The Romanian war message and brief Transylvanian campaign in the summer of 1916 did not disappear without a trace. Waves of refugees, requisitions, damages caused by violence using the lack of state power, and the ones (not only Romanians) leaving with withdrawing Romanian troops as well as the intense action of authorities against suspicious persons: all these transformed the relations in the province.
Of course, the most urgent task was recovery and solving the food of the population, which was made more difficult by the gradual resettlement of refugees (which was to be finished in May 1917). Administrative operations were carried out by the administration under the supervision of a government commissioner, but the government also mobilized the society in the framework of the Pro Transylvania relief plan.
While the press reported on the return of ordinary weekdays, in politics, serious changes were under way, which did not only appear in the tightening of nationality politics. A group of basically anti-Tisza politicians from Transylvania and having Transylvanian relations started to organize a regional political movement in 1913, which aimed at that time primarily at representing the Transylanian interests in Budapest and the deconcentration of administration. Although, upon the outbreak of war, the Transylvanian Society they had founded suspended its operations, the leadership of the Society restarted works after the Romanian attack and the fall of István Tiszta prime minister in May 1917. With the changing political situation in Hungary, their opportunities have also expanded, since their comrades were sitting in the new governments.
The Society’s head was István Apáthy, a biologist professor of the University of Kolozsvár, and the most prominent personality was the later prime minister, István Bethlen. A member of the leadership was Gábor Ugron, who was also a minister for internal affairs from the middle of 1917 to the beginning of 1918, and was later appointed to be the royal commissioner of Transylvania. The Society’s influence was also shown by the fact that two ministers (Albert Apponyi minister for education and Béla Földes, so called minister for the transition in economy, assigned to establish the transition from war management to the future peace) visited the meeting in Kolozsvár in September 1917, where several other ministers were represented by a personal representative. It was of high significance for them since the program of Transylvania’s comprehensive reform was discussed at the meeting.
The starting point of the Transylvanian Society was, already in 1913, that Transylvania’s problems require special treatment, for which a comprehensive reform programme was also established. Four years later, they stepped up for the same, but the four years, the war and of course the fall of Tisza did not leave without a trace. Representatives of the Society did not only want administrative deconcentration, but also decentralization, in the form of an independent Transylvanian ministry or government commission. Essentially, this would have been in charge of the administration of the province and the management of its entire administration.
It was all necessary, in their view, since Budapest did not understand the real problems of Transylvania, the now “martyr” province, and therefore they could not solve it either. The development sources were insufficient even in spite of the fact that Transylvania – primarily on the basis of newly discovered natural gas – could have become Hungary’s Belgium, i.e. industrial centre. The government in Budapest sought to keep the right to vote as close as possible, though most representatives of the Society found that the constituency assignments and census had an adverse impact on Transylvanian Hungarians, especially the Székely people, and the Romanians and Saxons got the small, so-called rotten boroughs, which provided the opportunity for getting mandates easily. Therefore they argued for expanding the vote to right with the provision that it should counterbalance the superiority of Romanians in number taking into account literacy and economic development. The plans included the expansion of the transport network, direct link to the Black Sea, keeping natural gas in the possession of Transylvania, and the application of state-appointed officers instead of the elected county officers in the administration. (In their case, decentralisation would have been enforced by the full powers of the government commission or the separate ministry.) Finally, in order to inform about the province’s situation, a Transylvanian press office would have been established in Budapest to coordinate news, media outlets and opinions published in the media.
The plan for the nationalization of administration particularly shows how Transylvanian reform plans – in spite of their anti-Budapest features – got linked to a definitely anti-Romanian programme strengthening the Hungarian supremacy. The appointed officers could have arrived from Hungary, forcing clients to use the Hungarian language, while Hungarian state officers with Romanian nationality could have been relocated to Hungarian-speaking regions. However, anti-Romanian tendencies appeared more directly as well. Representatives of the Transylvanian Society – even before the relaunch of official operations – stepped up in favour of a Romanian-Hungarian exchange of population: they would have resettled Romanians from Southern Transylvania to Romania, and would have settled Moldavian Csangos to Hungary. This would have been supported by the border adjustment against Romania. In public education, the goal was the nationalization of schools, ensuring the expansion of Hungarian as the language of teaching. The full-scale Hungarianization of the administrative language of private companies was also raised. They recommended linking the land sales to state licenses, and through the division of lands under primogeniture, an active settlement politics that could have transformed the nationality relations of Central Transylvania in favour of Hungarians. Last but not least, they also planned the establishment of a Greek orthodox diocese with Hungarian liturgical language.
In the short time available, not least owing to the end of Ugron’s position as the minister for internal affairs, most of the ideas remained on paper. However, Albert Apponyi started the nationalization of schools and the establishment of a so-called culture zone, that meant as a first step the end of state aid for 311 Romanian church schools and 477 teachers. Land sales were regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture in a regulation, and all major transactions were made subject to the license of a committee established in Kolozsvár. (Not surprisingly, lobbying by future sellers started almost immediately before the committee’s leaders). The royal commissioner could in theory have ensured administrative decentralization as well. However, the end of war came sooner, before the Translvanian Society could have established their own Transylvania, Hungarian – but independent from Budapest as well.
Bárdi Nándor: Az erdélyi magyar (és regionális) érdekek megjelenítése az 1910-es években. Az Erdélyi Szövetség programváltozatai = Magyar Kisebbség, 2003/2–3. 93–105.
Egry Gábor: Regionalizmus, erdélyiség, szupremácia. Az Erdélyi Szövetség és Erdély jövője, 1913–1918. = Századok, 2013/1. 3-32.
K. Lengyel Zsolt: Erdély újjáalkotásának a magyar terve 1917/1918 során = Korunk, 2017/2. 64-75.
Written by: Gábor Egry