|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|
In the absence of some form of political self-administration, a measure of cultural autonomy is simply indispensable for the well-being of a minority. This means a cultural self-administration, an independent decision-making role in their own cultural and educational affairs. It can function only if it has a strong institutional basis under the control of the minority.
In Rumania, there is no trace of cultural autonomy for the minorities, and even independent institutions have been eliminated almost completely. The ingenious method of accomplishing this consisted of attaching almost every institution to a Rumanian counterpart, in the name of brotherhood. For example, the Hungarian university in Cluj (Kolozsvár) was made a section of its Rumanian counterpart; Hungarian schools have been merged into Rumanian schools as sections; four out of the six formerly independent theaters are now just sections of Rumanian theaters; and so on. The result is the complete destruction even of the elements --- not to mention the superstructure --- of an independent hierarchy of Hungarian institutions. The clear purpose of such arrangements is to have a Rumanian official to look over the shoulder of even the most insignificant contributors to Hungarian culture. It makes the dependence total and prevents even the most routine decisions from becoming the internal business of the Hungarian community.
As was mentioned above, only two independent Hungarian theaters remain now, where there were six a few years ago. No association of Hungarian writers, poets, artists or musicians is permitted to exist, despite the rich living heritage of Transylvanian Hungarian creators in those areas. Hungarian poets have stated that within the Rumanian Writers Association they have to conduct even their poets, workshops in Rumanian --- out of "courtesy" to the ever-present Rumanian officials. In other words, they have to analyze each other's poems --- written in Hungarian --- in another language. Even knowing the methods of the Rumanian government one found this hard to believe --- until it was confirmed by several independent sources.
The volume of Hungarian-language books published in Rumania is clearly insufficient. According to official statistics, 2,423,000 copies
were published in 1977, meaning only one book per Hungarian for the entire year. And, of course, this figure includes children's books and an inordinately heavy share of translations from the Rumanian, including the collected works of Nicolae Ceausescu.
The number of Hungarian-language newspapers, frequency of publication, and number of pages have all been forcibly curtailed in the past years. Six Hungarian newspapers, formerly published daily, are now allowed to appear only weekly. There is no journal on drama, music, or the other arts in Hungarian, even though the demand for these items is high. Nor are there any technical, medical, and other professional journals in the minority languages.
To provide detailed data on the elimination of folk ensembles and orchestras, the grossly inadequate number of radio and television programs, the shortage of Hungarian books in public libraries, and the total lack of training facilities for theater directors, drama, art, and music critics would overload this paper. Education, however, has a crucial role in ensuring the survival of an ethnic community and thus warrants particular attention.
Official Rumanian statistics indicate that while twenty years ago the number of students allowed to attend Hungarian classes was roughly proportional to the size of the Hungarian population, more recent figures show an alarming decline. Attendance in Hungarian classes has fallen in each category far below the levels that even the official population statistics would warrant.
Since 1956, independent Hungarian schools have been systematically attached to Rumanian schools as mere sections, which, in turn, have been gradually phased out. The process of totally eliminating these Hungarian sections was legitimized by enactment of the clearly discriminatory Decree/Law 278 of May 11, 1973.
This unprecedented piece of legalized discrimination requires the presence of a minimum quota of twenty-five students at the grade school level and thirty-six students at the high school level in order to maintain or establish a class in one of the minority languages. If a given Hungarian community contains, for example, only twenty-four Hungarian students for a given elementary school class, these children are forced to complete their studies in the Rumanian language. As most villages in Transylvania have only between 500 and 1,000 inhabitants, the number of Hungarian students very often falls short of the required quota, and the Hungarian classes must be terminated.
What makes this decree still more offensive is that the provisions applicable to Hungarians and other minorities do not apply to Rumanian sections or classes in areas inhabited predominantly by Hungarians.
