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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

An examination of the question: whether to annex the Carpathian Slavs and Ruthenians to the Magyars

Johann Majláth
Traduction de Pavol Lukáč

Texte intégral

1Title: Beleuchtung der Frage, ob die karpatischen Szlaven und Ruthenen wieder den Magyaren zuzuteilen, oder als sebstständige Distrikte nach ihrer Nationalität zu behandeln sind (An examination of the question: whether to annex the Carpathian Slavs and Ruthenians to the Magyars or to deal with them as autonomous districts according to nationality)

2Originally published: The text was an internal memo for the imperial government and was therefore not published at the time of its origin

3Language: German

4The excerpts used are from Daniel Rapant, ed., Slovenské povstanie 1848–1849, Vol. III., Part 2., (Bratislava: SAV, 1954), pp. 532–534.

About the author

5Count Johann (János) Majláth [1786, Pest – 1855, Starnberg (Bavaria)]: landowner, historian, publicist and politician. Majláth came from an aristocratic family originating from Transylvania but settled in Upper Hungary since the seventeenth century. After finishing university studies in philosophy and law, he was employed in the Hungarian governmental offices in Buda and Vienna. Later he turned to historical studies and literature. During the 1840s he worked for the Hungarian literary almanac Aurora and edited the German-language Iris. Politically he belonged to the conservative camp opposing the Hungarian reform movement, especially the radical current led by Lajos Kossuth. He was in favor of cooperation between the Hungarian political elite and the Court of Vienna; he was therefore critical of the prevalent anti-Habsburg undertones of Hungarian politics and also supported national tolerance in Hungary. In 1848 Majláth moved from Hungary to Vienna and later to Munich. He remained an advocate of the unified Habsburg monarchy and of the conservative political system built on a loyal supra-national bureaucracy. Ravaged by political failures, problems with family estates and personal troubles, he committed suicide in 1855. Majláth wrote several historical compilations on the history of Hungary, Europe and Vienna and on the religious question in Hungary. He collected indigenous Hungarian tales and legends and published a Hungarian textbook for German speakers. He also published poetry and translations from Hungarian to German and compiled the first German-language history of Hungarian poetry.

6Main works: Magyarische Sagen und Märchen [Hungarian sagas and tales] (1825); Magyarische Gedichte [Hungarian poems] (1825); Geschichte der Magyaren [History of the Magyars], 5 vols., (1828–31); Über die Krönung der Könige in Ungarn [Concerning the coronation of the kings in Hungary] (1830); Geschichte der Stadt Wien von der Gründung derselben bis 1830 [History of Vienna from its foundation till 1830] (1832); Geschichte des österreichischen Kaiserhauses [History of the Austrian Imperial House], 5 vols., (1834–50); Vallásmozgalmak Magyarországban [Religious movements in Hungary] 2 vols., (1844–46); Geschichte der europäischen Staaten [History of the European states] (1853).


7Federalism was a principle of re-organization contemplated by different political camps in the 1840s, usually promoted by circles opposed to the Habsburg Court. The revolutionary atmosphere in 1848 created a space in which these programs and their political, social and cultural consequences were discussed. The federalization of the monarchy, promoted especially by the Slavic nations and the Romanians, was seen for some time as a possible way out of the current crisis. The principles of federalization as well as the concrete design of the future state were earnestly discussed not only on the floor of the Imperial Diet in Kremsier (Cz. Kroměříž) but also in the press.

8In the autumn of 1848 the existence of the monarchy was in question and the Imperial government concentrated on fighting first the revolution in Vienna and later that in Hungary. After the defeat of the revolutionary uprising in Prague in June 1848, the conflict between the two strongest political forces in the Austrian monarchy reached its peak. The camp of the Hungarian revolutionaries was also divided, but the position of Lajos Kossuth, advocating a radical administrative separation from Vienna, became increasingly influential. In response, the Imperial Court and the general staff, after initial hesitation, became increasingly inclined to suppress the Hungarian revolution and restore unity and ‘order’ in the monarchy via military intervention.

