Pages From the Romanian – Hungarian Reconciliation: 1989-1999.
The Role of Civic Organizations

by Gabriel Andreescu (fragments)

Is There or Isn’t There a Model for Romanian-Hungarian Reconciliation?

USA President, William Clinton wished to explain to his fellow citizens the necessity of the American intervention in Yugoslavia. A few days after NATO started the bombings in Serbia, the American president brought up the possibility if desired, of settling disputes between majority and minorities. He mentioned this among other arguments made while on a trip to the northern area of the United States. Bill Clinton explained that Romania knew how to overcome tension between Romanians and Hungarians. Romania had become a model for settling interethnic conflicts.

This wasn’t the first time Bill Clinton made such statements. Around two years ago, on July 9, 1997 while on a brief visit to Bucharest two days after the North Atlantic Alliance nominated Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but not Romania, to join NATO, he made the same statement: “You have turned old quarrels into new friendships, within and outside the country’s frontiers. You have signed treaties with Hungary and Ukraine. For the first time, you have shared a democratic government with the Hungarian ethnics. You let minorities play a larger role in creating your future. Together with them, you represent the new Romania”.
The Romanian newspapers spread the news (with their own slant), without delay. “Look, the United States’ president himself is repeating that the Hungarians should be happy with the actual situation in Romania. These Hungarians are always so hard to please”!

This time, Marko Bela, the president of the UDMR, (Magyar Democratic Union of Romania), responded. His party since 1990 until today, has won majority of votes from the Hungarians living in Romania. He even organized a press conference. This political leader who is regarded even by UDMR critics as a true moderate, stated that it wasn’t true that reconciliation was possible in Romania.

The positive, contrary opinion on the other side of the Atlantic was voiced, I repeat, in the spring of 1999. For the  two years UDMR had been trying unsuccessfully to obtain approval for a Hungarian language University. In November 1996, the two former opposing coalitions which won the elections, – the Romanian Democratic Convention and the Social Democrat Union, had invited UDMR to join the governmental coalition. In exchange, they promised to solve the problems regarding the use of the Hungarian language in education and administration. In May 1997, the newly nominated Ciorbea government adopted an Emergency Decree concerning the completion and amendment of the Education Law. The requests of UDMR were respected.

However, the Parliament kept continuously postponing the approval of the document. The senators and deputies of the Coalition, as well as those of the Opposition made unbearable scenes in relation to UDMR. Out of desperation, UDMR decided to take certain parliamentary initiatives on its own. Both initiatives, the first being the reestablishment of the Historical Hungarian University in Cluj, called Bolyai University, and the second, the establishment of a multicultural University in Hungarian and German, both failed, the former in the summer of 1998 and the later in the fall of the same year. The constant anti-Hungarian campaign of nationalistic formations and newspapers which manifested their unrestrained chauvinism, added to the irritation and fatigue of the UDMR leaders. “The model of Romanian – Hungarian reconciliation”, which was constantly mentioned by the Government and the Romanian President, trying to show the Romanian democratic progress at international discussions, often looked awkward inside Romania. Even the Secretary of State for Higher Education of a government that included UDMR referred to the petitions of the Hungarians as “ethnic segregation requests in various institutional forms"! Where did the signs of reconciliation come into this?

Only three months after President Bill Clinton’s intervention and Marko Bela’s reply, the Romanian Parliament adopted the new Law on Education. In June 1999, the main petitions of the Hungarians on the most important areas of their interests were adopted. The final draft included a few small compromises, but did this new turn between Romanian – Hungarian relations, give results. Who was right in the end? Bill Clinton or Marko Bela?

Romania: A Regional and Geopolitical Profile
But why is the American president concerned with the fate of the Hungarians who live on the Romanian territory? In order to answer this question we need some background information.

Romania is a relatively young state, created between 1859 and 1862 through the union of two principalities with a Romanian ethnic majority: Moldova and Valachia. In 1918, Romania changed its borders by incorporating two other provinces populated by Romanian majorities: Transylvania, which had been a part of the Hungarian state until the 17th century and then an autonomous province within the Austro-Hungarian empire, until the latter’s dissolution at the end of WW1; and Bessarabia, historically a part of Moldova until 1812 when it was occupied by Russia.

The Romanian borders were modified once more at the end Second World War, when Bessarabia was occupied by the USSR. These historical developments have led to continuous shifts in the country’s ethnic composition. After 1918, between the frontiers of the Great Romania there were some 10,0% Hungarians, 4,4% Germans, 3,2% Jews, 1,7% Roma and 2,9% Russians left –  around 22% of the country’s whole population. The Romanian state dealt with this multicultural reality from the position of a “national, unitary state”.

