Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The minority law and the far right

The political scene in Romania is currently gripped by the debate over the minority law. It’s difficult to find English language sources regarding this debate but I think it’s worth looking at anyway. What follows is what I’ve been able to glean about this debate from my limited Romanian and Hungarian and from talking to people. If there are any inaccuracies, I hope someone will please correct me via the comments page.

From what I understand, there is a bill before parliament to enshrine in law basic rights for minorities. It’s not that these rights don’t already exist in practice, but that they are not formally stated anywhere [Edit: Note comments from Andrei below]. This bill is proposed by the UDMR which is the Hungarian party in the Romanian parliament. [The UDMR is a fairly moderate centre right party politically, but its main function is to represent the interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania.] Because of the political makeup of the parliament, the UDMR are almost always a partner in whatever coalition government is ruling, and one condition of their joining the government is that they get to put this bill before parliament. So this isn’t the first time it’s come up, but each time it does, it seems like the dominant coalition partner (whether this be the DA as now, or the PSD as before) renege on the deal and start trying to weasel out of it.

So now it’s come up again. What amounts to a fairly watered down version of the original bill is up before parliament and it is being attacked left, right, and centre. Mostly, of course, by the ultra right, for whom minority rights are anathema. Cornelius Vadim Tudor, the ultra scumbag leader of the ultra rightist Party of the Romanian Nightmare (not actually the real name of the party), is pulling out all the stops to fill the population with fear of this terrifying Hungarian minority. Apparently this law will subject Romanians to oppression by those evil Hungarians. It’s an old trick – white supremacists argue that laws promoting diversity and human rights are actually laws designed to attack white people. So it is with Vadim Tudor. Vadim Tudor is the worst kind of bigot – he’s actually quite intelligent I think and he knows this fear-laden rhetoric is the way to mobilise people to support him. So, he whips people into a nationalistic fervour by claiming that the minorities are out to attack their right to exist and to be Romanian or something. In a recent debate he said, and I swear I’m not making this up “Do you really want Romanians to defend themselves alone? They will! I promise you things will go that far!” That’s practically inciting civil war, and he gets away with that shit, and not only that, but they give him vast amounts of air time on TV. He is utter utter scum. He also described the UDMR as a “terrorist organization”, just to really ratchet up the fear factor among his rural uneducated voting public.

Now, if it were just him attacking the bill, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all, but in fact the supposedly left wing PSD have also seized upon his coat tails for a spot of populist bigotry and have launched into the debate. I didn’t have any respect for them before, but now what little hope I held out for this bunch has gone right out the window. Also members of the DA (the dominant part of the coalition) have been speaking up against it, which means probably that it’s dead in the water. The media here are focussing on what this means for the government and whether the UDMR will pull out of the coalition and bring down the government, forcing early elections. But this is not the real issue (it just allows people to not think about the real issue).

What then, is the real issue? The debate around the bill seems to be centred on the phrase “cultural autonomy”, which, as far as I can tell, allows minorities the right to have an education in their native language and so on. In the case of Hungarians, at least, this already happens (at least up to age 18). What the anti camp are really against, I suspect, is the word “autonomy” featuring anywhere in any document ever. This bill does not, categorically, request any kind for autonomy for Harghita and Covasna counties, nor for Transylvania as a whole. But, the people against it like to present it as the thin end of the wedge and the beginning of this Hungarian master plan to break Transylvania (or parts of it) away from Romania. And of course they then hold up the example of these poor oppressed Romanians living in Harghita and Covasna counties who are already suffering mightily at the hands of these brutal Magyars, and if this master plan comes to fruition will be somehow oppressed and magyarised as they were at the end of the 19th century.

The other issue is language. Now it seems that many Romanians are convinced that Transylvanian Hungarians cannot and will not speak Romanian. I don’t know where they get this idea from, but it seems to have a lot of currency, even among well educated Romanians. Now, it is possible, that in remote villages people don’t speak Romanian well, or in some cases maybe at all. But Romanian is taught in schools, kids need to pass their Romanian exams to get through the various general exams and to leave high school with a qualification. I can honestly say I don’t know and have never met any Romanian citizen who doesn’t speak Romanian. Maybe they’re not all completely fluent and maybe they have an accent, but they speak the language. What seems to upset people is that, shockingly, they persist in speaking to one another in their native language. People who are otherwise quite intelligent have asked me whether this is “normal”. Whether it’s normal that people speak their first language to each other. I have to respond that yes it is, and to deny the people the right to use their native language is characteristic of dictatorships and oppressive regimes. And to offer people an education in their native language in their home country is not in some way weird or anti-patriotic whatever it is they fear. Democratic Spain for example offers Catalans and Basques the right to an education in their native language, while under Franco there were attempts to ban the languages outright. Which of these two governments is more modern and “European”? (I ought to note that one of the bizarrest arguments against the minority law is that it is “un-European”). The only thing that I can possibly imagine is that in the twisted political climate of fear and insecurity brought about by the posturing of idiots like Vadim Tudor, when people hear a conversation conducted by Hungarian Romanians in Hungarian they assume it to be some kind of plotting against the state.

