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Chapter IV
The Political and Legal Status Of the National Minorities

The General Political and Legal Settin

The legal status of Hungarians in Romania is primari1y determined by two factors: the general lack of legal limitations in the political setting and the prevailing political atttude towards the Hungarian minority. Both of these factors are part of the overall strategy of ethnic assimilation.

Romania lacks genuine constitutionality. It does not rely on the principle of legality and is not committed to a govenmental system under law. The Romanian Communist party plays the leading role in the codification and enforcement of law. All proposals, including draft laws, usually emanate from the party leadership. Most laws are enacted with unanimous parliamentary approval upon the recommendation of the State Council which is presided over by the secretary-general of the party. Furthermore, in the Ceausescu era more and more frequently regulation has been by presidential decrees instead of legislative acts.[24]l

The general and often ambiguous wording of laws and regulations lends itself to different interpretations depending on concrete situations. Directives for their implementation are often not made public. All this gives the central and local party organs (whose heads are simultaneously leading officials of administrative agencies and the councils) a wide scope for resort to arbitraly power. Both the interpretation of legal provisions and the manner of their application is controlled by party directives. These may, and on occasion, revise the literal text of the provision in question. For this reason, many formally unrepealed laws cease to have effect in practice or, conversely, uncodified directives are strictly followed. An especially important regulatory role is played by secret directives. These are usually oral and, thus, nondocumentable sources of illegal acts and other abuses. They can be detected only indirectly through their effect. This accounts, for example, for the steady dec1ine in the number of Hungarian and other ethnic origin students from gaining admission to universities

A significant role is played in law enforcement by the police authorities and by Securitate, the state security organ. Directives of the latter are sometimes decisive in administrative decisions or judgments handed down by courts of law, especially when political importance is attached to the case in question.

It follows from the above that investigations under statutory law do not disclose much about actual legal processes and procedures. The conclusions to be drawn from them are worthy of note primarily from a historical perspective, as they enable us to track the retrograde trend of "development" from the antagonistic and contradictory, but in some respects encouraging 1945-47 period, up to the present, which is characterized by an almost total absence of rights.

The Minorities and Developments after 1945

If we consider the measures and actions taken against Hungarians and other minorities in the years following the war (such as, the setting up of internment camps, the massacres perpetrated by the "Maniu guards" in the authmn of 1944, the abuses of authority in connection with the interpretation of "alien" property, complications related to the acknowledgement of Romanian citizenship, and natiolialist-oriented intrigues at various levels of public administration) as arising from the uncertainties of a transition period, then we can still single out the more characteristic trends which included certain positive legal developments.

For example, when Soviet military administration was introduced in nothern Transylvania - to prevent further atrocities against the Hungarian minority - the Sanatescu govenment created a Ministry for Nationa Minorities (Act 574/1944 of 14 November). Although its powers and responsibilities were not defined, it was brought into being. Under the Radescu govenment, the Nationality Statute (Act 86/1945 of 6 Februay) was codified, bringing about a fnunamental change in statutory law in comparison to the inter-war period. At the same time, however, they lost the right to submit written complaints to international forums for consideration, notably to the United Nations, as had been the case in pre-war Romania. This was a new legal departure in the history of Romania. In addition to providing all citizens, regardless of race, nationality, language, and religion, with equality before the law, this new Nationality Statute also specified certain collective rights for them in a number of fields. [25]

When the Groza cabinet was formed on March 5th, 1945, and a party coalition called the National Democratic Front came into power (a development also supported by the Hungarian People's Federation, the only political organization of the Hungarian minority in post-war times), official manifestations promised a reassuring normalization of the situation of the Hungarian, German. Jewish, Serbian, Ukrainian, Slovak and other minorities. Accordingly, in pursuance of earlier processes, Act 630/1945 of Auqust 6th adopted certain provisions specified by the Nationality Statute. For the application of the Nationality Statute and of Act 630/1945, the Council of Ministers issued laws No. 11 and 12 on September 20th, 1946. These provisions prohibited discrimination based on nationality, language, and religion and created a few fundamental institutions for the exercise of collective minority rights. These new measures dealt with the right to use one's mother tongue in private and in public life. They also specified the related duties of govemment offices, and the management of state and church schools for the national minorities. These institutions were to be treated on an equal footing with majority schools.[26]

