The War in Italy and the Hungarian Émigrés

Its status enhanced by participation in the Crimean War, Piedmont finally succeeded in its long quest for great power support of Italy's unification. Cavour won Napoleon III's backing and prepared to force the Habsburgs out of Italy. In an other part of Austria's periphery, the two Romanian principalities were left by the Paris treaty of 1856 under Ottoman suzerainty, but they were now treated as a buffer zone destined for eventual independence. Napoleon III, who not long before had offered the principalities to Austria in exchange for Lombardy, now turned against Austria and became the principal sponsor of their unification. The most prominent Romanian émigrés returned home in 1857; then, in early 1859, the principalities took advantage of the international situation and of the favourable terms of the Paris treaty to elect a common ruler, Alexandru Ioan Cuza. Initially, Cuza pursued an anti-Austrian policy and bestowed his favour on the Hungarian émigrés. The latter also entered a new phase in their history. Cavour became the principal patron of Kossuth and his associates. The émigrés, inspired by a growing awareness of their political responsibility, sought assurances that they would not be used as mercenaries and then discarded, but be accepted by the anti-Austrian coalition as an autonomous partner.

When, in 1859, a Franco–Piedmontese coalition was formed against Austria, the initial plans called for creation of a Hungarian legion on Italian soil and the opening of a second front in Hungary. From the scattered host of Transylvanian émigrés, Gergely Bethlen and Sándor Teleki were among the first to hurry to Italy. {3-393.} Meanwhile, Hungarian agents were dispatched to secure the participation of the Romanian and Serbian principalities in the impending war, and to win their assistance for persuading Serbs and Transylvanian Romanians to join a Hungarian war of independence. Cavour's support was instrumental in this new Hungarian–Romanian attempt at rapprochement. Klapka wanted to use the Romanian principalities and Serbia as bases for the creation and deployment of Hungarian legions, which could then launch concerted attacks from the Adriatic, the Banat, and Transylvania against the rear of an Austrian army engaged on the Italian front. Napoleon III dispatched Klapka to secure the support of Cuza, who was seeking international recognition for the personal union of Moldavia and Wallachia, effected a few days earlier. Later, the French emperor arranged for the shipment of arms, two-thirds of which were destined for the Hungarian legions to be organized on Romanian territory, and one-third for Cuza's own forces. Klapka, being well-informed about the Romanian political situation, was sceptical regarding the possibilities of collaboration; yet he took on the mission with enthusiasm, for he considered that his country's liberation depended entirely on the opening of an eastern front. He wrote to Teleki: 'The fate of Hungary will be determined not in the Po Valley, but in the valley of the Szeret River. That is where we need a free hand and freedom of movement, and where we must forge firm links.'[24]24. Letter from György Klapka, 28 February 1859, quoted in E. Kovács, A Kossuth-emigráció, p. 334. In early spring, Klapka travelled to Moldavia where, with the help of the French consul and his acquaintance from exile, Ion Ghica, he and Cuza made a pact on March 29 regarding military and political cooperation. Cuza agreed to help the Hungarians establish arms depots in Moldavia and to give them 20,000 weapons from the 30,000 sent by Napoleon III, as well as some of the cannons expected from Serbia. In exchange, Klapka promised Cuza Hungary's support in the annexation of Bukovina. He promised also to organize the Serbian and Romanian soldiers into separate units, to respect the equality of nationalities in the {3-394.} case of both individuals and, with respect to religion and education, of groups. He also promised to preserve self-government in municipalities and districts. Klapka set as a long-range goal the confederation of Hungary, Serbia, and Moldavia–Wallachia. The most important corollary to their agreement concerned Transylvania's future links. If an eventual national convention rescinded the union concluded in 1848 with Hungary, the province would be granted self-government.

