MARCH 15: INTO CRISIS
March 15 is Hungary's national holiday, marking the beginning of the 1848 Independence revolution against Habsburg domination. We now know from a document that Hungarians got hold of during the riots on the night of March 20 that Vatra had been thinking a lot about March 15. Already at the end of February, they were discussing how the anniversary celebration should be made the pretext for a fuss, that Romanians must be left feeling insulted by it all. This they had decided already at the end of February!
On the eve of the Hungarian national holiday, there was a memorial meeting in Tirgu Mures accompanied by an artistic evening at the Palace of Culture. The Romanian leadership of the county was invited, but did not turn up. Romanian artists did take part, and the entire performance passed undisturbed.
On March 15 we laid a wreath at the statue of Nicolae Balcescu - here Aurel Florian, the county chairman of the Social Democratic Party, spoke in Romanian. We also laid a wreath at the statue of the Szekler martyrs [the martyrs being executed victims of a 19th Century anti-Habsburg uprising, the Szekler being the name given to the hardy, indigenous Hungarians of eastern Tra-nsylvania]. We also unvailed a plaque at what is now the office of the Reformed parish. the Teleki house [the Telekis being an old Transylvanian Hungarian aristocratic, politically active and philanthropic family] commemorating the last night spent in Tirgu Mures by the Polish General József Bem, who fought in 1848/49 with the Hungarians against the Habsburgs.
On national holidays, of course, the buntings come out. And in normal times and normal places, nobody would be vexed by the hoisting of a flag. But in the Tirgu Mures of the Vatra - and despite allegations to the contrary - nobody risked it. I must emphasise that in Tirgu Mures I did not see any Hungarian flag hoisted either before or after the December 1989 revolution. We did everything to avoid an incident, but it was not up to us.
The danger of enlightenment
In connection with these events, Smaranda Enache recounted that she had learned a few days earlier in Bucharest that an anti-Hungarian demonstration was being prepared to be held at Satu Mare on March 15. She and the Romanian journalist Gelu Netea, the then director of Viitorul [The Future], the paper of the National Liberal Party, wanted to enlighten the Romanian public in order to prevent any possible ethnic clashes. They wanted to publicise the argument that on the day of the outbreak of
the 1848 Hungarian revolution in Pest-Buda there were no anti-Romanian overtones, and that the revolutionary crowd, in addition to freeing from prison the Hungarian writer Mihaly Táncsics, also freed the Romanian writer Eftimie Murgu.
They asked Professor Zoe Petra, who was then Dean of the History Faculty of Bucharest, to put it to Rzvan Theodorescu, the director of Romanian Television. that by broadcasting adequate materials before March 15 they would enlighten the Romanian public. Professor Petra promised to intervene, but her efforts were unsuccessful.
Vlad Radescu, of the National Theatre of Tirgu Mures, and member of the Mures County Council of the Temporary Council of National Unity, had even played the 1848 Romanian revolutionary Avram Iancu in a film. He was also asked to publish a suitable article about March 15 in the Cuvintul Liber of Tirgu Mures. They wanted to get the writer Cornel Moraru, the editor-in-chief of the literary periodical Vatra (repeat:no relation to Vatra Romaneasca), to intervene with Lazar Ladariu, the editor-in- chief of Cuvintul Liber, to publish Vlad Radescu's article if he could be persuaded to write it.
Both attempts were unsuccessful.
At this time, the Romanian public - certainly the Romanian peasants of Mures County - were unaware of any foreign propaganda material attacking the "national" integrity of Romania. We Hungarians didn't know about any such materials either. In order to infect the domestic political climate with the old fear that "the Hungarians want Transylvania", foreign propaganda material had to be translated into Romanian and had to be published in Romania. This task was undertaken by the Vatra Romaneasca, and by the Romanian newspaper of Tirgu Mures mouthing its propaganda, the Cuvintul Liber, as well as by Bucharest Television.
The anti-Hungarian propaganda campaign was topped by the reproduction of a certain handbill protesting against "anti-Hungarian cultural genocide". One problem for the perpetrators of this particular propaganda coup however was that the offending handbill had been taken off the wall of a Reformed Church in Los Angeles as long ago as January 15, 1988.
