Most of us know that Transylvania was the home of the invented literary character Count Dracula. The word itself is a perfect example of thought transference, as when someone says “Transylvania!” the brain immediately provides images of a gentleman with fangs who might, thanks to the art of the cinema, resemble Los Chaney, or Christopher Lee. The sounds we think we hear are the howls of wolves. (“Listen to them; the children of the night!”)
Most of us also know that the Irish writer (and wrestler) Bram Stoker was inspired by tales of Vlad the Impaler, an early fifteenth century noble whose strategy and army twice drove ambitious Turks out of his country. The Turks driven out were the lucky ones, because Vlad was not called ‘the Impaler’ in vain. Lots of us do not know that Transylvania was and is a country, which has been both Hungarian and Romanian, which may sound complicated but isn’t.
Transylvania is a mountainous region in Europe, more east than west. It has always been disputed territory, both Romania and Hungary at various times claiming Vlad’s fiefdom as their own. It actually became a Habsburg posssesion officially towards the end of the seventeenth century, but the mostly agricultural working population felt akin to Romania, while city folk were mostly Magyar (Hungarian).
There were revolutions in 1848 which were organised by the Romanian sector. Transylvanians assisted the Habsburgs as much as they dare, because they did not wish to be ruled by Magyars (never the most popular of ‘Mittel European’ peoples). But these minor skirmishes had the unwanted result of leaving Transylvania, after the 1867 Ausgleich, as an integral part of the Hungarian kingdom.
Later, the offer to permit Transylvania to be incorporated by Romania was the greatest inducement for the Romanians to enter the Great War (1914 – 1918) on the Allied side. This was in August, 1916. Sure enough, in 1920, the Treaty of Trianon caused the ceding of Transylvania to Romania. As usual, when politicans start carving pieces of the political cake without bothering too much about the effect this has on people (see for example the Independence of India, 1947/1948, and the creation of Pakistan, with nearly three million dead on both sides, as British India cracked up, leaving Muslims and Hindus to fight it out). After the Treaty of Trianon was signed, 2 million Magyars and a fair-sized group of Germans became national minorities within the Rumanian kingdom. It does not seem fanciful to say that much of the population of Transylvania would have wished Vlad the Impaler really was ‘undead’ and could return to sort things out in his unique way.
Most Magyars lived in a compact block in south-eastern Transylvania, far away from the Hungarian frontier. It is therefore difficult to see how any political re-drawing of the map could satisfy their national wishes. Throughout the period between the First and Second World Wars relations between Romania and Hungary could hardly have been worse. In Western Europe, the politicians sat back and said, “trouble in the bloody Balkans again? I expect it’s those Transylvanians . . .”
In August 1940, for reasons of their own, both the Germans and the Italians tried to force an arbitrary settlement, called ‘The Second Vienna Award’, by which Hungary got back more than two fifths of Transylvania, but even so, more than half a million Magyars ( who are Hungarian anyway do not forget) still lived in the Romanian section.
Finally, after the Second ‘War to End all Wars’ was over, and the politicians started the cake-carving again, the Treaty of Paris of February 1947 returned the whole of Transylvania to Romania. The country has not changed a great deal since the times of Vlad Dracul. It is still dark, moutainous and sinister, and they still hang garlic flowers inside and outside houses in the poorer districts. As a tourist, you may visit the still immaculate ‘castle of Dracula’, a major attraction, but staying too long in Transylvanian hotels is not advised.