To close, I have to say that listening to the rhetoric of the ultra nationalist PRM, while knowing that they command about 12-13% of recent polls, is the first time since I came here that I have wondered if just maybe there could be some kind of mini civil war in Transylvania. My hope is that the majority of the supporters of CVT and his ilk are actually not from Transylvania and in fact live in isolated rural communities in Oltenia and the like where they can’t do any damage. But this kind of hard line talk of terrorism and of Romanians “defending themselves” is just the kind of thing that Milosevic was saying in 1989. Fortunately, CVT doesn’t have the power that Milosevic did then, but it’s a slippery slope and as long as he’s given a platform to air his odious views, the damage is being done.

29 comments:

A said...

"It’s not that these rights don’t already exist in practice, but that they are not formally stated anywhere."

Yes, they are. How could you think Romania could have hopes of joining the EU, if they weren't ?

So this is the reason that makes me think that the only purpose of this law is just to get the word "autonomy" written somewhere in some law, while creating a lot of bureaucracy in the process.

Andy H said...

Thanks andrei. Could you say more about what the law currently is and what the proposal says? As I say I'm struggling to find commentary in English on this, and my Romanian and Hungarian tends to leave me uncertain of the exact arguments being bandied around.

A said...

You can check the Education Law at this address (in Romanian) - I'm not sure if it is the latest version:

http://www.edu.ro/leginv.htm

"Capitolul XII" mentions minorities specifically.

You can also search the text of the Constitution (2003) for the pattern "minorit" which should find all references to minorities:

http://www.constitutia.ro/

I couldn't find anywhere a complete description of this new law; my opinions on this law are thus based on what I gleaned from reading the daily newspapers.
I have to say I'm not against this law (as long is it conforms to the Constitution which I hope it does); if it keeps Hungarians happy, so be it. I just don't think it's such an essential law as some claim.

Andy H said...

Thanks, again, Andrei, that's helpful. So, now I'm really interested to know what the current bill says that's over and above what's here.

andrei said...

It turns out the text of the Education Law I pointed you to, is outdated.
The law no. 151 from 30/07/1999 offers more rights to minorities such that they no longer have to learn History and Geography in Romanian and guarantees the right to study in the mother tongue for all forms of education (among other rights):

Legea 151

If the link stops working you can go to www.indaco.ro and login using the password Evaluare (then manually search for this law).

andrei said...

Sorry, I made a mistake: the two texts both state that History and Geography are to be studied in the mother tongue during the first 4 years, after that in Romanian. I don't know if this is the current provision.

romesperi said...

Yes, as Andrei said, minorities do have many rights in law, probably more than many other countries in Europe. The reason, however, that this proposal is important, in my opinion, is because it brings together all the various pieces of legislation into one whole, and as a whole extends minority rights. Saying that it's a pro-Hungarian policy is blatantly wrong. It is a pro-minority policy that will advantage ALL minorities.

Secondly - the PRM has about 6-8% of the vote in the current moment. That is because of the schism between Ciontu and Tudor. Ciontu and his moderate faction formed the Popular Party (Partidul Popular), a moderate right-wing Christian-values party that doesn't even have nationalism as a policy. Secondly, every country has a party like the PRM. It's a party that's scandalous, outspoken and to be honest, most Romanians just brush off with a laugh and don't take seriously. I don't think PRM would ever get in government even as a coalition partner, not to mention their power to incite a civil war!!

I am a Romanian living in Oradea, where 30% of the population is Hungarian, and we all get along really well. This interethnic relationship is only a perceived problem in Szekely Land, where supposedly if you ask for a bread in a shop in Romanian, the salesperson will ask you surprised in Hungarian. (Is this true, by the way? I doubt it.)

I know this is a long post - but just a bit about cultural autonomy. This law, as I said before, is largely unimportant practically. It just seeks to harmonise legislation, form a unified law. Cultural autonomy already exists for minorities. The word "autonomy", people feared, would be used as a precursor to territorial autonomy of the Szekler Lands, which people belive would then undermine the rights of Romanians in these regions. That's why the law is controversial.

As to the law being un-European, that was being used in the context of it trying to encourage Hungarians to separate, which people felt was un-European. Of course, the law doesn't do that, it's just that many Romanians feel that Europeanism=integration, and that minority rights = disintegration (separation).

