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.