Persuading Minds

Propaganda and Mobilisation in Transylvania during World War I

by Ana Victoria Sima (Volume editor) Teodora-Alexandra Mihalache (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 238 Pages


At the start of World War I, Transylvania was a multi-ethnic province that was still incorporated within the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The studies included in this collection show that the war and its propaganda affected the entire Transylvanian population, regardless of age, ethnic origin or social status. While some Transylvanians were required, by virtue of their profession, to enter the service of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy’s propaganda machine, others chose to do so voluntarily or became the target population. The political and ecclesiastical authorities intended to persuade Transylvanians of the justness of the war and encouraged them to keep fighting and hold their ground, at home or on the front, wherever the war took them.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword (Ana Victoria Sima)
  • The Church’s Mobilisation of the Population in Support of the War Effort: A Study of Communication (Diana Covaci)
  • The Priests’ Manifold Roles in Transylvania’s Romanian Communities during World War I (Mirela Popa-Andrei)
  • Episcopal Circulars as Means of Conveying War Propaganda. Case Study: The Circulars Issued by the Vicariate of Maramureș (1914–1918) (Floarea Pop)
  • War Propaganda: A Duty to the Nation and the Emperor. ASTRA and the Military Clergy during the Great War (Ionela Zaharia)
  • Looking for Allies in the Enemy Camp. Secret Actions Undertaken by the Romanian Kingdom’s Intelligence among their Conationals from Austria-Hungary (1914–1916) (Andreea Dăncilă Ineoan)
  • The Activity of Ştefan Cicio Pop during World War I (Corneliu Pădurean)
  • A Transylvanian Metropolitan Involved in War Propaganda. Vasile Mangra in Unsettled Times (1916–1918) (Marius Eppel)
  • Behind the Front. The Transylvanian Clerical Elite’s Stance on World War I (Ioana Mihaela Bonda / Oana Mihaela Tămaș)
  • A “Mobilisation of Souls”: Actions in Support of the War Effort in Brașov during 1914 (Teodora-Alexandra Mihalache)
  • Sickness and Suffering. Recollections of the Transylvanian Romanians Enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the Great War (Oana Habor)
  • The Sentiment of Fear in the Great War. An Attempt to Reconstruct the Psychological Mindset of the Transylvanian Romanians (Nicolae Bocșan / Mihaela Bedecean)
  • Writing and Waiting for Peace. Letters of Ordinary Romanian People from Transylvania at the Time of the Great War (Ana Victoria Sima)
  • With the Camera in the Trenches (Tiberiu Iordan)
  • Bibliography
  • Name Index
  • Geographical Index

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This volume of studies speaks about the War of the world and about the world at war. This was the world of Transylvania, a multiethnic province that was still incorporated within the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy at the start of World War I. Alongside Romanians, who accounted for more than half of the population in the province (54.9%), here lived Hungarians (25.2%), Germans (12%) and other ethnic groups like Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Ruthenians and Jews, albeit in much smaller proportions. The war came down upon all of them like an earthquake, ravaging lives, ruining hopes, troubling minds and forcibly enmeshing everyone in a collective event that shattered the very foundations of the world. On the eve of the Great War, Transylvania’s population comprised over 2.6 million inhabitants. About one million of them were mobilised. Almost half of those recruited were Romanians. The rest was accounted for by the other ethnicities. The studies included in this collection speak about them and about the families they left at home.

This volume brings together thirteen papers that were presented in the section Propaganda, Mobilisation and Population Involvement in World War I, organised within the framework of the first Romanian Historians’ National Congress, held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, on 25–28 August 2016. It also includes some of the results of the research carried out within the framework of the project entitled War Propaganda and the Romanian Churches in Transylvania (1914–1918) and conducted under the auspices of the Faculty of History and Philosophy, Babeş-Bolyai University, in the period 2015–2017 (http://hiphi.ubbcluj.ro/Propaganda_de_razboi/home_en.htm).

The authors – professors and researchers coming, in their majority, from Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania – have approached a topic that is less frequently addressed in Romanian historiography: the war propaganda in Transylvania, its channels of deployment and its effects on the combatant population. In their studies, they have examined the contents of various propaganda messages, the institutions and practices associated with propaganda, as well as its effects upon people and their mindscapes. They have drawn on sources discovered and published over the past couple of decades, applying new methods and taking into account the recent interpretations of World War I that have appeared in international historiography.

The authors of these studies have endeavoured to show that the war and its propaganda affected the entire population, regardless of age, ethnic origin or social status. Women and men, the young and the elderly, Romanians, Transylvanian Saxons and Hungarians, common people or intellectuals, soldiers in hospitals or in captivity – all of them were influenced, to a greater or lesser ← 7 | 8 → extent, by the war propaganda. While some Transylvanians were required, by virtue of their profession, to enter the service of the propaganda machine of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, others chose to do so voluntarily or became its target population. It was imperative that all of them should be persuaded of the justness of the war and encouraged to keep fighting and hold their ground at home or on the front, wherever the war hurled them, regardless of their own will.

