The Political Origins of the Romanian National Movement: Inochentie Micu-Klein

Apart from the activities of government and estates, there was a third important aspect to the political history of the period: the emergence of a Romanian national movement, with Inochentie Micu-Klein as its key protagonist. His predecessor as Uniate bishop, Ioan Pataki, had concentrated on consolidating the religious union; Micu-Klein, by contrast, was a politician who focused on the status of the Romanians in Transylvania. He had attended the Jesuit college in Kolozsvár, and he was pursuing further studies at the {2-584.} University of Nagyszombat when, in 1728, at the age of 36, he was appointed bishop. When Micu-Klein took up his duties in 1729, he devoted great effort to foster the welfare of his priests, and to his Church in general; and since he wished to extend his authority to those practitioners of the Greek rite who had remained Orthodox, his efforts effectively encompassed all of Transylvania's Romanians.

Micu-Klein found some legal basis for his case in two clauses of the 'second Diploma Leopoldinum dealing with the question of union', which had been issued on 19 March 1701, and whose continuing validity of was a matter of debate. The clauses exempted Uniate priests from socage, and laid down that if clergymen, laymen, and, what is more, commoners (plebeae conditionis homines) accepted religious union, they would be considered as belonging to the Catholic orders and as citizens in good standing. In December 1732, the king responded to the bishop's urgings by appointing a commission — headed by Franz Wallis, Transylvania's military commander and interim chairman of the Gubernium — to investigate the grievances. In 1733, the diet examined Micu-Klein's petitions and the decree issued by Charles III. Not without reason, the estates questioned the solidity of the religious union. They did not take exception to the Uniate Church's creed and catechism, which the bishop had been invited to present, but considered it necessary to conduct a census of the Romanian Church's clergy and congregation. (This was the 1733 enumeration cited earlier.)

In the first instance, the bishop's efforts were aimed at confirmation of his Church's legal status. It was during the hearings of the commission investigating his petitions that Micu-Klein's campaign acquired a wholly different complexion. Dissatisfied with the slow progress made by the Wallis commission, the bishop once again took his protests to Vienna, where he obtained the appointment, in November 1734, of a new commission headed by János Haller, the recently-appointed, militantly Catholic governor. This commission {2-585.} charged the diet with taking a decision in the matter of the tithe to be paid to Uniate priests. With regard to the legal status of the united Greek-rite laymen, the commission made a ruling consistent with the attitude of the feudal estates. Thus, Romanian villeins and their property came under the authority of the landowners, while Romanian nobles belonged to the landowner class and, as such, to the universitas of the county or szék. This was the point, in 1735, when Inochentie Micu-Klein started to speak of Transylvania's Romanians as a political entity. He argued, citing the 1733 census, that the Romanians were more numerous than Transylvania's other 'nations', and that they were entitled by the 'second Diploma Leopoldinum' to hold public office; and yet, observed the bishop, they were eclipsed by the Calvinists and Lutherans. (For obvious tactical reasons, he did not mention that the majority of public servants were Catholic.) He rejected, with reason, the allegation that there were no noble and educated Romanians qualified for public office. Therefore, said Micu-Klein, the monarch should appoint him to a recently-vacated councillorship in the Gubernium. The Ministerialkonferenz denied this request, but his initiative may have contributed to the appointment, in 1736, of Petru Dobra as Transylvania's fiscal director. Thus Dobra emerged as the first Romanian layman to play a political role in this period.

Apart from demanding that the political status of Romanians be recognized by way of representation on the Gubernium, Micu-Klein was responsible for another portentous initiative: he unveiled the historical notion of Daco–Roman continuity. The bishop evoked this theory several times during 1735, notably in a petition to the monarch, in which he asserted that 'we are Transylvania's oldest inhabitants, present since the time of Emperor Trajan'. It is not clear where Micu-Klein got this notion. According to one version, he drew it from Miklós Oláh's Hungaria, which had been published that year by Mátyás Bél, at Pozsony. Another hypothesis is that he was familiar Dimitrie Cantemir's Hronicul; the author, an {2-586.} eminent Moldavian ruler, affirmed that the Romanians were wholly of Roman origin (thus departing somewhat from his earlier views). Cantemir's thesis could be traced back to the great Moldavian chronicler, Miron Costin, who, for his part, was inspired by the Saxon historian Laurentius Toppeltinus' Origines et occasus Transsylvanorum (Lyon, 1667). Regardless of the source, Micu-Klein had taken a historic step. There were thus three decisive factors in the political emergence of Transylvania's Romanians: the organizational structure of the Uniate Church (to which the bishop was intent on drawing all Romanians, if necessary by force), a historical theory that could serve as the foundation of national consciousness, and the claim to representation in the organs of government.

The bishop's dynamic personality was the main force behind this assertion of the Romanians' collective interests, but another favourable circumstance came into play: the central government became all the more intent on consolidating religious union when, in the mid-1730s, the Protestant orders launched a counter-attack against the expanding power of the Catholics. The Gubernium, for its part, was hostile to the bishop, regarding the latter and his priests as fake Uniates; moreover, the notion that Transylvania's Romanians might constitute a 'nation' struck the Gubernium as absurd, and, following this logic, it painted a rather distorted picture of this ethnic group. At a succession of diets between spring 1736 and 1738, Micu-Klein waged a fruitless battle to confirm his clergy's entitlement to the tithe. When, in autumn 1737, the bishop issued a statement on behalf of 'Transylvania's entire Vlach nation', the estates raised objections against this terminology.

