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Chapter 3
Uprooting of the Hungarian Administration and
Educational System in the Successor States

The Belgrade Military Convention stipulated that within the occupied territories civil administration was to remain in the hands of the Hungarian government.[1] Nevertheless. the purge of the administration and educational institutions of Hungarian influence commenced as soon as the Successor States established their military control over the sought areas. In the predominantly Romanian-populated counties of Transylvania, this process began even before the arrival of the regular Romanian army, by the population and by the Romanian National Council.[2]

Summary dismissal of Hungarian officials was a clear violation of the Belgrade Convention, but all three of the Successor States were determined to take this action. The principle of national self-rule served as a justification. Replacement of Hungarian officials in the predominantly Hungarian areas, however, was contradictory to that principle. In those areas, therefore, officials were replaced in the name of security. It is perhaps paradoxical that in Paris several of the territorial claims against Hungary were advanced by the Successor States in the name of security even though these claims were not justified on the basis of nationality. Such was the Czech demand for the incorporation of the purely Hungarian district of Csallóköz in spite of the fact that it involved the risk of adding to Czechoslovakia a large number of hostile Hungarians.[3] In other words, when confronted with the choice of a larger territory and an enlarged irredenta on the one hand, and smaller territory and greater internal cohesion on the other, all of the Successor States chose the former.

In the West, as well as in some of the capitals of the Successor States, hopes were entertained about eventual reconciliation of the various national groups under democratic regimes. These hopes, however, never materialized. First, the Hungarian minority in all three states remained steadfastly opposed to separation from their country and never accepted the new boundaries as anything but temporary. Too, the embers of hostility between the ruling nations and the Hungarian minorities. were constantly fanned by a virtual psychosis for security.

Here again, it was in Czechoslovakia. the most heterogeneous of the Successor States, where this security consciousness was most accentuated. In the minds of the Czechs. there existed a constant, if only partially admitted, fear that the creation of their state was a mere historical accident. that under some unfavorable turn of events the state could vanish just as rapidly as it had come into being. Without doubt. the Hungarians were totally committed, as a minimum demand, to a restoration of the predominantly Hungarian border areas, and if possible, all of Slovakia. If Hungary was successful in separating Slovakia from Czechoslovakia, Bohemia would cease to be a viable state and soon would be submerged in the surrounding sea of Germans.

This was the nightmare of all Czech nationalists. At times, therefore, they felt compelled to take strong measures for the preservation of the Czechoslovak state, especially against the most ardent irredenta group, the Hungarians. Every Hungarian was looked on as a potential member of a fifth column bent on the destruction of Czechoslovakia. Not surprisingly, Czechoslovakia was flooded with a constant stream of spy scares, arrests, and political trials. Rumors about an imminent Hungarian invasion, or about infiltration of Slovakia by Hungarian freebooters and saboteurs, were regularly circulated. The credibility of these rumors was reinforced by the violently nationalistic Hungarian press. Actually plans for an invasion of Slovakia were entertained even in the highest Hungarian circles, but a realistic evaluation of Hungary's military strength should have dissolved all doubts about the capacity of Hungary to realize these ambitions.[4] To the Czechs, it, nevertheless, appeared a reasonable security measure to remove the Hungarian officials from their positions of power even in predominantly Hungarian areas.

The issues were less complicated to the Hungarian population. Clearly, to them, at the core of every policy of the Successor States was an unbending determination to destroy the Hungarian character of the conquered lands, to erase all the cultural and political marks that a thousand years of association of these areas with Hungary had inevitably left upon them. In the dismissals the Hungarian population discovered a perhaps even more sinister design: a clearly discernible policy, aimed at nothing less than the destruction of the Hungarian middle class. By eliminating this politically most conscious and articulate and, therefore, most dangerous class, the new states seriously impaired the remaining predominantly agricultural Hungarian minority's ability to resist.