Bessarabia was once again claimed by the Soviet Union after the second world war (the Peace of Paris, 1947). Together with the population shifts during the war, the new redrawing of national frontiers led to a decrease in ethnic diversity. Between 1947 and the 1990, an important number of German and Jewish ethnics left the country, driven away by the communist regime. The ethnic map of today’s Romania is significantly different from that of 1918 to 1940. From the 16 national minorities which were recorded by the 1992 census, Hungarians are 1,620,199; Roma (Gypsies) 409,723 ; Germans 119,436; Ukrainians 66,833; Russians-Lippovans 36,688; Turks 29,533; Serbs 29,080; Tartars 24,649; Slovaks 20,672; Bulgarians 9,953; Jews 9,107; Czechs 5,800; Poles 4,247; Croatians 4,180; Greeks 3,897; Armenians 2,023. Other 8,420 persons declared their appartenance to Carashovenians (2,775) and the Changos (2,165).

Doubtlessly, the status that every minority has within the Romanian State can easily become a valuable political capital. The Hungarian minority plays an exceptional part in the political life because its size, traditions and solidarity and its options have been the main source of self-legitimation for the nationalist and ultra-nationalist movements in contemporary Romania.

Therefore, ethnic relations in the country are crucial to the evolution of democracy in Romania. But the stake is even higher. The status of national minorities is, especially in this area at the periphery of the Balkans, an issue of national stability. A conflict with Hungary started by an alleged repression of the Hungarian ethnics in Romania, or a conflict with Ukraine started by the supposed repression of the 900,000 Romanian ethnics in that country would have terrible results.

Finally, Romania’s ethnic diversity has geopolitical consequences. Romania is separated from Russia only by the Republic of Moldova and by Ukraine, the latter of which seems destined to be a buffer-zone. NATO and the UE are stretching their margins toward this area. Will Romania become a member of these structures? Will it stay under the influence of the Moscow regimes? The answer varies with the political prominence of nationalist forces, a prominence that depends itself on the fate of the country’s minorities.

This is why the US president mentioned the relation between the Romanian majority and the Hungarian minority. Indeed, this relation affects internal politics, the regional security and geopolitical relationships. And ultimately the lifes of every Romanian man and woman.

Smaranda Enache
January 29, 1990. Evening, in Bucharest. The first time I ever heard about Smaranda Enache was at the headquarters of Social Dialog Group. “Did you see that lady from Targu-Mures on TV last night?”, asked an old friend as he crossed in the hall, visibly impressed by a TVR1 broadcast.  I had not watched it. Smaranda Enache, the co-chair of Pro-Europa League founded at the end of December 1989 in the Transylvanian city of Targu-Mures, had given a TV interview on January 25, 1990. The interview was broadcasted on TVR1 [public Romanian television] in Bucharest on the evening of the 28th. Her intervention and comments triggered an alarm over the tension in Targu-Mures. As she had put it rather bluntly, “There is no need to repeat all that is happening in Nagorko Karabah; the outcome of the situation in this city is a key factor for the fabric of the Romanian democracy”.

What was happening in Targu-Mures? Who was Smaranda Enache? What was Pro-Europa League?

Targu-Mures is an old Szekler town with a strong tradition of University education and intellectual life. Between 1948 and 1959, it was the capital of the Hungarian Autonomous Region. Like most Transylvanian towns, the ethnic make-up of Targu-Mures was mostly Hungarian. During the period of autonomy, the Hungarian population constituted around 80% of the city’s inhabitants.  During the 70’s it dropped to 70%. From that moment on, the ethnic proportion-change program ran in a straight line. Moldavian workers were brought to work in newly built factories.  Doctors, professors, and other categories of the Hungarian social elite were appointed as far as possible in other Romanian provinces but never in Targu-Mures. In 1989, the percentage of Romanians and Hungarians in the city was almost equal. After the revolution, a map was found at the Party’s County Commission headquarters. The map showed details of yearly Romanian migration measures for the further change of ethnic proportions. It was the first solid proof of the program for the systematical intensification of Romanian ethnic dominance upheld by the National-Communist State under the Ceausescu regime.

The last years of the 80’s have seen violent displays of anti-Hungarian politics. Those who spoke Hungarian were excluded from all leading functions. The old bilingual or bicultural traditions of official celebrations became just a memory. Hungarian poems were no longer recited; not even at the end of the school year. Hungarian documents had to use exclusevely the Romanian geographic names.