Ever the solitary pioneer, Micu-Klein persevered in finding new ways to wage his campaign. In August 1742, he was back in Vienna with a petition explicitly urging that the Romanians be recognized as Transylvania's fourth 'nation'. Given that it was impossible to assign a separate territory to this fourth national entity, he {2-587.} proposed that the Romanian nation be given equal status with the Hungarian one in the Hungarian counties, and with the Székely and Saxon nations in the latter's respective regions. A more significant innovation, and perhaps the most striking display of Micu-Klein's political acumen, was his request that the socage obligation of the tax-paying masses be reduced to two days a week.

Thus appeared a distinctive feature of the Romanian national movement in Transylvania, one that would endure for close to two hundred years: the programmatic combination of national and peasant demands. This gave rise, over time, to the simplified notion of 'Hungarian landlord — Romanian villein'. To be sure, the proportion of Romanians among Transylvania's villeins was greater than their share of the population; on the other hand, the proportion of all Romanian peasants (including free peasants in the Királyföld) in the country's peasantry (including both villeins and free peasants of diverse legal status) was roughly the same as that of Romanians in the total population of Transylvania.

The Romanian national movement soon disappeared from the political stage, and much time would pass before it reemerged. In 1744, when the Catholics prevailed in their long struggle for the repeal of inimical laws, the status and property of the Fogaras bishopric were enshrined in law, if only thanks to the forceful intervention of the royal commissioner and deputy military commander. With this modest achievement, the issue of the Uniate Church disappeared from the public agenda, as did the political aspirations of Transylvanian Romanians. Micu-Klein was clearly one of the period's most eminent personalities. However, the circumstances of his defeat in 1744 indicate that his momentary successes owed as much to the tactics of an imperial government intent on restraining Transylvania's Protestants, as to his evidently exceptional talents.

Micu-Klein's political skills remained in evidence to the end. In spring 1744, Visarion Sarai, a Serbian Orthodox monk who spoke no Romanian, arrived in Transylvania from the Banat; others {2-588.} had come before him, but none with the same impact. Conveyed through an interpreter, the saintly monk's sermons galvanized all who heard him, and as he made his way across southern Transylvania toward Szeben, the religious union disintegrated; Uniate Romanians expelled their priests and replaced them with Orthodox ministers. Seized when he reached Szeben, Visarion was deported to Vienna and never resurfaced. However, he had provided powerful ammunition to those who questioned the durability of religious union. Trying to make the best of a difficult situation, Micu-Klein offered to stop the secessionist movement, and with gentle measures, if his demands of long-standing were granted. In the event, the offer backfired, for it made him suspect in the eyes of the estates as well as of the imperial government and military command; for the Austrians, he had also lost his utility.

When, in June 1744, Maria Theresa ordered Micu-Klein to Vienna, the bishop responded with a last, bold political initiative. He convened, at Balázsfalva, a synod that included not only the clergy but also lay Romanians, nobles and villeins, and even some Orthodox believers. It was a virtual national assembly, a first for the Romanians, and also the last until 1848, when Balázsfalva would once again be the setting. The range of participants at the meeting was premonitory, as was the rhetorical question put by the bishop: since the patents of Leopold I, which had been confirmed, and which served as a legal basis for his demands, applied to all of Transylvania's Romanians, did it not follow that the people must be consulted on whether, and how, they might participate in a war effort? The century's most eminent Transylvanian–Romanian was clearly before his time in raising the possibility of a referendum, and no one dared to endorse his proposal. The assembly agreed that, in principle, the common people should be involved, but, in the given circumstances, did not consider it advisable to have them participate directly in the negotiations.

{2-589.} Abandoned by his bravest supporters, the pioneering bishop was compelled to withdraw. Knowing that the inquiry awaiting him in Vienna that fall could only lead to his political execution, he opted to seek refuge in Rome. He would not see Transylvania again; the isolated and elderly Micu-Klein died in Roman exile. Even from a distance, he would try to guide his Church. Micu-Klein excommunicated the Catholic theologian assigned to assist the bishop. When Aron, Micu-Klein's vicar, shrank from making this public, he too was excommunicated, then replaced. The Uniate clergy became divided over the issue, prompting the Gubernium and the Catholic orders to convoke a synod at Szeben. Under the influence of two of Micu-Klein's former acolytes in Rome, Sylvester Kalyáni and Grigore Maior, the assembly passed resolutions that reflected the views of the eminent bishop. It protested at the forced absence of Micu-Klein and asked that the rights of the Uniate Church be respected; hence, that the efforts at Latinization be halted, and that subsidies be provided for the clergy as well as for the construction of churches and schools. The assembly's more secular demands were also inspired by Micu-Klein's program: that Romanians be recognized as Transylvania's fourth 'nation'; that the Uniate bishop be named to the council of the Gubernium; that Uniate noblemen be given appointments at the Treasury, in local government, and on the royal bench, as well as in the army; and that commoners be allowed to practice liberal professions and join guilds. However, the peasant demands that Micu-Klein had included in his 1742 petition were not addressed by the assembly, and neither was the idea of a referendum. Thus the meeting, which scarcely resembled the 'national assembly' convened earlier by the bishop, took a politically backward step. There would follow a long period of political inactivity, essentially until the Supplex Libellus Valachorum.