During the Ceausescu years, there was an official policy of “Romanianisation” of various towns and cities in Transylvania. This was effected by barring Hungarians from buying property in the cities in question and bringing in Romanians from other parts of the country. One good example of this is Marosvasarhely/Targu Mures which went from being a predominantly Hungarian city to being around 50:50 Hungarian/Romanian today. When Erika was growing up it as more like 75:25 and when her father was young it was even more predominantly Hungarian. This much is undisputed and a matter of historical record. (And of course, before someone mentions it, there was also a similar-and worse- policy of Magyarisation in Transylvania in the late 19th Century).
Now, however, in the post Ceausescu world, this kind of divisive and oppressive policy is no longer possible. In a democracy such a policy of forced Romanianisation could not be allowed. But to imagine that it doesn’t still happen in some way would be a mistake.
Regular readers of this blog (both of you) may have noticed that I’m not much of a fan of organized religion. It’s the religious institutions that I have a problem with, not the people who attend the churches themselves, who as far as I am concerned can believe in whatever they like. In particular I think many churches (or “religious institutions”, to be more inclusive) have a tendency to encourage the use of religion as a form of nationalistic identifier. At best they do not discourage this role, and at worst they are active in seeking it out. I don’t think the institutions themselves are responsible for the conflicts in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, India/Pakistan etc, but I also think they have contributed to those conflicts by their actions (or inactions). And so, it will possibly come as no surprise to learn that my subject for today is the role in the continuing attempts to Romanianise areas of Transylvania played by the Romanian Orthodox Church (which from this point onwards I’ll refer to as the ROC for ease of typing).
It is a well known fact in this town that if you have some property to sell the ROC will offer to buy it. This doesn’t apply to apartments so much, but houses or other buildings. Obviously they have every right to do so if they so desire, but it’s somewhat sinister when you delve below the surface. What the ROC does, as a very very rich organization, with seemingly bottomless pockets, is to make unrefusable offers to people for their property. They then use this property to house Romanians from poor villages in the back of beyond as their first step to building a new life here. Once again, not really something that can be criticized – they are after all giving people with very few chances in life a big chance. But why? Other than all church’s supposed role in being charitable, what else is behind this activity? Basically it (the ROC) acts in this way to attempt to dilute the Hungarian-ness of the city and the region in general. The objective is ultimately to create enough of a Romanian community in this area to ensure that any talk of autonomy is never feasible. They are in effect, and quite legally, carrying on the policy of forced assimilation that was in effect under Ceausescu. They are, in so doing, continuing the sorry tradition of religious institutions in other countries of acting as a conduit for nationalism. They don’t for example, to my knowledge, do the same thing in “safe seats” like, I dunno, Vaslui or somewhere. It’s just an act reserved for Székelyföld. [To give an example, the parents of a friend are currently engaged in selling their property, which is a house in the centre of town – the ROC has approached them and said “Name your price, and we’ll pay it”. This leaves them in a quandary – obviously such an offer is very attractive, but they also don’t want to facilitate this Romanianisation which they know full well is the point of this offer. They are caught between a ROC and a hard place, you might say (at least if you were as bad a punner as I)]
Likewise the tourist in Romania is liable to notice a vast number of monasteries. Some of them, like the spectacular ones in Bucovina have been there for centuries, while others have been there for a little less time. In fact many in Transylvania seem to be brand new, and I'd hazard a guess that more than half were built in the last 15 years. They are continuing to sprout like mushrooms (as the Hungarian phrase has it). They are not, it should be noted, housing vast numbers of Romanian Orthodox monks who need more and more monasteries to be monkish in. The ROC actually has problems with recruitment in general as in this case where the priest who crucified a nun was in fact some bloke who’d barely managed to scrape his way out of school, so desperate were the church for members. (I visited one of these new monasteries in Maramures, and while it was very beautiful, there was no sign of any actual monks anywhere to be seen – and tourists were allowed to visit all parts of the complex –after paying an entrance fee and a “photography fee”).
So, why then are these monasteries appearing? The cynical might suggest that their purpose is to firmly stamp the region as Romanian through and through (after all if there are so many Romanian Orthodox monasteries, then surely this must be thoroughly and historically Romania). It is, perhaps, another example of this slightly odd tendency to “Magyarphobia” exhibited by certain Romanians. That is, the fear - real or stirred up – that the Hungarians are champing at the bit to reclaim Transylvania, and that all Romania’s Hungarians are desperate to overthrow rule from Bucharest and install some form of anti-Romanian independent state.
Now, before it comes up I want to make it clear that I have absolutely no problem with Csikszereda having Romanian residents (or indeed an increasing number of Romanian residents). In fact one of the things I most like about Transylvania is this diversity of cultural influences – and one of the things that I find most tragic in the recent history of this region is the fact that by and large all the German population has left. It would be great if the influences of the groups that have made this region what it is – Magyar, Romanian, Rroma, Saxon, Schwab, Szekely, et al - could all be recognized and could create a greater whole. But this ROC desire (supported by extremist right wing shitbags such as Gigi Becali) to Romanianise Székelyföld and other Transylvanian areas is not driven by a love of diversity, but by a desire to eventually rid Transylvania of its Hungarian culture altogether (or at the very least to reduce the Hungarian influence and culture to the role of mere museum piece). It is an attempt to homogenize the nation to create a country which is entirely Romanian and untainted by “foreign” cultures. It is, in short, anti-diversity.
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