The Suppression of the Romanian National Initiatives

In late summer 1849, the Romanian political leaders in Transylvania may have felt that their nation's future had been made secure. Having collaborated with the court and assisted imperial forces in repressing the Hungarian revolution, they had some grounds for counting themselves among the saviours of the empire. They hoped that as a reward, and in keeping with the shift to liberalism, Romanians throughout the Austrian empire (in Transylvania, Hungary, and Bukovina) would be granted a degree of administrative autonomy. It was with this goal in mind that, at the Russians' prompting, Iancu and Axente petitioned Czar Nicholas to mediate on their behalf. A few Wallachian émigrés harboured secret hopes for the union not only of Romanians in the new Austria, but also of the latter with the two Romanian principalities. A patriarch for the Romanian Orthodox church, a national leader, their own representation in Vienna, an annual Romanian national assembly — these would have been the guarantees for further national development. Bach did promise them civil rights equal to those enjoyed by other citizens, access to employment in the civil service, and free scope for religious and national development; but he indicated, and this as early as the summer of 1849, that there was no question of creating a separate Romanian crown province within the centralized empire.

{3-356.} The imposition of military rule put the Romanian leaders in a difficult situation. The Saxon press suspected, and even accused them of harbouring revolutionary intentions. In late 1848, when the Romanian insurgent groups were disbanded, the Austrians arrested the uncooperative prefect, Axente; later, they even tried to seize Avram Iancu, the 'king of the mountains,' but a crowd, gathered in the market place at Halmágy, freed him. The governor of Nagyszeben found fault even with the attitude of the unflinchingly loyal Bishop Şaguna. Absolutist rule was imposed on Transylvania without any regard for the Romanians' claims, for the Vienna government held the conservative and pragmatic view that 'because of the low level of their political and intellectual development, and of the dearth of qualified leaders, they do not have the capacity for governing or administering themselves.'[7]7. Alexander Bach, quoted in K. Hitchins, Studien zur modernen Geschichte Transylvaniens (Cluj, 1971), p. 18. The new régime was willing to employ almost all Romanians who had some education, and Romanian border-guard officers were recruited into the new gendarmerie, but — according to Bariţ's data — as late as 1860, the number of Transylvanian Romanians in the public service fell short of two hundred. Nearly 300,000 Romanians remained under Saxon administration, and the number of those Romanians who were incorporated into the newly formed Serbian region was around 800,000. The promise, that the Temes district would be detached from this region, momentarily allayed the Romanians' fear of Serbian preponderance, but nothing came of it, and the Romanians continued to bemoan the fragmented state of their ethnic group.

At first, the Romanian politicians, guided by Bishop Şaguna, sent a flurry of petitions to Vienna. In the fall of 1849, they demanded 'on behalf of the Romanian nation of Banat' that the Serb and Romanian Orthodox churches be separated, and that an independent archbishopric be created; later, they protested against the Romanians' incorporation into the Serbian region. More petitions came, in November from the Orthodox bishopric of Arad and, in January 1850, from Vasile Erdélyi, the Romanian Uniate bishop {3-357.} of Nagyvárad. In essence, all these petitions aimed at unification, warranted by their national identity, of all Romanians in the monarchy, and recognition of their nation's identity — a necessary adaptation of the Balázsfalva programme of 1848 to changed circumstances. Following Bărnuţiu's advice, some smaller meetings were held to give vent to popular dissatisfaction at the new state of affairs, and petition campaigns were organized. In response, the governor ordered the arrest of a large number of activist priests, prohibited the publication and dissemination of notices without prior authorization, and even tried to censor sermons. The Romanians engaged in some muted protests, but the court remained impervious to their grievances and demands. After three months, Şaguna had to recognize that 'resolutions aiming at equal rights are no longer timely,'[8]8. I. Tóth Z., MR, p. 389. and although he did not repudiate those who kept up with the petitions, he distanced himself from these activities. Even Iancu was rather pessimistic when, in February 1850, he led a new Romanian delegation to seek support in Vienna. Archdukes and politicians received them with courtesy and showed superficial interest, but neither the emperor nor Bach were amenable to their demands.

