CST Transylvania - ESSAY
Different people, different destinies:
Transylvanian Hungarians

by Zhidas Daskalovski (MK)


Similar to the Kosovo issue (in Kosovo, both the Albanians and the Serbs have their versions of the history of this province. Needless to say both versions have particular political implications for the present status of Kosovo) is the so-called dispute on Transylvanian history. The problem with the history of Transylvania is that both Romanians and Hungarians have their own interpretations and that accordingly claim the area as their own historical heritage. Hungarians explain that when they conquered the Danube basin at the end of the ninth century, Transylvania was not populated by Romanians but only sparsely occupied by Slavonic tribes. The Hungarians claim that the Romanian population in the region migrated across the Carpathians in the 13th century. The Romanians have their own theory of Daco-Romanian continuity. They say that the inhabitants of Romania, the Dacians, were conquered by the Roman Empire in the first and second centuries AD. and mixed the cultures of the two peoples giving birth to a new Romanian nation and culture. Throughout history Transylvania before 1920 never belonged to a Romanian state. After a period of independence (lingering between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs) in 1867 it became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. However, the 1920 Treaty of Trianon gave Transylvania to Romania.(at the time Transylvania had area of 102,000 sq.km with a total population of 3.5 million of which 1,664,000 were Hungarians-figures from the census of 1910) During the World War II parts of Transylvania (the North) were annexed by Hungary. The Yalta Conference restored Romanian rule in the areas of northern Transylvania. In communist times the Hungarians in Transylvania witnessed a period of autonomy 1952-1968 and a period of assimilation, 1968 to 1989/90. From 1968 to 1989 Romanian dictator Ceaus escu followed a "modernisation policy": forced urbanisation of the population from villages to cities, thus meant destruction of traditional cultural and architectural values. In 1989 the communist regime was overthrown, and a Hungarian party was founded. After the 1996 parliamentary and presidential elections this party become part of the Romanian government.

As we can see, today the Hungarians (Magyars, Szeklers) in Transylvania are a national minority. As a matter of fact 99% of Hungarians in Romania live in: Transylvania. Hungarians in Transylvania practice three religions: Roman Catholic, Calvinist and Unitarian. Hungarians live in 16 counties of Transylvania, where out of a total population of 7.7 million, they make up 20.8 per cent. Around 700,000 Hungarians live in the counties of Harghi?a and Covasna alone - in central Romania and the eastern part of Transylvania - where they constitute between 80 per cent to 95 per cent of the population. However, the number of Hungarians in Transylvania is declining.

According to the 1910 census, of a Transylvanian population of 5.2 million, 32 per cent were Hungarians. Many Hungarians left Transylvania due to political, economic, or historic reasons. Since 1970s it is estimated that more than one hundred thousand Hungarians left Transylvania. The ethnic Hungarian party in Romania claims that 650,000 Hungarians from Romania left since 1919. The changes in ethnic structure of the urban population of Transylvania have been more drastic. Since 1930, the Hungarian population of Transylvanian towns - including Arad, Timis oara, Bras ov, Petro?ani, Aiud, Cluj, Oradea, Satu-Mare and Targu-Mures - have in most places halved. As a result today Romanians make up 74 per cent of the Transylvanian population, an increase of 20 per cent since 1910. During communism and especially after Nicolae Ceaus escu came to power in 1965, Romanian feared that Hungarians from Transylvania might ask for secession. Due both to its size and to its strong ties to Hungarian culture, the Hungarians in Transylvania have been a particular victim of Ceaus escu's "homogenisation." Hungarians have resisted the "solution of emigration." (Germans have emigrated in large numbers). Ethnic Hungarians used to be referred to as "Hungarian-speaking Romanians," in an effort to detract further from their separate identity. In the 1980s, the Romanian state attempted assimilation and tried to deprive the Hungarians of their sense of cultural and linguistic identity.

Because of the government policies in the past and several unpleasant incidents couple of years ago Hungarians feel uncomfortable in Transylvania. The violent clashes on March 19-20, 1990 in Tirgu-Mures , as well as extreme nationalist mayor Gheorghe Funar's overt anti-Hungarian manifestations in Cluj are the most bitter memories. The clashes in Tirgu-Mures erupted after weeks of interethnic tensions over the status of mixed schools and other institutions. Leader of the chauvinistic Party of Romanian National Unity, Gheorghe Funar, asks for the outlawing of the DAHR, as a terrorist organisation. As a mayor in Cluj, he banned all bilingual signs, all Hungarian posters, forbade the spreading of the Hungarian satellite Duna TV and stipulated that all communiqués, announcements, and advertisements could appear only in Romanian (using the Article 13). Furthermore, he threatened with the removal of the statue of Hungarian King Mátyás and the Catholic Saint Michael Cathedral (both having a strong symbolical significance for the Hungarian community) from the city's main square. Another incident concerns Hungarian consulate opened in Cluj, where the Hungarian flag was stolen soon after it was opened. Mayor Funar announced that he would make the thieves honorary citizens of Cluj.

