I was searching through Google News to see whether any English language media had reported anything about the whole March 15th thing here, and there really wasn’t a great deal, but I did notice a repeated misconception about who the Szekely are. At least two reports essentially equated the Szekely with the Hungarian population of Romania, which is definitely not my understanding of the situation. And given that I’m married to a Hungarian Romanian who is not a Szekely, I reckon my understanding is correct. So anyway, I thought I’d do a bit of research and try and fill in the gaps in my knowledge about who the Szekely are and let you know what I found out. After all, I did choose a Szekely themed URL for this site when I set it up, so I really ought to have a clue who they are.
The origins of the “Szeklers” (this is the German word for the group, and apparently seems to be the official English language version too, though I reckon outside of Hungary, Romania and ethnographic faculties of universities, there are about 3 native English speakers who have even heard of the Szekely) are not certain. Some say there are basically a subset of the Magyars who came to Europe from Central Asia however many hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Others that they are not originally Magyar, but from other places – they could be Turkish, Scythian or Hittite, for example. One thing that aids the Turkish theory is the fact that ancient Szekely writing is runic.
Anyway, what ended up happening is that the Szekelys, warriors like the Saxons, were assigned to the border regions of the Hungarian empire, with them basically lining the Eastern Carpathians (the Saxons took the Southern Carpathians). Transylvania for many years was known as the “union of three nations” – three areas ruled by the Saxons, the Szekely, and the Hungarian nobility. Anyway, what this means is that while there’s no obvious ethnic difference between the Szekely and the Hungarians, and they both speak the same language, and both are predominantly Roman Catholic, it is more or less considered these days that the Hungarian speakers of Harghita, Cavasna and part of Mures counties are the Szekely, and the Hungarian speakers in the rest of Transylvania – Cluj, Targu Mures, Maramures, Oradea, Timisoara etc are Hungarians (and not Szekely). The Szekelys in general seem much more traditional and have held on to their folk culture very successfully.
I also discovered that there is another group known as the “Szekelys of Bucovina” who were descended from a group of around 1000 Szekelys who fled Szekelyföld in 1764 after the Austrians massacred around 400 Szekelys at Madefalva (Siculeni in Romanian) a village about 5 km north of here. They ended up in Bucovina (the other side of the mountains from here). One of the villages there they named “Istensegíts” (God Help Us), which gives you a sense of their flight. Their population grew to about 13,000, but after Bucovina became Romania they felt increasingly isolated, and eventually under some deal between Hungary and Romania (in 1941? This isn’t clear to me) they were all evacuated and used by the Hungarians in an attempt to Magyarise the area of Vojvodina (now in Serbia) (ie they were settled there to change the demographics of the area). This was fairly shortlived as Hungary ceded control of the area in the Second World War, and they were once again forced to flee. They eventually settled in Tolna county in Hungary where they live to this day.
So there you go, some background and information about the Szekely, so that if ever you encounter an article like this one, you can feel informed enough to think to yourself "Actually it's not true to say Romania's ethnic Hungarians, also known as Szeklers," and feel all smug.