In such towns or villages, a Rumanian section must be maintained regardless of demand, i.e., even if a given Hungarian village contains only one Rumanian student. The wording of Decree/Law 278 makes this requirement perfectly clear: "In those communities where schools function in the language of the coinhabiting nationalities, Rumanian language sections or classes shall be organized regardless of the number of students."
The fact that Decree/Law 278 was repealed in the fall of 1978, due largely to Western pressure, did not change the situation at all. The same policy is being continued as administrative practice. In Rumania, the system of secret instructions, existing parallel with written laws and often overriding them, is particularly prevalent, especially in the field of nationality policy. Written constitutional guarantees therefore exist on paper only, and that is the reason this paper neglects dealing with them.
Even in the remaining Hungarian schools and sections, not just the Rumanian language but the general subjects of literature, geography, and history must also be taught in Rumanian. In many Hungarian sections, there are so many Rumanian-language courses that the section is Hungarian in name only. This is especially the case in Hungarian vocational and technical schools, where only Hungarian literature and physical education are actually taught in Hungarian.
Matters have taken a sharp turn for the worse since the fall of 1976, when a drive was initiated to reorganize Rumania's entire educational system, placing greater emphasis on technical and vocational training and reducing the number of high schools, or lyceums, which provide instruction in the liberal arts. As an outgrowth of this drive, Hungarian lyceums that had been in continuous existence for the past 300--400 years have been summarily eliminated. They were not, however, replaced by Hungarian vocational schools. As Károly Király, former high-ranking party leader who became a dissident, pointed out in a letter to the Party leadership:
We were promised new secondary vocational and technical schools in which studies were to be conducted in the languages of the nationalities, but in reality we have witnessed a decline in the number of these schools. Each year there are fewer and fewer of them. Children cannot study in their native tongue; compulsory instruction in the Rumanian language has been introduced even at the kindergarten level.
Finally, through discriminatory admissions policies, the government makes it difficult for graduates of Hungarian schools or sections to enter the next higher educational level. The government, in the meantime, alleges that it is due to lack of popular demand that Hungarian-language
courses are closed. Thus, as in the many illustrations provided above, the discriminatory cycle is complete and the outcome for the Hungarian minority is devastating.
Higher education has a great historical tradition in Transylvania. The Bolyai University of Cluj (Kolozsvár), for instance, can be traced to the Jesuit academy founded in 1581. On March 5, 1959, the Bolyai University was forced to merge with the Rumanian Babes University. In his book Minorities Under Communism, Robert R. King calls the elimination of this Hungarian institution "the most serious blow to intellectuals among the Hungarian minority." Three professors, including the celebrated writer László Szabédi, committed suicide out of despair at this arbitrary act. It is characteristic that the document of unification, which lists the existing faculties of the two universities at the time of the merger, has been concealed ever since, so as to hide any official evidence of the extent to which the Hungarian faculties have been eliminated. King further states that after the merger "the 'Rumanianization' of the unified university was gradually carried out." He cites numerous examples of this ruthless process.
Present conditions at this allegedly bilingual university are dismal. In the 1976--77 academic year, of all the students, which numbered approximately 6,000, only 480 (eight percent) had the opportunity to attend Hungarian classes. A meaningful indicator of the total volume of Hungarian-language education that occurs at the University can be computed by multiplying the number of Hungarian courses by the number of students attending those courses. In recent semesters, the resulting figure has fluctuated between five and ten percent of the comparable figure at the time of the merger.
The extent to which a minority has to be provided with its own educational system always depends on several factors, such as the size of the minority, the degree of general development in the country, or the extent to which the government interferes with, subsidizes, administers, or monopolizes education. None of these factors is relevant here, however, in the sense that it would justify, in any manner, the refusal to provide something that does not exist, let alone the systematic destruction of something that did exist. The Hungarian minority in Rumania forms the largest national minority in Europe. One third of all the countries in the world have fewer inhabitants than there are Hungarians in Rumania. It is grossly discriminatory that this population is not allowed to have a single university of its own.
