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István Tisza Graf von Boros-Jenö et Szeged
Tisza's Rule of Thumb:  Annoy Everyone

István Tisza was born in 1861, a sober Calvinist in the service of a devoted Catholic Monarch, whose father had been Premier in the previous century.  He was well-known for his tough stance in the Hungarian parliament, as well as his formidable talent in sabre duels (perhaps he forgot when one ended and the other began).  His personality was virtual sandpaper and his enemies in the Parliament were legion.  Yet, not even the worst of his opponents (such as Gyula Graf Andrassy) could question his love and devotion toward the Hungarian state.  His talents brought him to the Premiership and he was appointed on 3 November 1903, replacing venerable Károly Graf Khuen-Héderváry von Hédervár. 

Tisza made instant enemies everywhere, and raised the ire of the King. He resigned on 18 June 1905, being replaced by Géza Freiherr Fejérváry von Komlós-Keresztes.  This wasn't the end of his political career, however.  Far from it.  He patiently waited until the list of reliable candidates exhausted itself, and was appointed Premier for a second round on 10 June 1913, replacing László Lukács.  Tisza's first business was to end the dictatorship in Croatia-Slavonia, and he appointed a trusted friend,
Ivan Freiherr Skerlecz, as Ban.  The Sabor was reopened and, although it was by no means peaceful, it was a functioning body once more.

GWS, 3/01

The Government of István Tisza up to and Through the War

Tisza's war-time government consisted of the following ministers:

Minister of Agriculture:  Imre Freiherr Ghillány

Minister of Commerce: László Besthy (10 June 1913 to 13 July 1913);
János Freiherr Harkány (13 July 1913 to 15 June 1917)

Minister of Defense (Honvéd):
Samuel Freiherr Hazai (10 June 1913 to 19 February 1917); Sándor Freiherr Szurmay (19 February 1917 to 15 June 1917)

Minister of Finance:  János Teleszky

Minister of the Interior:  János Sándor

Minister of Justice:  Jens Balogh

King's Personal Minister:
István Freiherr Burián (10 June 1913 to 13 January 1915); István Graf Tisza (13 January 1915 to 29 May 1915); Ervin Freiherr Roszner (29 May 1915 to 15 June 1917)

Minister of Religion and Education:  Béla Januarykovich

Minister Without Portfolio for Croatia-Slavonia and Dalmatia:  István Graf Tisza (10 June 1913 to 21 July 1913); Tivadar Graf Pejacsevich (21 July 1913 to 16 January 1916); Imre Hideghéthy (16 January 1916 to 15 June 1917)
The toughest politician Hungary had known since the Middle Ages seems to be calm enough at his club in Budapest.
Tisza's reputation as a great statesman of Europe was not broken by the outbreak of war.  But at the end, when it was learned that his single vote for war plunged the world into devastation, the enraged people of Budapest called for his blood.
The Warrior in the Parliament and the Imperial Cabinet

Contemporary Entente sources suggest the redoubtable Tisza as the decisive personality who brought about war.  He definitely was not part of the "war party" in Vienna; however, his acceptance of Imperial Foreign Minister
Leopold Berchtold's drive for war against Serbia made the prosecution of war possible.   Despite his opposition to Berchtold's plans, Tisza was actually well diposed toward the part-Magyar Foreign Minister, who regarded Hungarian stability as a critical countermeasure to Austria's grid-locked parliament. 

Tisza and Berchtold had been discussing new Balkan initiatives to hem in the Serbians by means of a new alliance with Bulgaria and an open alliance with Roumania.  Tisza wanted to push this programme forward as soon as possible, rather than risking war.  Tisza had the confidence of
Kaiser Franz Josef, and Berchtold could not resist the will of both; he therefore sent his secretary Graf Hoyos to Berlin to compell the Germans (whom Tisza admired) to support the views of the Foreign Office.  From then on, Tisza advocated a stronger stance consisting of at least an ultimatum.  Before this ultimatum had been dispached, Tisza had written "This matter may end without war, God grant that this happens.  Nevertheless, I cannot [guarantee] that it will not under any circumstances come to war."

War came, and in time, the Imperial cabinet needed as much of a shake-up as the army.  Berchtold was the first to go. 

Regarding the dismissal of Berchtold, Tisza said that "although I was loathe to oppose such a loyal and honest collegue as Berchtold, I had to realise that it was in the Monarchy's vital interest to trust the conduct of our foreign policy to someone stronger during these critical times.  With the commencement of Bülow's intrigues, the disadvantages of Berchtold's irresolute and brooding personality were coming to the forefront to such an extent that I could no longer postpone action."  Furthermore, Tisza feared Berchtold's obvious pliability by the Germans.  As new issues arose, such as the cession of Trentino for the sake of Italian neutrality, a favourite solution of Germany's, Tisza wanted a stronger figure to treat with their Teutonic ally.  On 18 January 1915, Tisza asked for Berchtold's resignation, which was given by a relieved Berchtold, eager to surrender his burdens. Tisza nominated his old friend
István Burián to replace Berchtold.

GWS, 3/01 [rev. 10/04]

Food the Key to Victory?

Tisza, the inflexible, unbending Hungarian Premier--forever the enemy of any Imperial office that might infringe on the economic sovereignty of Hungary--actually delivered a proposal for a Joint Food Committee on 27 February 1917.  Tisza proposed that "under the direction of a chairman appointed by His Majesty, a joint food committee should be formed, including one representative from each of the two food offices, the Austrian and the Hungarian, as well as representatives of the Ministry of War and the supreme command.  This committee should have the task of collecting information concerning the food situation, comparing and adjusting  this information, if necessary, securing direct communication between the above-mentioned bodies in the question of sustenance, and approaching them with any necessary suggestions and proposals."  Thus, Tisza's empire of grain was finally open to Austrian scrutiny (music to Chancellor
Ernst Seidler's ears), if only because this empire had withered on the vine and things were getting desperate even in rural Hungary.

