A public controversy has shaken the Romanian society once again in the last two weeks as nationalist voices - including Government officials -, have harshly criticized the gesture of ethnic Hungarian mayors to hoist the flag of the Szeklerland on town halls and other public buildings.
The Szeklers are a regional community within the ethnic Hungarian minority living in Romania with a strong sense of national identity. They live in a compact group, mostly in two Transylvanian counties: Kovászna (Covasna) and Hargita (Harghita), where they represent the majority, while the Romanian population lives in local minority. Together with a part of a third county Maros (Mures) this geographical area is the historical Szeklerland. Its inhabitants have been known as a compact community ever since the Middle Ages, benefiting from a differentiated status and a package of privileges from the princes of Transylvania, as they were ensuring the defence of the Eastern boarders.
At the beginning of this year, the controversy started in the context of two crucial topics for the Hungarian community on the Romanian political agenda. The first one is the amendment of the Constitution and the second one is an administrative reform consisting in the creation of new regions grouping several of the 42 existing counties in some larger administrative units. The goal is to increase the regional development and to better attract the EU funding.
The RMDSZ is in favour of a constitutional reform, starting with the article one of the Constitution, as a state with 19 recognized national minorities represented in Parliament can hardly be referred to as a „nation state”. On the administrative reform the RMDSZ firmly believes that one of the principles of the creation of new regions should be their historical and cultural background, allowing ethnic Hungarians to form a compact community - by grouping in one single region consisting of the counties where they live in majority. Furthermore the newly regions should have strong administrative powers - local autonomy - to gradually change the highly centralized administration of Romania. Unfortunately the public speech of Romanian politicians considers these proposals as threats to the integrity of the state. The request for increased regional autonomy is misinterpreted as a wish to split off territory from the Romanian State. As soon as this community starts discussing regional devolution of administrative powers, Romanian public opinion seems to prefer the communist fashioned centralized administration or the creation of artificial regions with no historical background whatsoever, hoping that they would still be economically viable and take the road of regional development without any prerequisite regional identity.
In this context the hoisting of the historical flag of the Szeklerland was just the tiny spark necessary for the explosion of vehement nationalist discourses. The prefect of Covasna County filled over 25 complaints in court against ethnic Hungarian mayors having hoisted the Szekler flag on their town halls. In fact the Romanian legislation does not forbid the use and the hoisting of regional historical flags; the only regulation refers the use of national flags. Although invoked by some officials, these regulations do not apply to the present issue.
The Neamt Fortress with the traditional flag of the Moldavian Region
A number of regional historical flags of other Romanian regions are being hoisted on several public buildings, without triggering public scandal or court proceedings. Moreover, the term „land” / “country” which was largely criticized by nationalist voices, is used with its meaning of historical region in the heraldic description of regional coats of arms in several Government Ordinances authorizing the latter’s official use.
In this context the President of the RMDSZ, Mr. KELEMEN Hunor, spoke about an „artificially created problem”. He stressed that „all the communities in Romania including the ethnic communities do have their heraldic symbols which they use, and such is the case of the ethnic Hungarian community living in Kovászna and Hargita Counties as well. The use of these symbols is natural and it does not offend the national interest or the fundamental values of the Romanian state, nor the rights of its other citizens. It is time that normality prevails in Romania also related to such issues”.
Moreover, just across the border, in Hungary, ethnic Romanians living there, have the possibility of hoisting the Romanian national flag on public buildings of the Hungarian state, including schools or churches. Such is the case of the Town hall of Bedő and of Méhkerék, and of the Romanian schools in Méhkerék and Battonya or of the Romanian church in Kőrösszegapáti.
The Town halls of Bedő and of Méhkerék (Hungary) with the Romanian national flag
The Szekler flag become source of diplomatic tensions between Romanian and Hungary. The statement of the Hungarian secretary of state Mr. NÉMETH Zsolt, followed by an interview of the Hungarian ambassador in Bucharest, Mr. FÜZES Oszkár at a Romanian TV station stating the support for the use of the flag and the autonomy of Szeklerland were considered by the Romanian officials inappropriate, undiplomatic and interference in Romania’s internal affairs. Meanwhile both sides recognized that the good relationship between the two countries are too crucial to be sacrificed over issues of this nature.
„It is completely useless to trigger conflicts by prohibiting the use of heraldic symbols for national minorities” – the political vice-president of the RMDSZ, BORBÉLY László warned. „The Szeklers have the right to hoist the flag of the Szekler Country, while Hungary also needs to express its constitutional responsibility towards the ethnic Hungarians living outside its national boundaries, however, advisably by first consulting the legitimate representatives of these communities - which in this case would have been the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania.”
Mr. MARKÓ Béla, former president of the RMDSZ also pointed out that „The two countries should resume dialogue through diplomatic channels and not via political discourses broadcasted through the media”, adding that in spite of some issues related to education in the mother tongue, Romania seemed to have made progress these years in terms of the actual implementation of minority rights. „However, the issue of the Szekler Country still seems to be a problem for many” – he concluded responding to the questions of Romanian journalists.
In this nationalistic turmoil tribute must be paid to a great number of ethnic Romanian journalists, academics and even private persons who have taken stand and publicly expressed their solidarity with the ethnic Hungarians, recognizing their right to use their historical symbols in dignity just as their fellow Romanian citizens do, without being offended or persecuted for this. They also warned society from the danger of radicalization of the ethnic Hungarians if continuously exposed to such nationalistic public discourse and to discrimination perpetuated by official state institutions and high officials.