In today’s post I’m relying heavily on an excellent article by Attila Ara-Kovács on the background of the Szeklers’ demand for territorial autonomy in Romania. The Szeklers (in Hungarian székelyek) live primarily in the hills and valleys of the Eastern Carpathian mountains in three neighboring counties: Harghita (Hargita), Covasna (Kovászna), and in parts of Mureş (Maros). Although the exact circumstances of their settling and their precise ethnic origin are controversial, we know that today’s inhabitants of these three counties have been living there from time immemorial. According to the Hungarian Etymological Dictionary, the written word “székely” dates to at least 1092.
But back to the present. According to the latest census 612.043 Hungarians who call themselves Szeklers live in these three counties, which are perhaps the least developed and poorest regions in Transylvania. Their growing demand for autonomy was prompted by Romanian efforts to rethink the country’s administrative borders. The European Union urged member countries to create regions that would take into consideration a healthy economic mix. Such plans were also underway at one point in Hungary, but they died a slow death, mostly at the hands of the officials of the traditional county administration. Fidesz was also not about to give up the one-thousand-year-old tradition of the county system. After all, it was Saint Stephen who set it up.
In Romania the debate began already in the early 1990s, but it was only in 1998 that a final decision was reached. Romanian officials introduced an administrative set-up consisting of 6 regions whose borders were drawn in such a way that the counties where the Szeklers are in the majority were attached to a larger unit made up of Alba (Fehér), Sibiu (Szeben), and Braşov counties. In this mix, the Szeklers were in the minority, just over 20% of the population. This arrangement was not only unfavorable to the Hungarian minority but also made no sense economically.
Eventually the Romanian government came up with a new arrangement which they are planning to introduce soon. The three Szekler counties will be attached to Braşov county, the second most developed and industrialized part of Romania after the Bucharest region. In this new region the Hungarians will make up 43.85% of the population, a considerable improvement over their present situation. As Ara-Kovács points out, one could carve out a unit consisting only of the three Szekler counties so that the Hungarians would have an absolute majority, but such an arrangement would leave these three counties without any outside, sorely needed financial resources.
The recent demonstrations are in part directed against this plan of forming a larger economic and administrative unit from Braşov, Covasna, Harghita, and Mureş counties. In addition, the Szekler National Council, the chief organization behind the demonstrations, has been demanding territorial autonomy quite independently of the controversial administrative remapping of the region. Let me stress that the present Romanian government is dead set against giving territorial autonomy to the Hungarians. The Romanian constitution specifically states that Romania is a unitary state, one and indivisible. No Romanian government in the foreseeable future will sit down with any group to discuss plans for territorial autonomy. The Romanian government claims with some justification that in the last fourteen years the Hungarians in Romania have had wide cultural autonomy, not only in the territory inhabited by the Szeklers but everywhere a certain percentage of the population consists of Hungarians. Hungarians in Romania have their own schools, they can use their own language, and on the whole their situation is better than at any other time in the last eighty years. Therefore, launching a worldwide propaganda campaign for territorial autonomy is ill-timed and most likely counterproductive.
Then there is the problem with the so-called Szekler National Council itself. It is enough to look at the organization’s website to see that the leadership has very strong ties with Jobbik. For example, on October 25, it was triumphantly announced that “Jobbik joins the Great March of the Szeklers.”
Yesterday I talked about the sympathy march that was organized by CÖF, the so-called civic organization that is in fact financed by the Hungarian government. But the really big event was a 55 km march between Ozun (Uzon) and Chichiș (Kökös) in Covasna county. It was called the Great March of the Szeklers. The organizers were expecting at least 100,000 marchers, some of them wearing the customary local folk costumes. Although we don’t have reliable numbers, by all accounts the crowd was enormous. Naturally there was also a Calvinist church service which was recorded by Duna TV, a state television station providing news for Hungarians in the neighboring countries. The Great March was broadcast by MTV, the public television station.
So the march drew thousands of Szeklers and got extensive media coverage. The problem is, however, as Ara-Kovács points out, that the organizers don’t have clear ideas about what kind of autonomy they really want. “The only thing that is clear is that they want to live their lives without the Romanians.” And surely this is neither desirable nor possible.
