In the Shadow of Attempts at Counter-Revolution;
The Saxons' Response to the Revolution and the National Assembly of Romanians at Balázsfalva

Although the leading circles at Vienna could not forestall social change, their preference grew, if only as a conditioned reflex, for a forceful restoration of unity in the empire. They made preparations for counter-revolutionary measures that would curtail and then crush the campaign for a constitutional democracy founded on the liberal principles of freedom and popular sovereignty.

For the time being, the parties to the struggle were trying to take each other's measure. Paradoxically, it was Ferdinand who emerged as the key figure in this succession of crises. He was a weak ruler, and the contending forces vied for his support and the right to issue proclamations in his name. Each party aimed to partially or fully appropriate the monarch's 'will,' for initiatives needed his consent in order to be regarded as legitimate by the others. It did not really matter what the monarch thought. What mattered was what he signed or, rather, what he was made to sign — by the various cliques at court, the two most influential ones being headed by Archduke Francis Charles and his determined wife, Sofia, and by their equally determined opponent, Lajos Batthyány, the Hungarian prime minister.

{3-233.} On several issues, the monarch overrode the Austrian cabinet's decisions and yielded to the Hungarian government. However, at the end of April, he told his nephew, the Palatine Stephen (who had a close working relationship with the Hungarian politicians), that he considered the Hungarian government to be merely the legal successor of the earlier one, which had a rather limited scope of authority; thus, he maintained that there had been no change in Hungary's relations with the other provinces of the monarchy, and that, as a matter of course, he would retain his authority over the Hungarian army. He later reiterated his point of view to the Austrian defence minister. All this was partly contradicted by the fact that previously, on April 25, the emperor had already accepted a new Austrian constitution which did not apply to the countries belonging to the Hungarian crown. Nevertheless, on May 10, the Austrian government, acting as the 'general ministry,' invited the Hungarian government to harmonize the military, financial and foreign affairs of the two 'realms' in order to secure Austria's status as a great power. The proposal did not specify the modalities of harmonization, and when the Hungarians responded, Vienna made little effort to negotiate a compromise.

It appeared that Austria's constitutional government was unable to formulate a coherent approach to the 'Hungarian question.' Some of its members wanted a peaceful resolution of the problems, but others — including Latour, the defence minister — favoured an absolutist centralization of the empire and went so far as to evoke civil war and a military 'solution.' For the time being, Vienna backed Croatia's governor in his opposition to the Hungarian government and hoped to preserve Transylvania as a base for action against independence-minded Hungary. Field Marshal Baron Ádám Récsey, who was of Transylvanian origin, wrote in this vein to his former brother-in-arms, the elder János Bethlen; if the movement to unify Hungary and Transylvania goes too far, 'the restoration of order will start by our getting hold of {3-234.} Transylvania so that we can squeeze rebellious Hungary between two fires,' and this with the 'help' of the Romanians.[15]15. I. Deák, ed., 1848. A szabadságharc története levelekben ahogyan a kortársak látták (Budapest, n.d.), p. 77. Others entertained even bolder plans and counted on Transylvania as a base for future imperial expansion in the Balkans. Austrian ministers who opposed union speculated that 'the Romanian nation in Transylvania might serve as a core to which the Romanian principalities could be linked under Austrian suzerainty.'[16]16. The opinion of the ministers of finance, public works, and defence, minuted at the June 1 cabinet meeting, and quoted in Á. Károlyi, Az 1848-diki pozsonyi törvénycikkek az udvar előtt (Budapest, 1936), p. 344.

In these circumstances, the Hungarian government had no choice but to pursue its plan for union with Transylvania. It had to do so out of self-defence, to extricate itself from the imperial embrace, and to satisfy the demands for national unity. Occasionally, there resurfaced a wish for Hungarian supremacy within the monarchy, that is, for an empire with Buda as its centre, not least in order to counter the oft-evoked 'Slav dominance' and its threatening consequences. The Hungarian government acknowledged its duty to share in the empire's defence; at the same time, it sought to alter the constitutional structure, so that Hungary would be linked to the other provinces not by the ruler's imperial status but by his possession of the Hungarian Crown; in other words, by a 'personal union.' Given the rigid ideas that prevailed regarding state power, the monarch might thus have been prevented from playing the role traditionally ascribed to emperors in the European balance of power system. Wishing to explore to the fullest the potential for revolutionary change in Europe, the Hungarian government sought the extension of constitutionalism, self-determination, and foreign policy autonomy not only to Hungary, but also to the Italian provinces and Polish Galicia — a significant initiative, though one which turned out to be merely one of several 'distant possibilities that never materialized.'[17]17. I. Hajnal, A Batthyány-kormány külpolitikája (Budapest, 1957), p. 65. Sardinia was already waging war to incorporate the Italian provinces into a unified Italy, and it was reported that some Austrian statesmen were prepared to relinquish these dependencies. On the other hand, the Germans' vociferous demands for unity raised the possibility of a German confederation {3-235.} that Austria itself could join. There loomed the possibility of 'multiple confederations of states, in which each member would be free to forge foreign links.'[18]18. Ibid, p. 66. However, Austria's leaders were too steeped in the exercise of power to experiment with untried formulas.

Although, in May 1848, the Austrians resorted to purely political pressures in their efforts to influence Hungary's government, the 'Spring of Nations' did not pass without a foretaste of the bloody events to come. To be sure, Vienna could not issue secret instructions for decisive and well-timed action until it had restored the prestige of the army and ensured that the emperor exercised full and exclusive control over the latter. The military high commands at Nagyszeben, Temesvár, and Buda established regular contact to monitor developments in their respective regions. On May 7, the monarch instructed the Hungarian defence minister to assume his functions, and the Austrian defence minister to cooperate with his Hungarian counterpart. However, Buda's military commander took his cue from the king's communication of late April, which he expected would lead to Batthyány's resignation; faced with the taunts of demonstrators, he rashly ordered his troops to disperse the crowd. Although the commander was subsequently withdrawn, his officers anticipated further violent clashes. A message, sent in mid-May to their colleagues in Transylvania, reflected their state of uncertainty: 'God only knows what tomorrow may bring.'[19]19. Archives of Military History, Documents of the Age of Absolutism, Acten des Generalkommandos in Hermannstadt 1848-1849 (hereinafter: HL Generalkommando). Präsidial-Acten 1848:494. Officers of the imperial and royal army at Kassa toyed vainly with the idea of military action to crush the revolts in Pest and Vienna. In Prague, a demonstration similar to the one in Buda led Prince Alfred Windischgrätz to restore 'order,' but only at the cost of bloody street battles; he would later lead the attack on Hungary.

The prospects for restoring the prestige and authority of the military were much better in Transylvania than in Hungary. In late April and early May, the conservatives at court and the military command in Transylvania found growing support in the ranks of the Saxon elite. At the same time, political orientations that were {3-236.} already clearly manifest in the Reform Era now came into sharper conflict and divided Saxon public opinion.

Under the impetus of the March revolution, hundreds of people in Brassó and Segesvár signed petitions asking the Universitas to liberalize political life. The burghers of Nagyszeben shrank from such revolutionary action and chose silent protest. Until late April, Saxon political leaders were disposed to weigh the alternatives and temporize. They occasionally promoted minor reforms, and remained confident that, since Saxon village communities had not suffered from a feudal relationship between landlords and peasants, the Saxon constitution was 'consistent with the spirit of the times.'[20]20. Franz Salmen to the magistrate of Brassó, Nagyszeben, 14 April 1848, quoted in Pascu-Cheresteşiu, Documente II, p. 39. The source of that opinion, the Saxon count Franz von Salmen, still believed in mid-April that overt agitation against union would be inopportune, and insistence on territorial autonomy even more so. The Saxon leaders realized that setting the latter goal above all others could lead to their political isolation; on the other hand, promotion of autonomy might allow them to exploit political changes in the empire and Europe and to participate in Vienna's counter-revolutionary maneuvers, which would determine the fate of Transylvania as a whole. Such an approach was all the more feasible since the Saxon champions of liberalism — including teachers and priests, such as Georg Daniel Teutsch and Carl Gooss, who had studied at German universities, and Brassó journalists of German and Austrian origin — held no political office of any importance.