In addition to the Bolyai University, all other Hungarian institutions of higher education have been systematically curtailed or eliminated.
Károly Király wrote about the fate of institutions of higher education in the following manner:
In 1976 a decision was born to eliminate Hungarian institutions of higher education. After the "Bolyai" University in Kolozsvár came the Institute of Medicine and Pharmacology at Marosvásárhely, and then, by special order from above, a Rumanian section was established at the István Szentgyörgyi School for the Dramatic Arts, thereby liquidating in effect the last "island" of higher education in a nationality tongue.26
One final comment on this topic seems appropriate. The severe restriction on those subjects that may be taught in Hungarian is not without serious impact on the lower levels of education. As indicated earlier, the various elements of discrimination in Rumania cannot be isolated, for they act to reinforce one another. Thus, the relentless decline in the number of subjects that may be pursued in Hungarian beyond high school undoubtedly serves to pressure aspiring Hungarian students to study these subjects in Rumanian during their earlier years of schooling.
The content of the education, even when it is conducted in Hungarian, is another matter. According to Article 26 of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," education "...shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups..." In Rumania today, textbooks in history stigmatize minority groups as "intruders" who upset the social and cultural order of the "original inhabitants," the Rumanians. In many cases, textbooks, travel guides, and other literature actually re-christen Hungarian historical figures and make them into Rumanian national heroes having no connection with the Hungarian people. The same materials contain an almost absolute silence on the centuries of Transylvania's Hungarian history. The unproven hypothesis of Daco-Roman origin has been elevated to the level of state ideology, to prove the Rumanians, historical "precedence" in the area.
At this point it should be noted that arguments concerning the historical priority of peoples living many centuries ago have no relevance whatsoever to the rules of international law governing the treatment of national minorities; still less can such arguments be used as an excuse for the oppression of minorities.
By the assertion of "prior settlement," the dynamism and superiority of the Rumanian people becomes "historically proven," while national-minority inhabitants, lacking historical or cultural roots of comparable brilliance, are considered less than second-class citizens. One devastating practical effect of this process in Rumania today is that minority children are taught that the cultural richness of the area
is solely the result of Rumanian creativity, thereby making those children ashamed of their ethnic identity. The remaining schools that still educate children in Hungarian must use official textbooks that teach these children that their nationality has no past in the area. Without a past, by implication, this nationality can have no future --- unless, of course, it assimilates into the resplendent Rumanian people.
Language rights are also limited and circumscribed. Rumanian is the official language spoken everywhere in Rumania; it is the exclusive language at all levels of government bureaucracy. Use of the native tongue by the nationalities has been completely eliminated from all areas of official activity. As Károly Király pointed out: "Use of the native tongue is severely restricted at meetings of the Party, the Young Communists League, the trade unions, and in the various workers, councils; indeed, use of the native tongue is prohibited even at meetings of the Nationality Workers Councils." (Emphasis added.)
Traffic safety signs, bureaucratic forms, menus, postcards, and tourist literature are all in Rumanian. In addition, there is an increasing tendency to appoint Rumanian personnel to all positions that involve contact with the public in Hungarian areas.
According to Article 109 of the Rumanian Constitution, judicial proceedings throughout the country must be conducted in the Rumanian language. The only right a Hungarian defendant or litigant has before the court of his own native community is to be provided with an interpreter. This "right," however, is no more than the right granted to any foreigner brought to trial in any country.
Due to this complete absence of any degree of bilingualism and the chauvinism encouraged by governmental policies, members of minorities are often forced to endure derision and threats for using their mother tongue, even in private conversations at public places.
At every border checkpoint on the Hungarian-Rumanian border the visitor is greeted by a huge sign, "Welcome to Romania!" in English, in French, in German, in Russian, and in Rumanian.
