{3-387.} The Impact of the Crimean War

In 1853, war broke out in the immediate vicinity of the Austrian empire. Determined to destroy Ottoman power in Europe, Czar Nicholas I sent his troops in July to sweep out Turks and occupy the Romanian principalities. The Habsburg régime faced a difficult foreign policy decision. It was bound to Russia by the counter-revolutionary Holy Alliance, and some prominent Austrian generals wanted to support the czarist action. At the same time, the Russian invasion of the Danubian principalities endangered Austria's position in the Balkans as well as free navigation, and the bourgeois elements in the government, Bach included, wanted to draw away from Russia. By autumn it had become clear that England and France would side with Turkey, and this emboldened the latter to declare war on Russia on October 16. The Habsburg empire's geographical situation made it a valuable ally, and the two warring camps vied for Vienna's support. The czar's court tried to persuade Francis Joseph to adopt positive neutrality, while England and France invited his military cooperation. At first, Francis Joseph chose neutrality; but his failure to have the Russians pull out of the Romanian principalities, along with his suspicion that St. Petersburg favoured independence movements in the Balkans, turned him into the czar's political enemy. When Western naval forces reached the Black Sea, and Russia was summoned to withdraw from the Romanian principalities, Austria proceeded to seal agreements, first with Prussia, then with France and England, and finally, in June 1854, with Turkey. The emergence of this hostile coalition prompted the czar to pull out his troops from Moldavia and Wallachia, and to ponder measures for 'the severe punishment of perfidious Austria.' Austria thus surprised the world by failing to come to the czar's assistance; its ambivalent neutrality amounted to a stab in the back of its ally.

{3-388.} In Transylvania and in the Banat, the first military reinforcements arrived in the spring of 1853, and within a year the 'observer army corps' had swollen to 150,000 men. Military preparedness had an effect on economic life. The provincial government decreed the requisitioning of produce, without, however, establishing fixed purchase prices, bringing a temporary boom to the agricultural sector. Urban dwellers were less happy about price increases and the threat of food shortages, but these were alleviated with the import of grain from the Great Hungarian Plain. The inadequate military supply system had to be supplemented by private cartage, an onerous obligation that drove away many people who lived near the busy road along the Maros River.

On the basis of the agreement concluded with the Sublime Porte on 14 June 1854, 40,000 Austrian soldiers (with 3200 horses and 92 cannons), under the command of Colonel-General Hess, moved into the principalities in August and September, to take the place of the withdrawing Russians. Their mission was to safeguard a neutral zone between the two belligerent parties and to preserve the status quo in the Balkans. The two Romanian princes, who had fled from their countries the previous year, returned under Austrian escort.

The invasion of Moldavia and Wallachia deprived Hungarian émigrés of an important base for their covert activities; Kossuth's emissaries were mercilessly hunted by the Austrian military. The proximity of the Ottoman empire, the sympathy felt for Hungarians by the people of the principalities, and the flexible attitude of their governments had previously enabled the émigrés to build up a communications and supply base on the far side of the Carpathians; as noted, Bucharest had been one of the organizational centres of the abortive conspiracy in 1851. As the storm clouds of the Crimean War gathered, many people thought that the long-awaited major European conflict was about erupt; and they anticipated that by taking up arms in support of the Western powers, and against the {3-389.} Habsburgs, allied to Russia, the empire's oppressed peoples could win their freedom. In the spring of 1853, Sándor Gál went to Transylvania on a covert recruiting mission and assembled Székely volunteers in the towns of the principalities. In October, Kossuth and Dumitru Brătianu reached an agreement: They would call on the monarchy's Hungarians and Romanians to take joint action, and, after the victory, let the people of Transylvania decide whether they wished to live in a separate principality or in a union with Hungary. In December, László Berzenczey was dispatched to the principalities to promote friendly relations, and over the following year he cooperated with Romanian émigrés in making preparations for an insurrection in Transylvania. All these plans came to naught, for the Western powers decided not to launch an attack upon Russia from the lower Danube, and the Habsburgs stayed out of the war. The scheme to set up Hungarian and Romanian legions was stillborn; and Klapka, who promoted the idea of a confederation stretching from Dalmatia to the Black Sea and to Bukovina, encompassing 24 million people, was disappointed in his ambition to command an insurgent army on the lower Danube, in alliance with the Turks. These preparations were aborted by the Austrian occupation of the principalities. Despite the fact that he worked for the English, István Türr was arrested in Bucharest and secretly taken to Brassó; a court martial sentenced him to death, but the English obtained his release. The brevity of the Crimean War convinced the émigrés that the western powers had no intention of effecting a major shift in the East European balance of power. The joint declaration of Kossuth, Ledru-Rollin, and Mazzini in the fall of 1855 anticipated that progress toward national autonomy and democracy in Eastern Europe would have to await the broadening of democracy in Western Europe, but this expectation, too, faded over time.

