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10: Hang the Kings!

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Or behead them like the French? Belgium broke away from the Habsburg realm, and, although the dying king had withdrawn his decrees, Hungary also threatened to do the same. For this reason, the younger brother of Joseph II, Leopold II (1790-1792), hastily announced that he would follow his mother's path and not his brother's. A lengthy bargaining about the details of his course and the ways of dividing power commenced between the Estates and the monarch.

The Jacobin movement in Hungary, which ended in tragedy, was a part of this. Ignác Martinovics, a Franciscan friar, was the leader of a secret society faithful to the principles of the French Enlightenment but never able to win the masses over. This ardently capable and polymathic scholar and materialistic philosopher was an agent provocateur, a secret agent of Vienna. What did the court want from Martinovics? Nothing more than to exert pressure on the conservative aristocracy to take the wind out of the sails of a radicalism, made all the more dangerous because it was uncontrollable, through the sheer existence of the group he organized and recruited from a middle class longing for bourgeois liberty. And in addition, to "draw the badger out of the bushes", to establish the identity of the revolutionary, the seditious group. Though Martinovics was a figure full of ambition who indulged himself in double and triple games and gambled perilously, it still cannot be denied that, in his own blundering Machiavellian way he meant well. At times he deluded himself with the belief that he could induce the king to undertake reforms, at times with the idea that his undercover work was purely tactical and that he would ultimately have the upper hand. A split personality, he did not see the net he had woven for himself; he was even less able to retreat when his cause was fated to fail. And there was another change on the throne: the son of Leopold II, Francis 1(1792- 1836), was a decidedly retrograde ruler who immediately ended all ambiguity about the Hungarian Jacobin movement. He put its participants on trial and beheaded its leaders, with Martinovics in the fore. Four authors, the best of the Hungarian Enlightenment, were also among those given long prison sentences.

Leopold II had barely embarked on the war against revolutionary France; it was Francis I who deployed the troops. This is not the place to explore in detail how this war requiring so much Hungarian blood turned into the struggle against Napoleon, into an all European involvement. Perhaps it is enough to point out that Marie Antoinette, the French queen beheaded in Paris in 1793, was Maria Theresa's daughter; in touchingly naive letters, the mother warned her daughter about the frivolous life that undoubtedly had a role in the eruption of the French people's wrath. Barely seventeen years later, in 1810, the defeated and disgraced Francis I could save the savable only by giving his daughter, Marie Louise -thus Marie Antoinette's second cousin- in marriage to Napoleon, whose first marriage had ended under tasteless circumstances. (. . . you, happy Austria, make marriages...?) It was of small consolation to the arrogant Habsburgs that by now Napoleon had been emperor for a long time, wanted to establish a dynasty, and had, for the most part, liquidated the achievements of the French Revolution.

Meanwhile, did the Hungarians cast wary eyes at Paris, as the Jacobin poet, János Batsányi, recommended they do? Maybe. We cannot even say for certain how they perceived it. No doubt, the French Revolution's swift and surging veerings aroused their interest and, indeed, their enthusiasm as well, though its real impact did not unfold then but a half century later. The changes in France rather alarmed the nobility. Later, Napoleon could, as emperor, again exercise magnetism with his imposing victories. Yet, not very many cherished the hope that Hungary's national interests could actually be realized through him. This Corsican was too greedy, his fortunes were too fickle! This opinion was also reflected in the fact that when Napoleon -the living legend himself- in 1809 entered Hungarian soil with his armies and in a proclamation (composed by Batsányi) called on Hungarians to break away from Vienna, his summons fell on deaf ears.

The year 1809 was a memorable one in Hungarian military history and social development. A call for the nobility to take up arms was issued for the last time. And the army of the Hungarian nobility, joining an Austrian force of similar strength, was annihilated at Györ despite its slight edge in numbers.

