Negotiations at Arad

On 9 November, the Romanian National Council in Arad sent to the 'government of the Hungarian National Council' in Budapest an 'ultimatum' demanding that the latter surrender sovereignty over eastern Hungary. The transfer of sovereignty, it argued, was justified not only by the right to national self-determination, but also by the need to protect lives and property. The territory claimed by the Romanians extended beyond historical Transylvania to include the counties of Torontál, Temes, Krassó-Szörény, Arad, Bihar, Szilágy, Szatmár, and Máramaros, 'as well as the Romanian parts of Csanád, Békés, and Ugocsa.'[21]21.Letter from the Rumanian National Council, OL, Nemzetiségi Ügyek Minisztériuma, 1918, IX. t. 240. The Romanian National Council wanted the transfer to be effected on the basis of full legal continuity, and asked the Hungarian government to issue an appropriate proclamation; in the meantime, it made public its own decision to seek secession.

On November 10, Mihali and Vaida sent emissaries to Iaşi to urge the dispatch of Romanian troops to Transylvania; the main reason, noted Iorga in his diary, was to 'stop bolshevism.' The same day, unaware of this latest initiative, the Hungarian government debated the Arad memorandum at a meeting of the expanded cabinet. Jászi recommended negotiation with the Romanians aiming at a Swiss-type, cantonal confederation to resolve the problem of Transylvania; even the nationalists Apáthy and István Bethlen endorsed the plan. Meanwhile, the government dispatched General Zoltán Szabó to Kolozsvár, where he was to make military preparations and thereby exert pressure on the Romanian National Council. The government's sense of urgency was inspired by the belief that the Romanians would foment an uprising in {3-769.} Transylvania if their demands were not met; as Apáthy observed, 'a clause in the armistice agreement, one that hung over our heads like Damocles' sword, gave the allies the right to occupy any part of Hungary in the interest of preserving order.'[22]22. Apáthy-iratok, OSzK Kézirattára. Quart. Hun. 2955.

Hungarians expected much from Jászi's visit to Arad, for they knew that he had good contacts and was trusted in Romanian circles. As early as 9 November, local papers were speculating that parts of Transylvania would be evacuated, but the Hungarians remained hopeful and expected the minister for nationality affairs to effect a miracle. The government maintained a façade of optimism: if the negotiations were successful, 'then we can forestall the annexation of Transylvania to Romania, preserve our territorial integrity from the Czechs, and lay the foundations of a federative state.'[23]23. Magyarország, 12 November 1918. With the negotiations, Károlyi and his associates were playing their last card in defence of democratic integrity. The government delegation, accompanied by members of the Transylvanian committee and by delegates of the Saxon and Swabian national councils, reached Arad on 13 November. Jászi told journalists that 'if the Romanians really want peace, they will be compelled to accept the terms we have devised.'[24]24. J. Komáromi, 'Jászi Aradon,' Új Magyar Szemle, I, 1920, pp. 27-35.

Because of Romanian protests, representatives of the non-Romanian councils could participate in the negotiations only as non-voting members. This was hardly democratic, since in the disputed territory there were (according to Jászi's calculation) only some 2,939,000 ethnic Romanians out of a population of 6,841,000. However, the Romanian middle classes had become so mesmerized by the prospect of taking possession of Transylvania that they were not disposed to share power. Maniu later observed that 'it is my firm conviction that the definitive masters of Transylvania, be they Hungarians or Romanians, will come to control the Danube delta and thereby form a state that wields decisive power in eastern Europe.'[25]25. I. Maniu, 'Unirea Ardealului,' published radio broadcast, 23 January 1934, pp. 6-7.

{3-770.} In a soon to be famous address, Jászi inaugurated the negotiations: 'This is our last chance to create new conditions that can preserve us from bolshevism, which threatens us all equally ... Peacemaking is not in the hands of Marshal Foch and the other generals, who, as we have just observed in Belgrade, are not different from the sabre-rattling Hindenburgs and Ludendorffs; instead, the peace will be forged by the European soviet republic, by the council of workers and soldiers. The Soviet Republic will be neutral with regard to the promises that certain powers have made to accommodate the imperialism of Czechs and others.'[26]26. Aradi Hírlap, 14 November 1918; O. Jászi, Visszaemlékezés a román nemzeti komitéval folytatott aradi tárgyalásaimra (Kolozsvár, 1921). More significantly, Jászi proposed that a common arrangement be found for a new, democratic country, one in which Romanians would enjoy self-government wherever they formed compact communities or accounted for the majority of the population. He noted, however, that it was 'necessary to create common institutions for the protection of common interests (the economy, the monetary system, transportation, and food supply).'[27]27. Marea Unire dela 1 decembrie (Bucharest, 1943), pp. 34-36; Magyarország, 12 November 1918. He was prepared to cede to the Romanians full authority over the territory extending to the line linking Orsova, Fehértemplom, Radna, Tenke, Élesd, Zilah, and Visóvölgy, and he also offered them representation at the peace negotiations. Dezső Bokányi endorsed the proposal on behalf of the Social Democratic Party.