The Cuza–Klapka agreement crowned ten years of abortive efforts at rapprochement. Some of the Hungarian émigrés were prepared to accept not just the guarantee of equal rights for the nationalities, but also, for the sake of joint action, a separate and auto-nomous status for Transylvania. To be sure, some Romanians wanted more concessions regarding Transylvania, but Cavour told them that if they persisted, he would wash his hands of the entire Romanian affair. Although the agreement gave rise to some concern in Vienna, it could be only partially implemented. The Hungarian émigrés sent instructions to Transylvania, insisting on active cooperation with the local Romanians. But the agreement encountered some resistance, on the Romanian side as well. Those who listened to London, and not only to Paris, could not count on the monarchy's disintegration and thus considered it pointless to assume the risks of such an agreement. Among their foreign patrons, Cavour remained steadfast, but Napoleon III was only interested in a Transylvanian uprising, and not in genuine aid for Hungary. Yet Cuza needed the support of France far more than the agreement he concluded with the Hungarian émigrés.

When the Austrians launched a preventive offensive, there ensued a short war in which the French and Piedmontese forces prevailed in June 1858. Hungarian volunteers fought bravely alongside the Italians, and Sándor Teleki's appeal for Hungarians and Croats in the imperial army to change sides brought positive results. But Austria's quick defeat left no time for the dispatch of {3-395.} the Hungarian legions and for a rebellion to be initiated in Hungary. Thus the émigrés' 'government' — the Hungarian National Direc-torate, which was planned to include a representative of Transylvania — could only halt the delivery of arms, after agreeing with Cuza that the 20,000 weapons already in hand would remain in Klapka's custody, for use in a future rebellion.

Yet, if 1859 did not meet the Hungarian émigrés' expectations, it was a watershed in Europe's political development. France's imperial régime was heading towards an internal crisis, the German bourgeoisie was girding for battle to obtain constitutionalism and national unification, and the labour movement was forging links across the frontiers. In Italy various attempts at unity coalesced into a genuine national movement, led from 1860 onwards by Garibaldi. For the first time in many years, a democratic revolutionary movement obtained victory by force of arms. By achieving this, Garibaldi restored the self-confidence of European progressives.

The defeat of the imperial armies in Italy was greeted by all opposition groups in the empire with surprise and relief. Only two months earlier, a manifesto from the emperor had flattered and extolled the nationalities in the monarchy as 'models for all the nations of the world.' Now these nationalities, and not just the Hungarians, construed the military defeat as a defeat for absolutism, and as a precursor of political change. They had every reason to believe this as the army was the dynasty's pride, the much-vaunted glue of the monarchy, and it had failed the test of battle; with that, the whole bureaucratic-autocratic system revealed its inability to preserve the empire's integrity, and lost its prestige as well. The loss of public confidence was made clear by the fate of a new, 200 million forint 'voluntary loan'; despite a vigorous campaign by officialdom, only 76 million forints were subscribed. As the state's authority was on the wane, people redoubled their efforts to avoid taxes. Half of Transylvania's households were prosecuted for 'refusal to pay taxes,' a common form of political protest, and in {3-396.} Hungary proper, only one seventh of direct taxes could be collected in the normal way. The sovereign now recognized that at a time when the military had lost their legitimacy and when the state finances were in a mess, it was impossible to govern without making domestic concessions. On August 21, he dismissed the two men who had embodied absolutism, Bach and Kempen.

The defeat in the war energized Hungary's conservatives. Led by Emil Dessewffy and the Transylvanian Samu Jósika, they drafted a conservative–federalist programme aiming at bring back and modernize the legal order that had existed in 1847. The programme reaffirmed the equality of rights and the abolition of villeinage, and it called for the introduction of limited constitutionalism as well as the reinstatement of the Croatian and Hungarian court chancelleries and government authorities. They believed that this would offer the sovereign a magic formula for consolidating the empire, as well as for forestalling new demands and revolutionary developments. The obvious precondition was that the conservatives form the government.