The Szekler National Council is actually the creation of Fidesz. It is being financed by the Hungarian government. Even the Great March was financed by Budapest. The Szekler National Council, in addition to its goal of territorial autonomy, has its own political agenda. It wants to dominate Hungarian politics in Romania, taking the reins away from RMDSZ (Romániai Magyar Szövetség or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România), the leading Hungarian party in Romania that has often participated in Romanian government coalitions. As opposed to RMDSZ, which promotes peaceful and cooperative coexistence between Romanians and Hungarians, the Szekler National Council is a radical nationalist party.
Meanwhile in Budapest a sizable crowd, organized by so-called civic organizations and Fidesz, had their not so great march from Heroes’ Square to the Romanian Embassy on Thököly út where the right-radical and anti-semitic Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of Fidesz, was among the speakers. Some of the demonstrators sent a message to the Romanians inside of the embassy: “The land of the Szeklers doesn’t belong to Romania!” Well, it does and it will.
I am my instinct a localist, meaning I believe power should be devolved downwards to communities rather than upwards towards government and beyond. It is what democracy is really about, and at the very least, it is an entirely intellectually respectable position to hold. So I can’t for the life of me see why it is so wrong of ethnic Hungarians wanting more say in how their affairs are run. I don’t have problems with the Basques wanting a degree of independence, or the Catalans, or the Scots. And just because Romanian law says one thing, I don’t see citizens of that country can’t at least campaign for a change.
But I shouldn’t be surprised, given the tribal reflexes of this blog. For example, the right to protest in Hungary is pretty restricted and if the rights of the left are infringed, this blog would (rightfully) weigh in and say people should be entitled to protest outside parliament when Fidesz does something moronic. And yet this blog has told us with a straight face that those protesting (spontaneously, I might add, and I was an eye witness to people heading towards it) at the time of the Öszödi beszéd were “breaking the law” and that it was an “illegal demonstration.” As someone once said on this blog, quoting Joe Orton, “scratch a liberal and find a fascist bleeding.”
Hungarian and Palestinians must marry.
Their baby can be a stateless genius.
Baby do not cry for Hungary or Palestine.
HiBoM: I agree with your first paragraph (and disagree with the second). There are two different issues going on here, only one about the Szeklers who has the same amount of rights to demand autonomy as any minority in Europe or everyone else in the world. The other issue is obviously Hungarian political forces riding the waves hypocritical opportunism to the greatest degree. I would warn against mixing the two (and against relying on one single very one sided piece from Ara-Kovács).
Romanian law says the country is indivisible (it’s quite telling in the first place that they need such a law in place), but I don’t think the Moldovan constitution declares that country divisible either which causes quite some headache on the Romanian side. Plus constitutions say lots of things, for example look at the current Hungarian one.
And it doesn’t preclude local decisions being made within a national framework or I this case within the framework known as the EU. That said, Jim suppose that you enjoy having your mother-in- law telling your wife your a moron and she should leave you and don’t worry, she’ll pick up the tab for it all.
Well, well, it seems the playing with the borders, election districts by Fidesz or otherwise (by the Romanian officials) is pretty universal.
Not that Fidesz really cared, they give a damn really about minority Hungarians, they need the Szeklers as a tool to show their own nationalist credentials (vs. Jobbik) in Hungary (and of course the votes) and to destroy RMDSZ which is far too lefty and independent for Fidesz. The Szekler National Council is nothing much more than a Fidesz-puppet, though with a lot of Jobbik sympathizers.
Problem is, just as in Hungary where the young tend to flock to Jobbik, the Szekler movement as a nationalistic, ethnicist movement is much more successful than RMDSZ.
Thus as time goes by and ethnic Hungarians outside of the Szekler-region assimilate and die out, the Hungarian minority politics will be dominated by the Szeklers, in fact they already do.
A centrist politics it seems cannot attract the young and restless. Radicalism and community these days are with Jobbik and similar proto-fascist parties (or actually national-socialistic in ideology, although the media tend to refrain from naming Jobbik a nazi party, which it is) and not with boring centrists.
