Hungary Takes a Step toward Independence of Austria

[Current Opinion, February 1915]

Ever since the interviews between Count Tisza, Hungarian Premier, and the Emperor William-—interviews alleged to have been stormy—the press of the Allies has affirmed that friction exists between Budapest and Vienna. Hungary has been sacrificed to the general war policy of the Germanic sovereigns. Magyar discontent on this score would seem to explain the abrupt retirement of Count Berchtold as foreign minister for the dual monarchy itself. That was the grievance set forth to Emperor William by Count Tisza, according to a circumstantial story in the Paris Temps. His majesty was irritated by that intimation, according to the French daily. To him it seemed that both the Austrian and the German armies had done their best to rid Hungary of the presence of her Russian invader. Nevertheless the words of Count Tisza made so profound an impression upon the imperial mind that the German campaign in the East was stimulated prodigiously. Such is the explanation in the western European press of the events of the past weeks in Europe. Germany arranged to hold her line in the west in order to effect a heavier concentration against the Russians. Any other course might have resulted in such a spread of the independence propaganda throughout Hungary that Count Tisza would have had to go with the stream. As it was, he made a statement to his Parliament in answer to a question regarding the Russian invasion which had "a bewildering effect" in Vienna.

Difficulty of Getting News from Eastern Europe.

Hungary is at this moment so completely swayed by the military factor that nothing precise regarding the controversy between Budapest and Vienna can be learned in Paris or London. The inspired Hirlap (Budapest) and Az Est (Budapest) are alleged to be censored so strictly as to render their optimistic comment on the military situation too fanciful. Count Tisza is in reality suppressing all expression of the feeling for an independent Hungary. These papers did not even report the Count's sensational words when he told the deputies that an invasion of Hungary was a matter vitally concerning the peoples and armies of Germany and Austria as well as the Magyars. In case the importance of the event was not realized in either Berlin or Vienna, the invasion, the Count added, would be an affair for Hungary to settle for herself. Independent Hungary, he even declared, would find a means to concentrate her sons who were fighting abroad in a defense of their own homes from the incursion of the foe.

Censors Suppress the Hungarian Premier's Speech.

So sensational were the utterances of Count Tisza to the deputies in Budapest that no verbatim report of his speech appeared in the dailies of that city, altho he is Premier and therefore at the head of the government. The Count was too excited to measure the full force of his words, explains a journalist writing from Hungary to the London Post. The Vienna Neue Freie Presse does not think the Count said the thing put into his mouth, but the inspired organs of Austrian opinion, including the Zeit, commented upon it bitterly. They accused Count Tisza of disloyalty. Viennese journalists in the press gallery could scarcely believe their ears, according to another account. They could not understand how Tisza, the zealous champion of the dual system in the Hapsburg monarchy, brought himself to the use of such inflammatory language. They forgot, the London Post says, that Tisza is first of all a Hungarian and therefore loyal to the Hapsburg monarchy only while that sentiment does not prejudice the national interests of Hungary. Next day, the story runs, he was summoned to Vienna, where he saw Francis Joseph, the aged monarch expressing his displeasure but refusing the Count's resignation.

Hungary in a Mood to Part From Austria.

Applause like that which greeted Tisza's allusion to the possibility of his country's complete independence never made a roof rattle so much in Budapest, thinks a correspondent of the Matin. This is a French dairy, and therefore prone to make much of any little difference between Vienna and Budapest, says the Vossische (Berlin). Members of the opposition in Hungary—one of whom fired a revolver at Tisza a few years ago-—cheered ten minutes. The enthusiasm was much greater than that which greeted the declaration of war. A round robin is said to have been signed by all the opposition members of the national committee, adds the London Post, including Count Apponyi, Count Andrassy, Count Karolyi and Count Battyány, in which they call upon the Magyars to be ready to defend the independent frontiers of the kingdom in the event of the authorities "in whose hands we placed our forces" not complying, with the wishes of their supreme ruler—the Hungarian nation. Tisza did not go the length of signing this round robin himself, but he agreed to have it placarded all over the country. The military forces, under German commanders, are said to be tearing these manifestoes down. Energy of an unprecedented kind has, ever since the manifestation of the spirit of Hungarian revolt, been exercized in driving the Russians out of the Carpathians. The effect of that effort results in two sets of reports of events in the theater of operations. The Vienna Neue Freie Presse reports one series of victories for Austro-German arms after another. The Petrograd Novoye Vremya has the forces of Germany and Austria flying in rout.

