The New Agencies of Government

In the last days of the revolution, Haynau developed a plan for consolidating military and civil administration. In this, he recommended the appointment of Puchner as military and civil governor of Transylvania, and that of the Saxon notable Joseph Bedeus, as the latter's civil commissioner. However, conservatives held the aging lieutenant-general responsible for the outbreak of the civil war; with his prestige in tatters, he seemed unfit for the difficult role of peacemaker. This is why, as was noted earlier, General Ludwig von Wohlgemuth (a man of the Radetzky school) was put in charge, seconded by Eduard Bach, the interior minister's brother, and a onetime head of the province of Bukovina, in the capacity of civil commissioner.

The administrative subdivision of the crown province was carried out during the state of siege. Naturally, the union (of Transylvania and Hungary) was no longer valid, and the Partium was reannexed to Transylvania. In partial accommodation of the province's ethnic circumstances, six districts (also called regions) — three Romanian, two Hungarian, and one Saxon — were formed. The district of Szeben, comprising 480,000 inhabitants, encompassed the old Transylvanian Saxon széks and districts as well as parts of the counties of Alsó- and Felső-Fehér, Hunyad, and Küküllő. The district of Gyulafehérvár (known at the time as Károlyfehérvár) included Hunyad, Zaránd, Alsó-Fehér, and Küküllő counties, with a population of around 430,000. The district of Kolozsvár comprised {3-344.} the former counties of Kraszna, Közép-Szolnok, Torda, Kolozs, and Doboka, as well as the Aranyosszék, and counted close to 420,000 inhabitants. The district of Retteg was named after a community of some 1,600 inhabitants near Dés; it consisted of the northeastern parts of the old counties of Belső-Szolnok, Kolozsvár, Torda, and Doboka, and had a population of 240,000. The district of Udvarhely coincided essentially with the Székelyföld, comprising Marosszék, Udvarhelyszék, Csíkszék and Háromszék, with a combined population of 320,000. The smallest district, with some 50,000 people, was that of Fogaras, which its Romanian inhabitants called Tara Oltului (Oltország, or Oltland); it was created only because the governor could not decide what he should do with the border-guard villages there. Each of these six administrative units, which were divided into sub-districts (körzet) and zones (alkörzet), was headed by a military commander, who had executive authority and issued the more important orders and notices. A modicum of civilian authority was provided in the person of civil commissioners, who worked alongside the military commanders and were accountable to the imperial commissioner, Eduard Bach; but even their reports to Nagyszeben had to be approved first by the military commander. The Saxon district of Nagyszeben was an exception in that the Saxon count Franz Salmen was appointed to the post of civil commissioner. (In keeping with the spirit of the manifesto of 21 December 1848, the Királyföld preserved its former administrative structure as well as a certain measure of Saxon self-government — which, because of the numerical preponderance of Romanians, ran counter to the proclaimed principle of equal civil and national rights.) The civic aldermen were appointed by the district commander or by the military commander himself, and they carried out their official duties according to the directives of the district's civil commissioner.

The establishment of civil administration, of the seven military investigative courts, of the 'purification commissions,' and then, in {3-345.} mid-1850, of a new judicial structure and of specialized administrative functions, all this demanded a host of competent and, even more important, trustworthy civil servants; they were found mainly among Transylvanian Saxons, but many were recruited in the western half of the empire. The number of civil servants of Hungarian origin may not have been large, yet it was large enough to arouse the Romanian intelligentsia, which found its political ambitions thwarted and was bitter at the apparent survival of part of the old order.

