Christopher Wendt, November 1, 2018
In der tausendjährigen Geschichte Ungarns gabs wenige Tage, die so schicksalsschwer und bedeutungsvoll gewesen wären, wie der heutige. Wir wollen keine Phrasen gebrauchen. Worte sind zu farblos, um auszudrücken, welch’ unendlich wuchtige Ereignisse die Herzen erzittern machen. Wir hoffen, daß eine neue, sonnigere, segenbringende Zeit für uns alle angebrochen ist. Wir wollen dem Gebote dieser Zeit folgend, durch freudige Mitarbeit an der Neugestaltung den großen Ideen, die sich über den Trümmern der alten Welt, mit aller Gewalt durchsetzen, zum Siege verhelfen.
“In the thousand-year history of Hungary there have been few days that would have been as fateful and meaningful as that of today. We do not wish to use empty phrases. Words are too colorless to express those endlessly stunning events that make the heart tremble. We hope that a new, sunnier, beneficent time has opened up for all of us. Following the commandments of this time, and through joyful collaboration on its reshaping, we want to help bring to victory the new ideas, which assert themselves with all their might over the ruins of the old world.”
It was with such lofty language that the Temesvárer Zeitung — an influential German-language daily published in Timișoara/Temesvár, the unofficial capital of the Banat in then-Southern Hungary—greeted the supposed October 31 proclamation of the Republic of Hungary. After weeks of speculation on the future of Hungary and increasingly worried reports of the crumbling of the Austro-Hungarian Army on multiple fronts, the paper, which served as a forum for the city and region’s cosmopolitan Bürger, cast a hopeful eye to the future, while informing its readers of the exciting developments not only in Budapest, but in Timișoara/Temesvár itself.
 See Alexander Krischan, Die deutsche periodische Literatur des Banats: Zeitungen, Zeitschriften, Kalender; 1771 – 1971 (Munich: Verlag des Südostdeutsches Kulturwerkes, 1987), 13–14; and idem.Die “Temesvarer Zeitung” als Banater Geschichtsquelle (Munich: Veröffentlichungen des Südostdeutschen Kulturwerks, 1969).
Source: Biblioteca Judeţeană Timiş
As the Temesvarer Zeitung relayed to its readers, following news of the Hungarian Republic, which had been communicated to Timișoara/Temesvár via telephone (erroneously, as we shall see), a People’s Council of the Banat had been formed out of members of the numerous other councils—of workers, soldiers, and political parties, as well as of the city council—that had come together in the heady days of late October. The People’s Council, led by the officer (and future Hungarian Minister of Defense) Albert Bartha and the Social Democratic lawyer Ottó Róth, quickly proclaimed an autonomous “Banat Republic,” which nonetheless was to remain as an independent region within republican Hungary.
 See Mariana Hausleitner, Die Donauschwaben 1868 – 1948: ihre Rolle im rumänischen und serbischen Banat (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014), 66–67; and Andrea Schmidt-Rösler,Rumänien nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg: Die Grenzziehung in der Dobrudscha und im Banat und die Folgeprobleme (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1994), 205-6.
Important to note, however, is that the Hungarian Democratic Republic, under the leadership of Count Miháhly Károlyi, was not actually proclaimed until November 16, 1918. On October 31, Károlyi rejected Emperor Karl’s entreaty to form a new provisional government; on November 1, the Compromise of 1867 was declared null and void, and Hungary’s bond with the Habsburg Monarchy broken.
These fine political points, however, do not seem to have been communicated (or at least not to have concerned) either the Temesvárer Zeitung or political leaders such as Róth in Timișoara/Temesvár. Such a miscommunication of a Hungarian “republic,”—which, as it was telephoned to Timișoara/Temesvár by representatives of the Hungarian National Council in Budapest, may have been on purpose—could also explain the early declaration of the Banat Republic: Róth and his allies may have believed that they simply were following Karólyi’s lead from the Hungarian capital.