The liberals did have an impact on public opinion, precipitating some dissension among Saxon towns. Towards the end of March, Nagyszeben sent a declaration of loyalty to Vienna, and, by late April, Salmen was actively working to thwart unification. At Brassó, on the other hand, the red, white, and green flag of Hungary flew from the tower of the city hall. The delegates from Brassó and Segesvár to the Universitas were disposed to champion their towns' interests rather than those of the Saxon nation. This was a form of challenge to the influence of Nagyszeben; Brassó's council formally {3-237.} protested at the secret dispatch of a delegation to Vienna. The main battle was fought in the press. Brassó's papers fervently acclaimed the March revolution and denounced the 'utopian inspiration' of efforts to consolidate Saxon autonomy in a provincia cibiniensis. They favoured, instead, a constitutional order, with 'free institutions' and popular representation, similar to the oft-cited models of multinational Switzerland and the United States of America. Saxon liberals accepted the unification of Hungary with Transylvania because they were confident that it would facilitate liberal reforms and the expansion of the middle class, and thus serve the national interests of Saxons. They expected much from the emergence of a unified and liberal Germany. Since the Hungarian government already looked upon Germany as a potential ally, the Saxon liberals could plausibly argue that this 'natural alliance' would impel Hungarian liberals to respect the Saxons' national identity and language rights.

The progressive burghers of Brassó and Segesvár drew confidence from the commercial prosperity and favourable prospects of their towns. Many of them were disposed to endorse the Hungarian national movement's goal of union, at least as long as it promised to facilitate liberal reform at the local level. Another condition, which reflected prevailing opinion in their towns, was the guarantee of the Saxons' national rights. Their attitudes must also have been influenced by the proximity of the Székelyföld, which served as a reminder of the imperatives of interdependence and coexistence. Thus, in Brassó, public opinion was shaped by the 'intelligentsia.' In Nagyszeben, by contrast, that function was assumed by 'people of experience' who drew their information about developments in Vienna from the military high command and the Saxon chargé d'affaires at the imperial court. Given the town's stagnant economy, many of them feared that in a new, constitutional Hungary, the Saxon 'capital' might decline into an agrarian backwater. Others anticipated that while union 'might promote urban {3-238.} expansion,' it would bring down a 'death sentence' on the Saxon nation;[21]21. J. Graef, Brassó's delegate to the Universitas, to the magistrate of Brassó, Nagyszeben, 23 April 1848; quoted in Pascu-Cheresteşiu, Documente II, p. 254. this view came to prevail particularly among people who stood to benefit from the preservation of traditional privileges and who felt threatened by the liberals' proposals for reform.