Finally, it's important to understand that Romania's situation is different to Spain's. I've always compared the to, since Spain is an excellent example for minority rights. However, the Hungarians in Romania aren't a stateless minority, and because of their historical dominance of Transylvania, there still is a degree of mistrust and this notion of revenge, even. In contrast, the Basques were discriminated throughout history, and were *always* a minority, hence the situation is different.

Andy H said...

Thanks very much for your extensive comments romesperi.

It is a pro-minority policy that will advantage ALL minorities.

Yes, this is what I thought, but obviously living where I do it is clear as to which minority is uppermost in my mind.

Secondly - the PRM has about 6-8% of the vote in the current moment.

I saw a poll on TV on Monday night (I forget which channel) which had them at 13%. That's where I got the figure from.

Secondly, every country has a party like the PRM.

True, sadly, and I never meant to imply that Vadim Tudor and the PRM are phenomena unique to Romania. But, he did get into the presidential run-off a few years ago didn't he? (again not unique, since Le Pen did in France too)

most Romanians just brush off with a laugh and don't take seriously.

I think that's true in the cities, but maybe in rural areas?

I don't think PRM would ever get in government even as a coalition partner

I hope you're right.

not to mention their power to incite a civil war!!

It's not so much civil war that I fear as an incident like the one in Targu Mures in 1990. If people like CVT can whip up the fervour of people about the threat to the nation presented by the Hungarians he could provoke an attack like that one. Fortunately I think if he did it would end quickly and it would be the death of him (politically, not literally) and his odious party

I am a Romanian living in Oradea, where 30% of the population is Hungarian, and we all get along really well.

Same here, I'd say. I really think Romania is a place that is relatively successfully dealing with its minority community. Which is why I get so vexed and angry by shit like CVT spouts and the plataform that the media here give him. He's on TV way more than Basescu and Nastase combined.

This interethnic relationship is only a perceived problem in Szekely Land, where supposedly if you ask for a bread in a shop in Romanian, the salesperson will ask you surprised in Hungarian. (Is this true, by the way? I doubt it.)

It sounds like a myth to me, though of course I couldn't be sure. I know that when I ask for something in a shop in bad Hungarian the shop assistants always switch to Romanian assuming I speak that instead. In Targu Mures it works in the opposite way, that I do know for sure. If you ask for something in Hungarian a polite Romanian shop assistant will say "poftim?", while a rude and obnoxious one will say "I don't speak that language" with a sneer.

Finally, it's important to understand that Romania's situation is different to Spain's. I've always compared the to, since Spain is an excellent example for minority rights. However, the Hungarians in Romania aren't a stateless minority,

Hmmm. I'm no sure that this is relevant actually. Yes there is a Hungarian state, but it's not the home of the people here, and to suggest it is can lead you down a very dangerous road I think. I'd be careful with that one. To look at it another way, if, let's say, Szekely land became independent (it won't, and I'm not advocating it, but just go with me here) would you accept as an argument for not giving rights to the Romanians of this area the fact that they are not stateless?


and because of their historical dominance of Transylvania, there still is a degree of mistrust and this notion of revenge, even. In contrast, the Basques were discriminated throughout history, and were *always* a minority, hence the situation is different.

This is very true. And in a sense this is why I think the situation is dangerous. Bosnia was a place where there was this simmering historical resentment against the Bosniaks since the time of the Ottomans, which it only took unscrupulous people to make political capital from for it to erupt. This is why I compared CVT to Milosevic.

But, again, I don't think there will be a civil war and I don't think Transylvania is in any real danger of turning into Bosnia. But I do think, and ultimately this is my point, that CVT and his ilk ought to be given no platform to spout their views. They have the right to hold those views, and to say them, but as long as the media panders to them and keeps inviting CGT to speak on chat shows and discussion programmes and the like, they are promoting hate speech and making it more likely that someone is going to take his invective and use it as justification to attack some minorities.

romesperi said...

I think that's true in the cities, but maybe in rural areas?

Yes, you're right. In rural areas, strangely in areas like Moldova and Wallachia, which have barely no Hungarians, is where PRM support is highest. And that's pretty much a danger.

If people like CVT can whip up the fervour of people about the threat to the nation presented by the Hungarians he could provoke an attack like that one.

I don't think there's a risk of that, considering Romania's progress since the 1990s and its EU accession. Then again, Poland voted in Lech Kaczinky (which I dislike a lot) despite its membership of the EU.

Yes there is a Hungarian state, but it's not the home of the people here, and to suggest it is can lead you down a very dangerous road I think.

