Minorities Research 1.

József Faragó

The Fate of the Hungarian University of Kolozsvár
- Thoughts on the 125th Anniversary of its Foundation*

Innumerable opinions could be quoted by great thinkers of the world about the need and importance of universities. There is no room here to give but the essence of the arguments, but one thing is certain: it is the university that can cultivate the intellectual elite of a nation at the highest level and equip the best of the students with the necessary attainments to become the masters of the younger generations. This untiring mental effort does not merely create and maintain, but incessantly enriches and improves the nation's  scientific and cultural knowledge to promote it to a distinguished place among the cultured nations.

Without highly educated intellectuals no nation stands a chance of contributing to universal human culture, of joining the international communion creatively. Therefore, at the adequate level of material and intellectual development, every nation sets itself the goal of founding universities.

The Hungarian endeavours to establish universities in Transylvania, and the universities and colleges that did in fact exist for varying lengths of time, have a history of over four hundred and thirty years, studded with much success and even more hardships, providing a rich historical background and framework to the more recent developments in tertiary education.

Initiated by József Eötvös, the minister of religion and public education, and prepared by his successors after his death, Tivadar Pauler and Ágoston Trefort, the Hungarian Royal University of Sciences opened in Kolozsvár with due solemnity on a Sunday, November 10, 1872. "Kolozsvár itself has put on a festive appearance," the chronicler in a that-time daily reported. "The national banners on private and public buildings proclaimed the joy of the people. No one needed official stimulation to rejoice - unlike on certain ceremonial occasions. There were occasional speeches at every church, and at half past 11, a greater part of the town intelligentsia gathered in the assembly hall of the secondary school for the ceremony of the inauguration of our current rector, the Right Honourable Mr Áron Berde. The streets were teeming with people all day, especially in the evening light. There was a gala performance in the theatre, and now it has become really obvious how small our threater for such events is." (Magyar Polgár, November 12, 1872)

The day after the opening, on Monday, teaching began in four faculties: 1. law and political science, 2. medicine, 3. philology, languages and history, and 4. mathematics and natural sciences. (The latter only had its counterpart in the University of Tübingen at that time.) A year after the opening, its training college for secondary school teachers and in 1898 its open university section also began work.

The first decade was a term of probation, as it were: the royal charter allowing for the new name of the University - Kolozsvár's Hungarian King Francis Joseph University of Sciences - was issued on January 4, 1881. The institution proved worthy of the trust: it was soon to be incorporated in both the Hungarian and the international scientific life, its scholars being present at prestigious scientific conferences from Vienna to Madrid, from Stockholm to Cairo.

The university was also represented at the millenary exhibition of 1896, and at the scientific exhibitions in Madrid in 1897 and in Dresden in 1911. Ten of its institutes returned with decorations from the Paris World Fair of 1900. Many of its noted professors became members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and/or earned scholarly titles and awards abroad, including the Nobel-Prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi who was associated with the university when it was transferred to Szeged.

The Transylvanian Museum Society had no negligible share in establishing Hungary's second major state university in Kolozsvár: with its collections and scholarly associates who could be appointed to head the university departments, the Society largely alleviated the difficulties of founding a university. More than a decade prior to the foundation, the Society held its statutory meeting on November 23, 1859, thanks mainly to the efforts of Count Imre Mikó, the "Széchenyi of Transylvania". At that time, they already disposed over 15,439 books, 1,083 deeds, 128 golden, 2,841 silver and 1,738 bronze medals, 10,982 archaeological relics and natural rarities; to accommodate the collection, Imre Mikó offered his two-storey villa along with a ten-acre park around it, the so-called Mikó Garden. By 1918, the archival stock of the Society increased tenfold, the collections of medals and archaeological relics doubled. The botanical collection was enriched with the Baumgartner collection, which presented the entire flora of Transylvania, while its zoological section was boosted with over 100,000 items, including one of the richest collections of hirudinidae in the world. It is important to take note of these figures, as the Society, under a contract with the state, hired out its collection to the university, after which the fates of the two institutions became inseparable. In 1874, the university’s recently established library took over 34,156 books from the Society - the book-plates still preserve its memory. The university contributed 11,143 books, so the starting stock was around 40,000. The Society stock increased to some 191,000, and the university stock to 179,779 tomes by 1919, amounting to over 367,000 books altogether.