One cannot be boring in politics, it’s uncool and results in a total loss of discourse: silence which is the worse of all and the only real antidote against a political force. But RMDSZ, MSZP, Együtt and the like are kept in a veil of silence as they are seen boring, hollowed-out, uncool, stupid, weak, hopeless, without string views, so why care about them? Not surprisingl,y it is Gyurcsány who is increasing in the polls, he has views and so people care about what he has to say, even those who oppose him.
Media is changing kids and people. By looking weak and grey and stupid nobody can win an election, however worthy they would be.
“The Szekler National Council is actually the creation of Fidesz. It is being financed by the Hungarian government. Even the Great March was financed by Budapest.”
Playing with fire.
OT, important. (Link below to NY Times) That is how tough Merkel and the Europeans can become if they really set themselves to support some European core freedom. (Hint: they sell out immediately and could not care less about it).
In a way it is completely misleading even to mention the EU or the European countries and Orbán in the same sentence/topic.
Foreign politicians don’t care and will not care (and in any way do not understand) about Hungary, they have their own national and individual political interests, whatever happens in Hungary does not matter to them (what matters is how many widgets they will sell to China or Iran or Indonesia). Whatever happens in Hungary is solely for the Hungarians.
The right wing realized long ago what the Hungarian liberals have not. Liberals want to be loved by the West, conservatives know better. The West will never love Hungary because that would be an active emotion and the most important approach by the West is total indifference and/or only pursuing its own (i.e. the West’s own) interest in Hungary. So why bother, better to take advantage of them. And indeed this is what Orbén does so successfully.
Eva—But back to the present. About 800,000 Hungarians who call themselves Szeklers live in these three counties–
In these three counties there are (2011) – 609 000 Hungarians and 407 000 Romanians.
A bit OT again:
Actually It’s not only politicians who don’t care about a small country like Hungary (or Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, … pick whatever you like).
To illustrate this to my friends I usually choose a package of anything that I’ve bought here in the Lidl or Aldi or Tesco which contains some directions for use and lists the ingredients.
This is usually done in at least ten languages for a dozen countries – the record holder yet was a package of “Mexican tortillas” which had the description in 20 languages for 25 countries!
So who cares if one of these countries “goes missing” – it’s a small loss …
It may sound cruel, but that’s reality – as long as Orbán doesn’t start a war, mainstream European politics will ignore Hungary more or less …
The liberal media (like the NYT or our German Spiegel) will report on the strange goings-on, but this is about as important as anything freaky …
“About 800,000 Hungarians who call themselves Szeklers live in these three counties, which are perhaps the least developed and poorest regions in Romania.”
Where did you get that from? The poorest NUTS 3 regions in Rumania include counties such as Vaslui, Olt, Neamt, Calarasi, Giurgiu and Vrancea; none of which is located in Transylvania.
I wonder if the notion of territorial autonomy hasn’t become outdated in the age of globalization and European unity. It also seems to me that autonomy might create more problems in terms of Hungarian-Romanian relations at both the national and international level than it would solve in terms of concrete administrative and other benefits for those living in the Székelyföld.
Would not be better (and easier) for Hungarians to join Romania instead of “unitying” Hungarians the other way around? What is Hungarian territorial autonomy – could anyone explain its exact meaning?
No one has ever claimed Burgenland from Austria, probably because it would be odd the force Hungarians there to share the fate with the easterns and give up their wealth. Soon this will be the situation with the rest of the surrounding countries. In 15-20 years time, I bet no Szekler will be so stupid to even think about going to Hungary or emigrate to Hungary or claim autonomy…they will rather enjoy their better life.
Sorry, you are right. I will fix it.
I don’t think the Szekely people actually do want to join/emigrate to Hungary at all! This is the narrative that Fidesz and Bayer want to create, I’m sure. But in reality, the Szekely want to be in control of their own affairs, and not be under the control of either Bucharest or Budapest.
In my understanding, there is a lot of potential wealth in the Szekelyfold, but all the taxes are going to improving other parts of Romania, rather than improving the local area. The region of South Tyrol (whose taxes go to the local area, not the whole of Italy) is usually held up as an example here. And indeed, South Tyrol is one of the more prosperous parts of Italy.
To Tyrker, You are correct. I wanted to say “in Transylvania.” I corrected it.
Eva: “The Szekler National Council is actually the creation of Fidesz.”