Although some elements of the above-mentioned laws represented a step back from the Nationality Statute, other developments also reflected a backing away from tolerance for diversity. The proposal of the Hungarian People's Federation for a draft law on the nationalities (July 3, 1946) was dropped. This act intended to define the rights of minorities in broader terms than the Nationality Statute had done. In spite of all this the legal provisions dating from 1945-46 made it possible for the minorities of Romania to effect some improvement in their cultural and political life. State-sponsored theaters came into existence which gave performances in Hungarian, German, and Yiddish. Mother-language schools opened for the first time for even the smallest minorities in the country, including communities like those of the Turks and Tatars. These developments reflected the inconsistencies of the political climate of the day. [27]

In spite of the atmosphere of intimidation and wide-spread election fraud, which belied democracy, the multiparty system still had a strong mass basis in the country. For the Hungarians of Romania the lefl wing of the Hungarian People's Federation attempted to provide guidance and representation in the country's political arena. It aligned itself with the National Democratic Front and, thus, indirectly also with the Romanian Communist party. However, in this the Hungarian People's Federation had no alternative. At that time the party press and other political manifestations of the National Peasant party and the Liberal party, reflected a violent anti-minority, anti-Hungarian attitude. Thus, the support from the Hungarian People's Federation prompted Gheorghiu-Dej, the secretalygeneral of the Romanian Communist party, to declare at the Central Committee meeting of July 6th, 1946, that the Hungarian population of Transylvania was an "ally of the democratic forces in the political struggle against reaction."[28]

The Nationality Statute and its related by-laws reassured both the Hungarians of Romania and public opinion abroad that there was a very good prospect in the country for finally solving the nationality problem. This prompted the Hungarian People's Federation to make a statement to the effect that it was opposed to the partitioning of Transylvania and that it was satisfied that the rights of the minonty and their right to exist would be guaranteed by the strengthening of Romanian democracy. This statement was issued while the negotiation of the Hunganan-Romanian boundary question was still on the agenda of the peace conference in Paris. Thus, while the statement may not have carried much weight in the field of great-power politics, it did serve the Romanian government with support that could be invoked before both domestic and international forums.

The statement did not guarantee the establishment of democracy in Romania. A single-party system emerged after the traditional parties were destroyed, the king was forced to abdicate and the economic life of the country nationalized. Parallel to this process all autonomous organizations were liquidated which refused to bow to the central will of the Communist Party. In the case of the Hungarian minority, the first step in this direction was the purge of the leadership of the Hungarian People's Federation. Up to this point it had functiolled as a relatively independent power center. Its president, Kurko Gyarfas, was dismissed in 1947 and replaced by leaders who were "loyal" to the Party. [29]

In June 1948, the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist party announced the intensification of class struggle. For the Hungarians this led to a campaign directed primarily against their leading intellectuals. In December 1948, the Romanian Communist party, in its statement on the nationality problem, lashed out against all national rninorities under one pretext or anotller. The Hungarians, who had been called "allies of the democratic forces" only two years earlier thus were now branded "nationalists". Several leaders of the Hungarian People's Federation were thrown inlo prison on trumped-up charges. Other Hungarian public figules and even religious dignitaries were also imprisoned. At the same time, large numbers of politicians, clergymen and cultural personalities of Romanian nayionality were similarly arrested in line with the general East European schedule of Stalinist political trials.

