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A Short History

Since Then

Ever since it became even a possibility that, in view of its Romanian majority, Transylvania may or should be removed from the aegis of the Hungarian Crown and be incorporated into a larger framework containing the bulk of the Romanian people -- with its center naturally beyond the Carpathians -- there had been no unanimity as to the mechanism of this change, even among the Romanians. The Romanians living inside the arc of the Carpathians would have preferred it if Transylvania were to enjoy a substantial autonomy. For this there are two strong indications. This part was economically, socially and politically more advanced than the potential incorporator. Secondly, under these conditions, the appreciable non Romanian residents would be more ready to accept a development that was clearly distressing for them. The residents of the Regát, however, wanted full integration, with a homogenous central administration, which did not recognize regional autonomies and in which the final say-so belonged to Bucharest, to the "old Romanian" politicians of the Regat.

In the gradual but rapid take-over of 1918-1919, initially there was some local autonomy and some evidence of toleration toward the nationalities. This was motivated by the practical realization that knowledge of the area and familiarity with the local conditions would facilitate the take-over. Thus, the Romanian representatives of the area were most suitable to manage its affairs. There was also a tactical consideration for such a move. The yet unsigned peace treaty would most likely be the more advantageous for the Romanian interests if the Entente decision makers were favorably impressed by the way the take-over was handled.

The moment the borders were determined in the Palace of Trianon, everything took on a different coloration. There was no further need for dissimulation. The liberal, democratizing trends and considerations were swept aside by the Regat majority. Complete incorporation began and remained in effect, even though there would always be ineradicable differences between Transylvania and Old Romania which would require a different approach and a different solution.

"Between the two world wars, Romania was a backward, agrarian country. This is well illustrated by the fact that in 1930, 78.7 % of its active population worked in agriculture, and only 6.7 % in industry. In agriculture dwarf-holdings and small farms predominated, and after the land reform, which was implemented in 1921, their preponderance increased. In industry and commerce, the large proportion of small enterprises was conspicuous. Oil extraction and coal mining together with iron and steel production characterized economic development in the longer run, as did, to some extent, the development of machine-tool industry. Besides Romanian capital, French, Belgian, German, and to a lesser degree, in Transylvania, Hungarian capital had a stake in the larger industrial enterprises, as well as in banks.

"As was typical in eastern Europe at this time, Romania's social structure bore the marks of economic underdevelopment. This meant that the peasantry constituted the majority of the population, and broad sections of it lived in traditonal, backward circumstances; standards of living were extraordinarily low. The working class, which was comparatively undeveloped, lived in a geographically limited area, and was concentrated in only a few branches of industry. Small businessmen, small traders and white collar workers made up the equivalent of the bourgeoisie. The state was directed by representatives of big business and by the large landowners". (Béla Kõpeczi)

The fairly extensive 1921 land reform -- initiated after a war and among a population suffering from severe poverty in spite of the increase in the size of the country -- was a historical necessity. This was a fact that was recognized by the Romanian leadership, while it was ignored by the Hungarian elite. Its results varied on a regional basis. In the Regat it improved the general structure of land ownership while in Transylvania it resulted in a shift between the land owned by a majority group and the land held by the members of the minority nationalities. There is no question as to who benefited. It did not exclude, however, all Hungarians and other nationalities from acquiring land. The loss of the jointly owned forests and pastures was a particularly severe blow since they played a major role in the economic life of the Székely communities.

In the strongly conservative Romanian leadership, the promoters of an autarchic economic evolution set the tone. This path was partially justified by the fact that the new Romania was almost completely surrounded by countries -- Soviet Russia, Bulgaria and Hungary -- who all lost territory to it. At that time only the narrow Czechoslovak-Romanian border was a "friendly" one. Against autarchy, there was the possibility of an internationally protected maritime and Danubian shipping industry. Its expenses were largely covered by the increasing production of oil in the eastern foothills of the Carpathians, which made Romania the world's fifth largest producer in the early 1930s. (The autarchic trend was continued in the Romanian "Socialist" economic developments after 1945, just as the industrial-armament program of Kálmán Darányi in Hungary, the so-called Gyõr Program was fully realized only much later, during the feverish Rákosi-Gerõ industrialization).