We hurried too far ahead in time, however. In a rural town which, by the census of 1869-70, had a population of a mere 26,551 together with the garrisons, and only had 168 one-storey and 11 two-storey buildings, it required a great deal of deliberation to choose a site for the university. The former building of the Transylvanian Gubernium in Farkas street was selected as the central edifice of the university to house most of its departments; the faculty of law began work on the second floor of the Royal Secondary School across from the central building, while most of the medical departments were transferred to the crumbling Karolina hospital.

After such temporary arrangements, an extensive construction work began that was to reshape the entire downtown area by the turn of the century. Between 1872 and 1918, sixty-three buildings were erected for the university. To mention only the most important ones: in Mikó Garden, handed over free by the Society, a small campus was built for the clinics at three different levels, at a cost of 4,558,448 crowns, between 1897 and 1902. The central building of the university opened on October 30, 1902 was built for 2,500,000 crowns. The University Library was completed in 1909 for 2,100,000 crowns. It also served to house the archives of the Transylvanian Museum Society. The students' canteen was later converted into the Áron Gábor students' hostel - founded from public donations, it opened in 1910. The new botanical garden was completed by 1918, but the garden bought for enlargement was purchased by the university for 316,000 crowns.

It would not be fair to omit to point out that between 1920 and 1940 the Romanian state further improved part of the buildings, adding 26 new and 10 purchased or inherited buildings converted to university purposes. The major additions include: the students' home built in place of the former famous Hungarian theatre in a style that fits dissonantly its mellowed surroundings, several clinics, the botanical garden, the observatory and the sports grounds centre.

Let us not forget, however, the warning of the rector Áron Berde in his opening address on November 10, 1872: "You are aware, sirs, that the fame and fruitful work of a university do not rest on its walls but on the spiritual strength of its teachers." (Magyar Polgár, Nov. 14, 1872). That, if one is allowed to use such a term for intellectual values, reminded of actual superabundance. The next day, the forty departments of the university started  work with forty teachers. By 1919, the departments rose to fifty-one in number, and the number of the teaching staff increased to one hundred and fifty five, twenty-six of whom were invited to the university of Budapest. In the noted period, one hundred and forty nine lecturers were qualified by the Kolozsvár university, of whom twenty-three were given chairs until 1919 and 9 in 1940, while honorary doctorates were conferred on one hundred and ten noted Hungarian and foreign scholars. The number of lectures per term rose from ninety one to two hundred and twenty six, that of group lessons from three hundred and twenty five to seven hundred and seventy. In the first year, two hundred and fifty eight students enrolled, and 59,774 had graduated by 1919, of whom 15,000 also took post-graduate doctoral titles.

It is also part of the university's history that young Transylvanians of Romanian descent enrolled in large numbers. Earlier, they mainly studied at the universities of Budapest and Vienna, but already in its first year there were as many Romanian students in Kolozsvár as in Vienna. In the school of law, for example, the initial six per cent of Romanian students rose to fifteen per cent, in the medical school from ten to twenty-four per cent. They all studied in Hungarian, except for those who majored in Romanian language and literature. The latter were guided in their studies by Grigore Silari, then by Grigore Moldovan, in 1872-1919, and by professor Szilárd Sulica in 1940-44.

The university reached the year 1919 with this immense material and spiritual wealth.

After the Gyulafehérvár meeting of December 1, 1918, the state secretary for public education of the Romanian Governing Council based in Nagyszeben,  Onisifor Ghibu - a mortal enemy of the Hungarians till his death - sequestered the entire university with symbolic force for the Romanian state on May 12, 1919, and summoned its staff to make an oath of allegiance. All the collections borrowed by the university from the Transylvanian Museum Society also passed into Romanian state possession, but to this very date, the Society has received no compensation for them.

The Romanian state authorities had no right to expropriate the university and force the staff to pledge alliance before the Trianon peace treaty or the enactment of the new state frontiers. Onisifor Ghibu, who had a few years earlier elaborated a memorandum for his party which was - rightfully - demanding a Romanian university for the young Romanians of Transylvania, seems to have forgotten that what was the just claim of the Romanian minority in 1919 was an equally rightful claim of the Hungarian minority after 1919. But, apart from Ghibu's role, the Romanian state itself failed to observe its own Gyulafehérvár resolution, section 3) of which promised "full national freedom" to the national minorities, each of which "should govern itself in its own language, with its own administration, seeing to its own jurisdiction and public education through persons from its own bosom." The expected denial of the oath of loyalty took a great weight off Ghibu's mind, for - as he declared in his jubilee speech on the 20th anniversary of the occupation of the university on May 12, 1939, "after the acknowledgement of Romanian sovereignty, the Hungarian lecturers could not have been dismissed from their posts. They could have remained in their positions for decades, foiling the development of a powerful Romanian university and ensuring the Hungarian character of Kolozsvár and the entire Transylvania to a certain extent. Who could have prevented then the Hungarian university of Kolozsvár from being the powerful Hungarian centre as it was, with dangerous repercussions abroad, which we had nothing to set against?" (The Hungarian University of Transylvania. Kolozsvár, 1941. p. 308).

