The Hungarians

Resentments between Romanians and Hungarians feed on a twofold frustration. Until 1918, the Romanians of Transylvania were generally looked down on by the Hungarians. They were largely peasants, with few townspeople and intellectuals among them, while Hungarians made up the ruling class. After 1918, the roles were reversed. Moreover, the Hungarians are concerned at their ongoing decline in the Transylvania population. At the beginning of the century, Hungarian speakers constituted almost a third; now they are less than a quarter. Then they were in the majority of the towns; now, they are in the minority even there. Greater Hungary had tried to include the Transylvania Romanians in the Hungarian nation. However, the Romanians remained Romanian, preferring Bucharest to Budapest. Now, the situation is somewhat similar for the Hungarians. To which nation do they belong? They now look towards Budapest as the Romanians once looked towards Bucharest. Their project is to gain as many concessions as they can in linguistic, cultural and administrative matters within the context of a political system as decentralized as possible – exactly the opposite of the Romanian tradition of centralization and the "unitary national-state". At least in the present context there can be no question of autonomy for Transylvania (where the Hungarians would have a greater weigh than they have in Romania as a whole). Even autonomy for the two Hungarian-majority counties in eastern Transylvania would not be accepted by Romanians – nor would it be completely favorable to the Hungarians, whom it would divide. Do the Hungarians' demand is for an enhanced degree of administrative decentralization, coupled with the official use of the Hungarian language alongside Romanian in areas where they make up a significant proportion of the population. The problem of a Hungarian university has proved to be a thorny one (and is unresolved). Hungarians enjoy a complete system of pre-university education, but feel that since they pay taxes like the rest of the population, they are entitled to their own state university. The Rumanians do not look kindly on the idea. Such a university would put in question the very philosophy of the "national state"; Romanian opinion is that it would end in the creation of a sort of cultural apartheid. The compromise solution currently being tried (but without much conviction!) is a multicultural university, with classes taught in Hungarian and German, as well as in Romanian. The feeling of many Romanians is that the Hungarian leaders are preoccupied exclusively with their own problems rather than those of the country as a whole, and that if present demands are met, they will be followed by an endless succession of other, The Hungarians of Romania and their fellows in Hungary are seen as having worrying intentions where Transylvania is concerned. As in Romania, there are extremist nationalists in Hungary too; now and then, voices are heard talking of Greater Hungary or bemoaning the plight of the Hungarians who live outside the country's borders. However, all of this has been much exaggerated by Romanian nationalists, as it was at certain moments by the pre-1996 government (for whom the "Hungarian peril" proved to be an efficient election slogan). Some find it suspicious that Hungarian businesses prefer to invest their money in Transylvania, instead of crossing the mountains into other Romanian regions. What is certain is that Hungary is "attractive", not only to Transylvania Hungarians but also to plenty of Romanians along the western border. The explanation is simple. Hungary seems to be doing better than Romania in every respect. All the same political relations between Romania and Hungary are generally good. A Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation on the Franco-German model is in sight, there is still a long way to go, but a few steps have been taken. The tendency is towards resolution, not conflict. Europe can rest easy. Transylvania is not, and is in no danger of becoming a Bosnia or a Kosovo. European integration will resolve many things. As borders become more abstract, the Hungarians of Transylvania and those of Hungary will find themselves much closer together, without Romanian unity being threatened. If the European project succeeds, the problem of minorities will also be resolved. Romania: Borderland of Europe Reaktion Books, £19.95, 2001

by Lucian Boia (b. 1944)