|Elemér Illyés : National Minorities in Romania|
The expropriations, as the law indicated, applied not only to landholdings but -- according to Article 3 -- included other assets, agricultural implements, buildings, and livestock, and were also used against the cooperative, handicraft, industrial, commercial, and banking networks.131
In carrying out the agrarian reform, the local organs of the Committee for Land Distribution acted in a totally arbitrary manner, making decisions on their own authority and not in accordance with the law.
As their decisions were not put into writing, it was impossible to determine which article of the law they had been based on.
Another discriminatory measure of the Groza government aimed at undermining the economic position of the national minorities was the so-called C.A.S.B.I. decree,132 which established a Management and Controlling Chamber for Enemy Possessions (Cassa pentru Administrarea si Supravegherea Bunurilor Inamice). This body was established on the basis of Paragraph 8 of the Soviet-Romanian Armistice Agreement and was responsible for the sequestering of the property of "presumedly" hostile persons. According to the decree, all those who had fled to Germany, Hungary, or to territories occupied by these two countries in the period between August 23 and September 12, 1944, or immediately afterwards -- thus at a time of complete anarchy and political uncertainty -- counted as "presumedly" hostile persons. All real estate, businesses, goods, movable property, securities, and valuable objects were sequestered.
In light of the historical and political circumstances, it can be assumed that during this period only members of the German and Hungarian national minorities were refugees and, consequently, branded as "presumedly" hostile persons.
Besides economic sanctions, the national minorities in Romania were also at a serious disadvantage in the course of clarification of citizenship under the Groza government. As a result of the citizenship law of April 4, 1945,133 and an executive directive issued on August 13, 1945,134 relating to the population of Northern Transylvania, the citizenship of approximately 300,000-400,000 Hungarian and German refugees from Northern Transylvania was placed in doubt, as was that of those inhabitants who had voluntary served in an army officially at war with Romania or in any alien military formation and people who had left their places of habitation only temporarily because of the nearness of the front; their status now became dependent on the arbitrariness of those who interpreted the law.
The Totalitarian State: The Romanian People's Republic
After the fall of the monarchy on December 30, 1947, and the proclamation of the Romanian People's Republic (Republica Populara Romana) there began an entirely new period of political developments in Romania. At the same time all democratic parties were eliminated, and with them all political opposition was removed. At the party conference held on February 21-23, 1948, a merger of the Communist Party and the left wing of the Social Democratic Party resulted in the formation of the Romanian Workers' Party (Partidul Muncitoresc Roman),135 under the leadership of General Secretary Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. The unified party of the ruling working class was in fact entirely subordinate to Moscow. According to the official formulation, it had been formed as a result of "historical need." It gained a parliamentary majority through the support of otherwise insignificant left-wing organizations which it absorbed through the unification, and which had hitherto been able to function thanks to the presence of the Soviet army and Soviet advisors. On February 27, as part of the reorganization of the Workers' Party, a People's Democratic Front (Frontul Democratiei Populare) was formed, consisting of the former Communist Party, Ploughmen's Front, National People's Party, and Hungarian People's Alliance, together with all of their party-controlled mass organizations.
The first Constitution of the Romanian People's Republic,136 published in draft form in the Romanian press on March 6, 1948, was enacted on April 13, l948. It had been drawn up by the People's Democratic Front on the basis of the Soviet Constitution of 1936, although it diverged in many respects from its model. Like the constitutions of the other socialist countries, it was based on the principle that state power is embodied in the people, whose will is expressed through local people's councils (soviets), and through its representatives in the Grand National Assembly. The constitution made no mention of the Soviet Union, and the creation of the People's Democracy was described in Article 2 as a Romanian achievement.
The establishment of the People's Republic and the enactment of the new constitution fundamentally altered the political, social, and economic structure of Romania; the dictatorship of the proletariat was thereby given legal sanction, and by 1948 the foundations had been laid for the building of socialism in Romania.
As the government and the system in general consolidated their position, a rapid series of measures based on the Soviet model were taken, aiming at the transformation of Romania's society, economy, and educational system. On the basis of the new constitution, a decree of June 11, 1948, nationalized the larger industrial, mining, metallurgical, insurance, transport, and banking enterprises.137 By March 1952 the major phase of nationalization was completed, with 96.5 percent of all industrial enterprises, 85 percent of the transport sector, 76 percent of the commercial sector, and 16 percent of the land in the hands of the state.138 The nationalization, which resulted in the destruction of the middle class, was carried out using the same Soviet schema as in other Eastern European countries. The collectivization of agriculture was in fact first begun at the time of the 1945 agrarian reform, but the effective organization of large-scale collective farms began only in 1949, owing to the stubborn resistance of the peasant population.
