Thursday, May 10, 2007


I'm in the middle of writing a long (long) post about nationality and nationalism and identity and all that stuff for my extremely occasional series about Szekely Autonomy, and hope to have it done soon, but in the meantime, I was thinking about the UDMR (political party representing ethnic Hungarians in Romania), and what their purpose is.

You see, in broad terms, I don't really get it. I can see one or two benefits in their existence (which I'll get to in a minute or two) but in general I think they can act (on a national level) against the interests of the Hungarian community rather than for it.

Let me try and explain. Locally, they hold a fair amount of power - county and city authorities in Harghita and Covasna and probably elsewhere are typically run by the UDMR with a virtual lock on power. But why? The Hungarian electorate will tell you that they need to stick together in order to ensure that local government is not taken over by Romanians with a Bucharest agenda. Which, to en extent, makes sense. But as a single issue party (yes, they have economic policies, and so on, and are technically not single issue, but people vote for them not because of their policies on investment or what have you, they vote for them because they are the UDMR and "we have to stick together"), it's a little bit odd to have them in power for years and years.

[At this point I have to say that I think it's quite impressive and amazing that the UDMR has managed to position itself as the sole representative of the entirety of all 1.6 million (ish) Hungarians in Romania, with no major internal political ructions. I mean if I were Hungarian Romanian, who would I vote for? The UDMR is basically centre-right on most things, and I'm not really a big fan of what economic policies they do have - and the fact that they are aligned with the UK Tory party in the "European People's Party–European Democrats" grouping in the European Parliament is all I need to know about their political leanings outside of the national question]

On a national level, I think (aside from one crucial element) their role is even less clear. Their existence actually ensures that the bigger Romanian parties need say or do nothing to appeal to Hungarians. There's no votes in reaching out to the Hungarian population so why bother doing it? If the UDMR ceased to be, or ceased to play on the national stage, presumably the bigger parties would want those votes - 7-8% of the population is a huge voting block, and would represent something that would hugely benefit whichever party could best attract them. Look at the work that parties in the US do, for example, at attracting the various ethnic minorities. Likewise they (the UDMR) don't actually have to achieve anything for people to continue voting for them. They are, in effect, acting against democracy to some degree.

The only way that it does actually work is the way they put forward a candidacy for the presidency, who (obviously) picks up the statutory 5 or 6 % of the vote in the first round and then those votes can be "sold" to whichever of the runoff candidates promises more to Hungarians. (Though once elected there is nothing to ensure that the president will actually do anything for that community)

The exception, the positive side to their existence mentioned above, is presumably unintended. That is, that by controlling the balance of power, they can ensure that the odious PRM are not part of the government. That at least appears to have been the primary function of the (national) UDMR over the past ten years. They become part of the coalition, the coalition does nothing particularly to support or promote the rights of Hungarians, but at least the government doesn't actively target them (as it presumably would if ever Vadim Tudor or Becali or any of those other vile wankers ever got a sniff of power). So, yes, they do have a function, and an important one, but is that all there is to it?

I'd be grateful if anyone out there more clued in than I could offer any suggestions as to what the real purpose of the party is, and what they actually achieve on a national level (other than the above "not being the PRM" acheivement)


supercostica said...

You put things in an interesting perspective. I guess their reasoning is something like this:

On the local level if the UDMR would break up in many parties these smaller parties would probably have to create coalitions with the local Romanian parties to win elections - and they would have to renounce at some of their objectives.

On the national level parties that would try to appeal to the Hungarian minority would risk severely loosing support from their Romanian voters - so they just won't do it and the Hungarians might remain without representation.

Andy H said...

Is that really true that Romanian parties that tried to appeal to the Hungarians would lose votes? It doesn't seem that likely to me on the face of it - surely the people who are likely to be upset by such a move would already be voting for PRM or Noua Generatie (is that what Becali's lot are called?

supercostica said...

No, I meant that this is an argument the UDMR could use.

If other parties would actually lose votes in case they do something to attract minority votes...I guess it depends on what exactly they would offer to the Hungarians. If it's something that the average Romanian sees as unacceptable (even though it might be just a minor thing in reality) he would most likely not vote for that party.

Apart from the extremist nationalists rallying around PRM and PNG, there clearly are plenty of moderate nationalists in the ranks of the normal parties - it's these people that I presume they would lose in case they do something for the minorities.

Andy H said...

Yes, but I'm not suggesting the PSD (for example) make it policy to arm the Hungarians, or to make Hungarian the second national language to be taught to all pupils or something that's likely to wind up the average Romanian. I'm thinking more along the lines of maintaining (or perhaps extending slightly) the things that currently exist (since as far as I can tell that's all the UDMR have managed to achieve).

To give an extreme example, the fact that the US Democrat party aligns itself strongly with Israel to reach out to Jewish voters doesn't seem to alienate Arab American voters who turn to the party for different reasons. I realise that the PRM and PNG will try and make political capital out of any concessions to the Hungarian minority offered by other parties, but I have to have more faith in the average Romanian than to imagine that they'd defect in droves and turn to the loving arms of Corneliu and Gigi.

Irina said...