This humiliating defeat later served the progressive forces of Hungary as an important argument in support of modernization. Namely, it revealed how definitely obsolete was the legal system under which the nobility paid for its privileges by defending the homeland -in case of an attack- with their swords. For all practical purposes, the nation now terminated this "social pact" that was agreed upon very long ago and was so vaguely outlined. It no longer asked for "protection" from the nobles, who had turned boorish, had lost their military virtues, whose cast of mind was engulfed in cobwebs and their swords covered with rust, and whom the Corsican drubbed so ignominiously at Györ.

This verdict was entirely justifiable from a historical perspective. It is, however, worth mentioning that it was naive to expect twenty thousand insurgents who have just been mustered into an army from their humble village estates -and as many Austrians who, though regulars, were nevertheless demoralized- to break the neck and block the way of that Bonaparte who more than once had rolled victoriously with his veterans from one end of Europe to the other. The problem was not with the personal courage of the majority of Hungarian nobles entering battle at Györ. They fought hard, bled, died, and were routed -they did their duty. Their crime was not the defeat. It was that they did not sense earlier that time had passed them by. (Of course, I myself am biased. Namely, one of my ancestors and his brother, lesser nobles from Zala County, were there; saving each other's lives and that of their commanding officer, they distinguished themselves in that ominous battle at Györ.)

On the other hand, both the Hungarian nobility and the nation derived substantial profit from the Napoleonic wars for a long time: demand for and prices of agricultural products increased. At this time, the chief export items, in addition to wheat, were wool and tobacco. However, the conservative restoration which the Holy Alliance organized by Vienna imposed on Europe weighed ever more heavily politically on Hungary too. And with regard to the economy, war expenditures and defraying of debts with paper money, and the inflation of currency, particularly its frequent devaluation, once again sharply confronted the ruler, who had returned to absolutism, and the Hungarians.

Among the latter, national awakening took a new direction. Writers -including those who had been imprisoned as Jacobins- stood at the head of that trend of the Hungarian Enlightenment which discovered our language. In our country, Latin was the traditional and second mother tongue of the nobility -Horace was a frequently quoted "domestic" poet, almost a family member in most country seats of the nobility and since the sixteenth century, the pressure to make German the official language of the state kept reviving. But could it be possible for Hungarian to remain the poor, tolerated third language in its own country! Let it take its rightful place everywhere! And if to this end it must be developed, then the writers will invent and form new words and make this language suitable not only for the national literature but also for the purposes of science and state life.

The desire for modernization had many roots. The cities and the middle classes were powerless, but they did exist. They could not stand in the forefront, but they could show their faces. While many of them had earlier traveled around Europe as soldiers, now, with the advent of more peaceful decades, it was the aristocrats who traversed the continent and had the opportunity to make comparisons. The best of them recognized the shocking symptoms of backwardness and the curse with which it depressed their own and the nation's prosperity. Many of the lesser nobles became poor: their ancient estates were broken up or disappeared from under them. They had to take on official duties, and this was not just a new phenomenon in their lives; their participation in community life was also something entirely different from the time when they viewed the world through the protection of the sheepskin, or precisely for its protection (in other words, their patents of nobility traditionally written on parchment prepared from sheepskin).

The giant of this period, the first half of the nineteenth century, was an aristocrat with an athletic build and a noble, sharp-featured face, Count István Széchenyi. His father had already founded two of our major public institutions with generous donations, the National Museum and the National Library that today bears his family's name. Széchenyi himself gave an almost extravagant sum for the establishment of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. But this was only one episode in his life.

"Shall the waters of the homeland always flood with boundless rage its most fertile regions, and shall the arbitrariness of poison emitted by swamps always breed misery and death? Shall the peaks of the Severin and the crags of the Danube always block our communication with other inhabitants of the world? A single lean year plunge half the country into mourning in future as it so often has in the past? The small tax now levied upon the people become increasingly burdensome with the passage of time? Shall a permanent bridge never link the heart of the homeland, Buda and Pest? A national theater forever be denied to a people who, so to speak, possess nothing outside their own language? A better knowledge of agriculture never clothe in green our sun soaked, barren plains and leaf-littered heaths? Manufacturing, fabrication, and trade never elevate the wealth of our country? The Hungarian forever remain unknown abroad? No, no! Our country, deserving of a more beautiful life, must cast aside this pity or these blemishes worthy of disdain." (Hitel [Credit], 1831.)

