered the Romanian ethnic group broad rights and opportunities. The Romanian journalists regularly enjoyed the rights and opportunities below without the risk of a trial:

a) The proclamation of racial boycott by Romanian society.

b) Harsh criticism of the Hungarian state, the Hungarian authorities and institutions, as well as of the Hungarian character and culture, to the point of ridicule.

c) Unlimited praise and glorification of Romanian ethnic traits.

d) The distortion and vilification of Hungarian history.

e) Various ways of expressing allegiance to Romania.

a) Proclamation of Racial Boycott

Romanian racial boycott was proclaimed soon after the Compromise. The authorities had no mind to intervene. The boycott was directed primarily against those who befriended Hungarians or spoke Hungarian, or gave some evidence of understanding towards the Hungarians and their aspirations. Widespread racial boycott got underway especially after the launching of the Tribuna. "We have the right to hate, show contempt towards and systematically persecute all those who


collaborate with the Hungarians whether openly or secretly ," wrote the Tribuna. 'This hatred, contempt, and systematic persecution is as certain as light at daybreak." 14

It naturally followed from this basic principle that the Romanian press attacked every Romanian who frequented Hungarian establishments. They resorted to all kinds of slander, falsehood, and acts of terror towards such persons. "We give him no bread when he is hungry, nor water when he is thirsty, and lock our doors when he asks for lodging" - that is, every Romanian who befriends Hungarians and frequents Hungarian society. Soon statements appeared in the Romanian press by individual Romanians protesting against the accusation of having committed treason by contacts with the Hungarians. Judging from items in the Romanian press, membership in a Hungarian casino, the organization of a ball with Hungarian participation, contributing to collections for the Hungarian Red Cross, dancing the csardas, etc., constituted such crimen laesae nationis. These acts, not serious in themselves, entailed serious consequences. One point of the program of the weekly Libertatea, launched in Szaszvaros in 1902, was to educate the Romanian people to terrorize. In the first issue of the paper we read that the "Libertatea considers as one of its most important missions to teach our people the art of terrorism. Whereas terrorism in the hands of the authorities is a sinful weapon, terrorism in the hands of the people is the shield of the common good." 15 During its long life the paper did, indeed, carry out this task without once incurring a press trial. There was complete freedom to announce boycott and terror, and the state prosecutor did not intervene against anyone for so doing, although even the editors of the Libertatea were astounded by some of the consequences of this persistent education for aggression. The incited masses did not always resort to aggression when the editors of the Romanian paper deemed it appropriate, as in the case of the inhabitants of two Romanian communities in Hunyad county.

The Romanians of the community of Pank [Panc], along the Dobra River, quarreled with the likewise Romanian inhabitants of Roskany [Rosani]. The latter turned to the courts, because they laid claim to some parts of the forest and meadows used by the inhabitants of Pank. Their rightful claim was recognized by every court; hence the residents of Roskany won the suit and awaited the execution of the verdict. But when the judge arrived to mark division, the Romanian peasants of Pank chased him away by force. On the request of the inhabitants of Roskany he returned to the contested area, this time accompanied by 14 gendarmes. Those of Pank set up barricades along the way and greeted


the approaching gendarmes with shots and a shower of stones. Those who had no gun were armed with scythes and pitchforks. The gendarmes returned the fire, but seeing the determination of the crowd, they soon retreated, making way for a military unit which finally succeeded in pacifying the rebels. The editors of the Romanian paper bent on preaching aggression did not approve. '"This is a most painful event," they concluded; "all the more painful, as the verdict of the judge did not result in any injustice, for all three courts had decided in favor of those of Roskany.'' 16