Romanian industrial developments at this time -- contrary to the events after 1945 -- took place almost exclusively in the Regat, in spite of the fact that the available manpower in this area was much less skilled when compared to the Transylvanian one. The new Romanian industry had an effect on the demography of the country and led to migrations. Between 1918 and 1923 about 200 thousand Transylvanian Hungarians fled to the mother country -- mostly officials and intellectuals -- the new migration toward the east was triggered by the demand for workers in the industries of Old Romania. As a consequence of this two-way migration, thousands of the escapees to Hungary lived in great poverty, in old railroad cars on the sidings of railway freight depots, while Bucharest became a city with one of the world's largest Hungarian populations. Many Transylvanian Hungarians, while preserving their original homes, commuted to temporary or permanent jobs in Old Romania, mostly in construction work and in industry. The emigration to America, interrupted by the war, was also resumed.

The economy of certain regions, small areas or cities, sensitively documented the absurdity of the new borders. While in the south and in the north the incorporation of Hungarian national blocks may be explained, to some extent, by geographic and economic (rivers and railroads) circumstances, the new western Hungarian-Romanian border was most idiosyncratic and most economically damaging. Nagyvárad, for example, was only a few kilometers from the new border and its population -- at that time still predominantly Hungarian -- was devastated by the loss of its natural economic and commercial base in the Great Plains. If Trianon had not paralyzed the growth of this city, it would have rapidly become the second largest Hungarian city after Budapest. Its development after 1945 was purely artificial, and even today it can barely subsist on the resources of its former area. This was and is to the great detriment of both Hungarian and Romanian economy.

Even though the loss in manpower after 1918 was substantial, this was not the real tragedy of the Transylvanian Hungarians. It was the fate of those who remained behind. The changes were dramatic. The Transylvania Hungarian society and its every class, level and group had become a minority in the area that for a thousand years it called home. It had to learn the miseries of this fact. The lovely promises of Gyulafehérvár disappeared. It was of no great benefit that a large part of its elite remained obstinately faithful and did not take advantage of the available and, for it, very promising opportunities of emigration. The literary life was rich and manifold. Periodical publications [Pásztortüz (Campfire), Erdélyi Helikon (Transylvanian Helicon), and the left-wing Korunk (Our Times)] organized around the Erdélyi Szépmives Céh (Transylvanian Craftsmen's Guild) which was able to distribute the best works of the Transylvanian authors, in Hungary, in sizable editions. There was also a slowly developing, gently naive Transylvanian spirit, concerning the exemplary spiritual role of the Transylvanian Hungarians.

The ongoing Romanization which they later used, contrary to all evidence, as justification for the declaration of a national state took many forms. It granted economic advantages and increased employment for officials from the Regat, who poured in to fill the vacancies left by the withdrawal of the Hungarians but, most significantly, the major emphasis was placed on the use of the Romanian language, both in official and personal communications and on the complete restructuring and rearranging of the schools and of the educational process.

Considering the latter, it seems appropriate to recognize the diligence and the rate with which, in the framework of the revitalized educational system, the Romanians developed their own, new officials and intellectuals. The strengthening of public education obviously also served to replace the teaching of the Hungarian language, or to relegate it to religious instruction. This, incidentally, also had the effect of tying the Transylvanian nationalities much more tightly to their Church and to its institutions -- contrary to the secularization of the last one-hundred years. This action-reaction was further emphasized by the strong support that the two great national Romanian Churches, but particularly the Greek Orthodox, acting almost as a recognized state religion, gave to the national and nationalist endeavors of their country.

During the 1920s and 1930s the "mutilated" Hungary blamed Trianon for all economic and social problems and troubles. These included the loss of territory, of forests and of most sources of raw materials. These were indeed grievous losses. Yet in the so spectacularly enlarged Romania, the economic concerns and the social tensions were no less. There were a series of peasant movements -- sometimes bloody -- in both Transylvania and Old Romania. and there were labor unrests and resistance against the greedy domestic and foreign robber capitalism. It is understandable that among the doubly disfranchised -- economically and as minorities -- there was a strong, radical left wing. In the Transylvanian and in the entire Romanian Communist movement there were numerous Hungarians and Jews who considered themselves Hungarians. This had serious effects after 1945...

The rebellious social dissatisfaction assuredly did not limit itself to a move to the left. It also gave munition to the right wing, which came naturally to the ruling classes, traditionally influenced by a nationalist public sentiment. The main battle in the Romanian political arena was between the various factions of the right wing. Some of them were Populists, others relied heavily on the elite.

It is not surprising that the world-wide economic depression hit Romania's undeveloped economy particularly hard. This also showed the limitations imposed by autarchy. The great recession came at a time when the Iron Guard, supported by the Orthodox clergy and many of the university students, was already ready and waiting. This movement started in Moldavia and would very soon have a major effect on all of Romania. This bloody movement, responsible for political murders and for anti-Semitic pogroms (it tried to recruit even in Transylvania with vague promises of autonomy), showed peculiar similarities with and differences from its European counterparts. Both its overt and covert activities were more extensive than those of the Hungarian extreme right, the Arrow Cross. While the latter got a tragic and criminal starring role "only" in the last act of the Hungarian tragedy in 1944-45, the Iron Guards were attacked first in 1930 and then again in 1941 and -- similarly to the elimination of the SA leadership in Germany in 1934 -- there were two "Nights of the Long Knives" in which other right wing Romanian groups, brutally and bloodily tried to do away with them.

