Blog

Iohannis’ speech sparks Romanian-Hungarian diplomatic row

It is rather interesting how the draft bill of autonomy for Szeklerland caused the Romanian president to blow a fuse, prompting him to issue a strong message with nationalist rhetoric in which he suggested that speaking Hungarian is an anomaly and accused the ethnic Hungarian minority in Transylvania, the Social Democratic Party, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of plotting to give Transylvania to Hungary. This kind of speech brings to mind the rhetoric of Greater Romania Party leader Vadim Tudor, who strongly rejected any initiative for dialogue between nationalities, as he saw autonomy as a threat to the territorial integrity of the state.

The reason behind Iohannis’ well-publicized rage is still unknown: Did he take out his last ace, the nationalist card, because the popularity of his party has experienced a steep downhill trend since January (January: 47 percent, now: only 33 percent)? We are still looking for an explanation for his unprecedented outburst that painted the Hungarian language as an anomaly.

Klaus Iohannis must have forgotten that he is the president of a country populated by many nationalities, including Hungarians, who have voted him in as president. Now, he incites hatred against Hungarians. Both Hunor Kelemen, President of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (known by its Hungarian acronym of RMDSZ) and PSD President Marius Ciolacu vehemently denounced Iohannis’ baseless accusations.

Those who take the time to read the draft bill’s document of argumentation would see that the president’s rhetoric builds upon the longtime threat used by nationalist parties: The threat that autonomy is the first step towards secession. By contrast, the autonomy for Szeklerland bill builds on a dialogue between the majority and minority and represents an intermediate solution that makes it possible to avoid both the forced assimilation of minority groups and the secession of part of the state’s territory. Autonomy thus strengthens the integration of the minorities within the state and is a constructive element promoting peace, as detailed in the documentation submitted to the European Commission in 2003.

In an interview with Agerpres on Wednesday, the Romanian minister of the interior, Marcel Vela, dismissed the thought of autonomous regions, claiming that it is not European: “In a European vision, these autonomous, independent areas no longer have a place in the third millennium,” Vela said. His message aligns with the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which strongly rejects such initiatives by default. The ministry claims that the initiative [i.e., Szeklerland autonomy] is against the Romanian constitution, and it strongly rejects any dialogue on this matter that could serve as a compromise aimed at ensuring respect for territorial integrity in a state that recognizes the cultural diversity of its population.

And thus we reach the root of the problem:

“The concept of autonomy also presupposes the development of balanced relations in a state both between the majority and the minority and between minorities. If in the

past the majority disregarded the identity and rights of minorities for a long time or resorted to violence to combat the aspirations of these minorities, the more difficult it will

be to enter into a dialogue and envisage the grant of autonomy,”

according to one research piece entitled, “Positive experiences of autonomous regions as a source of inspiration for conflict resolution in Europe.”

The Romanian Ministry of Foreign affairs also called out its Hungarian counterpart, Péter Szijjártó, who had previously reacted in a video, calling Iohannis’ message “specifically uncivilized and capable of inciting hatred” and asking the president to show some respect toward the Hungarian community living in Transylvania.

Péter Szijjártó’s request for respect toward Hungarians, a request made due to Klaus Iohannis’ statements about the Szeklerland Autonomy draft bill, is “provocative and unsuitable,” the press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reads. It further claims that the Hungarian counterpart “unfortunately misconstrued the President’s statement,” and that this topic is strictly an internal matter. There is no need to take a position on this matter.

So, the ministry considers Szijjártó’s statement, which called the president’s speech “capable of inciting hatred,” provocative and unsuitable. Additionally, the release states that Szijjártó should revise his attitude and actions, which in effect disrespected Romanian high-ranking officials.

As to respect for Hungarians populating the Transylvanian region? That’s off-topic or doesn’t matter.

Title image: Szekler flag flown at the Csíksomlyó/Șumuleu Ciuc pilgrimage

Author: István Fekete