{3-641.} Liberal Legislation and Paternalistic Rule

In instituting a new political order, the Hungarian liberal ruling class failed to resolve the contradiction between the old ideal, a unified nation-state, and the reality that it inherited, a multinational country in which the non-Magyar nationalities yearned for autonomy. The national ideology, inspired by the notion of historical rights, gave rise to the concept of a 'unified political nation' based on the principles of territorial integrity and equal civil rights. This concept encompassed all the minorities and accommodated their distinctiveness and cultural–linguistic autonomy to the extent that these did not endanger the hegemonic position secured by Hungarians over the course of history. However, the liberal camp did not flesh out this concept with a comprehensive and detailed minority policy. After the revolution, Hungarian and non-Hungarian liberals failed to forge a common political front. When, over the decade that saw the liquidation of absolutism, conflicts over national rights did arise, the Hungarians tended to consider the satisfaction of minority demands more as 'concessions' than as necessary reform; the extent of these concessions depended entirely on calculations of political power. There was considerable disagreement within the liberal establishment over the national dimension of the state and the rights of nationalities; and an even greater difference prevailed between the views of this establishment and those of the landed nobility and the intelligentsia, who were responsible for converting the policies into practice in the counties and towns.

The liberal elite — Deák, Eötvös, and Mocsáry — hoped that the nationality problem would be resolved by the guarantee of individual civil liberties and by local administrative autonomy. Perhaps Mocsáry went farthest when he affirmed that Hungary was a 'polyglot state' and could be held together only if all nationalities were guaranteed unhindered development and would voluntarily preserve their historic association with the Hungarians. Eötvös, who {3-642.} often theorized about the problem, observed in his diary that he would not be averse to a republican confederation, since 'it is certain that in such a confederation, the Hungarians would play a role as great, and indeed greater, than the one they enjoy in the dualist system of the empire. What is more, I believe that, whatever we may do now, we will eventually end up with this outcome ... however, I think it is both appropriate and advantageous that we play for time by temporarily accommodating dualism, for this will allow the Hungarians to grow stronger culturally and in other respects, and become qualified for the great role that awaits them.'[7]7. J. Eötvös, Vallomások és gondolatok. Eötvös József művei, ed. by M. Bényei (Budapest, 1977), p. 624. He believed that while a strong Hungary was necessary for the survival of the peoples of the Carpathian Basin, the country could not be made into a pure nation-state, and the 'reasonable' political and linguistic demands of the increasingly self-conscious minorities had to be satisfied. 'It is in our interest that these minorities develop to the fullest and become conscious of their individuality;'[8]8. Ibid., p. 669; quoted in Magyarország története, VI (Budapest, 1979), p. 1353. they must therefore be guaranteed a greater degree of freedom than they might be offered by the neighbouring countries. Both Mocsáry and Eötvös adopted an optimistic and progressive outlook, the former because he did not recognise the ineluctable dynamics of the minority movements, the latter because he believed that the movements could be actively influenced. The more sceptical Deák was inspired by a liberal sense of duty as well as by common realism to advocate a fair treatment of the nationalities. Zsigmond Kemény did likewise, for he shared the liberal elite's aspiration to turn dualist Hungary into a supranational state that, under the leadership of the Magyars, would serve the common good.

The nationalities law of 1868 was a compromise between those who favoured the liberal principle of ethnic autonomy and others who insisted on maintaining an essentially Hungarian nation-state. After two years of preparatory work, the parliament's 'nationalities subcommittee' (which included both ethnic Hungarian and non-Hungarian deputies) delivered a draft bill that {3-643.} reflected Eötvös's theoretical conclusions as well as the reactions to the 1861 proposal. The first version had made no reference to a Hungarian political nation and proposed that the language of the local ethnic majority prevail in administration up to the county level. However, pressure from the majority of the political elite and Hungarian landowners led to a second draft which designated Hungarian as an official language at all levels of administration and did not require but merely allowed — 'as far as possible' — the use of other languages for communication between counties, on the one hand, and municipalities or individuals. The practical effect of this provision was to devolve authority over questions of language to the counties, whose administration was dominated by nobles intent on preserving Hungarian supremacy. The bill incurred criticism from both sides and had to be amended further to win general acceptance. A conciliatory preamble, drafted by Deák, declared that 'in accordance with the basic principles of the constitution, the country's citizens form in the political sense a single nation, the indivisible and unified Hungarian nation, in which each and every citizen, whatever his ethnic affiliation, enjoys equal rights;' and it had to be specified that the language of central government was Hungarian.[9]9. Magyar Törvénytár 1836-1868 (Budapest, 1896), p. 490.

