February 18-24, 1919. Land reform and illegal shoe trade

Barkóczi Janka – Torma Galina

There was still tension in the country in February 1919. The traumatizing experience of war is still lingers in the public's mind, and those who are facing a difficult situation fail to see the light at the end.

Politicians are trying to use the people's anger for their own benefit. The land reform act gets passed, newspapers are being raided and a leather shortage begins.

Mihály Károlyi starts the land distribution in Kápolna

The XVIII. land distribution act was passed on February 2nd. Private estates over 500 acres and ecclesiastical estates over 200 acres could be expropriated and redistributed as smallholdings and medium estates. Disabled soldiers, war widows, destitute people who served in the military and farmers were the most eligible. The first ceremonial land distribution was held at Mihály Károlyi's Kápolna estate in Heves county. Cabinet members and others guests from Budapest arrived on a private train on February 23. The ceremony was held at a '48 military memorial in a drizzle, where Károlyi himself started the parceling. First they sang the Szózat, then gave speeches praising the new potentials redistribution will allow. Károlyi welcomed them with the following words: „We came to give you what's yours. We hand you the flag which reads "order and freedom to the people with land". Hold this flag tight, as for those who suffer in this new world will come in masses and will try to take that flag. […] We created the land reform. But that is only one step. Now we need the working population to seal the deal. Those who really want a Republic, who want the land to be the people's land should help the government by grabbing spades and hoes, stand next to the plows and aspire to produce more than before.” Károlyi's speech was followed by others, and whenever a speaker called out the audience, the crowd shouted back in unison. Barna Búza Minister of Agriculture added that from now on Hungary shall be the people's land, not the land's people, and that the new act means jobs for everyone, and no one should live „from other people's work.” The first piece of land was given to János Antal a destitute, disabled soldier, whose name was registered by Károlyi personally. According to Gyula Krúdy's moving report, the soldier then in a quiet and humble manner promised the earl to honor the land and always farm it.

The first land distribution

The camera shows the guests planting a wooden pole to symbolize the border between the large and small estate. The pole stood on a tiny hill on which after Károlyi, several cabinet members including Barna Buza and Ernő Garami shoveled some soil, then listened to the National Anthem. The footages manage to make a historic event feel more personal by showing all the small details and gestures.

Arnaldo Fraccaroli, the Italian journalist who loved Hungary

There has to be a serious reason for a journalist to interview another journalist" – started the Budapesti Hírlap's article. For example when said journalist is „one of the international prima donnas of journalism”. There were only 5 or 6 of those and the most famous one was visiting Budapest. Arnaldo Fraccaroli (or Fracca) was a reporter for the famous Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera. Neither his subjects nor his style was conventional and his articles were „beautifully written, novel like pieces". In the interview he gave in Budapest, he counted how many presidents and kings he managed to interview so far: „The Italian king, your Governor, president Coolidge, King Christian of Denmark, King Gustaf of Sweden, the last Turkish sultan, Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria, King Peter of Serbia, King Constantin of Greece, President Masaryk, the Maharadjas of Jaipur, Gwalior and Udaipur, who are sovereign presidents. And also His Majesty Albert of Monaco.”

 Fraccaroli with his Hungarian wife, Toncsi Németh

Fraccaroli often visited Hungary and married a Hungarian actress, Toncsi Németh. He was here when World War I. broke out, during mobilization and on December 12, 1918, shortly after Aster Revolution he came back to Budapest to report about the post-war Hungary. His friend, Hungarian journalist Géza Herczeg wrote: „This is my third day chaperoning Fraccaroli in Budapest. He checks out everything, he is interested in every little detail, listens and talks to everyone.” He spent 4-5 days in the capital and talked to the most prominent politicians and socialites. He also did an interview with Prime Minister Mihály Károlyi and his wife Katinka Andrássy, then wrote a series of articles about the experience. The first one was published on Christmas day.

 Attending the land distribution ceremony as the Corriere della Sera's reporter

The next time he came back was during land distribution. He travelled on Károlyi's private train to Kálkápolna on February 23 with cabinet members, and members of the Hungarian and International press. He also attended a news screening at the Royal Apollo with Mihály Károlyi and his wife and other cabinet members with their families and Géza Herczeg, a dear friend of his who recently became a government counselor. Fraccaroli's enthusiastic and detailed report was published in early March by the Italian newspaper with the following title: „Earl Károlyi shares his land with farmers”.

A month later he wrote about how the Bolsheviks came to power in Hungary. He blamed Western capitalism and Czech and Romanian imperialism, and the fact that Bolshevik Russia was the only powerful state standing up against the Entente - to Károlyi, the government and the entire country's disappointment.

Arnaldo Fraccaroli was not only a great journalist, but also an important playwright of 20th century Italian drama. Many of his plays were turned into movies; the most famous one was La dolce vita by Fellini starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg. He was also a friend of Puccini and published his monograph in 1925, titled La vita di Giacomo Puccini. The composer shared his life story with his friend, who put down every little detail to share it with future generations. Puccini once gave him a golden watch with his signature engraved, which he proudly wore all the time.

His birthplace, Villa Bartolomea keeps him in high esteem and named their main road and library after the journalist.