The legal status of Hungarians in Romania changed after the revolution in 1989-90. The situation today is defined by the 1991 New Constitution (approved in a referendum) In Article 1 Romania is defined as "a nation state, sovereign, unitary and indivisible." This particular article was the main object of dispute. To the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR), it did not sufficiently take into account the existence of Romania's 16 national minorities. The phrase was also interpreted as potentially suggesting that members of national minorities are 'inferior' citizens against whom the state may discriminate.

Articles 6 and 16 guarantee minorities the right "to the preservation, development and expression" of identity, including education in the mother tongue, and affirms the equality of rights and freedom from discrimination. The constitution additionally provides for deputies appointed by national minorities to be represented in the parliament. Article 13 "In Romania, the official language is Romanian" was also criticised by DAHR for not guaranteeing the use and teaching of native minority languages. The 1993 National Minorities Law provides full mother-tongue education in schools, provision for officials to speak the relevant languages in areas of minority settlement, and bilingual signposts in municipalities where a minority makes up more than 30 per cent of the local population. The 1997 government ordinance lowered the percentage to 20 per cent. Draft bill envisages the establishment of autonomous communities and special status districts in areas of majority Hungarian settlement.

The 1995 New Penal Code imposes up to one year's imprisonment for 'the displaying of the flag or insignia or the playing of the national anthem of other states'"

Romania does not legally restrict the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. In Romania, election law allows for the representation of each minority by one parliamentary deputy if that minority's party fails to win sufficient votes to be elected to office. Hungarians are represented by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR, sometimes known as HDFR or UDMR), an umbrella interest group which also functions as a formal political party. It was officially set up on 25 December 1989 and claims half a million members. Its main goal is the strengthening of local governments. This concept is based on the West-European principle of subsidiary - the devolution of authority for various matters at the lowest possible levels - and would mean a redefinition of central/local power-sharing relations. Romanians see DAHR as a tool of ancient Hungarian irredentism. In 1996 parliamentary elections, DAHR won 25 seats out of 343 seats in the Lower House and 11 seats out of 143 seats in the Senate. New Prime Minister Victor has recruited two Hungarians to his cabinet: Gyorgy Torday, Secretary of State heading the newly-created Office for Minorities and Akos Birtala, Minister of Tourism.

The bone of contention between the Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania has been the issue of introduction of Hungarian language in Transylvanian schools. Especially poignant has been the problem of the University of Cluj. It is important to note that the mother tongue of the Hungarians in Romania is mostly Hungarian, which belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic group of the Uralic family, along with the Ob-Ugric languages, Mansi and Khanty, spoken in Western Siberia. Among the languages of Europe, Hungarian is related only to Finnish and Estonian. The language has been written in a modified Latin alphabet since the 13th century, and its orthography was stabilised from the 16th century with the introduction of printing. Surrounded by non-Uralic languages, Hungarian has borrowed many words from such sources as Iranian, Turkic, Caucasian, Slavic, Latin, and German. Its phonography and grammar are, however, typically Uralic.

The earliest written literature in Hungary was religious writings in Latin, beginning about the middle of the 11th century. When written texts in Hungarian stared to appear, they were almost exclusively religious in nature and were often translations from Latin. This written tradition coexisted with an oral tradition of folk songs and tales. The most influential single work in the development of a Hungarian national language was Gaspar Karoli`s translation of the Bible (1590), which appeared at the end of a Hungarian Reformation. In the end of the eighteenth century Joseph II declared German as an official language of the empire (instead of Latin). During the first half of the XIX the century Hungarian National Assembly passed several laws claiming Hungarian to be recognised as an official language in Hungarian territories. The struggle between the Hungarian Assembly and central government in Vienna ended with the Act of National Minorities in which Hungarian was recognised as the first official language in the Hungarian territory of the Dual Monarchy. Language reforms of the nineteenth century made Hungarian more accessible to wide strata of population.