By the end of the 1940s private property and church holdings had been transferred to state ownership and Hungarian and Ronunian cooperatives had been merged. This deprived the minorities of any independent economic support. in addition, their denominational schools were secularized and increasingly transfonned into the state power's instruments of thoughtcontrol. The Hungarian People's Federation by this time was reduced to only a paper existence. However, the cultural institutions which were set up after 1944 continued to function; attacks on them started only later, from the 1950s onwards.

The evolution of the definition of minority rights can be traced primarily through amendments to particular articles of the constitution's text. While the three constitutions (1948, 1952, and 1965) of post-war Romania show many similarities in theirprovisions on natiomlities, they also reflect the special historical circumstances of the times that produced them. [30]

At the time of the promulgation of the Constitution of 1948, the Nationality Statute and its few related by-laws still had legal force in practice. True, their implementation was inconsistent and incomplete. Yet it is probably for this reason that some provisions included in subsequent texts of the Constitution are not to be found in the first post-war fundamental law. There is nothing in the latter, for example, which stipulates that books, newspapers, periodicals, and theaters in minority languages should be supported or that public institutions in districts inhabited by minorities should use the languages spoken there. Another substantial difference between the Constitution of 1948 and those of 1952 and 1965 was that the fonner still recognized not only the right to mother-language instruction at all grade levels of education but also the right to organize instruction in the mother tongue.

The Constitution of 1952, based on the Soviet model. provided for the establislunent of a Huligarian Autonomous Region, comprising ten districts of "the tenitory inhabited by a compact population of Szekely Hungarians. " Article 11 stated that the Statute for the Region should be drafted by its people's council. However, ultimately nothing came of it. Thus, the envisaged autonomy became nothing more than a facade that disguised the general Romanian system of subordination of local organs. After the formation of this so-called Hungarian Autonomous Region, the official use of the minority language became increasindy restricted to its territory, and simultaneously the Nationality Statute was allowed to lapse, without ever being officially revoked. At any rate, in practice it ceased to have legal effect at this time. The "autonomous" region included about one-third of Romania's Hungarian population. It became a kind of cultural ghetto, which was encouraged also by the forcible removal of a few Hungarian cultural and educational institutions from the capital of Transylvania, Cluj (Kolozsvar), and their transfer to Tirgu-Mures, the capital of the new autonomous region.

At its meeting of December 19th, 1960, the Centra1 Committee of the Romanian Conununist party, on the motion of Nicolae Ceausescu who was then one of the secretaries of the Committee, adopted a resolution which recommended that the Grand National Assembly redefine the administrative boundaries and the name of the Hungarian Autonomous Region. By this time even the illusion of autonomy had become unacceptable. Consequently, a few purely Hungarian districts were detached from the region, while the Romanian-inhabited districts of Sarmas (Sarmas) and Ludus (Ludas), as well as other areas, were annexed to it. This change reduced the compact Hungarian character of the population within the region and renamed it the Mures-Maghiar Autonomous Region. [31]

The constitution presently in force, enacted by the Grand National Assembly on August 21st, 1965, has been amended several times. The most important amendment was an Act of Febnuary 17th, 1968, which put an end to the administrative division of the country into regions and introduced the county system. This also automatically elimnuted the Mures-Maghiar Autonomous region and replaced it with counties that are not identified with any nationality.

The constitution in force at present refers to the national minorities three occasions. According to Article II, the workers of the country "without distinction for reasons of nationality, shall construct the socialist system of society."

Article XVII states:

The citizens of the Socialist Republic of Romaniia, inrespective of nationality, race, sex, or religion, shall enjoy identical rights in all matters concerning economic, political, legal, and social existence. The State shall guarantee the equality of citizens before the law. Any limitation of these rights and any discrimination in their exercise for reasons of natiomlity, race, sex, or religion shall be prohibited. Any manifestation aimed at introducing such limitations, as well as nationalistic-chauvinistic propaganda and incitement to racial or national hatred, shall come under the penalty of the law. [32]

What Article XVII contains over and above the pertinent provisions of the 1952 constitution is the recognition of equai rights in the legal and social sectors of life and the guarantee of equality for all citizens of the country before the law.

