{3-249.} Paving the Way for Liberalism at Transylvania's Last Diet of the Estates

The revolutions in Europe had raised expectations in Transylvanian society, and this circumstance allowed progressive forces to fully exploit the possibilities for representation in what was destined to be the last diet of the Estates. The great leaders of the liberal opposition, Miklós Wesselényi and Károly Szász, reappeared on the political scene. They were joined by representatives of a new breed of lawyer-politician: Dániel Gál, Mózes Berde, László Németh, Alexandru Bohăţel, and Konrad Schmidt. Some regalists, previously rejected because of their activity in 1834, were also chosen as delegates, including the renowned novelist Miklós Jósika. The liberals owed their sudden predominance mainly to a shift in the balance of forces within the empire. The court, in its predicament, was compelled to make further concessions to the Hungarian government, which now concentrated on unification as a means of consolidating the country's autonomy.

Prime minister Batthyány was intent on forestalling the civil war that threatened in southern Hungary and the border zones, and which would only complicate foreign relations. To this end, on May 19 he issued a call to the Székelys to take up arms and muster at Szeged, but the initiative failed; fearing for 'domestic peace,' even the Transylvanian liberals momentarily opposed it. Batthyány's call nevertheless had a great impact in the Székelyföld, which was slipping from the grip of the Austrian military. Pest had dispatched two envoys to the region, György Klapka, the future general, and Sándor Gál, a onetime frontier-guard officer who had been prosecuted for his involvement with the Hungarian readers' club at Csíkszereda in 1840. In late May and early June, the two men travelled from one mass meeting to another preaching the imperative of self-defence. Their campaign inaugurated a new phase in the reconciliation of political and social interests. In the Háromszék, {3-250.} where frontier guards had been advising — indeed, compelling — serfs to withhold their services, the abolition of compulsory labour was proclaimed at a mass meeting. The serfs were prepared to join the national guard and defend Hungary, and, at the same time, to obtain their emancipation, if necessary by force of arms. In these circumstances, even the more conservative wing of the nobility had little choice but to give tentative endorsement to liberalization and unification.

In the meantime, the efforts to overcome obstacles to unification met with some success in the arena of imperial politics as well. In a clever ploy, Batthyány persuaded Puchner that by mobilizing the Székelys, he was serving the interests of the empire and the Habsburg dynasty. On May 29, as the diet convened in Kolozsvár, the emperor endorsed the Hungarian prime minister's extraordinary initiative and promised to attend the opening session of the national assembly in Pest. Moreover, the monarch overrode the advice of his government and placed Puchner under the direct authority of his viceroy in Hungary, the palatine Stephen; that was a clear signal to the worthy soldier that he should not interfere with the work of the diet in Kolozsvár. Puchner bitterly advised the Austrian minister of defence that in these circumstances he was not prepared to dispatch troops to Galicia.

Although the Transylvanian diet only learned of the emperor's decision on June 7, many factors militated in favour of unification: the determination of Hungarian liberals, solid support from the people of Kolozsvár, the second revolution in Vienna, and the changes in the realm of foreign relations. Carl Gooss, a liberal delegate from Segesvár, was so persuasive in presenting the Saxon case for unification and the implications of the movement to unify Germans, that most Saxon deputies, noting Puchner's passivity, decided to back the reunification of Transylvania and Hungary — conditional, of course, on guarantees of their nation's rights. According to the terms of the resolution passed by the Universitas, this action by the {3-251.} majority of Saxon delegates had to be construed as representing the nation's will. On May 30, the diet voted without dissent in favour of reunification of the 'two sister-homelands.' In order to ease tensions, even Bishop Leményi gave his consent on behalf of the Romanians.

Hungarian progressives were jubilant. The confirmation of union gave liberals new hope that they might realize their plans for reform in Transylvania. To be sure, opinions diverged on how they should exploit the opportunity. Wesselényi wanted the decisions of the Pozsony diet to be applied in Transylvania concurrently with unification; he feared that independent action by the Kolozsvár diet would only harm the cause of liberal–national transformation. Dénes Kemény, Károly Szász, and Zsigmond Perényi (who had been appointed ministerial commissioner, with responsibility for shaping liberal policy and keeping the Hungarian government informed) preferred to pursue legislative activity aimed at adapting the Hungarian laws to Transylvania's circumstances. The latter tactic prevailed and was duly endorsed by the Hungarian government. By late May, the liberals had developed a comprehensive plan for further legislation, and there followed much debate on its details.