The authorities' delay in decorating Romanian leaders who had distinguished themselves in 1848–49 may have been deliberately calculated to trivialize the political importance of that ethnic group. The cabinet had recommended that the emperor decorate Avram Iancu and his fellow-leaders, but the necessary documentation was still being assembled when they received decorations from the Russian czar. The czarist court originally intended to award them the cross of St. Stanislaus, but when the Austrians objected, they sent the less prestigious cross of St. Anne. Francis Joseph was not partial to Romanians, and there were charges that the latter had conspired with the Hungarians in 1849; these factors may explain why the emperor disregarded the cabinet's recommendation that Iancu, Axente, and Balint be decorated with the Order of the Iron {3-358.} Crown, and awarded instead the crowned Gold Cross of Distinction, a lesser decoration normally given to to superannuated officials of the second rank.

Iancu was less offended by this slight than by the Austrians' failure to stand by their promises. When, in early 1851, the police authorities in Vienna invited him to indicate his acceptance of the decoration, Iancu asked them to put on the record that he, acting as a responsible spokesmen of his people, had insisted on 'satisfaction of the legitimate wishes of the Romanian nation.'[9]9. The text of the police record of 2 February 1851 was published in Magazin Istoric, 1969, no. 3, pp 90-1. Cf. S. Dragomir, Avram Iancu (Bucharest, 1965), p. 271. In response, the authorities ordered both Iancu and Bărnuţiu to leave the imperial capital. Iancu returned to the mountains, while Papiu and Bărnuţiu repaired to universities in Italy before moving on to Moldavia. It was around the same time that the Austrian authorities closed down the sole Romanian newspaper in Transylvania, Bariţ's Gazeta de Transilvania; they charged that the paper had consistently 'adopted an inappropriate, immoderate tone,' and that despite official warnings not to publish Iancu's memoirs, Bariţ had 'displayed obduracy in his written response.'[10]10. The governor's order of 9 March 1850 to the police superintendent of Brassó, Kolozsvári lap, 21 March 1850. When, in September, the authorities allowed the four-page tabloid to reappear, they insisted that Bariţ be replaced by another editor, and that articles be submitted before publication, in German translation, to the police; as a token of official approval, the two-headed eagle appeared on the paper's masthead.

Over time, the Romanian leaders who persisted with petitions were induced by Vienna's inflexibility to water down their political demands. Political–national demands gave way to cultural–religious requests. In April 1850, they asked for a Romanian school commissioner; in September, for the election of a new bishop in Balázsfalva; in December, for a law academy; and in January 1851, for the establishment of a Romanian university. Romanians in the Banat requested the creation of a separate Orthodox archbishopric. The Romanians progressively scaled down their demands until, in the end, they would have settled for the establishment of a semi-autonomous {3-359.} judicial network for their community. The results not only failed to meet with their expectations but also sowed the seeds of further discord within the intelligentsia. The pro-Hungarian bishop, Leményi, was forced to resign, and, on 10 December 1850, the emperor named the militant nationalist Alexandru Sterca Şuluţiu to succeed him. In 1853, Pope Pius IX raised the Uniate bishopric of Balázsfalva to an archbishopric, thereby making it independent of Esztergom, and placed both the Nagyvárad bishopric as well as the recently-created bishoprics of Lugos and Szamosújvár under its authority. Thus Romanian Uniates in both Transylvania and Hungary were drawn into a single, autonomous, national Church. Meanwhile, the Romanians' Greek Orthodox Church, which counted roughly the same number of adherents, remained under the authority of the Serb archbishop of Karlóca. Bach would even have liked to expel from Transylvania the Orthodox bishop of Nagyszeben, Andrei Şaguna, despite the fact that the latter had given loyal service to the dynasty; in the event, Şaguna was soon granted a barony. The jealousy between the two churches was heightened not only by the favouritism shown to Uniates, but also by the initial plans of the new Uniate bishop of Balázsfalva to convert the Orthodox to Greek Catholicism; that attempt earned him the lasting hostility of the equally temperamental Şaguna. The antagonism between the two prelates divided the Romanian national movement, although their rivalry indirectly facilitated the covert activity of lay intellectuals, who, by hiding behind the two churches, tried to promote their own ideas.