How numerous are the themes in just these few lines, in a single paragraph of his written lifework extending over countless volumes: improvement of waterways, a bridge, a stone theater, agricultural knowledge, industrial manufacturing, commerce. Let us look at just one of them: the flooding. The Carpathian Basin is an enormous flat-bedded "skillet" in which the streams all flow to the interior; the Danube is the only one flowing outward. And even with just the territory of present-day Hungary in mind, half its inhabitants live in such an area, and one-third of the agriculturally cultivated land, most of it the best- lies in regions that floods regularly destroyed in earlier times, before Széchenyi initiated defensive operations. Holland is the only other example in Europe of similar struggles between water and man, where the ocean is the enemy and where polder reclamation continues today.

But we also regard István Széchenyi as the father of inland steamboat navigation. And adopting the methods of MacAdam, the Scottish engineer, he organized the construction of a network of stone streets. He promoted bank and credit enterprises and supplies of money for the economy. He recognized the value of the Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, which others wanted to drain and put to the plow. He supported horse racing as one of the bases for modern animal husbandry. It would take too long to list his other far-reaching ideas and accomplishments. Now it can also be revealed that while, as today, the developed West mightily protected its inventions, its technical achievements from the East, the aristocratic Széchenyi, at the cost of bribing a customs official, smuggled across the Channel a gas appliance whose export was banned under the imposition of the death sentence. On that occasion, perhaps, of greater consequence to him than the risk of his own life was the possibility that his arrest would have very painfully affected his relatives and his friends in the most exclusive circles of the British aristocracy and the court who a few days earlier had gathered around him so enthusiastically.

And yet, the life of this splendid man was nothing but inner struggle, discord, and anguish. He had to struggle until his death, not only with his country's backwardness but also with blockheads or, perhaps, the very hotheaded. His rash and sinful relationship with his older brother's wife, an Englishwoman named Caroline Meade, cast a shadow on his youthful period; he won his great love only after many years, after her husband's death, though this greatly desired, patiently awaited, and late marriage failed to succeed. And in connection with Széchenyi, too, we must mention his Hamlet-like character: his journal is crammed with doubts, terror, and thoughts of death.

Younger than he by a decade and more radical (perhaps merely apparently so) was the, in fact, déclassé Lajos Kossuth, a member of the gentry who built first a provincial and then a parliamentary career for himself. With him -and the dispute about Széchenyi and Kossuth still the subject of heated debates, today- we arrive at the Hungarian chapter of the 1848 wars of independence in Europe.

In the middle of the century, youthful parliamentarians -delegates, secretaries, and deputies- law students, young writers, and other intellectuals introduced into Hungary the ideas that roused even a whole series of capital cities between Paris and Prague even to the point of revolution at the end of winter and in the spring of 1848. Lajos Kossuth played a paramount role in these events. When speaking of him, we must mention the special merging of social roots, character, and possibilities he manifested. He spent the years of his youth in Zemplén, the locale of Tokay wine, and, holding office in the county's administration, he bore a lion's share in suppressing the uprising resulting from an outbreak of cholera in 1831. The embittered and impoverished serfs of northern Hungary held their own masters responsible for the epidemic, believing blindly that wells disinfected with chlorine had actually been poisoned. The army suppressed their rebellion, and bloody reprisals, executions, and mass floggings followed. At this time, Kossuth, displaying more than a modicum of courage and executive ability, protected his own class, though he increasingly perceived the symptoms and consequences of stagnant social development in Hungary in the rebellion.

He was an Adonis and a magnificent orator. When his career in Zemplén County came to a standstill, he sought a new arena for himself in Pozsony (Bratislava). Exchanging the provincial forum for the national, he discerned with great sensitivity the shortcomings of the press and the deficiency of information, the paralyzing effect of censorship. First his parliamentary reports -handwritten in the beginning- constantly obstructed by established authority, and then his ever-widening publicist and political activities increased his prestige and circle of followers. He helped organize the boycott of Austrian goods and the development of domestic industries, based, lacking capital, on national zeal; while engaged in these, he promoted the wearing of national attire by women.