This handbill was dished up in a fulminating article in the March 14 Cuvintul Liber as if it had been printed just then, and not in the Ceausescu era.
It could be seen from the article that its author knew of a hand-written Romanian note attached to the 1988 handbill, and referring to the Reformed Church of Los Angeles. It was clear that he therefore consciously lied when he gave the impression that fresh material of 1990 was concerned here. In the printed handbill, there is no reference to Los Angeles or to the Reformed Church. This was written onto the attached paper by the same hand which wrote the original 1988 date.
In a clumsy way, they then tried to change 1988 to look like 1990. As this did not succeed, they simply left the date off the photocopy, and copied only the printed
leaflet. Thus the Romanian reader and television viewer could have no idea that he had fallen victim to a forgery.
A report about this article was broadcast the next day, on March 15 at peak viewing time by Bucharest Television. At the urging of my friends with whom I had viewed the transmission, I immediately rang the editor of the item, the historian Victor lonescu, in Bucharest.
I asked him whom, in his opinion, it would benefit if a Romanian-Hungarian conflict - a bloody incident occurred. He agreed that this would only harm both the Romanians and the Hungarians. I stressed that we had written evidence that the hand-bill originated in 1988 and had protested against Ceausescu's cultural genocide. I told him that we could also prove that the perpetrators of the deception had tried to change the original date.
Victor lonescu promised that the next day, in the same transmission, he would give us three minutes to present the denial. This denial was signed by András Sütö on behalf of the Mures County Presidium of the RMDSZ, and I read it to the camera in the company of Attila Jakabffy.
The driver of my service vehicle (a Vatra man inherited from the Romanian Communist Party) refused to take me to Bucharest. But fortunately we got air tickets, and arrived at the studio ten minutes before the transmission.
I at once asked the editor of the news broadcast of that evening, G. Marinescu, to read our protest to the camera. He was unwilling to do so, although according to the rules of press ethics, the same person should read the denial who had read the original denied text. Thus our denial lacked the authority of the television station. Finally, I read it to the camera myself. The entire thing looked like a private action from Tirgu Mures, and its psychological effect was minimal. The following is a translation of the Romanian original of the protest:
The Mures County branch of the Democratic Association of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) resolutely protests against the broadcasting on national television, in peak hours, of the article received without any checking from the county newspaper "Cuvintul Liber" of Tirgu Mures.
The broadcast of this article on March 15, 1990 (the anniversary of the
Hungarian revolution of 1848) lacked all political and diplomatic tact, and misled the Romanian audience by suggesting that the Hungarians living in Romania had anything to do with the documents presented.
For the sake of truth it is necessary that we declare that this call was issued by a Californian committee fighting for the human rights of Hungarian and other minorities on January 15, 1988. It was one of numerous appeals published abroad which condemned Ceauqescu's genocidal policies - crimes for which Ceausescu was subsequently condemned to death.
It is beyond comprehension that those who commented on this appeal of two years ago presented the text as if it had been written in our days, after the revolution.
We resolutely protest against the intellectual forgery committed by the editors, and against the way in which this material directed against Ceausescu has been presented.
Our statement refers to the text of the appeal, and not at all to the map attached to it. (The map showed Transylvania as part of pre-World War One Hungary.) We dissociate ourselves from any such attempts aimed at causing conflict between Romanians and Hungarians. (Here, of course, we were referring to the map.)
The forces of evil, in order to maintain tensions between ethnic groups, do not hold back from forgeries and the use of other methods of base provocation. They aim thereby to prevent the extension of the rights which are due to national minorities and to obstruct the process of democratisation in our country.
We call on all mass media of Romania not to condemn the Hungarians living in Romania for opinions and newspaper articles which they have nothing to do with. Our convictions are reflected only in the organs published by the RMDSZ in the Hungarian and Romanian languages.
The Democratic Association of Hungarians in Romania condemns every extremist, nationalistic or chauvinistic manifestation, irrespective of its origin.
Signed: András Sütö, Chairman of the Mures County branch of the RMDSZ
Despite its weakened ixnpact, this denial very much angered the leaders of the Vatra Romaneasca. On the morning of March 17 (the day following the TV denial), Dumitru Pop told me at the headquarters of the Provisional Council of National Unity: "You will see what you get for this."