The crisis brought the hitherto competing enemies of centralized absolutism closer together. Conservative aristocrats and liberals allied with the Kossuth emigration began to cooperate, and this not only increased the weight and prestige of Jósika's group at the Viennese court but also enhanced the liberals' freedom of action. The conservatives now seized every opportunity to display their patriotism. Catholic aristocrats joined in the first large scale political protest since 1849, a campaign against Thun's 'Protestant letters patent' — which aimed to restrict the autonomy of the Calvinist and Lutheran Churches in Hungary — and some of them willingly paid the price of imprisonment.

The waves of the movement which had started in Pest soon reached Transylvania. In emulation of the National Academy's commemoration of Kazinczy, memorial sessions were organized in Transylvanian towns, and the ceremonial speeches did not fail to {3-397.} emphasize the interdependence of literature and politics. 'Our nation, which once seemed moribund, has awoken from its ten-year sleep and gives new signs of life,' said Farkas Bethlen at the meeting in Marosvásárhely. Domokos Teleki spoke in a similar vein at Kolozsvár.[25]25. L. Ürmössy, Tizenhét év, pp. 200-1; Kolozsvári Közlöny, 30 October, 13 November 1859. Society ladies in Kolozsvár started an introductory course on Hungarian literature, while the men embarked upon a 'detailed study' of Hungarian public law. It became eminently fashionable to raise money for cultural causes.

In late November, József Eötvös led a delegation from the Academy to Kolozsvár for the festive inaugural session of the Transylvanian Museum Society; the city celebrated the event with illuminations, a torchlight procession, and posters bearing the words 'God bless the two sister homelands.' At the banquet following the general meeting, the conservative Lajos Jósika delivered a speech with oppositionist overtones, and a Saxon Lutheran pastor — claiming to speak for the majority of the Saxons in Brassó — expressed his joy at the growing concord among the peoples of the motherland. The many festivities were made even more colourful by the sudden popularity of the 'national costume,' and by a new dance, the palotás, that had quickly reached Kolozsvár. Beginning in 1859, the wearing of the atilla (a braided, military-style jacket), tight trousers, the pörge kalap (a small felt hat), and the fokos (a spontoon) became quite common among men, and of the párta (a Hungarian headdress) among women. A distinct national costume, combining the noblemen's and peasants' garbs, was gradually developed and adopted by members of the Romanian intelligentsia.

The union of Moldavia and Wallachia was warmly welcomed by the Romanians in southern Transylvania and, as police reports attest, they regarded the Italians and Garibaldi with equal sympathy. Towards the end of the year, the terrifying prospect of armed cooperation between Hungarians and Romanians unsettled the security organs. According to the commander of the Transylvanian gendarmerie, Avram Iancu — chronically ill and under constant {3-398.} police watch — had announced in November at Topánfalva that he would soon be in command again, and that 'Székelyföld, too, lives on and with the Székelys one can conquer the whole of Europe.'[26]26. M. Popescu, Documente inedite privitoare la istoria Transilvaniei intre 1848-1859 (Bucharest, 1929), p. 306.

In the spring of 1860, the sovereign finally agreed to adopt a 'policy of concessions.' The moderate concession, letters patent transforming the ten-member, consultative central council, which had functioned since 1851, into an enlarged 'consolidated Reichsrat,' had no immediate effect. Of the six counsellors appointed in Hungary, József Eötvös and two conservatives refused to serve; so did an appointee from Transylvania, Baron Miklós Bánffy. Thus Transylvania was 'represented' on the new imperial council by Karl Maager, a Saxon from Brassó, by the Orthodox bishop Şaguna, and by Jakab Bogdán, the Armenian mayor of Szamosújvár. From the Banat came one of the few great Romanian land-owners, Andrei Mocsonyi. Meanwhile the Hungarians grew restless. In Pest a patriotic demonstration on March 15 ended in a bloody clash with the authorities. István Széchenyi, 'the Hungarian Prometheus,' was driven by police harassment to commit suicide in Döbling, and memorial meetings were held in Transylvania as well as in Hungary. In the wake of these events, Field Marshal Benedek replaced Archduke Albrecht as Hungary's governor; the system of districts was abolished, and promises were made for a new county system and even a parliament.