Yes, I was going to say it's dangerous. What I meant was that, in terms of public perceptions, national minorities are viewed differently than stateless minorities. That is, people in Spain would be more willing to, accept, for example, Basque native language education, than Romanians would be willing to accept Hungarian. UK would be more willing to accept Cornish education that it would French. Stateless minorities generally get more sympathy, I'd say, if only because people say "but, aaah, they can always return back to their nation-state" (which for the Szeklers I agree is very unfair, since they're different to the other Hungarians which came as colonisers in the 19th and 20th century - the Szeklers have been here for a very long time).

In Romania, this distinction can be seen by the perceptions of Hungarian and Roma by nationalist groups. While Roma are more discriminated against, it's interesting that PRM has never explicitly targeted the Roma, while Hungarians make a reappareance in every issue of the "România Mare" magazine. (If there's a group that should be given more rights, it's the Roma. I'm currently working to set up a Vlax Romany encyclopedia on the Wikimedia network for them, to spread their culture and education. A lot of them really need help, and a lot of them are great people.)

They have the right to hold those views, and to say them, but as long as the media panders to them and keeps inviting CGT to speak on chat shows and discussion programmes and the like, they are promoting hate speech and making it more likely that someone is going to take his invective and use it as justification to attack some minorities.

Yes, well Tudor is a crazy man. A lot of people thought he would calm down at the start of this year when the PRM was changed into PPRM and Ciontu was made president. But, no, he kicked out Ciontu, Ciontu left to form the PP, and the PRM is as radical as ever. And I don't know when he'll stop. Then there's the even more terrible Noua Dreaptă (do they make themselves heard in Szekler Land?). They're this neo-legionnaire neo-fascist group (mainly skinhead types) that boycotted the gay pride march. They're even more unlikeable than the PRM, and more dangerous I would say.

Andy H said...

I'd love to hear more about your Roma project. Sounds great.

As for the skinhead wing of the extreme right, to be honest I feel less worried about them. Yes as individuals they are more worrying, but they are decidedly marginal and have no national platform. PRM does have a national platform and a lot of coverage in the media. To put it another way, if some 25 year old skinhead in jackboots shows up in a village in Oltenia telling people that the Hungarians are dominating Romania and need to be stopped, I think most people wouldn't pay any attention. But when someone like CVT tells them that they would and they do.

romesperi said...

The project I am working on is basically a version of Wikipedia in Vlax Romany (the main Romany language, and the one spoken in Romania). As you probably know, Wikipedia is a collaborative free encyclopedia in many languages, and there are about 200 language versions so far, but none in any Romany language. So, I made a notice on the Romanian Wikipedia calling for any Vlax Romany speakers, and there are three contributors so far, and there are already some articles. If the testing phase is successful, the Vlax Romany Wikipedia will be set up, and it will probably be the first encyclopedia in history in Vlax Romany, and potentially a very valuable cultural and educational resource for the Roma, especially as it will continually grow due to its collaborative nature. So yeah, we're hoping that it will help Romany-language education, particularly in schools. And education is really the only hope that the Roma have for social advancement.

A question I've wanted to ask you - what are Hungarians'/Szeklers' perceptions of Romanians? Or, more precisely, of this entire controversy over the minority rights law? I don't mean this is a provocative way, I'd just be curious to know since I've never been to Szekely Land. I know at least that here in Oradea people don't really care about one's ethnicity - I have many Hungarian friends, and there isn't an ethnic issue at all.

Anonymous said...

Hey andy a couple of notes from reading your previous entries.

1) Kohlrabi in Romanian is "gulie". There is a great free Rom-English dictionary online at www.dictionare.com
2) Not all cars with "B" are from Bucharest. The ones beginning with B and are ONLY numbers are leased cars, and could be domiciled in any judet.
3) "Hi", the Romanian command for "let's go" is spelled "hai". The plural is "haideti".
4) Keep the good work!

-Soj

Andy H said...

Romesperi: Well, people here want the law to pass, and most think that it won't because of anti-Hungarian sentiment. Whether that is the right way of looking at it or not.

Most people here that I have spoken to have absolutely no problem with Romanians (at least with Romanians as individuals, and probably on a more general level with Transylvanian Romanians). I think they tend to distruct the political establishment and the Bucharest based media. Frankly I think what people would really prefer as a political system/solution is Transylvania wide autonomy, as opposed to some kind of Szekelyföld autonomy. (I also think is broadly true for Romanians who live in Miercurea Ciuc, despite their being co-opted by the far right as the symbol of the dangers inherent in autonomy)

However, what often intrigues me is the level of support for the UDMR. Given that, by my calculations, Hungarians make up just about 7% of the total population, and the UDMR seems to get around 5-7% in elections/polls, this means broadly speaking that more or less every Hungarian in the country is voting for them (unless they get Romanian or other minority voters which seems unlikely). So, while I don't think people really care about ethnicity on one level, they must do on another.

