[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [Endnotes] [HMK Home] Bela K. Kiraly: The Hungarian Minority's Situation in Ceausescu's Romania


The Ceausescu era's nationality policies are a consequence mainly of developments since World War II. However, the relations between Roma- nians and Hungarians go back at least eight hundred years and maybe even further. Therefore, the events of the major developments in Transyl- vanian history will be summed up in three steps. First, by reviewing the major phases in inter-ehnic and internationality relations to the 20th century. Second, by providing a summary chronology of the period from World War I to World War II. Finally by providing a detailed chrono1ogy from the end of World Wau II to the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu.

The contested region of Transylvania has been inhabited by humans for at least 140,000 years according to the findings of archeologists. These peoples have not left behind any clues regarding the language they spoke or the "etlmic" affiliation that they professed. Only in the second century B.C. do we begin to encounter people in this region who can be associated at least with some historically identifiable peoples. In this context the region is successively occupied by Sarmatians, Dacians, Romans, Goths, Alans, Huns, Bulgars, Avars. None of these peoples could maintain a lasting hold over the region. Only the arrival of the Magyars (Hungarians) in 896 A.D. set a foundation for a stable and settled occupation of the region. By the reign of (Saint) Stephen I (1000-1038) Transylvania became an important component of the medieval Hungarian Kingdom. It remained in this status for the next 500 years until the Ottoman Turkish invasion of 1526-40. At that time the Hungarian Kingdom broke into three parts, with the westem part (Transdanubia and part of northern Hungary) coming under Habsburg control, while the central lowlands became an Ottorman Pashalik governed from Buda. leaving only the eastenn parts (Partium and Transylvania) under the reign of Hungarian princes (mainly the Bathory and Rakoczi families). This condition lasted until the end of the 17th century (1691) whell the retreat of the Ottoman Turks enabled the Habsburgs to extend their control over both the central plains and the region of Transylvania. This control was briefly interrupted in 1848-49 when the Kossuth led Hungarian Revolution reunited Transylvania with Hungary. The union was dissolved after the revolution was crushed, but revived after the 1867 Dual Monarchy came into being. Transylvania remained part of Hungary until World War I ended with the military defeat of the Dual Monarchy.

In this 1,000 years of history the demographic profile of Hungary and TransyLvania underwent a drastic change. Most of the change came after the Turkish and Habsburg conquests. The Hungarian Kingdom had been multi-ethnic from the very beginning. Together with the Hungarians the land was also inhabited by Slovaks, Slovenes, Germans, Croats, Serbs, Petchenegs, Cumans, Jazigs, Vlachs (Romanians), and Bulgars. However, as late as 1490 under Mathias Rex (Hunyadi) the four million inhabitants of the Carpathian Basin were still predominantly Hungarian (approxi- mately 80%) in language and culture. The devastating Turkish wars and occupation reduced the total population of the Kingdom by the end of the 17th century to less than two million. Of this two million only about 45 percent were still Hungarians. Habsburg policy atempted to consolidate its power by encouraging other peoples to settle in the depopulated Hun- garian territories. It is in the context of these last four centuries that Transylvania acquired a Romanian majority while the other peoples, Swabian-Germans, Saxon-Germans, Serbs, and Hungarians came to com- pose less than 45 percent of the region's population. Changes in the sovereignty over Transylvania simply reinforced the demographic advan- tages of the Romanians. The present chronology will pick up the train of developments from World War I which led to the collapse of the Austro- Hungarian Momrchy and the annexation of Transylvania by Romania.

1914 July 28.
Beginning of World War I
1916 August 17.
The Entente promises Transylvania to Romania if she enters the war on their side.
1918 October 27.
Austria-Hungary pushes for aul armistice.
1918 November 12-14.
Oszkar Jaszi negotiates with Iuliu Maniu in Arad. The Romaniaul leaders reject the Hungarian offer of autonomy within Transylvania and instead demand independence.
1918 December l-2.
The Romallian assembly convoked in Alba Iulia (Gyulafehervar) declares union of Transylvania with the King- dom of Romania. (The document also promises equality to non-Romanians and their right to national cultural autonomy).