9In this situation new ideological tools were sought to secure the Monarchy from ‘Hungarian radicalism,’ and federalism—originally the weapon of the critics of the Habsburg government—became instrumentalized by the Court as well. A division of Hungary into ‘national provinces’ and their direct for-mal and legal integration into the Habsburg monarchy became a favorite conception among the representatives of the government led by Duke Felix Schwarzenberg, especially after the Imperial army crossed the borders of Hungary in December 1848. The government called on several experts to elaborate on the issues connected with the Austro-Federalist project, such as the ethnic structure, geopolitical situation, or economic and cultural level of particular nations.

10Count Majláth, held to be one of the leading experts on Hungary still loyal to the House of Habsburg, submitted six such papers intended for the internal use of the government in 1848–1849. He stressed the principle of the equality of nations, striving to project it onto territorial dimensions as well, and paid special attention to the Slovak question. His premise, reiterating the absolutist argument of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was that the Hungarian ‘rebellion’ provided the Imperial government with an opportunity to disregard Hungarian historical rights and to impose a new political framework. According to Majláth, Hungary should exist only formally, and in practice be divided into seven national districts each with a provincial Diet and administration headed by a special imperial commissioner. The districts were to be incorporated into the framework of the monarchy and represented in the Viennese Imperial Diet by their own deputies. The official language of the respective district was to be selected according to the language of the dominant ethnic group. The ‘District of the Carpathian Slavs’ with its capital of Banská Bystrica (Hun. Besztercebánya, Ger. Neusohl) was thus supposed to be governed by Slovaks and Ruthenians. Majláth suggested that the districts be established and their deputies nominated immediately, concurrently with the progress of the Imperial army. In the present paper, he is also at pains to revisit both the positive and the negative consequences of the prospective autonomy of the Slovaks and the Ruthenians from the Magyars, and, after taking into account all the historical, political, geographical, and mental factors, he came out in support of the autonomy of the “Carpathian Slavs” within Hungary.

11Majláth gave precedence to the interests of the Imperial government and Habsburg Court above all other considerations. His thinking accorded with the policy of restoring unity and order in the monarchy. Majláth's plan to rebuild the monarchy shared certain features with the efforts of the Slovak nationalists to establish a legal framework for their national and political autonomy, and, indeed, he maintained contact with several Slovak activists such as Michal M. Hodža, Jozef M. Hurban, and Štefan Závodník. Nevertheless, his proposals failed to find agreement with the influential Duke Windischgrätz, an ‘Old-Conservative’ general, as well as with a number of ministers in the government.

12Thus, after the crushing of the Hungarian revolution the government eventually decided to reorganize the state on different principles. The federalization plans were renounced, and Vienna imposed centralism by martial law, leading to the forming of the ‘neo-absolutistic’ regime at the beginning of the 1850s. In spite of failing to have any political impact, Majláth’s papers were later rediscovered by Slovak historiography and viewed as an ‘alternative’ tradition in the Habsburg politics favoring the efforts of the Slovak national movement.


An examination of the question: whether to annex the Carpathian Slavs and Ruthenians to the Magyars, or to deal with them as autonomous districts according to nationality

14In order adequately to answer the question before us, it is necessary to examine the grounds which are adduced for the one as well as for the other view. The conclusion then follows naturally.

15Favoring the reunification of the Carpathian Slavs and the Ruthenians with the Magyars are the following arguments:

  1. The Slavs and the Ruthenians are inert peoples, they have not expressed a wish to be independent.
  2. If the Slavs become independent, they will be possessed by Czechism, and thus strengthen the principle of Slavism in the Monarchy.
  3. The Magyars will be better disposed to the government if the government does not dissociate the Carpathian Slavs and Ruthenians from the Magyars.
  4. Equality of the nationalities presupposes equal competence, but the Carpathian Slavs and the Ruthenians are not as competent as the Magyars so they cannot also be equal.