Many must have had the impression that the Saxon towns' shifting attitudes regarding union owed more to 'emotional desires and hopes' than to 'political rationality.'[22]22. The dissenting opinion of Graef, who was inclined to oppose the union; quoted in C. Göllner, Die Siebenbürger Sachsen in den Revolutionsjahren 1848-1849 (Bucharest, 1967), p. 100. Nonetheless, when Vienna gave signs of interfering with the liberalization process that issued from the revolution, the Saxons' political outlook came to be dominated by their sense of vulnerability. This tendency was well illustrated in the accounts of the visit, in early May, of Governor József Teleki to Nagyszeben for talks with representatives of the Universitas. The distorted reports found in conservative Saxon newspapers (soon to be relayed by the Austrian and German press) and in a contemporary pamphlet testified more to purposeful manipulation of public opinion than to the suspicion and excessive sensitivity that prevailed.[23]23. 'Schwarz und Gelb,' a contemporary pamphlet; Der Siebenbürger Bote, 5 May 1848, no. 41. The governor's assertion that, in public administration, the German language enjoyed the same guarantees as Croatian, was construed as insistence that 'Hungarian must be the official language.' Teleki evoked the need for 'liberal reform' of Saxon local government, notably with regard to the election of officiers and the principle of ministerial responsibility; for a 'most gentle' reorganization of Saxon municipalities; and for incorporation of some of the liberal notions of the Diploma Andreanum into the Hungarian constitution. Of all this, the public only learned that the governor had threatened a purposeful territorial restructuring.[24]24. The report of Johann Löw and Albert Löw, Universitas delegates of Szerdahelyszék, Nagyszeben, 3 May 1848; quoted in A. Miskolczy, 'Teleki József gubernátor látogatása Nagyszebenben,' Levéltári Szemle (1978), p. 692. Led to believe that a great danger was looming, many officers, students, militiamen, and other citizens of this previously peaceful town took to the streets to protest and wave the German flag. The respected high commissioner of the province, Joseph Bedeus, considered unification unavoidable and had argued in favour of it, but he now found himself isolated. For similar reasons, Friedrich Hann, editor of the Nagyszeben journal Transsilvania, and a partisan of {3-239.} union, was compelled to retire. Elderly conservatives and young liberals proudly declared themselves anti-unionist and formed an 'unnatural alliance' against the union of Transylvania with Hungary, calling instead for the union of Transylvania with Austria, that is, imperial unity. Their goal was Saxon autonomy, a state within the state, a wholly autonomous unit in an empire evolving into a unified confederation of states. Another, more popular and traditional alternative for the Saxons was to become a part of an autonomous Transylvania. Daniel Roth (a priest and writer who became the new editor of Transsilvania and was knowledgable about Moldavian affairs) wrote a pamphlet in which he speculated that the Romanian principalities might be incorporated into Austria, and that the Saxons might obtain national rights within Daco–Romania. Meanwhile, anti-unionists rejected the Hungarian constitutional option in favour of the constitution drawn up for the Austria's hereditary provinces. They hoped that the latter would be extended to the rest of the empire; indeed, a clause in the April constitution — one often contrasted favourably with the Hungarian nationalist proposals — specifying that 'the nationality and language of every national community shall be guaranteed,' was included by the Universitas in the draft Saxon constitution.[25]25. The draft of the constitution by the Universitas was published in Satellit des Siebenbürger Wochenblatts, 15 May 1848, no. 39. West of the Leitha River, in the Austrian lands, this formula signified a recognition, trimmed to the interests of the empire, of individual and linguistic rights, and not a guarantee of collective minority rights. It had roughly the same meaning, on a smaller scale, in the Szászföld, where it fitted in with the notion of a politically unified Saxon nation that included Hungarians and Romanians as well.

Saxon leaders had every reason to anticipate that discontent would swell among Romanians in their region, and that the latter might seek Hungarian help. In Szászváros, Romanians and Hungarians demonstrated jointly in favour of unification. In Brassó, many young Romanians pinned on the rosette of unification. Led by lawyers, they joined people from neighbouring villages in a public {3-240.} protest; the 500–600 demonstrators became so agitated that Saxon burghers feared a violent clash. A few days earlier, on April 3, the Universitas had taken preventive action by acknowledging the right of Romanians to hold public office and pursue crafts, and granting privileges to priests, but it did not address the language issue. In many places, Romanians were induced to enrol in the newly-created national guard. These measures momentarily served to still the unrest among Romanians in the Szászföld. The prospect of a confrontation between Hungarians and Romanians diverted attention from the underlying conflict between Saxons and Romanians.

Many leading Saxons concluded that the best tactic would be to join forces with Romanians and the military to thwart unification. Thus, in early May, Saxon demonstrators in Nagyszeben hailed Romanians as Transylvania's fourth nation. The Saxons' anti-unionist press made clear that this status would simply entitle Romanians to representation in parliament, and that the existing territorial system could not be altered. Stephan Ludwig Roth explained that each of the four nations would obtain one vote in the diet, that the language law would remain in effect, and that the court would delegate 'regalists' to secure its influence 'against democracy.' These preliminaries lent great significance to the Romanians' national meeting, which was scheduled for May 15 at Balázsfalva.