In these turbulent extremes of Romanian public life, the political freedom of movement for the Hungarians in Transylvania was very limited. Even with the tightly controlled educational system, they could still serve the preservation of their nationality. Hungarian culture and science were supported by institutions that came and went but were maintained more effectively by the most talented writers, artists and scientists who gained substantial recognition both in Transylvania and in Hungary. The attempts to form political parties on a nationality basis were generally feeble and in 1938, all parties in Romania were disbanded and the multi-party system was replaced by a corporate form of statism.

The situation of the German nationalities in Transylvania, the Saxons and, further south in the Banate, the Svabians was somewhat more favorable. Ever since Gyulafehérvár they resigned themselves to the Romanian conquest. Their Lebensraum, or "living space", was far removed from that of their Great German homeland, and could hardly be expected to form a union with it. Also, Romania exchanged its former French-English orientation with a German one. This naturally agreed with Hitler's desires to exert a tighter control over Romanian oil.

The Transylvanian Germans, who were generally receptive to the Hitlerian ideas, became the favorites of the Romanian leadership, since the Romanians viewed their relationship with this group as the touchstone of their future relationship with the Third Reich. Yet, the above could hardly explain the dramatic twists and turns that took place in this region in 1940. The outbreak of World War II, put a land mine under everything that seemed settled "in perpetuity" by the Parisian peace treaties. A number of European borders were moved. Hungary, which received a significant area from Slovakia under the First Vienna Agreement in the fall of 1938 and which, after Czechoslovakia's destruction by Hitler, occupied the Kárpátalja -- and re-established a common border with Poland -- thereafter increasingly looked toward Transylvania. The Horthy regime, whose primary purpose, since the moment of its inception, was the territorial revision of the Trianon treaty, would not have been true to itself if it did not prepare for this -- with military forces, if necessary.

Hitler, however, needed Hungarian wheat, meat, aluminum and the Transdanubian oil just as much as he needed the Ploesti oil. Pál Teleki, serving his second term as Prime Minister, was concerned about Hungary gaining back the territories taken away by Trianon, purely by the grace of Germany. The Hungarian-Romanian revisionary conference, held in Turnu-Severin in the summer of 1940, and instigated solely by Germany, ended in complete failure. It was the Second Vienna Agreement, engineered by a German-Italian "tribunal" that gave northern Transylvania, i.e. the northern and eastern parts of Greater Transylvania, back to Hungary. At the same time, Romania was made to give up about 50 thousand square kilometers in the north to the Soviet Union. In the south, it had to yield 7,000 square kilometers to Bulgaria and the area it had to cede to Hungary encompassed another 44 thousand square kilometers. This was truly a Romanian Trianon. It was that, even though, this time it was a new country and not a thousand-year-old kingdom that was being dismembered by its neighbors, under the authority granted by foreign great powers. The ruling king, Charles II, was deposed, and was replaced by his son, Michael I.

There are as many estimates about the population and its ethnic composition of the area returned to Hungary as there are sources for same. Reasonably accurate estimates can be made only prospectively from the 1930 Romanian census and, retrospectively from the 1941 Hungarian one. We can be certain, however, that of a population on one million, the Romanians amounted to more than 40%, while in the part retained by Romania, they represented only 60% which also included the German nationalities, the majority of whom live in that area.

The new borders, drawn up by the Second Vienna Agreement, were not satisfactory to either party, and were replete with economic and transportational absurdities. Thus, the almost totally Hungarian Székelyfõld could not be reached from Hungary by rail. One of the explanations of these absurdities was that the division of the territory, largely determined by the Germans -- Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister was only a bit-player in the negotiations -- had a hidden agenda item. Based primarily on the Transylvanian Saxons and on the Serbs in the Banate, the Germans wanted to control an economic belt in this area which was significant in itself and also represented a bridge toward the Ploesti oil fields and Bucharest. In this, the Germans also relied on the chain of southern Transdanubian and eastern Great Plains German villages.

Romania could not resist the Vienna decisions. During the previous weeks the Hungarian army, although poorly equipped, was ready to fight. It now clumsily completed the task of occupying the region, welcomed enthusiastically by the Hungarian population. It encountered no resistance. The stories about confrontations and bloodletting in Transylvania, published much later, but cited frequently even today, are rumors and fabrications.

