The Coalition Era and the Last Viennese Experiment:
The Initiatives of Francis Ferdinand

In the wake of the 1905 elections, the eight Romanian members of parliament, together with their Serb and Slovak colleagues, formed a 'nationalities club' chaired by the Romanian Teodor Mihali. They were all advocates of the universal franchise and civil rights, including the language rights of minorities.

In the summer of 1905, the monarch made an attempt to break the victorious coalition (whose leaders were Apponyi, Andrássy, and Ferenc Kossuth) by asking Count Géza Fejérváry to form a non-parliamentary, caretaker government. The 'nationalities club' soon came to play a distinctive role. When the new interior minister, József Kristóffy, promised to extend the franchise, the coalition — which was dedicated to preserve Magyar supremacy and the leading role of the propertied class — responded in alarm. Vienna hoped that this threat would weaken the resolve of Kossuth, Apponyi, and their associates, and lead them to abandon demands — all of which threatened the monarchy's unity — for a separate Hungarian customs zone, an independent central bank, and for introduction of Hungarian as the exclusive language of command in the Hungarian regiments of the common army. The Saxons had reservations about electoral reform, unlike the Romanians, who were overjoyed at the prospect that their long-standing demand for electoral reform might be satisfied. However, Kristóffy feared that the government, which the coalition was already characterizing as unpatriotic, might also be accused of weakness; he therefore did not follow Tisza's example, and refused to permit the minorities — including the Romanians — to hold separate congresses. For his part, {3-710.} the education minister ordered that henceforth, religious instruction in state schools was to be conducted exclusively in Hungarian, and not in the language of each denomination. The opposition's vocal campaign for 'national resistance' to the Fejérváry government found little support in Transylvania, except in part of the Székelyföld. The Romanians favoured the government with their patience. Their leaders urged them to show loyalty to the dynasty by paying taxes and performing their military service; some went so far as to advocate a pact with the caretaker government, and one Romanian newspaper became wholly beholden to the régime.

The monarch succeeded in bringing the coalition to heel. In spring 1906, the allied parties accepted the prescribed limitations on policy and formed a government headed by Sándor Wekerle, a loyal politician of the 1867 generation. Wekerle's appointment alarmed the Romanians, who, since the turn of the century, had been less fearful of liberal governments than of the Hungarian nationalist opposition; they considered the latter, and the Independence Party in particular, to be the 'bearers of Hungarian chauvinism.' Thus it came as no small surprise when the two Romanian archbishops and several Romanian politicians were invited to meet secretly with Wekerle and the ministers Apponyi, Andrássy, and Kossuth. The ill-prepared Romanians brought no detailed proposals, and they were perturbed when their interlocutors failed to make any concrete offers. One of them attempted to relieve the awkward silence by telling jokes. Wekerle urged the Romanians to define their policy priorities in preparation for the forthcoming elections and to forge pacts with the county authorities. In the event, the latter managed to get their candidates elected by traditional methods, without recourse to the Romanians' help. Eighteen Romanians got elected, and several of them turned out to be as active in parliament as their Serb and Slovak colleagues. Ştefan C. Pop and Vasile Goldiş thus gained some notoriety, as did the lawyer Maniu and the doctor Alexandru Vaida-Voevod, both of {3-711.} whom were destined to play a prominent role. The Romanian deputies spoke up about their nationality's grievances and, occasionally, about the peasantry's problems as well. Although some of their demands were constructive, their speeches did not set new standards of parliamentary debate; indeed, Vaida-Voevod indulged at times in vulgar heckling.

The coalition government's approach to the minority problem only reinforced the bitter tone of parliamentary debate. In a manner reminiscent of the Bánffy era, the government compensated for its compromises with Vienna by taking a firm stand on the nationality issue. However, the circumstances had changed. For one thing, the minorities' political movements were gaining strength and assurance. For another, the liberals' well-honed, paternalistic method of nipping social tensions in the bud fell victim to the sweeping personnel changes in state administration. Above all, the coalition wanted to display its commitment to build a 'Hungarian nation-state.' Numerous legal actions were initiated against minority newspapers, and a new 'pamphlet war' erupted over the alleged oppression of Romanians. The fruits of the coalition's nationalities policy were the education acts known as 'lex Apponyi.'

Act XXVII (1907) raised the salaries of teachers in secular and denominational schools to 1,000–1,200 crowns, and it provided for a government subsidy to the trustees. Strict conditions were attached. The schools had to provide 'unquestionably patriotic instruction in civics,' which involved not only the constitution but also greater stress on Hungarian language and literature. The coalition's cultural policy was driven by the fact that 40 percent of the population could not speak the official language, Hungarian. By classifying teachers as public servants, the act took away some of the trustees' disciplinary authority. If the state subsidy for a teacher's salary reached 200 crowns, his appointment required official approval. A further, weighty provision promised to be the source of much conflict: Hungarian had to be the exclusive language of {3-712.} instruction wherever the proportion of Hungarian pupils reached 50 percent, and where it reached 20 percent, instruction in Hungarian had to be provided for the pupils concerned. The coalition government also took pains to impose more symbolic measures of Magyarization. Every school building had to be adorned with the national coat of arms and bear the institution's name in Hungarian; the Hungarian flag had to be displayed on national holidays, printed forms had to be in Hungarian, and classrooms had to be decorated with pictures depicting Hungarian historical figures and events. The Magyarizing measures pointed towards an eventual nationalization of all schools. During the drafting stage, Saxons and Romanians resorted to all feasible forms of protest. The Greek Orthodox episcopacy sent a petition to Apponyi, and the Romanian party voiced its protests in parliament and at public meetings. In parliament, the Independence party's István Bethlen struck back by accusing Romanian politicians of irredentism; he was alluding to their links with Bucharest.