1918 December 2.
Romanian military occupation begins in Tran'sylvania.
1919 January 11.
The Romanian government proclaims the annexation of Transylvania.
1919 March 20.
The Allies' "Vix Ultimatum" orders Hungary to withdraw from territories to be occupied by Romania. President Mihaly Karolyi and the Hungarian government resigns in protest.
1919 March 21.
Bela Kun's communist dictatorship comes to power in Budapest.
1919 April.
Romanian and Czech armies attack Bela Kun's Hungarian Soviet Republic. While Czech armies are pushed back, the romanian armies continue their advance.
1919 August 1.
Fall of Bela Kun's soviet Republic and the subsequent restoration of the Hungarian Kingdom with Admiral Miklos Horthy as regent
1920 June 4.
The Peace Treaty of Trianon partitions historic Hungary and assigns Romania an area of 102,000 sq. km. with a total popu lation of 3,5 millon of which 1,664,000 are Hungarians accord- ding to the census of 1910.
1920 August 14 - June 7, 1921.
The Little Entente comes into being to defend the newly acquired territories of Czechoslovakia, Yugo slavia and Romania against Hungarian revisionism.
1921 June 5.
Karoly Kos and others establish the Hungarian People's Party in Huedin (Banffyhunyad).
1922 February 12.
Founding of the Hungarian National Party which then merges with the Hungarian People's Party on December 28th of that year and becomes the National Hungarian Party. The latter publishes the political review Magyar Kisebbseg (Hun garian Minority) for the next twenty years under the editorship of Elemer Jacabffy in Lugoj (lugos)
1923 March 29.
The new Romanian Constitution is adopted. It guaranties general eguality to all but does not include any of the minority rights guarantied in the peace treaties or the promises of the 1918 Alba Iulia declarations.
1924 June 26.
The Romanian Primary Education Act provides special benefits to Romanian teachers in national minority areas to ounteract "denationalization by alien element".
The law on private education demends that geography, history, and the constitution of Romania be taught in Romanian. The teach ing of the Romanian language also becomes compulsory in all schools and all school teachers must pass Romanian language examinations.
1927 April 5.
To break out of its isolation by the Little Entente, Hungary signs a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Italy.
1927 April 22.
The statute regulating religious practice deprives the mi- nority churches of their autonomy and puts them under the supervision of the central government.
According to the Romanian census 1,425,507 people claimed Hun- garian nationality and 1,554,525 people claimed Hungarian as their mother tongue.
Hitler's rise to power in Germany throws the question of border revision into the center of European politics.
Construction of the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in Cluj (Kolozsvar).
1934 August.
The left wing of the Hungarian Party in Romania reconsti- tutes itself as the National Union of Hungarian Workers. (MADOSZ).
1935 December 6.
MADOSZ joins the Antifascist Democratic Front.
Hungarian industrial corporations are dissolved by a new trade law and their property is assigned to the Romanian state-managed chamber of industry.
Construction of Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in Timisoara (Temesvar).
King Carol II declares a royal dictatorship in Romania and disbands all political parties.
1938 August 14.
Romania's Public Administration Act divides the country into ten provinces in such a way that Romanians gain an ethnic predominance in each of the new subdivisions.
1938 November 2.
Czechoslovakia's Hungarian inhabited territories are returned to Hungary by the Axis arbitrated First Vienna Award. This raises Hungarian hopes for possible territorial revision in relation to Transylvania.
1939 August 23.
Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact is signed.
1939 September 1.
Hitler invades Poland beginning World War II.
1940 June.
Romania cedes Bessarabia (and northem Bukovina to the USSR.
1940 August l6-23.
Romanian-Hungarian negotiations for frontier recti- fication breaks down.
1940 August 30.
Through Axis arbitration the Second Vienna Award returns northern Transylvania to Hungary. It included most of the Hungarian-inhabited regions, but it still leaves about half a million Hungarians in Romania. About 200,000 Romanians leave Hungary and 60,000 Hungarians leave Romania across the newly established border.