Laborers' anticommunist protest

Masses were repeatedly attacking the media, which proved how much power printed publications had at the time. On the morning of January 23 laborers raided the conservative paper, Pesti Hírlap after they published an editorial on unemployment benefits, suggesting it only makes the population lazy. Wrath of the poor ever marginalizing groups reached representatives of the conservative and social democratic media alike. On February 20 the unemployed held a meeting in Vigadó and marched to the KMP's paper, Vörös Újság and Népszava afterwards. The latter often criticized communists, much to the aforementioned group's dislike. The paper's offices were in Conti utca (Tolnai Lajos utca) 4, but protesters already got in an armed dispute with law enforcement on the corner of Conti and Népszínház utca. When social democrats got the news that the dispute ended with several deaths and injuries, they decided to protest the next day.

People started gathering at 09:00 on Friday, February 21st at Kossuth tér. Speeches started at 11:00 and by then there were several hundred thousand people. Everyone brought tools representing their own profession, for example butchers came with hatchets, skinning knives and ox horns. Soldiers marching on the screen to military tunes arrived from the 1st infantry regiment. Most speakers talked about the same issues Népszava's editorial warned them about, as in there are counter-revolutionist on both right and left. „Counter-revolution on the right and left are completely united in spirit: the right threatens with officers' strike and the public servant's sabotage, and the left is planning on doing rental strikes and sabotaging the unions. Right and left both want to hang the soldiers of the proletariat. The right wants an armed coup, and the left follows their lead. Although they are coming from two sides and represent different parts of society, they are one in soul and goal when it comes to overthrowing the Revolution and the party of the proletariat.

Several had the opportunity to speak out that day, sometimes even at the same time, as with no loudspeakers they could only reach those who were standing close by. On the Parliament stairs Mór Preusz, leader of the Laborers' Council and Vilmos Böhm Defense Minister spoke, suggesting that only 2-3 thousand youngsters were responsible for the communists' squabble, while the real power and the military were still on the their side.

Although it did not make the news, but on the night of February 20 law enforcement captured communist leaders with 46 cars and kept them in custody until March. Policemen furious about their fellows' deaths, arrested Béla Kun in his home and beat him almost to death in jail. Communist papers painted him as a martyr.

Funeral for victims of the Népszínház utca clash

Six victims of the Népszínház utca clash, namely policemen Sándor Kolonics, Zsigmond Nagy III, Ferenc Kovács IV, János Vigh, Károly Billig and József Kürschner guards were buried on February 25 at a grand military ceremony. The news captured when coffins were brought from the Parliament dome hall to the square. The white ore caskets were put on a podium then high ranking public figures did their farewell speeches, such as Sándor Garbai, János Hock, president of the Hungarian National Council, Interior Minister Vince Nagy and Police Chief Károly Dietz. They praised their vocation and heroism for serving the country, shared their sympathy and assured the families of their support.

Budapesti Hírlap wrote the following about their last trip from Kossuth tér to the cemetery: „The mourning crowd walked quietly down Alkotmány-utca, Váci-körút, Teréz-körút, Erzsébet-körút and Rákóczi-út to the Kerepesi-út cemetery. They were joined in grief by a gazing crowd of hundred thousand. The marching band and the united gypsy band played dirges on the way, and balconies and windows were dressed in black on every street the march passed. They walked through black flags, garments and a silent audience.”

Leather- and shoe-shortage after the Revolution

Mihály Károlyi's government suspended the shoe ticket system on November 22, 1918 which was introduced during the war. But those who thought they could now start stocking up on shoes were disappointed, as the government also introduced serious restrictions at the same time. Still only those were allowed to purchase a new pair who were already eligible for shoe tickets, and could identify themselves with written signatures and proof of accommodation. Also, they had to prove that they only have 2 more pairs and none of those were purchased in the past 6 months. The shoe office monitored the cobblers' and shoe dealers' sales, buyers' names, addresses and the shoes' retail price. Shoes purchased from unauthorized buyers were confiscated, prices were maximized and had to be engraved in soles to avoid any increase. The government was forced to introduce such regulations, as they were short on supplies. Production slowed down during the war, there was not enough coal and tanning material, most of the leather- and shoe factories were located in the occupied territories and the country was generally low on leather stocks. Also, some leather traders managed to collect notable sums of material from here and there, which they could sell for a fortune on the black market, ergo shoes became extremely expensive. After the new regulation was announced, anyone who tried to jump the price limit had to spend 5 days in jail and pay a fine, but plucky cobblers and shoe salesmen were still trying to ask for a higher price, unafraid of the consequences.

The regulation did solve the shortage and shoemakers who intended to buy their materials for the normal price from legitimate sources were still doomed. The first shoemakers' strike was in Arad on February 13, 1919 - since prices were maximized they had no profit, as production costs almost as much as what they get for a pair. The movement reached Budapest in a couple days and the shoemakers' commission held a conference with hundreds of craftsmen, where they decided to send a monster delegation to Minister of Commerce, Ernő Garami on the 20th of February to deliver him their demands. Three thousand craftsmen and salesmen marched to the ministry that day with „Down with illegal leather trade! Cheap shoes for all!” signs. Their speaker called for a professional discussion, free leather trade and industry. The minister was open for discussion and accepted their memo.

Thanks to the movement, the government authorized the founding of monitoring committees by officials of the Leather Center, the Public Clothing Committee's leather division and delegates of the shoemakers' union. They oversaw all the leather factories, tanners, shoemakers and leather shops of Budapest and surrounding areas, and reported on countless precedents of misuse, hidden goods and extortion. Several factories were processing waste and paper instead of working on the leather soles they were sent, which they intended to sell for a higher price. More than 100 reports were made by the commission, trusting that law enforcement will act fast and rigorously in these cases, until there is a law on illegal trade and supply chains.

Several variations of Marcell Vértes's cartoon on the shoe market were recovered, which allows us to get a little more familiar with his process.