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Romanian-Hungarian relations at record low

August 19th, 2013

A left-wing analyst says the protagonists of last week’s angry exchanges all need the conflict to boost their own political plans, but transborder Hungarians in Romania are the ones who will suffer. A liberal columnist, on the other hand, criticizes MSZP leader Attila Mesterházy for reacting to Băsescu’s statement with outrage instead of regarding it as a criticism aimed at PM Orbán. A centre-right columnist from Romania finds it strange that other transborder Hungarians, such as the Hungarians of Slovakia, are much less concerned with their own minority status than Hungarians in Transylvania.

Traian Băsescu’s declaration that Fidesz may not be allowed to hold its traditional Summer Free University in Romania, followed a statement by PM Orbán’s ally, MEP László Tőkés who called for a formal “protective status for Hungary” over Transylvanian Hungarians. Băsescu’s statement surprised most analysts as the Romanian president enjoyed Viktor Orbán’s vocal support last year when he was under attack from Socialist PM Victor Ponta. See BudaPost August 14 and August 13.

In Népszabadság, Levente Szőcs thinks harsh language on all sides is prompted by political pragmatism. President Băsescu may want to organize a new political party after his second term as president expires, since his Democratic Liberal Party has lost most of its constituency. Stirring up nationalist sentiments may seem a useful tool to that end, Szőcs believes, and finds the reaction from the Hungarian government surprisingly subdued, especially in contrast to the rebuttals aimed at PM Ponta for each of his (much less harsh) remarks. As for László Tőkés MEP, he is unlikely to win another mandate on the list of the main party of Hungarians in Romania, since he has set up a new rival right-wing force since then. Szőcs thinks Băsescu cannot hurt Hungarians in Romania right now but PM Ponta does have a few cards up his sleeve, like the regional reform plans which envisage the merger of counties into larger units in a way which would engulf the two Hungarian majority counties into separate (Romanian dominated) regions – or a ban on Hungarian financial support to organizations in Romania. Whatever comes next, transborder Hungarians are likely to suffer, he concludes.

In his Magyar Narancs blog, György C. Kálmán characterizes Attila Mesterházy’s reactions to the diplomatic skirmishes as those of “”. Kálmán thinks the Socialist leader reacts to criticism directed at “anything Hungarian” with the obligatory outrage over ethnic oppression, even though Băsescu’s words were directed at the performance of PM Orbán and his allies at their Summer University in Transylvania. Even worse than this automatic response, continues Kálmán, is the fact that Mesterházy’s “automaton is never switched off” – he goes ahead with the pre-programmed outrage even when silence would be much preferable.

In Heti Válasz, Szilárd Demeter gives the perspective of a Romanian Hungarian on such summer camps. For transborder Hungarians, he says, summer festivals and camps such as the famous Free University are essential building blocks of (cultural) identity. But even though such events are organized in most countries with Hungarian minority groups, these groups rarely meet one another. The “single Hungarian nation” (i.e. the community of ethnic Hungarians within and outside Hungary’s borders) he writes, is still organized from Budapest and minority Hungarians mostly learn about each other through the international press. Demeter, who comes from the Szekler area with a large Hungarian speaking majority, describes how surprised he was to discover that Slovakian Hungarians are far less concerned with the public use of their mother tongue – they simply prefer to avoid certain conflicts, he concludes.

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