Despite these qualifications, the Nationalities Act (XLIV, 1868) was an essentially liberal piece of legislation. It guaranteed broad use of non-Hungarian languages. All citizens could submit petitions to municipal, county, and central authorities in their mother tongue, and to receive a response in the same language. Communities could freely choose an additional language of local administration, and there were no linguistic constraints on the Churches and their dependent institutions. Thus municipalities, villages, Churches, and private educators were free to choose a language of instruction; moreover, the act made the government partially responsible for providing secondary education in minority languages. One of the act's most important clauses allowed 'individual {3-644.} citizens, gathered in societies and associations, to raise funds for the creation of institutions to promote language, art, science, economy, industry, and commerce, and to administer such foundations, under state supervision, in the lawful interest of nationalities.'[10]10. Ibid., p. 493. Thus even the final version of the bill bore the imprint of the leading reformers' liberal outlook, one that did not insist on a single formula for progress but allowed — within clear limits — for a variety of answers to the nationality question.

Although the act was based essentially on the principles of individual liberty and cultural freedom, it effectively offered guarantees of the collective rights of national minorities. However, since it failed to recognize explicitly the political identity of the several nationalities, most minority politicians deemed it unacceptable. In February 1867, twenty-six Romanian and Serb deputies submitted a proposal (known as the Mocsonyi–Miletics initiative) calling for the recognition of six 'nations possessed of equal rights,' each of which would be granted full political autonomy in counties redrawn on an ethnic basis, nationwide cultural autonomy, and proportional participation in the central state institutions. The demand that the rejigged counties communicate in the language of their ethnic majority with the central (Hungarian-language) government challenged the notion of a single 'state language.' Nor did the proposal acknowledge a single historico-political perspective; it urged that the history of the state and the history of each nationality be taught separately in the schools. It also called for regular national assemblies of the various minorities, along with the right of the latter to fly their distinctive flags and to raise taxes in the form of membership dues for cultural-national purposes. Hungarians generally opposed the proposal, which seemed to aim at a federal system. Even Mocsáry, the Hungarian politician who took the most liberal approach to the nationality question, protested that the proposal would lead to the country's dismemberment.

There was no way of reconciling such extreme differences in outlook. Most of the non-Magyar deputies walked out in protest {3-645.} against the enactment of the Eötvös bill. This, and other protests on behalf of the non-Magyar nationalities, sealed the fate of the act. Most members of the government party, and, later, of the opposition party would use this rejection as an excuse to take advantage of the act's lack of sanctions and limit its implementation while reinforcing the Hungarian character of the state. County governments, which from the start had questioned the utility of extending minority rights, continued to exclude other nationalities from the sphere of politics and to limit application of the act to the local level, and to the religious, cultural, and economic spheres, where the risks were fewer. Once the leading liberals of the 1848 generation had left the political stage, a negative attitude became predominant: the notion that the other nationalities had a distinctive identity was rejected, and the national interest was invoked to impose restrictions on human rights. Zsigmond Kemény once observed that 'the country cannot go backwards on the road of liberalism.'[11]11. G. Beksics, Zsigmond Kemény, a forradalom s a kiegyezés (Budapest, 1883), p. 307. Five years later, a pamphlet expressed the very different standpoint of the ruling class: 'In the final analysis, to be liberal is not our foremost obligation. No nation regards this as its first priority; all nations have at times departed from liberal principles and continue to do so. Our foremost duty is to ensure that Hungary endures and survives!'[12]12. A választások előtt. Különös tekintettel Erdélyre. Egy volt erdélyi országgyűlési képviselő (Pest, 1874), pp. 44-5.