In the pages of this volume, the reader will discover not only the route of propaganda messages, from the transmitter to the receiver, but also the means of their transmission, the filters and the obstacles they encountered along the way and, last but not least, the feedback that was recorded at the level of communities and of individual combatants. The war propaganda carried out in Transylvania will not have been much different from that of the other allied states, in terms of the messages that were conveyed and their contents. Ultimately, the aim was the same: the mobilisation of all human and material resources in the service of the Central Powers’ victory. Still, what distinguished the world of Transylvania, particularly in the Romanian communities, was its prevalently agrarian, patriarchal nature. Here the Church and the School continued to represent fundamental institutions that benefited from an untainted image capital. Their position was a delicate one in relation to the dualist Hungarian state. On the one hand, they enjoyed confessional autonomy, recognised by law, under which they had developed a system of primary and theological education in the mother tongue. On the other hand, priests and school teachers received small subsidies from the state. Because of this financial assistance, they were automatically bound to the state, being regarded as civil servants. This is why, in a time of war, the Hungarian state used the Romanian churches and schools in Transylvania as primary channels for mobilising the population, realising that priests and teachers were the most compelling and respected voices in those communities. The voices of the Romanian priests and school teachers also became, now more than ever, voices of the state and of the war propaganda.

The reader will find references to dozens of instructions and ministerial orders that penetrated the world of the Romanian villages, in the form of ecclesiastical circulars and pastorals, which were read out to the population from church pulpits or in school classrooms. Priests and teachers were thus responsible not only for the transmission of orders, but also for their observance and enactment. From war loans to fundraisings and donations of clothes and money for the soldiers on the front, the wounded in hospitals, widows and orphans, to campaigns for the harvesting of medicinal plants, forest fruits, etc., or to the requisitioning of church bells – all these were actions carried out under the close supervision of priests and teachers. Even the military priests deployed on the front had an overwhelming array of tasks. In addition to ← 8 | 9 → providing spiritual solace and moral support to the soldiers, these chaplains also supplied them with a consumerist literature, in the form of books, magazines, brochures, calendars, etc. They organised literacy courses for soldiers who could not read. Their tasks and obligations multiplied exponentially during the war. Of course, this collection of studies could not overlook the role of the press, which was subject to censorship and functioned as a tool of propaganda, in support of the war. Some of the articles included in this volume analyse the roles assumed by priests and teachers, revealing the pressure exerted upon the higher clergy of the Romanian churches, the role of the ecclesiastical press and the conduct of some of the spiritual and political leaders of the Romanians in Transylvania.

The situation was not much different among the Transylvanian Saxons. In their case, too, the Evangelical Church and its denominational schools were actively involved in the mobilisation and support of the population during the whole period of the war. In addition, these Saxons had benefited from a well-developed associationist system since the second half of the nineteenth century. This system was to fully prove its effectiveness in the war years.

Another topic discussed in this volume relates to the diseases brought about by the war and their effects on the population of Transylvania. In fact, the war reactivated some epidemics that had been partially eradicated, such as cholera, or augmented the magnitude of others. It also generated mental illnesses. Relegated into a realm of fear or uncertainty and separated from their loved ones for four years, the combatants were exposed to physical and mental aggression. They suffered from psychological disorders on an unprecedented scale in the history of mankind. Their effects, which have not been fully studied yet, were also felt among the population on the Transylvanian home front.

Equally little known is the issue of writing among the lower classes. The letters these people with poor levels of literacy exchanged during World War I offer a gateway for exploring their mindsets, experiences and horizon of expectations. The analysis of the letters written by Romanian combatants on the battle and the home fronts illustrates a tremendous historical and cultural potential that could be properly recovered and reconstructed by future teams of historians and philologists.

The propaganda role of war cinema could not be left out of this approach. Attention has been given especially to the impact this cinema had in the post-war period, when the political-territorial context was profoundly changed and the Romanian society was highly sensitive and responsive to the trauma and the memory of the Great War.

As seen above, the authors of these studies have endeavoured, each according to their knowledge and experience, to reconstruct the oppressive, gruelling climate in which mobilisation in support of the Great War was ← 9 | 10 → conducted in Transylvania. They have reconstituted propaganda messages and retraced their routes, highlighting the initiatives and measures that were taken by the state and the church authorities, as well as the obstacles that stood in the way of spreading war propaganda and their consequences. In a word, they have reassembled the past from different sources. But the past is life, and this volume reflects, albeit not exhaustively, the lived lives of millions of individuals in a time of war.

Ana Victoria Sima

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Diana Covaci

The Church’s Mobilisation of the Population in Support of the War Effort: A Study of Communication*

Abstract: This study undertakes an analysis of the manner in which the Hungarian State attempted to mobilise the resources of the population in Transylvania in support of the military troops who fought in World War I. I aim to close the feedback loop through an investigation of several reports relating to the harvesting of blackberry leaves, intended for the military, in the Romanian Greek-Catholic communities under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Alba Iulia and Făgăraș. In my analysis I resort to the model of communication developed by Shannon and Weaver, which foregrounds the exchange of letters between three successive nodes in the chain of communication. This research captures various types of noise that interfered with effective communication, as well as the attempts that were made by the parties concerned to correct those communication errors.

Keywords: World War I, Transylvania, priests, communication, feedback, blackberry leaves.

This study completes an investigation begun in an earlier paper dedicated to the ecclesiastical circulars that were issued during World War I as part of the civil authorities’ plans to organise the total mobilisation of human and material resources in Transylvania.1 For this purpose, the Hungarian State also used the communication channels of the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, specifically the orders and circulars that were dispatched by the diocesan ecclesiastical authorities to the priests within the territory of their jurisdiction. The demands of the central public institutions were communicated to the population by the priests, who read out the provisions in question to their parishioners in church and made the necessary recommendations for enforcing them. At the end of each mobilisation action, the clergy were also bound to prepare reports on the manner in which ministerial ordinances had been ← 11 | 12 → applied. This research is part of a larger project dedicated to the war propaganda disseminated with the help of the Church in Transylvania.2

I aim to close the feedback loop through an investigation of several reports that reflected the extent to which such ministerial orders had been effectively carried out in the Romanian Greek-Catholic communities under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Alba Iulia and Făgăraș. Most of the reports drafted in those communities reached the diocesan ecclesiastical institutions either as annexes or as précis included in the archpriests’ reports. Archival research has enabled me to quantify a considerable number of responses to the mobilisation messages and to ascertain the degree of compliance with those ordinances. At the same time, I have been able to analyse the reasons some priests invoked for failing to implement those requirements.

Whether they referred to donations of linens, the requisitioning of church bells or the signing of war loans, many of the reports compiled as a result of various ministerial orders have been preserved. The motivation for this study came from the need to analyse several feedback reports I identified in the archives. These reports were drafted in response to the orders that were issued in the autumns of 1914 and 1915, requiring schoolchildren to collect blackberry leaves. After drying, those leaves were to be used for the preparation of tea that was to be sent to the soldiers on the front. I have chosen this case study because the very text of the orders that stipulated the harvesting conditions contained a series of easily identifiable communication errors. The lack of clear provisions and precise technical specifications could generate diverse interpretations, depending on the level of understanding of the receiver (the priest, the teacher). I started from the premise that if the original message had built-in errors, they were bound to be propagated toward the receiver. Moreover, the answer was obviously going to be influenced by multiple types of noise (ambiguous formulations, the failure to understand the message because of the different backgrounds of the source and the receiver, or delays in the dissemination of orders). To this end, I set out to analyse the answers provided by the priests, to ascertain who attempted to correct the errors identified in the initial message, to find out how those corrections were made, and to outline the most common types of noise that interfered with communication.

It should also be noted that during the war, communication with the population was carried out mainly via mail correspondence: as early as October 1914, civilians were recommended not to use the telegraph and the telephone except in cases of emergency and for short periods of time, lest they should interfere with military communication.3 ← 12 | 13 →

The sources investigated here are approximately one hundred letters and reports that were drafted by priests, archpriests and archdiocesan ecclesiastical authorities in 1914 and 1915. The methods used in this research range from classical historical reconstructions to a comparative analysis of historical sources. These sources are interpreted on the basis of the model of communication developed by C.E. Shannon and W. Weaver, which focuses on the interferences that affect the process of communication and on the feedback provided by the receiver, following the delivery of the message from the sender.4

Communication represents a process of simultaneously sharing information and creating meaning through symbolic human interaction. There are several traditional theories of communication. The most important are those that approach communication from a cybernetic, socio-psychological, semiotic, socio-cultural or rhetorical perspective.5 Each of these provides a way of understanding communication and criticises the others’ points of view, but what is most often required for comprehending communication is an interdisciplinary approach, as this can bring together several viewpoints and working methods.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Austria-Hungary Transylvanian Home Front Battlefront Church School War propaganda
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 238 pp., 5 fig. b/w, 1 table, 1 graph

Biographical notes

Ana Victoria Sima (Volume editor) Teodora-Alexandra Mihalache (Volume editor)

Ana Victoria Sima is an Associate Professor of Modern History at Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania. Teodora-Alexandra Mihalache is a PhD student at the Doctoral School of "Population Studies and the History of Minorities," Faculty of History and Philosophy, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania.


Title: Persuading Minds
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240 pages