The Unionist Assembly at Kolozsvár

On 19 November 1865, amidst great pomp and ceremony, Baron Ferenc Kemény, former chairman of the 1848 diet, opened the diet that had been convoked in Kolozsvár to discuss union. The solemnity was superficial, for no significant political movement regarded the diet as a legitimate national assembly. The Romanians considered its convocation illegal and wished that the Nagyszeben diet be reactivated. Ostensibly out of loyalty to the sovereign, most Saxons vacillated between various conditions for acceptance of the union; a minority of Saxons simply sided with the Hungarians. Most of the Hungarian representatives shared Ferenc Deák's political views, while the left-centrists considered that the diet was a neo-feudal conference whose task was simply to reaffirm the validity and implementation of the 1848 Union. Some attempts were made before the diet to reconcile differences between Hungarians and Romanians, but they led nowhere, and when the session got under way, only 32 of the 48 Romanian representatives were present. The others — including Bariţ and Vasile Popp — ostentatiously stayed away. The Hungarian delegates delivered flowery addresses in support of union, repeating all the arguments that had accumulated between 1848 and 1865. The motion, presented by Károly Zeyk, made a historical case for the union's legitimacy and ended {3-450.} on a note of political realism. The resolution declared that union served the empire's interest in being recognized as a great power: 'For the achievement of that objective, a strong Hungary, with its history, geographical location, and economic as well as ethnic circumstances, is destined to be the most important factor.' The consolidation of the Hungarian state required the restoration of its territorial integrity; 'a Hungary that has been fairly treated and which is tranquil can perform the high mission, assigned to it by providence, to serve the empire's political and economic regeneration.'[61]61. Erdélyi Hetilap, 28 December 1865. For Károly Zeyk's motion, see Deák Ferencz beszédei III, pp. 359-60. Union was vital for Transylvania as well, said the resolution, referring to economic backwardness, pauperization, the limited potential for tax revenues; 'the rightful and natural unification of interests and forces' would lead to an economic upswing. Finally, on the question of equal rights for non-Hungarian nationalities, the resolution made clear that the sovereign's 'paternal heart, which aimed to satisfy all of his people, and the acknowledged liberalism of Hungarian legislation offer sufficient guarantee that the rights, interests, and demands of Transylvania's various regions, denominations and nationalities will be duly taken into account when the details of unification are worked out; they will be satisfied on the basis of equality of rights and of equity, so that all citizens will enjoy the same rights.'[62]62. Erdélyi Hírlap, 28 December 1865; see also Ürmössy, Tizenhét év, p. 251. Since the resolution was assured of success, its drafters avoided registering their denial of the meeting's parliamentary character. The signature was an artfully ambiguous formula: 'Your humblest and eternally loyal subjects and servants, Transylvania's royal officials and representatives gathered in a national assembly.' Şaguna and Maager vented their disagreement, but when on December 18 the resolution came to a vote, 166 delegates (including four Romanians and six Saxons) voted in the affirmative; dissenting votes were cast by 29 Romanians and 26 Saxons.

The Romanian minority's opinion, presented by Şaguna, was annexed to the resolution. It requested that a diet be convoked in {3-451.} accordance with the prescription of 1863, so that the Romanians could approach the question of union on the basis of a more equitable franchise. Separate opinions from Saxons were similarly annexed; the one submitted by Jakob Rannicher made acceptance of the union contingent on guarantees of special rights for the various nationalities. The session adjourned pending the sovereign's response. There was little doubt about the nature of the latter, for Francis Joseph had evoked the restoration of the Hungarian crown's integrity on the occasion of the opening of the Pest diet, and Deák had already reserved a parliamentary vice-chairmanship and a clerkship in anticipation of the arrival of Transylvania's representatives.

On 10 January 1866, the royal commissioner, Crenneville, read out the royal ordinance that allowed Transylvania to send delegates to the Pest diet. The ordinance tried to make actual unification contingent on the successful conclusion of final negotiations, and in particular on the satisfaction of the 'reasonable' demands of nationalities and churches. The document, drafted by conservatives, set conditions that were too meagre for Saxon and Romanian politicians who feared for their rights and their future; to the Hungarian liberals, they looked too much like a bit of electioneering trickery at this penultimate phase of the Austro–Hungarian compromise. The Hungarians nevertheless refrained from protesting, and the unionist assembly of Kolozsvár ended with the chairman's declaration that 'we have made great progress towards realizing our ultimate goal.' New electoral preparations began, this time for the Pest diet.

With this step, Transylvania ceased to be autonomous. The restoration of union did not come about solely as a result of pressure from the province's Hungarian political forces, but that pressure had been essential to the success of the negotiations that aimed to consolidate the monarchy. Union was a necessary condition of the compromise. And the Hungarian liberals, who represented the {3-452.} strongest political force in Transylvania, played a determining role in obstructing Vienna's earlier, centralizing strategy, which was to 'stabilize' Transylvania — against Hungary's interests — as a separate province.

Unification offered Transylvania the possibility of becoming integrated with a Habsburg monarchy in the midst of modernization — not as a modest frontier province, but as part of a mother country that was bigger and more developed in its economic, social, and political aspects, and which would link it to a Europe in economic expansion.

Only time would tell whether the union could foster the cultural and political development of the constituent nationalities; whether, under the new, more favourable conditions, they could make up for lost time; and how well they could address the economic, political and social questions that had been confronting eastern and central Europe for some time.