Having enacted a bill 'on the unification of Hungary with Transylvania,' the diet proceeded to pass an electoral law providing for the participation of Transylvanian delegates in the parliament at Pest, which was scheduled to convene at the beginning of June. According to a clause in the first bill, a unification committee would be dispatched to Pest to draft bills on the modalities of union; these drafts would then be submitted to the legislature by the cabinet, which reserved the right to amend them. Another bill, designed to win the support of Székely frontier guards, called for their integration into a national guard; in the event, the monarch refused to endorse this measure, but his action only strengthened the Székely soldiers' preference for a constitutional legislative process. There must been some covert debates over the principle {3-252.} and timing of the abolition of serfdom, for the relevant bill was reported only on June 6. Dénes Kemény may have struck home when he speculated that if Transylvanian aristocrats 'had wanted to delay' the abolition of serfdom, 'Vienna' would have gone along.[39]39. Ellenőr, 9 June 1848, no. 21. The liberals tended to exaggerate the extent of the European revolution; at one point, Wesselényi claimed that serfdom had been abolished 'all the way to St. Petersburg.' Delaying tactics must have seemed laden with risks, for serfdom was scheduled to be abolished in the hereditary provinces in September, and in Galicia, Governor Stadion had already taken the step in order to neutralize the Polish nobility.

On June 6, Transylvania's last feudal diet appproved the liberals' bill for the abolition of serfdom and set June 18 as the date on which serfs could stop providing feudal services. Governor József Teleki once again had to take an extraordinary step, just as he did when he convened the diet: departing from established practice, he promulgated the law without royal assent.

The abolition of serfdom brought tangible benefits to more than half of the population. Over 160,000 families were exempted from feudal obligations. Since feudal property relations had to be supplanted by a more modern system of ownership, the key question became, who would receive land in freehold, and in what measure. The scale and scope of redistribution, which would shape the new social structure, had to be determined by the diet, and the result was evidently the result of political compromise. To Wesselényi's disappointment, the bill failed to prescribe clearly the separation of allodial land and land held in socage, and thus the basis on which property would be distributed between former landlords and peasants. The law did lay down that former serfs and cotters could not be constrained in the use of land 'in their own hands' without a court ruling. And if it was unclear whether the land cultivated by a tenant was allodial or seigniorial, it would be exempt from all feudal services pending a legal ruling. In this respect, the Kolozsvár {3-253.} law favoured the peasants more clearly than the precedent-setting law passed at Pozsony. The provision was inspired both by considerations of social equity and by the need to palliate the discontent arising from disputed claims, which were likely to be numerous.

True to their principles, the liberals did not retain the clause from Jósika's bill, enacted the previous year, according to which the redistribution of land would be based on the Cziráky register; the new bill allocated a third more pasture and ploughland to the liberated peasantry than the earlier prescription. This increase only confirmed noble landowners in the belief in they had been most generous and made great 'sacrifices.' To be sure, their support was inspired not only by such sentiments but the law's promise of compensation from the state. The liberal legislation sheltered peasants from any obligation to compensate their former landlords for loss of services, either in cash, as was the case in the hereditary provinces of Austria, or by surrendering part of their land, as in Prussia earlier in the century. The terms for the abolition of serfdom seemed to offer Transylvanian peasants a better start; although agriculture in Transylvania was less developed than in Hungary, it was not dominated by great estates to the same extent as in some other regions of eastern Europe. In any case, the law left Transylvania's serfs better off than they would have been with the 1847 version of land and socage reform.

The final settlement of feudal property relations would entail decades of struggles and litigation. The peasants who did not obtain land freehold continued to pay rent with their labour. Nevertheless, the abolition of serfdom in Transylvania was a milestone in the liberal transformation of the Habsburg empire's eastern regions. In the Russian empire and the Romanian principalities, it would take another fifteen years before serfdom was abolished; and even then, the agricultural sector in the principalities continued to be dominated by latifundia, which left less room for smallholders and middle peasants than was the case in Transylvania. Meanwhile, thanks {3-254.} in large measure to the liberation of serfs, Romanian society in Transylvania came to encompass a sizeable stratum of smallholder peasants.

In Transylvania, the liberal nobles and their allies in the intelligentsia, backed by the Hungarian government, prevailed over counter-revolutionary tendencies to eliminate the privileged, Estate status of the nobility. They did so in the knowledge that the nobles, by virtue of their wealth, education, and position in society, could become the bearers of liberal-national transformation. The nobles may have been driven to this by the necessity of a revolutionary situation, but they made a tangible contribution to the outcome. There were, of course, differences between the successful and attempted revolutions in Hungary, Poland, and the Romanian principalities, on the one hand, and those in western Europe. The liberal nobility in the east performed essentially the same function as the bourgeoisie in the west, even if its circumstances and obligations did not allow it to be as single-minded in the drive to abolish feudalism and to promote national independence as was the case with left-wing radicals suffused with French revolutionary ideas.