Dismissal from state employment served this policy effectively. Unlike the industrialized Western countries, where the commercial and industrial classes formed the backbone of the bourgeoisie, in mostly agrarian Hungary the'' intelligentsia,'' composed of professionals and gentry bureaucrats, formed the middle class. In 1910, out of roughly 300.000 individuals classified as intellectuals, 182,000. or about sixty percent, belonged to these groups. and most found employment in the bureaucracy or the public sector of the economy.[5] This excessive dependence of the middle class on the state made it especially vulnerable in the Successor States.

A loss of a minor bureaucratic post or a teaching position often meant a loss of ability to survive. Armed with their Hungarian law degrees, teaching credentials or with even less, the Hungarian officials and teachers had no other qualifications for employment than that required in the Hungarian classrooms or bureaucracy.

These men had only two options: either to accept the most menial jobs or to cross the border into unoccupied Hungary. For a shorter or longer period of time, many of the dismissed state employees attempted to maintain themselves through physical labor in the vain hope of a sudden reversal of their country's fortunes. As the Hungarian Peace Delegation to Paris bitterly complained: "The discharged and ruined Hungarian teachers are not allowed to live by their work and thus to maintain their families. Professors, officials, magistrates, having a secondary and . . . [university] education, undertake street paving or work as stable servants, as porters . . ." and in similar occupations.[6] As we shall see most, sooner or later, decided to abandon their homes and become refugees in Hungary.

Uprooting of Hungarian administrative personnel was carried out with the greatest thoroughness and dispatch in the Voivodina. In places the hastily formed South Slav Councils took it upon themselves to seize the town halls and to appoint new officials from their own ranks, without awaiting the arrival of Serbian troops. The Serbian occupation of the area sealed the fate of some of the Hungarian officials. One of the first acts of many Serbian military commanders was to dismiss nearly all Hungarian administrators from their posts. Only those officials who suddenly discovered their minority ancestors and renounced Hungarian nationality managed to salvage their jobs. In fact, this rapid change of nationality was a practice not uncommon in the other occupied areas-- a considerable number of ex-Hungarian officials saved their careers in this fashion in Slovakia and in Romania as well.

Most of the Hungarian officials, especially those in higher posts, did not await removal by the new Serbian authorities; they fled with their families to inner Hungary even before completion of the military occupation of the southern counties. During 1918 and 1919, 525 state functionaries, 255 county officials, and 210 judges and public prosecutors were registered officially as refugees from Yugoslavia, as well as much larger number of junior officials, clerks, and other state, county, municipal and village office personnel. Those who were not immediately replaced were subjected to a more drawn out war of attrition. Failure to take the oath of loyalty led to suspension and loss of all benefits by many officials. Others were harassed, arrested, flogged, or, simply, expelled from the country. Finally, strict enforcement of the official Serbian language in all state affairs even in the purely Hungarian or German districts, made the replacement of Hungarian officials with Serbians, drawn mostly from the Old Kingdom, inevitable .[8]

These refugees accepted their displacement from their offices and homes with greater passivity than did the officials of Transylvania and Slovakia. The explanation for this difference is to be found in the composition and evolution of the middle class in the southern regions of Hungary. The Voivodina was one of Hungary's least diversified areas, with an extremely thin stratum of middle class and an overwhelming peasant majority. Unlike Upper Hungary and the eastern regions, the gentry in the Bánát and Bácska could never fully reestablish itself after the Turkish wars. Thus the intelligentsia, the local bureaucracy, did not grow out of a native nobility, but was mostly either non-noble in origin or transplanted from other regions. Their roots were shallow; their historical attachments and identification with the area slight; and, therefore, their uprooting less traumatic.

