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Chapter 5
Radicalization of the Refugees:
Crisis in the Hungarian Noble Identity

The suicide note of a young Polish refugee in Balzac's Cousin Bette reads:

I am Count Wenceslas Steinbock, born in Prelia, in Livonia. Let no one be blamed for my death; the reasons for my suicide are in these words of Kosciusko's [sic]: Finis Poloniae!

The great-nephew of a brave general of Charles XII could not beg. A delicate constitution made military service impossible for me, and yesterday saw the end of the hundred thalers with which I came to Paris from Dresden. . .

I beg my compatriots not to blame the French Government. I did not make myself known as a refugee; I did not ask for aid.... I met no other exile; no one in Paris knows that I exist. I die in Christian faith. May God forgive the last of the Steinbocks![1]

Many elements of the complex psychological chemistry of the refugees are compressed into this note. The pride of this young Polish aristocrat, his sense of isolation, loneliness, and worthlessness, his inability to function in a new environment, his yearning for death with the death of Poland, all are, in some form, typical responses of political exiles.

In general, the emotional crisis in the life of a refugee issues from sudden uprooting and from an inability to adjust psychologically to the impact of rapid change.

There are various types of responses to the resulting emotional loss. Some are extremes: exaggerated passivity, or violent aggressive behavior. Neither of these reactions seems permanent; the same individual may, upon provocation, pass from one emotional state to the other. This behavior may be interpreted as an indication of intense stress, and of a serious damage to the inner personality core of an individual that he can no longer defend through normal means.

The sudden surge of new experiences tends to inflict precisely such stresses upon the refugees. They are disoriented and overwhelmed by the total change of their environment. To new situations, to a new environment, the refugees react by turning inward and erecting blocks against new stimuli, that is, by a reduced emotional response.[2] Since it is not possible to revenge their loss, the refugees turn the accumulated aggression against themselves, which ultimately may find its overt manifestation in a high rate of neuroses.[3]

But for Hungarian refugees, who were displaced through changes in boundaries, yet who still remained within the confines of their native civilization, the crisis of identity assumed different dimensions. Their response to displacement was also different. The psychological adjustments demanded of them was not so drastic. Their losses were partially shared by some of their fellow countrymen in Hungary. Their disorientation and sense of hopelessness was also less intense. The most significant difference was, however, the absence of pressures to abandon their national identity. Thus is was only part of their identity that was endangered and made nonfunctional. The shared cultural roots with the population of inner Hungary also provided a realistic base for adjustment. The refugees, however, often resisted assimilation; they, instead, made attempts to reshape Hungarian society in their own image.

At the same time, while their national identity was not directly threatened, the sense of guilt for forsaking the lost territories was just as severe as for those who took refuge in foreign countries. That sense of guilt, combined with anxieties emerging from their endangered social identities, created pressures in the refugees to amplify those parts of their identity in which they still felt secure. They felt compelled to take, if necessary, extreme measures to restore or gain compensation for their various losses. They stood ready to join virtually any radical political movement that promised a restoration, or a relief from the emotional stress. Instead of passivity, these refugees directed their accumulated aggression outward, against common enemies. Their political organizations, therefore, tended toward violence, at times toward extreme violence .

Evolution of Noble Identity and Attitudes

Two main pillars of the Hungarian noble's identity were his corporate and national consciousness. For centuries these two levels of consciousness were inseparably intertwined in the minds of the nobility. Consciousness of nationality, in fact, was a derivative of class consciousness. Historically it represented an awareness of the common interest of the privileged population of Hungary to the exclusion of the non-noble or bonded population. That is, Hungarian noble national identity was not a substitute for or alternative to the traditional corporate identity, but merely an elaboration of it. There is scattered evidence that already in the thirteenth century the term natio was used in describing the community of the privileged. But not until the early sixteenth century was the noble estate-consciousness welded into a coherent national ideology.[4]

If we are to understand the remarkable survival of this ideology down to the twentieth century, we must appreciate three historical factors: the survival of the Hungarian nobility as a functional elite; the unusual size and distribution of the noble class: and, finally, the adaptability of this class to economic and political changes throughout the centuries.

