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Banner war in Transylvania

February 9th, 2013

Commentators agree that tensions around the use of national symbols in Transylvania help to divert attention from the harsh restrictive measures being taken by the Romanian government. Some, however, also blame the Hungarian government and the RMDSZ, the main Hungarian party in Transylvania.

In February, the Hungarian National Council of Transylvania led by Fidesz-ally MEP László Tőkés called for the establishment of an autonomous Szekler (Székely in Hungarian) region. In support of the initiative, a number of Hungarian majority municipalities in Szekler land hoisted Hungarian and Szekler flags (which had already been on display for years in several municipalities). The county prefects (appointed governmental representatives) of the two counties where Hungarians constitute a majority banned the public display of foreign banners and the Szekler flag, and fined municipal councils which hoisted the Hungarian flag. Zsolt Németh, Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the decision amounts to “a symbolic aggression”, and called for lifting the ban on national symbols. Romanian PM Victor Ponta replied by warning Zsolt Németh to avoid interfering with Romanian domestic issues and added that his country respected European minority protection norms, which do not include territorial autonomy for ethnic minorities. Oszkár Füzes, the Hungarian ambassador told a Bucharest TV station that Hungary would support autonomy for Hungarians in Szeklerland if they so they wished. The Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean summoned Füzes and threatened him with expulsion for what he saw as a transgression. Füzes” statement was later repeated by Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi, who then had a phone conversation with Corlatean in an effort to cool down the conflict.

In Magyar Nemzet, Csaba Lukács notes that the Romanian Parliament has enacted a series of austerity measures, including tax hikes and welfare cuts. The pro-government columnist suggests that the Hungarian banner dispute helps the Romanian government to divert the public”s attention from those painful austerity measures. Lukács finds it sad that Romanian elites have not become more tolerant towards the Hungarian minority and their national symbols in the country.

By supporting autonomy claims, the Hungarian government did , Lehel Király comments in Magyar Hírlap. The right-wing pundit accuses the RMDSZ (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania), the main Hungarian party in Romania with close ties to left-wing parties in Hungary of having sparked the banner war. Király speculates that by stirring up anti-Hungarian sentiments, the RMDSZ hopes that PM Victor Ponta will invite the party into the governing coalition, in order to help to ease the tension between Hungarians and Romania.

, Mária Gál writes in Népszava. As a result of the Hungarian government”s mindless involvement in the banner debate in Transylvania, Hungarians in Romania will now have to suffer from the intensified anti-Hungarian sentiments in their country, the left-wing commentator contends.

Writing in Népszabadság, Levente Szőcs suggests that in addition to the interests of the Romanian government, conflict also serves those in the Hungarian government who sees an opportunity to weaken the RMDSZ and strenghen the Fidesz-ally EMNP (Transylvanian People’s Party). By increasing the tension between Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, the Fidesz government hopes that the RMDSZ will have less elbowroom to broker compromises between the Hungarian minority and Romanians, and thus Hungarians in Transylvania will turn to the more radical EMNP, Szőcs suggests.

, Szilárd István Pap remarks in Kitekintő. The Ponta government plans to reorganize public administration along new regional lines later this year, and the Hungarian political elites want to see Hungarian dominated territories incorporated in a single Hungarian majority region. By stirring fears about Hungarian irredentism, the Romanian government can successfully weaken the Hungarian minority”s claims to a Hungarian majority administrative unit, Pap contends.

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