In Czechoslovakia the first law concerning Hungarian state employees was issued on December 10, 1918. It stated: "All municipal and communal assemblies are dissolved, and their jurisdiction is transferred to a Commission to be formed by the plenipotentiary of the Government."[8 ]Control of the entire administrative structure passed to the ''Government Office,'' a branch of the Ministry for Slovakia, whose first director, Vavro Srobár, was granted extraordinary powers to reorganize Slovakia. Immediately under him were thirteen referents, acting more or less in the capacity of cabinet ministers, while seventeen Zupans were appointed, one to head each of the seventeen counties of Slovakia.

Responsibility for screening out "untrustworthy" Hungarians from the state administration fell on the shoulders of these last-named officials. Guidelines were set down in the same law that dissolved the old administrative system. They specified that some of the Hungarian officials would be retained if they met three requirements: if they were willing to take an oath of allegiance to the Czechoslovak constitution; if they learned to speak, within one year, the new official language of the state; and, finally, if they met certain unspecified qualifications required for holding a particular office."'

During the first months of occupation these regulations were generally enforced against only the higher officials. judges, and the most vociferous opponents of the Czechoslovak state. The demand for an oath of loyalty, however, confronted every Hungarian state employee with a thorny problem. According to the terms of the Belgrade Military Convention such a requirement was illegal. Legally, until the signing of the peace treaty, all occupied territories still formed a part of Hungary and the population remained Hungarian citizens.[11] Therefore, officials in those areas were still bound by their previous oaths to the Hungarian state. As Hungarian patriots they were also opposed to taking such an oath; more important, most feared the stigma of collaboration should any part of the occupied areas ultimately be returned to Hungary. To refuse, however, threatened them with an immediate loss of livelihood.

Loyalty oaths were required not only in Czechoslovakia, but also in Yugoslavia and Romania. Thus, from every part of the occupied areas Budapest was besieged with letters from officials caught in this dilemma asking for guidance or instructions. At first these requests were handled on the lower level by officials of various ministries. This resulted in a series of contradictory instructions being sent across the demarcation lines, compounding the confusion among the hapless Hungarian officials. After stormy debates the issue was resolved at the cabinet level. Hungarian officials were given permission to take these oaths under compulsion. Count Tivadar Battyány, the Hungarian Minister of Interior, sent the following telegram to all government employees under his jurisdiction: '' The government calls upon all public employees to remain at their posts, to try to cooperate with the Czecho-Slovak and Romanian National Councils, but to take a loyalty oath only as a last resort, under duress. The government will not consider a forced oath a violation of citizen loyalty and official obligation.....[12]

At the same time the Károlyi government assured those who refused the oath for whatever reason that Hungary would continue to pay their salaries.

Wholesale and summary dismissal of the Hungarian state employees in Slovakia did not prove practicable if any degree of continuity was to be retained. In fact, without the temporary services of the Hungarian officials the entire state administration was in danger of collapsing. The principal reason for this was the appallingly low number of qualified Slovaks to take their places. The entire Hungarian state bureaucracy had only thirty-six state functionaries, twelve clerks, thirty-eight county and twenty-one city officials and clerks, 119 village notaries, and one judge of Slovak nationality.[13] Shortage of educated Slovaks allegedly forced Prague to seek an alternate solution to the administrative probeelm .[14]

In Bohemia and Moravia local administration was largely in the hands of the Czechs--even under Austrian rule. An inordinately large number of Czechs also served in other parts of the monarchy in the Austrian bureaucracy. As these officials returned from the far-flung corners of the Austrian half of the monarchy or from military service, they created a surplus of office seekers in Bohemia. It was natural for the Prague government to send these officials to areas where the need was greatest. Transfer of Czech officials in large numbers could not take place until 1919. Only then were most of those Hungarians who were retained earlier and who met all the requirements for holding office dismissed under pretenses such as ''intransigence'' or ''actions against the state.''