Conscious of its heavy responsibility, the Romanian intelligentsia felt increasingly powerful and optimistic. Those who accepted unification and favoured cooperation, or at least the avoidance of confrontation with the Hungarians, and who, either out of opportunism or because of their noble descent, did not exhibit the bitter rebelliousness of the common folk, found themselves more and more isolated. They included Bishop Leményi as well as Alexandru Sterca Şuluţiu, the vicar of Szilágysomlyó and a dedicated champion of the Romanians' national awakening. Timotei {3-241.} Cipariu, editor of the Balázsfalva newspaper, wrote a series of articles on unification; at first, he analyzed its merits, then, in late April, changed tack to reflect the shifting winds of politics and concentrated on its drawbacks. Later, he endorsed and reprinted an article from the Wiener Zeitung urging the Romanian principalities to volunteer for membership in the Austrian family of nations. Even the normally moderate and liberal Bariţ submitted to the need for consensus; for his part, the young Orthodox bishop, Andrei Şaguna, prudently opted to follow the lead of the emperor. The delegate from a group of revolutionary plotters in Wallachia, August Treboniu Laurian, initially argued (in articles that were published much later) in favour of unification, then produced verses lauding the advantages of fourth-nation status. The repressive measures taken by county authorities served mainly to alienate the radical young Romanians.

Simion Bărnuţiu, who made his name primarily as an influential ideologist of the Romanian independence movement, consistently rejected unification. By early April, he was anticipating that the imperial and Hungarian governments would clash; he did not believe that, in such an eventuality, 'Hungarians and Romanians would fight side by side.'[26]26. Bărnuţiu's letter of 7 April 1848 (?) to Iacob Mureşianu, quoted in A.A. Mureşianu, 'Simion Bărnuţiu în prejma marii adunării naţionale a românilor din 3/15 mai de la Blaj,' Transsilvania (1921), pp. 255-9. On May 14, in the church at Balázsfalva, he delivered a powerful address that testified to his faith in national self-determination, the equality of nationalities, and harmonious relations between nations. Yet, in his passionate desire to raise public consciousness, he also strove to incite mistrust: 'We shall get a poisoned morsel from the table of Hungarian freedom.' His frequent references to Switzerland could not compensate for an evident wish to see the Romanians rule over Hungarians. On the one hand, Bărnuţiu accused the Hungarians of harbouring hegemonic designs over the Romanian principalities; on the other hand, he declared that Transylvania was 'our motherland, a fortress girded by nature's high barriers; without its protection the Magyars of the Pannonian plains would be as defenceless as rabbits,' and predicted {3-242.} that 'if unification does not succeed, the ties between the Hungarians in Transylvania and those in Hungary will be severed, and the Transylvanian Hungarians will naturally and gradually disappear.'[27]27. C. Bodea, ed., 1848 la Români. O istorie în date şi mărturii (Bucharest, 1982), p. 463.

The Hungarians exploited their social preeminence to preserve their hegemony; the Romanians cited their greater numbers to justify the same end. Both sides tried to compensate for their particular weaknesses by early demonstrations of power, thus threatening the very inter-ethnic harmony that they claimed to aspire to. As their fears grew that an historical opportunity might slip away, the idealized vision of nationhood became more alluring, and both risked losing their grip on reality. In this overheated atmosphere, the nation became the dominant factor in human relationships. Bărnuţiu was the most expansive in his predictions for a rich national future; in his view, nothing was as dangerous as man's refusal to submit to the nation's will. He gave voice to the Romanians' ancestors, making them urge the Romanians of the day to hold fast until the 'Capitolium' was raised again, and the 'Roman people and their Senate' once again dispatched Trajan's legions beyond the Danube. Fearing that the abolition of serfdom and a liberal Hungarian government would not give sufficient scope for the Romanian national movement, most members of the Romanian intelligentsia found Bărnuţiu's logic irrefutable and adopted him as their leader — a leader who, by his own account, argued with the passion and solemnity of dixi et salvavi animam meam.