One more thing: The real anti-Romanian feeling (such as it is) comes not from Harghita or Covasna counties, but from Transylvanians who emigrated to Hungary in 1990 as soon as Ceausescu was toppled. For them, the Romanian oppression of Hungarians remains at the levels it was at in about 1985, and they are the ones who talk it up like it was people at each others throats. I recently met an American who lives in Budapest and when he heard where I lived he said "Wow, you guys are in the thick of things aren't you? That's where the real tension is, isn't it?" And I had to tell him, that no, I really don't see any ethnic tension outside of the media.

Having said that, nobody will take a holiday here on December 1st, or celebrate the day in any way. :-)

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but noticing you stating that PRM gets a lot of media coverage. Well, I've personally seen PRM or Vadim about 3-5 times for the past 6 months on TV. But I'm from Constanta.

Maybe local stations are paying more attention to him where you are, since he's a complete asshole towards minorities?

Cheers,
D

romesperi said...

Frankly I think what people would really prefer as a political system/solution is Transylvania wide autonomy, as opposed to some kind of Szekelyföld autonomy.

Yes, well I think if Romania to devolve power, it could do so in two ways. One would be a sort-of federal system, made up perhaps three entities: Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia, as well as the federal capital (Bucharest). This type of symmetric devolution would perhaps be the least controversial because it would be equal and for practical rather than political reasons. On the other hand, I just don't think that there's enough difference between the different regions of Romania to warrant such symmetric federalism (and giving autonomy only to Transylvania, which is really a huge region inhabitated by about 15% Hungarians would be quite pointless).

I think the other model would be similar to the UK model of devolution - giving certain regions that are different autonomy. Just like the Scotland Act and the Wales Act gave Scotland and Wales their own legislatures and other powers, similar Acts of Parliament could be used in Romania to implement a system of asymmetric devolution. That, however, is much more controversial, and apart from Szekely Land, Romania is pretty much a unitary state (there are minorities everywhere, but they're geographically distributed so any form of geographical autonomy wouldn't work except for Harghita and Covasna). Though I don't see what true rights autonomy to Szekely Land would actually bring. There are already municipal rights, and educational rights.

And, despite the controversy now, I do think that this autonomy will be achieved. If only because there is a very large Hungarian minority. Many have spoken that autonomy should be given on practical, democratic grounds not on ethnic ones, but I think that can't apply when you have such a large majority (Basque Country doesn't have that large a majority of Basques). If Szekely Land becomes autonomous, there is no choice but for it to become the Szekely Hungarian Autonomous Region. Which wouldn't be a bad thing. I just don't see it as being a particularly deep form of autonomy - as in, I don't think there will be a Szekely Parliament, Government or police force (though I think a good model for Romania to follow is 1) the Basque model of Spain; and 2) the Sami model of Finland, where they have a Sami assembly which acts at a cultural not geographical level).

As to PRM media coverage, I would have to agree with D. that it's not shown that much over here. I mean, everytime there is a political debate, Tudor gets airtime, but then again so do the PSD, and the DA Alliance. Of course, in Szekely Land there's bound to be more coverage of the PRM.

Andy H said...

On the media, I am only referring to the national TV really. We only have one local channel here and I've never seen CVT on it. But when I flick through the channels each evening I can usually guarantee that he will be on one of them (that means he will be on one of TVR1, TVR2, ProTV, Antena1, Prima, Realitatea, NationalTV and B1 - I'm not sure if that last one is the actual name of the channel, I can't really read their logo). I'm really not making this up. The only person who appears on TV as much as, if not more than, CVT is the even more repulsive Gigi Becali (and that's because he gets to appear on the sports channel too).

On the devolution question, the idea of Transylvanian autonomy (of whatever form) is something that Hungarians I know would like. Not because it will create a majority Hungarian area, or even close to it (as you point out), but that as you mentioned before in earlier answers, the Transylvanians as a whole (Romanian and Hungarian alike) seem to be fairly comfortable with one another and feel closely linked. Obviously this doesn't apply to all, and the Roma here are as oppressed as they are everywhere else. The real feelings of resentment between communities appear (from my vantage point at least) to be between Wallachian Romanians and Transylvanian Hungarians.

Having said all that I realise that CVT himself is a Transylvanian as, I assume, is Gheorghe Funar.

romesperi said...

Yes, I think there are two differing viewpoints on this issue. Some people think that Transylvanian Romanians dislike (I wouldn't really say resent) Hungarians more because they live with them, and other Romanians are detached, which others say that it is this detachment that leads to a warped image. Having in lived in Bucharest until fairly recently, I can say that feelings towards Hungarians there weren't particularly negative. General Romanian perceptions of Hungarians aren't resentful, or radical, just because some xenophobic politicians may seem that way. In Bucharest, the feeling was more of "But they have too many rights anyway!" Some more intelligent people hold the view that "We've been happy to give them rights until now, but they don't know where to stop!". The Hungarian in Bucharest is portrayed as "A revanchist that constantly take advantage of the Romanian state's minority-rights generosity but has no regard for Romania".

