Measures after the Military Operations

After the enemy had been driven out, some symbolic steps were taken to reassure the Hungarians and Saxons in Transylvania. There were ceremonial visits, by the crown prince and the Bavarian king in early November 1916, and the next autumn by the German emperor. The state and social organizations mounted various aid programs; the 'Pro Transilvania' initiative was backed by István Bethlen. Funds were raised in Germany to help the Saxons, although the source was supposed to be kept a secret. The military command resorted to severe reprisals against Transylvania's Romanians, in part out of fury at Romania's attack, but more to assuage its sense of guilt at having left Transylvania undefended. Those suspected of disloyalty were prosecuted or interned, and some fugitives had their property confiscated; meanwhile, several hundred thousand ethnic Romanians were dutifully serving the monarchy on the battlefront. According to a confidential Romanian report, 'hundreds of Romanians from all walks of life — intellectuals, priests, teachers, even peasants — were arrested in Hungary and Transylvania. After months of investigation, most of them were set free, but instead of being allowed to return home, they were deported to western Hungary. A year ago [in early 1917], there were over one thousand such cases.'[102]102. Report attributed to A. Vaida-Voevod, spring 1918. Verwaltungs-archiv, Wien, Nachlass Beck, Nr. 39. In autumn 1917, the interior minister acknowledged that 825 people had been interned. The investigators painstakingly reviewed the earlier activites of Romanian political leaders, hoping to find incriminating evidence of irredentism.

After Tisza resigned as prime minister in May 1917, the education and religion portfolio was assigned to Count Albert Apponyi. The new minister set about the creation of a so-called culture zone in districts along the border with Romania. The plan {3-744.} called for replacing most Romanian Church-administered schools by state schools; only some 15-18 schools, possessed of long traditions, were left under the control of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was anticipated that within four or five years, some 1600 elementary schools and 800 nursery schools would be established, at a cost of over 80 million crowns. Faced with the virtual elimination of independent, Romanian-language education in the affected districts, the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Nagyszeben made desperate efforts to preserve his schools, then tried to persuade the implementing commission to include Romanian language as well as religion in the curriculum of the new schools. In June 1918, the education ministry suspended its subsidy to 477 teachers in 311 denominational schools in the culture zone. To ensure closer supervision, a permanent ministerial inspector was assigned to each Romanian teacher's college. (In the event, the implementation of the project was halted by the political revolution in the autumn of 1918.)

Largely at the instigation of István Bethlen, who was considered the 'minister for Transylvania,' the third Wekerle government issued a decree (4000/1917 M.E.) restricting real estate transactions in Transylvania and in Upper Hungary. Without expressly prohibiting the purchase of land by Romanian peasants, the decree raised the bureaucratic obstacles to such transactions; and it clearly aimed at preventing the Romanian middle classes from acquiring agricultural property. All sale or long-term lease of land had to be authorized by the Kolozsvár Land Commission, which came under the authority of the agriculture ministry. Over twelve months, the commission blocked the sale of some 5700 hectares. To be sure, most of the proposed transactions were of a speculative nature, and the same considerations soon led the government to apply the decree to the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, the Saxons developed a proposal for an ethnic corridor linking their communities in Beszterce County and in Szeben County. The project, which had a clearly anti-Romanian {3-745.} edge, involved the settlement in the corridor of Austrian and German (as well as Hungarian) soldiers who had been invalided out of the army. Tisza, and later, Wekerle supported the project in principle; but the German government was not disposed to provide settlers, 'least of all for a country where, sooner or later, they would face the threat of disappearance by becoming culturally assimilated to the Hungarians.'[103]103. Internal memorandum of the German Ministry of Home Affairs, February 25, 1917. Bundesarchiv. Koblenz, R 85/vorl. 2489 (III. b. 42085).

The military operations precipitated by the Romanian invasion caused considerable material damage, particularly in the Székelyföld, but it was hardly comparable to the destruction on the great, eastern and western battlefronts. Thanks to government grants, Transylvania recovered relatively quickly, and the moratorium decreed in summer 1916 was lifted within a year. The war economy continued to function, though with growing difficulty after 1915. Enterprises converted to the war effort prospered, but serious problems emerged in transportation, in the production of iron, and in coal mining, especially in the Zsil Valley. Numerous enterprises and financial institutions — including the Romanian Economul — increased their capital. In 1917 alone, nineteen new joint stock companies were created, with a capital of 15 million crowns; capital investment in Transylvania rose by close to 33 million crowns. There had not been such an abundance of capital since 1911. The industrial sector sprouted new branches; the exploitation of natural gas got under way, a chemical complex was built at Dicsőszent-márton, and bauxite was extracted in Bihar County — although the processing into aluminum took place in Germany. The conversion of industry to military purposes was managed in close cooperation with the Germans, and, inevitably, such cooperation had an impact on all industrial development in Transylvania.

The burden of war weighed most heavily on the peasants. They had to contend with compulsory deliveries, as well as with a serious labour shortage that they tried to alleviate by employing women and prisoners of war. Although some farmers managed to get exempted, the peasantry was the major source of cannon fodder. {3-746.} They fought bravely on the various battlefronts, sacrificing themselves in a war they had not sought. Back home, less land was cultivated, and the quantity of crops and livestock declined. The requisitions imposed in 1917 left peasants with only 10–12 kilograms of grain per head, per month, and the residue after sowing was also requisitioned. Meanwhile, the black market flourished; it was strongly stimulated by the fact that there were price controls on meat, but not on livestock. Although, unlike in Germany, there was no immediate threat of famine, towns and even villages suffered from occasional food shortages. By 1917, the shortage had become acute, and communal canteens scarcely alleviated the distress of the needy. (In Marosvásárhely, for example, 400 free and 300 subsidized meals were provided on a daily basis in this period.)

By 1916, the food shortages and a significant fall in real wages were inducing unrest in the ranks of the working class. The new militancy was fed by war-weariness and coincided with the emergence of social tensions and a political crisis. In May 1916, the Zsil Valley was racked by a wave of strikes that brought arrests, prosecution, and even some death sentences, though the latter were intended as a warning and were commuted. The workers' movement gathered strength after the February revolution in Russia. On Mayday, protest marches in Kolozsvár and Brassó (as well as in Arad and Temesvár) testified to a growing pacifism. In spring 1917, there were strikes by railwaymen and miners, and by the turn of the year workers were losing their fear of official reprisals. They generally sought a better standard of living, extension of the franchise, and peace. In the process, the trade unions rapidly gained in strength and influence.

For the ruling elite, peace became an urgent matter not only because of the deteriorating military situation, but also because of the danger of domestic upheaval. In the event, the crisis erupted before the government could consolidate its position by securing a peace settlement.