The Austrian occupation of the Danubian principalities lasted until the end of March 1857. Perhaps this saved the Romanian principalities from becoming a war zone; what is certain is that the few {3-390.} measures at modernization taken by the Austrians — such as the introduction of the telegraph, the costly repairs to road links with Transylvania, improvements to the postal service, and the thorough mapping of the country — were not enough to win over Romanian leaders. In 1854, a delegation of boyars travelled to Nagyszeben and conveyed the Romanians' appreciation for the military intervention, but, within a year, popular opinion had turned against the Austrians. Politically-minded intellectuals perceived that the Austrians opposed not only the ambitions of Hungarian émigrés but also the Romanians' efforts at national unification. Moreover, they felt threatened by Austria's economic expansionism. Viennese officialdom acknowledged its failure to exert lasting influence beyond the Carpathians.

In the wake of the operation in the Romanian principalities, the empire's accumulated debt and annual budget deficit increased, producing — as early as 1853 — a divergence in the yields of government and bank bonds, and a devaluation of the currency in terms of the price of silver. In 1854, the government had to resort to a 500 million forint 'national loan'; subscription was ostensibly 'voluntary,' but pressure from zealous officials made it less so. In Transylvania, those who had received compensation bonds — mainly major landowners, rich Saxon burghers, and towns — were induced to subscribe to the loan. Of the 13,642,194 forints subscribed, 11 million were actually levied. A Saxon expert, Bedeus, considered that these sums were extraordinarily high in relation to Transylvania's financial resources.

The Crimean War, and the new order enshrined in the peace treaty signed at Paris on 15 April 1856, dealt the final blow to the Holy Alliance. Russia undoubtedly suffered a setback: for years, it had to refrain from acting as Europe's gendarme, and, with the re-annexation of southern Bessarabia to Moldavia, it lost its foothold on the lower Danube. But, arguably, the real loser was the Austrian empire. First and foremost, because by its hostile attitude it had {3-391.} wrecked a century-old friendship with Russia. Second, because the Paris treaty blocked it from keeping the Romanian principalities under military control as a political protectorate. Thus Austria could not obstruct efforts to unite Moldavia and Wallachia, nor fully draw the two principalities into the empire's economic sphere. The two-and-a-half year long occupation of the principalities only revealed that Austria was not capable on its own to fill the power vacuum left by Russia's retrenchment. France now had strong links with Cavour's Piedmont, which had participated in the war, and this foreshadowed a Franco–Italian alliance directed against Austria.

Transylvania's press gave extensive coverage to the Crimean War, but there was no general awareness that the Habsburg empire had become dangerously isolated from the other great powers. To all appearances, the new régime remained strong and continued to consolidate its authority.

In 1857, the sovereign granted amnesty to many political prisoners, along with restitution of their property. In 1858, several of the émigrés decided to return home. Cultural life benefited from the more relaxed atmosphere. The development of the Transylvanian Museum gathered speed. The Economic Society (with the support of Kolozsvár's chamber of commerce and industry) took on a political role in its advocacy of a new railway line linking Nagyvárad, Kolozsvár, and Brassó. Contacts with Hungary were eared after the death of General Bordolo, Governor Schwarzenberg's iron-fisted deputy, in the fall of 1857. In the summer of 1858, the race meetings at Kolozsvár became the setting for political encounters between Hungarian leaders, such as Kálmán Tisza and Béla Wenckheim, and Transylvania's leading public figures. They decided to repeat these open displays of solidarity at future festive events.