Lajos Kossuth square (Piața Traian) Source: Wikimedia Commons
In recounting the events of October 31 in Timișoara/Temesvár, the Temesvárer Zeitung focused on the founding of the Soldier’s and Peoples’ Councils. In the constitutive meeting of the “Soldier’s Council,” which took place at 11 o’clock in the officers’ casino, speakers appeared to appeal to both—at times seemingly contradictory—traditional patriotic and new-found national loyalties. One leading Hungarian officer made clear to the assembled officers his expectation that they would continue to fulfill their duty “to the preservation of order and defense of the fatherland.” At the same time, he announced that the Czech, Polish, and Croat officers of the Austro-Hungarian Army who were present “could without delay leave the city, in order to return to their homeland and offer their services to their own national council.” With this, a military doctor took the floor and, speaking in Czech (the previous speakers were presumably speaking in Hungarian), exhorted Czech officers to remain in Timișoara /Temesvár for as long as possible, as their services in the local garrison hospital were “indispensable.” Hereupon, returning to stressing nationality, the meeting broke into smaller contingents of Hungarian, “Swabian” (German), Romanian, and Serbian officers.
At this point, the Temesvárer Zeitung’s portrayal of the Soldier’s Council leads to some confusion. After noting that one officer, Commandant Hordt, along with the officers of the “military command” and local garrison subordinated themselves to the Hungarian National Council, the column describes the officers coming together once again to conclude the meeting by singing the Hungarian national hymn. But did those singing include all the officers of the Soldiers’ Council, or just the Hungarian group? And if this did include all the officers (including those who presented themselves as Romanian, Serbian, or Swabian), then the question arises of how to evaluate their final action, in which the officers removed the “rosettes” from their caps, and replaced them with the “national colors.” Were these the Hungarian national colors, or the respective colors of each national group present? Was this a show of continued patriotism and unity, a sign of division along national lines, or could it even represent movement towards a conservative rejection of the “Aster Revolution” playing out in Budapest? Most likely, it seems to indicate that at this specific moment, a combination of these first two loyalties—to one’s national group and “fatherland”—were not seen to be at odds with one another, and more than that, actively encouraged.
Hunyadi street (Str. 16 Decembrie 1989) Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Temesvárer Zeitung’s description of the proclamation of the new “People’s Council,” which took place that same day at 12 o’clock on the Prince Eugene Square, again drew attention to the affinities that seemed to cut across affiliations of nationality, class, and religion on October 31. In his speech, reprinted in the paper and held before a public of “many thousands” of civilians, soldiers, and flag-waving workers, “People’s Commissioner” Róth praised the peaceful efforts of soldiers and workers in bringing about a new political order.
“The revolution has come,” he declared, “and is already over.”
“We showed the world, we showed our later descendants, that the people of the Banat and of Temesvár could fight for the republic and a better future without [shedding] blood.”
Furthermore, he spoke to the multinational and multi-confessional character of the Banat, and underlined his own rootedness in it—particularly as a Social Democrat:
“I was born and raised here, for fifteen years I’ve been active in public life, and I know no difference between Hungarians, Germans, Serbians or Romanians; I am an international Social Democrat, because I know only people and brothers; I am without confession, because I wanted to let myself be influenced by neither the Christian nor the Jewish religion; I am the man of the people.”
Róth and many of his compatriots on the People’s Council thus seemed to have envisioned a Hungary reformed along the lines of Oszkár Jászi’s conception, in which regional and national autonomy were to be ensured and general democratization was to transform the state. Until the structure of such a state could be worked out, multinational councils and committees were to ensure the local governance of the Banat.
Yet away from Timișoara/Temesvár on November 1, the First World War still ground away on multiple fronts. The ceasefire that halted fighting in the south between a Serbian-French expeditionary force and the disintegrating army of Austria-Hungary was only signed in Belgrade on November 13, and the claims of both Serbia and Romania to the Banat largely shaped the region’s future. Yet the political activities and social solidarities displayed in Timișoara/Temesvár in late October and early November of 1918, tenuous as they may have been, still reveal much the disorienting changes, as well as imperial continuities, that shaped this tumultuous period. On the one hand, the existence of a sense of patriotic loyalty to the “fatherland” and the presence of an active sphere of “civil society” in Timișoara/Temesvár can be seen as products of the Habsburg imperial experience. On the other hand, the affirmation of the principle of nationality (especially by imperial officers) and the general public enthusiasm shown for a republican system make evident certain shifts that occurred over the First World War and with its end. As this one article from the Temesvárer Zeitung helps to demonstrate, both these imperial survivals and ruptures served to color efforts to reshape the state at the local level at the end of the First World War, in Timișoara/Temesvár just as across the Habsburg space.
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