16On the other hand, those who consciously want to separate the Slavs and the Ruthenians in the Carpathians from the Magyars and to deal with these nationalities independently say that:

  1. The Slavs are not an inert people, they have been suppressed and are only awaiting the opportunity to be able to express their own independence and nationality.
  2. If the Slavs were independent, they would be less inclined to fall under the influence of Czechism than if they were assigned again to the Magyars, for the Magyars would force the Magyar language upon the Slavs, undermine their nationality and in this way drive them right into the arms of the Czechs.
  3. The Magyars will not be thankful to the government if the Slavs and the Ruthenians were again associated with them, for on the one hand it will be perceived as though the government feared the Hungarian tribe, and on the other hand they will always want the Magyar tribe to annex the Croatians, the Romanians, and the Transylvanian Saxons. Similarly, in 1832–36 the government gave the three Transylvanian counties back to the Magyars, and the Magyars were not thereby satisfied in the least, but rather all the more vehemently demanded the annexation of the whole of Transylvania.
  4. Even if one accepts the still very questionable proposition that the Carpathian Slavs and the Ruthenians are not as equally competent as the Magyars, one must for this very reason make them equal, because only by their obtaining equal rights can they attain equal competence. Under Magyar sovereignty they will not attain equal competence. If one looks at the question of equal competence, the question must be asked whether the Magyars are as competent as the Bohemians or the Tranylvanian Saxons. Who would in the end be able to ascertain the relationship between the nationalities in the monarchy? The government must hold fast to the principle that each nationality has equal rights.

17Besides these refutational principles the following principles also speak for the independence of the Carpathian Slavs and the Ruthenians.

  1. To subordinate the Slavs to the Magyars means to punish the faithful and reward and strengthen rebellion.
  2. The principle of equal rights of the nationalities brings with it the independence of the Carpathian Slavs and Ruthenians.
  3. If the Carpathian Slavs are indeed joined to the Magyars, it would be damaging to the whole monarchy, for then they and the Magyars will make up a mass of eight million people and will consequently aspire to the same position that Hungary had before March 1848.
  4. The Magyar Diet will aspire to independence and then a common Diet for the monarchy will be impossible.
  5. The Magyars will insist upon a coronation and the election of the palatine.
  6. The administrative difficulties that one has had with Hungary for three hundred years would be renewed.
  7. The amalgamation of the Monarchy into a whole is impossible.
  8. In such circumstances there will again exist a Magyar army, not a Magyar regiment. We have just seen where that leads.
  9. Slavic Protestantism will be delivered into the hands of the Magyars. Whereas it is presently sympathetic to the monarchy, it will thereafter be separatist.
  10. The Slavs will be in constant communication with the highest judicial authority in Pest, and consequently with the revolutionary party domiciled in Pest.
  11. If the Slavs are not annexed to the Magyars in a just fashion, and this is very likely, they will always remain dissatisfied; there will always be difficulties, and the government will not be able to help any more.
  12. The Galician Ruthenians are to be extracted from the supremacy of the Poles; why then should the Ruthenians in Hungary remain under Magyar supremacy?
  13. The Croatians, Serbs, Romanians [“Wallachians”] and Transylvanian Saxons are to be removed from the supremacy of the Magyars, so why shouldn’t the Carpathian Slavs be as well?
  14. It is easier to Germanize than to Magyarize the Carpathian Slavs.

18It follows from all of this that the proposal to subordinate the Carpathian Slavs and the Ruthenians to the Magyars contradicts the interests of the whole monarchy, and also that, according to the governmental principle of the equality of nationalities, the Ruthenians in Hungary are to be united with the Ruthenians in Galicia and so form a single Ruthenia, while the Slavs in the Carpathians must be dealt with as a province independent of the Magyars.


Pavol Lukáč (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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