To be sure, there were also some divergent views. Elek Jakab, who had written about the national and social struggles of the Romanians with great compassion in the Erdélyi Híradó, was shocked to observe how young Romanians, previously friendly, came to exhibit extreme 'anti-Hungarianism.' Yet some stood apart from the camp of those who yearned for hegemony on the grounds that they had 'suffered enough.' Avram Iancu, for one, professed the idealism of the 'Spring of Nations' in urging that Transylvania {3-243.} be turned into a foederatus status that guaranteed linguistic equality. Realism and acknowledgment of the necessity for coexistence were not wholly absent at Balázsfalva; at the opening session of the national meeting, participants were invited not only to swear allegiance to the emperor and the 'Roman,' i.e. the Romanian nation, but also to pledge respect for 'all the nations of Transylvania.'

Observers estimated that between thirty and forty thousand people had dutifully shown up, all eager to find the way to a better future. The peasants had particularly high expectations. The Romanian national movement needed to elaborate a program that would appeal to the masses yet not offend the court with its radicalism. In preparing the documents that would be submitted to these very different audiences, the managers of the meeting tried to reconcile divergent political tendencies, hence the ambiguity noted by many historians. Although the intention was to draft a modern political agenda, the Balázsfalva program was not wholly free of feudal influences; this was unavoidable, for both the Romanian national movement and Transylvania's political system bore the imprint of feudalism. The Romanian intelligentsia wanted to prepare both for the eventuality that the Kolozsvár diet liquidated all remnants of feudalism, and for the possibility that some elements of feudalism were retained. The movement had to be sheltered against the risk that others might turn it into a mere device against the Hungarians; its autonomy had to be preserved. In accordance with the spirit of Bărnuţiu's address, the meeting issued a demand for the independence of the Romanian nation, translated into German as Nationale Selbstständigkeit — in other words, national self-determination. And to make clear that this was not analogous to the Saxons' wish for a crown province, subordinated to Vienna and consisting of a few counties, it was stressed that the Romanian nation formed an integral part of Transylvania. The demand for self-determination was enshrined in a sixteen-point resolution and a petition. Given the Saxon interpretation, it is understandable that {3-244.} the Romanians did not simply seek recognition as a fourth nation and produced, instead, an elaboration of the requisites for national existence. The first requisite was representation by population in both parliament and local councils. The 'fourth-nation' option was not totally rejected: the last point invited the 'cohabiting nations' to postpone consultations on union 'until the Romanians become an organized and constitutional nation endowed with the right to participate and vote in the diet.'[28]28. V. Cheresteşiu, A balázsfalvi, p. 491. Since the assembled Romanians wanted their national independence to be endorsed by the emperor, the delegation they dispatched to Kolozsvár was instructed to avoid negotiation and merely deliver the Balázsfalva petition to the diet.

Although Bărnuţiu and his supporters intended that the meeting serve simply to proclaim national independence, other, more tangible demands had to be registered as well: the abolition of serfdom, equitable taxation, and, for the first time in the history of the national movement, economic demands with political undertones, notably free trade between Transylvania and the Romanian principalities.

The assembly in Balázsfalva highlighted the mutual dependence and common purpose of the intelligentsia and common people. It was, thus, a milestone in the process of national awakening as well as in the history of Romanian progressivism. The intelligentsia felt that it was participating in a signal act of national resurrection. Even the young Moldavian boyars who had taken refuge in Transylvania found their isolation dissolved in the rapturous spirit of brotherhood and felt guilty about noble origins. A few days later, Moldavians sojourning in Brassó were inspired by the meeting to draft a program which, for the first time in the history of national movements in the Romanian principalities, included a demand for the abolition of serfdom.