We have no right to question the decision of our university predecessors at the most critical moment of the 20th century - and possibly the entire - history of our nation, but what if the staff had taken the oath of alliance? But they did not, and the university symbolically retreated to Szeged; without investing a single leu, the university in Kolozsvár became a Romanian institution overnight and the removal of its Hungarian character and memory, still going on today, began.

To do justice, it must be remembered that many prominent personages of the Romanian scientific and cultural community objected to the abolition of our university. Let me cite three highly relevant sentences by one of the greatest Romanian scholars of all times, Nicolae Iorga: "The university of Kolozsvár must remain in the possession of the Hungarians. We must not deprive the other nationalities of the possibility to foster their national cultures, in their native land. These nationalities must avail themselves of their rights which we must not deny in the Romania of tomorrow." (Op.cit. 307)

The interdenominational council of the Hungarian churches in Transylvania was quick to realise that the most urgent task was to continue training teachers in the mother tongue. As early as October 20, 1920, the Hungarian Teacher Training Institute was opened with thirty-six lecturers and hundred and ninety eight students. Ghibu, however, condemned the act as an ambush against the Romanian state and in the very first days of the second academic year, on September 21, 1921, he banned it. The interdenominational council also encouraged the young Hungarians to enrol in Romanian universities and set up a Supervising Committee of Hungarian University and College Students in Kolozsvár to ensure the introduction of lectures and seminars in Hungarian. Relatively precise figures about the Hungarian students are available from 1929 only: the fewest (553) were enrolled in 1938-39, the most in 1933-34 (1127), altogether 7,966 students studying in the school until 1940. They studied every subject in every department in Romanian, except (from 1922 onward) the Hungarian language and literature in György Kristóf's one-man institute (he made several aborted attempts to have Árpád Bitay and Attila T. Szabó appointed in his assistance). Despite the linguistic difficulties, many Hungarian students achieved outstanding results and earned the appreciation of their Romanian teachers, and vice versa, the understanding Romanian professors had sincere admirers among their Hungarian students.

The Hungarian intelligentsia of Transylvania deprived of a Hungarian university was mainly recruited from the former professors and students of the Francis Joseph University, as well as the Hungarian graduates and students of the Ferdinand University (we have no exact figures available about the Hungarian students of the Romanian universities in Bucharest and elsewhere). Their scholarship and their activities in popular sciences were concentrated in the Transylvanian Museum Society. As Attila T. Szabó put it, "the Society practically substituted for the university that had fled but was permanently awaited back in its functions of disseminating knowledge, stimulating to acquire new information, and promoting the selfless cultivation of sciences." (Op.cit. 151) This "selfless cultivation of sciences" also implied that in Transylvania the overwhelming majority of the promoters of Hungarian scholarship committed themselves to their passion without relevant institutes, voluntarily, in their free time, without financial support or recompense, even spending part of their own earnings on it.

Although the time limits of the volume entitled seventy five years of scientific endeavour by the Transylvanian Museum Society, 1859-1934, edited by Lajos György (Kolozsvár 1937) only partly coincide with the twenty-two years lacking a university, but at least two of the figures listed deserve to be spared from oblivion. In the preface, the editor cited exact figures of the lectures held in the four sections: 2,509 scientific dissertations, 203 lectures at itinerant conferences and 573 popularising lectures, making up a total of 3,285 papers were read. Antal Valentiny needed nearly a hundred pages (200-297) to list the bibliographical particulars of the papers, book reviews, notes, etc. of some 52,000 pages in total length with some 500 appendices published in the 180 volumes of periodicals, yearbooks, commemorative albums, section series, etc. of the Society, with more than half a thousand reprints. Let me only mention two of the most prestigious series which also lived to see the second period of the university and increased even up to the suppression of the Society. The Erdélyi Muzeum, the only Hungarological periodical was published between 1874 and 1917, then again from 1930 to 1947, when it ended with its 52nd volume. The Erdélyi Tudományos Füzetek launched in 1926 arrived at its 208th issue by that date, partly carrying reprints and partly new publications.