In Transylvania, I think there is a greater deal of integration and views like that don't really come up. Shopsigns here are in both languages, people speak both languages without thinking about politics at all. And a lot of us love Hungarian culture! Not to mention the multiple Hungarian slang words that come up (in fact, when I was in Bucharest, a lot of people would stare at me and say "What did you just say then? That isn't a Romanian word!" And I had no idea it wasn't!)

However, despite overall greater acceptance, there are also more radicals in Transylvania, perhaps. (To be honest, Funar wasn't as bad as Tudor. The fact that he painted public benches in Romanian colours isn't that bad a thing... I mean, yes he was bad, but Tudor is really really unlikeable). Gigi Becali - yes I agree that he's not likeable, not because of his sporting empire but because of the views of his ultra-conservative New Generation Party.

The Transylvanian autonomy issue brings up a lot of things. I think it's true that, in a way, union with the rest of Romania may have impacted Transylvania's overall development (A friend of mine rightly pointed out that it is unfair that his taxes are being used to mend the roads in Moldavia, which is less developed, while the roads in Oradea don't get mended). So it's not only an ethnic matter. But I do think that a Transylvanian parliament would perhaps enable much more constructive dialogue between minorities than if the same dialogue took place in the Romanian parliament. The same thing has happened to an extent in Vojvodina, Serbia and Montenegro, which was made into an autonomous region, with its own legislature, and is now quite progressive in minority rights.

As you said, I find it quite negative that people like CVT are upsetting what, in recent years, has become an increasingly positive relationship between Hungarians and Romanians. If anything, I think the public needs to be informed that this law. For historical reasons, after what was a comprehensive Magyarisation program in Transylvania, a lot of less-educated Romanians will see this law as a re-arrival of that situation, as stupid as that may sound. They need to be informed that 1) the situation of Romanians in Szekely Land isn't as bad as they think it is; 2) this law will only lead to a better situation for minorities, rather than a worse situation for Romanians.

A similar scandal broke out when the new Catalan autonomy law was passed very recently. So it's a problem in Europe in general, but one that must be solved if Europeanism and freedoms are to be upheld (which leads on to the general dangerous trend that coincides with the rise of the nationalistic-religious far-right).

Andy H said...

Great comment, romesperi. Thanks again for the time you have spent on this page and the excellent and well-informed comments you have made. I really am enjoying reading them.

I'm intrugued by the Vojvodina situation - do you have any links you can point me in the direction of? Last year when there was a referendum in Hungary on whether to grant dual citizenship to Hungarians from outside the borders, the area that was held up as being the one in which Hungarians were most systematically oppressed was Vojvodina, as I recall.

(The language thing works both ways I have discovered - words which I know of as Hungarian are actually specific to Transylvania and often derived from Romanian).

romesperi said...

Hi Andy! I'm enjoying talking to you too. I've found out about your blog recently and it's great reading about someone from the UK who's in Romania! (I lived in the UK for a while, in London).

I'm intrugued by the Vojvodina situation - do you have any links you can point me in the direction of?

Well, I think to answer that, we must look at the three phases of minority rights, 1) rights in law, 2) rights in practice, 3) social situation.

One the whole, I think Hungarians are exaggerating a bit there - I think that's a concern that many Romanians also have, that Hungarians are always seeking more rights no matter what their situation is, and will pursue this until they basically get "majority rights" (i.e. treat everyone else like the minority). Of course, that perception is a warped - though it's a common perception, particularly in very nationalistic places like Serbia (which is significantly more nationalistic than Romania, I would say). I think it's time to get over historical differences - for the Romanians to stop seeing Hungarians as "dangerous", and for the Hungarians to stop looking back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire!

Back to my three phases - in Vojvodina, rights in law are very good. Hungarian is an official language in that region, there is schooling and all the other rights. In practice, rights are OK, and they are mostly given their rights under law, such as provisions for education, media, justice in their own language, etc. The problem that is lacking in Vojvodina is the social situation. I mean, Hungarians, and other groups, are often attacked by Serbian nationalists, houses are graffitied with racist messages, etc, and these groups allege that corrupt government officials do nothing to protect. So yes, in practice the rights aren't all that good, though in theory, the Vojvodina model is an exemplary one.

However, I also know that the European Union cautioned Vojvodina over its treatment of the Hungarian minority, so there must be an issue there. I just don't know how that can happen considering the region's strong legal framework for minority rights - the fact that the entire region has basically been built on minority rights. In fact, there is currently a proposal, similar to the one in Romania, to establish a Hungarian Autonomous Region within Vojvodina, centred on the city of Subotica.