FIDESZ is investing borrowed funds dangerously.
It is playing with fire.
The enemy is watching,
My guess is that the Iranian network of agents will be involved, or is active already.
@Bowen: “I don’t think the Szekely people actually do want to join/emigrate to Hungary at all! This is the narrative that Fidesz and Bayer want to create, I’m sure.”
This is not entirely correct. Such aim and intention has been the case so far (maybe up until now) since the early 90’s. Everyone has and had a few Szekler classmates at school, fellows at work, neighbours at home etc. EVERYONE. It is not a coincidence. I would not be surprised if already 1/4 of the population in 1990 in Szeklerland has already left home. Do not misinterpret it, because I am not familiar with statistics (though if someone has that data, please share it), but it is also true that we all learned at history and geography classes in the early 90’s that the Szekler population is 2 million. Now we have around 600 thousand. Where did they go? To Hungary and Germany etc.
The danger here is that Orban may destabilize Romania through his policy of setting and financing radical parties/organizations.
Even if these organizations and “marches” don’t achieve anything tangible (a lot of this “autonomy talk” is mere emotional-slogans and no concrete plans) their charged ethnic discourse does have an impact.
Sooner or later there will a response of the majority to this perceived radicalization of the Hungarian minority and that would mean a change of the Romanian politics toward the nationalistic discourse which dominated much of the 1990s.
It is quite possible since the events in the last 2-3 years have shown that the Romanians have grown skeptical and disillusioned about EU and there is growing rift between the political elites and the nation.
“we all learned at history and geography classes in the early 90′s that the Szekler population is 2 million”
in the early 90’s ?–the total number (Szeklers included) of Hungarians in Romania was 1.62 million in 1992.
The highest was 1.71 mil (1977)
Poll by Tarki, taken between October 16 and 23.
Democratic opposition 21%
No answer 45%
And that was before hvg.hu testified they had received the fake video from MSZP’s pr man…
“….the fake video from MSZP’s pr man…”–NO!!! REALLY?? From Mesterhazy’s MSZP…?
Who would’ve guessed…
I think, you may have misread something somewhere.
In my best knowledge nobody ever named the true “spontaneous demonstrations” illegal, or stated, that the participants of such were breaking the law.
However, I have to call your attention, that there is a significant difference between all that, and what happened all around the parliament, not to mention torching cars, attacking the MTV and the police – there isn’t one civilised democratic country where these counts as the rightful expressions of opinion or something belongs to the category of “freedom of speech”, no dear.
About the spontaneity: as I remember, people managed to quite spontaneously erect a stage, have a spontaneous sound system in place, have a daily supply of speakers – many of them MP-s – while spontaneously camp in tents for weeks…
All of this, because they have heard about two – out of context, mind you, but still, – minutes of a speech, and they jus couldn’t hold back their spontaneous upheaval.
It must have happened so, mustn’t it?
Meanwhile I’ll go and prepare some socks to Santa Claus, probably he will pass by too.
Spontaneously, of course.
I agree, completely!
If the Fidesz – in essence the Hungarian government – really cared, they would have provided the Szeklers with the possibility of the true political representation in the Hungarian parliament instead of this charade. There should be their own MP-s with independent status but with freedom to support whoever they please, even the Fidesz, of course, instead of this shameful manipulation of their National sentiments. They have – as Hungarian citizens – just as much right for their own representation as anybody else inland, they never emigrated, they didn’t left the country, they are Hungarians – so, why have to have “different” status, why deprive them from their right?
Actually I find quite difficult to accept that self respecting Szekler people willingly goes along and participate, sell out their honour and dignity for these empty gestures…
Regarding the “march”: – could anyone guess, what the predictable outcome could be, when someone who’s standing outside a cage, heroically poking a lion trough the bars, while their minders in the cage too?
I think the two 2 million referred to the population of Hungarian ethnicity in Romania. of which the Szeklers are a subset. Due to emigration this number decreased substantially.
I find it absurd to have citizens of one country becoming MPs of another country. The Hungarian Parliament cannot make decisions about Romania, I guess that would be contrary to international norms.