This leads us to the sensitive question of contacts with the "mother country." Unfortunately it is only a moral claim that minorities should have unhindered contacts with related groups of the same national, ethnic, or linguistic character, who may constitute a majority or minority in another country. The often existing mutual jealousies and territorial suspicions have made it so far impossible to insert such a provision in any of the above-mentioned multilateral agreements. On the bilateral level, there are many fine examples of cooperation, though none of these involves the Rumanian government.
Book imports from Hungary are severely restricted. This applies
equally to classical literature, specialized scientific and technical texts, and phonograph records, even those containing only folk and Gypsy music. Subscriptions to periodicals published in Hungary can be obtained only with official permission. Eighty to ninety percent of such requests are rejected, including those of schools, libraries, and other institutions, as well as individuals.
Hungarian books and periodicals are routinely confiscated from private travelers at border checkpoints, no matter how innocent or nonpolitical they may be. Several Western reporters made a test run last year with totally innocent volumes of Hungarian literature, to find out about this practice. Their books, too, were confiscated.
To cut off personal contacts between Hungarians on the two sides of the border there are two further restrictions. According to Rumanian law, citizens of Rumania can travel to Hungary only once every two years. The law does not give the right actually to make the trip every two years, but only to apply for permission. Applications by Hungarians have a less than 50 percent chance of being approved, and no reasons are given for their rejection.
The same purpose is served by Decree/Law 225 (1974), which prohibits the accommodation of any foreign citizen, except most immediate family members, in private homes. Fines equivalent to $1,200 are imposed on the unfortunate hosts even where no alternative hotel accommodations are available. It is the Hungarians who have the greatest number of relatives and potential visitors abroad. There are 11 million Hungarians in neighboring Hungary and several million in other countries.
While the above interference with contacts with Hungary does not violate any international agreements on minorities, it specifically and clearly violates the following provisions of the Helsinki Agreement:
--- point (a) in the "Information" chapter of Basket III;
--- most of the rules in the chapters "Cooperation and Exchanges in the Field of Culture" and "Cooperation and Exchanges in the Field of Education" of Basket III;
--- the "Promotion of Tourism" chapter of Basket II; and
--- the "Human Contacts" chapter of Basket III, especially points (a), (d), (e), and (f).
There are no specific rules in international law concerning religious minorities. Noninterference by the government, freedom of conscience, and freedom of worship should satisfy any religion, minority or majority. However, in Rumania no religious freedom exists.
The Rumanian government, through its Ministry of Cults, exercises a policy of total interference in ecclesiastical matters regardless of their administrative, social, or theological nature. No decision can be implemented by the churches unless it is thoroughly reviewed and approved by the Ministry of Cults. For instance, any social or religious gathering, with the exception of Sunday worship, must be approved by the state. The same condition applies to the right of churches to use their material resources. Religious instruction is also subject to debilitating government intrusion. While the state does allow religion classes to be held during certain prescribed hours, school authorities are instructed to organize compulsory school activities at precisely the same hours.
It should be emphasized that these restrictions harm especially the minority populations. Religious affiliation generally corresponds with nationality in Rumania. The church then is the only remaining institution that could fulfill the minorities' needs and permit them to nurture their ethnic heritage. In this sense, therefore, harassment of churches assumes a far greater meaning for minorities than simply the curtailment of religious freedoms.
Hungarian minority Protestant churches are dependent to a great extent on donations from sister communities in the West to support their charitable work. Clergymen, however, are forbidden to receive gifts from abroad, and such donations, if intercepted, are confiscated, even, as happened in 1977, when they were sent to repair churches damaged by an earthquake. Freedom to publish theological books, periodicals, and other religious material is extremely limited.
Some of these difficulties are shared equally by Rumanian believers. But it was clearly an attack on the heritage of the minorities that during the years 1974--75, on the pretext of "protection of the national cultural treasury," church archives were summarily confiscated and trucked into warehouses. Since then, part of this material has been destroyed due to neglect, and none is accessible for researchers.
