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Diplomatic row over Romania’s national holiday

December 7th, 2016

Commentators disagree on whether the Foreign Minister was right to ban his diplomats from attending the commemoration ceremony of the Romanian Embassy in Budapest on Romania’s National Holiday that symbolises the transfer of Transylvania from Hungary to Romania in 1918, after World War I.

Romania made 1 December, the Anniversary of the Alba Iulia Assembly (where ethnic Romanians of Transylvania declared their wish to annex their region to the Romanian Kingdom) its national holiday in 1990. In 2002, Socialist Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy was fiercely criticised by the right-wing opposition for attending an anniversary ceremony in Budapest with his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Nastase.  This year Hungarian diplomats were forbidden by Foreign Minister Péter Szíjjártó to attend the commemoration held at the Romanian Embassy. The Romanian Foreign Ministry reacted with a statement: “the right of nations to celebrate their values and national symbols is one of the fundamental values of the European Union and the Atlantic community.” Former president Traian Basescu who is running with his new Popular Movement Party for seats in parliament on Sunday this week demanded the immediate expulsion of the Hungarian Ambassador to Bucharest, “otherwise these adventurers of Viktor Orbán’s government will never realise that Romania’s real territory extends up to the River Tisza.”

In Népszava, Mária Gál warns that the controversy over the anniversary risks escalationg as the centenary of the Alba Iulia assembly is approaching. She thinks both sides should avoid conflicts over symbolic issues and fears that it will be the 1.3 million Hungarians in Romania that will be the victims of mounting tension. “The internet is already swarming with an unprecedented wave of hateful comments on both Hungarian and Romanian social media sites”, she warns.

On Válasz, Szabolcs Vörös criticises Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén who laid the blame for the controversy on the Romanian side, saying that the only mistake Hungary’s diplomacy had made was “not banging earlier on the table.” Vörös believes that the incident fits into the logic of the electoral campaign in which Hungary’s governing parties are backing RMDSZ, the main party of ethnic Hungarians in Romania which is allied with a smaller party (EMNP) which was formerly supported by Fidesz. “There are not enough Hungarian voters left to be divided”, he writes, as the RMDSZ which used to win over 7 per cent of the votes in Romania earlier, now risks falling below the 5 per cent threshold. (A special rule applies for ethnic minorities which will propel RMDSZ candidates into Parliament anyway).

On Krónika, a Hungarian news site edited in Cluj, Romania, editor Szabolcs Rostás writes that the 1st of December is a day of mourning for Hungarians on both sides of the border. He does not deny Romanians the right to celebrate it, but asks them not to expect Hungarians to join them in those celebrations. He also rejects the claim made by the Romanian Foreign Ministry that Romania’s national values and symbols are not being treated with due respect. “As if those principles of respect were not being trampled underfoot by the Romanian authorities when it comes to the Hungarian community”, he writes, in a hint at frequents incidents of clampdowns on Hungarian settlements which hoistthe Szekler flag on their buildings.

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