At the time, several observers, Hungarian and Saxon, noted that the Romanians' 'sense of unity in nationhood' and general political awakening seemed to lend extraordinary strength to their {3-245.} national movement. The intelligentsia had persuaded villagers of the advantages of putting Romanians in charge of public administration. Their arguments were registered in the manifesto published after the meeting: 'All branches of administration should have senior officials who issue from the bosom of the Romanian nation, so that people no longer have to communicate their grievances to foreigners who hate them and will not deal justly with them.'[29]29. Ibid, p. 510. Peasant movements, large and small, often echoed the Balázsfalva demands: 'We want a nation, that is, Romanian masters and the Romanian language.'[30]30. Al. Papiu-Ilarian, Istoria Românilor din Dacia Superioară (Sibiu, 1942), p. 36. Alas, such political agitation served at times to incite hatred for other religions and nations; even the poet Andrei Mureşan would write about 'pagan oppressors' who knew 'neither law nor God.'[31]31. N. Popea, Memorialul Archiepiscopului şi Metropolitului Andrei baron de Şaguna I (Sibiu, 1889), p. 80.

The Balázsfalva meeting had other, grave consequences. Incited by the intellectual leaders of the movement, and encouraged by the Saxons, Romanians in several localities sought to take up arms. There had been some calls for rebellion, notably, in mid-April, from Ioan Axente, the student who, along with Bărnuţiu, had been expelled from Balázsfalva; but most Romanians did not arm in order to rebel. Instead, they were trying to act in the spirit of the 'Spring of Nations' and show the rest of Europe that they were 'mature enough' to form a nation. Buteanu, who had helped to draft a petition at Kolozsvár in late March, wrote two months later, from Nagyszeben, a letter to Simion Balint, the priest at Verespatak, in the Érc Mountains: 'The Austrian empire is enfeebled and seems destined to disintegrate. The French and Germans are holding national congresses in Paris and Frankfurt; that is where the future of Europe's empires will be decided, and that is where the fate of the Romanians will be determined as well.' He anticipated a great war between the czarist empire and European independence movements and affirmed that 'if these congresses note that we too are getting organized, we can be sure that they will let us share in sweet liberty.' Hungarians and Romanians alike are threatened by the {3-246.} pan-slavic movements that count on Russian support, and thus, 'if the Hungarians were honest, they would shake hands with us as brothers and acknowledge that we are a political nation.'[32]32. Ioan Buteanu's letter to Simion Balint, Nagyszeben, 27 May 1848, OL, GP 1848: 7327. Bărnuţiu, for his part, drafted a manifesto warning the three 'lawful nations' that if they failed to respond to the Balázsfalva de-mands, Transylvania would be precipitated into civil war.

These developments only aggravated the tensions between Hungarian landlords and Romanian serfs, for their relationship acquired a more national character. In early June, Székely frontier guards were ordered by the military high command to Mihálcfalva, where local and neighboring peasants had joined forces to occupy allodial pastures. The first to fall in the ensuing clash was a border guard, and there were some twelve casualties in all. Romanian leaders seized on the incident as evidence that their nation was in peril. Iancu wanted to call the people of the Érc Mountains to arms; he promised them free use of woodlands, and warned that 'if the Kolozsvár diet does not grant us exemption from feudal obligations, we shall obtain it by force.'[33]33. Testimony from the minutes of the investigating committee of the Gubernium in the Kozma case, OL, GP 1848: 9012. Papiu tried to rally peasants in the Mezőség in the expectation that by the time the Romanians met at Balázsfalva, Serbs and Croats would have mounted an armed rebellion against the Hungarian government. The Gubernium responded by banning the Romanian National Committee, which had been elected at the Balázsfalva assembly to guide the national movement and mobilize support, and several activists were arrested, but to little avail. Romanians began to arm in self-defence, and those who had joined the multinational militias in the towns now stepped down. The weapons and rising passions seemed to be leading to a tragic confrontation.

For weeks, progressive Hungarians had been following developments with growing anxiety and preparing for defensive action. The slogan 'union or death,' reminiscent of the French revolutionaries' 'liberty or death,' expressed their will to survive, a determination reinforced by the firm belief that the ongoing legislative {3-247.} work would benefit all of Transylvania by laying the foundation for a liberal transformation. Their assessment of Romanian and Saxon demands was coloured by a growing suspicion that a 'hidden hand' was at work. It would have been difficult to dispel their anxiety; no real effort was made to this end, and the tense atmosphere was not propitious for attempts at mutual understanding and compromise.

