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News 09 Jan 18

Hungarians in Romania Renew Call for Autonomy

As Romania gears up to celebrate its union with Transylvania in 2018, the three main ethnic Hungarian parties in the country on Monday launched a joint political agenda to renew their demand for autonomy.

Ana Maria Luca
Ethnic Hungarians in Targu Secuiesc marching on March 15 2016, decreed by he government in Budapest the day of Hungarians Everywhere. Photo: Levente Tofan/Inquam Photos

Romania’s main ethnic Hungarian parties on Monday signed a joint declaration that sets out a common political agenda, including a demand for autonomy in those parts of the Transylvania region where ethnic Hungarians are in the majority.

The statement comes as Romania prepares to mark the hundredth anniversary of the "Great Union", when Romania annexed Transylvania following the collapse of Austria-Hungary.

The three Hungarian parties – the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, the Popular Hungarian party in Transylvania, and the Hungarian Civic Party – announced their common front in Cluj Napoca, Transylvania's biggest city.

They said they wish to negotiate three types of autonomy – territorial, local/administrative and cultural.

“These three types of autonomy have to be discussed as soon as possible, even in 2018, with the Romanian majority and translated into legislation,” Kelemen Hunor, leader of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, the largest ethnic party in Romania, said.  

He also said that while autonomy would help to preserve the ethnic identity of the Hungarians in Romania, it would also “contribute to the development of society in Romania.”

Autonomy elsewhere “has worked and is still working in many European states and is the key of development”, he added.

The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania holds 30 seats in parliament and is an ally of the ruling Social Democrats in the legislature.

Although not formally part of the governing coalition, the ruling Social Democrats need the votes of the Hungarian MPs for legislation that demands an absolute majority in parliament.

The Hungarian party tried last year to push for legislation that would boost Hungarian rights.

In June 2017, during a government crisis that resulted in the Social Democrats taking down their own government, led by Sorin Grindeanu, the ruling party tried to reach a deal with the Hungarian party in exchange for its support for the impeachment motion.

The Hungarian party asked the Social Democrats to ensure the passage of several bills that it submitted to parliament.

It wanted Hungarian language used officially in those regions where at least 10 per cent of the population is Hungarian, as opposed to the current level of 20 per cent.

It also wanted special education and exams for Hungarian students, and permission to fly and use the special Szekely Land flag.

It also wanted March 15, the anniversary of the 1848 Revolution in Budapest that led to the annexation of Transylvania by Hungary, to become a public holiday for the Hungarian minority in Romania.

Faced with protests from party members and opposition in parliament, the Social Democrats abandoned all the bills.

The autonomy of the so-called Szekely Land, a part of eastern Transylvania where some 600,000 ethnic Hungarians are concentrated, is a sensitive political topic in Romania.

In 1923, five years after Transylvania was united with Romania, the latter failed to follow its pledge and ensure autonomy for Transylvania’s Hungarians.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, Hungarian political groups have sought to reestablish their lost autonomy, but governments – wary of secessionist movements at home and elsewhere – have not responded.

At a congress in May 2013, the Hungarian party demanded constitutional changes that would grant ethnic minorities more autonomy and cultural rights.

The party said then that it planned to submit a bill to parliament proposing territorial autonomy for the so-called Szekely Land.

The Democrat Union of Hungarians in Romania has close ties with Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz.

Kelemen Hunor and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban met in October 2017 in Cluj Napoca and the latter has vowed support for Hungarian demands in Romania, as the community forms a large electoral base for his own party.

NOTE: This article has been amended to clarify that in 1923, Romania failed to follow its pledge and ensure autonomy for Transylvania’s Hungarians. The previous version of the sentence stated that Romania abolished the autonomy of the Hungarian-majority territory in southeastern Transylvania.

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