December 17-23, 1918. Fight till you drop

Torma Galina

Birth of Károlyi's Independent party, the new land reform, the Transylvanian Romanian population's union with Romania, and a boxing match to the final breath at the old House of Representatives

Launch of Károlyi's party at Vigadó
On December 22, 1918 Károlyi's Independent party held its first congress. It was supposed to be a caucus, but representatives of other civil parties such as radicals, smallholders and christian socialists were also in attendance. Numerous provincial independent parties sent delegates and members of the national agricultural party were also present, which made it seem like Károlyi wanted to share his party's new agenda with a larger crowd. The social democrats opted out. Even though they were against the idea of an independent Bolshevik party, they still felt closer to them than to the most radical civilian party.

 Thousands of people gathered at Vigadó's main hall on Sunday at 10:00. People cheered and applauded when Prime Minister Mihály Károlyi arrived along with Vince Nagy, Barna Buza, Pál Szende and Ferenc Nagy ministers and state secretaries. Leader of the party János Hock opened the caucus by talking about the importance of working together and asked other party members to join forces and Mihály Károlyi to share the party's agenda.


The Prime Minister assured everyone that he shares their pacifist, democratic, and radical socialist beliefs. He recited Wilson's idea about peace and criticized the entente for disrespecting the armistice by neglecting the demarcation lines and interrupting commercial traffic on borders. When talking about nationalities, he imagined a Danube confederation based on economic unity with common foreign policies and political freedom for each and every nation. Just like Hock, he urged everyone to join forces. He also talked about the land reform, wishing a fair and reasonable separation process for Hungary.

He talked about the distribution of real estate and heavy taxation of goods and war profits. He was also hoping for clean elections and underlined the importance of securing the voting rights of those living in occupied areas. The army was the last thing he mentioned. Less then 2 months after Béla Linder famously said he did not wish to see anymore soldiers, Károlyi was already talking about the importance of an army, arguing that not even the most pacifist state would stand a chance without one. As much as he was against any sort of unnecessary bloodshed, he needed soldiers who were willing to shed their blood for the ideals of the Revolution. At the end of his speech he once again asked everyone to join forces for the common goal - instead of parties clashing and dividing the country, they should work together for a better Hungary, defend the country's independence and secure democracy and social institutions.

  Several party representatives assured the country's first man about their rapport, then the caucus accepted a motion to establish a collective civilian party based on the aforementioned ideas, and agreed to send American President Wilson the following telegraph: „Hungary believes in the nation's sacred alliance and shares Wilson's idea of a peaceful state, where freedom, justice and universal humaneness could be freely exercised. The Hungarian nation wows to accept and respect those principles, expecting those to act the same who disrespected out armistice and attacked us to prey on our economic and moral values. One does not need a weapon to kill someone, when it is enough to take away their basic necessities. We wishfully await the measures of Woodrow Wilson, apostle of eternal peace and humanism and leader of the free American nation.

Barna Buza Minister of Agriculture
Regarding domestic issues, cabinet members and others who were going to be affected were especially concerned about the new land reform. The party members' ever growing differences about the issue eventually led to a government crisis, which is why Interior Minister Tivadar Batthyány stepped down on December 12, followed by Márton Lovászy Minister of Culture on December 23. Mihály Károlyi and Barna Buza Minister of Agriculture along with socialist and radical ministers sided with a more radical idea as opposed to ministers of his own cabinet. Everyone agreed that they should end the latifundia system and nationalize the land if they wanted a democratic progress. But the civilian and socialist idea was different by raising the question if the land would be owned by the state and obtainable by perpetual lease and annuity, or as private property.

Barna Buza submitted his land reform plan to the cabinet in mid-December, while social democrats also crafted their own, which was backed by the Workers Council. The Minister of Agriculture found the two plans compatible and almost similar after smoothing the differences on redemption of estate and land value tax. The official submission was on December 23 at a late night cabinet meeting, but they pushed negotiations to the 28th.

  The plan gave unlimited dispossession rights to the state for lands after 500 acres, and in those areas where the population was justifiably in need of more land the limit would have been 200 acres. Exceptions were to be made with lands that served a "public scientific purpose" and those where industrial companies grew produce, such as sugar beets. The dispossession would always come through redemption, and the price would be regulated by law. The plan suggested that the redistributed lands should serve as family smallholdings, but middle estates, smaller workers' estates, family gardens and house plots would also be allowed. Hungarian citizens already working in agriculture would be eligible to apply for family smallholdings or to supplement their estates.

  The reason they urgently needed the law to be accepted and put in motion was because there were almost no farmers left in the estates who were willing to work at this point, as everyone was looking forward to finally get their own land.

The „people's act” on land redistribution was introduced on February 16, 1919, and after lengthy debates and consultations, they went with the socialist solution. A couple days later, on the 23rd of February the first ceremonious land redistribution took place on Mihály Károlyi's estate.

Congress of Transylvania's 26 counties in Kolozsvár

On December 1, 1918 in Gyulafehérvár, the National Assembly of Romanians in Transylvania declared that Romanians of 26 Hungarian counties - roughly 2.948.186 people - shall be united with the Romanian population living in Romania, therefore everyone living in these counties shall be a part of Romania, and those 4 million people who were not Romanian shall be subjects to Romanians.