Religious persecution of individual believers has also been documented by Amnesty International in its 1978 report on Rumania.
In the economic sphere, in questions of employment and compensation, minorities are entitled to nondiscriminatory treatment. In Rumania, however, economic tools, such as the total government control over industry and the labor and housing markets, are used to break up homogeneous ethnic Hungarian communities.
Rumanian citizens are not permitted to resettle in another city without official approval. At the same time, it is government policy to prevent the minority populations of cities from growing. Accordingly, while Hungarians find it almost impossible to move into the major cities of Transylvania, the influx of Rumanians is not only permitted, but encouraged through offers of favorable housing opportunities and other benefits.
Industrialization, as in all Communist states, is government-planned and used as a tool to achieve the same purpose. Instead of employing the local nationality population, the new factories are staffed mostly by Rumanian settlers imported by the government from compact Rumanian areas like Muntenia or Oltenia.
The breakup of Hungarian communities is further accomplished through the routine assignment of Hungarian graduates of universities and trade schools to jobs outside their native communities. Even though President Ceausescu himself, speaking on March 14, 1978, before a joint plenary session of the Hungarian and German Nationality Workers councils, cited this practice as a "deficiency" in Rumania's nationality policies, it continues unaltered to the present day. The Hungarian minority is deprived of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who speak their own language. A complaint heard frequently, especially among the elderly in rural areas, is that they cannot communicate with the local doctor. Rumanian professionals do not have to speak Hungarian in Hungarian areas. Consequently, the local population must either accommodate to the language of the Rumanian professionals foisted on them, or suffer the consequences. The discriminatory nature of this policy is clear. It is also intimately tied to the government's policy on minority schools. The sending of Rumanians into Hungarian areas paves the way for the elimination of Hungarian schools, since the children of these Rumanians are educated in newly created Rumanian sections. The Hungarian sections are then phased out as shown above.
Finally, for Rumania's minorities there is no effective legal remedy against abuse. Section 247 of Rumania's Criminal Code, which forbids discrimination on the basis, inter alia, of national origin, is never enforced in criminal trials.
This deficiency clearly violates the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," which states (Article 2, Section 3):
Each state party to the present Covenant undertakes:
(a) to ensure that any person whose rights and freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;
(b) to ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the state, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;
(c) to ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted.
The lack of legal remedy is, of course, in perfect harmony with the official position that this problem simply does not exist. In Rumania, "there is continuous repetition of the proposition that the nationality question in our country has been finally, once and for all, solved," wrote Károly Király. While some discussion and even occasional concessions are allowed concerning other social, economic, and political questions, the problems of the minorities is a forbidden subject. Still less is it permitted to propose any improvement in this area. The only task is to combat "nationalism," which means minority nationalism and to neutralize the "troublemakers." According to Károly Király, who has himself experienced the dire consequences of such "troublemaking," "unpardonably extreme methods of intimidation are employed against those who dare to ask for permission to speak in the interest of having the nationality question handled legally and in accordance with the Constitution." In this way, any demand or complaint concerning minority conditions is wholly ignored or, in Király's words, "killed by persistent silence."
The topic of Transylvania needs discussion, debate, analysis, and understanding. Only in this way is it possible to get beyond the vampire-infested fog to reflect on the real place and its peoples. If this fog can be lifted even a little with a continuing discussion, then perhaps the day is not far off when real solutions will be considered for a festering nationality problem that ever threatens to embroil the peoples of Eastern Europe in renewed conflicts.