Jászi's proposal undercut to a considerable extent the demands of the Romanian National Council. It envisaged the creation of a complex set of enclaves to accommodate Transylvania's ethnic mosaic. The proposed Hungarian enclaves included the Székelyföld, Kolozsvár's hinterland as far as Bánffyhunyad, Dés, and Nagysármás, as well as Petrozsény, Déva, Vajdahunyad, Resica, and Lugos; there would be three Romanian enclaves. Jászi also offered to have the National Statistical Office's demographic data verified by an international commission. However, the Hungarian scheme was overtaken by events. Jászi had brought a comprehensive plan and wanted to implement everything — the national enclaves, Romanian representation in the government, common {3-771.} institutions for matters of shared interest — before the peace negotiations began. All this aroused the Romanian leaders' suspicion that he wanted to present the peace conference with a fait accompli. Even so, his proposal was not without effect, and there were rumours — obviously not without foundation — that some Romanian politicians had gone so far as to draft a declaration of acceptance.

That evening, while the Romanians held council, Jászi's group met with local Radicals to reinforce that party's position in the region. After Jászi, Bódog Somló, and Marcell Benedek had delivered their speeches, Dezső Bokányi evoked the revolutionary movement of the Hungarian proletariat to challenge the Romanian demands, while Apáthy, in desperate confusion, argued for a consolidation of the monarchy.

The following day, as Maniu arrived from Vienna, the news came that allied diplomats in Paris had approved the terms of the armistice drafted by Károlyi and General Franchet d'Esperey at Belgrade on 13 November; this agreement left all of Hungary under the administration of the Budapest government, although the Entente forces were allowed to advance from Beszterce to the Maros River. This news comforted the Hungarian delegation, but it did not alter the outcome of the negotiations. In the afternoon, the Romanian National Council informed the Hungarian delegation that it rejected Jászi's proposal, on the grounds that such provisional solutions did not guarantee public order and the safety of lives and property in the territories that they claimed. Jászi countered with an eleven-point, transitional scheme according to which the Romanian National Council would assume administrative responsibility for districts with a Romanian majority, and would have representation in parliament; ethnic minorities on both sides would come under the protection of article 44 of the 1868 statute. But the Romanians insisted that the new proposal 'still did not provide a sufficient basis for the Romanian National Council to guarantee the maintenance of public order.'[28]28. I. Apáthy, 'Erdély az összeomlás után,' Új Magyar Szemle, 2-3, 1920, pp. 147-76; Marea Unire, p. 39; Unirea Transilvaniei cu România (Bucharest, 1972), p. 617.

{3-772.} This latest rebuff led Jászi to ask, in some perplexity, what the Romanians really expected. Total secession, answered Maniu. Yet that did not end the negotiations. In its message of rejection, the Romanian National Council had also requested 10 million crowns, as well as arms and technical assistance, for the Romanian national guard. The minister of defence began to comply, but the transfer of weapons was soon halted.

The Arad negotiations revealed that the Károlyi government was sincere in seeking a fair solution to the problem of the nationalities. Bearing in mind the centuries of shared history, the requisites of a modern economy, and the intermingling of ethnic groups in all parts of the country, the government would have liked to preserve the country's territorial integrity within a new political structure. Jászi was ready to go to unprecedented lengths in making concessions, but naturally he could not consent to the total secession of parts of the country.

Despite the threatening tone of their ultimatum, the Romanian leaders were content to leave the final decision to the royal Romanian army and to the peace conference. (According to a report from Hungarian railways, small units of Romanian troops had appeared as early as November 8 at a number of train stations near the border.) The Romanian politicians chose not to make a unilateral proclamation about transferring power, for they believed that this 'would cause tremendous confusion among Hungary's ethnic groups, and such confusion would be enough to upset an already unstable public order.'[29]29. Aradi Hírlap, 15 November 1918. They were all the more eager to avoid such disturbances because a gradual transfer of power had already begun. The handover of the old administrative structures had the tacit consent of the government and gave the impression of legal continuity; on the other hand, the failure of the negotiations and the evidence of irreconcilable positions gave the lower middle classes the impression that revolutionary change was under way. After this partial transfer of power, the task of the Romanian leaders was to {3-773.} make their aims clearly known to the Hungarian government, and perhaps to the Romanian government as well. They wanted to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that a takeover had been effected, or at least was under way, before the signing of a peace treaty. This was the goal of progressive elements in the Romanian middle class and of right-wing social democrats.