Transylvania had no radical middle class enough to challenge the forces of conservatism and accomplish the task of liberal transformation, either on its own or in equal partnership with the liberal nobility. What middle class there was followed the leadership of the nobility. In an all-Hungarian context, the political left encompassed young members of the intelligentsia and students, and its most prominent spokesmen were Sándor Petőfi and Pál Vasvári; in Transylvania, it consisted of a group of young radical intellectuals, of noble as well as plebeian origin, who may be considered the left wing of the national–liberal movement. Their critical approach is well illustrated by the fact that when László Kővári founded a radical newspaper, he named it Ellenőr (Inspector). The radicals, too, expected liberal nobles to take the lead in opening up new opportunities for activism and improving the lot of 'the people' — a category {3-255.} from which, as good democrats, they refused to exclude any social stratum or national group. The radicals hailed the law that abolished serfdom, and criticized it for failing to strip landowners of such privileges as hunting and fishing rights and the right to operate pubs. They also called for severe measures against conservative 'chicanery'; the more prudent liberals preferred to avoid such public denunciations. The radicals would variously acclaim liberal leaders and warn them to hew to the spirit of the era. The liberals were alternately repelled by the Jacobinic rhetoric of the young radicals and spurred to take measures more progressive and democratic than they had originally envisaged.

The ultimate goal of unification, combined with existential concerns, inspired the liberals to address issues of social reform, but the same factors proved to be more hindrance than help with regard to the Romanians' national demands. The most difficult problem ever faced by progressive Hungarians was that involving the nation and nationalities. In retrospect, it can be argued that only territorial autonomy or extensive guarantees for the use of the mother tongue might have generated lasting cooperation between the various national movements in Hungary and Transylvania. Given the dynamics of nationalism, it is equally evident that such cooperation depended on a moderation of desires and objectives, on generosity and patience; only then might the conviction take root that a pooling of efforts brings greater reward than confrontation. Conscious of the imminent peril, the Kolozsvár diet took more pains than the Pozsony diet to address the national dimension of man's freedom. According to the preamble of the Pozsony act, the objective was to 'unify all Hungarians in terms of law and interests;' Kolozsvár's act on union, on the other hand, laid down that 'the equality of all citizens, enshrined in law and practice in our sister country, Hungary, shall be recognized here, without regard for nationality, language, or religion, as an eternal principle.'[40]40. Magyar Törvénytár, 1540-1848. évi erdélyi törvények, ed. by S. Kolosvári, D. Márkus, and K. Óváry (Budapest, 1900), pp. 667-8. Hungarian liberals had already acknowledged the legitimacy of {3-256.} many Saxon demands, and now, although they disagreed with those aiming at broad autonomy, they commended all the demands to the attention of the unification committee.

With regard to the Romanians, however, the liberals considered that the cited clause in the act of union should suffice. This proved to be a serious mistake, for the royal instructions to the diet had called for a law settling the situation of the Romanians, and, as noted, the Balázsfalva assembly had demanded self-government. Even the Romanians who accepted unification wanted the diet make at least a formal gesture of historical amends, by recognizing the Romanians as the fourth 'nation' and abrogating Transylvanian laws that affronted their national dignity-laws which, in any event, would lapse upon unification. Alexandru Sterca Şuluţiu, who at the Balázsfalva meeting had been silenced because of his approval of unification, wrote to Wesselényi requesting that the diet take early action to declare Romanians the fourth 'nation.' This step, said Şuluţiu, would 'only be a preliminary ceremony, for, in my view, the union will make all nationalities equal, and there will no longer be Székely, Saxon, or other nations, but only Saxon, Székely, and Romanian fellow-citizens; on the other hand, [the gesture] should bring great benefit to the Hungarian nation, not only because it will win over the numerous Transylvanian Vlachs, but also because, in the longer perspective, the latter will induce the Vlachs in Wallachia and Moldavia to endorse the union.'[41]41. M.K. Papp, 'Sterka Sulucz Sándor jelentése az 1848-ik év május 15-én tartott balázsfalvi népgyűlésről,' Történeti Lapok, 1874, no. 24, pp. 379-81. Şuluţiu was not only attempting to reconcile the various movements for national unity; he was also taking into account the possibility that some feudal institutions and privileges, detrimental to Romanian interests, might survive unification, in which case the status of fourth 'nation' would legitimate the Romanians' national endeavours.