The much-debated and complicated electoral system played a decisive role in the limitation of political rights. Some of its features were peculiar to Transylvania. The basic outlines of the franchise remained as enacted in 1848, when the liquidation of the feudal legal system ushered in an extension of legal rights; nobles and burghers retained their individual voting rights, but the franchise was extended to other worthy and stable social strata, who were qualified as 'the country's new citizens.' The main criterion of respectability and stability was personal wealth; however, those with higher educational qualifications (engineers, physicians, lawyers, priests, teachers) were put on the so-called intelligentsia rolls and earned the right to vote regardless of their wealth. Given {3-646.} the diversity of the country's natural environment and levels of economic development, it was very difficult to determine a single threshold of wealth for the franchise; the purpose of the exercise was to ensure that in all larger and smaller regions, men of property obtained the right to vote. In Hungary proper, the problem was solved by linking the right to vote in villages to ownership of a quarter socage plot (the area of which varied), in towns to ownership of a sizeable house, a factory, or a commercial enterprise, and, in the case of craftsmen, to the employment of an assistant. In 1848, the same principle was applied in Transylvania, but delays in the settlement of land claims meant that the socage plot could not be used as a criterion of eligibility in the villages; instead, the franchise was extended to those who paid direct taxes of at least eight forints, an amount that was almost 50 percent higher than the Hungarian average.

The 1867 Compromise did not fundamentally alter this system. In 1874, a law was passed providing for a modest extension of the franchise in Transylvania. In the villages, the intelligentsia — mainly priests and teachers — obtained the right to vote under the separate provision for intellectuals, as did those who paid at least 105 forints in taxes on their income from houses and land. Yet the overall number of eligible voters continued to decline, for the general wealth threshold was raised nationwide. The basic tendency of the post-1867 governments was not to extend the franchise but to preserve the status quo. The 1874 amendment gave the franchise in Transylvanian villages to those whose income from land reached 84 forints and paid a land tax of 18 forints 48 kreuzers in land tax (later raised to 21 forints 42 kreuzers). (The situation in Hungary proper was more differentiated and, on the whole, more favourable: the level of land tax entitling citizens to vote varied almost from village to village, and ranged, at the turn of the century, from 17 kreuzers to 37 forints.) The large number of wage-labourers and journeymen were thus excluded from the franchise. In this period, {3-647.} the number of voters in Transylvania hovered between 75,000 and 87,000. Initially, some two thirds of the voters had the franchise by virtue of their 'old rights;' those who held the right to vote on the basis of wealth numbered 10,000 in 1848, 20,000 in 1861, and close to 25,000 in 1869. In later years, a growing number of people obtained the right to vote by virtue of their income or other wealth, and the 'old rights' voters gradually died out, although even at the turn of the century this group — which in inner Hungary had virtually vanished — accounted for a third, and in 1910, for a fifth of the electorate. A further peculiarity of the Transylvanian franchise was the preservation of a practice that evoked the curial system by assigning voting rights according to 'chimneys': in addition to the voters otherwise enfranchised, villages with at least a hundred houses could nominate two voters, and smaller ones a single voter. When these various criteria were applied, less than a quarter of the adult male population obtained the right to vote, a proportion that also mirrored the comparative poverty of Transylvanian society. Transylvania stood to gain the most from a revision of the electoral law in 1913 (which, in the event, was never applied); it doubled the number of eligible voters, to a still low 150,000.

