March 11-17, 1919. Last hours of the Republic

Barkóczi Janka – Torma Galina

In spring 1919 economic struggles united people of all professions, the news reported on the waiters' strike and a humorous animation illustrated the cabbies' walkout.

Those who protested for better working conditions did not have a clue about the enormous turn the country was facing a couple days later...

The President's parlor and study at the National Palace

On November 21, 1918, not long after the victorious Aster Revolution, a short statement was published that the Buda Castle was going to be renamed National Palace, and ceremonial halls will be reconstructed into a museum. Until then, the entire Danube-front was used by the Defense and Finance Ministries and the Krisztinaváros-wing was also filled with offices. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was housed in the cabinet office and conducted their everyday business with a daily growing apparatus. In the middle wing, where King Charles used to live, gorgeous halls were opened on Minister Béla Linder's order to conduct meetings with French officers. The second floor was temporarily reserved for soldiers, 50 rooms were provided to the Ministry of Welfare on the third floor, the Ministry of National Affairs was housed in the Southern wing, and next to that, where Prince Joseph used to stay, Prime Minister Mihály Károlyi's offices were being set up. Interestingly, the new Republic forgot to rearrange the court offices, who forgot to acknowledge the Revolution. Therefore the seneschal office clerks still went to work everyday like nothing ever happened.

In 1919 mid-January provisional President Mihály Károlyi inspected the areas reserved for him. The leader of the state was given rooms Franz Joseph used for decades when staying in Budapest. They were planning on offering 18 rooms for his servants and 16 for offices, but Károlyi did not wish to move to the National Palace just yet. Government Commissioner Sándor Garbai led the Palace rearrangement during the new Republic's first weeks. The President had 9 connecting offices on the midsection ground floor, from which red carpet stairs led to the first floor. A waiting room and the secretary's office opened from the staircase.

The President's office could be approached from there through a large saloon, decorated with Louis XV- style interior with gobelin chairs and desks. It had an entry to the presidential suite where King Charles once lived. Dominant colors in these rooms were white, red and gold. The stoves were made of white majolica and also had Maria Theresa-style fireplaces with an intense amount of golden ornaments. In the bedroom, an Italian Madonna painting looked down the king size bed covered with a magenta silk throw.

Mihály Károlyi was renting a villa on Svábhegy at the time and did not move his family to the new residency just yet, but in February 4, 1919 he occupied his new offices, while the new Prime Minister, Dénes Berinkey moved to the PM's residence in Sándor Palace.

Prime Minister Dénes Berinkey with his wife and daughter

Dénes Berinkey

Dénes Berinkey (1871-1944) was Minister of Justice with the Károlyi cabinet from 1918 November, and became Prime Minister in January. The civil radical politician born in Komárom was also permanently the Foreign Minister in January. The news showed him with wife, Mária Takács (born in Kisjóka) and their daughter, Irma Berinkey, probably when they moved to the Sándor Palace. A little later on March 20, French lieutenant-colonel Fernand Vix delivered his famous manifest to the Hungarian government, in which the Entente urged the evacuation of Eastern areas. Vix wanted a reply by the next day, and when Vilmos Böhm shared his concerns that agreeing to his wishes would strengthen the communist's support, he allegedly replied „Das ist mir ganz egal” (I honestly don't care). As politicians opposed the idea of retreating to the Tisza river, Dénes Berinkey's cabinet resigned on March 21, giving way to the Republic of Councils, and with that the ex-PM ended his public career and went back to practice law. He often wrote articles about important legal issues for professional papers. He was buried in the Farkasréti cemetary. The young girl on the news, Irma Blondina Berinkey married Gyula Pályi in 1923 and became a famous English translator in the 1920s and gave lectures on literature.  



Funeral of trusted man Andor Fellner, suicidal officer of the Arad guards


Andor Fellner


The news story on 21 year old ironworker, Andor Fellner was a particularly tragic one. The young served as a corporal at the 33rd infantry regiment of Arad, when his battalion was sent to the Soborsin area of the demarcation line to deal with a gang of marauders. The poorly equipped soldiers did not wish to follow orders and officer Fellner reminded them about their oath and threatened to shoot himself in case of misconduct. As some still refused to cooperate, he shot himself in front of his comrades. Discipline was a serious issue in the army during those months, as the Károlyi cabinet forbade all the brutal techniques used during war, while failing to encourage the troops who were risking their lives for the country. Adapting the civil union's idea, a trusted men-system was introduced as a solution in 1918 December, and each company had to set up a soldier's council with 4 crewmembers and an officer whose main tasks were advocacy and discipline. Fellner's tragedy made a giant impact and his funeral ceremony was held on March 14 on front of the Arad city hall with a large group of attendees. Defense Minister Vilmos Böhm labeled him a martyr and called him a brilliant example of revolutionary loyalty. On this day ministries all around the country held a 5 minute break to salute the deceased soldier.