Specific nationality rights are defined in Article XXII of the present constitution as follows:

Cohabiting nationalities in the Socialist Republic of Romania shall be assured of the free use of their respective mother tongues as well as access to books, newspapers, periodicals, theatres and all grades of education in their own languages. In those territorial-administrative units contaning nationality populations in addition to Romanians, all decision-making agencies and institutions shall use, in speech and in writing, also the language of the respectivenationality and appoint officials from its members or from among other citizens familiar with the language and manners of the local population. [33]

The above passages of the Constitution are more general than the text of the Nationality Statute. While the latter is still formally in effect, it cannot be invoked. More detailed regulation is offered by lower-level provisions of law, but only on a few insignificant points. For example, Act 57/1968 on the organization of people's councils adds to the text of the Constitution that in areas inhabited by minorities, decisions shall be made public also in the minority languages. However, the Act contains nothing regarding criteria for determining the limits of the districts where this provision is to be enforced.

Act 11/1968 also resorts to generalities. Under the terms of this law students belonging to national minorities may choose between a district school offering instruction in Romanian or in the language of their own respective nationality. With respect to the universities, the law makes no mention of the language of instruction, nor does it contain provisions regarding the language of matriculation. Act 113/1978 on public education is formulated in somewhat greater detail and recognizes the right to use the mother language, among others, in higher grades of education and also during matriculation exams. [34] The Act was promulgated in the Buletinul Oficial on December 26th, 1978, so that the extent of implementation can be judged on the basis of the policy pursued in the 1980s. This period has witnessed the Romanian govemment's most vehement and systematic attack against the cultural and educational institutions of the minorities.

Since the end of the 1940s the legal definition of minority rights has become more and more constraining. It has adjusted to an orientation that has been distinctly anti-minority. The party documents - wluch in recent decades have coincided with the pronouncements of the party secretary general - have played a formative role in every aspect of social and political existence. So too they have defined the legal status of minorities.

To understand the true nature of Romania's policy toward minorities it is essential to consider one of its important and intermittently recuning tactical elements. The essence of this particular tactic is that after, and often simultaneously with, repeated anti-Hungarian attacks such as the phasing out of institutions, imprisonment of minority leaders, the Romaniaul government usually offers some concessions which give the minority the feeling not only of having lost but also of having gained something. At the psychological moment following a loss, any concession, however transparent, is regarded by the loser as a new reprieve. As a rule, this excellently mounted offensive operation, executed with great precision, sows hope even where there are no prospects. The modest, and mostly temporary gain is upgraded in the eyes of the minority and appears as a new opportunity, especially when it follows a period of merciless persecution.

The deteriorating condition of the minorities can be illustrated by historical facts. The "nationalist" accusations levelled against Hungarians and other minorities as a collectivity in the 1950s and the imprisonment of their leaders were followed by the establishment of the Hungarian Autonomous Region. [35] The latter, at least formally, promised autonomy to the Hungarians. Also, hardly had the Hungarian People's Fedention been dissolved when some of its imprisoned communist leaders - but only a few - were granted amnesty. In addition, the policy objective for "homogenizing" the Romanian nation and the ethnic minorities was tempomrily put on hold, and even the Csango (Moldavian) Hungarian schools, which were in danger of being shut down, were granted a few years of respite.

In this scheme of "switching on and off" now tightening, now loosening the polincal pressure, an important part was always played by the upsand-downs of the political situation. In the show trials of the leaders of the Hungarian People's Federation and other personalities, one of the major charges in the indichnent was colllusion with Hungary's "Titoists," particularly Laszlo Rajk. After the 1956 revolution in Hungary, the charge of revisionism was extended to all Hungarians in Romania, and the new anti-Hungarian trials were then staged in several waves between 1957 and 1961. In 1959 they merged the Hungarian Bolyai University and the Romanian Babes University of Cluj. Meanwhile, a party resoluton confirmed, by way of compensation, that admission to university studies would be possible after matriculating in Hungarian.