Hi Andy,

Supercostica is absolutely right. The average person in Romania is what he calls a "moderate" nationalist - whilst in any other place their opinions would be called anything but moderate.
Yes, any other party would lose votes, and yes they would alienate their voters. For instance: in the early '90s, the fact that shop's names and road signs/plates with the city names started being translated in Hungarian was made into a huge issue by the media and, evidently became a political thing also. Making an agenda of forbidding the Hungarian names in official places, has won votes for every major political party in this country. And politicians who considered (publicly) this to be an elementary right of the Hungarian minority, instantly lost support.
I think that one of the visible things the UDMR achieved for the local communities was this and the right to use their language in relation to local authorities (at least on paper; there seem to be difficulties in making it work).
I know it's been years since, but in this country people are very sensitive to the minority "issues"; I'm not trying to judge anyone - it's not that people are better/worse than in other places, this is just the way things are...

Dan Anghel said...

The assertion that if other political parties besides UDMR would turn to the Hungarian minority they would loose votes because of the "moderate nationalist" Romanian electorate. It is true that mainly Transylvanian voters can still be touched with a moderate nationalist discourse. But the funny part is that in the entire post-communist history of Romania there was not a single part besides UDMR to address the Hungarian minority. So one cannot actually state that this kind of attitude would damage them. The fact that political parties follow the will of the people in this ethnical/national issue is quite unfortunate, like it is in many other issues. Because political parties and political leader should are those who should put forward ideas and stuff and bring them into debate in the society. Hence, I guess that it's absolutely necessary for other political parties than UDMR to turn towards the Hungarian minority, but in an intelligent way of course, promoting multiculturalism and others:) People are not stupid even if they have moderate nationalist tendencies:)

It is obvious that lately UDMR does no longer satisfy entirely the Hungarian minority since other Hungarian political parties, more radical, started to gather votes. So I would say that it's more than ever necessary for a "romanian" political party to turn its attention in that direction.

Andy H said...

Thanks Irina and Dan

I've been asking a few people round here and got a few more answers to this question - mostly along the lines of "If it wasn't for the UDMR we'd have nothing". I will at some point soon write another post giving the other side of the story re the UDMR.

Anonymous said...

The phenomenon of single (or perhaps 1-2) parties representing national minorities is pretty well established in both Western and Eastern Europe - there are Hungarian minority parties in Slovakia and Serbia, Turkish minority party in Bulgaria, etc; Basques in Spain; Germans in Poland, Swedes in Finland etc. The puzzling thing were be if the UDMR didn't exist. In many, most places where there are distinct concentrated and sizeable national minorities with a viable prospect of getting into parliament (and possibly holding the balance) national divisions override other class or political divisions and there are parties like the UDMR and, however, well Romania progresses - probably not very well - I think it will be a feature of the country's political landscape.

Frank Sellin said...

Irina and supercostica are dead on about the much greater risk/cost facing Romanian parties courting the Hungarian vote than the benefits thereof. The minute most Romanian voters hear about Hungarians, they automatically ask "how much more autonomy are we going to give potential secessionists?" It's just too big a live wire for most parties to touch, with a large hunk of the electorate insecure about Romania's territorial integrity and comments by UDMR and Budapest elites that appear to call that integrity into some degree of question.

UDMR around 1997 or so (when it first got into power) did get some sort of government council on national minorities set up. I don't follow it, so I'm not sure how much it's done besides come up with the use of language in certain official environments.

More broadly, I'd argue that postcommunist Balkan states that have incorporated ethnic minority parties into government have, IMO, usually been more stable and less repressive as a political matter, and faced less explosive ethnic relations, compared to those states (in particular periods) that went out of their way to aggravate ethnic relations.

But yeah, UDMR still needs to come up with better results to justify its existence. You're well placed to see what they do on the local level!

Btw, there have been challenges to UDMR's ethnic hegemony. I remember that in the 1996 local and national elections there were one or two attempts to organize alternative parties. Those did in fact worry UDMR (which lost some county and municipal seats, and fell below 7% for the first time in the national elections). I never heard what happened to such opposition - I assume they died off. But you will see ethnic Hungarian dissatisfaction with UDMR show up from time to time.

In fact, the most recent polling has UDMR down to around 5 percent, and even Bela Marko just said recently that they need to do better party work to reconnect with voters. So maybe (semi-)organized opposition will show up again soon...

Reg said...


Has anyone ever tried to set up another "Hungarian" party to compete for votes with the UDMR among that community?

It seems that there is a gap for a centre-left pro-Hungarian party.

Anonymous said...

UDMR,trebuie sa dispara ca partid politic.In secolul XXI a fi un partid etnic arata,demonstreaza, gandirea feudala a liderilor acestui partid.
Pacat de creditul dat de natia romana unor cetateni romani de etnie maghiara,deoarece acestia nu au inteles s-au nu au vrut sa inteleaga faptul ca romanii sunt cei mai toleranti oameni ai planetei pamant.Mare pacat pentru ``feudalii`` UDMR-isti.Pacat de maghiarimea echidistanta.
O parte din cei care au fost si sunt la guvernare,oameni din UDMR ,sunt oameni de merit,si normal si-au pus amprenta pe managementul instututiei pe care o conduce.Bravo lor.Dar alta parte sunt ``niste animale``habotnice.
Oricum eu cred ca ,in viitorul nu prea indepartat,maghiarii vor renunta ma partidul unic si vor pune``osul``la dezvoltarea acestei tari,pentru ca este deopotriva a noastra a romanilor cat si a lor,pentru ca ,vrei nu vrei ei tot romani se cheama,chiar daca au etnie maghiara.Tara lor este ROMANIA. Uneori,in strainatate fiind, m-am intalnit cu unguri din romania,care cu mandrie spuneau ca si ei sunt romani,cand ne-au auzit pe noi vorbind limba noastra cea dulce si suava.