Kiss Zsuzsanna a European Rural History Organization éves konferenciáján

A TáTK Történeti Szociológia Tanszék oktatója, Kiss Zsuzsanna is előadója a European Rural History Organization 2015. szept. 7-10. között tartandó  éves konferenciájának Gironában, Spanyolországban.

Az előadás absztraktja:

Zsuzsanna Kiss: The role of agricultural associations in agricultural progress in 19th century Hungary

Compared to other parts of Europe agricultural associations in Hungary appeared relatively belated. The first association, i.e. the Hungarian National Association for Agriculture was established in 1835, but it was followed by others in a considerable number not earlier than the 1860s-1870s. Talking about the history of associations I will consider their activity in a space that is shaped by the regulative power and the politic-economic needs of the government on the one hand, while on the other hand it is determined by the aims and goals of voluntary acting participants.

Agriculture in the Habsburg Monarchy had always been treated as a substantive inner affair of individual provinces or kingdoms. According to the government’s standpoint agriculture is such a multifaceted sector and local specificities are so manifold that it cannot be centralized. Instead, supporting local agricultural associations is vital or rather the linkage between government and associations should be encouraged and strengthened, since local organizations are the most familiar with local matters. (Lorenz 1866)

The history of Hungarian agricultural associations may roughly be divided into three periods. As early as in the 18th century, the central government in Vienna urged Hungarian counties to establish civil organizations to further agriculture, however, these bodies proved to be reluctant. The order of the gubernium in 1766 and that of the king in 1770 (both expressing the government’s wish to establish associations in rural counties to stimulate and cultivate agriculture) passed by without any response or effect. The reasons of such disinterest possibly root in the contemporary political and social establishment and also in the state of agriculture and economic (un)consciousness in Hungary. By the time, civil society – as the basis for such initiatives – existed in its infancy; agriculture was primitive and highly extensive.

In the Vormärz period – called the Age of Reforms in Hungarian historiography – and with the emergence of a progressive group of noblemen things slowly begun to change. During the parliamentary session of 1825 in Bratislava, István Széchenyi formed the predecessor of the first agricultural association. It was a horseracing club that in a decade (by 1834) had been transformed into a comprehensive agricultural association, seated in the capital of the Hungarian Kingdom, Pest. The Habsburg dynasty showed great interest in the initiative from the beginning and confirmed its commitment with regular monetary aid and with personal involvement in the Association as well.

This first step of associational history resulted in establishing a representative body of the agricultural sector. It should be highlighted as its special feature, though, that members of the association – i.e. representatives of agriculture – were mostly noblemen and aristocrats: smallholders or rural workers were almost completely missing. Important functions of the association were the improvement of literature on agriculture and rural economics, as well as the elaboration of the initial plans for establishing institutes for educating agrarian professionals on all levels; from 1849 a journal was also published by the association.

An important phase in the history of relationship between state and agricultural societies followed after the revolution of 1848/49. The new absolutist government that settled in Hungary was explicitly repressive against all kinds of civil organizations – treating them as possible threats to the political stability. According to the new associational law (1852) authorizing agricultural societies (and some others) was the privilege of Franz Joseph. Opposite to classic societal organizations (clubs) agricultural societies were still supported in the neo-absolutistic era which undoubtedly shows that the central government evaluated them as useful and important in contributing to the common economy of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

It is important to present in depth this continuously supportive relation of the state to agricultural associations, since this was the basis of further developments. In the period before the Austro-Hungarian Compromise (1867) – being legally accepted – agricultural associations could became forums for political debates. As such, they became very popular: the 1860s saw a wide spread of such societies all around the country. However, this heyday was short, in a decade many of the freshly established associations disappeared.

The third and most effective period of agricultural associational life started after the Compromise. Those associations that survived the 1860s, soon turned to real problems of agrarian life and elaborated professional plans to overcome all those difficulties that Hungarian landowners and farmers had to face after the (political, social and economic) regime change after 1848.

In my paper I will focus on some dimensions of these difficulties that could be all summed up as the “call for progress in agriculture” and I will show how agricultural associations partook in launching progress.

The first and most important task to fulfil by associations was the representation of rural interest in all forums, most eminently their participation in the preparation of an agricultural law (that finally was first announced in Hungary in 1894) to create the legal frames of further development.

Another aim, concerning the fundaments of the whole sector, was the creation of a credit-system. Agricultural associations had an important role in mediating examples of the elimination of credit deficiency from abroad (e.g. Raiffesen/Austria).

Indeed, from the very beginning, agricultural associations put a stress on transferring and disseminating knowledge: from abroad to Hungary, from the capital to the countryside, from great landowners with capital to smallholders without significant monetary possibilities. The main forms of doing so were: journals, popular booklets; animal, corps and machinery displays and exhibitions; facilitation of education, i.e. agricultural schools for petty landowners and agricultural workers and higher schools for the education of professionals.

Finally, agricultural societies participated in practical debates on public investments or developments that related somehow to the usage of land in the country (flood control, railway construction, soil improvement etc.). It is important to evaluate how their position as a professional body gained strength among other interest groups during the 19th century.

With short examples on these dimensions, I will demonstrate how the interplay between state and civil sphere (agricultural associations) provided a background for agricultural progress and for the birth of a new professional sector.

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