If it appears most appropriate to mention the improvements on the university  by the Romanian state or the positive attitude of some outstanding Romanian intellectuals towards the abolished university and of Romanian professors towards their Hungarian students, objectivity requires the mentioning of the seamy side of the fate of our once-existing university apart from the incessant hatred for the Hungarians by Onisifor Ghibu and many of his colleagues. The university library, inheriting 367,000 tomes in 1919, purchased a mere eighteen  Hungarian periodicals over the twenty-two years, some of them incomplete, too, as well as 125 works in Hungarian in 246 tomes (op. cit. p. 245). In addition to the spiritual damage of the twenty-two years without the university, a quantifiable material damage also needs mentioning. When in 1919 the university moved to Szeged, not even a pen was removed apart from the university insignia. When in 1940 the Vienna Award transferred the Ferdinand University to Nagyszeben, the rector put it down in writing that "the inheritance from the old ownership is to be handed over in full and in impeccable condition, in addition to a lot of highly valuable material we have added, created or acquired." This decent intention took the following distorted form in practice: "Lorry after lorry stopped in front of the institutes and where the servants were too few, army troops were deployed who handled the equipment most roughly, dragging heavy sterilising gadgets down the steps (...); elsewhere (e.g. at the orthopaedic clinic) they knocked down walls to remove the built-in facilities; again elsewhere (e.g. in the observatory) they put blasting cartridges in the faucets so that when the water was turned on, the taps and basin exploded. The list could be continued with laboratory and surgery equipment, bedding, office furnishings, down to carpets and cleaning tools. The machines of the mechanical department and the maintenance kits were removed; so was the entire equipment of the experimental psychological institute and the photographic studio, as well as the stock of the university pharmacy. Adding to that the books taken away from institutes and the central university library, the loss can be estimated at over thirty million lei or ten million pengõ (op. cit. pp. 375, 377).

On October 24, 1940, the university back from Szeged under the Vienna Award began work with 85 departments, enlarged with a fifth faculty - that of economics, which only had a single counterpart in Hungary at the time, in Budapest. Cruel history only allowed the university to have a brief second period of four years, during which the Hungarian state devoted twenty-five million pengõ to run and improve it.

The customary yearbook of the university could only be published after the first two years, but the major figures can still be gleaned.

The teaching staff (without the auxiliary personnel) was 121 in 1940-41, 149 in the first term of 1941-42 and 164 in the second; 172 and 173 resp. in 1942-43, and 192 and 196 resp. in 1943-44, starting with 201 the academic year of 1944-45. What was most favourable was the size of enrolment, though. In the first period, it reached its peak with 2,343 in 1912-13. After missing tertiary education in their mother tongue for twenty-two years, 2,802 students applied for admission in the first academic year of 1940-41, this number soaring to 8,146 in the second. Presuming a similar rise for the third and fourth undocumented years, we can state that at least 15,000 was the increment of enrolment at the Francis Joseph University from 1872.

Parallel with the return and reopening of the university, a legal statute was enacted on October 14 stipulating that "the Hungarian royal minister of religion and public education establishes a Transylvanian Scientific Institute in Kolozsvár for the scientific investigation of the geographic, ethnographic, linguistic, historical, social and other folklore issues of Hungary and particularly Transylvania and its relations with the ethnic population of other countries."

The new institute participated in the fate of the university similarly to the Transylvanian Museum Society from 1872: the cream of the university professors of Hungarological subjects were appointed to the institute as well, and some of the young researchers at the institute became lecturers and professors of the Francis Joseph, later Bolyai, University.

Within a few years of accelerating time, fatal events put an end to all three institutions.

In the autumn of 1944, with the approach of the Soviet-Romanian front, the university refused to comply and did not evacuate, but stayed in Kolozsvár. Since in the Soviet zone and in Romania the name of a royal highness would have sounded anachronistically, it adopted the name of Hungarian University of Sciences in Kolozsvár for the 1944-45 year. Though the Kolozsvár Hungarian University was working, a royal decree of May 28, 1945 ordered the setting up of a Hungarian university with the intention of interrupting the continuity. That year the new university was named Kolozsvár's Bolyai University of Science. In September the ruins of the Transylvanian Scientific Institute was attached to it as a research institute, but it expired quietly in 1948 without officially closing it down. Its brand-new furnishing, 40,000-strong book stock and carefully selected collection of manuals went to rack and ruin.