The reorganization of police functions began with the creation of the politically important frontier police, and with the municipal police forces of Nagyszeben, Brassó, Kolozsvár, and Marosvásárhely. Regional security was assured with the formation, in January 1850, of armed dragoon units (which also served as couriers) in the districts; they were soon replaced by the gendarmerie, which was organized by the interior ministry. The gendarmerie, projected to consist of sixteen regiments, was an up-to-date policing network that encompassed the whole Austrian empire. This law enforcement force, which had a civil task but a military structure, served, along with an army of civil servants, as the principal agent of the government's will. Popular dread of the gendarmes was enhanced by the fact that they enjoyed broad license in the use of weapons, and that their testimony was unchallengeable. The practice of rewarding gendarmes in proportion to the sentence meted out to their victims, lent the institution an aura of frightening unpredictability. The gendarmes' shiny helmets and their short firearms inspired fear in rural folk, and while their presence may have contributed to a drop in criminal activity, the results did not fulfil the régime's hopes. The gendarmerie was unable to suppress the brigands who flourished on Transylvania's periphery; for years, the Kolozsvár — Nagyvárad mail coach would be robbed at Bánffy-hunyad with timetable-like regularity.

{3-346.} In 1852, when the organization of the imperial police's central command was completed, an autonomous political police was formed. The latter's task was to oversee all spheres of activity, from foreign tourists to theatres. The host of informers played an important part in the gendarmerie and police networks; they were present in all social strata, serving to keep the government apprised of the size, movements and covert plans of groups that operated in the shadows beyond normal public life. Casual informers found their place alongside professional agents in an era when the wearing of beards and of hats was subject to regulation, when it was forbidden to give shelter to a stranger, and when possession of a Kossuth bank-note, of a Hungarian newspaper or proclamation from 1848–49, counted as a punishable offence.

With all public activity constrained by official regulation and scrutiny, it is natural that cultural life also came under close police supervision. Official authorization was needed for setting up a dance hall or theatre, and the governor had to approve a play before it could be performed; if the manner in which some play was presented displeased the authorities, the performance could be banned. Books from abroad could be brought into the country only with the authorization of the governor's office. Regulations issued in 1852 slightly relaxed strictures on the press, but advance censorship was still in force, and publication of more serious newspapers (which had to pay a security deposit) required the permission of the imperial police chief. In keeping with the principles of centralization, agricultural and commercial enterprises, savings banks, scientific and artistic organizations could only be established with the direct approval of the emperor or the interior minister.

The new civic order and a heavily burdened treasury necessitated the modernization of the fiscal system, and this in a manner that reconciled contemporary liberal principles with the needs of an absolutist régime. The new fiscal system introduced a proportionate and uniform tax scale throughout the empire. There were two {3-347.} sources of revenue. The major one came from direct taxes (on land, buildings, and income), although the new income tax and the incompleteness of land surveys generated some confusion. Indirect taxes raised the price of sugar, meat, alcohol, and salt; the institution, in 1850, of a state monopoly in tobacco made pipe-smoking more expensive, while a licensing law raised the cost of business transactions and services. Seven companies of armed, green-jacketed revenue agents supervised the collection of tariffs and imposts and tried to prevent the smuggling of salt as well as the unauthorized cultivation of tobacco. A national tax directorate, aided by a network of newly-created tax agencies, was made responsible for collection as well as minor adjustments in the tax system.

Initially, the régime adopted an essentially militarist posture, but the eventual changes in the judicial system reflected more liberal tendencies. The first judicial bodies were military tribunals; then, in spring 1850, five central criminal courts were set up along with circuit courts for civil cases. When the military was in charge of justice, very minor cases were dealt with by municipal officials acting as justices of the peace; otherwise, litigants had recourse to higher administrative authorities. The foundations for a new Transylvanian judicial system were laid in the summer of 1850, with the separation of judicial and administrative functions. The new structure consisted of 72 local courts, 11 district courts, 5 higher courts, and a supreme court. The Transylvanian supreme court would hear appeals against judgements of the provisional courts, but for certain cases the supreme court in Vienna remained the forum of final appeal. A reform of judicial procedure, a new Austrian penal code, and a civil code were enacted in 1852 and 1853. This quasi-liberal system of justice may not have been really inspired by liberalism, but it was a significant step in that direction. Although the sanctions were made proportionate to the crime, they encompassed some anachronistic methods, notably caning, which was applied both during investigation and to discipline convicts.

