The Émigrés and the Ideal of Hungarian–Romanian Solidarity

The main driving force in the political struggle against the Habsburg empire was the émigré. The people at home would discover even in the strictly censored press that many patriots who had fled in 1849 or later were busily getting organized in the Ottoman lands and in Western Europe. Under Kossuth's leadership, the Hungarian émigrés were anticipating, indeed awaiting with impatience a new outbreak of war so that they could liberate Hungary by force of {3-369.} arms. In the meantime, they tried to ensure that the Hungarian question retained its place among the unsolved problems of high policy in Europe.

Reassessing recent history in the wake of the surrender at Világos, the émigrés realized that one fundamental precondition for the achievement of independence was solidarity and close cooperation with the Transylvanian Romanians and the Serbs of the southern region. To be sure, the Hungarian revolution and the tragic inter-ethnic conflict in 1848–49 had provoked the mutual estrangement of even the best representatives of the nationalities, but not all contacts were severed, and after 1849 there began a new phase in the search for a common way out of their dilemmas. The repression of the revolution in Wallachia, the occupation of the two Romanian principalities by Russian and Turkish forces impelled a host of Romanians to seek refuge abroad, there to create secret organizations, conduct propaganda, and prepare for the forceful liberation of their country. The émigré politicians, Hungarian and Romanian alike, reserved a key role for Transylvania in this struggle. The region was of decisive importance because its terrain was well-suited to insurgent activity, and also because it was the home of the most pugnacious Hungarians, the frontier Székelys. The Romanian dissidents also regarded Transylvania as the stepping stone to their countries' liberation. 'Our foothold is in Transylvania. Only through the Romanians there can we get the countries [Moldavia and Wallachia] to rise.'[15]15. N. Bălcescu's letter of 6 December 1850 to I. Ghica in Ghica, Amintiri, p. 568. They too needed foreign assistance, and cooperation with Hungarians seemed as promising for the attainment of Romanian independence as for progress, however partial, toward the unity that they pursued with growing determination. To be sure, it was very hard to dispel the antagonisms. Some Romanians — notably Ioan Maiorescu and A. T. Laurian — preferred the federalization of the Austrian empire on the basis of nationality. Nevertheless, the majority remained faithful to liberal principles. Rejecting the absolutism of Habsburgs and Romanovs, they favoured {3-370.} cooperation with Poles, Hungarians, and Serbs, and hoped to win the backing of France, the cradle of civil and human rights, as well as of England, the model of a liberal state.