In the era of Dualism, the franchise was essentially a reflection of class interests, but it also served to constrain political participation by the non-Magyar nationalities. Ethnic Romanians accounted for barely a quarter of the nobles who held the franchise on the basis on the old rights; the majority consisted of ordinary Székelys. In general, the number of eligible voters was proportionately higher in Hungarian regions than in Romanian ones. The proportion of enfranchised male adults was 25 percent among Saxons, 20 percent among Hungarians, and only 9 percent among Romanians. (There were no such variations in inner Hungary.) Thanks to a bias in the electoral law and to the comparative affluence of burghers, the proportion of voters was higher in the towns than in rural areas, and the main beneficiaries were once again the Hungarians and Saxons. {3-648.} The electoral districts varied greatly in terms of population and eligible voters. The burghers, who numbered scarcely more than 100,000, elected 23 deputies to parliament, while the 1.2 million inhabitants of the old counties were represented by only 20 deputies. After the Compromise, the number of inhabitants per parliamentary deputy was 4694 in the case of Transylvania's eighteen towns, 16,292 in the Saxon rural districts, 41,281 in the Székely districts, and 62,521 in the ten old counties. Educated Romanians considered that they were 'utterly and undeservedly humiliated' by a voting system that favoured Hungarians and Saxons.[13]13. Emlékirat. A román választók képviselőinek 1881. évi május hó 12-étől 14-éig tartott egyetemes értekezlete meghagyásából szerkesz-tette és közzéteszi a kiküldött bizottság (Nagyszeben, 1882), p. 87.

In fact, the highly complicated voting system was not simply a device to exclude Romanians and favour Hungarians and Saxons. The 1904 survey, which offers the most useful data, indicates that Romanian-speaking voters formed a majority in all districts of Transylvania save the Székelyföld and the counties of Kolozs and Torda-Aranyos, as they did in the counties of Szilágy, Máramaros, Arad, Temes, and Krassó-Szörény in Hungary proper. In fourteen counties, Hungarians accounted for less than 20 percent of the voters; in Krassó-Szörény, the ratio was 8.3 percent. The number of inhabitants per parliamentary deputy in Hunyad County, where Romanians predominated, was half as large as in the Székely counties of Udvarhely, Háromszék, and Csík; on average, non-Hungarian electoral districts had 841 voters at the turn of the century, while those in the Székelyföld had 1405 voters.

Thus many Hungarians felt that 'the Romanians are favoured by the franchise, only they do not take advantage of it.'[14]14. L. Ürmössy, 'Az oláh kérdés II,' Ellenzék, 5 October 1894. In fact, voters in Hungarian districts were more susceptible to the appeal of the opposition Independence party, which opposed the Dualist order, whereas Hungarian voters in predominantly Romanian districts tended to support the government party and induce a similar choice on the part of Romanian voters. Some of the latter, notably the pro-Hungarian gentry in Hunyad County, genuinely favoured the political status quo; others, particularly the wealthier ones, put {3-649.} personal interests ahead of national particularism, and political canvassers exploited such tendencies by stressing that candidates could serve local economic interests. Rural folk considered that deputies and elections were largely the concern of the higher social strata. This, and a generally low level of political awareness, explains why Romanian constituencies served as solid supporters of the governing party until the turn of the century, and why the franchise remained limited in Transylvania: it served — as Szapáry put it to Romania's King Charles in 1892 — as 'an excessively important building block' of the state.'[15]15. Report of the German ambassador in Bucharest on the meeting between King Charles I and Szapáry, 3 February 1892; quoted in T. Pavel, Mişcarea românilor pentru unitatea naţională şi diplomaţia puterilor centrale 1878-1895 (Timişoara, 1979), p. 259. The government was not prepared to extend the franchise unless the leaders of the Romanian national movement in Transylvania gave an unconditional endorsement of Dualism and showed a readiness to cooperate.

Indeed, the electoral system was an essential pillar of the Dualist system. It served to protect parliamentary constitutionalism against any attempt by Vienna to restore absolutism. The restricted franchise, on the other hand, served to preserve Dualism and the political hegemony of the ruling classes from any serious challenge by new social or ethnic movements.