Nowadays Hungarian is spoken primarily in Hungary (97% of the population oh Hungary, which is about 10,326,000) but also in Slovakia (700,000) Romania (1,720000) and Yugoslavia (300,000) as well as in scattered groups elsewhere in the world. There are also small Hungarian minorities in the Ukraine, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria who speak Hungarian. Hungarian Dialects can be divided into nine regions, three of them being on Romanian territory: Central Transylvanian dialects, Transylvanian (Szekler) dialects and Csango dialects.

In Transylvania, besides Hungarians, there is another group of people that uses Hungarian as a mother tongue the Szeklers. The Szeklers (or Secui in Romanian: 600,000-700,000) are a distinct ethnic group close to Hungarians and living predominantly in the counties of Covasna, Harghi?a and Mures. In the 1997 census, respondents could return their nationality as Szekler but most of them declared themselves as being Hungarians. The Szekler speak Hungarian, in fact the intellectuals in both Romania and Hungary agree that the Szeklers speak the purest form of Hungarian.

The University of Cluj and the problems with the government: A short history:


1581-1603 Hungarian University in Cluj
1924 The Romanian Primary Education Act provides special benefits to Romanian teachers in national minority areas to counteract "denationalisation by alien elements"
1945 The Bolyai State University is organised in Cluj, thereby re-establishing Hungarian university level education in Transylvania
1959 The Hungarian Bolyai University is merged with the Romanian Babes University and renamed. At all lower levels of education as well a similar merger leads to absorption of Hungarian schools by Romanian schools. The principle of unification of Hungarian and Romanian institutions was extended to include houses of culture, theatres, folklore groups etc.
1968 Policy of assimilation: number of subjects which might be taught in minority languages was reduced, cultural organisations declined
1969 The University of Bucharest re-opens a department of Hungarian literature
1990 Government regulation no.521: expansion of minority language education, expansion of minority cultural facilities and publications
1993 National Minorities Law provides for full mother-tongue education in schools
1995 Education Law (European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Romania for the education law which, as it was stated, infringed the rights to education, as well as other rights, of national minorities)
1997 amendments to the Law on Education doing away with provisions which were viewed as discriminatory 

The Hungarian New Education Law (1993) omitted the right to instruction in mother tongue at all levels of public education, from primary school through high school and university, the right to instruction in the mother tongue in vocational schools, and failed to reinstate government financing of education in minority Church schools. Provision states that even in the schools in which the instruction is to be conducted in the language of a national minority, courses in history and geography are still conducted solely in the Romanian language.

The new law on education prohibits the use of public funds for minority-language universities and denominational schools. A specification made entrance examination to institute of higher education compulsory in the Romanian language, even in those few institutes where teaching was conducted in Hungarian. The Education law precluded any restitution of confiscated confessional schools (81.6% of the nationalised schools by communists had been Magyar establishments, their number totalling 1,300).

The amendments (1997) provide instruction in the mother tongue at all levels of education and abolish the provision stating that subjects such as history and geography have to be studied in Romanian. It also allows high-school exams and university entrance tests to be taken in Hungarian. On July 9, the government approved an "urgent ordinance" allowing the immediate implementation of this decision. This was done after the DAHR had threatened to leave the ruling coalition.

The Hungarians in Transylvania and DAHR are active and campaign to re-establish an autonomous state-owned Hungarian-language university and struggle for autonomous educational systems from the level of kindergarten to that of university (signature campaign in support of this legislation).

According to 1994 government statistics about 80 per cent of Hungarian children receive some mother-tongue instruction in schools. Hungarian-language education was available in 329 elementary schools, 241 middle schools and 33 secondary schools. In a further 78 elementary schools, 455 middle schools and 118 secondary schools, Hungarian children shared facilities with Romanians, while having part of the curriculum delivered in the mother tongue.

Given the facts I can conclude the following: the Communist regime in Romania was among the harshest in Central and Eastern Europe and resulted in widespread repression of the whole population, where especially minorities experienced a decline in educational and cultural opportunities. After the revolution of 1989, Hungarians rapidly asserted their rights. Relations between majority and minority communities in Transylvania can be described as peaceful in spite of occasional extremist statements and provocations mainly from right-wing Romanian parties, including the threatened demolition of Hungarian cultural monuments. However, these did not arise in inter-ethnic tensions.

With the participation of the Hungarian Party in the government since 1996, the issue of minority rights can be regarded as the most important success of the new political leadership in Romania. Several legislative changes have been made in order to again grant national minorities the rights which they have enjoyed for decades and to fulfil Romania's international commitments. However, in spite of all these achievements, several aspects have remained unchanged.  


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last update: 11 JUL 2002 by Ralph