The sovereign's ceremonial visit to Transylvania in 1852 brought more disappointment. For a century, the Romanian peasants of the Érc Mountains had been at loggerheads with the treasury over the ownership of woodlands that were essential for their subsistence. After the struggles of 1848–49, they were confident that the issue would be resolved in their favour, and that the forests would become theirs; after all, unlike the Székelys, the men from {3-360.} the two disbanded, Romanian border-guard regiments had been 'rewarded' by the emperor and allowed to retain possession of their wood-lots. When the revenue officers reappeared after the revolution, they imposed various taxes on tree-felling, and then, in fall 1851, prohibited it outright. Convinced that the peasants had a just cause, Iancu took up the cudgels on their behalf. 'We are not starvelings, we can wait,' he said to the governor, who sought to reconcile the demands of the treasury with those of the villagers.[11]11. Dragomir, Avram Iancu, p. 276. Iancu hoped that the visit of Francis Joseph would bring a satisfactory settlement and provide an opportunity for negotiating the creation of a Romanian law school at Kolozsvár. At the Romanians' request, the itinerary of the emperor was modified, and, on July 21–22, he toured the picturesque Érc Mountains. The people of Alsóvidra, Topánfalva, and Detonáta gave him a warm reception, although some of the inscriptions — notably 'Let truth come!' and 'Bring us tranquillity!' — were open to interpretation. In the event, the emperor gave no indication of satisfying the Romanian peasants' demands. Iancu, for his part, refused to join the thousands who, during the visit, would besiege Francis Joseph with their petitions.

The leader idolized by the Romanian mountain folk began to display the fury of a caged lion. At Topánfalva, Iancu knocked down the two-headed eagle from the treasury building, exhorted people to persevere in their struggle, and even attacked some land surveyors. He was arrested in August 1852 and suffered brutal treatment at the hand of his jailers. The burden of political and moral responsibility was taking its toll. Haunted by the failure to better the lot of his nation and the local peasants, and subjected to humiliating abuse, Iancu suffered a nervous breakdown. After his release, he wandered around the mountains, playing his shepherd's flute and stopping by the odd Hungarian manor house. His mind beclouded, Iancu had become a mere shadow of his former self by the time he died in 1872.

{3-361.} With Iancu and his closest brothers-in-arms out of action, the radical wing of the Romanian generation of 1848, which had been rooted in the peasantry and socially-conscious, disappeared from the political arena. The absolutist régime used all means at its disposal to foster conservative as well as moderate tendencies among Transylvania's Romanians; to this end, it encouraged the Church hierarchy to play a leading role in political life. The resulting predominance of conservatives bode ill for the future of the Romanian national movement. When Wallachia's Ion Brătianu visited Transylvania at the end of 1850, he observed a gulf between local Romanian leaders and the common folk: 'Romanians who belong to the intelligentsia side with the emperor. Ordinary people are moving towards the Hungarians, and one fears that they may willingly sacrifice their national identity to obtain freedom.'[12]12. I. Ghica, Amintiri din pribegia după 1848 (Bucharest, 1889), p. 563. Disappointments had led both Hungarians and Romanians to seek a rapprochement; a mere tendency, yet stronger than might have been expected so soon after the tragic clashes of 1848–49. The Hungarians would observe with bitter irony that 'the nationalities get as a reward what the Hungarians get as punishment.' The Romanian leaders were equally bitter. Even those who accepted public office 'bore the burden of absolutism with a sort of stoic indifference, seeing it a rather negative manifestation of the equality of rights.'[13]13. I. Puşcariu, Notiţe despre întîmplările contemporane (Sibiu, 1913), pp. 45-6.