In spite of careful planning the loss of the Hungarian official class created temporary chaos. This was especially true in the case of the judiciary. Law 1 of 1918 declared that all existing legal codes were to remain in force until they were superseded by new laws passed by the Prague parliament. That is, in Bohemia the old Austrian, and in Slovakia the old Hungarian, laws prevailed. Nevertheless, the old judicial system was one of the first targets for a thorough purge. In eastern Slovakia, for example, out of the 718 judges and prosecutors, after those who refused to take the oath of loyalty were dismissed, only five judges remained on the bench. [15] Even the best trained Czech judges could not interpret laws which they were unable to read.

Many dismissed state employees continued to cling to hopes of a reversal of the political situation or a change of heart by the Czechoslovak government. They sent petitions and protested their mistreatment but without result. Encouraged by the promise of continued payment of salaries and pensions in Hungary, in increasing numbers they came to the bitter decision that they had to leave Czechoslovakia. By early 1920 at least 926 state officials, 915 county officials, and 493 judges and prosecutors and their dependents arrived in Hungary, from Czechoslovakia.[16]

The uprooting of the Hungarian state administration and the destruction of the Hungarian middle class in Transylvania followed a pattern similar to that established in Slovakia. Legal authority to carry out wholesale changes in Transylvania issued from the Declaration of the Romanian National Council at Gyulafehérvár (December 2, 1918) and from the Royal Proclamation of Union of Transylvania with the Old Kingdom. Though the union was not recognized by the West until the Treaty of Trianon came into force in 1920, the Romanian government considered these matters strictly internal and, therefore, ignored all communications and protests on the subject.

The Romanian authorities used various methods to bring about reductions in the number of Hungarian officials and to force the departure of members of the Hungarian intelligentsia. In January 1919. the government announced the dissolution of the old Hungarian administration. Elected officials of villages, towns, and counties were replaced by prefects appointed by the central government. Lower officials in these administrative units were simultaneously informed that they would be retained at their posts if they were willing to take an oath of loyalty to the new Romanian authorities. whereby they would automatically acquire Romanian citizenship.[17]

Motivated by Hungarian patriotism most Hungarian officials were reluctant to sign such an oath despite the threat of dismissal, internment, or immediate expulsion. In characteristic fashion, however, dismissal did not always follow such refusal. In some areas the Hungarian officials were called upon, repeatedly, to comply with the order, without ever losing their jobs; while in other parts of Transylvania even those who did agree to sign were dismissed without any justification. In a rather arbitrary fashion some of the dismissed officials were declared personae non gratae, and given a short period of time to depart from the country.

Expulsion orders were issued in great numbers, without any discernible pattern except that they were almost inevitably directed against the Hungarian middle class--officials, nobles, lawyers, journalists, clergymen, teachers, and other civic leaders or more prosperous individuals. Often the reason was not more complicated than that the home of one or another Hungarian was coveted by a newly appointed Romanian official. For example, while some 17,000 families left Kolozsvár, the arrival of some 20,000 new Romanian officials and teachers created a grave housing shortage. As a result, in Kolozsvár alone, the lodgings of some 2000 teachers, professors, and officials were seized.[18] These individuals simply received notification that their apartments or houses had been reassigned by the housing authorities. They were ordered to vacate the premises within a few days and depart from the city. As it was impossible to acquire resident permits in other towns of Transylvania, loss of one's lodging was tantamount to expulsion from the country.

In late August 1919, another wave of expulsion orders struck shorttime residents of Transylvania, who were classified as strangers. According to these orders:

30th of June 1914, are obliged to leave the city together with their families by the 15th of September 1919. Prior to their departure they have to report to the Commissioner of the Government in order to receive their gratuitous passports...[19].

In addition, all those individuals who were born outside the new Kingdom of Romania had to reconfirm their residence papers, which, if denied, forced the departure of the individual concerned.