Thanks to Polish mediation, Kossuth met Ion Ghica in the Turkish town of Brusa (Bursa) in the spring of 1850. Ghica raised the option (endorsed by Bălcescu) of a Hungarian–Romanian–Serb confederation, but he could not offer any commitment that went beyond the terms of Hungarian–Romanian agreement sealed at Szeged in 1849. The negotiations shifted to Paris, where the old champion of peace with the nationalities, Count László Teleki, tried to clear the way for an alliance. The discussions with Teleki and with General György Klapka, who sought a speedy accord, led Bălcescu to outline his notion of a confederation: It provided for the organization of the major ethnic groups into distinct political units and allowed for measures to protect minority rights. Bălcescu's 'Danubian United States' would have a common parliament that convened in different centres, and a government — consisting of the ministers of defence, foreign affairs, and commerce — that would not have significant influence over the internal affairs of the three confederated countries. Teleki urged Kossuth to accept the proposal, but in vain, for the latter regarded it as essentially a Romanian ploy to obtain Transylvania. To be sure, by June 1850 Kossuth himself was proclaiming that Hungary 'either has no future, or if it has a future, it involves a federation with the smaller, neighbouring nations.'[16]16. Quoted in Gy. Szabad, Kossuth politikai pályája (Budapest, 1977), p. 17O. However, the inextricable tangle of Hungary's nationalities led him repeatedly to reject any proposal that threatened the territorial integrity of the historical Hungarian state. He would only countenance separate status for the Croatians. Bălcescu had anticipated that for the Hungarians, his scheme would signify dismemberment of their country; but, in his view, the plan was of such historic importance that it warranted every effort at persuasion. The leading Hungarian émigrés in Paris — including Teleki, Vukovics, Szemere, and Gyula Andrássy — pondered the Romanian proposal, {3-371.} and, predictably, split into two camps. Teleki and Szemere favoured acceptance of the basic principle, but found themselves in a minority. The majority's standpoint was aptly formulated by Vukovics, who did not lose sight of their long-term objective, an uprising in Hungary: 'I see in the acceptance of such a proposal not the solution of the national problem, but rather the dismemberment of our homeland, and I do not believe that any Hungarian will feel impelled to take up arms for such an objective, for in the eventuality that the others did the job without us, or indeed against us, the Hungarian nation would end up with the worst of all fates.'[17]17. Sebő Vukovics's letter of 6 March 1851 to Kossuth, in E. Kovács, A Kossuth-emigráció és az európai szabadságmozgalmak (Budapest, 1967), p. 299. The Romanian and Hungarian émigrés strove to persuade each other of their respective truths. The Romanians insisted on the concession of territorial autonomy; the Hungarians stood on their historical rights, and considered the nationalities law of Szeged as the ultimate concession, 'beyond which stood the cannon.'[18]18. Gyula Andrássy's letter of 7 May 1851 to Kossuth, in ibid, p. 302. Only Teleki acknowledged that the nationalities of historic Hungary — among them the Transylvanian Romanians — were growing into nations, and he therefore favoured territorial concessions. Before he left Paris, he delivered to his fellow-émigrés what amounted to a personal testament of policy towards the nationalities: 'I want freedom in everything, real and unrestricted freedom, and therefore, particularly with regard to the nationalities, I do not want the sacred cause we are championing to be narrowly bound by historic rights and to founder on the shoals of counterrevolutionary principles of territorial integrity.'[19]19. László Teleki's letter of 30 October 1851 to Bertalan Szemere, in Teleki László válogatott munkái II, ed. by G.G. Kemény (Budapest, 1961), p. 84. After Teleki's departure, and the withdrawal of the terminally ill Bălcescu to pursue historical research, the remaining émigrés indulged in an unproductive polemic in the Romanian and Hungarian press.

Stimulated by the émigrés' efforts at rapprochement, and encouraged by the European Democratic Central Committee (which Mazzini had founded in London), Kossuth drew up the draft of a constitution during his sojourn at Kütahia in the spring of 1851. He adumbrated how nations within the Hungarian state might {3-372.} develop new terms for their coexistence. Kossuth confronted, on the one hand, the Hungarian liberals' notions of constitutionalism, unity of the state, and historical rights, and the Hungarians' historic advantage in economic and political development, with, on the other hand, the nationalities' quest for autonomy. He attempted to reconcile these facts and tendencies by fitting them into an unambiguously democratic framework, and in such a way that it would not strike Hungarian public opinion as an exercise in national self-mutilation. The country's multiethnic makeup and the difficulty of delineating ethnically homogeneous regions led Kossuth to conceive of a dual and highly decentralized structure. For a start, a modernized and democratized form of county administration would, together with self-government at the municipal and local levels, broaden the nationalities' scope for pursuing their interests. The main focus of his project, however, was a parallel structure of organizations, each of which would (like the Churches) encompass every member of a language group, serve that group's cultural and religious interests, and, as the embodiment of the national community, be the guardian and invigilator of the rights that it shared with other nationalities. With this master stroke, Kossuth decoupled the state from the political activity of the several nationalities, leaving the former largely in the hands of Hungarian landowners and intellectuals, and fitting the latter into a new organizational framework independent of the state apparatus, so that their future involvement in the development of the state (and of certain regions) would arise from the unhindered interaction of the communities' weight and influence. For the initial phase, he did not envisage total elimination of the Hungarian ruling class's privileged position, but he offered serious guarantees and wide scope for the nationalities. By advocating the preservation and expansion of various forms of autonomy, Kossuth acknowledged that the survival of national groups and the promotion of their economic and social development were universal and enduring imperatives.

{3-373.} It is within the realm of the possible that politically-minded Hungarians would have accepted the Kütahia draft constitution. What is clearer is that the Romanian émigrés did not find it satisfactory, Kossuth having ruled out any fragmentation or Romanianization of Transylvania. They did not appreciate the possibilities, evoked in the draft, of progressive and organic development. Later, A. Papiu Ilarian, a onetime Transylvanian, would dismiss it as a pack of promises devoid of guarantees, and observe ironically that the leaders of Kossuth's proposed national organizations were no better than Gypsy chiefs endowed with vestigial authority.