The ideological re-education of youth was begun with the educational reform of August 3, 1948.139 The educational system was restructured once again according to a Soviet model -- on the basis of Marxist-Leninist principles. At a congress on March 19-21, 1949, hitherto separate youth organizations were merged to create a Union of Working Youth (UTM -- Uniunea Tineretului Muncitoresc) modeled on the Soviet Komsomol, charged with the task of indoctrination in the schools. This mass communist organization, to which (until 1966) the subsequently-formed Pioneer organization also belonged, became an organic part of the party system.140
With the launching of the educational campaign aimed at an ideological transformation, the so-called "Roller period" (1947-1954)141 also began, a period characterized by the rewriting of Romanian history in the spirit of proletarian internationalism and Romanian-Soviet friendship.
As part of the general process of Sovietization, the Grand National Assembly enacted a new territorial-administrative law on September 6, 1950,142 dividing the country, in accordance with the Soviet model, into regions (Regiune), districts (Raion), communes and towns. This arrangement of public administration was aimed, on the one hand, at the further development of the system of people's councils (local administration),143 which had been established in January 1949, and the intensification of government control144 and, on the other hand, at the organization of a territorial framework for carrying out the industrialization plan.
The second Constitution of the Romanian People's Republic, enacted on September 24, 1952,145 was even more closely modeled on that of the Soviet Union. In fact, it was and is the most "Sovietized" of the constitutions of the Eastern European people's democracies, even incorporating various articles from the 1936 Stalin Constitution. The new constitution represented a certain modification of the 1948 Constitution, introducing among other things the division of the Romanian People's Republic into new territorial-administrative units.146
Although the new constitution guaranteed the rights of all the inhabitants of the country, it did so in a form which subordinated them entirely to the goal of building socialism. This meant, in practice, that the rights of the citizens vis-à -vis the state were placed in doubt. The absolute power of the state (the dictatorship of the proletariat) was proclaimed in Article 1, while Article 86 declared the Romanian Workers' Party to be "the leading organ of the working people and the state," thereby investing it with sovereign power.
Part of the Romanian population had offered considerable resistance to the dictatorial regime of 1947, but as the government and the system consolidated their position, terror aimed at overcoming that resistance increased. By 1948, the enemy outside the party had been dealt with. Thereafter, until 1952, as a result of internal power struggles, the party, and particularly its lower and middle strata underwent a series of purges. These purges provided an opportunity for a new figure, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, to consolidate his own power, by placing his followers in key positions and thereby gradually gaining total control of the whole state apparatus.
A major political change came in Romania -- as elsewhere in Eastern Europe -- with the consolidation of Stalinism in 1949, following the Rajk trial in Hungary. First Party Secretary Gheorghiu-Dej took advantage of the opportunity to strengthen his own position by executing his only serious rival, the intellectual Patrascanu. The Rajk trial also provided an opportunity for a showdown between the largely alien "Muscovites," who were not of proletarian origin, and the proletarian "home-based" communists of Romanian origin.147
However, the really fundamental change came in 1952. In the spring of 1952, Gheorghiu-Dej finally seized power (which he was to maintain until 1964). Taking advantage of Stalin's anti-Semitic and nationalist course, he expelled the Muscovites Ana Pauker and Lá szló Luca from the leadership as "foreigners" and agents of Moscow on the grounds of political "deviation," at a plenary session of the Central Committee on May 26-27. The development of a new policy with Gheorghiu-Dej, a policy whose fundamental principles are still in force, became the task of the "national cadres," even though not all rivals had yet been liquidated. As already mentioned "purges" began, first among the members of the government, and then in the various ministries, which henceforth took on a "national" character. Prime Minister Groza, who was by then merely a figurehead, was elected -- purely for the sake of appearances -- President of the Grand National Assembly, while on the same day Gheorghiu-Dej replaced him as Chairman of the Council of Ministers. The communist internationalist orientation represented by Ana Pauker, Lá szló Luca, Teohari Georgescu, Miron Constantinescu and Iosif Chisinevski was thereby replaced by a Romanian nationalist one. The relatively more tolerant and democratic line that had characterized post-war Romanian politics heretofore was now replaced by terror dressed in nationalistic colors. The wave of arrests which followed struck particularly against members of the old leadership, Social Democrats, intellectuals, non-Romanian elements, and persons of Jewish origin.148 Every new measure was accompanied by a new wave of arrests. Some of those arrested were condemned to death; others were deported to long-term forced labor on the Danube-Black Sea canal or in the camps of the Danube delta.149
