Friday, March 10, 2006

March 15th

Next Wednesday is March 15th, which is a big day here, and this year promises to be a bigger day than normal. March 15th is the national day of Hungary ( I think, though I’ve also heard it referred to as the national day of Hungarians living outside Hungary.) Anyway, it’s marked on all the calendars, and for many here it’s an official holiday. It’s a bit nationalistic, but then all national days are a bit nationalistic, and so in essence it’s not greatly different from December 1st.

This year, however, some Hungarian nationalists have taken it upon themselves to make trouble. They have organised a rally in Udvarhely (Oderheiu Secuiesc) to proclaim the independence of the Szekely region and launch some kind of autonomous entity that presumably will exist only in their heads. This event (as I understand it) has been championed by the Mayor of Udvarhely, who has just been described to me as a Hungarian version of Vadim Tudor (leader of the extremist Romanian nationalist party). [Udvarhely, by the way, is the most Hungarian city in all of Romania, being 98% Hungarian].

Now, frankly, the best way to deal with this kind of provocative rubbish is to ignore it. A few hundred blokes gather in a field, proclaim independence and drink palinka, and go home feeling proud of themselves while the world pays them no attention or at best laughs at their delusions of grandeur. But this, sadly, will not happen next week. Because of course, never shy of taking an opportunity to make himself look important, and full of hysterical rhetoric, Vadim Tudor has sent out a call for action from proud Romanians everywhere, and asked for 100,000 people to descend on Udvarhely to stage a counter demonstration. (Romania has a less than proud tradition of violent outsiders being bussed in to start fights and suppress dissent – In the early months of the post-Ceausescu regime, a group of miners were bussed in by Iliescu (allegedly) to violently bust up a student protest; and in 1990 in Targu Mures a Romanian nationalist group stirred up anti Hungarian feeling in the villages and bussed in an angry mob to attack a group of Hungarian students demonstrating for a Hungarian language faculty, resulting in riots and deaths)

And thus, the situation could become tense, and, in the worst case scenario, violent. And once again the fact that broadly speaking Hungarians and Romanians live together fairly successfully and without rancour, will be obscured by a bunch of nationalist scum – Vadim Tudor will get his publicity, as will the Szekely Autonomists, and everyone on the extremes is happy. Everyone caught in the middle gets screwed. Of course the media will be complicit in the whole affair and will send camera crews to whip the thing up even further. And while it won't start a civil war, it will put the cause of equality and understanding back a good decade. Nationalists, eh? Wankers, all of them.

Wih luck it will be a completely freezing day - two days ago here it was -24 again, only to be back up to zero again the following day, which is an insane temperature swing - and everyobody will stay home and the camera crews can just film the normal people of Udvarhely celebrating their national day with no politics attached.


Soj said...

Oh Lord, let's hope you're right and the subzero temps keep the hooliganism down.

Just as a note tho, there's no "allegedly" about Iliescu calling in the miners to break up the protests. He admitted it last year and some papers here did a great job of covering it.


Romerican said...

I'm looking forward to hearing more about it from you, as you're straddled over the epicenter. I've been following the story for a couple weeks now and think the situation is ridiculous, but potential small powder keg.

I don't see much validity in most of the pro-autonomy talk I've ready. I guess I don't see Particularly Good Reasons for it all.

As for the whole hype of it, there is a certain amount of revenue to be gained from the theatre of the macabre. It will be interesting to analyze the fall out after MareTudor and MegyTudor have the chance to wave their tallywacker at one another in close proximity before the cameras and all.

Snap some photos!

Under other circumstances, I would have travelled there to see it myself, but not this time.

Someone should be out selling hot pretzels and coffee to the various protesters. Instead of waiting for them to hit the alimentars, an aggressive kid could make some money by playing a winter time version of the ice cream man.

Andy H said...

There's no way I'm going to Udvarhely - the more people that go the more legitimacy the whole this has. Here there'll be the regular March 15th events, which I probably will go along and see, but that's just people in traditional costume doing folk things I think.

Ironically, CVT's over the top reaction plays right into the Hungarian nationalists hands. If there's trouble and it's reported beyond the borders of Romania and Hungary, public opinion will automatically be with the minority, whatever the actual arguments. And hence any violence or big flare-up plays into the hands of the Hungarian nationalists. I don't suppose CVT cares much, though, since his audience is very much a Romanian one, and he couldn't give a shit what foreigners think.

romesperi said...