Anniversary of Lajos Kossuth's death

The Vix manifest's delivery was the same day as the 25th anniversary of Lajos Kossuth's death. A mourning mass was held at the Lutheran church on Deák tér in his memory, then a ceremonial wreathing took place at Kerepesi cemetery. Interior Minister Vince Nagy, Minister of Agriculture Barna Búza and János Hock gave speeches standing on front of the Kossuth mausoleum. The Budapesti Hírlap's editorial drew a line between the past and present: „It is shocking and outrageous that while the European nations' peace treaty is not even signed ye and the nations' and countries' fates, borders and places are still unknown, Vlachs, Czechs and Serbians act as if they conquered our country, took it in battle and registered it under their names. We are watching this bloody game of liberation stunned, but I know that Lajos Kossuth would not be as apathetic about it and I also know that he would have sacrificed all his dreams and prophecies to ward that off of this miserable country!” The government officials' attendance was probably the last gesture of the Károlyi-era, as the President and the entire government resigned the next day and a new era began.

Waiters on strike

1919 started with strikes and protests. Following barbers and cabbies, waiters also started their own battle in mid-February for the „revier-system” to have a fix income instead of only getting tips. They wished to terminate the headwaiter position, divide the place into areas, where the same waiter would work and bill the guests, and instead of a tip, they would have the right to ask for an extra 15%. Café and restaurant employees held a meeting on February 14 to discuss the new payment system, an 8 hour shift, and the introduction of the managerial position. They also stated that from now on they will only sign with a new employer through the union's intermediary office, as other offices tend to exploit them.

They shared their resolution with the Café owners' and Restaurateurs' Association the same day, adding that they would be ready to go on strike. The meeting was followed by a long negotiation process between the waiters' union and café- and restaurant owners. The Café owners' and Restaurateurs' Association held a conference on the night of February 27 and realized that they could not possibly satisfy the waiters as terminating tipping would be the Price Review Committee's liability. There was a regulation banning waiters to add a service fee to the bill. But it seemed like they could find a solution for that matter. However, the Price Review Committee did not want cafés to make the guests pay for the waiters' surplus, as owners wanted to raise prices so they could give the waiters their extra 15% without losing any money.

At the strike center

They could not reach an agreement until March 4, so the Restaurant and Café Employees' Union's trusted men decided that café employees will go on strike on the 6th at noon and no service will be available at cafés. But waiters working at restaurant were not going on strike yet, so restaurants will be conducting their business as usual. The cafés' staff went on strike on March 6 and most of the cafés did not even open that day. Groups of people were waiting outside the bigger coffee houses, who usually went there for breakfast or to read the paper, and left disappointed when they saw the closed doors and shutters. Although the waiters, the Café Guild and the Price Review Committee agreed on several issues, they could not come up with a final solution at their hours-long meeting. The café staff was joined by café musicians in strike and the restaurant waiters showed their solidarity by planning additional walkouts.

The next day on March 7 café Yildiz and Színházi Élet, the two strike centers were filled with protesters and folk musicians by early morning. Music was playing and strikers were dancing around. At 10:00 they went to the National Theater, to march to their Múzeum kert meeting. Bands were walking on front, with the waiters behind them holding flags saying "Down with tips! Long live the revier!", followed by the Laci Rácz gypsy band, waitresses, secretaries and kitchen staff. They walked through Erzsébet körút, Andrássy út, Vilmos császár út (Bajcsy Zsilinszky út) and Múzeum körút to Múzeum kert, while bands were playing the Marseillaise and other patriotic tunes.

The waiters' strike

The café waiters' five day strike ended on March 10, and cafés were opened the next day. They reached the following agreement: café owners accepted their demands and the Price Review Committee allowed the price increase. They cancelled tips, and declared that from now on accepting and giving tips will be viewed as unnecessary price increase, for which both guests, owners and waiters will be punishable.


This week's joke: the cabbies' strike

Not long after the waiters' strike the capital suffered  another one when cabbies went on strike (once again). Although it seemed like the cabbies reached an agreement a month earlier, they declared another strike for the 11th of March. Even though they did start receiving their 25%, they wanted more. They argued that the moment the agreement was signed, the fare prices were only three times higher than the original, but since then cab owners successfully reached an even higher price - five times more to be precise. Cabbies were arguing if proceeds are higher, then their percentage should be growing as well. The owners said the cabbies knew they were planning on asking for a higher fare price the moment they signed the agreement, and they already receive a higher income. They added that forage and horses also became expensive, but the cabbies were relentless and went on strike. Negotiations ended with a favorable outcome for konflis drivers by getting a 35% share and agreed to pay for a horse caretaker in exchange. Cabdrivers with unnumbered carriages reached an agreement earlier. Fiáker drivers were the last ones to find a solution, but they decided to agree on a percentage after two weeks of test rides. On March 16, Sunday 13:00 all cabbies went back to work and the streets were crowded with carriages once again.

A couple days later however everything was lost. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat meant a new system with new rules, which also affected cabbies. The revolutionary government issued a regulation on April 8 on the confiscation and nationalization of one and two person carriages, horses and equipment.