The Transylvanian Museum Society was suppressed by the Romanian communist regime in February 1950. The palace in the main square bequeathed by countess Ottilia Wass, the income from which was the only financial resource for its running between 1919 and 1940, fell victim to nationalisation. In spring 1959, the Romanian communist regime forcefully united the Hungarian Bolyai University with Kolozsvár's Romanian university and renamed the institute Babes-Bolyai University. That put an end to the autonomous Hungarian university education in Transylvania.

After the fall of the communist regime at the end of 1989, everyone entertained hopes regarding the restoration of the Bolyai University but was soon to be disappointed. Therefore, in March 1990, the Bolyai Society was founded to fight with every means for the re-establishment of the Bolyai University. This fight has stirred international repercussions but achieved nothing. Unless the political mentality of the Romanian nation and the nationality policy of the Romanian government changes fundamentally, this fight will have no success.

Of the three institutions mentioned, only the Transylvanian Museum Society has been raised from the dead. Since its first assembly after the revival on October 27, 1990, it has regularly held itinerant meetings in the country and section conferences. Out of its traditional publications, it has restored the Erdélyi Muzeum, Erdélyi Tudományos Füzetek, Orvostudományi Értesítõ and Erdélyi Történelmi Adatok founded by count Imre Mikó in 1855, apart from several essential monographs. Moreover, it has launched new series such as the Múzeumi Füzetek, Mûszaki Tudományos Füzetek and Romániai Magyar Bibliográfiák.


What does section 1) of article 13 of the Hungarian-Romanian fundamental convention signed in August 1996 say? "The contractual parties are to co-operate in the interest of preserving our common cultural heritage and mutually acquainting the two peoples with it." As far as I know, no one has compiled a list of the Hungarian cultural heritage of Transylvania - nor could it be done by others than the competent and disciplined associates of a Transylvanian Hungarological Institute - but it is certain that the Francis Joseph University of Sciences would be somewhere near the top of the list. Instead of being part of the Hungarian cultural heritage appreciated by both Hungarians and Romanians, not even traces of its one-time existence can be detected. We dare not think of the white marble bust of its founder once in the foyer of the central building and opposite to it the marble tablet commemorating the foundation in gilt letters. Nor are we to recall the sculptural group in the tympanum of the same building also symbolising the foundation, and gone are all the inscriptions or memorial tablets reminding of the construction of the 63 buildings, the foundation or past of the institutes and the memory of the outstanding teachers. The lecture halls have been named after prominent scholars, but not a single Hungarian name is included, though excellent Hungarian professors also taught here. Not even the street at the foot of the neighbourhood of clinics built in the park donated by Imre Mikó was allowed to perpetuate his name.

Yet, the university lives indelibly in our national memory. Its place in the Hungarian culture cannot be expressed in material units, but there is a superior yardstick: hundreds of scholarly professors of the university and some 75,000 graduates - a real army of Transylvanian intellectuals - elevated the Hungarian population of Transylvania to the rank of cultured nations. It is frightful to imagine what our intelligentsia would have been like without the university in the past 125 years, and at what level the scientific and cultural life of Transylvanian Hungarians would have been stymied.

It was at the meeting of the Hungarian and Romanian premiers in October 1997 that the Romanian political leadership acknowledged for the first time since Trianon the right of Transylvania’s Hungarian population to a university of their own in their mother tongue, but they refused to return the Bolyai University. They refused because they wanted to convert the Babes-Bolyai University into a Romanian-Hungarian-German "multicultural" university. (See János Péntek's comments on the multicultural university - ed.)

The present Hungarian teachers and students of the Babes-Bolyai University feel they are heirs to the Francis Joseph and Bolyai Universities and, supported by the entire Hungarian population of Transylvania, they insist on their claim that an autonomous Hungarian university must open its gates in Kolozsvár. The outcome of this struggle cannot be foreseen, but we deem the memorable warning of Ferenc Deák as highly appropriate in our case as well: "...what force and authority seizes from you may be given back by time and good fortune, whereas the recovery of what a nation, fearing the tribulations, surrenders voluntarily is very hard and dubious. The nation is going to endure, hoping for a better future and trusting in the righteousness of her cause."