Romania was in a critical situation at the end of the First World War. With most of the country still occupied by the troops of the Central Powers, with its leadership in Iași and its army partially demobilized, Romania was forced to move as quickly as possible to defend its interests. Events were fast approaching, and some decisions that directly concerned the country were made in its absence. One such example was the Military Convention with the Allies signed by the Hungarian delegation in Belgrade on November 13th, which formed the basis for the armistice with Hungary.
One of the provisions of the Belgrade Convention had a strong impact on Romania’s interests: Hungarian troops had to retreat behind a line that started from the Someșul Mare Valley, continued across the Bistrița Valley and went along the Mureș to the Tisza. This did not correspond to the understanding by which the Entente convinced Romania to enter the First World War. Much of Transylvania remained under Hungarian administration. Moreover, the Hungarian government, led by Mihály Károlyi, allegedly wanted an intervention by French troops to occupy all the towns and villages claimed by Romanians, Czechoslovaks and Yugoslavs, in order to block those countries’ demands on Hungary. In the end, France refused Károlyi’s request.
The Belgrade Convention was far from satisfactory
The signing of the Belgrade Military Convention did not satisfy either the Hungarian government or the neighbouring countries. Oszkár Jászi, one of the members of Károlyi’s cabinet later wrote that: “It was recognized that the demarcation line had nothing to do with future political boundaries and that, beyond the demarcation line, administration and law enforcement would remain in the hands of the Hungarian state. […] Only if these fundamental points had been honourably respected […], what an extraordinary understanding this armistice would have been!”
For Romania, the armistice in Padua and the Belgrade Convention was anything but satisfactory. If the agreement in Padua met the territorial requirements of the Italians, and the one in Belgrade those of the southern Slavs, the Romanians (those in Transylvania and the Government of the Kingdom of Romania) were deeply disappointed that their unification was not even mentioned in passing. However, there was no time for lamentations, because the events continued to take place very quickly near Romania. Shortly after the signing of the Belgrade Convention, Serbian troops advanced deep into Banat, occupying the large urban centres of Timișoara and Arad, to the astonishment of Romanian authorities.
Romania starting to defend its interests
Romanian soldiers began to cross the Carpathians into Transylvania on November 13th, 1918, and the action intensified after November 20th. The first cities in which Romanian military units entered were Toplița and Miercurea Ciuc, from the Szekler area, a region that did not send its representatives to the National Assembly in Alba Iulia, held in the absence of Romanian troops. On December 1st, 1918, Romanian troops had not crossed the Mureș line- established by the Belgrade Convention – except in one place, in the area of the city of Târgu-Mureș. Following the National Assembly of December 1st, 1918 in which it was decided to unite Transylvania with Romania, the attitude of the Hungarian government towards the Transylvanian Romanians radicalized, intensifying the conflicts between Hungarians and Romanians. For this reason it was absolutely necessary to advance the Romanian troops beyond the Mureș River, especially since Romania was not involved in the signing of the Belgrade Convention and was free from any constraints of international law on the application or non-application of the Convention. The line that the Romanian government wanted to reach was in accordance with the Treaty signed by Romania with the Entente in 1916 and ran along the alignment of Satu Mare – Carei – Oradea – Békéscsaba.
Until the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference, on January 18, 1919, the Romanian army controlled two-thirds of Transylvania, along the Sighetu Marmației – Ciucea – Zam line, and the situation would remain relatively stable until the Bolsheviks came to power in Budapest, on March 21st, 1919.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa