Nationalists accuse Romanian Government of treason over new language law

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

A new Administrative Code, modified by an emergency ordinance by the Government, brought protesters to the capital Bucharest, in front of the institution. A few hundreds of people with many flags came in support of the Constitutional article 13, that states Romanian language is the only official language of the country.  By the existing Administrative Code, where there is a concentration of at least 20% minority population, another language can be used in public institutions such as local councils, agencies and tribunals. The newly adopted code eliminates this threshold, letting local councils to decide where another language can be used.

This sparked outrage among protesters, who accuse the Government of giving in to the blackmail of UDMR, (Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania). The very existence of this ethnic political party was contested by one of the speakers, who called for Romania to align to other European countries (like France, Spain or Germany) that ban forming parties exclusively on ethnic or racial grounds. Present at the rally was the Association of Romanians in Harghita and Covasna Counties, represented by Maria Graur. The situation in these counties as well as in Mureș, is particularly desperate for the decreasing Romanian minority.

Romania is made up of three major historic regions, reunited in 1918: Wallachia (or Muntenia) where capital Bucharest is found, Moldova (now divided after the Ribbentrop – Molotov pact in 1939) with most of it inside the borders and the rest in Ucraine and as the independent republic of Moldova, and Transylvania, the most famous region for Western world. Composed of other smaller historic region, Transylvania is the most ethnically diverse. Although Romanians have always been and still are the vast majority in Transylvania, it was for hundreds of years part of Hungarian or Austrian and Hungarian empire, usually as an autonomous principality, sometimes tributary to the Ottoman Empire as well. Like elsewhere in the Balkans, history of Transylvania is long and complicated, with episodes of persecutions for Romanian majority, who were for centuries excluded from public offices and equal rights, had seen their churches demolished, leaders of peasant revolts tortured and killed and a systematic attempt of assimilation through name changing and interdiction for Romanian schools.

After the first world war and the decision of Transylvania to unite with Romania (voted by German and Szekely minorities as well as by Romanians) things changed. During communism, the large city populations of Germans and Jews took the opportunity to migrate over the iron curtain or to the newly funded state of Israel. The Szekely, on the other hand, discovered a new identity for themselves, adopting Hungarian language and joining Magyars in becoming active Hungarian nationalists. A policy that was encouraged by the right wing FIDESZ government in Budapest, lead by Viktor Orban, who is a frequent visitor in Transylvania and has granted all speakers of Hungarian citizenship and facilities. Recently, the nationalist leader of Hungary was photographed showing Polish prime minister a map on his office wall with Greater Hungary, including Transylvania and other territories, now part of Croatia, Slovenia or Ukraine.

The relationship of Romanians and Hungarian speaking minority had known ups and downs after the Revolution of 1989. The bizarre situation comes from the fact that Hungarians are to be found in compact pockets, especially in the center of the country, especially in 3 counties of the 42 in which Romania is organized today. In those regions, Romanians are actually the minority and have trouble using their language in their own country when dealing with public institutions. Also, in regions with 80% Hungarian population, they claim to be excluded from public offices.

One of the speakers at the rally, Dan Grăjdean, reminded audience that in parts of Transylvania, the local council meetings are held in Hungarian, with Romanians having to use headphones for translation if available. The case of a client who was not served in a local Kaufland store because he couldn’t order in Hungarian also made national news.

Among the organizers were Mihai Târnoveanu and Florin Palas from the Orthodox Brotherhood, an NGO that was active also during the conflict at Valea Uzului a month ago. Some identified extremists placed garbage bags over the crosses on tombs of Romanian soldiers who died during world war one, in a common cemetery at the border between Transylvania and Moldova. Romanians responding by coming in a greater number on Heroes’ Day to that cemetery, where local Szekely tried to stop them from lighting candles inside the cemetery by locking the gate with a chain and by forming a human chain around. After brief pushes with the police officers who were separating the two sides, the commemoration could eventually be held inside the cemetery, but the event had an emotional effect on both sides before European elections.

Hungarian party UDMR is very influential in Romanian politics. The proportions of Hungarian speaking people is around 5% of the general population, but the electoral system with redistribution grants them a little over 7% in the Parliament, which also has a significant number of guaranteed seats for all other minorities, no matter how small, who would otherwise could not make it passed the minimum bar of 5%. With this percentage in the national assembly, UDMR has managed to be a key member of many coalitions, governing both with the socialists and with the conservatives and liberals. Even in the short intervals when the union was not part of the governing coalition, it often supported the ruling party through secret deals. Usually, in exchange for the vote in Parliament in case of motion of confidence, the Union requested more autonomy and more programs for schools in Hungarian, multilanguage road signs and others that gradually made Romania one of the countries that grants some of the most generous rights to minorities of all EU countries.

The speaker that was best received by the public was Dan Tănasă, a blogger and civic activist from Covasna, who is a constant fighter against the abuses of Hungarian majority against Romanian minority in the region. In the past, Tănasă obtained sanctions against local mayors who displayed the flags of Hungary on town hall buildings or separatists flags of Szekely Region.

A delegation of the protesters, including Mihai Târnoveanu, Dan Tănasă and journalist Victor Roncea were briefly received by the vice-prime-minister for talks to present their petition. The meeting did not turn as expected for the protesters, who were informed that the Government does not intend to give up the newly adopted Code. Those found in Victoria Square were upset by the result and promised to continue picketing the Executive building.

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