Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung February 1849

Russian Invasion. — Serbs. — Prospects for the Austrians. — From the Theatre of War

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 440;
Written: by Engels on February 27, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 233, February 28, 1849.

There is absolutely no fresh news from the war theatre. But from all quarters reports are arriving which confirm our report of yesterday about the bad situation in which the imperial troops find themselves everywhere, except in Transylvania freed with the help of the Russians. As proof we are reproducing below a dispatch from the Pressburg correspondent of the Breslauer Zeitung and the concluding paragraphs of the “Reports of a Hungarian” from the Allgemeine Oder-Zeitung.

The Austrians have without any doubt only reluctantly decided to appeal to the Russians. It is crystal-clear that the Russian invasion is bound to give a new impetus to the pan-Slavist movements of the Czechs and the Southern Slavs. These nationalities who have for a long time been used to look to the Tsar as their natural patron and ultimate liberator, are now receiving striking proof that Austria has neither the power nor the will to ensure their national development. And now for the first time the Russian Tsar enters upon the stage, acts for them at the decisive moment and confirms with deeds the Hopes which they place in him. Thus the Tsar now appears before the Austrian Serbs, Croats, Czechs etc. as the supreme protector of the Slav nationality as he did previously before the Turkish Serbs. And that the Slav national aspirations can be as menacing for the Austrian “united monarchy” as the armed resistance of the Magyars we have seen repeatedly.

With the Russian invasion of Transylvania the Tsar has taken a new step towards the realisation of pan-Slavism. He has proclaimed the alliance of the Russians and the Austrian Slavs and made himself the de facto sovereign of the Austrian Slavs. The others are of course already under his sway. The Poles are his servants, the Turkish Slavs his vassals, and now he poses as the protector of the Austrian Slavs too. Only one more step and Austria falls completely under his suzerainty just like Turkey. At this price the “united monarchy” saves itself for a few months from destruction at the hands of the revolution!

At a people’s assembly at Mitrowitz in the Banat the Serbs proclaimed the Patriarch supreme ruler of their nation and Stratimirovich a rebel, declaring martial law against all enemies of the Emperor. The Patriarch who in Temesvár directs the affairs of the Voivodina, together with Todorovich and the Serbian deputies, is said to confirm these resolutions. At the battle of Arad the very popular Serbian Major Jovanovich fell into the hands of the Magyars. The following shows that the Magyars were in any case not defeated as decisively in this battle as the bulletins alleged. The Patriarch offered to the Magyar General Damjanich (who thus, as we incidentally learn, was fortunate enough to reach the Banat army across the Danube and the Theiss) to exchange Jovanovich against 200 Magyars. Damjanich replied that as far as he knew the Serbs did not have 200 Magyar prisoners in their hands! The Serbs, by the way, are arming on some scale in Serbia as within the Banat. In the Serbian principality a national convention has been summoned and is discussing the mobilisation of 1,000 auxiliary troops in each of the country’s 18 districts.

So that one should see what a small and nationally mixed country the new Serbian Voivodina is and how absurd the pretensions of the pan-Slavists are to create small Slav states in all corners of Hungary, we give the following statistical notes from the Belgrade Serbske Noviny:

“The Voivodina comprises territorially the following: 1. the Sirmische comitat, 2. the Peterwardein regiment, 3. the comitat of Bács, 4. the battalion of the Tchaikists, [356] 5. the comitat of Torontal, 6. the former German Banat regiment (now named Pancsova regiment), 7. the former Illyrian Banat regiment (now called Weisskirchen regiment) and the comitat of Temesvir. The area totals 719 square miles, with 75 towns and market centres, 706 villages, 221,182 houses and 1,605,808 inhabitants. The inhabitants can be divided according to their national origin into 917,916 Serbs, 26,200 Slovaks, 13,000 Bulgarians, 283,000 Wallachians, 278,400 Germans, 6,160 French and 81,132 Magyars. Of the inhabitants 877,620 are Greek Orthodox, 627,994 Roman Catholics, 12,494 United Catholics, 46,311 Lutherans, 30,642 Calvinists, 17 Arians [357] and 10,730 Jews. The Catholic Southern Slavs are included among the 917,916 Serbs. The former border regiment of the Wallachian Banat remains outside the territory of the Voivodina, and will be incorporated into Transylvanian Rumania (Wallachia).”

This small so-called national Serbian country thus contains 700,000 Germans, Wallachians, Magyars etc. compared with 900,000 Serbs. And the 900,000 Serbs are not even all Serbs but include also the “Catholic Southern Slavs”, that is the Shokazians [358] of Syrmien and of the comitat of Bács, who are not Serbs at all. And this is supposed to be a nation with national needs and above all the need to be separate from Hungary!