Hungarian Suspicion of German Influence.

German counsels in the affairs of the Dual monarchy inspire resentment in both Budapest and Vienna, if the Zeit of the latter city interprets national sentiment correctly. The Hungarians in particular are aroused by concessions promised to the Roumanians. The net result of the policy in force in Berlin and Vienna, as the Hirlap fears, is a sacrifice of Hungarian nationality. A much better feeling has been created within the past few weeks by the modification of the Berlin campaign in deference to Austro-Hungarian susceptibilities. There is, too, the Berlin Vossische thinks, a tendency in the press of the Allies to magnify every discussion between the Germans and their associates into a serious feud. Never, it thinks, was harmony more complete. There exists at this time, according to the Kölnische Zeitung, an Anglo-Saxon campaign of vilification against Germans generally, a specter called Pan-Germanism being used to alarm the neutral nations. The statement impresses the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, but it inspires criticism in other Vienna dailies as a misreading of the situation. Budapest organs note with concern the tendency of the Russians to march into that part of Hungary which is peopled largely by Ruthenians and Roumanians. Roumania is not only affected sentimentally by such a development but also because the operations impinge upon her frontier. There are three million Roumanians in Transylvania, notes the London Post, and with the approach of the Russians no power can stop them from breaking out into rebellion. The disaffection of the Roumanian population is deep-seated and only the most severe repression has kept it quiet so far. The situation is even more acute with regard to the Ruthenians, who have always considered themselves Russians. Here as in Servia, complains the Magyarország, an independence party organ in Budapest, Hungary is confronted with the indifference of the German general staff. "All our demands and entreaties were answered in only one way. The German staff brought one disaster upon us in striving to avert another. We checked the advance of the Russians and paid a price which, may prove in excess of the value we received. Our successes in the Carpathians are by no means assured as yet."

Hungarian Explanations of Russian Successes.

Budapest dailies are more candid than are their Vienna contemporaries in giving the Russians credit for effecting a stroke here and there in the eastern theater of the war. An instance is afforded by the defeat of General Potiorek in the luckless expedition against the Servians. The latter had been driven far back within their own territory by Hungarian forces, explains the Hirlap. In due time Hungary was severely threatened by a fresh Russian invasion. Public opinion demanded adequate measures. Three corps were withdrawn from Servia by direction of the general staff in Berlin, if the statement of the Budapest papers be reliable.

This, says A Nap (Budapest), was a display of German disregard for Hungarian interests. The Servians learned that the army of General Potiorek had been reduced. They began an offensive and won. Potiorek was soon in headlong flight. No Budapest paper censures him, for the defeat he suffered, for the event proves to the Hungarian dailies what some of them call the selfishness of Berlin." Potiorek was left with a reduced force to face 300,000 Servians reinforced by Russian troops. This is what in Berlin they call the art of war, protests A Nap:

"Germany impressed our military resources only to increase her own strength in defending Prussia and Silesia from invasion, thus depriving us of our own strength to deal with our enemies. Germany makes use of our military in regions wherein our own interests do not lie, with the result that we are left in the" eyes of the world in a position of humiliation as regards Servia. People of neutral countries believe that we are too weak, and too enervated to fight our own battles even against the Servians, altho the expedition we undertook against them was to have been a punitive one."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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