The Nationality Policy of the Romanian People's Republic
The fundamental rights of the national minorities, as formulated in the April 13, 1948 Constitution of the People's Republic, followed the prescriptions of the still-valid Nationality Statute of February 6, 1945 in "guaranteeing the free use of the mother-tongue and the organization of education in the language of the co-inhabiting nationalities" (Article 24). The Constitution of September 24, 1952, referred in several places to the equal rights possessed by the national minorities.150 The preamble of the Constitution guaranteed the "legal equality of the national minorities" with the Romanian people and gave territorial administrative autonomy to the Szé kler region, a compact Hungarian area. Article 82 stated that "in the Romanian People's Republic the national minorities are guaranteed the free use of their own language and the right to have books, newspapers, journals, theaters, and education in their own languages." Finally, Article 81 contained sanctions for the protection of national-minority rights.
There is no doubt that the young Romanian People's Republic initially endeavored to win the support of the national minorities by its ideological statements. Thus, for example, a resolution introduced at the second session of the Central Committee of the Romania Workers' Party, held on June 10-11, 1948, stated that the party "seeks to solve the problem of the German population of Transylvania and the Banat in a democratic manner.''151 Similarly, the December session of the Workers' Party approached the nationality question in the spirit of Stalin's formulation: "equal rights for the nationalities liberated from the class yoke."152 The persecution of the national minorities was condemned.
Shortly thereafter, an official celebration of German-Romanian friendship was organized.153 The so-called "German Anti-Fascist Committee in Romania," which had been formed in 1945, was reorganized in February 1949 as the "Anti-Fascist Committee of German Workers in Romania,"154 with the task of organizing the German working masses in support of the regime. Official bilingualism was introduced, and minority-language schools were established in areas with large minority populations.
This phase of Romanian nationality policy represented an experiment at finding a Marxist-Leninist solution to the nationality problem, giving priority to the class struggle rather than to nationalistic considerations. This program was in many respects successful. On the other hand, however, behind the concessions made to the national minorities lay the goal of consolidating the regime, in other words, of strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a result of which particular national features would lose their meaning. According to the official formulation concerning national culture under socialism, "the form remains national, while the content is socialist."
As soon as the position of the government and the system had been consolidated, Romanian internal politics began to focus on the national minorities. A type of anti-nationality system began to develop, implemented by a consistent, but formally "secret," policy. Romanians were given an increasing role in the middle and upper leadership organs in areas inhabited by the national minorities.155 The rights which had been won by the minorities in the preceding period were soon eliminated by an awakening spirit of Romanian nationalism. As early as September 1949, the Western signatories of the peace treaties protested to the UN about violations of human rights in Romania.156
The first arrests, it is true, struck primarily against the ranks of the Romanian middle class. These arrests, however, based on the criterion of "class enemy", soon affected the national minorities as well. Discrimination against the national minorities was not yet open, at least not officially. This was all part of the program of general political "purges."
The first direct attack on the national minorities was a result of the Rajk trials in Hungary. A campaign was undertaken against the Hungarian People's Alliance, an organization which had broad mass support and had given strong backing to Prime Minister Groza. Its best known leaders, men who had at first sincerely believed in democracy and in the possibility of cooperation with the Groza government, were almost all arrested. Having opposed the old bourgeois regime, they had believed that their left-wing radicalism would enable them to protect Hungarian interests, but when they refused to make any further concessions at the expense of the Hungarian minority, they were imprisoned.