The atmosphere was no less tense in Transylvania than in Hungary proper. The leader of the conservatives, Baron Samu Jósika, died suddenly in Vienna, a few days before Széchenyi's suicide. It was a sign of the times that many suspected he had been a victim of political assassination, and although Jósika was highly regarded in Vienna, the government felt it necessary to cancel the grand funeral ceremony that had been planned. Meanwhile, agents sent by László Teleki and other Hungarian émigrés toured Transylvania to organize oppositional forces as well as to collect information, notably with regard to the potential behaviour of the {3-399.} Romanian population. Their visits were an open secret, and all the more if the agent was an English tourist, for veritable festivities would be mounted in his honour. As part of the covert preparations in the Hungarian lands, a new military organization was created in Transylvania under the command of a former national guard colonel, Antal Prui. Kossuth even appointed a 'government commissioner' in the person of Miklós Puky. Once again, preparations were most intense in Székelyföld where former national guard officers and soldiers were all recruited into the underground movement.

Romanians and Saxons endorsed some aspects of the Hungarian national movement. Many of them took part in the Kazinczy commemoration, and even more participated in the Széchenyi memorial meetings. In late July, at Kolozsvár, the audience was enthralled by the violinist Ede Reményi's performance of Romanian folk tunes, to the point that the evening became a celebration of brotherhood between the two nationalities. To encourage collaboration, József Eötvös and distinguished liberal landowners attended the summer congress of the Saxon Verein für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde in Beszterce. Landowners from the Székelyföld drove in their carriages to the ball of the women's association in Brassó. A wave of friendship swept over the province, and the ripples reached beyond the Carpathians as well. Cuza himself attended one of the several performances, given in Bucharest by a Hungarian troupe, of the opera Hunyadi László. Domokos Teleki declared that the Hungarians were ready for all changes that 'respond to the needs of the national groups in our country, and which will not only make possible but also guarantee their unhindered development.'[27]27. Kolozsvári Közlöny, 12 July 1860. Moved by the same spirit, Frigyes Podmaniczky, who kept in touch with the émigrés through Miklós Jósika, toured Transylvania on a mission to improve Hungarian–Romanian relations. These efforts did bring a unanimous condemnation of absolutism, but they failed to generate politically productive agreement regarding the desirable {3-400.} shape of the future. Once again, the difficult task of engineering genuine collaboration devolved to the émigrés.

