Draft bill endorsing Hungarian language rights rejected in Parliament

On Wednesday, the Romanian parliament dismissed the draft amendment to the Administrative Code proposed by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (known by its Hungarian acronym of RMDSZ), which would have provided for the protection of some – already obtained – language rights for the ethnic Hungarian minority in Transylvania. The vote was preceded by a heated debate. A few days earlier, President Klaus Iohannis had turned, once again, to his anti-Hungarian rhetoric: On Monday, he had publicly criticized the draft bill, claiming the proposal is dangerous and saying RMDSZ is “trying to promote Hungarian to the status of an official language in Transylvania.” 

Since 2001, the Administrative Codex has provided that in localities where Hungarians make up at least 20 percent of the population, they have the right to use their mother tongue in the institutions of the local administration. Nevertheless, local councils and mayors generally tend to overlook this provision.

Thus, RMDSZ proposed in its draft bill that local administrations should be held legally accountable if they fail in respecting and upholding the law. The right for Hungarians to use their native language would also have been extended to county police offices, besides local administrative institutions.

Another provision was in regard to the symbols expressing Hungarian national, historical, economic and cultural identity, that they should be on display in the jurisdiction of local and county administrations. Thus, for instance, in Szeklerland, where the Hungarian-speaking population is a majority, town leaders would not face litigation and fines for hanging the Szekler flag near the Romanian one on public institutions.

The Chamber of Deputies voted as the decisive house on the draft amendment on Wednesday, rejecting it by 287 votes to 21, with three abstentions. The proposal submitted last year by RMDSZ had passed in the Senate at the end of March, and, according to parliamentary procedure, it was considered to be implicitly adopted, as it was not put on the agenda of the House within the time frame allocated for its debate.

The latest version of the Administrative Code came into effect last summer by a governmental decree. The draft amendment of the RMDSZ had introduced Hungarian language rights, which were then left out, and had also sought to provide for the protection of the existing rights of the Hungarian community. RMDSZ wanted to ensure that these language rights – already obtained – would be respected after the 2021 census, in case the ratio of ethnic Hungarians falls under the 20 percent threshold in some localities.

The vote was preceded by an ardent discussion among the MPs. The president of the RMDSZ, Hunor Kelemen, asked his fellow MPs “to not completely destroy faith in the possibility that there can be a reasonable conversation held in parliament, that there can be meaningful dialogue between ethnic groups, and that everyone can build a better future by upholding one’s own language and culture.”

As the leader of the RMDSZ recounted, the president of Romania a week ago “succeeded in causing huge damage to rational dialogue: In only two and a half minutes, the president managed to ridicule the Hungarian language and stigmatize the Hungarian community.”

“This Monday, Iohannis got on his hobby horse again, claiming that RMDSZ carried out a strike against the country by proposing a parallel Administrative Codex; he said that our requests are unconstitutional and we want to proclaim Hungarian an official language,” detailed Kelemen. As he emphasized, the statements made by Iohannis are completely untrue and qualify as “fake news, conspiracy theory and incitement to ethnic hatred.” RMDSZ only asks for the rights ensured by the Constitution and by the international agreements Romania has signed and ratified, Kelemen underlined. “We ask for the endorsement of our rights, which were obtained in 2001, and to be able to use our community symbols without being punished for it,” said the RMDSZ politician.

Kelemen also reminded his fellow parliamentarians that his party has been fighting for the past 30 years exclusively with the tools of democracy for one main objective: To ensure that after decades of dictatorship and endeavors of forced assimilation, the ethnic, cultural and linguistic survival of the Hungarian community is protected by legal and institutional guarantees. He also drew attention to the fact that RMDSZ has supported every important objective Romania has ever had; integration into both NATO and the EU was achieved by way of common effort.

“The predecessors of our fellow MPs understood that there is a reason for the dialogue between communities, that interethnic peace is a common good, and there is nothing shameful about negotiation and a mutual search for solutions. Not every agreement was perfect, or honest; some of them were not respected at all. But all of them were useful, and Romania did not lose anything [because of them]: neither territory, nor the opportunity for a better life. Let’s not destroy what we have built together,” argued Hunor Kelemen.

Title image: RMDSZ wanted to ensure via the amendment that the already-obtained Hungarian language rights would not be impaired


Author: Éva Zay