Some links you can read more about:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vojvodina
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Regional_Autonomy
(about the proposed autonomous region in Vojvodina)
http://vojvodina.srbija-info.yu/ingles/manjine/manjine0.html
An official site detailing the rights
http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2005/11/10/feature-03
http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/newsbriefs/setimes/newsbriefs/2005/10/14/nb-07
http://www.europarl.eu.int/meetdocs/2004_2009/documents/autres/p6_ta-prov(2004)0016_en.pdf
The EU Parliament's ruling on Vojvodina minority rights

Anonymous said...

"And, despite the controversy now, I do think that this autonomy will be achieved."

I doubt it, simply because this involves changing the Constitution and those who support it will not have a majority.

Anonymous said...

I would add that Spain's Constitution was built from the ground up (after Franco's death) to offer a high degree of autonomy to all regions, in order to prevent future dictators coming to power as a counterbalance to movements for independence.

Anonymous said...

Rejecting my comments sounds suspiciously like something Dubya NEVER did... Oh well.

By the way, now I'm using again the Anonymous feature you enabled for your blog.

Andy H said...

Dubya accepted your comments? Who are you? Karl Rove?

Anyway, I haven't rejected a single comment since I turned this fucntion on, so I have no idea what you (whoever you are) are talking about.

romesperi said...

I doubt it, simply because this involves changing the Constitution and those who support it will not have a majority.

Well, hopefully in about 10 years time Romanians will become more tolerant of minorities in general, if the progress that has been made until now continues. Additionally, there will hopefully be an open government in power that will convince Romanians of the need to offer regional autonomy to the Szekely Land. I know this is based on a lot of probabilities, but I think it will happen. If people realise that Szekely autonomy is in the interests of Romania as a democratic state, they will vote for it in due time.

albinel said...

"If people realise that Szekely autonomy is in the interests of Romania as a democratic state, they will vote for it in due time."

If in 10 years time they will still have this attitude:

"nobody will take a holiday here on December 1st, or celebrate the day in any way."

I won't vote to give autonomy to anyone.

Andy H said...

That's nice of you albinel. How thoughtful.

Why did you quote back the thing about Dec 1st? Are the two things related? And should Hungarians celebrate Dec 1st? Why would they? Would you celebrate the "reunification day of Hungary" if Transylvania reverted to being ruled from Budapest? (Of course you wouldn't and no-one would expect you to). It's quite a normal reaction. People don't tend to celebrate crushing defeats.

Anonymous said...

And should Hungarians celebrate Dec 1st? Why would they?...People don't tend to celebrate crushing defeats.

I fully understand that. The thing is that the defeat happened almost 90 years ago. Isn't it gradually time to get over it ? Virtually all Hungarians I met (not all that many) were very nice people, but held a grudge against Romania.

Serbs basically hated Muslims because of what the Ottomans did to them hundreds of years ago. For God's sake, hundreds of years ! When does it stop ? When has "enough time passed" ? When does one say, "OK, now we look forward" ? Does such a time ever come ? When will it come for Hungarians in Romania ?

Andy, you have to understand that, rightly or wrongly, many Romanians generally believe that every request made by the Hungarians is only another step towards their goal of some sort of separation from Romania. Many believe that UDMR leaders pay only lip service to the Constitution when it comes to territorial integrity. This right or wrong perception will persist as long as those leaders will not come out in public and affirm their opposition to any sort territorial claims.

Andy, whether you like it or not, as long as this doesn't happen there will be distrust towards Hungarians. Not dislike (99% of the Romanians I know have absolutely no problem with Hungarians), but strong distrust.

I am myself part of a Romanian minority (well, in fact two minorities) and my first language is not Romanian. As far as I am concerned, Transilvania could become tomorrow part of Hungary (what a heresy to say :-) ). I've always believed that a Hungarian Transilvania would be a touristic paradise in Europe, given what Hungary has achieved touristically with, say, Balaton.

What I want to say is that, given the present situation, I fully understand the Romanians' lack of faith in UDMR's intentions. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I understand it. I would say the ball is in the Hungarians' court, and they should prove their good faith towards Romania, which happens to be their country. If they don't there will be little common ground, regardless of historical justifications.

One funny trivia; the minority that is most unhappy with the current situation is the one who was in power. Other minorities (like German, almost gone by now), which never held power, have never had big problems. Is this a sore looser, or just a coincidence ?

Andy, if you want a good deal, forget about the defeat and come towards the other side. Show some goodwill. Right now, Hungarians come over as perennial demanders, uncomfortable and unhappy to live as a minority in Romania. Shed that image, I'm sure you could achieve much more.