On the basis of a trumped-up charge of espionage, the backbone of a national-minority social and political organization was broken. This provided a good opportunity for changing the national composition of the party, as well as for weakening or eliminating entirely the cultural institutions of the national minorities. Despite protests, age-old cultural and economic institutions of the national minorities were abolished. The Hungarian Bolyai University of Cluj, for example, was reduced by the "purges" to the level of a secondary school. At the same time, Romania was increasingly isolated from other countries; journeys and contacts abroad were made more difficult, a development that affected the Hungarians of Transylvania in particular, since of all the minorities, the Hungarians had maintained the strongest links with their mother country. A campaign was also launched against the Roman Catholic Church because of its foreign -- in official terminology, }espionage~ -- links.
When the Szé kler region,157 a compact Hungarian-inhabited area in southeast Transylvania, gained nominal autonomous rights as the Magyar Autonomous Region (Regiunea Autonoma Maghiara) in 1952, it was possible to predict that the Hungarian People's Alliance would be abolished, and indeed this did occur in 1953. Its abolition was justified by the argument that the rights of the Hungarian national minority would be protected in the future by the policy of the party, and that there was no need, therefore, for a separate organization. At the time no one attributed particular significance to this measure.
It should be remembered that the establishment of the Magyar Autonomous Region, which was included under Section 11, Articles 19 and 20, of the 1952 Constitution of the Romanian People's Republic, and was based on the Soviet model of autonomous territorial organization and Marxist-Leninist teaching on national minorities, was a measure prompted by Soviet pressure. Its creation was the result of two tactical considerations: the external propaganda role that the Region could serve and the Region's potential within Romania as a means of enabling the government to achieve its goals within the framework of a Romanian nationalist minority policy. The Region was officially presented as the basic means for maintaining the existence of the Hungarian minority, and it was therefore possible to use it to divert attention away from endeavors aimed at the elimination of the Hungarian national character outside the Autonomous Region. Everywhere else, repression became more open. That was why the area comprising the Autonomous Region was made as small as possible; in any case, it was as far as possible from the Hungarian border, was surrounded by counties with a majority of Romanian inhabitants, and contained barely a third of the Hungarians in Transylvania; the Hungarians outside the Region, who represented two-thirds of Transylvania's Hungarian population, were left to be discriminated against as second-class citizens. As a result of the new territorial-administrative reorganization, the proportion of Hungarians outside the Autonomous Region nowhere exceeded 6.5 to 28.4 percent, and the proportion of Germans, 16.5 percent.
According to Article 19 of the 1952 Constitution, the Magyar Autonomous Region "contains the compact areas inhabited by the Szé klers and possesses an independent administrative organ elected by the Magyar Autonomous Region." The Constitution went on to provide in Articles 20 and 21, that "the laws of the Romanian People's Republic, as well as the decisions and instructions of central state organs, are also to be applied in the area of the Magyar Autonomous Region." Moreover, according to Article 57 of the Constitution, "The organ of state power in the Magyar Autonomous Region is the State Council of the Autonomous Region, whose members draw up its governing statute which is then to be approved by the Grand National Assembly of the Romanian People's Republic."158
It is symptomatic, that the special legal regulations contained in the fundamental statute of the Autonomous Region and prescribed in Article 21 of the Constitution were never implemented; and the legal status and administration of the region did not differ in any way from any other region in the country. Essentially, the only difference was that Hungarian could be used in dealing with the local courts and administration, and petitions could be written in Hungarian. On the other hand, the Romanian officials and judicial authorities in the Autonomous Region did not speak Hungarian. Furthermore, bilingual signs and notices were used only at the beginning.
As the foregoing passage indicates, the Magyar Autonomous Region did not possess self-government of any sort. Its fundamental statute lacked any real legal or political significance and remained a purely administrative notion to the very end. And even these administrative aspects were seriously handicapped by the public administration law of December 24, 1960, which modified the Constitution. This law changed the name of the region to the Maros-Magyar Autonomous Region (Regiunea Mures-Autonoma Maghiara) and, by adding new territories and detaching others, reduced the percentage of Hungarians in the region from 77.3 percent to 62.2 percent, while almost doubling the Romanian population (which rose from 20.1 percent to 35 percent).159 With the growth in the proportion of Romanian inhabitants, the earlier Hungarian character of the Autonomous Region was changed: it became possible to question the justification for its existence, and steps toward its gradual elimination were undertaken. The term "Magyar Autonomous" remained, merely as an external form without legal substance, but in practice the term ``Mures Region" was generally used. Article 19 of the Constitution, which had designated the Autonomous Region as those "compact areas inhabited by the Szé klers," was removed, clearly indicating the trend toward elimination.