During the summer of 1920, after Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon, the question of loyalty oath came up once more. The government again called upon all those Hungarian state officials still at their posts as well as those who in the past had lost their positions or pensions as a result of their refusal to sign the oath to do so within one month. This demand was coupled with a vague promise of restitution of rights and employment.[20]Some who complied were, indeed, given state employment though normally at a lower level than held in Hungary. Even those officials who were restored and were willing to cooperate with the Romanian authorities, frequently found their position increasingly precarious. Often they had to accept repeated demotions and reductions in pay. More important, in 1920, they were ordered to learn Romanian within one year or face dismissal once again.[21] This requirement was enforced also in the most arbitrary fashion. Since standards of proficiency were set by the local prefect, the Hungarian officials, fate depended upon the whims and fancies, the good will or venality of the prefect. Faced with these constant uncertainties, humiliations, deterioration of living standards, many Hungarian officials, even if they were not dismissed in 1920, decided to exercise the right granted in the Treaty of Trianon to leave Romania within one year of the ratification of that document.

In general the administrative change-over in Transylvania was executed at a slower rate and with far less efficiency than in Slovakia. It was carried out in a piecemeal, arbitrary fashion, without coordination or sufficient supervision by the central government. This gave rise to a considerable amount of corruption and abuse at the lower levels-- often a blessing in disguise for the Hungarian population. Many of the easy-going Romanian officials closed their eyes to government orders whenever it seemed convenient to do so. These extremely poorly paid bureaucrats were often willing to make exceptions in exchange for small bribes. At the same time, however, some of them were also prone to respond to provocation with arbitrary acts and even brutality. This unpredictable behavior many Hungarians feared and found intolerable.

Replacement of Hungarian officials never reached the proportions achieved in Slovakia and the Voivodina. In the eastern Székely counties, for example, where the Hungarian population of Maros-Torda county comprised 57 percent of the total population, in Háromszék 83 percent, in Csik 86 percent, and in Udvarhely county 95 percent, a purely Romanian bureaucracy would have been totally ineffective. Transylvania, just like Slovakia, suffered from a shortage of qualified Romanian officials. Although in the old Hungarian state administration there were about six times as many Romanians as Slovak officials, their number was still minuscule. In 1910 out of 64,797 state employees 1889 were of Romanian origin. That is, although the Romanian minority had comprised approximately 16.1 percent of the total population of Hungary, less than one percent of the state employees and less than one half of one percent of the county and city officials had been Romanians. Only in the lowest positions and on the village level had their presence been numerically significant.[22]

In historic Transylvania 5.4 percent of the state officials, 7.4 percent of the county and city officials and 20.8 percent of the village notaries were Romanian. Unlike Slovakia, where qualified Czechs could be rushed in to fill the vacuum created by the removal of Hungarian officials, in Transylvania only the most poorly trained office seekers were available as replacements.

The official stratum was only one group of state employees that was affected by the anti-Hungarian policies of the Successor States. Officials and workers of the state enterprises, state monopolies, such as the salt and tobacco monopolies, and particularly the employees of state railways and postal service, were hit with almost the same severity. These enterprises, especially the white collar jobs, were also staffed predominantly by Hungarians. For example, 95.5 percent of the officers and 83 percent of the lesser personnel in the Hungarian Postal Service were Hungarians.[23] None of the Successor States was willing to leave these services in the hands of the Hungarians. In the Voivodina, and in Transylvania these officials and workers were eliminated as replacements for them were found. Again the largest numbers of Hungarians were retained in Transylvania, even after the purges. In Slovakia, on the other other, by a single dramatic action all Hungarian postal and railway employees were swept aside. This came about as the direct result of a patriotic strike by all Hungarian postal and railroad workers in the spring of 1919. The strike failed when thousands of Czech railway employees were rushed in to fill the gap. After this incident none of the striking workers were allowed to return to their job. Many of the Hungarian railroad workers and postal employees thereupon left Czechoslovakia. They, together with other groups of railroad workers expelled from Yugoslavia and Romania, were to form the only sizable group of refugees with a working-class background.[24]

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