Of course, when the people resorted to aggression for a Romanian national or political objective, approval was not long in coming. When the Romanians decided to become politically active, and some of their candidates launched their electoral campaign, it was accompanied by tremendous intimidation. The intimidation was directed against those about whom it was known or suspected that they would vote for the opponent, though the opponent was Romanian as well, but one who based his campaign on the program of the government party. Woe to the one who voted for him. His home was set afire at night by "unknown culprits," his animals were driven away, or he himself beaten half to death. After one such election campaign, the paper advocating aggression noted with satisfaction that success at the polls was due to the terroristic intervention of the Romanian voters. "The people of the electoral district deserve every praise," insisted the paper from Szaszvaros. At other times it merely noted the fact of aggression, without resorting to praise: "they beat a few judges from the village who did not speak out for the village masses but sided with the lords," it wrote curtly. 17

In the long run this terrorism became a powerful weapon in the hands of Romanian national leaders. It was resorted to in a similar way before and after almost every election. The weeks preceding the voting witnessed true revolts in many places. The politicians tried to persuade those suspected of not favoring the Romanian candidate to change their intentions, but means of all kinds of threats. Romanian priests, notaries, teachers, and various campaign managers all indulged in such psychological terror. They threatened the voters thus identified with death, with arson, with the theft of their property, etc. For weeks on end, the papers published articles about the villages in which some noteworthy incident took place. After an unsuccessful campaign certain Romanian papers would list the name of every Romanian priest and teacher whose attitude had not been sufficiently adamant in their obituary section. 18 It happened that under the impact of such articles, the priest would make the Romanians swear in church to vote


for the Romanian candidate. When the peace negotiations between Vasile Mangra and Istvan Tisza became known, and the majority of the Romanian priests and deacons of the county of Bihar came out in support of Mangra (who had launched a movement in favor of coexistence with the Hungarians), the newspaper from Szaszvaros described them as enemies of the people "prepared to smear the clean name of the people,' and "serve Mammon rather than God."

The actions of the priests and deacons of the poor people in the vicinity of Nagyvarad must receive their just reward, much as the Romanians of Valea Iepii had done to the Marian priest; for all those who wrote in favor of the madman Mangra are so many Marian priests dangerous to our very lives. 19

The case of this priest was well know: during one of the election campaigns he busied himself in favor of the government candidate. Under the influence of the Romanian newspapers his parishioners locked him out of his church, and refused to allow him to hold service. Everyone avoided him as if he were suffering from the plague. His servants left him and his neighbors denied him all help. This situation lasted for half a year, when the priest finally decided to move away from the village. The Libertatea was running no risk when calling upon its readers to perform similar acts boldly. 20

b) Criticism of the Hungarian State and the Hungarians.

Along with the exercise of the previous right, the Romanian papers consistently directed harsh criticism at the Hungarian state and its agencies. Such criticism seldom resulted in prosecution. The following assertions, for instance, could be made scot-free: The Hungarian state embodies an unjust political system; Hungarians are not fit to lead the state; the administration up to this point has really barbarianized certain regions of the country; Hungarians are midgets compared to other nations, a mongrel, savage race from Asia who are naturally unable to absorb European culture; the civil servants are petty, corrupt and abuse their power; the Hungarian language hurts the eardrums and is uncultured it sounds like the braying of a donkey. According to a popular Romanian anecdote, few people who spoke Hungarian would ever make it to heaven. The Hungarian peasant of the anecdote is lazy and dirty. The calendars published by various newspapers were filled with descriptions of Hungarians as repulsive. Such materials appeared especially frequently in the calendar of the Tribuna, which was widely


disseminated in rural areas, for decades. The combined objective of the articles, anecdotes and photographs which appeared in these calendars was to provide a debasing view of the Hungarians. Whenever Hungarians or Szekelys were mentioned in the anecdotes, they were described as stupid, foolish, and ridiculous: An acquaintance from the city could locate the house of farmer Janos by the fact that his yard was filled mostly with dirt, rather than by the number. 21

In another calendar, satirical drawings of Hungarian patriotic demonstrations pretending to be "actual photos" represented men with frightfully hooked noses and criminal features, or women looking like furies, all designed to make the Hungarian patriotic holidays seem ridiculous. 22 Neither the editors of the papers, nor the authors of the articles, nor the publishers were penalized for all these assertions and distortions. Nor did the Romanian delegate Alexandru Vaida-Voevod come to harm in 1908 for reading out, in the Hungarian house of parliament, the following poem:

Everything is in vain, in vain... you will perish/ scum from Asia that tramples on all rights.... /For ten cursed centuries you lived like parasites/bloodthirsty bedbugs feeding on this country./ And it has put up with a lot, but forgotten nothing/because the Romanian is cine mintye. 23

There were times when even the Hungarian prosecutor's office felt prompted to raise official charges for slanders against the Hungarian nation. For instance, charges were prompted by an article about the Hungarians publishing in the paper Romanul. Among other things, the author noted that:

as a result of their Asian origins the state concocted by the Hungarians on the Hungarian steppe has remained Asian in all its customs: attempts at regicide, continuous rebellions, incessant aggression against individuals and their property. In other words, the history of Hungary continues to show that both Hungarians and the Hungarian state have preserved, in their savage spirit, their Asian origins. The Hungarian way of thinking has preserved two essentially Asian traits: animal servility towards those above, and cruel tyranny to those below. 24

Most states would have punished the author of such an article with a sentence longer than just half a year in state prison. The authors of


such articles were charged by the Hungarian courts because they attempted to depict not just a few Hungarians who abused their powers, but all Hungarians, the entire Hungarian nation, in baleful colors. The injustice of such allusions was admitted on one occasion by the Tribuna itself When in 1911 some Romanian leaders undertook preparatory talks with the Hungarian Prime Minister Karoly Khuen-Hedervary in view of a Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation, the Romanian paper pointed out the greatest obstacle to

...brotherly collaboration with the Hungarians. During our centuries-long struggles we were conscious of the fact that the Hungarians are our relentless enemies. Indeed, it would be rather difficult for us now to accept the notion that we have been fighting not against the Hungarian nation, that it was not the nation that was our real enemy, but only a certain social class, the members of which, clothed in Hungarian national garb, exploited not only us, but the Hungarians as well....

Only the press could prepare the agreement. Hungarian and Romanian journalists must mutually approach each other. Let us get acquainted, and let them promote the struggle against these obstacles in their papers. Only this way could they stop "the spread of those lies which they used to disseminate formerly, with a specific objective." 25

As is well known, Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation got scuttled because of the influence of politicians from Romania. Hatred continued to spread. Iorga praised the process in the Romanian parliament: "The Romanians did not make peace with the Hungarians, which is only as expected. This was dictated by their past, and will become their future." 26

c) Glorification of the Romanian Race

While the Romanian press depicted the Hungarians in the most repulsive light and with the coarsest attributes, it constantly published odes to the virtues of the Romanian race. "You must be proud to be born Romanian" the Romanian papers repeated with increasing frequency. The Romanian nation was described as the only Latin race in Eastern Europe, hence the only worthy representative of Western Civilization. According to an assertion oft-repeated in the Romanian press, the Romanian people were the most homogeneous of Eastern Europe and called upon to perform the most important role. Their duty was to spread Western civilization towards Russia and the Balkans.


There was no language sweeter or more harmonious in the world. The Romanian race was far superior to the neighboring races, particularly the Hungarians. In face of the attempts at Hungarianization it posited the "pride of the Romanian race of a higher order," looking down from above at the lower order of Hungarians. 27 The Romanian nation represented true culture and true order in contrast to Hungarian barbarism. While the Hungarians harassed the Romanians with laws such as the Apponyi Law, Romania would not grant its Jews citizenship and excluded them from the body of the nation "in a most humane manner." 28

Hence the Romanians were the representatives of true civilization and humanism. The Romanian nation was pure, law abiding, hospitable, patient, and endowed with the most outstanding qualities, after all it "descends from a majestic tribe." 29 It deserved to be addressed as "His Majesty the Romanian People." 30

The glorification of the Romanian race served two purposes. One was to reinforce national pride to such an extent that it would become immune to any kind of Hungarian influence, including Hungarianization. An Easter article in one of the Romanian papers was typical of this endeavor. According to the author of the article, while celebrating the resurrection, the Romanians should implore God