{3-348.} The contradiction between constitutional promises and the reality of military dictatorship in the post-revolutionary period left its mark on Transylvanian administration, and indeed on the imperial system as a whole. The laws and decrees promulgated between 1849 and 1852 were essentially provisional: they were valid only until the next session of the imperial parliament, which could ratify or amend them. The promise of parliamentary review was a magic potion which was supposed to make absolutism acceptable for the Austrian — or pro-Habsburg — bourgeoisie and for some intellectual groups. But the court wanted to break with provisionality, and as soon as the parliamentary illusion had served its purpose, the promise was discarded. On 31 December 1851, Francis Joseph, encouraged by Napoleon III's coup d'état, nullified the constitution that had been conceded at Olmütz but never enacted. The emperor assumed full powers and became his own prime minister; ministers were accountable only to him, and he alone decided on their appointment and dismissal. The practice of raising false hopes disappeared along with the promised constitution; the time of 'permanence,' of the so-called definitivum, had come. Through no fault of its creators, the system they considered definitive did not survive its seventh year.

The decrees on internal, financial, and judicial affairs, issued after thorough preparatory work on 19 January 1853, were arguably the most important administrative measures of the absolutist period. The administration of the crown province of Transylvania, consisting of six counsellors (only two of whom were Transylvanian) and a host of lesser officials, essentially served as the link between the local authorities and the Viennese central government. The plenipotentiary military and civil governor was now a lieutenant-governor, accountable to the interior ministry in political matters and to Kempen in police matters. On economic and educational questions, he had to turn to the respective Viennese ministers. However, this did not impose serious constraint on one-man rule; {3-349.} he could rescind decisions of the provincial council, and the military retained their hegemonic authority. The structure of provincial administration was modified in the summer of 1854. The six regions (kerület) were replaced by ten (Nagyszeben, Brassó, Udvarhely, Vásárhely, Beszterce, Dés, Szilágysomlyó, Kolozsvár, Gyulafehérvár, and Szászváros), and the latter were divided into 79 districts (járás), making territorial units coincide with the subdivision of tax and judicial administration. The military border zone had been returned to civil administration in early 1851; by then the Székely hussar regiment had been disbanded, along with the two Romanian and two Székely infantry regiments, and replaced by five regular regiments. The Saxons' autonomy came to an end. Their assembly, the Universitas Saxonum, was dissolved, and thus its judicial function disappeared. Beszterce and Szászváros were severed from the Szászföld.

Under absolutism, the civil service and its specialized agencies underwent changes that represented a major departure from the century-old apparatus of feudalism, and from the more short-lived one of military rule as well. The revolution did not last long enough to create a comprehensive, modern civil administration; that task was left to absolutism. But the inherent limitations of the absolutist régime weakened its belated efforts at civilization and enlightenment; the results were neither wholly 'modern,' nor, needless to say, responsive to national sensibilities.

In reality, for ten years, this small province was under direct imperial rule, with a foreign military lieutenant-governor executing Vienna's secret instructions. Its government dispensed with legislative and other regulatory institutions, and it refused to recognize the rights of assembly and association. The press could cover important issues only in a cryptic and covert form understandable to a few, or not at all. Even the traditional recourse to petitions carried risks, for the imperial authorities, Francis Joseph included, grew uneasy if several signatures were appended to some political request. The {3-350.} emperor not only issued laws and decrees, he could alter or withdraw them at will. Thus the definitivum did not differ essentially from the earlier, provisional state. The absolutist government included men of considerable expertise, and some of its administrative reforms reflected contemporary European norms. But all this meant little as long as openness and public accountability were missing, as long as there were no formal structures for popular participation in the process of government. The fundamentally liberal system of administration was created not by the bourgeoisie, but by the bureaucracy, which mediated between the interests of the various social strata, and between the military and the court. This administrative structure was designed to foster immobility; its continuance — and that of the entire political system — depended on its ability to preserve the post-revolutionary immobility of the multicoloured empire amidst the waves of Europe's dynamic capitalist transformation.