1941 June 22.
Romania joins the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union
1941 June 27.
Hungary enters the war against the USSR
1944 March 19.
Hungary is occupied by Gemiany
1944 August 23.
Romania swiches sides in the war, sues for an amtistice and declares war on Germay on August 25th.
1944 September 12.
Armistice signed between Romania and USSR. The latter promises Trussylvania "or the greater part thereof" to Romania for its abandonment of the Axis war effort.
1944 October.
Romanian administration is restored in the reconquered areas of northern Transylvania. However, massacres perpetrated by the Maniu Guardists against Hungarians leads to the estab- lisment of Soviet administration over the region to fonestall further atrocities.
1945 February 4-12.
The Yalta Conference provides for the consolidation of Soviet control over both Romania and Hungary.
1945 March 6.
Communists come to power in Romania under the leader- ship of Petru Groza and Gheorghiu-Dej pledging the protection of minorities. Three days later the USSR grants the restoration of Romanian administration over northern Transylvania
1945 March 23.
Land reformn decree dramatically reduces the economic opportulities of 300,000 Hungarian small-holders in Transylvania.
1945 March 30.
The Citizenship Act leaves 200,000 Hungarians without rights. Thousands are forced to emigrate.
1945 April 2.
Decree on minority languages makes their use "legal" and in the postal service and on the railroads bilingual signs become obligatory.
1945 May 29.
The Bolyai State University is organzed in Cluj (Kolozsvar), thereby reestablishing Hungarian university level educa- tion in Transylvania.
A general revival of Htmgarian cultural opportunities takes place as the Hungarian People's Union increases Hungarian repre- sentation in the Romanian parliament and as primary and sec- ondary schools again begin to function. Two additional impor- tant examples are the opening of the Szekely State Theater of Titrgu Mures (Marosvasarhely) and the publication of the liter- ary weekly Utunk. (Our Way) under the editorship of Gabor Gaal.
1946 July l7 - August 2.
The Potsdam Conference reaffirms the pledges of the Yalta agreements.
1947 February 10.
Hungary signs the Peace Treaty of Paris concluding World War II. It reaffirms the pre-1938 Trianon boundaries and assigns two Hungarian bridgeheads near Bratislava to Slovakia.
1947 August.
The Csango-Hungarians receive their first Hungarian language schools. (These are later eliminated in the 1950s).
1947 December 30.
King Michael of Romania abdicates under Soviet pressure. The Communists consolidate their hold over the country.
1948 January.
The official Romaia census claims that there are 1,499,851 Hungarians in the country. This is 9.4 percent of the population.
1948 March 6.
The People's Democratic (Communist) Constitution is adopted.
Stalin expels Tito,s Yugoslavia from the Cominform.
1948 August 3.
Private education, and church schools are eliminated by the new educational law. At the same time it establishes seven- year compulsory education.
1948 September.
The Hungarian Opera is reestablished in Cluj (Kolozsvar).
1949 January 25.
Soviet control is tightened over the Soviet Bloc via the organization of economiic integration through COMECON.
1949 June 21.
The Hungarian Roman Catholic Bishop of Alba Iulia (Gyulafehervar). Aron Marton is imprisoned. He is released in l955 but kept under house arrest until 1967. 1949 October. Most of the leaders of the Hungarian People's Union are accused of treason and imprisoned. Many are released in 1955* but the organization's president (Gyarfas Kurko) is released only ill l965.
The "minority" representatives, Ana Pauker and Vasile Luka are purged from the top leadership of the Romanian Workers, Party.
1952 September 24.
Romania adopts a new Constitution which also par- allels the establishment of a Hungarian Autonomous Region in eastem Transylvania, granting some measure of symbolic self- govemment to the solidly Hungarian Szekely population.
1953 March 5.
Stalin dies.
The Hungarian People's Union is disbanded.
1955 May 11-15.
The Warsaw Pact tightens Moscow's control over the bloc by integrating its military forces in a Soviet led military alliance.
1956 February.
Nikita S. Khrushchev denounces Stalin at the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU.