As usual in such desperate situations, the Romanian intelligentsia turned to Vienna for help; as usual, it earned a positive response, though not from the elderly monarch, but from his impatient, putative successor, Archduke Francis Ferdinand. Excluded from participating in the administration of the empire, the crown prince began in the early years of the century to consolidate his position. His private military office was organized by a talented and calculating officer, Major Alexander Brosch, whose activities encompassed not only military affairs but also politics and preparations for an early succession. Since the archduke's scope of authority was severely constrained by the Habsburgs' strict prescriptions and by the empire's political structure, Brosch had to conduct his independent political activities in covert fashion. He himself sometimes wore a disguise as he assembled a network of secret informers and advisors and held conspiratorial meetings. His 'Workshop,' created in 1906 at Vienna's Belvedere Palace, drew leading Austrian politicians, Bohemian aristocrats, minority politicians {3-713.} from Hungary, and even the disillusioned and politically discredited József Kristóffy.

The Transylvanian Saxons did not try to establish direct contact with the archduke. As for the Romanians, their first contact was with Max Wladimir Beck, one of the crown prince's political advisers, and prime minister between 1906 and 1908. Beck asked Vaida-Voevod to prepare reports on domestic conditions in Hungary. Beginning in fall 1906, the Romanian politician — using the pseudonym Dacus, and later Fidus — sent memoranda via Brosch to the archduke. Francis Ferdinand held his first secret meeting with Vaida-Voevod in February 1907, after the latter had made a speech in parliament affirming his loyalty to the dynasty and criticizing 'Hungarian separatism.' When the crown prince sought to assess the attitude of the Romanian Churches, he met in similarly cloak-and-dagger circumstances with two canons, Miron E. Cristea (who later rose to bishop) and Augustin Bunea.

The project for a federalized Greater Austria was developed by Aurel C. Popovici, a onetime defendant in the Replica case and now an emigre in Vienna. He proposed endowing the empire's ethnic — as distinct from historical — regions with the same powers that individual states had in the United States of America in order to facilitate their independent national development. All Romanians in historical Hungary would thus be encompassed in an autonomous region (with a piece carved out for the Székelys); he further anticipated that the kingdom of Romania would join the Habsburg empire, bringing about the union of all Romanians. Since the plan promised to strengthen the dynasty, Popovici was invited to participate in the Workshop. Resting all his hopes with the crown prince, Popovici decorated his flat with numerous portraits of Francis Ferdinand on horseback, as an infantryman, and in civilian garb. The crown prince was careful not to become fully identified with any project, and thus with Popovici's scheme, but he later instructed that it be recast in a more conservative spirit.

{3-714.} Neither Vaida, nor Popovici, nor Maniu (whose links to the crown prince were more tenuous) became a puppet in the hands of the Francis Ferdinand. They hoped that if they performed political services for the future monarch, he would break the Hungarians' hegemony and broaden the rights of nationalities. They were aware of his aversion to Dualism and of his antipathy for Hungarians. ('The Hungarians are all rabble, regardless of whether they are minister or duke, cardinal or burgher, peasant, hussar, domestic servant, or revolutionary,' wrote the archduke in 1904; he regarded even István Tisza as a revolutionary and 'patented traitor.')[73]73. The crown prince's letter of 30 July 1904, in R. A. Kann, Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand Studien (Vienna, 1976), pp. 114-5. The Romanians knew that he was plotting to overthrow the coalition government, and to introduce universal franchise in Hungary (though not in Austria) in order to 'unleash all the nationalities against the Hungarians.' Vaida and his companions offered the Romanian party's assistance in the battle against the coalition, and they gave their backing to the crown prince's most loyal Hungarian follower, Kristóffy. Their hopes were raised by the crown prince's professions of sympathy for Romanians — notably during his visit to Sinaia, in 1909 — and encouraged him in the belief that Transylvania's Romanians (in Francis Ferdinand's typically extravagant formulation) 'always sacrifice life and limb for the emperor and the dynasty, while the Hungarians are always traitors and take up arms against their ruler and the dynasty.'[74]74. E. Hickl, Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand und die Rumänien-Politik Österreich-Ungarns, Dissertation manuscript, Nationalbibliothek Wien, 1964, p. 63.

Apparently, the Romanian National party had gained sufficient self-confidence that it could refuse merely to serve as the crown prince's ace in hand. Vaida's group exploited the machiavellian conservatism of the shadow cabinet in the Belvedere; the Romanians tried their hand at manipulation as well, to win the crown prince's support for their national movement and thereby to enhance their own political prestige. After the collapse, in 1910, of the coalition government, the Romanians gradually lowered their expectations regarding the Belvedere and the possibility of fundamentally altering the Dualist system. In 1911, when the Workshop {3-715.} drew up plans for the pretender's first tasks, Maniu and the Slovak Milan Hodža urged Francis Ferdinand to take an essentially constitutional approach to the modernization of Hungary; the archduke, for his part, frequently observed that what he needed to deal with Hungary was an iron-fisted Haynau.