Joe Biden considered it his duty to learn more about human rights and minority issues in both the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe; he was also interested in the Romanian-Hungarian relationship and listened to solutions proposed by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (known by its Hungarian acronym of RMDSZ), Béla Markó, a former RMDSZ president and senator who met the United States president-elect in 1999, told maszol.ro.
According to the Hungarian news portal in Romania, Biden came to Bucharest, Romania as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs more than 20 years ago. At that time, he learned more about the situation of Hungarians living in Romania.
“Back then, I had several opportunities to meet with European and American diplomats and politicians because Washington and Brussels were very present in this region, as in the 1990s, the post-socialist countries had several unresolved issues, not to mention the war in former Yugoslavia. In 1999, for example, we were very far from resolving the situation in Kosovo, as the independence of Kosovo was proclaimed nine years later. So a part of this region was a war hotspot, while there were unsolved nationality and ethnic questions in other parts, plus the economy was in a bad situation,” Béla Markó told maszol.ro. As Markó said, the institutes of Western democracy were formed and built in the 1990s, and Washington saw the avoidance of ethnic conflicts as an integral part of democratic construction, which required the establishment of an appropriate minority rights framework in these countries.
As the former RMDSZ president said, the U.S. Senate often had a decisive say in foreign affairs, so they received Biden, a well-known politician, with “exceptional attention.” According to Markó, Biden was genuinely interested in Romania and met with him, former President Emil Constantinescu, former Prime Minister Radu Vasile and the minister of foreign affairs at the time, Andrei Pleșu.
“I felt like he was trying to find a solution with us for the Romanian-Hungarian relationship within Romania. We discussed that it wasn’t enough to formulate general principles for Romania and that more than simple recommendations were needed,” Markó told maszol.ro. He also mentioned that at the same time, the Council of Europe had adopted several minority rights recommendations that were not considered mandatory by Romanian politicians.
As Markó said, he was the one who proposed that mandatory conditions regarding human and minority rights should be set up for Romania and that the country should be accepted in international institutions if it complies with these conditions. Markó added that he compared this to the IMF, which takes the economy into consideration in some countries, like in the case of Romania where loans were tied to some reforms being met. “It was a great satisfaction for me that Joe Biden agreed to this,” Béla declared, adding that several of those conditions were met.
“The RMDSZ had been in the government for three years in 1999. The restitution process started at that time […] and Washington urged the restitution of church goods and real estate, as well as private property, for years. I think that due to this pressure, even though some issues surrounding restitution are still unsolved, the return of nationalized goods in Romania was quite widespread,” Markó explained. This wasn’t merely due to Washington’s or Brussels’s intervention, as the RMDSZ solved several problems concerning education and language usage, but the support of Europe and America helped their cause.
In the 2000s, this pressure eased, not only in the case of Romania but also in this region in general, as the United States no longer gave such importance to human and minority rights issues, Markó added. In the end, he summed up his discussions with the president-elect: “It was not a consequence of Joe Biden’s visit that some things were solved, but he was an important politician who approached this issue very well, and we were able to agree on many things.”
Regarding the results of the presidential election in America, Markó expressed his hope that the United States will once again pay greater attention to minority and human rights and won’t turn away from the world’s major problems. The former RMDSZ president said that the Trump government was not really interested in minority or human rights in this region or in other parts of the world, as well as some other important issues.
“It is not only the case of minority rights, but the exiting of the Paris climate agreement and other measures that showed the United States was unwilling to make certain sacrifices or cooperate as it had before to solve the world’s global problems. I don’t think that America should always have a word in what we should do, but, but the United States is a dominant power on this planet, and from this point of view, it needs to be involved in solving important issues. It seems like the United States turned inward, which is not a good thing,” Markó said.
According to Markó, this might change under the presidency of Biden, as he was involved in foreign affairs and knows the issues of this region and the problems the world faces. The former RMDSZ president thinks a change in approach is necessary, as we have to face “the flourishing of populism all over the world” and because the trust in democracy has decreased. “At the same time, authoritarian ideas have strengthened around the world, and, again, I just hope that this changes somewhat. I am not naïve, I don’t think that everything will be different immediately, but what happens in the United Stated might be important for us,” Markó said.
Title image: Béla Markó, former leader of RMDSZ, former Senator. Photo: rfi.ro