1956 October.
Unrest breaks out in Poland and spreads to Hungary. On October 23 this erupts into a national revolution against the USSR and its Hungarian lackeys. The events there trigger sym- pathy demonstrabons throughout Transylvania in Hungarian inhabited cities like Cluj (Kolozsvar), Oradea (Nagyvarad), Timisoara (Temesvar). and Tirgu Mures (Marosvasarhely). Throughout Romania this is followed by the mass arrest, de- portation and imprisonment of Hungarians.
1956 November 4.
Soviet military intervention, with Czech and Romanian logistic support, crushes the Hungarian Revolution and installs the Janos Kadar regime.
Purge of Miron Constantinescu and Iosif Chisinevschi by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej consolidates the ethnic Romanian cadres in the top leadership positions.
The periodical Korunk (Our Age) resumes publication in Cluj (Kolozsvar).
Soviet troops are withdrawn from Romania as a reward for the country's loyalty during the Hungarian Revolution. This is par- alleled by a new wave of minority oppression.
1959 Februry 22.
The Hungarian Bolyai University of Cluj (Kolozsvar) is merged with the Romanian Babe,s University and renamed Babes,-Bolyai University. At all lower levels of education as well a similar merger leads to the absorption of Hungarian schools by Romanian schools.
1960 December 24.
The Hungarian Autonomous Region is gerrymandered and renamed the Mures,-Maghiar Autonomous Region. The Hungarian portion of the population is thereby diluted to 62 percent from 77.3 percent of the total.
1962 April.
The collectivization of agriculture is completed with particu- larly discriminatory consequences for the Hungarian rural popu- lation in Transylvania. 1964. Romania begins to assert its independence from COMECON in determining its economic policy options within the Socialist bloc.
1965 March 22.
Soon after the death of Gheorghiu-Dej, Nicolae Ceausescu is elected First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. 1965 August 21. A new constitution is adopted by Romania which rede- fines it as a Socialist Republic.
The official census claims that 1,619,592 persons defined them- selves as Hungarians by natioliality while 1,653,873 claimed Hungarian as their mother tongue.
1968 February 16.
Romania's Grand National Assembly uses the territo- rial reorganization of the country as a pretext to eliminate the Mures-Maghiar Autonomous Region.
1968 August 20.
The "Brezhnev doctrine" is used by the USSR to justify its invasion of Czechoslovakia with its Warsaw Pact allies. Romania refuses to support this action, fearing similar interven- tion in its own domestic affairs.
1968 November 15.
To establish a united front against possible external intervention, the Ceausescu regime begins to make some con- cessions to minority concems. As a first step Council of Work- ers of Hungarian Nationality is established. However, this is merely a symbolic organization with no legal status to represent the Hungarian nationality in Romanian policy-making.
1969 September.
The University of Bucharest re-opens a department of Hungarian literature and philology.
1969 November.
A series of cultural concessions are made to the Hun- garian minority, including some limited broadcasts in Hunga- rian on Romanian television and the establishment of the non- Romanian nationalities publishing house, Kriterion.
1970 October.
A new Hungarian-language weekly, A Het (The Week) begins publication in Bucharest.
1971 June.
For the first time a leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers, Party, Zoltan Komocsin, publicly declares that Hungary is in- terested in the fate of the Hungarian national minority in Romania
1973 May 19.
Educational decree law 271 is published. It narrows the educational opportunity of the Hungarian minority even further, particularly in small rural communities, by requiring a minimum number of students per class. No such minimum number is established for Romanians even in areas inhabited mainly by minorities.
A decree reduces the size of newspapers and the number of pages and issues per publication. Ostensibly this is an emergency measure in the face of a paper shortage. In actuality it hits the minority press hardest, dealing a crippling blow to some of the best Hungarian-language periodicals and newspapers.
1974 November.
A law is promulgated to defend Romania's cultural heritage, which makes all archival materials "the property of the people." In ths way all minoritiy church (Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, etc.) documents are subject to confiscation and col- lection by the central authorities. This reflects the state's ag- gressive desire to obliterate the history of minorities while at the same time it Romanianizes the history of Transylvania.