GWS, 5/02
Graf Tisza poses with his regiment shortly after joining them at the front, 1917.
A Change of Pace

By May 1917, Kaiser Karl had tired of Tisza, and decided that a more flexible Premier was needed in Budapest, one who would listen to his King rather lecture him.  Tisza was dismissed by Karl just as the Customs Union debates began.   He was replaced by
Prinz Móric Esterházy von Galantha on 15 June 1917. 

Had Tisza remained in office, it is unlikely that Karl would have been able to suspend the Delegations until the end of the war as he had; Tisza would have forced Karl to convene the volatile Austrian parliament and bring the Delegations to order, something all but impossible with the war still raging.  Tisza knew this and hoped to profit by it, but Karl was wise to the situation.

Tisza decided to forgo party politics in the parliament at Budapest, and similarly resisted suggestions that he should retire altogether.  Instead, Tisza applied for active service with his regiment.  He arrived there and his soldiers were at first quite bewildered as to why one of the most powerful politicians in the Empire was risking life-and-limb in the trenches.  But for Tisza, "the pure Magyar spirit could only be found in the midst of soldiers in combat," so he believed.  It was a matter of cleansing and rejuvenation for the ex-Premier.

In late 1918, having returned from the trenches and taken to writing memoranda critical of premier
Sandor Wekerle's policies, Tisza pleaded with the Hungarian government for a position of value to rehabilitate both his sunken reputation and also the kingdom's in general.  Therefore, Wekerle dispatched Tisza, to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to "assess the political situation" on the government's behalf.  This was done independently of Vienna.  His findings caused him to question the loyalty of General Stefan von Sarkotic, military governor of the two provinces.  Sarkotic responded to Tisza's interview by asking if Vienna and Budapest had listened to him and his warnings of rising South Slav nationalism over the past three years of war. 

Tisza admitted that he was unfamiliar with this problem, and thought it disgraceful that Vienna, not Budapest, neglected a bad situation for so long.  He then proceeded into the towns and villages where it was safe to do so, and attempted to rally support for Hungary among the locals.  After all of the local politicians flatly rejected all of Tisza's schemes involving Bosnia-Herzegovina with the kingdom, Tisza suggested that a plebiscite should be held to determine the future of the two provinces, vainly believing this show of magnanimity would allay Serb nationalism.  Sarkotic earlier insisted that only the unification of Dalmatia with Croatia-Slavonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina within the Habsburg realm could placate the Croats and steer them away from South Slav unity under Serbia.  This was frankly trialism, which the Hungarians could never endure, even by October 1918.  Tisza did not understand Sarkotic until he spoke with local politicians.  He returned to Budapest distraught in the knowledge that his formerly lionized powers had no effect in a world collapsing because of war.

GWS, 7/01 [rev. 4/03]

The Death of Tisza

Tisza was shot at his home in Budapest by disenchanted pro-communist soldiers at the end of war on October 31, 1918.  A pair of drunken soldiers, probably sailors having deserted their river monitors, were reveling in the neighbourhood of the former Premier.  They decided to raise a mob and arrest Tisza for having started the war.  The two men were accompanied by a few other deserters but entered the doorway to Tisza's home by themselves. Perhaps by the severity of their presence, they were allowed to enter and confront him.  Tisza stood in a hallway, newspaper in hand, perplexed by the soldiers seeking him.  The declared themselves the arbitors of justice, and accused Tisza of starting the war and bringing the country to ruin. According to one source, Tisza wanted to know why his fellow Magyars from the trenches [referring to his brief stint in 1917] would bring themselves upon him like this, and immediately one of the soldiers raised his gun and fired at Tisza.  He died within a few hours.  The two soldiers ran from the scene and spread word that Tisza was dead.

Rumours of Tisza’s death were being spread among the mass of deserters all across Budapest and beyond.  Socialist Arpád Pásztor recalled in his “Book of the Victorious Revolution,” how “the crowd grows continually denser, and then suddenly some hundreds of men band together... Now a sheet of paper is put up; on it, in blood red letters, ‘Count István Tisza has been shot!’  Before one has entirely made out the letters, the crowd has delivered judgment on the deed.  There are shouts of exultation and thundrous clapping; it is as if a play actor were being applauded.  A soldier shouts facetiously, ‘Long live Tisza, now he’s dead!’  Men and women run back in the rain and pass on the news, happy and laughing, saying again and again to themselves, ‘Splendid!  István Tisza is dead!’  As they go on their way, they shout the good news to everyone who passes.  A motor car decorated with flowers and flags swishes past me; a salute is fired, reverberating away into the gathering twilight; young girls are smiling at the news:  ‘Tisza is assassinated!’”  And all this tumult was supposed to have happened before some drunken soldiers forced their way into Tisza’s unguarded house and shot him dead.  One can take Pásztor’s narration with a certain grain of salt, considering that he was one of the revolutionaries and propaganda pamphleteers of the bolshevik
Bela Kun regime. 

Still, the outburst of enthusiasm by the war-weary could not be denied by even the most hardened white counter-terrorist.  Oscar Jászi stated that hatred of Tisza and his ilk was so great that his own party merely reported his death as a factual matter, choosing neither to eulogize him nor to editorialise on his assassination.  Jászi believed the reason for this was not that the party feared the gathering anarchy but rather was relieved to have their most famous and influential leader out of the way at last.

GWS, 4/03