As Professor Gerald J. Bobango pointed out in his reflections on some of the foregoing studies at the Symposium on Transylvania held at Kent State University on May 19, 1979:
the most vital observations [regarding Transylvania]... are threefold, namely, there is nothing unique about our problem, firstly --- it beset our ancestors and all those who marched through the generations culminating in 1848 or 1918 or 1940. Secondly, it is not predetermined that Romanians and Hungarians should be implacable opponents --- the "clash" of peoples and claims over Transylvania is a product of identifiable historical circumstances, not of deep-seated and irrevocable differences. We continue to engage in polemics today because we remain under the influence of certain powerful 19th-century delusions which made the state coterminous with nationality. Finally... [our] discussions ought to convince us that the situation of minorities in Transylvania is and always has been a complex one, defying the simple solutions of official state news organs or the rantings of the American ethnic press.
Still, our scholarly endeavors have to operate in an environment that is dominated not so much by "the simple solutions of official state news organs or the rantings of the American ethnic press," but by the apolitical and antiintellectual escape literature of Count Dracula. Perhaps the distortions of the former have contributed to the popularity
of the latter, but this does not excuse us from challenging the assumptions and the conclusions of both sets of primitivism.
The foregoing essays have focused on some of the key events, the turning points, and developmental processes and have thereby contributed to a more accurate portrayal of Transylvanian reality, both past and present. Unquestionably, many gaps remain. These, hopefully, will be treated in future volumes dealing with Transylvania. If the present effort becomes the first in a series, then the problems of all the peoples in Transylvania will have moved one step closer to solution. Dispelling the fog is just the first step. Once an awareness of the real Transylvania supersedes the illusion, its problems will have to be dealt with.
The first problem is, of course, the nationalist posturing that surrounds the entire question of minority-majority relations in Eastern Europe. As Professor Paul Underwood pointed out at the Kent State Symposium on Transylvania:
...[Nationalism] is a far stronger force in Central and Eastern Europe than it is in Western Europe generally. Probably this is so because of a feeling on the part of these people of being relatively small islands in a sea of alien languages and cultures. In this milieu, nationalism is passionate and, with the possible exception of the Poles, nowhere more so than among the Hungarians and the Romanians. This passion fires the essential national ideologies of both peoples, ideologies in which Transylvania has been given a special role. And the problem is that each of these roles is exclusive, in conflict with the other. So there is precious little middle ground on which an observer can find a comfortable footing.
Yet there is some middle ground. It can be provided by responsible scholarship that attempts to deal with Transylvania on the basis of reality rather than nationalistic or Hollywood-inspired mystification. Rumanian, Hungarian, and Saxon or Swabian German scholars --- or American scholars, for that matter --- need not divest themselves (even if they could) of their passionate commitments to write with relative fairness and objectivity. As long as they adhere to the rigorous demands of their respective disciplines, they should be able to reach at least that "precious little middle ground." Once that has been reached it is not too difficult to realize that Transylvanian Rumanians, Hungarians, and Germans are indeed the victims of their past experiences and that they "remain under the influence of certain powerful 19th-century delusions which made the state coterminous with nationality."
From that point on it is possible to reflect on the problems and prospects of all the peoples of Transylvania. In fact, even a dialogue becomes possible among the scholars of the respective nationalities. Then questions are no longer phrased simply in terms of minority versus majority rights or in terms of national interests, but in terms of the
long-term interests of all Transylvanians. Are the interests of the different nationalities in Transylvania really mutually exclusive? If we find this to be the case, we might suggest a territorial solution: partition, partition with population exchange, or something similar. On the other hand, if the interests of Transylvanians are not mutually exclusive but merely seem so under the constraints of the present-day nation-state, democratic centralism, and nationalism, then we have to define the minimum and optimum institutional changes that will make peaceful coexistence and tolerance a reality instead of an empty promise. Here consideration of individual human rights, corporate minority (group) rights, and the defense of both is indispensable. Territorial autonomy, guaranteed bilingualism, and nondiscrimination in government relations, social intercourse, and economic opportunities are just some of the areas that must be considered. Finally, the vision of a transnational, multiethnic Danubian state committed to cultural pluralism should be given at least intellectual consideration even if the present balance of world power makes its realization unlikely in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe.
|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|