And thus, that Kossuth was maturing whose leadership role seemed to become almost unmistakable in 1848-49. He was already the chief political factor when the concrete role he took was still narrow in scope.

In Hungary, the sparks of ideas flying back and forth between Vienna and Pest -and Pozsony, where Parliament was in session- detonated the popular movement on March 15, 1848. Even though the uprising would be terribly fiery and seething, the road was, in the beginning, still open to constitutional resolution. Compelled only by the obstinate and perfidious attitude of the court in Vienna and swept along by the innate laws of radicalization, the Hungarians arrived at armed conflict and then the act of dethronement at the parliamentary session in Debrecen.

"What do the Hungarian people want? Let peace, liberty, and harmony prevail!

1. We want freedom of the press, the abolition of censorship.

2. A responsible Ministry in Buda and Pest.

3. An annual parliamentary session in Pest.

4. Civil and religious equality before the law.

5. A National Guard.

6. A joint sharing of tax burdens.

7. The cessation of socage.

8. Juries and representation on an equal basis.

9. A national bank.

10. The army to swear to support the constitution, our soldiers not be dispatched abroad, and foreign soldiers removed from our soil.

11. The freeing of political prisoners.

12. Union with Transylvania. Equality, liberty, and fraternity!"

These were the Twelve Points. Instead of going into the details as to what the demanded cessation of socage, in the given period of Hungarian feudalism, really meant or why the union with Transylvania, which earlier had again been forced under the rule of Vienna, was judged necessary, I would rather call attention to the degree to which the imprint of place and time is felt in the drafting of this dramatic proclamation: the fervid haste, the makeshift formulation that occurred in the heat of the moment. The twin of the Twelve Points is Sándor Petöfi's "National Song", written in the course of the night of March 15, 1848, which opens on this high-sounding note:

Rise Hungarians, your country calls!
The time is now, now or never!
Shall we be slaves or free?
This is the question, choose!
To the God of the Hungarians
We swear,
We swear we shall slaves
No longer be!

The "National Song" could only partially fill a role as the Hungarian "Marseillaise" in the 1848-49 War of Independence, because neither then nor now was truly good music composed for it. So, when actors and zealous patriots recited it, the crowd could speak mainly the refrain aloud with them but not sing it.

The Twelve Points and the "National Song" are the two texts with which revolutionary Pest indicated that there was no longer a time lag between word and deed. If the abolition of censorship was present in the first point, demonstrators seized the best-known press in Pest, and, immediately printing the prose and poetic proclamations, they flooded the streets with leaflets. In

Buda they freed the prisoner" Mihály Táncsics from jail, which was such a notable act of the 1848 bourgeois revolution because Táncsics was a forerunner of the still non-existent Hungarian proletariat.

We shall continue to follow only the main currents of events. The Habsburg Empire became inflamed or glowed on the verge of flaring up, and the king, Ferdinand V (1830-1848), or rather his councilors acting in the place of the sick and undistinguished monarch, at first easily -too easily- assented to the formation of a responsible Hungarian government, in which both István Széchenyi and Lajos Kossuth occupied posts as Minister of Public Works and Transportation and Minister of Finance respectively. The Prime Minister was Count Lajos Batthyány, who did not really want a post so open to many pitfalls but who, precisely because of his well-known unparalleled integrity and composure, enjoyed wide confidence.

Were fire and water being mixed in this government? Well, Széchenyi and Kossuth had never disagreed about major goals, only about paths leading to them. Széchenyi was afraid of a sea of flames, whose spread he considered unstoppable; he believed that the barriers that Kossuth would have ignited by throwing firebrands at them could be removed by argument and patience. Széchenyi liked to argue and could do so, Kossuth was able to inspire. But soon there was no need for arguments. Inspiration, on the other hand, became indispensable ammunition, supplementing gunpowder occasionally. But it is not certain that all this vindicates the inspirer against the arguer .