In the early 1870s, some members of the Independence party advocated an extension of political rights to win the support of ethnic minorities who, like them, opposed Dualism. The government, for its part, sought some compromise that would to defuse the opposition of the nationalities. However, as will be seen, the tentative overtures made in 1872 by Prime Minister Lónyay proved unproductive. The dualist system was only strengthened when, in 1875, the opposition's centre-left faction joined the government and helped to create a powerful Liberal party under the leadership of Kálmán Tisza. In Kolozsvár, the celebrations of this fusion began on March 15, when 'in response to public demand, telegrams of congratulations were sent to both Ferenc Deák and Lajos Kossuth.'[16]16. Magyar Polgár, 16 March 1875. The creation of a Transylvanian branch of the Liberal Party soon followed; Ferenc Lészai was elected chairman, and the {3-650.} center-left leader László Sámi, vice-chairman. A minority of the center-left group rejected the fusion and joined, instead, the recently-founded Independence Party; among them were Baron Balázs Orbán, a chronicler of the Székelyföld, and Gábor Ugron, a Székely landowner who had fought with Garibaldi in the Franco–Prussian War and was one of the more colourful members of a younger generation of politicians.

With the fusion, the large majority of Hungarian landowners gave up their posture of opposition and settled comfortably into the dualist order. As if to compensate for giving up their constitutional fight, they began to display greater intolerance toward other nationalities. Over the ensuing decades, the political marginalization of the non-Magyar nationalities served not only to safeguard the hegemony of the Hungarian ruling classes but also to demonstrate, in parliament, the governing party's 'patriotic,' anti-Austrian orientation.

Policy towards the national minorities became less and less tolerant. In earlier years, centre-left politicians in Transylvania had urged — in the Kolozsvár newspaper Magyar Polgár — the appointment of Romanians in the civil service, and Kálmán Tisza had on several occasions risen in defence of certain minority interests. Yet Tisza, who would head the government for fifteen years, came to be known as the 'oppressor of the nationalities.' Laws and decrees took aim at the minorities' cultural institutions and promoted the Magyarization of the bureaucracy and the educational system. In the early post-Compromise period, the government did not question the appropriateness of external aid for the cultural development of nationalities divided by frontiers, and it cooperated in the distribution of the modest subsidies provided by the Romanian state to Transylvania's Romanians. However, in 1875, schools and Churches were forbidden to accept subventions from abroad. In 1879, the teaching of Hungarian was made obligatory in all elementary schools. Motivated more by parliamentary tactics than by {3-651.} nationalism, the bill was passed despite Francis Joseph's protest that 'even in the period of absolutism, there had been no attempt to Germanise elementary schools.'[17]17. 'Az 1879. március 9-i minisztertanács jegyzőkönyve,' OL, Minisztertanácsi jegyzőkönyvek. In substance, the measure could hardly be considered extreme or oppressive, but it did violate the right of the schools' patrons to decide which languages were to be taught. In this case, as well as in that of a 1883 law extending the same requirement to secondary schools, the complaints were basically inspired by a fear of increased state intervention in the management of the nationalities' schools. The state's policy was to raise the general level of education and inculcate elements citizenship. These goals inspired the requirement that Hungarian be part of the curriculum, for it was commonly believed at the time that 'people whose hearts and minds cannot be reached cannot be governed.'[18]18. J. Sándor, Visszapillantás az EMKE alakulása és fejlődése történetére (Kolozsvár, n.d.), p. 2. To be sure, wiser members of the ruling elite did not expect the schools to perform miracles; realizing that, in the natural course of events, effective Magyarization could take anywhere from fifty to a hundred years, they tried to accelerate the process through the schools and by constraining the activities of minority politicians.