However, before the diet convened, Hungarian liberals reportedly reached an agreement with the Orthodox bishop, Şaguna, and other Romanian leaders (including, presumably, Leményi, the Greek Catholic bishop, and delegates to the diet) that the Balázsfalva {3-257.} demands would be satisfied by way of an elaboration of individual rights. They tried to forestall a detailed presentation of national demands by the deputation from the Balázsfalva meeting, and to focus on the need to resist czarist pressures — a matter on which the two parties were in agreement. The greatest understanding for Romanian national demands was shown by Károly Szász, a fervent advocate of unification. He proposed that the use of Romanian be allowed in the border-guard regiments, and drafted a bill declaring that 'the Vlach Nation, which the former laws of our country subjected to various constraints, subordinated, and made uncertain of its future right of residence, is hereby welcomed by the other, recognized nations of Transylvania as a brother who possesses equal rights and obligations; instead of the old name Vlach, which is identified with oppression and injury, the official name Romanian shall be applied to this Nation in the public sphere, both in parliament and local government, subject to the most gracious assent of His Royal Highness.'[42]42. Szász's draft bill, preserved in Perényi's manuscript, in A. Miskol-czy, 'Társadalmi és nemzeti kérdés az utolsó erdélyi rendi országgyűlésen,' Sz, 1979, no. 5, p. 875. The Hungarian liberals were too fearful of the risks, and too intent on hegemony to adopt this proposal. They argued, with some reason, that since the matter also involved Romanians in Hungary, it could not be settled before the Pest parliament had dealt with it. Thus the liberals considered it sufficient to have the diet pass a resolution: 'All constraints and subordinations imposed on the nations of Transylvania, notably those involving the Vlachs and religious denominations, are hereby wholly and fully abolished.'[43]43. Quoted in ibid., p. 881. The liberals also drafted a bill giving official status to the Orthodox religion. These measures did not match the potential of Szász's draft for the easing of tensions. Moreover, they opened the way for the emperor to act as the Romanians' patron: he advised the Romanian delegation that their demands should be satisfied in law by the Hungarian government.

Hungarians must have been aware that they often failed to reconcile the contemporary ideals of freedom and nationhood. Count Lajos Gyulay, a Kolozsvár regalist, recorded in his diary that 'we {3-258.} cannot envisage the disappearance of our nation, and I could not be happy except as a free Magyar; only a new generation may be able to find happiness in simple individual liberty.' Pondering the prospect of a new war in Europe, he concluded that 'the current European revolution is bound to result in a proliferation of alliances, for I am inclined to believe that instead of trying to expand, states will limit themselves to smaller provinces. Until the rage of nationalities is dissolved in some sort of cosmopolitanism, each nation will concentrate on its survival and forge alliances to be able to live in peace.'[44]44. Quoted in Miskolczy, ibid., p. 880-81. Gyulay was not prepared to make concessions on the language question, although he deemed it advisable to recognize the independence of Croatia.

Most Hungarian liberal statesmen and politicians remained adamant that there should be only one official language, and they convinced themselves that the slightest concession in the matter would unleash a flood that would jeopardize the survival of their nation. Their devotion to the idea of a fully integrated nation-state was exemplified by Wesselényi. He anticipated that if Károly Szász's draft was adopted, Hungarians might be relegated to a subordinate status. Wesselényi feared an aggravation of national and social conflicts in Transylvania; he was even more worried about the possibility of a counter-revolutionary initiative by Austria and by the menacing posture of czarist troops on Moldavia's borders. In a letter, dated 18 June, to a government minister, he raised the possibility of establishing a new Hungarian national state which would encompass a smaller territory and would be ethnically, or, more precisely, in its civic culture, homogeneous. He contended that 'the Slovaks and Vlachs living in contiguous communities will secede from us and establish autonomous and independent states — the Slovaks with their Slavic brethren beyond the mountains, and the Vlachs with their kinsmen in neighbouring Wallachia and Moldavia.' Although he was fully committed to unification and accepted its consequences, Wesselényi favoured an exchange of {3-259.} population whereby the Hungarians living among Romanians would trade homes with Romanians 'living closer to the borders of predominantly Hungarian-inhabited territory.' Being a confirmed liberal, he was optimistic about the future of Hungarian–Saxon relations; he considered that the Saxons might well wish to make their home in a newly-constituted Hungary. He believed that a population exchange could be effected in the spirit of peaceful coexistence: 'Such an unprecedented, but feasible migration must be effected through peaceful negotiation, as befits the spirit and culture of our times.'[45]45. Miklós Wesselényi's letter to Gábor Klauzál, Kolozsvár, 18 June 1848, quoted in ibid, pp. 877-8. It is not known how Hungarian statesmen reacted to Wesselényi's 'belief and opinion,' but, given the prevailing mood of optimism, they probably gave it scant attention.