In the Balkans the Ottoman invasion led to a disappearance of the native nobility. In Hungary, the opposite happened: the Battle of Mohács (1526) signaled the beginning of a revitalization of the Hungarian nobility. This was achieved, first, through the development and monopolization of the county institutions; second, by opening the ranks of the nobility to new recruits. With the disappearance of central authority the burden of defense fell on the shoulders of the nobility, forcing it to resume its original military function. The counties, led by the local magnates and nobility, quickly became centers of military organizations; they exercised power in nearly complete freedom, independently levied taxes, raised armies, maintained fortifications, and even negotiated with foreign powers. Throughout subsequent centuries the counties retained much of their autonomy and remained the power base and focal point of life for the local nobility. Defense of the privileges of the counties -- in their minds -- became synonymous with the interests of the nobility and the interests of the nation.

The great increase in the size of the nobility also dates back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ranks of the old nobility, decimated by constant warfare, had to be replenished. Ennoblement served as an incentive to military recruitment. At times it also was used to disarm dangerous and rebellious groups, as in the case of the hajdúk, who, otherwise, might have become instruments of social revolution. Runaway or uprooted serfs, retainers of nobles, upon joining the garrisons of frontier forts gained their freedom from feudal bondage and could hope for a noble title as reward for their services. As a contemporary poem put it, these soldiers "drew their noble crests with swords dipped in red blood....,, Militant refugee nobles from the Turkishoccupied territories captained many of these garrisons, and were also prominent among the hajdúk. These refugee nobles also led the fight for extention of nobility to their soldiers, and often divided the lands surrounding their forts in forms of timars, retaining for themselves a lion's share as compensation for their own losses.[5] The newly elevated individuals joined the 'Hungarian nation' by adopting the ideology and attitudes of the nobility.

The first relatively reliable statistics on the distribution and extraordinary size of the nobility date from the reign of Joseph II. According to the 1788 census figures the total number of nobles in Hungary and Transylvania was about 370,000, comprising about 4.8 percent and 4.4 percent respectively of the total population of these areas. During the nineteenth century the number of nobles increased in absolute figures, but their proportion to the rest of the population rernained about the same, around five percent.[6] That is, about one out of every twenty persons was a member of the privileged estate, and 9.7 percent, or one in ten, among the Hungarian population.

The basic patterns of the nobility's geographic distribution were also established during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The propor tion of nobles to commoners and serfs was the lowest in those areas which for 150 years formed a part of the Ottoman Empire. The territories which were subsequently transferred to Yugoslavia fall into this category. It was especially low in the Bánát, where, for example, in Torontál county less than one person in a hundred was a nobleman. The proportion of the nobles was well above the national average in the Great Plain region, 8.6 percent. It was highest in eastern Hungary and parts of Transylvania, most of which were acquired by Romania and Czechoslovakia. In Szabolcs county, say, the nobility comprised 13.3 percent of the county,s population, in Szatmar, 14.1 percent, and Máramaros, 16.6 percent.[7] High ratios, such as in Máramaros county, where the national minorities made up a great majority of the population, actually meant that a majority of Hungarians claimed noble titles.

In some Western European countries the nobility reacted to the challenge of the bourgeoisie by rigidly closing its ranks and by withdrawing into an untenable defensive position. Soon they became isolated and their views became representative of a mere fraction of one end of the political spectrum. In Hungary, where the bourgeoisie was weak and the nobility far more powerful, the nobility never found it necessary to close ranks, nor would this have been possible because of the nobility's size and diversity. The Hungarian nobility was a highly stratified estate, diverse in its wealth, education, economic interests, religion, attitude toward the Habsburg rulers and toward new ideas coming from the West and challenging the established order. This stratum was held together by its consciousness of being members of a privileged elite, as well as by a shared belief in a common historical mission. Diverse, yet unified, and backed by numbers, enabled the Hungarian nobility to become adaptive to change. Nearly every new idea that reached the country found adherents among the nobility, who by virtue of their social prestige assumed leadership of virtually every new intellectual movement. This intellectual diversity did not cause schisms in their ranks, new movements were quickly reconciled with group interest and were transformed into weapons to defend the nobility.[8]

[] This pattern was already apparent at the time of the Reformation. Calvinism in Hungary became a weapon of the lesser nobility to mobilize the Protestant population in defense of the "ancient privileges and liberties of the Hungarian nation," that is, for a defense of noble political privileges against Catholic and centralizing policies of the Habsburgs. Religious differences never split the unity of the nobility, and religious freedom was always considered a part of a nobleman's political freedom.