The reorganization of the counties in 1876–77 curtailed the traditional autonomy of Királyföld; the Saxon and Székely districts (széks) were incorporated into a uniform county system. Fifteen counties were formed on the territory of historical Transylvania. The traditional names were retained as far as possible, as in the case of Szolnok-Doboka, Beszterce-Naszód, Torda-Aranyos, or Maros-Torda; even at the turn of the century, county notables would form political factions on the basis of the earlier administrative divisions. Each county was headed by a lord lieutenant (főispán), who represented and was appointed by the central government. Administrative affairs were handled by the sheriff (alispán) and his deputies, elected for six-year terms by the county assembly. The districts (járás) were administered by the elected district magistrates (szolgabíró), who, like petty monarchs, kept a firm grip on the local agencies of both the county and the central ('Royal {3-652.} Hungarian') government. The whole period was marked by a process of progressive centralisation at the expense of the counties' autonomy, a tendency that was considered to be in the interest of Transylvania's Hungarians. Apart from the national parliament, county assemblies constituted the only lawful forum for political debate, one that allowed for discussion and resolutions on national issues as well. Half of a county assembly was elected by those who had the right to vote in national elections, and the other half by the 'virilists,' i.e. the biggest taxpayers. Although the device flouted liberal principles, it did ensure the political participation of major landowners as well as of the upper bourgeoisie. In fact, the virilists represented a fairly broad category; in the less prosperous parts of Transylvania, those who paid some 100 forints in tax qualified as virilists, whereas in Hungary proper the threshold was generally twice as high.

Villagers had the least scope for political participation. Peasant discontent was kept in check by the gendarmes' bayonets, although the authorities exercised some caution in resorting to forceful methods. Histories commonly evoke the volleys of the gendarmes during the agrarian–socialist movements on the Great Plain toward the end of the century; yet, even in the 1880s, there were occasions when villagers drove out tax-collectors, district magistrates, and sheriffs, routed or disarmed the gendarmes, and made army units beat a hasty retreat. The higher courts tended to hand down very light sentences for such offences. With regard to the peasants, the ruling elite resorted not only to coercion but also to a steady and patient effort to convince them that nothing could be changed.

Municipalities and villages were under the counties' rule and enjoyed no political rights. A certain liberalism did prevail with respect to their autonomy and to property matters; the franchise in municipal elections extended to all men over twenty who were independent, settled, and owned property. As a counterweight, virilists were given half of the seats on municipal councils. The government {3-653.} actively favoured the urban middle classes, and thus political life was most active in the towns.

The Saxons and Romanians constituted a majority on some local councils, and they were well-represented in county administration, but, by official policy, they were progressively excluded from key posts. During Kálmán Tisza's long premiership, it became common practice to appoint officials who had little or no familiarity with the language, culture, and traditions of a minority to administer the latter's districts. The Saxon middle classes managed to preserve their local power, notably in Szeben County, where the legal requirement that Hungarian be one of the official languages was not implmeneted until some fifteen years after the Compromise. In contrast, the official policy of Magyarization and the passivity of Romanian parliamentary deputies conspired to reduce Romanians to a marginal role in county politics by the turn of the century, although the extent of this marginalization varied by region. They ended up unrepresented in the administration of Brassó and Maros-Torda counties as well as in the non-Transylvanian counties of Bihar, Szatmár, and Szilágy, and they had only token representation on the councils of Kolozs, Szolnok, Doboka, Torda-Aranyos, Kis-Küküllő, and Nagy-Küküllő counties. On the other hand, the Romanians did constitute a strong minority in the councils of Alsó-Fehér and Szeben counties as well as in those of the non-Transylvanian Arad and Krassó-Szörény counties; they functioned as an active, well-organised opposition and, notwithstanding the political differences, they earned the respect — inspired largely by a sense of gentry solidarity — of the local Hungarian elites. In Hunyad, and even in Beszterce-Naszód, the Romanians managed to exploit their numerical superiority and boldly promoted their interests, blocking any hostile initiative. In these cases, the government had to resort to periodic local compromises to assure the smooth functioning of administration, or, in the terminology of the times, 'to sustain the Hungarians.' In the period of Dualism, the Romanians {3-654.} imposed their political presence most markedly in the counties of Hunyad, Fogaras, and Naszód (as well as in Krassó-Szörény and Máramaros), and the government had no choice but to accommodate this reality.