Oh for God's sake, why is this attracting so much attention. Let them do their march, they have the right to it. But make sure they do it peacefully. And then conduct a referendum in Harghita, Covasna and parts of Mureş to give them their autonomy, which they deserve. And let the whole issue be settled. I see nothing wrong with giving this region autonomy. I look forward to the day when we'll have Szekler Assembly (similar to the Assembly for Wales).

The problem is that the constitution needs to be changed in order to enable autonomy, and therefore more than half of the whole of Romania has to agree to this. And in today's climate, I unfortunately don't see that happening. But even though I'm an ethnic-Romanian, I'm with the Szeklers on this one.

andrei said...

"And in today's climate, I unfortunately don't see that happening."

I reckon this "proclamation" thing does nothing to alleviate today's climate. No one will get autonomy as long as it is perceived as something that is taken from the Romanians.

If this is to happen someday it must be something that all agree upon, something that is viewed to be in everybody's best interest.

Instead, the approach taken by the Hungarian radicals seems to be of the type: let's make trouble and create conflict situations and maybe Europe will think there are some serious problems over here that can only be solved through a Kosovo-like resolution. (They did make allusions to Kosovo in several statements.)

UDMR (the Hungarian party in the government coalition) does not demand territorial autonomy on ethnic basis. Instead they ask for cultural autonomy on ethnic basis and territorial autonomy on non-ethnic basis (as in territorial autonomy for all regions/counties).

Andy H said...

Instead, the approach taken by the Hungarian radicals seems to be of the type: let's make trouble and create conflict situations and maybe Europe will think there are some serious problems over here that can only be solved through a Kosovo-like resolution.

And PRM falls right into the trap. Like I said, if you ignore this kind of thing and deal instead with the diplomatic/politcal approach advocated by UDMR and others (not that I have a huge amount of time for the UDMR's politics in general, but I think they balance the ethnic question quite well), you can have a reasonable debate. Vadim Tudor is trying to stir up his core constituency and will probably succeed in doing so, but if he really does show up to make trouble with his "100,000" there's only one winner in international terms.

(Of course that will also bolster the PRM, as they can complain about outside interference, but it will only hasten the things he professes to despise.)

Romerican said...

Good news, today. Apparently, Crusty Vampire Tumor had to cancel his busloads of miners because no one volunteered to freeze.

Anyone able to share a couple of good links that will convince me why Szekers *need* autonomy? I just don't get it.

Andy H said...

Well no minority ethnic group living in a democracy needs autonomy, but the Szekely are no different in this regard to the Welsh, Scots, Catalans or Basques, to give a few examples. They have their own region,within which they are the overwhelming majority, but the fact their region is not recognised as any different to any other region by Bucharest, means that in one sense their specific issues go unheard. (Even though they can and do send representatives to parliament). Some (small) measure of self-rule would help to alleviate that sense.

romesperi said...

I think there is a very good reason to give Szeklers autonomy, and that's the principle of decentralisation. Decentralisation in general is good, but particularly when dealing with regions that are different in some way - culturally, ethnically, etc. An autonomous region can function very well on the Welsh model (the Scottish model may be a bit too intensive for starters). But I don't see what reasons there are *not* to:

* Establish a region where both Hungarian and Romanian are co-official (it's not as if it will be Hungarian-only or ethnically-Szekler-only)
* Have a Szekler Government and a Szekler Assembly with powers over education, health, taxation, environment, economic development, culture and the arts

Andy H said...

Thanks Romesperi.

I also wonder about the possibility of a local police force (there is something like this in the Basque region). One of the major issues regarding the Szekely and the Hungarian minority in general is a lack of representation in the police force (and the army too, but that's less of an issue internally). A large number of the isolated incidents of abuse and repression of Hungarians in Romania come from the police (most of whom are assigned here from other parts of Romania, and who are pissed off living in the frozen mountains with a bunch of people who are different and who distrust them). If there were some form of autonomy, either there may be more incentive for Magyars to join the police - as long as they could be assigned to this region. I reckon it would solve a lot of problems.

Romerican said...

Decentralization gets my vote, on principle.

When I read a nutjob like
then I tend to lose my bearings for a moment.

It must be my cultural bias to seek integration rather than "separate but equal" type arrangements.

The Basque idea rang home to a degree.

Help me out. Are the Sekely not, generally speaking, in control of the local city government? If not, why not? How about the judetal level? If they are the majority, why are they not in control.