In 1968, too, internal affairs became mixed with motivahons of world politics (the events in Czechoslovakia, the debates about federation in Yugoslavia). It was in that same year that the Mures-Maghiar Autonomous Region in Romania was liquidated. Simultaneously. minority grievances were dealt with at a party plenum, where the leadership promised to allow the wider use of Hungarian in schools and in cultural life. Indeed, a nationality publishing house was established, new press organs came into being, and a Hungarian-language television broadcast was launched. [36] In the first half of the 1970s, however, a reversal set in again. A new wave of coerced assimilation began, with occasional tactical compensations initially, but with no concessions since the mid-1980s.

The latest period is characterized by the enactment of overtly discriminatory legislation. This demonstrates, on the one hand, the contradictions and incoherence of Romanian lawnmaking, the enforcement of norms contrary to coustitutionally recognized equality before the law and, on the other, the worsening of the political status of minorities.

One such statute is the State Council's Law-decree No. 225/1974 of December 6th forbidding Romanian citizens to offer lodging to any foreigner except closest direct relatives (spouse, parents, children, and siblings). [37] The decree even prohibits accommodation at camping sites, and its breach is liable to a fine of 5 to 15 thousand lei. This legal provision is detrimental primarily to the minorities and, above all, to the Hungarians because of their high numerical ratio. Its obvious aim is to restrict personal contacts between people coming from Hungary and those in Transylvania as well as between any "mother nation" and its co-nationals that live as minorities in Romania. The discriminatory nature of this measure is evident in its modification under Decree No. 372/1976 of November 9th, according to which foreigners "of [ethnic] Romanian descent" may be put up at the home of "any of their relatives" residing in Romania. [38]

Also worth mentioning here is the State Council's Law Decree No. 402/1982 of November 1st. [39] Under this decree, persons applying for permission to settle abroad (to emigrate) are obliged to repay the costs of their education in convertible currency prior to the receipt of their passports. This decree was probably intended only for occasional diplomatic blackmail whereby through its publication and subsequent "liberal" nonapplication, Romania might obtain the right to preferential treatment in trade in the United States, i.e., the status of a most-favored nation. But the decree has not been revoked and its discrimixtory nature is unequivocal. It is detrimental primarily to members of the German minority, who leave Romania by the tens of thousands every year. Their relatives and acquaintances abroad or in the Federal Republic of Germany must raise the required sums of money, since Romanian citizens are not permitted to possess foreign currency. Theoretically, the provision is equally applicable to Hungarians and members of other natiomlities desiring to emigrate. We know of a number of cases in which university graduates who wished to settle in Hungary, but who had not yet served their compulsory three-year stagiatura,[40] were required to pay the expenses of their university education, in lei, and to reimburse any scholarship grants they had received.

Law Decree No. 278/l973 on the organization of educational establishments, issued by the Romanian State Council on May 13th, 1973, is also flagrantly discriminatory, based on criteria of language and nationality. It is detrimental to all minorities. It provides that "in townships where primary schools offer instruction in the languages of cohabiting nationalities," "... sections or classes taught in Romanian shall be organized, irrespective of the number of students." [41]

The same decree also stipulates that the minimum number of children shall be at least 25 in primary school classes and 36 in secondary school classes for minorities. The maintenanc of classes with fewer students is dependent on the special approval of the Ministry of Public Education. This requirement is clearly detrimental to institutions teaching in the languages of national minorities.

The above decree is the major legal justification for the Romanianization of the national minority schools. It should be noted that the operative clause in the text is formulated not as a permissive provision but as a prescriptive rule, i.e., Romanian sections or classes shall be organized.

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