However, those years have also heralded the beginning of a timid disobedience founded on democratic attitudes. The Puppet Theater in Targu-Mures enjoyed a privileged environment to this effect. In 1983, Smaranda Enache, the young literary secretary of the Theater, graduate of the Philology University in Bucharest, was appointed director of the Institution. Since then, the Puppet Theatre became the scene of several ingenious and amusing yet marginal ways of disputing the government. The Party Committee got furious whenever the colors of the actors’ clothes in a particular scene happened to resemble the colors of the Hungarian flag, red, white and green . Whenever Hungarian symbols appeared on posters, the posters had to be destroyed. Censorship made drastic cuts in any Hungarian nationalist references. In 1989, the control on any sign of disobedience had become hysterical. For some of the Romanians at the Puppet Theatre in Targu-Mures disobedience meant making common cause with their Hungarian colleagues.

Pro-Europa League
This early solidarity is the reason why the December 1989 demonstrations that led to the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime found a united Romanian-Hungarian group in Targu-Mures. On the evening of December 21, the slogan “Chauvinism does not exist” was loudly heard on the streets of Targu-Mures. Smaranda Enache was invited to be part of the National Salvation Front’s County Council, the new governing structure of the city.

The group of intellectuals from the Puppet Theater gathered together daily in those restless times. A Hungarian ethnic, Elek Szokoly, Smaranda Enache’s husband, was convinced of the necessity to found alternative associations. On December 30, 1989, twenty-one citizens of Targu-Mures gathered together as founders of Pro-Europa League. They were of the opinion that the goals of democracy and interethnic cooperation could only find fulfillment within the framework of a united Europe. They regarded pro-European militancy as the most complete expression of reform in the Romanian society.

Pro-Europa League and Violence in Targu-Mures
All this time,  Members of Pro-Europa League were desperately trying to stop the deterioration of the relationship between the Romanians and Hungarians in the city.  Smaranda talked to the Romanian and Hungarian teachers and to the students in school. She tried to mediate. She spoke to the Orthodox priests who stubbornly refused to talk to the Baptists, Catholics, or Jewish people. The intellectuals of Targu-Mures were not much more interested than the priests. The historians invited to debate the Romanian-Hungarian theme also hesitated to use their authority to promote talks between Romanians and Hungarians. The repeated appeals made by Smaranda Enache and her colleagues, often on the local TVR station, were in vain. Moreover, she started receiving threatening phone calls at home. Smaranda’s parents suddenly found themselves without friends. The communities stopped communicating. Their co-nationals considered promoters of Romanian-Hungarian relations, such as Smaranda, traitors.

On March 17th (1990) Smaranda Enache went to the Romanian and Hungarian Intellectuals Meeting held in Budapest. On March 19th the violence started in Targu Mures. Hungarian and Romanian groups (the latter brought by Administration buses from villages in the Apuseni mountains, armed with clubs they had crafted a few days beforehand), confronted each other in the central square. Five people died and hundreds of Romanians and Hungarians were hurt. The writer Suto Andras lost an eye.

The trouble in Targu Mures took place from March 19 till March 21. At the end of March, SRI (the Romanian Information Service) was founded. The Decree founding the SRI, issued by the Council’s Bureau for National Unity was illegal, as it had not been voted by the CPUN  (Provisional  Council for National Unity). The campaign of a certain part of the media added more proof that the violence in Targu-Mures was arranged by Ion Iliescu’s men in order to justify the founding of the SRI . This came three months after Nicolae Ceausescu’s Securitate was disbanded, following the December 1989 Revolution .

GDS, “22”, Civic Alliance, Writers’ Union
However, in a super-centralized country such as Romania, the small provincial victories would have made too little a difference had the bridge between Hungarians and Romanians not been sustained in Bucharest, where the grand political stakes were. That is where even the UDMR, the Representative Hungarian Formation, had to lead its political battles even though 93% of the Hungarian population is in Transylvania.

It so happened that a group of intellectuals who founded GDS, the Group of Social Dialog, at the end of 1989 and its magazine, named ‘22’ after the date the communist regime fell, had a decisive attitude regarding the matter of Romanian-Hungarian relations. Set up by former dissidents, the group enjoyed tremendous prestige immediately after the revolution, due to their past reputation. Motivated by a democratic, liberal thinking, the group immediately got in touch with their colleagues in Hungary, participating in several meetings and events which had a great symbolic meaning in that period of time. One of the events was the Romanian-Hungarian dialog on March 17-23, 1990, in Budapest.

