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A Short History

Downfall and Punishment

When in July 1914 the Monarchy mobilized, hundreds of thousands of men of military age were called up, regardless of their ethnic origin. The bellicose enthusiasm of the Hungarians was without parallel in the Empire. The best informed person, István Tisza, was well aware of their military unpreparedness and soberly assessing the strength of the enemy opposed the war -- needles to say, unsuccessfully. He was also concerned about Transylvania, fearing a Romanian invasion. There was no one who could foresee or sense that the war, about to begin, would bring nothing but disaster, quite independently of Transylvania, to the principal ethnic group in the Carpathian Basin, the Hungarians. Should the war be victorious, the only beneficiaries would be Austria and Germany. If it's lost? Nobody was prepared to assume Hungary's burden.

Transylvania was once again the apple of Eris. The Romanian Kingdom was technically in a triple alliance with Austria and Germany, but Russia had promised it Transylvania -- it did not belong to Russia -- and even a part of Bukovina, if Romania were to form an alliance with Russia or even if it only were to remain neutral. This was one of the reasons why István Tisza was so reluctant to enter the war. He saw this ploy very clearly, even though public opinion did not. It was this fact -- and also some rather crude pressure from Germany -- that forced him to make some concessions to Romania. These were insufficient, however, to satisfy the Transylvanian Romanians or Bucharest. What it did accomplish was to enrage the Hungarian fundamentalists.

As long as the war appeared to go well for the German and Austro-Hungarian forces, the king of Romania held back and carefully preserved his armed forces so much desired by both sides. When the fortunes of war began to turn, he made a secret pact with the Entente Powers, according to which the West recognized his right to Transylvania.

The previous paragraph was written intentionally with complete objectivity. Whoever believes to detect any irony in it, is mistaken. The young Romanian state, which carried no responsibility for the outbreak of World War I, decided and acted in the most rational fashion and in the best interest of the Romanian national and ethnic goals. It accepted and even actively sought whatever was most advantageous for it. What nation or country would do otherwise?

In keeping with the above, Romania declared war on the Monarchy, and on August 27, 1916 attacked Transylvania with an army of almost 500,000 men. Since it was opposed only by a few border guard gendarmes -- where was the Monarchy's information service? -- considerable territorial gains were made by the Romanians within a few weeks. It is noteworthy that the Romanian population of the occupied parts of Transylvania was quite reserved. This came as a surprise to both Bucharest and Vienna-Budapest. Yet this was hardly a sign of their attachment to the Habsburg Empire or to the Hungarians, nor was it a lack of national feeling. It was due more to the fact that they doubted the success of the campaign. Behold! The rapidly transferred Austro-Hungarian and German troops counter-attacked and by early fall pushed the attackers back beyond the Carpathians. It was the result of this victory -- Pyrrhic though it may have proved in the future -- that Turkey and Bulgaria joined the Vienna-Berlin axis. This prevented any renewal of Romanian attacks against Transylvania for the time being. "After the expulsion of the enemy, spectacular gestures were made to please and calm the Hungarian and Saxon populations. At the beginning of November 1916, the Crown Prince and the King of Bavaria visited the area and during the following fall the Emperor of Germany paid a ceremonial visit to Transylvania. Official and social assistance programs were initiated. At the same time the civil, but particularly the military authorities, initiated inhuman punitive measures against the Romanians -- presumably to cover up their guilt feelings for having left Transylvania defenseless. Internments, arrests and indictments followed in rapid succession, even though several hundred thousand Romanians were still fighting bravely under the flags of the Monarchy. During the fall of 1917, the Minister of the Interior admitted to 825 internments, while the Romanians knew of more than one thousand. When the Tisza government was dismissed in the middle of 1917, the new Minister of Religion and Education, Count Albert Apponyi, began to establish a so-called cultural zone along the borders facing Romania, where public schools were to replace all the religious schools and only the 15-18 most famous educational institutions would remain in the hands of the Romanian Orthodox Church. According to his plans, 1,600 new state schools and kindergartens would be established within 4-5 years. A permanent government inspector-supervisor was appointed for each of the Romanian teacher colleges. In June 1918 all state support was withdrawn in this zone from the 477 teachers employed in the 311 Romanian parochial schools. The restructuring of the schools in the border zone was brought to a sudden end by the events of the fall of 1918." (Zoltán Szász)

During this time, and in spite of some regional successes, the war machinery of the Central Powers increasingly creaked and cracked, casting the shadow of the final collapse. Yet, on the other side, Russia was also defeated and eliminated from the war and Romania was forced to acknowledge a military defeat. At the peace of May 1918 it had to relinquish Dobrudja to Bulgaria, which at this time was still fighting on the side of the Central Powers. It had to make some border concessions to Hungary as well. But then the effects of the 1918 military collapse, the ensuing revolutionary period and the destruction of the central administration on the Romanian political movements in Transylvania and on the events taking place in this area, need not be related in detail since every event was immediately superseded by the onrushing developments. Suffice it to say that the attempts to promptly repatriate the almost half million Romanian soldiers serving in the disintegrating forces of the Monarchy failed, and the expected assumption of power that this repatriation was supposed to accomplish did not take place.

