Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Autonomy 2

I did promise some time ago to do a series of pieces about the movement for Székely autonomy, and suggested that my review of Alina Pippidi’s article about Transylvania would be a good first step (she never wrote back to me by the way, in case you were all waiting for me to publish her response)

Anyway, just to set the scene for those unaware of what is going on, the region in which I live – Székelyföld in Hungarian, Szekler Land in English, Ţinutul Secuiesc in Romanian – is angling for some form of autonomy. Now, I have to confess that at this point it gets a little bit confusing to me. What is being requested is referred to as “Cultural Autonomy” and not “Territorial Autonomy”. The latter is discounted mostly because there are obviously Romanians living in this region too, and the quickest way to get anyone’s back up is to call for territorial autonomy. But that means what is being sought is something which I can’t quite get my head around – this mysterious cultural autonomy. To me, cultural autonomy already exists (as it does in every non-dictatorship) – the Székely are free to speak their own language, print their own newspapers, pursue their own traditions and culture, and receive an education in their native tongue. So it’s unclear to me what cultural autonomy means.

Which brings us back to some form of territorially based autonomy. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of such a change in the status of the region?

Firstly, the idea of giving the regions of Romania more autonomy is something I strongly believe in. Romania is extremely centralised and more regional autonomy would make the local political leaders more accountable, would mean actions could better address the needs of local populations and ultimately would make the country more democratic. This doesn’t of course mean that things would be better, but at least shit decisions would be more locally accountable.

Recently, the Romanian president made some comment to the effect that Székelyföld would have autonomy when Caracal (a region somewhere in the south) had autonomy. This was taken by many to mean that the Székely could stick their autonomy where the sun doesn’t shine but could also be read as him knowing that the writing was on the wall for the over-centralised Romanian state and making it clear that he knew that the way forward was much more regional autonomy. It may even be that the EU are pressing Romania to be more regionally based, and that this will happen sooner rather than later. Hence, there will be greater regional autonomy, but it will happen on a countrywide basis rather than just granting autonomy to one particular region.

The question then is not whether there should be regional autonomy, but when it will happen and, crucially, on what basis the new regions will be formed. This is why the question is important now, because it is almost certainly the case that it is now that the decisions to devolve power to as-yet-unformed regions is being taken – and if the Székely want to benefit from this change they will need to put across a strong case for one of the regions being Székelyföld (and I’m quite sure that the Romanian government will be looking to create regions that neutralize or dilute Székely autonomy). Already I’ve heard on the grapevine that the new regions are liable to be formed of three counties each, and that Harghita and Covasna would be connected to Brasov rather than Mures county. That would (I imagine) ensure a Romanian majority in the new region, and finish any moves for an autonomous Székelyföld. I have no idea whether this is indeed likely or whether it’s just rumour and hearsay. [It ought to be noted that the current counties themselves were created under Ceausescu and were designed to break up the historical regions and dilute ethnic identity – or so Hungarian Romanians tell me, at any rate. I can’t say whether this is valid or not]

So, the next piece in this series will be on whether it would be a good idea for Székelyföld to be one of the new regions in a more federal Romania. A subject which I have decidedly mixed feelings about.


Sebi Buhai said...

Very interesting piece, Andy, so we might want to take it over on (at least as excerpts) with your permission (when we'll reach this topic). I just skimmed through this for now and I will read more carefully your post later, as well.

supercostica said...

Very interesting to see your opinion on this subject. I guess what cultural autonomy means in this situation is strong official recognition of the situation (explicit laws and institutions to protect their linguistic identity, right to study in Hungarian etc).

Also Basescu didn't say when Caracal (which is a small city in Oltenia) will be autonomous so will be this region, he said that (when and if the time comes) Odorheiu-Secuiesc will have exactly as much autonomy as Caracal. He further said that he favors an "extended autonomy" in which the local authorities would have an increased role in all decisions affecting the community.

As far as I remember, last year the EU's official position was that each member country should organize itself as it sees fit. Also, the 8 so-called development regions of Romania were added as "regions" in the present EU budget, so it would be unwise to make changes in their structure before this budget expires (in 2012 ?).

About the counties' the 1870's most of the Szekely region was reorganised by the Hungarian government in 4 counties (Háromszék, Csik, Udvarhely, Maros-Torda). All these counties continued to exist even after 1918, until the 1950's, when Romania was organized into soviet-type regions.
In 1968, when the county system eas reintroduced, Háromszék county got the name Covasna , Csik and Udvarhely counties were merged into a single county, abruptly named Harghita - but they all preserved a Hungarian majority. But the new Mures county was created by adding a Romanian populated area to a Hungarian populated one.

Anonymous said...

The Szekely lands had autonomy under Gheorghe Dej, (Ceausescu's predecessor), so there is precedent for it.

Andy said...

Sebi: Sure. I look forward to it.

Costica: Thanks for the info. I don't think the development regions thing is an issue, since any internal reorganisation wouldn't affect those (at least viewed from outside)

Minsztrel: Yes, I think the precedence is what will work in favour of autonomy - especially given that there is not only pre-1920 precedence but autonomy within Romania.

supercostica said...

Yes, of course these development regions could (and should) be reorganized, but what I meant was that if they do get reorganized before the next EU budget, they could loose some (significant?) funds.

On the other issue, the trouble with the 1952- 1968 Magyar Autonomous Region is that some people display it exclusively as a result and symbol of Soviet coercion upon Romania .

Anonymous said...

Andy, I enjoy your postings regarding autonomy for regions of Erdely. I think when it comes to autonomy the precedent is there, the will of the Szekely is there. However, when you have Basescu making statements as he did on Feb 13, 2007 while speaking with Solyom that the mere act of signing the referendum is illegal, it creates an explosive situation, pitting Bucharest against Transylvania. The mere mention of autonomy sends shivers down the spines of the politicians, because there are seeing the richest region of the country declaring independence from Romania. Of course, this is a vast stretch, but that is the point. It is impossible to talk about autonomy for the Szekelys without politicians in Bucharest rising up en masse demanding those agitating this position be punished for illegal acts.

Andy said...

Thanks for the comment, [name?]

I have much more to add on this subject (and will be doing so soon), but the talk is not of autonomy for Transylvania (the richest area of the country barring Bucharest/Ploesti), but Szekelyfold (one of the poorest). I suspect that the Romanian media/politcians know this full well, but are attempting to conflate the two in the minds of the people in order to keep it off the agenda.

Just1Believer said...

I am a Szekely from Szekely Land, I was beaten for my nationality multiple times, I was bullied in school for my accent, I was called a nationalist and extremist for exercising the my basic human rights and standing up against tyranny. I know what is like to go on the street and to be afraid to speak your own language. And I will accept the opinion of people who know the same feeling. I am strong Christian I hold no grudge and forgave everyone for what they committed, because they didn't know better. But I tell you this, Szekelyland will have its autonomy, it will happen because that is the only way to ensure that the Szekely culture will prevail.