However, the ‘22’ magazine synthesized even better the “ideology” of the group, in this respect. Starting even with its first editions, the magazine had minority representatives as collaborators, and this is where the appeals regarding the Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation were published. While the language of chauvinism and hatred filled the newspapers of the political power, the articles of ‘22’ called for dialog and made room for their German, Hungarian, Armenian, Greek, etc. colleagues. The first article on Gypsies appeared in March and following that, the magazine adopted the term ‘Roma’(Romany) exclusively, which at the time was absolutely exotic to the majority of the population.

The Writers’ Union was another institution fostering intercommunication in that crucial period. Compared to all the other organizations in the whole European Communist system, the Writers’ Union enjoyed a special status. Seen by the former communists as main propaganda institution and recognizing the power of the writers to dominate symbolic space, these unions were offered material advantages and symbolical privileges. Romanian, Bulgarian and former Soviet writers were among the few citizens who had the chance to visit western countries. All these contributed to promoting the visibility of writers’ unions in society.

This is the reason why the symbolic space controlled by writers played a decisive role in the overthrowing of logic in the Romanian society at the end of 1989. The session of the Writer’s Union that took place at the end of December 1989 elected Mircea Dinescu as President. One of the best-known dissidents of the Ceausescu regime and extremely popular for his style of communication, Mircea Dinescu was a liberal person. Immediately after the revolution, Hungarian writers from Budapest and Bucharest forged relations and worked on projects . Systematically, the Writers’ Union refused to implicate itself in the nationalist propaganda of the regime nor with writers who collaborated with the new regime led by President Ion Iliescu.

The largest liberal organization in Romania, the Civic Alliance was founded in November 1990. This umbrella organization was created as a result of the cooperation of certain local organizations: the Group for Social Dialog, the Independent Group for Democracy in Bucharest, the Timisoara Society, in the city where the December 1998 revolution started, the November 15 Association in Brasov, Agora in Iasi, and Pro-Europa League in Targu-Mures. The Alliance achieved a national impact from the start. Around 200,000 people in Bucharest responded to the appeal of Civic Alliance in December 1990, and other tens of thousands in the main cities. There had never been a civic mobilization of this proportion up until then.

The Alliance intervened in a spectacular way in the fall of 1991 at a time when a dangerous incitement was about to inflame Transylvania.

Why has Romania not followed in Serbia’s footsteps?
Dennis Sammut’s American mission of July 13, 1994,which I mentioned previously, tried to synthesize its results in four annexes: (1) the main positive security measures that would have been taken by the leading actors in Romania: (2) their actions, perceived as hostile; (3) the preoccupations of the leading actors; (4) their aspirations. But, from the American mission’s point of view, who were the “actors”? Who mattered in settling the Romanian interethnic rapport? The list included: The Romanian Government, the Hungarian Government, the leaders of the Hungarian minority in Romania and the nationalist groups.

In the report presented at the round table in 1994, the American mission failed to mention Romanian civil organizations. It only added international organizations to the list of actors mentioned above.

However, if the only actors in Romania were the ones mentioned there, it is quite likely that the country would have become the center of a considerable interethnic and regional conflict. The example of the Yugoslavian conflict is not necessarily a model but it remains a possible scenario of what could have happened in Romania. The similarities between Slobodan Milosevich’s regime and the regime of Ion Iliescu are far from superficial.

There are 1.8 million Albanians in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In Romania there are around 1.8 million Hungarians. The former enjoy the support of Albania and the possible assistance from Arab countries. The latter, are backed by Hungary and enjoy an undisputed international sympathy. Members of both communities, the Albanians in Yugoslavia and the Hungarians in Romania manifest strong internal solidarity. Both have managed to maintain, years on end, a single representative formation. Both have elaborate projects that rely on internal self-determination.

In Romania, as well as in Yugoslavia, political progress after 1989 was dominated by the problem of the legitimacy of the forces interested in gaining power. In Belgrade, at the moment communism fell, Slobodan Milosevich, a member of the nomenclature, played the nationalist card and won. In Bucharest, after the December 1989 revolution, four former communist leaders close to Moscow appeared in front of the new power structure , the Council of the National Salvation Front. In order to save themselves from the disputes that dominated the capital of the country within a fragile context, they launched an ample xenophobic and nationalist campaign. For this purpose they employed the aid of the entire mass media and administration at their disposal. In Yugoslavia, Milosevich used the secret forces for manipulation, blackmail, crime and whatever actions seemed necessary to accomplish his nationalist strategy. The forces that made up the occult army of Ion Iliescu were interested in saving the members of the former Securitate and did not shy away from starting the bloody confrontations in Targu-Mures.

