The curious case of Prekmurje: Yugoslav nation state and the imposition of the imperial Austrian administrative regulations in the former Hungarian region
In July 1919, the Yugoslav delegation at the Paris Peace Conference received permission to occupy segments of two western counties of what was until then known as the Kingdom of Hungary: Vas (or Železna in Slovene) and Zala. In early August 1919, the forces of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes crossed the former state border and took control over the Hungarian region, in line with the demarcations drawn in Paris. A year later, the Yugoslav territorial acquisition was confirmed by the Treaty of Trianon and the region received a new official name—Prekmurje.
This presentation aims to illustrate and analyze the imposition of imperial Austrian administrative regulations in this former Hungarian region. It might sound curious to claim that in the years following the annexation the Austrian administrative legacy was present in a region that belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary. However, if we analyze the circumstances on the level of administrative practices and the organization of state offices, this was precisely the case in post-Hungarian Prekmurje. Slovene officials who were sent there from Ljubljana to take up administrative positions in the region built the whole Yugoslav administrative system upon Cisleithanian legal traditions that remained in use in other Slovene parts that merged into Yugoslavia.
Existing Hungarian administrative bodies were hence disbanded. They were replaced with the ad-hoc office of the civil commissioner as the highest representative of the provisional Yugoslav state institutions in Prekmurje. Moreover, on June 1, 1921, a new administrative unit was introduced in Prekmurje—the good old Austrian district. By introducing the district, an administrative unit that in terms of organization and competences drew direct organizational lineages with imperial Austria, Prekmurje was administratively unified with the other parts of the territory under the authority of the provincial government (Deželna vlada) in Ljubljana.
As a consequence, in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Prekmurje, as a former Hungarian region, came into contact with a Slovene administration in Ljubljana that based its practices and skills predominantly on the Austrian imperial administrative legacy. The same was the case with legislative practices and court procedures: here, the Austrian tradition also replaced the Hungarian one. Soon after the occupation, the provincial government in Ljubljana nullified the existing Hungarian laws in Prekmurje. In their stead, it proclaimed the laws that had been in use in other territories under its authority as the only existing legal framework.
Somehow paradoxically, while living in the presumably Yugoslav nation state, former citizens of Hungary, who populated Prekmurje’s villages and towns after the annexation, had to acquaint themselves with the previously imperial Austrian laws, administrative procedures, and organization of state institutions. The imposition of former Austrian procedures, norms, and practices, however, was not absolute, which further complicated the situation on the ground.