In compensation and after some initial hesitation, the U.S.A., or rather its "Great Peacemaker" President Wilson, decided that a unified Romania, including Transylvania, shall be established. This plan was also -- and shamefully -- supported by Germany on condition that it may bring home the still armed and battle-ready Mackensen army from southeastern Romania, where it could have easily become a hostage in Romanian hands. The Károlyi government in Budapest, the product of a middle-class revolution and drifting aimlessly, made a very liberal attempt to consolidate Transylvania with political and legal concessions, announced in Arad by Oszkár Jászi, which went far beyond any previous concessions. It was far too late. 1918 was not even over yet when two parallel events pre-empted any future action. Even though it held only promises and had no legal mandate, the Romanian Royal Army invaded and rapidly occupied Transylvania in November-December. It could do this easily, there was no resistance. (In the northwest, a somewhat earlier Czech invasion was averted by Hungarian units). On December 1-2, at Gyulafehérvár, a Romanian Diet-Popular Assembly took place which has ever since been considered a milestone in Romanian history. Nota bene: This fateful Romanian historic event was strongly supported by the still extant Hungarian administration, and its participants were transported to the meeting by special trains operated by the Hungarian National Railways. It is this Diet which proclaimed Transylvania's union with Romania. There were some conditions which were met and which must be mentioned, since lately they seem to have been forgotten.

The leaders of the Romanian multitude assembled at Gyulafehérvár, who drafted the resolutions and submitted them for approval, did not wish to subject the Hungarians, who suddenly became a minority, nor the Saxons, to the indignities they themselves were exposed to in the past. They declared: "Complete national freedom for the nationalities living together." This sounded very good, and continued: "Every nationality has the right to its own education and governance, in its own language, and its own administration by individuals elected from among themselves." This was clearly a declaration not only of individual, but collective nationality rights. It had been.

It was remarkable that the Transylvanian Romanian left wing did not support the union, or only gave lukewarm support to it. The reason for this was that at the time when the union was proclaimed, there was a much more liberal and increasingly left wing regime in Budapest to which 30 Social Democrats had been elected. Subsequently the Entente moved substantial military forces into northern Hungary which made the pressures exerted by the victorious forces irresistible. The Entente was no longer concerned only with punishing the Hungarians for their participation in the war, but it satisfied increasing Romanian demands and promoted the prompt establishment of Romanian administrations, which in numerous locations and on numerous occasions used brute force. In exchange, the Entente expected to use Romanian armed forces in its projected military intervention in Soviet Russia. It is understandable that the Transylvanian Hungarians were becoming increasingly insecure, and that the Saxons and southern Svabians were beginning to think about protecting their own interests in the new Romanian era. They realized much sooner than the Hungarians that the game was over.

The Károlyi government couldn't carry the burden. The Entente and the Successor States separated from the Monarchy made increasingly impossible demands. The extreme left saw its chance and the Communists began to exert enormous pressure. The Károlyi government fell and the second, short-lived Soviet state, the Hungarian Soviet Republic, was established. (There will be a third one: in Bavaria...) If there were any illusions that the international Communists would be able to accomplish what the Social Democrats were unable to achieve before, during or after the war, in spite of their internationalism, these were rapidly dispelled. National awakening and separation became irresistible following the collapse of the Central European structure, severely weakened by four years of war. The Reds could make only pronouncements -- possibly in good faith; they could create no new arrangements either between nations or between nationalities. Furthermore, when the Czechs intervened from the north and the Romanians from the east, the Hungarian Red Army, led mostly by officers of the former regime and composed of bled out peasants and workers, went from defense to attack and fought very bravely to prevent the increasingly constricting lines of demarcation which left less and less of the Carpathian Basin to the Hungarians, from becoming fixed borders. In vain; it was ordained otherwise.

In some of the Transylvanian cities the Soviet Republic, under Béla Kun, which originated in Kolozsvár, had some attraction, although it had little if any in the rural areas. The behavior of the Romanians was very much affected by the fact that the Hungarian Red Army included a Székely Division which openly wished to interfere in the determination of Transylvania's future. In fact, this division was rapidly broken up, and laid down its arms. In this it may have been a factor that the family members of the soldiers of this division were living in Székelyfõld, under Romanian occupation ,and as possible hostages.

The Kun regime that followed the Károlyi regime was also broken up and fled to Vienna. Royal Romania took advantage of the opportunities granted by the vacuum in power and its troops entered Budapest on August 4. They remained here until the middle of November, and then retired only to the Tisza, greedily expecting that this river would become the western border of Greater Romania. When on June 4, 1920 the peace treaty was signed in the Palace of Trianon outside Paris, almost one third of the former Hungary, 32% of its territory, slightly more than 100 thousand square kilometers, were given to Romania. (The mutilated Hungary retained only a total of 93 thousand square kilometers). Of the 5.25 million inhabitants of this region -- some sources, erroneously gave this number as 3.5 million -- 1.7 million were Hungarians and more than half a million were of German nationality. The great numerical superiority of the Romanians was evident. Yet, for instance, across from the city of Gyula and along the northern part of the common border, a significant area of purely Hungarian inhabitants came under Romanian control. At the same time -- bilaterally -- a number of cities were completely separated from their primary catchment areas. This resulted in enormous economic difficulties which have remained unresolved until this day.

Let us look at the demographic picture in somewhat greater detail according to the figures collected by András Rónai. The period in question, 1920, was not suitable for data collection, but valid conclusions can be drawn from the study of the 1910 and 1930 census results, both of which were obtained in peacetime. In the following, we present the data pertaining only to the territory ceded by the Trianon peace treaty.


                          population                percentage                
Romanian                  2,829,454                  53.8                     
Hungarian                 1,661,805                  3l.6                     
German                      564,789                  10.8                     
Serbo-Croatian               54,055                   1.0                     
Czech-Slovakian              31,028                   0.6                     
Russian-Ruthenian            20,482                   0.4                     
Other                        95,854                   1.8                     
Total                     5,257,467                 100                       


                          lélekszám                 százalék                  
Romanian                  3,237,000                  58.3                     
Hungarian                 1,483,000                  26.7                     
German                      543,000                   9.8                     
Jewish                      111,000                   2.0                     
Gypsy                        46,000                   0,8                     
Other                       130,000                   2.4                     
Total                     5,550,000                 100                       

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A Short History