On the eve of the Balázsfalva meeting, a Hungarian newspaper published, as a special supplement, an anonymous communication from the Szászföld. The report, later translated into Romanian, gave what may have been an alarmist account of conservative plans for counter-revolutionary action. Bariţ, for his part, reported that some 'Hungarians' were set to 'conduct a Vendée' against the Romanians.[34]34. George Bariţ's letter analysing the situation, in Gazeta de Transil-vania, 31 January/12 February 1849, no. 8. Conservatives who counted on 'the rude rabble' convinced themselves that the Romanian 'ringleaders' were being 'manipulated' by the artful chief justice of Háromszék.[35]35. György Apor's letter of 7 May 1848 to János Jósika, Bibarcfalva. Pascu-Cheresteşiu, Documente III, p. 307. The Saxons were also being incited against unification. The appearance at Balázsfalva of Baron László Nopcsa in the guise of Vasile Nopcea must have made a strange impression; some intellectuals hailed the return of a Romanian-born aristocrat to the mother-nation, not suspecting that he would subsequently denounce them at the Viennese court.

The Hungarians' anxiety reached a new high when, in early May, Vienna issued its instructions with regard to the diet's agenda. The election of a chancellor and a lord chief justice would have to precede any debate on unification, and it could be anticipated that this procedure would allow only for some nominal form of union and conservative social reforms. Much depended on the ability of discredited conservative leaders and of their supporters to find an authoritative spokesman. The only plausible candidate was Imre Mikó; until March 1848, he had cooperated with the conservatives, but, unlike most of the latter, he was regarded as a man of some enlightenment and a devoted champion of Hungarian culture. However, in mid-May, Mikó had turned down an invitation from {3-248.} the emperor and Archduke Francis Charles that he assume the post of chancellor. Instead, he moved — with some ambivalence, but certainly not out of opportunism — towards the stronger camp, that of the liberals and the Hungarian government. Mikó feared that if Transylvania was allowed to be exploited against the Hungarian independence movement, it would slide into civil war, and that war would damage the prospects of all Hungarians.

The emperor appointed Puchner, whose name was anathema to the liberals, as royal commissioner to the diet. Showing great circumspection and prudence, the commander-in-chief had shaped the military into an autonomous social and political force; without disappointing the peasants' expectations regarding the military, he endeavoured 'to maintain peace at least until the convening of the diet.'[36]36. Puchner to the ministry of defence in Vienna, Nagyszeben, 23 May 1848, HL Generalkommando, Präs. 1848: 524. Puchner noted that 'affluent nobles and even officials were touring the countryside arguing in favour of the abolition of compulsory labour';[37]37. Puchner to József Teleki, Nagyszeben, 24 April 1848, quoted in Pascu-Cheresteşiu, Documente II, p. 259. he saw that even when troops were dispatched to assist local authorities and seized the odd activist who had incited people to withhold their labour, the villagers would tearfully cheer the emperor. He therefore instructed his officers to avoid taking rash punitive measures. Puchner had to tread all the more carefully since the nobility lived in fear of a peasant rising similar to the one in Galicia; even the defence minister, Theodor de Latour, cautioned him against measures that might 'intensify anxiety among the nobility.'[38]38. Latour to Puchner, Vienna, 10 May 1848, HL Generalkommando, Präs. 1848: 524. To prepare for all eventualities, Puchner ordered a state of alert at the fortress of Gyulafehérvár. The same cautious strategy led, in late April, to a modification of the military oath of allegiance: soldiers in Transylvania now had to pledge to defend the (unspecified) constitution as well as swear loyalty to the emperor. However, on May 15, the people of Vienna rose in protest at the new constitution, and this — their second revolt — served to delay further preparations for counter-revolutionary action in Transylvania.