A decree goes into effect which requires all foreign visitors to stay in hotels during their sojoum in Romania. Its purpose is to reduce contact between Transylvanian Hungarians and their relatives and friends from neighboring countries. 1975 July 30-August 1. The Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe includes in "Basket III" the affirmation of the rights of minorities.
President Gerald Ford of the USA grants Romania MFN (Most Favored Nation) status.
Establishment of CHRR (The Committee for Human Rights in Romania) in New York City under the leadership of Laszlo Hamos and others to monitor the violations of the Helsinki Accord in relation to the Hungarian and other minorities in Romania.
1977 June 15-16.
Janos Kadar meets with Nicolae Ceausescu in Debrecen (Hungary) and Oradea (Romallia) to try and reconcile some of their differences. The meeting pays lipservice to "building bridges" but does not lead to the bettrnment of inter-ethnic relations in Romania.
Karoly Kiraly, a prominent Hungarian member of the Romanian Communist Party sent protest letters to his leadership concern ing the oppression of the Hungarian minority. From CHRR the Westen press obtains copies of these protests. The Romanian authorities force Kiraly into internal exile and attempt to isolate him from contact with the outside world.
The first Helsinki review conference meets in Belgrade to discuss the human rights performance of the signatory states. The Karoly Kiraly letters are circulated at this conference. 1981 December. Hungarians intellectuals in Transylvania launch an under- ground periodical, Ellenpontok (Counterpoints) against the mi- nority oppression of the Ceausescu regime.
1982. September.
The editors of Ellenpontok. submit a memorandum to the Madrid conference reviewing adherence to the Helsinki Final Act. It calls for the creation of an international commission to investigate the situation in Transylvania.
The publication of a number of anti-Hungarian hate works (includ- ing Ion Lancranjan's A Word about Transylvania) incites the Romanians against the country,s largest minority.
The Madrid conference reviewing compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, in its closing document reiterates the rights of na- tional minorities.
1983 May.
Romania expels Attila Ara-Kovacs for his part in the submis- sion of the memorandum to the Madrid conference.
1984 July.
Romania expels Karoly Toth for his role in relation to the Madrid memorandum.
1985 September.
Geza Szocs submits a petition to the Central Committee of the Romanan Communist party demanding the release of all political prisioners, including Emo Borbely and Laszlo Balazs.
1986 August.
Romania expels Geza Szocs.
1986 November.
At the third Helsinki review conference in Vienna, the Hungarian delegate Laszlo Demus indicates that Hungary is very much concerned about the fate of Hungarians living in neighboring states and condemns nationalism and forced assimilation.
1987 May 26.
During his official visit to Bucharest, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev chides the Romanians on excercising more care and sensitivity in the treatment of their minority nationalities.
After defecting from Romania, Ceausescu's fonner spy chief, Ion Mihai Pacepa, writes Red Horizons which reveals the corrup tion, brutality and oppressive policies of the Romanian estab- lishment.
The U.S. Congress votes to revoke Romania's MFN status in large measure because of its dismal record in human rights violations and abuse of minorities.
1988 April.
Ceausescu's administration publicizes a "bulldozing" plan to eliminate 7,000 villages before the end of the century. The objective is to establish new agro-industrial centers where the various national groups would be absorbed by the majority Romanian population.
1989 November.
At the Party Congress of the Romanian Communist Party, Ceausescu still holds the line against any form of revisionism.
1989 December 18.
In Timisoara (Temesvar) the attempt by the Romanian Securitate (security police) to evict Rev. Laszlo Tokes from his Hungarian Reformed church, leads to a mass demonstration against the Ceausescu regime. The demonstration is attacked by the Securitate. Instead of dispersing, the demonstrators fight back. The unrest spreads to other cities, including Bucharest.
1989 December 22.
Ceausescu flies back from a state visit to Iran only to find that his political support at home is evaporating. He flees the capital by helicopter but is captured and returned to Bucharest.
1989 December 25.
After a kangaroo trial by his former supporters, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu are executed by a firing squad in Bucharest.

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