I'm only fact-finding at this point in my education. =]

Andy H said...

well, the various city governments and the county council are of course locally controlled, but they don't have a lot of powers. They basically can only do what Bucharest tells them to.

Romerican said...

Hmmm, I guess I have a lot to learn about local government in Romania. I'll do some research and try to educate myself a bit better.

The only think I know for sure about local politics here is that every town, village, barn and outhouse has a PSD office.

romesperi said...

Well, under anything short but a federal arrangement, the Szekely land would still be "devolved" or subordonate to the central government in Bucharest. However, autonomy would bring about, more than anything, a symbolic recognition of self-determination, while also creating a body that can make decisions for Szekelys in general (OK, this contradicts the notion of decentralisation a bit).

At the moment, both city and county councils are controlled by Szeklers. However, these councils are not "governments" - they do not have a wide degree of power outside of local laws and the like. They don't even have control of regional development (that's controlled by the "Centru" Regional Development Agency, which is based, AFAIK, in Braşov - Szekely Land is part of "Centru" NDR).

Andy - you mentioned devolution in the fields of the police force. This could be a *very* controversial move, at least ideologically, which is why I don't think it would be the best idea at the moment. I suppose keeping the army (Armata) and the Jendarmerie controlled by the central government and the local police force (Poliţia) would be a good compromise. There is also the community police, which is currently mostly run by Szeklers (since it's part of the municipal government).

Then there are also the petty things to consider - flag, government seat, etc. A flag of Hungary, for example, wouldn't be acceptable for most Romanians as a representation of a Szekler region. Perhaps some stylised arrangement using Hungarian colours would be good. The seat IMO should be Odorheiu Secuiesc/Udvarhely. But what disappoints to an extent is that there isn't really a clear autonomist movement. The movement is increasingly outspoken, but so far it's only really launching an idea. Instead of screaming about persecution and all that, what the Szekler Convention would do best is to actually draft a detailed plan for autonomy. That would be a big step forward.

Romerican said...

A quick comment on the flag: As an outsider, I think it would be a Bad Idea(tm) to have Hungarian flags flying instead of Romanian flags on official government buildings. Not because it would irritate of people like Tudor or Funar, but because it's simply not the state of Hungary. I have a hard time imagining a Turkish flag or Saxon or whathaveyou on local city government buildings just because the population has a heavy concentration of a particular ethnic group.

My two cents.

Romerican said...

May I give one last rant before this thread dies out?

I wanted to share this note on what Basescu said about Szekelyfold because it appears to me (as a disengaged foreigner) to be the logical sort of compromise, where Szekely local jurisdictions are given more autonomy in targeted areas, such as policing, without actually abrogating the national unity.

It seem to pass the muster of common sense and is certainly worth a quick read.

(As you'll read, Basescu had originally promised to address the ethnic-Magyar crowd on 15 March but later realized it would be a major faux pas, because his appearance mandates Romanian flags, music, and guards... which clearly would have been a buzzkill and certainly misinterpreted. So, he did the respectful thing and kept the Romanian stuff out of the celebration, then returned the next day to talk with them. Nice guy!)

Cantemir said...

Fascinating blog, Andy, and also a very temperate and civilized one. I hope that this community doesn't object to my two cents?

I think the key factor as yet absent from this discussion is the general bad blood between Romanians and Hungarians, stemming from hundreds of years of Hungarian dominance in Transylvania. Perhaps no individual Romanian today has ever had a Hungarian overlord, but that's no more to the point than it would be were I to tell a pure-laine Quebecker that no Albertan ever owned the factory in which his grand-pere once labored to pay for his tenement. That Szecklers differ just a bit from the Esterhazys and Bathorys is also lost in the fog of distrust.

We can all agree on the repulsiveness and wretched mendaciousness of Vadim Tudor, but he would be a mere lone idle impotent nutter, rather the focus of all this worry and concern, if there existed no general sympathy for his malignant nonsense. This general sympathy is the bitter fruit of hundreds of years of history and it will take a long time to die down. After all, among people of 'a certain age,' there remains a strong vein of apologetic for Ceausescu (probably much more than for Tudor.) But I suspect that no one under the age of 50, apart perhaps from the criminally insane, is really enthusiastic about anti-Hungarian racism.

Then there's the matter of the outside world. Most people in North America have a far worse impression of Romania than of Hungary and this affects world opinion - much to the distress of the Romanian educated class, to whom, understandably, this resembles support for separatism as such, perhaps by analogy with the famous Quebec libre speech of de Gaulle.