When Vienna came to its senses, it did not attack frontally. Exploiting the fact that Croatia, which was directly dependent on the Hungarians within the Habsburg Empire, would have itself liked more independence from the Hungarians even as we did from the Austrians; the court, thus offering something that did not, or did not directly belong to it within this peculiar system of state law, mobilized the Croatians. However, their forces invading from the south did not reach Pest. The hastily mustered Hungarian army, which consisted mainly of territorials, dispersed and routed them. But since they fled to Vienna and not home to Zagreb, their pursuers also headed in this direction.

They did so all the more because an uprising was occurring in Vienna at the beginning of October. If not the king himself -even Petöfi was to "recommend" this only in a later poem- the rebels did hang the Minister of War on the street. The first responsible Hungarian government, which, in fact, was a coalition balancing various tendencies, resigned. The Committee of National Defense replaced it. Lajos Kossuth was its leader. However, the Hungarian army, though it did cross the national border, came to a sudden halt before Vienna. Not before the enemy. For a time, caution and the fiction of constitutionality gained the upper hand. And when the situation at home continued to grow more radical -and in the meantime, the displaced court tried to turn the Serbians as well as the Rumanians against the Hungarians- the Hungarian army which eventually moved ahead to relieve a Vienna besieged by the reorganized Imperial forces suffered defeat.

At the end of 1848, the court compelled the incompetent Ferdinand V to resign. Francis Joseph I (1848-1916), his nephew, who was sixteen years old at the time, took his place, even "stepping over" his heir-apparent father. Though at the time of succession to the throne he was in the clutches of his bigoted and dictatorial mother, it can be said of him now that he was to fill a determinative role in the region for sixty-eight years.

Who was being verified at home by later developments, if, indeed, the quest for verification can really have any meaning in a revolutionary situation? Victorious in Vienna, the Imperial forces soon launched attacks on Hungarian soil as well and occupied both Buda and Pest. Then, although battles of varying success went on almost everywhere in the country, the 1849 spring campaign essentially produced victories for the Hungarians. In Transylvania, the Polish General Bem provided brilliant leadership; he was the impassioned itinerant soldier of Central European revolutions, who was to close his life in final exile in Aleppo as a Turkish pasha, a convert to Mohammedanism. The Hungarian commander-in-chief of the army, Arthur Görgey, became, perhaps, the most frequently and most widely controversial general in our history, although no one could ever question his personal courage and military capability; however, his temperament did not make him very suitable to lead a revolutionary army. His obstinacy and vanity embroiled him in an inevitable rivalry with Kossuth, who, in many respects, had a similar temperament. The friction between the political and military leadership of the revolution was ceaseless. Meanwhile, the army itself was not unified; it was rent by generals of divergent character, cast of mind, political views who sought to outvie one another.

Thus the domestic situation was both encouraging and troubling. For a time, the nation successfully supported with paper money -called the Kossuth banknote- an economic lifeline for uniforms, food, and munitions for the armed forces that was not bad under the prevailing circumstances. In the newly established war industry, jack-of-all-trades Hungarians worked competitively -the Székely Áron Gábor created a cannon factory almost out of nothing- and so did industrial and manufacturing families that had recently immigrated but were quickly becoming Hungarians at heart. The personal participation of Jews in Hungary in the War of Independence was extensive and not only in the sense of a material sacrifice.

But history repeats itself. The conflict of interest between the noblemen and serfs had already appeared in the Rákóczi period. The law had already declared the liberation of the serfs. True, but the court in Vienna had also accepted this law. Consequently, this achievement had only a slight connection with the issue of national independence. On the other hand, many of the less important services of serfs remained in place to which the law did not apply; their survival or abolition continued to be the subject of debate. The destitute peasant, the cotter, gained nothing worth defending.

Francis Joseph I's Olmütz Constitution was prepared. In some ways it put Hungary in a situation similar to that which was characteristic of the time after the Turks, when martial law prevailed. It, however, declared the equality of rights for the minorities in the Habsburg Empire. The Hungarians should have done at least that much as well. Or would not even this have satisfied every natural desire of the non-Hungarians living in the border provinces of the Carpathian Basin?