On June 10, the emperor gave his assent to the Kolozsvár act of union. Batthyány had fought hard, behind the scenes, to obtain this result and ward off Austrian demands that Hungary assume part of the national debt, and that the frontier guards and other troops in Transylvania remain under the jurisdiction of the Austrian ministry of defence.

The Hungarians' optimism was bolstered not only by this success but also by their assessment of Romanian endeavours. Polit-ically radical newspapers in the capital regarded Romanian peasants as potential supporters, believing that they could be won over by propaganda and, if necessary, persuaded to commmit themselves to the Hungarian struggle for independence. The interior minister, Bertalan Szemere, reflected this optimism. He actively sought to win over the other national movements by 'exemplary' gestures, some of which, alas, were exemplary only in their pettiness. (He displayed greater realism in a directive: 'I want nothing but facts. Government has to be rooted in an awareness of facts.') With a naivety that was as suprising as sincere, he advised the ministry's commissioner in Transylvania that 'the Vlach nation's attachment to, and sympathy for Hungary in the face of continuous provocation seems to justify our hopes; if they can be supplied with Hungarian {3-260.} grammar books, they will readily master the Hungarian language, and the link between the two races will become stronger.'[46]46. Quoted in ibid, p. 880. This innocent belief was inspired mainly by the fact that the Romanians in Hungary proper did not express demands for national rights in the same fashion as those in Transylvania. They requested permission to use the Romanian tongue in local government, schools, and churches, but, as a rule, they were careful to avoid demanding full recognition as a political nation. The few — mainly landlonwers and priests in the Banat — who did favour that goal remained passive, and only later would they form a pro-Habsburg movement demanding territorial autonomy. The Romanian nobles of Máramaros stood at the opposite pole; the leading figures among them proclaimed that they were 'true Hungarian citizens' of Romanian mother-tongue, fully devoted to Hungarian constitutionalism, and endorsed, by way of the press, the policies of the government in Pest.

The key demand advanced by Romanians in Hungary was for an autonomous Orthodox Church, one that was no longer subordinated to the Serb hierarchy. They felt threatened by the Serbs, whose political program, drawn up in late June, called for the creation of an autonomous territory, centred on Temesvár, and encompassing sizeable, Romanian-populated districts. The Romanians turned for help to the Hungarian government; they were encouraged in this step by the Pozsony laws, which enshrined liberal constitutionalism and thus offered positive prospects for their community.

The Romanian peasants in Hungary were less disposed to manifest their discontent that those in Transylvania. One exception to this rule occurred when the peripatetic Eftimie Murgu returned to the Banat. (Arrested in 1845 on charges of incitement and propagating daco–romanism, he was released in 1848 at the request of young revolutionaries in Pest.) With the consent of the Hungarian government, Murgu convened a national meeting in late June, at Lugos. Thousands turned out to demand that, in response to the {3-261.} Serbs' initiatives, a Romanian national guard be established, that their church be made autonomous, and that Romanian be recognized as an official language. Murgu also wanted to forge links with the movement that had just precipitated a revolution in Wallachia, perhaps with a view to eventual unification of all Romanians. However, in order to win the support of the Hungarian government, he stopped short of following the Serbs' lead in demanding territorial autonomy. Romanians in Bihar County and the Kővár district, along with some from the Banat, came to constitute a distinct branch of the national movement, one that had more modest objectives and tried to adapt to the policies of the Hungarian government. Their enthusiastic support for the unification of Hungary and Transylvania was based partly on the expectation that it would help to draw Romanian communities together.

News of the royal assent to union reached Kolozsvár in the evening of June 18. Hungarian liberals had suspected that an armed uprising by Romanians was planned for that very day — an uprising that, like the flawed nationalities policy of the Hungarians, could only serve counter-revolutionary interests. But now, their fear of a civil war was put to rest.

From their remote vantage point, liberals in Hungary tended to believe that the national conflicts in Transylvania could be easily resolved. Their counterparts in Transylvania, on the other hand, found encouragement in the relative success of policies aimed at reconciling interests in Hungary. They came to believe that a similar approach, pursued in a unified country, could restore social and inter-ethnic peace.