News 30 Oct 13

Romanian Hungarians Call for Szekler Region

Ethnic Hungarians have renewed their demand for a bill increasing their autonomy and granting them a region of their own in Transylvania, where most so-called Szeklers are concentrated.

Marian Chiriac

The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, UDMR, is drafting a bill seeking territorial autonomy for the region in Transylvania where most Hungarians are concentrated.

“We are working on a bill that aims to grant territorial autonomy to ethnic Hungarians from Szeklerland. It will be finished within the next two months,” the UDMR’s vice-president, Laszlo Borbely, said.

“There are positive examples in South Tyrol and Finland that can be adopted in Romania, but all this depends on the majority’s political will,” Borbely added, referring to the mainly German-speaking region of northern Italy and the Swedish community in Finland.

Borbely’s statement followed Sunday rallies, when thousands of ethnic Hungarians formed a human chain stretching across part of Transylvania calling for autonomy for the area they call Szeklerland.

The marches – with people singing, waving Hungarian flags, and riding horses and carriages – were held in several communities where so-called Szeklers are in the majority.

About 7 per cent of Romania's 19.5 million citizens are ethnic Hungarians. Some parts of the community, especially the 600,000 so-called Szeklers, have long campaigned for an autonomous region in Transylvania, which formed part of the Kingdom of Hungary until the end of the First World War.

On Monday, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said he would address the Hungarian minority’s call for autonomy in conformity with the country’s constitution and the European norms.

Demands for greater autonomy for ethnic Hungarians come in the context of discussion on changing the constitution in Romania. Among the main changes envisaged is administrative organization.

The UDMR wants that re-organization to include an autonomous region in Transylvania.

Although several laws addressing ethnic minority rights exist in Romania, the UDMR has long campaigned for a special basic law on minorities.

A draft law has been around for over five years, waiting for parliament to debate it. Under existing laws, ethnic minorities can study in their own language at all levels of education, from kindergarten to university. The new law would clarify and enlarge these rights.

It would also entitle minorities to receive official funds to set up educational institutions in their native languages.

The UDMR has been a junior partner in different ruling coalitions several times in the last 20 years, but is now in opposition.

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