In this situation, the dethronement proclaimed in Debrecen after extensive debate was a daring leap forward. Kossuth became regent; his government, however, had moderate tendencies and was open to negotiation. Was the dethronement both a severance and a search for compromise? But no one was left to negotiate. A few weeks after the act of dethronement, the Czar of all the Russians, Nicholas I, offered armed assistance to the Austrians. At their meeting in Warsaw, Francis Joseph I publicly thanked him by kissing his hand.

The czar's army, made up mainly of Cossacks, forged ahead, not without forced delays but enjoying superiority nevertheless, against the Hungarian forces caught between two fires, who sometimes fought magnificently, but sometimes were demoralized. By now, a decision enunciating the rights of nationalities or any other endeavor would have been futile. Kossuth resigned and fled to the east. On August 13, Görgey, invested with full powers, surrendered with the main Hungarian army to Russian troops at Világos, in Arad County.

As with Count Sándor Károlyi's act in 1711, we are again pierced by doubt: was Arthur Görgey a traitor or not? To this very day, volumes that would fill a library and dozens of dramas addressed this question. Let us lay down some arguments and facts. The Hungarian forces kept decreasing and weakening, both in morale and equipment. The dethronement turned many away. Cholera was destroying the czar's troops, but an epidemic is hardly selective. General György Klapka, who withdrew to the powerful fortification at Komárom with his own garrison troops and with the mass of people joining them, put up resistance even after Világos, and obtained complete amnesty for himself and all his men when he finally capitulated. Görgey trusted the amnesty promised by the czarist generals; however, the Austrians disregarded it after the surrender, to the disgust of Russians with finer feelings. There might have been a corner of the country -for example, the Tihany peninsula stretching into Lake Balaton- where the remaining insurgents, barricading themselves, could have made the siege so costly that they might have won terms comparable to those gamed at Komárom.

Generally, in history, we call it fruitless to raise the question "what would have happened if . . . ?" But it is a tragic fact that whereas Görgey capitulated with his main army on August 13, the Austrian Council of Ministers instructed the military regime on August 16 to undertake negotiations with very favorable terms; however, when news of Világos arrived in Vienna, a new order calling for severe reprisals replaced this decision.

The czar's army marched out of Hungary. The Austrian Field-Marshal Haynau had command over life and death in the country. On his orders, the death sentence was carried out on October 6 in Arad against thirteen generals by a hangman or -out of mercy- by a firing squad. Perhaps, weighed against the great numbers of other victims, it is somewhat unfair for us to mention the Arad Thirteen so frequently; the day of their martyrdom is a day of national mourning, although another hundred or so died and thousands were imprisoned, while tens of thousands drafted as common soldiers had to serve unpredictable numbers of years in the godforsaken spots of the empire.

On October 6, 1849, the Austrians also executed in Pest Count Lajos Batthyány, the former Prime Minister who had, however, counted on being a moderating element to the very end. It is a question for psychologists to answer why Francis Joseph I afterwards kept the painting of Batthyány's execution in the Burg apartments so that he could look at it every day. Was he so imbued with hatred toward him? Or was he repenting in a peculiar way? Both are plausible in an emperor with such a strange character.

Haynau, who was also called Hyena of Brescia because of his earlier atrocities in Italy, created an atmosphere that even Vienna soon could not stomach. The emperor relieved him. On his last day, in his wounded fury, in a schizophrenic and capricious manner, Haynau ordered immediate executions and performed unexpected acts of mercy at the same time. His name and portrait were so well known, so widely spread throughout Europe at the time that when he traveled as a private citizen, English longshoremen recognized him and beat him up. At the end of his life -again a strange turn- he bought a village estate in eastern Hungary and lived there as a meek landowner. Not so long ago, a researcher collected fantastic tales about him and his family still being told by people living in this area. In them, Haynau is a Dracula-like vampire.

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