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Danubian Confederation

DANUBIAN CONFEDERATION and LAJOS KOSSUTH The Hungarian Statesman Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894) attempted at different stages of his exile following the Hungarian War of Independence in 1849 to organize a Danubian Confederation. He intended to accommodate the forces of nationalism within the Danubian basin while preserving Hungary's territorial integrity and replacing Austria's position in the European balance of power.

The initiative of the first confederation rested more with the Romanian than the Magyar émigrés. As early as May 1848, the Romanian representative, Dumitru Bratianu, went to Pest to disc uss the construction of a confederation with the Hungarian president, Lajos Batthyany. Later, in Debrecen in 1849, the Romanian leader, Nicolae Balcescu, discussed with Kossuth the possibility of joint cooperation between the Hungarian and Romanian revolutionary movements. Balcescu had already made converts of the Hungarian General György, Klapka, and Kossuth's minister in Paris Laszlo Teleki. Balcescu and Ion Ghica's correspondence developed the of idea establishing the confederation.

In January 1850, Balcescu drew up a constitution for the Romanians, Magyars, and South Slavs in which a plebiscite to replace old historic borders and boundaries with new ethnic borders in each state. The blocks of nationalities would form terriories with the same culture and language. A central parliament composed of fifty members from each nation, one-hundred-fifty members in all, would meet annually to deliberate on common affairs of defense, foreign affairs, commerce, and communicati on. Each year a different nation would host the parliament, whose language would be either French or German. But when Ghica approached Kossuth, who was in exile in Turkey until 1851, with the Romanians' proposal, he rejected it, even though Hungarian émigrés in London endorsed it. Balcescu and the other émigrés knew that nothing could be accomplished without Kossuth's approval.

Kossuth 's discussion of a confederation in his letter of June 15, 1850 to Laszlo Teleki, included his arguments opposing autonomous territorial concessions to the nationalities that were included in the Kiutahia Constitution of 1851. The constitution proposed an internal federation, not a confederated system. Kossuth's democratic ideas embraced in this constitution formed the basis of plans for the Danubian basin during the remainder of his life. Kossuth needed flexiblity in his negotiations with the leaders of the Danubian Principalities and Serbia for his proposals to succe ed. Kossuth rejected the Romanian plan and the demands of the Serbian Minister of the Interior, Ilija Garasanin, which requested Hungarian territory in exchange for Romanian and Serbian participation in the confederation.

The Constitution of Kiutahia was one of the most farsighted plans ever devised to develop democracy in Hungary. It called for re-drawing district borders along national lines and included a two-chamber elected parliament. The upper house included members from each count ry, who would elect its own senator; therefore, a Slovak country would naturally send a Slovak representative to parliament. Since almost one-half of Hungary's population was composed of minorities, the district elections would send the equivalent number of minority senators to parliament. Each country would decide its own language; Magyar, however, would be the language of the parliament because of the practical need for a common language om parliamentary debates.

Kossuth abandoned his c onfederation plans after he left Turkey in 1851. Instead, he sought western assistance to keep Russia from intervening in Hungary's future struggle for independence. This solution meant renouncing Danubian Principalities and Serbia participation in a common east central European struggle, although their assistance would abeted the Hungarian cause. Kossuth proposed a federated democratic state to allow national minorities within Hungary participation in its government. The Croats, because of the ir historic constitution and tradition of statehood, would be given the opportunity for independence, but at the cost of Hungary's retention of Fiume with a corridor to the sea.

Realizing the need for cooperation in the wake of the Crimean War (1854-56) and during the Italian Wars of the Unification in 1859-1860, Kossuth sought an accommodation with the other nations in the Danubian basin to create a confederation for the mutual protection and benefit. Kossuth now realized that he had to look beyond the Hungarian problem for a regional solution that included the other nations to guarantee an independent and democratic Hungary. The whole basin and not just Hungary must be included in the settlement which needed the endorsement of England and France; however, neither state seriously considered replacing Austria in the balance of power with Kossuth's loosely constructed federation.

After 1859, Kossuth's influence in European affairs rapidly diminished. More important, in t he spring of 1862, he publicly announced that Hungary's future within a Danubian confederation included Romania and Serbia. This plan lost him the residual support within the landowning classes in Hungary. His diminished importance among the polical elite assisted those like Ferenc Deak who were receptive to an agreement with the Habsburgs on the basis of the legality of the Pragmatic Sanction and the April Laws of 1848. Kossuth's rejection of a compromise with the Habsburgs assisted both parties --the Francis Joseph and the Hungarian Diet--in reaching a final settlement in 1867.
Sam Wilson


Balcescu, Miklos. Balcescu Miklos valogatott irasai. I. Zoltan Toth (ed.). Budapest: Hungaria, 1950.

Kossuth, Lajos (Louis). Kossuth Demokraciaja. Tivadar Acs (ed.), Budapest: A Szocialdemokrata Part Kiadasa, 1943.

Kossuth, Lajos (Louis). Kossuth Lajos Iratai: Irataim az emigrac ziobol (1880- 82).. IV-XIII. Budapest: Athenaeum, 1880-1911.

Lukacs, Lajos. Magyar politikai emigracio 1849-1867. Budapest: Magvetö Könyvkiado, 1984.

Kovacs, Endre. A Kossuth-emigracio és az euroai szabadsagmozgalmak. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiado, 1967.

Lengyel, Thomas. "The Hungarian Exiles and the Danubian Confederation," The Hungarian Quarterly V (1939), 515-540.

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