However, the greatest resemblance between the regime of Ion Iliescu and that of Slobodan Milosevich is the use of certain forces of a paramilitary nature against those who opposed their adventurous politics. President Illiescu called thousands of miners from Valea Jiulu four times in order to settle his political tensions. The first time he called them in January 1990 to intimidate those who disputed his office. The second time, in February 1990, they were called upon in order to crush the demonstrators. The third time the miners were brought to terrorize the Opposition between July 13-15. In September 1991, the miners came again to pull down a government that already seemed too commited to reform.

These examples show that in Romania, as in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Ion Iliescu’s regime stopped at nothing as far as violence is concerned, in order to preserve power. And seeing that Ion Iliescu’s regime had followed the nationalist, anti-minority policy similar to the one adopted by the South-Western regime, it would have been ready to continue the conflict with the Hungarians, which he had constantly incited all those years, to the bloodiest of all confrontations.

By this I am not trying to say that an escalation in the interethnic conflict in Romania would have followed the Yugoslav pattern. Fundamental differences such as the participation of Hungarians in the political life (unlike the Albanians in Kosovo), or the dispersion of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania – where its population doesn’t even reach 35%, - not to mention the fact that they are totally devoid of an arm bearing tradition, are all decisive elements for the configuration of a possible conflict. I am only maintaining that such an escalation could have been very likely, and it would have reached national proportions and would have destabilized the entire region.

Unfortunately, the similarity between Romania and Serbia also extends to the political opposition’s view of the nationalist regime. It is a weak, disunited, mean, confused opposition. The founding of the Romanian Democratic Convention, a coalition of the Opposition, in 1992, was made possible in spite of the wishes of most of the party leaders. The only factor that made this marriage possible was the pressure exercised by prestigious non governmental organizations even to the point of threatening the government. The Civic Alliance was first. The 1996 election campaign that included the control of the electoral system and ensured the 1996 victory of the Opposition, definitely depended on the efforts of the same civic society organizations. Moreover, for years on end the parties of the former Opposition tried to win elections by means of nationalist declarations. Its preoccupation with the “ideal” of a Great Romania was not any less firm than our neighbors’ preoccupation with Great Serbia.

All that has been said so far sheds light on the role of civic activity for the affirmation of Romanian intercultural achievements. However, what can civic activity achieve without the force of concepts? What can it say if it is not fed on academic science?

In order to answer this question, I would like to draw attention to one of the commentaries written by a wonderful philosopher, Richard Rorty. “human rights need passion and courage, not reason and theory” . For him, “the quest for secure philosophical foundations of human rights practice is philosophically doomed to fail and is practically useless”.

There is no doubt that in the formula for human rights we also have to include the rights of minorities.

There is another observation regarding the more general theme of social sciences. They can be viewed from the perspective of solving conflicts more so than from an academic or bookish perspective. This would involve a pragmatic concept of social sciences, an active approach, rather than a theoretical.

The principles mentioned above are related to the theme of the functioning of our concepts. Social sciences have remained abstract for too long. They have lagged far behind the real debates on the public scene. They can only qualify as mature if they become functional. Perhaps this is why social sciences are becoming increasingly integrated in the new paradigm of the science of conflicts.

Finally, something needs to be said regarding the place of details and context within a multicultural doctrine. How would it be possible to understand the status of the Aland islands and Swedish, the official language in Finland, even though there are only 295,000 (5,8%) Swedish-speaking Finnish people, without knowing that Sweden ruled over these lands for hundreds of years, until 1809? The Finnish people have aspired to the Swedish culture. When they became the vassals of the Russian czar and could no longer become Swedish, not wanting to become Russian, they looked after their own identity but maintained respect for the Swedish culture. The fact that today all of the Finnish people have to study Swedish can not be understood only as a measure of protection taken by an important majority but also as an expression of this whole context which can not be found in Romania nor let us say, Bulgaria.

Taking the details into consideration means taking real life into consideration. This is why I believe that social sciences need to be more intimately tied to the civic and political activity. Social sciences represent only the conceptual dimension of the effort we owe to the world, in order to make it more decent. The history regarding the rescue of the interethnic rapport in Romania in these past years is also the history of the way in which the mind succeeded in giving a better chance to people and to human communities.