On December 7 at the late night cabinet meeting, the National Council's Romanian commission appointed university professor Dr. István Apáthy to be Lead Government Commissioner of Transylvania and handle issues of public administration and supplies. Following his suggestion the Hungarian government started negotiating with French officers stationed in Hungary, to help them avoid any unnecessary collusion during the Romanians raids. Romanians were planning to occupy Kolozsvár on December 24.

Transylvanian and Eastern Hungarian Hungarians, Székelys and Germans using their rights for self-determination organized a congress for December 22, Sunday morning to protest Transylvania's separation and union with Romania. The Romanian ambassador in Budapest asked Mihály Károlyi to ban the event, but instead Károlyi recited French lieutenant-colonel Vyx's words, as in the Romanian Governor Council had no right for such demands. Therefore, Romanian authorities did everything in their power to prevent people from getting there.

From the 26 counties 100-120 thousand people gathered altogether at the main square, and the same amount of people were held up by Romanian troops or did not even know about the National Council's appeal due to the Romanian post office's censorship. The Romanian national councils and HQs held up the National Council's trains they sent to Kolozsvár. Around 20 trains were supposed to transport delegates to the congress, but only 2 arrived. The Romanian team commander at Aranyosgyéres ordered Romanian soldiers occupying junctions close to the rail line to halt every men travelling to Kolozsvár from Saturday 19:00 until Sunday 12:00. They also tried to discourage miners of Hunyadmegye and Petrozsény with guns. Many were only be able to join via telegraphs, but some decided to get there on foot, climbed on wagons, trucks, on top of trains and bumpers to get to the event.

At 10:00 a pre-meeting was held at the main hall of the Kolozsvár Craftsman Association with a smaller delegation, where István Apáthy gave a welcome speech. He said that nations living here are getting by because of Hungary's territorial integrity, internal unity, democratic equality, freedom and the fact that they recognize every nation's right to self-determination. Hungarians, Székelys, Saxons, Armenians and Romanian socialists were both present, stating they can not identify themselves with the Gyulafehérvár treaty, and do not wish to replace the old Hungarian government with the Romanian Kingdom's tyranny. They penned the following declaration:

„Nations gathered in Kolozsvár on December 22, 1918 recognize their right to self-determination based on Wilson's idea and wish to remain part of the same republican community as Hungary. They also demand equality, freedom and self-governance for all nations in the united democratic Hungary. The congress declares that Transylvanian Hungarians and Székelys are self-governing entities accepting the Central Governing Council as their representatives elected by Transylvanian Hungarians and Székelys on December 18, 1918.”

Then they elected the members of the Central Governing Council (with István Apáthy as president) and stood out the balcony to greet the crowd on Kolozsvár's main square and proclaim their declaration. Two days later on December 24 the Romanian occupation marched to the same spot with the Romanian guard of Kolozsvár and a couple thousand Romanian countrymen cheering for them.

Boxing: Róbert Zombori Tóth vs. Johann Kinley

Those who were in the old House of Representatives in Főherceg Sándor utca on December 21, 1918, Saturday night had quite a unique experience, as posters were advertising a "fight till you drop" boxing match. The location might be surprising for such an event, but it was completely normal at the time. The old building housed several events since 1902, when the House of Representatives moved to the new Parliament building on the shore of the Danube. Beside peaceful congresses, popular gatherings and scientific lectures, showmen, illusionists and hypnotists had shows there and the boxing and wrestling association also regularly rented the place, as there was no better alternative in Budapest for such sporting events in winter time. They regularly used the main hall until 1930, when the city shut them down due to fire safety concerns, which was bad news boxing and wrestling championships, as the long-awaited indoor sports hall was still not available. The building, designed by Miklós Ybl was built in 1865 in 72 days as a temporary House of Representatives with a 462-seat main hall. It still stands on Bródy Sándor utca today, housing the Italian Cultural Institute of Budapest.



Hundred years ago Róbert Zombori Tóth fought two foreign boxers here, Johann Kinley navy pilot in 15 rounds and Uvan Collini in 10. Zombori was already famous before the World War: in 1911 he became a member of the MTK boxing club, a year later he won the amateur championship and a year after that he was fighting the biggest names in the international amateur scene. He also served in the war. By the end of 1918 he was a professional international featherweight champion in Europe, Berlin and Budapest, knocking out I. J. H. Philips English and Max Miller German champions (according to the posters). In 1920 he was a coach at FTC, a university coach and had his own boxing club in Ráday utca. However, he got on the newspaper covers for something else, the "Tisza case", which started in August 1920 to investigate the murder of István Tisza, locate the alleged perpetrators and instigators and bringing them to court. Day 9 was the most exciting day of the trial, as that's when the two main suspects were going to be questioned. Tickets sold out 2 months prior to the event, it was a full house. At that event, Róbert Zombori Tóth was handing out a pamphlet reading "Read it and give it to the next person!" on which he accused a military judge assigned to this case with the unlawful extortion of suspect statements. Zombori used to be an investigator for the district police and was arrested in May with a fellow officer. He was sent to the Margit körút jail where he learned about the judge from one of the suspects. Even though the pamphlet was a big sensation, none of the suspects testified against the judge, and a lawsuit was filed against Zombori.