Although the international situation in 1860 was not ideal from the point of view of the émigrés, there were some encouraging signs. In its pursuit of Italian unity, the Piedmont was preparing for a new war against the Habsburg empire, and for this it needed the Hungarians' support. Klapka remained wedded to his plan for a Transylvanian campaign — 'the first strike must come from there, specifically from Székelyföld'[28]28. György Klapka's letter of 12 January 1860 to László Karacsay, quoted in E. Kovács, A Kossuth-emigráció, p. 355. — and he sealed a new agreement with Cuza. In the autumn, the Hungarian National Directorate sent a lengthy memorandum to the prince, in which it anticipated that an independent Hungary would become the mainstay of Romanian unity and independence, and confirmd the promise, made in the draft constitution of Kütahia, that minority rights would be respected. They urged the prince to assist the Hungarian liberation movement, and to use his influence against all attempts at turning Transylvanian Romanians against the Hungarian national endeavours. On this occasion, they made no reference to Transylvania, perhaps because, as Teleki put it, 'the Transylvanian nobles are not keen on it.'[29]29. László Teleki's letter of 7 November 1860 to Kossuth in Teleki László válogatott munkái II, p. 205, quoted by E. Kovács, A Kossuth-emigráció, p. 364. In one of the major covert operations of the times, five Italian ships soon sailed for Galaţi, loaded with 35,000 weapons and a few cannons. For some time, large numbers of Transylvanian Hungarians had been escaping to Moldavia. With the approval of the Romanian authorities, notably of the prime minister, Mihail Kogălniceanu, some of them set up camp there; others sailed on foreign ships to join the Hungarian legions in Italy. (Their number is not known. At the time, Moldavia's prime minister, who endorsed the Hungarians' secret activities, officially acknowledged only 60–80 refugees. However, such a small number would not have warranted all the measures that he was taking, and thus his later recollection, that there were 4,000 refugees seems far more plausible.) Cuza was drawn to Klapka by personal sympathy as well as other calculations, and Kogălniceanu was motivated by {3-401.} objective political interests as well as by liberal solidarity. Still, the governments of the united principalities were surrounded by three hostile great powers, and they could not take major risks; the growth of Romanian nationalism also hampered the collaboration. Word leaked out regarding the Hungarian arms shipments, and the Turks turned back three ships at Sulina; two others were unloaded at Galaţi in the presence of an Austrian warship, and these weapons, too, were soon sent back to Italy. Cuza was enraged at the torrent of threatening notes, and he no doubt wished that the Hungarian émigrés would 'go to hell.' Klapka, who arrived in December, considered that the game was over, as did Kossuth; and the difficulties of reconciliation in Transylvania caused him great concern. He wrote to Teleki: 'Could we risk a rebellion in Hungary before the situation is settled in Transylvania? And if we are not in a position to liberate Transylvania, how can we establish a link with Hungary?'[30]30. Klapka's letter of 22 November 1860 to Teleki, quoted in ibid, p. 376. Unaware that some members of the revolutionary committee in Hungary now favoured Transylvania's autonomy under the Hungarian crown, Klapka also protested at the rigid pro-union attitude of politicians back home.

Yet both parties needed to overcome their division. The latest threat facing the Romanians was a deal whereby the Habsburg empire would cede Venice to the Piedmont, and receive the united principalities in compensation. And in the event that the great powers engineered a peaceful settlement of the Italian–Austrian conflict at the expense of Romanian autonomy, the Hungarian émigrés could no longer count on Italian assistance, nor on a war to liberate their country. The Hungarian–Romanian negotiations, which were marked by dramatic exchanges, produced a new accord on 8 January 1861. In essence, the 1858 agreement was extended, with the difference that there was greater emphasis now on secrecy and on the promise of future Hungarian military assistance for the Romanian prince.

{3-402.} It now appeared feasible to form the several thousand Hungarians in the principalities into an army, and to convey the stored weapons to Székelyföld. However, once again the agreement remained a dead letter. Facing growing difficulties, Cuza turned more conservative and did not want to defy Austria. The Moldavian prime minister, Kogălniceanu, had provided the Hungarians with some modest financial assistance, and had even given shelter in his home to Berzenczey and János Vidats. But the sympathy he had shown for the Kossuth émigrés contributed to the fall of his government. However, the most decisive factor was the loss of Napoleon III's support. As a result, the Piedmont government gave up on the idea of a new military campaign, and Cuza was reduced to impotence. A persistent Klapka sent instructions for further military organization, and he proposed the creation of a provisional Hungarian–Romanian commission that might serve as a legislature in Transylvania, but to no avail. In 1863, the year of the Polish rebellion, Klapka and Türr tried to renew contacts with the united principalities and even considered forming armed units of Transylvanian Romanians, for joint action with the Hungarian legions. But they no longer dared to count on the support of the principalities. On the Romanian side, the demands grew stronger for a Transylvania independent of Hungary. Even Cuza admitted that he had no wish for a strengthened Hungary. With resignation, some of the Hungarian émigrés, and many politicians at home, accepted the embittered Klapka's advice: 'If you are unable to make concessions to the other nationalities, then stop dreaming about independence and find a compromise with the Austrians instead. Under the paternal protection of the Habsburgs, you will not need to be accountable to the Serbs and the Romanians.'[31]31. Ibid., p. 377.

For a few more years, émigré politicians and those at home believed there was a chance that the Habsburg empire might disintegrate, and therefore persevered in sporadic and tentative discussions with the principalities.