However, I don’t see anything wrong with the request of the Szeklers, living in a compact territory of Romania to have certain territorial autonomy, within Romania’s territorial organization. I am sure a territory could be formed, call it region or county (as it was at some point in Romania’s history: Hungarian Autonomous Region) that would be inhabited largely by Szeklers. In this area the Szeklers would be able to use their language and customs without this being continuously criticized by a central government or, generally by those of Romanian ethnicity, elect their own regional leaders etc. In the middle of Romania, they still would have to be integrated, to survive economically, they would still have to speak the Romanian language and would have to be subject to all laws that citizens of every other region of Romania are subjected to.
the 2 million was a nice, round estimation. From the time when there were 15 million Hungarians ((c) by József Antall), in 1990.
In a quarter of a century that “2 million” (probably never more than 1.5 million in the early 1990’s) must have very substantially decreased.
Assimilation and emigration (both to Hungary and elsewhere) and simple demographic decrease (less kids).
The thing is Szekler land is one of the least developed regions in Romania so they cannot be like South Tirol which is one of the richest regions in Italy (and in the world). The Szekler counties are quite remote too which helped them to retain their identity, but in a sea of ethnic Romanians, if history is any guide, they will slowly disappear.
Remember how Herder’s prophecy about the disappearance of Hungary, no less, in the sea of Slavs, affected the psyche of the nation back in the day. The Szekler’s, well, ethnic Hungarinas feel powerless and are frustrated. They see no way in which they could remain true to their identity. Of course identity politics is much more complicated in Transylvania than this, but in Székely countries it is a huge issue and they don’t know what to do and seemingly nobody can offer them any hope — except for Fidesz/Jobbik’s cruel joke of supporting regional autonomy in order to kill of RMDSZ. And since the economy will not change significantly in that rural and mountainous region, people will have ample time to be preoccupied with nationalism. But if there is one thing all Romanian parties agree on (supported by the security apparatus which according to foreign investor friends has not changed much in its reach and invasiveness since the Secu days, although it is a bit more corrupt), is that they will slowly neutralize ethnic Hungarians, time is on their side.
I don’t disagree with anything you wrote. However, every ethnic group has the right to ruin itself whichever way it likes it. Usually in a case like this it is not reason that wins (or maybe more correctly loses) but the ethnic pride (or maybe more correctly: stupidity). By the way, RMDSZ (probably out of political necessity) also supports autonomy for the Szekler-land.
Apparently I wasn’t clear enough, sorry about it.
As I remember, the main argument regarding the voting rights of the “new” Hungarians with dual citizenship was, that by voting they can have “greater influence” on decisions concerning their life. In plain English, if they vote for the “right” party, they will have more support from the Homeland.
To me the absurdity starts right here. In my opinion nobody should vote when they’re free from the consequences of their votes. (Before we start to discuss the voting rights of Hungarian citizens migrated from Hungary, let me remind you, that they still supposed to pay taxes, get charged for the utility of their property, connected to one or other pensions found, you name it, – none of these applies to the new Hungarians in the surrounding countries.)
Since there is no way, that the powers to be reconsider this – IMO – unjust and discriminative treatment of Hungarians, I recommended a solution, what I found more acceptable, particularly, if we’re to take the above mentioned official explanation at face value, namely, to give the new Hungarian citizens a chance to be involved.
What other way could be more democratic, than they could send their MP-s?
As far as I know, there is no question about making “decisions about Romania” in this case, is it?
I sorry again if my sloppy approach mislead you – I have nothing against an autonomy based on consensus.
However, I find utterly distasteful, not to mention totally counterproductive when the morons in charge “riding into town”, fiddling with ashes or preaching chauvinism in another country, interfering with domestic policies, heating up sentiments and so on, for temporary political gain at home.
Particularly in the light of how keen the Great Leader when it comes to sovereignty – as long as he is on the receiving end.
Expecting any kind of result in such delicate matter as the Szekler autonomy only possible, if the question handled with utmost care. Kicking in doors and banging the table just creates animosity, the permanent confrontation just taking the goal even farther from realisation, not to mention, how it effect on the life of the people, who actually living there, while they Hungarian “supporters” can go home, right after they created a turmoil once again.
I really hope, that the true Hungarians of Transylvania can see through on this cheap nationalist blindfold and acting responsibly and with dignity, not like servants of Orbán and Co.
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