The enthusiasm cooled off rapidly. Tensions developed between the Hungarians who remained in place and held out during the Romanian occupation, and who now expected to play a leading role, and the military leaders and administrators dispatched to Transylvania from Hungary. Prime Minister Pál Teleki, had very little success with his confidential instructions in which he advised moderation in the treatment of the Romanians who suddenly again became a minority nationality from previously having been a nation. The new Hungarian regime in Transylvania, or rather northern Transylvania, was most effective in using its local people in destroying the Communist organizations. The less prominent leftists who managed to escape imprisonment quickly found themselves serving in labor battalions, under military direction, together with several thousand Romanians. Large population migrations took place among both Hungarians and Romanians, between northern and southern Transylvania. The Hungarian wartime boom and the resulting serious demands for workers resulted in that many were put to work in the Csepel factories, first as volunteers and later, another group, under compulsion. At the same time the situation of the approximately half million Hungarians in southern Transylvania, took a marked turn for the worse. (This number represented about 15% of the local population, with another 15% being Germans).

One certainly could and should write the history of the next four years in Transylvania. The further course of World War II however, and the divergent politics of Hungary and Romania have made this, at best, an episode without any foreseeable influence on the future. While both the claimants for Transylvania, Hungary and Romania entered the war on Hitler's -- and each other's -- side, they did this largely to obtain and keep Transylvania. Through overt and covert channels, both countries received word from the increasingly victorious Allied Powers that at the end of the war, Transylvania would be awarded to the one who would wrest it away from Germany. This was confirmed by the Soviet Union via the Hungarian Communist emigrés in Moscow, because of or in spite of the fact that the Soviet Union itself had territorial demands against Romania. This had now become the position of the western Powers as well who conceded that they could not avoid or prevent Eastern Central Europe from falling under Soviet influence.

When at the end of August, 1944 Romania which had fought on Hitler's side with considerable forces, first asked for an armistice and then, two days later, declared war on Germany, the fate of Transylvania was once again decided. There was no way back. The Romanian army was successfully turned around and the country moved from the rank of the losers to the camp of the winners. Their only gain was northern Transylvania. She did not regain the other territories lost in 1941, and this is a grievance to Romania to this day.

The Hungarian army, having suffered very heavy losses between the millstones of the Soviet front, had tried, as best it could to strengthen the crest line of the Carpathians which in the north and east constituted the borders of Hungary. The terrain lent itself very well for this purpose. Yet, the rapidly moving Soviet troops, including their new allies, used the passes of the Southern Carpathians to enter Transylvania. The Hungarian army was unsuccessful in preventing this, in spite of counter-attacks, first from the Kolozsvár area and then, with German assistance, from the southern Great Plains, in the direction Arad-Temesvár. Every attempt collapsed in days or weeks. The fight shifted very shortly to the central portion of the Hungarian Great Plains, where in the region of Debrecen -- already to the west of Transylvania -- the Debrecen Tank Battle was fought. This is an almost forgotten incident of World War II, although considering the forces involved, it was a very major engagement.

Thus, when after much hesitation, Miklós Horthy's clumsy and weak armistice effort was made on October 15, 1944 and the Hungarian Arrow Cross (Fascists) assumed power, most of northern Transylvania was already in Soviet and Romanian hands. The war rolled on bloodily toward the west. Behind it, first in the Székelyfõld and then in all of northern Transylvania, the Romanian administration was being organized. This did not prevent the atrocities, the cruel, bloody, anti-Hungarian pogroms in several settlements of the Székelyfõld and in the area of Kolozsvár. Such events were common behind the fronts during periods of transition. The culprits were the Maniu Guardists who were the successors of the Iron Guard. Iuliu Maniu (1873-?1951) was twice Prime Minister, the leader of the National Peasant Party, one of the leaders of the liberal wing of the Romanian right. He was not responsible for the murder and persecution of the Hungarians perpetrated under his name, but he did not distance himself from them either. The situation deteriorated to the point where the Soviet military command, not exactly celebrated for its sensitivity, took over the administration of northern Transylvania for four months -- nominally under the auspices of the four power Allied Control Commission. "These four transitional months represented a strange historic moment: The life of northern Transylvania, its reconstruction and its political life, were organized and directed by Romanian and Hungarian Communists. The latter had their power base in the local and county organizations of the Hungarian Popular Association. In both Hungary and Romania, the Communists at this time were just beginning the struggle to strengthen their position." (Béla Kõpeczi).

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A Short History