Similarly late eighteenth-century Enlightenment as well as nineteenthcentury liberalism and nationalism were easily reconciled with, and incorporated into, the noble national ideology. Faced with the challenge of a new age, the nobility realized that if it wished to remain a functional elite it had to adopt the methods of production of the age, and to modernize its means of control. Although Count István Széchenyi addressed his words primarily to the aristocracy, and, in many ways, his program of reform represented the views of the progressive members of his estate, Lajos Kossuth spoke for the dispossessed lesser nobility, whose group identity and social standing were endangered by its economic decline. According to Andrew János these "common nobles formed a highly cohesive and articulate group . . . who were accustomed to achieve their goals through political action." They were "a radicalized group of potential politicians, for whom progress through economic reforms was slow and cumbersome and the institutional structure of feudal society antiquated and ridden with vested interest."[9]

[]The lesser nobles were impatient with Széchenyi's evolutionary program; it offered few tangible and immediate benefits. Since the county structure was no longer capable of absorbing surplus nobles, and urban, capitalist development was still in its infancy, they set their eyes on the capture of the state machinery, which if staffed with Hungarian nobles and modernized could restore their lost status. They also championed modernization and promotion of commerce and agriculture. In sum, the lesser nobility adopted some of the aims of the Western bourgeoisie. Thus, the dispossessed nobles became the Hungarian middle class. They differed, however, from their Western counterparts in that they remained faithful to their agrarian origins and continued to defend the privileges of their estate.

The vehicle for attainment of the goals of that middle class was primarily nationalism and liberalism. Their concept of nation -- though, in certain specific contexts, it included the entire Hungarian-speaking population -- in its essential features was still based on the ancient noble national ideology. The lesser nobles equated the nation with the state, and national interest with that of the state. These interests were defined by the same social group that had founded and historically maintained the state, the Hungarian nobility.

Estate interest in the Vormärz period required liquidation of the uneconomical system of serfdom, with proper compensation for the nobility, and establishment of an autonomous Hungarian state administration. The first part of this program of reform triumphed in April 1848 with the abolition of serfdom. The second demand was achieved only in the Compromise of 1867.

The Compromise was a complete victory for the nobilitv. Paradoxically, this victory also signaled the acceleration of the economic decline, particularly after 1880, of the middle- and small-sized gentry estates. The revolution of 1848 accelerated a capitalistic transformation of Hungarian agriculture, and under the new economic conditions only those estates were able to survive which were capable of adopting capitalistic methods of cultivation.'deg. Such was the price that the gentry had to pay for its revitalization, for its preservation as a functional elite.

After the Compromise the gentry took full control of the administrative apparatus and the coercive powers of the state; they reshaped the country's institutions to guarantee their continued preeminence. The most significant institutional change carried out was the creation of a Hungarian centralized state administration. Before 1867 the county system, and the particularism which it represented. was the prime instrument for the nobility. With the triumph of the nobility in 1867 the raison d'etre of independence of the county assemblies disappeared. Although the county system was not abolished and did not lose completely its autonomy, it was integrated into, and made partially subservient to, the central government. It became an intermediate level of government where the interests of the state and those of the local population were in some form reconciled. Its key official, the highsheriff [Föispán] was appointed by the central government; nevertheless, the local landowners, and especially the magnates, still retained an often decisive voice in matters affecting their counties. The day-to-day supervision of county affairs remained in the hands of the local lesser nobility, from whose ranks, even in the minority areas, a large majority of the county officials and clerks were recruited.

The new Hungarian state bureaucracy was able to absorb most of the dispossessed lesser nobility by expanding wherever the need arose.[11] Positions where a high degree of expertise was not required generally went to the unemployed gentry. As a result a third to a half of the posts in the state bureaucracy and in the ministries and between two-thirds and three-fourths of those in the county administration were held by the gentry.[12] Expansion of the central bureaucracy. of course, cannot be solely attributed to pressures by gentry office seekers. As the country began its modernization, industrialization, and as the state saw fit to extend its supervision and control over different aspects of life, such expansion was a natural process; but the Hungarian government was forced to enlarge its bureaucracy beyond reasonable limits. Thus the number of state officials rose from 20,000 in 1870, to 111,000 by 1899 and still higher, to 153,000 by 1909.[13]

Like the bureaucracy, the executive and legislative branches of government also came under the domination of the gentry. The Liberal Party of Kálmán Tisza, the governing party for nearly three decades, was an alliance of the landed gentry, state bureaucracy, and the emerging bourgeoisie. Interests of this last stratum were safeguarded by the Tisza party as long as they did not conflict with agrarian interests.

A majority of the aristocrats after the Compromise retreated into a mild opposition to the government party. Nevertheless, through utilizing their considerable social prestige, personal connections, and economic power, the aristocrats were able to assure extensive state protection of the interests of the great estates. The aristocratic opposition, however, did not become significant until the general crisis of the dualist system surfaced after 1900.

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