We now give the report of the Breslauer Zeitung:

Pressburg, February 18. The wet and stormy weather has made the notorious roads of our country so bottomless that the large army corps can move forward only with untold difficulties, and the heavy artillery and other heavy vehicles are indeed getting stuck. Under these circumstances the numerous Hungarian patrol-corps are gaining one advantage after the other and the Austrian army is being fooled in a variety of ways. The commander-in-chief of the latter [Windischgrätz] seems indeed to have become impatient and would very much like to lead a major attack, for which purpose he has dispatched large forces in the direction of Szolnok. As a result the rumour circulates that a serious encounter has taken place there and that the Magyars have been thrown back beyond the Theiss. — One can, however, entertain a certain suspicion concerning these reports because the Hungarians are at present too well led not to make use of the golden opportunity to draw the enemy into the marshes of the Theiss and to destroy him there without any great difficulty. The many patrol-corps which spring up everywhere in Lower Hungary will not fail to harass him on all sides if he should advance too far out off his supplies and capture and destroy any troops which move away from the main army. In a certain sense the war in lower Hungary can be compared with Napoleon’s campaign in Russia, and if the Austrian army should advance too far it could meet with fate similar to that of the French at the time. — Under these circumstances Windischgrätz will be in a difficult position. To act quickly and secure with one decisive blow a change of fortune for his cause is virtually impossible, but if he hesitates the strength of the Magyars will continue to grow. Capitulation is said to have been offered but the Magyars have declined with disdain. — If we cast a glance at the map we shall see that the Austrian army, despite its advances and its reported victories, is surrounded by large and small formations of the Magyar army as if by a net. From the borders of Styria via the Plattensee to Esseg in Croatia the country appears to have been conquered but everywhere there are patrol-corps which seriously molest the Austrians.

“On the other side, that is from the Danube to the Carpathians, things are no better. One becomes convinced of this when one reads the reports of the Austrians being driven. hither and thither through constant engagements. Here the Hungarian patrol-corps have a particularly suitable terrain, and most of the inhabitants, even the majority of the Slovaks, secretly side with them. Only this explains how the Magyars can continue to make their sallies far into Galicia almost with impunity. In the east the Theiss is the great barrier which protects the Magyars, and wherever the Austrians have attempted to push across they have always been thrown back with losses.

“If it should come to a major battle, and if the Austrians should lose it, as they possibly might, then their retreat would be a very dangerous one. For they could well fear that the people would rise up everywhere. The commander-in-chief does not seem to conceal the precariousness of his situation.”

The following is the end of the “Reports of a Hungarian” from the Allgemeine Oder-Zeitung. This could also serve as proof how little “exaggerated” the Magyar reports are.

“Thanks to Kossuth’s clever measures all the youth of Pest has gone off to Debreczin. People with detailed knowledge of events on the other side of the Theiss say that the Hungarian army is 120,000-150,000 strong, commanded by three capable Polish generals and supported by a considerable contingent of artillery and that in case of need it could be augmented by the 100,000-strong Hungarian Landsturm. The well-known Rosa with his troops occupies the forest of Bakony.

“The Austrians put three bridges across the Theiss, one near Szolnok, one near Tiszafüred and the third near Zibok, which the Hungarians used to cross the river and to defeat the enemy on the 11th inst.

“Order and the strictest discipline rule throughout the Hungarian army, especially since the Polish generals have assumed supreme command. The comitats on the other side of the Theiss are resolved to defend themselves to the last man and the majority of the young men who fled to Debreczin on the entry of the Austrians into Pest have joined the Hungarian army, whose soldiers range from 17 to 40, and even 60 years of age, all inspired with love for their country.

“Kossuth, I hear from reliable sources, recently made in Debreczin a speech, such as has never been heard before.

“The hall was filled with deputies and other persons, the gallery with ladies; he made the deputies and all present swear to stand by him in the struggle against Austria. All hands rose to take the oath. A long silence followed this taking of the oath, then he pronounced in a strong voice just these words: ‘Now the fatherland is saved.'

“The majority of royal imperial troops who were stationed in Pest and Buda were withdrawn in the direction of Erlau and Czegléd and only about 4,000 men remained. There was talk of the headquarters of Prince Windischgrätz being moved to Erlau. In spite of the great victories which the Austrians claimed to have won but which in fact the Hungarians won, they did not fail to train the cannon of the fortress of Buda on the town of Pest. An order was given to the inhabitants of the fortress to lay in provisions for themselves for three months. Those who were unable to do so were to leave their homes.

“Why all these fearful preparations, in absolute contradiction to the absurd news according to which the Austrian army operates now near Debreczin, now in Transylvania! Even the soldiers are demoralised. Officers and soldiers complain loudly that they have been forced to take up arms against the Hungarians, who have hot done them any harm. The most stupid and at the same time the most cruel are the Bohemians.

“The former Prime Minister, Count Louis Batthyány, was interrogated fourteen times and refused fourteen times to answer, saying: ‘I was a Minister and I shall only answer when summoned before a tribunal of Hungarian magnates.’ Generals Moga and Hrabovsky, two old men whose life was without blemish, were sentenced to twenty years confinement in a fortress; Count Lasar, son-in-law of General Moga and colonel of the Honvéd,[359] was to be executed but the magnanimous Prince Windischgrätz commuted his sentence to 10 years imprisonment in chains, loss of his title of nobility and dismissal in disgrace from the army!!”