Finally, on February 15-16, 1968, the Grand National Assembly, in the course of the territorial-administrative reorganization of the country, reintroduced the old county system (judet), abolishing the 16 previously existing regions, including the Magyar Autonomous Region.160 The purpose of the territorial-administrative reorganization was the creation of a unified Romanian state; this also involved the creation of 16 Transylvanian counties in place of the earlier 23, distributed in such a way as to ensure a Romanian majority everywhere, with the exception of the two newly organized Szé kler counties.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the Tito crisis, like the Rajk affair earlier,161 provided a good pretext for retaliatory measures, this time against the Swabians of the Banat, who in the winter of 1950-51 had manifested their discontent over the constantly increasing collectivization of agriculture. In the course of forced deportations carried out in June, approximately 30-40,000 Swabians were removed from the Banat, near the Romanian-Yugoslav border, to the environs of the Baragan Steppes,162 and a life of forced labor under inhuman conditions. The deportees also included Serbians, Romanians, and Hungarians.163 Some were able to return in 1955, but in the meantime new settlers had occupied their houses and taken over their possessions.
Soon after the forced deportation of the Swabians of the Banat, at the beginning of 1952, the forced evacuation of several Transylvanian towns and villages also began.164 The bulk of the persons forced to move belonged either to the middle strata or to the "rich" peasantry (Kulaks): that is, members of those groups branded as "war criminals," "exploiters," or "politically unreliable." There were many members of the national minorities among the deportees; no precise data are available about the number, but, according to contemporary documents, in certain Transylvanian urban areas only those belonging to the national minorities were expelled,165 and the state confiscated the houses and property of these people.166
After the death of Stalin in March 1953, Romania regarded its nationality policy as an "internal affair." This new tendency manifested itself in a January 1953 statement by Party Secretary Gheorghiu-Dej, in which he announced that the nationality question had been solved.167 By implication, the position of the national minorities could henceforth not be discussed fully or truthfully, nor could any minority statement or demands be formulated. From this time onward, the expression of any minority needs, claims or grievances was viewed as an expression of nationalism and dealt with accordingly. Nationality policy became hypocritical. Alongside public statements and official measures, secret instructions began to play an increasingly important role.
About that time, all political organizations except the RCP were abolished, thus depriving the national minorities of any organized means of protecting themselves. As a result of this process, the rights of the national minorities became purely formal, reduced from collective to individual rights, a change which amounted in reality to a deprivation of nationality rights. With that, all nationality self-defense became illegal. National-minority cultural and educational institutions were branded as fomenters of "separatism" and "nationalism," and their very existence was thereby brought into question. These same slogans were later to be the guidelines and means for denationalization.
During this period, efforts at Romanianization assumed considerable proportions and concrete forms for the first time, particularly in the Transylvanian towns and cities, which possessed a rich nationality culture. Bilingualism was hereafter gradually eliminated in these areas: the bilingual signs and notices disappeared as did bilingual advertisements and announcements. The bilinguality of party meetings also ceased; and, what is more, the use of the national-minority languages at conferences, public discussions, and in official contacts of all sorts was forbidden. This was justified by the argument that in Romania there were only "national" institutions and enterprises, and that the Romanian Communist Party was itself a "national" party: thus, the language of these institutions also had to be the "national" language. It is symptomatic of this trend that during that period the national-minority press was forced to use the Romanian forms of place names.
The Romanianization of the more important institutions of public administration also took place. A number of institutions were declared to be "national" ones, and, thus, members of the national minorities could not fill any important posts in them. This was followed by changes in the leadership and personnel of economic institutions and enterprises, wherever people belonging to the national minorities still played any significant role. These measures were carried out in such a way as to maintain the appearance that a proportion of posts were filled by members of the national minorities, while in fact only those who played no part whatsoever in decision-making or who had a servile attitude were left in their posts.
Parallel with the attack on the intelligentsia a start was made toward excluding the minorities from the upper strata of the working class. Foremen and other more highly qualified workers fell victim to this selection process, particularly in those urban areas whose Romanianization was an immediate government goal. The equalization of the historical differences in level of social development thus took place in a downward direction, through the influx of new groups that had only recently emerged from the peasantry and had hardly any experience or culture.
|Elemér Illyés : National Minorities in Romania|