I'm am not criticizing the Hungarian position (even though it might seem so), I'm just telling you how I, pretty much a neutral and admitedly rather indifferent observer, perceive the situation.

Andy H said...

Hmm, anonymous, and like you I could say the same thing: I'm just telling you how I, pretty much a neutral and admitedly rather indifferent observer, perceive the situation.

(I'm not Hungarian, I just happen to live in a predominantly Hungarian town in Romania.)

I have my doubts about the UDMR too, and I have serious doubts about the idea of autonomy for szekelyfold (that strikes me as just replacing one minority problem with another) - as I have said, I think the best solution would be Transylvanian autonomy. Not independence, but autonomy. It would still have a Romanian majority, but in my experience there is a lot of trust among transylvanians of both Romanian and Hungarian ethnicity. The problem/mistrust lies (in both directions) between Transylvanian Hungarians and Wallachian Romanians.

And yes, if I had to pick sides between the UDMR and the PRM I'd pick the UDMR every time. You see I hate bigotry and xenophobia. And that's what they (PRM) represent.

Romerican said...

I am an American living Brasov, also knee-deep in trying to understand the ethnic-based political maneuverings in Romania. I like to imagine I sometimes have a somewhat balanced grasp of both the historical realities and the current peaceable arrangements.

Coming from the States, my tendency is to reject talk of autonomy or separation as a viable form of governance in Romania. Rather, I think more work could be done to foster deeper integration between the various ethnic groups (Romanian, Hungarian, Roma, and others).

Earlier, there was a remark that with ethnicity being largely spread-out that autonomy would have little positive, pratical impact for any minority group. I concur with this type of thinking. It seems rather pointless and, at best, could possibly fuel further tension. What is the possible gain? A false sense of somehow Group A is marginally in "slightly more control of itself?" I fail to immediately see meaningful change in any positive direction.

I see talk of autonomy as being a very slippery slope which could actually feed more power to a nutjob like Tudor. It wouldn't surprise me if he secretly desires autonomy legislation.

If I may venture, it is my observation that folks over 40 tend to harbor more emotion regarding separatist talk (either from fear of persecution or ignorant elitism). Whereas, the younger people tend to live and let live. (Of course, I've also observed some behind-your-back racist comments on occassion, from both Romanian and Hungarian young people. But this is not the majority of my observation.)

I come from the camp of "can't we all just get along" and believe that cross-culture respect and understanding is the key. I based that on my experiences with racism in the US where the dynamics might be seen as even more complex (black vs. white, anti-muslim fervor, neo-nazi asshats, et cetera). Take, for example, debates about English vs. Spanish language education -- which vary in intensity due to seasonal fluctuations in politician rhetoric. In that particular case, it would seem the wisest solution (or compromise) would be to continue defining English as the official language and mandating it be taught to all students in order to provide them the common communications skills necessary to operate in the country... while at the same time continuing to broadly offer Spanish classes in public schools, actively encourage non-Spanish-speakers to take said classes, and make reasonable efforts to provide government services/interaction in major minority languages (but with pragmatically relaxed legal requirements, so as to avoid unproductive lawsuits) .

I also harbor a dislike for violent conflict. Native Americans and Mexicans could, potentially, have a resurgence in anti-Anglo sentiment (and for darn good reasons, on one level). But, there comes a time when a civilized collection of people in a largely-free and mostly-unoppressed environment have to conclude that the past is the past, that current borders are the borders, and it is in the best interest of everyone to engage in open dialogue which seeks to unify different ethnicities while understanding/appreciating difference. Basically, strife and war are not worth the change. I tend to apply this type of thinking to the Transylvania non-issue. Can we agree to ignore bozos like PRM and try to work together? That seems to be the de facto general sense of motion anyway.

Incidentally, I've read reports recently of PRM gaining momentum in light of the PNL versus Basescu spat. That's a scary prospect. It's hard to imagine anything worse for Romania than allowing PSD to regain control, but surely Tudor's vitriolic nonsense would be worse.

In regards to the December 1st holiday, again my geographic roots remind me that during our 4th of July celebration, we don't usually see a lot of British expats partying all night. It's natural for ethnic-Hungarians to not celebrate en masse. I see no reason (on the part of racially charged Romanians) to read hostility into the situation. (Conversely, Andy, I see little reason to necessarily read hostility into Albinel's comments. Possibly, but not necessarily.)

My thoughts are probably incomplete here, but I've shared them anyhow. The Vlax Romany project sounds excellent. Andy, I very much enjoyed both your article (particularly, the most excellent descriptions of Tudor) and the subsequent discussion with its thoughtful inputs from different participants. Greetings and best wishes to all who seek to understand one another.