...to spread national pride in their soul and to avoid aliens who ended up on Romanian soil, and to look down upon them since they stem from a lower order of nations than the Romanian; whereas those among us who agree to serve the alien, let us bear them with the most profound contempt. 31

The other objective was to justify the Romanians' right to rule over Transylvania, by stressing their outstanding qualifications. The Gazeta of Brasso stated outright that the "poor and unfortunate" Romanian nation was called upon "to rule over these areas" because of its excellent qualities and the sharpness of its intellect. 32 Of course, the term "nation" was meant symbolically, because what the intelligentsia and the landowning class in charge of the Romanian press had in mind was its own role as leaders and rulers of the people. Under the term "nation" they referred to their interests and ambitions; by praising the excellent qualities of the Romanian people they were merely voicing their own image of themselves. They knew right well that the masses had no notion of the mission and strivings of the Romanian National Party. 33


d) Demeaning Hungarian History

The Romanian press and publishers enjoyed the highest degree of freedom to distort Hungarian history and present it in a loathsome light. Hungarian history was nothing but the history of the continuous exploitation of the Romanian people and of barbarous tyranny, as &r as the Romanian dailies and other publications were concerned. Hungarian historians were dismissed as simply "falsifiers of history". According to the Romanian weekly from Szaszvaros, "it is common knowledge that Hungarian scholars are greater falsifiers of historical evidence than the scholars of any other nation;" 34 therefore, Romanian historians should not even engage in conversation with them. True historical science was represented by Romanian scholars, and this was the history the Romanians must cultivate and learn. This history reflected historical facts faithfully. The Romanian nation has occupied the land of the heroic Dacians for two thousand years, and all the savage nations of the world had to cross this land to steal away their fruits. One of these nations were the Huns, "an incredibly savage nation related to the Hungarians." 35

Moreover, the way the Hungarian chieftain Arpad was presented in history was a "lie." The Hungarian occupation of the land was "highway robbery," "a millennial theft and a cursed phenomenon." 36 Andras II was a mean ruler because he gave the Saxons the right to exploit the forests at the expense of the Romanians. Lajos Kossuth, the leader of the struggle for independence in 1848, was the executioner of the Romanians whereas the rulers of Transylvania were their oppressors. The best known and greatest Hungarian historical figures, those whose accomplishments could not be belittled, were almost all Romanian descent, according to the Romanian interpretation: King Matthias, Gyorgy Dozsa, Gabor Bethlen, and even Ferenc Deak. In 1848 the Hungarians were bent on causing chaos and anarchy, whereas the Romanians' tribunes came to the rescue of the threatened imperial throne, fighting for order and civilization. 37

In March 1848, when the Hungarians launched the revolution and seceded from Austria; they had a grand army, strong forts, and a well stocked treasury; whereas the Romanians had nothing but heroic determination, loyalty towards the Habsburg dynasty, and could offer but their naked arms. 38 Even such an outstanding figure as the Romanian poet George Cosbuc wrote in this vein about the Hungarian fight for independence in 1848/49, presenting the facts in a completely distorted light. Yet everyone with some knowledge of history was aware that in the first half of 1848 the Hungarians had neither a


separate army, nor a treasury, nor even strong forts, for these were in the hands of the Austrian forces. They declared their independence from Austria not in 1848 but in 1849. The Romanian press, however, persisted in presenting Hungarian history in a negative light, as yet another device to foment the hatred felt by the Romanian people towards the Hungarians. Still, not a single Romanian journalist or publisher was penalized during the entire period of Hungarian rule on account of having thus distorted Hungarian history or depicted it in negative terms. Naturally, because of the reckless distortions and belittling, even the purest figures of Hungarian history now appeared hateful to the Romanians. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Romanians felt glory was involved in the act of some who, on October 6, 1903, the Hungarian day of mourning for the martyrs of Arad, spat on the portraits of Lajos Kossuth and of the executed generals in the Faller restaurant at Mariaradna. The only penalty was their exclusion from the Hungarian casino. 39

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