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The failed reburial of József Nyirő in Transylvania

May 30th, 2012

Commentators across the political spectrum find the Hungarian-Romanian diplomatic incident over writer József Nyirő’s reburial sad but absurd. Right-wing commentators claim that Nyirő was not a National Socialist radical and blame the Romanian government and left-leaning Romanian Hungarians for the conflict. Left-wing columnists suggest that the Hungarian government has exacerbated tensions by commemorating a Fascist writer.

József Nyirő was a Catholic priest who became a writer after Transylvania was annexed to Romania in 1920. His works, according to the government’s new draft curricula, should in future be taught in Hungarian high schools.  In 1941, after the reannexation of Transylvania to Hungary, Nyirő became a Member of Parliament in Hungary and as such went into exile in 1945. He died in Spain in 1953, and his last wish was to be buried in his homeland. At the initiative of the Hungarian Civic Party (MPP), a small Hungarian ethnic party in Transylvania, the Office of the Hungarian Parliament initiated his reburial. The new Romanian government, however, regards Nyirő as a Hungarian irredentist writer. Nyirő’s reburial, which was scheduled for Sunday (28 May) was cancelled after the Romanian authorities withdrew permission, claiming that the document carried the wrong registration number. Romanian PM Victor Ponta called the reburial a provocation.

The spirit of the 1980s is back in Romania. … The Ponta government in two weeks has enacted as many anti-Hungarian measures as the Ceausescu government did in its heyday,” Csaba Lukács writes in Magyar Nemzet.

On Friday the Romanian police detained Csaba Lukács, one of the organizers of the reburial, who was on his way to the burial site. The Romanian police mistakenly believed that Lukács was trying to secretly smuggle Nyirő’s remains into the country. Lukács was indeed carrying an urn, but, as it turned out during six hours of police interrogation, it was empty.

Lukács believes that the “country-wide hysteria” in Romania in reaction to the planned reburial of the Hungarian writer shows how little Romania has progressed in the past twenty years in the recognition of the rights of its minorities.

In Magyar Hírlap, Zsolt Bayer accuses the politicians of the main ethnic Hungarian party in Romania (RMDSZ) of collaborating with the Romanian authorities, who banned the reburial. Bayer also hints that Géza Szőcs, Under-Secretary at the Ministry of National Resources in Budapest managed to deceive the Romanian authorities by smuggling Nyirő’s remains into Transylvania to the commemoration event which was held instead of the reburial.

In the same daily, László Szentesi Zöldi writes that Nyirő was “an honest and decent Hungarian writer”, who is gratuitously accused of anti-Semitism and of being a National Socialist. Szentesi Zöldi also suggests that Romanians are guests in the territories where there is an overwhelming Hungarian ethnic majority, despite the fact that these regions now belong to Romania. “It is the patriotic duty of every Hungarian,” he proposes, “to stand up for Nyirő’s reburial.”

In Élet és Irodalom, András Nyerges discusses an article and two speeches by Nyirő during the Second World War, which Nyerges believes leave little doubt about Nyirő’s anti-Semitism and support for National Socialist ideas. In the article, Nyirő praised Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. In one of the speeches, Nyirő called for Hungarian cultural life to be cleansed of Jewish and cosmopolitan influences.

In its front page coverage of the affair, Népszava notes that politicians of the RMDSZ (the main Hungarian party in Romania and until recently a member of the Romanian government), similarly to the new Romanian government, consider Nyirő a Fascist writer, and do not support his reburial.

Writing in Népszava, Iván Andrassew criticizes László Kövér, Speaker of the House for his speech at the Nyirő commemoration. László Kövér sharply criticized the Romanian government, and called the banning of the reburial and the Romanian police hunt for Nyirő’s ashes “uncivilized”, “barbarous”,” hysterical”,” paranoid” and “comic” acts. He also said, however that a clear distinction should be drawn between the writer’s literary heritage and his political career. Romanian PM Victor Ponta condemned the Hungarian government’s involvement in what he considers the radical agenda of the far-right. PM Ponta has also ordered the Prefect of Hargita County to investigate whether the naming of streets and schools in Transylvania after József Nyirő is in line with Romanian law.

Andrassew reads Kövér’s speech as proof that the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament considers the wartime National Socialist establishment a “predecessor” of the current government. In conclusion, Andrassew finds the whole debate “absurd”, and wonders who will be the victim of the new Hungarian-Romanian diplomatic clashes.

It is unprecedented that the Speaker of Parliament of an EU member state should use such language,” writes Endre Aczél in Népszabadság on Kövér’s speech. But he also considers the Romanian reactions absurd. Aczél finds it striking that the only Hungarian party Fidesz openly backs in Romania, the EMNP, led by MEP László Tőkés has remained silent throughout the controversy. In fact, the controversial ceremony took place under the auspices of the MPP, its rival in challenging the RMDSZ. The RMDSZ is by far the largest Hungarian party in Romania. Speaker László Kövér is honorary chairman of the MPP, which organised the ceremony. The left-wing columnist suspects that Mr Kövér promoted the reburial on his own initiative, without the backing of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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