Romanian President Klaus Iohannis signed into law on Wednesday that June 4, the day the Treaty of Trianon ending World War I was signed causing Hungary to lose a sizeable part of its territory to Romania, will become a national holiday, Romanian news agency Agerpres reports. Please find below our answers to the 10 most pertinent questions regarding the law,
What will Romania celebrate?
In short: One of the peace treaties that officially ended World War I, the Treaty of Trianon divided more than two-thirds of the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary among its neighbors. This territory included the Kingdom of Romania, the Czechoslovak Republic, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and — most ironically — the First Austrian Republic, which is considered the half of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire that was involved in igniting World War I even if it was not directly responsible for causing the war.
Doesn’t Romania already celebrate that?
It does. December 1 is also a national day, on which Romania celebrates the exact same thing, although a different legal act: The day when an assembly of ethnic Romanians declared the unification of Transylvania with Romania Gyulafehárvár (Alba Iulia in Romanian), which was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
What does this mean in practical terms?
June 4 will be a national holiday in Romania during which — as with all other national holidays — the national flag must be flown on all state institutions. But as is always the case with symbolic politics, this goes beyond the practical and immediate effects.
So who benefits?
While the bill was submitted by Social-Democrat (PSD) MP and former foreign minister Titus Corlățean, both his party and the liberal PNL currently in power have ample reasons to divert voters’ attention from the country’s and their respective parties’ track record over the past few years. In the past 10 years, Romania has had as many governments, and in December, it will hold presidential elections.
Does the ethnic German President of Romania agree with the law?
In short: no. It’s no secret that Iohannis has little love for the Hungarian minority — he even leveled separatist accusations against the ethnic Hungarians and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. But he is nearing the end of his second — and per the Constitution, last term — hence has no direct stake in the upcoming election.
Iohannis, in fact, exhausted all legal avenues available to him to block the law. In June, he referred the law to the Romanian Constitutional Court (RCC), but the RCC rejected his complaint of unconstitutionality.
In September, President Iohannis called for a review of the law, but the law was adopted in its original form, with the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Romanian Parliament) rejecting the head of state’s request. In the motivation of the request for re-examination, it was shown that the law sent for promulgation generated numerous criticisms, both from experts and non-governmental organizations.
Are ethnic tensions really that high in Romania?
Usually, and at the level of ordinary citizens, no. But there is an undeniable — even if mostly dormant — animosity between the majority nation and ethnic Hungarians for historic reasons. These tend to spike up whenever the powers that be play the national card for their real or perceived short-term interests.
What can ethnic Hungarians do?
Not much. Hunor Kelemen, President of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (known by its Hungarian acronym of RMDSZ) did say during the debate on the law in the Romanian Parliament that “It is a completely useless law that showcases the power of the Romanian majority and thus betrays its guilt.” But in meaningful terms, Iohannis has already explored all legal avenues within the country.
Can’t the ethnic Hungarians seek help from the European Union?
Through their MEPs — ethnic Hungarians have two of them — they can and most likely will raise the issue in the European Parliament, but besides gaining some sympathy from those so inclined, it would avail very little. The European Union has a long-standing policy of non-interference in ethnic conflicts within individual member states.
Will this not deteriorate Hungarian-Romanian relations?
Perhaps it will, but not to any meaningful degree. Relations are already just above freezing point, with bilateral contacts largely limited to immediate issues such as the current coronavirus pandemic — the two countries are, after all, neighbors — and issues pertaining to the European Union and NATO, both of which they are members.
Could this dark cloud have a silver lining?
Maybe. RMDSZ and the smaller parties of the ethnic Hungarian population could carefully use this to motivate their voters to turn up in larger numbers at the December 6 legislative elections. If their campaign is successful, the ethnic Hungarian minority could end up with a parliamentary presence larger than its numeric weight.
Title image: A woman exits a voting cabin with curtains in the colors of the country’s national flag in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Romanians were voting in a presidential runoff election in which incumbent Klaus Iohannis was vying for a second term, against Social Democratic Party leader Viorica Dancila, a former prime minister. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)