[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] Elemér Illyés : National Minorities in Romania

Political Developments in Romania, 1944-48

Immediately after the conclusion of the Second World War the national minorities of Central and Southeastern Europe found themselves involved in a series of insoluble conflicts. Moreover, their political position had deteriorated considerably in comparison with the period after the First World War. The fateful errors of the peace treaties concluding the First World War survived or were even revived in the peace treaties at the end of the Second World War, and the consequences of the misguided national minority policy of the interwar period became increasingly manifest. The main sources of conflict remained the same: territory and ethnicity. There was one difference from the period after the First World War: now neither the "mother countries" nor international institutions would protect the minorities. It became a general principle that nationality questions must be treated as internal affairs: a policy of silence about minority problems manifested itself, often interpreted as fitting punishment for the "historical guilt" of those minorities. Punishment gained official sanction. Its intensity and time-scale varied, according to the country in question, from nationality discrimination to a complete deprivation of rights, from deportation to genocide.


The People's Democratic Interlude

Following the coup d'etat of August 23, 1944, King Michael of Romania entrusted General Constantin Sanatescu, a political moderate, with the task of forming a new government, in which, alongside the representatives of the historical parties (the National Peasant Party and the Liberals), the Communist Lucretiu Patrascanu also took part.

At this point, the formation of the government still took place on a democratic basis. The first measure of the new government -- the decree of August 31, 1944 -- was the re-establishment of the 1923 Constitution.78

In the meantime, a start was made toward the preparation of the Armistice Agreement between the Allies and Romania, that was to determine the fate of Romania. Already on April 2, 1944, the Soviet Union had assured Romania through Molotov that it had no intention of changing the existing social order and political system of the country.79 A communique issued on August 25 once again confirmed this promise.80 It was in this spirit that an armistice agreement81 was signed in Moscow on September 12, 1944, by the representatives of Romania, the Soviet Union, the USA, and Great Britain. The agreement stated, among other things, that Romania would withdraw from the war against the Allied Powers on August 24, 1944, and would fight alongside them against Hungary and Germany (Article l). The political clauses of the armistice declared the Second Vienna Award void and confirmed the final and irrevocable annexation of Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina by the Soviet Union. The implementation of the Armistice Agreement was guaranteed by the Soviet Military High Command and the Allied Control Commission.

By declaring the Second Vienna Award null and void, the Armistice Agreement restored Romania's de jure possession of Transylvania, while leaving open the possibility of revising the frontiers in favor of Hungary: "Transylvania, or the larger part of it, shall be restored to Romania, which will be confirmed in the peace treaty." This meant that it was a matter for the peace treaty to decide whether the whole of Transylvania "as an entity or only in part is returned to Romania" (Clause 4).82


It should be noted here that the return of Northern Transylvania to Romania was finalized by the Soviet Union -- more than a year before the Paris Peace Conference -- after the Groza government came to power. The conditions for the re-annexation were the formation of a popular front government and the elimination of the historical "bourgeois" political parties. The Soviet Union perceived these conditions as part of the preparation of the international proletarian revolution in Romania.

In the meantime, the left-wing was organizing, and on October 12, 1944, it founded the National Democratic Front (Frontul National-Democrat), which replaced the National Democratic Bloc (Blocul National-Democrat) that had been created while the August 23 change of direction was being prepared. The advance of the left-wing and the propaganda launched by the Soviet Union laid the groundwork for the reorganization of the Sanatescu government, which was carried out on November 4, through a coalition with the National Democratic Front, which consisted largely of communists. Sanatescu continued to be prime minister, or rather Chairman of the Council of Ministers, but the post of Deputy Premier was occupied by Petru Groza, the leader of the left-wing Ploughmen's Front; the communists continued to be represented by L. Patrascanu and G. Gheorghiu-Dej, who occupied the post of Minister of Transport. The Liberals and the Peasant Party were still represented in this government.

The interlude of people's democracy, however, did not last long. On December 2, 1944, the second Sanatescu government was also forced to resign, and on December 6, General Nicolae Radescu took over the coalition cabinet.

By the beginning of 1945, the Radescu government, increasingly weakened by the regular disturbances organized by the left-wing and by conditions of chaos, found it more and more difficult to retain its position. The Soviet Union was waiting for an excuse to justify intervention, and it found it when Radescu used armed force in an attempt to stop provocative demonstrations. Already on February 28, after the Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union, through its Foreign Minister Vishinsky, issued an ultimatum forcing the resignation of the Radescu government and calling on King Michael to appoint a radical popular front government. Such a government was established on March 6, 1945 with Petru Groza (1945-1952) as Prime Minister.

1945 marked a new turning point in Romanian internal politics: it was the beginning of the period of people's democracy, which lasted till 1947, as well as of the transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat.


The key positions in the Groza government were occupied by communists: Teohari Georgescu was Minister of the Interior, Patrascanu Minister of Justice, and Gheorghiu-Dej, the General Secretary of the Communist Party at that time, occupied the post of Minister of Labor and Economy. The police was reorganized, internal controls were strengthened, and preparations were begun for the nationalizations of June 11, 1948.

The political scene of the next year and a half was marked by a struggle for the liquidation of the so-called "historical" political parties. The National Peasant Party was the first to be eliminated: its leader, Iuliu Maniu, was arrested on a charge of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. Barely a year later, in the first parliamentary elections, held on November 19, 1946, the "democratic forces" supported by Moscow emerged victorious; the so-called Bloc of Democratic Parties received 378 mandates out of a total of 414 (79.86 percent); by contrast the National Peasant Party received 33 mandates and the National Liberal Party a mere 3. The elections were characterized by fraudulent manipulation and political intimidation.83

As already noted, the Transylvanian issue played a not inconsiderable part in the appointment of the Groza government. As early as March 9, 1945, Stalin had informed the Groza government by telegram of the permanent establishment of Romanian administration in Northern Transylvania: "Taking into consideration the fact that the new Romanian government, which has just taken over the governing of the country, has accepted responsibility for securing the desired law and order in the territory of Transylvania, as well as for securing the rights of the nationalities and the undisturbed functioning of all the local institutions serving the supply of the front, the Soviet government has decided to fulfil the request of the Romanian government and permits the introduction of the public administration of the Romanian government in the territory of Transylvania, in line with the cease-fire agreement of September 12, 1944."84

In the meantime -- while preparations for the peace treaty were still going on -- the diplomatic struggle for Transylvania began on both the Romanian85 and the Hungarian sides.86 In April 1945, a Hungarian delegation led by Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy travelled to Moscow to request 22,000 square kilometers of Transylvanian territory; however, as an alternative it would have been satisfied with a minimum of 11,800 square kilometers.87 Incidentally, the Hungarian demands, which related to the railroad line running along the Satu Mare-Oradea-Arad route, through a border district with an overwhelmingly Hungarian population, were not contrary to the provisions of the Soviet-Romanian Armistice Agreement, which did not deal with all of Transylvania.88


Stalin appeared to accept the proposal of the Hungarian delegation, with the proviso that Hungary should submit them to the Paris Peace Conference and that Romania should accept them.89 Romania, however, rejected any negotiations with Hungary90 and the issue was not raised again by the Soviet side, even though the Western Powers did not reject the Hungarian request. Thus, for example, at the May 1946 foreign ministerial conference91 J.F. Byrnes, American Deputy Secretary of State, recommended territorial modifications in favor of Hungary; Molotov rejected these by saying, "Stalin has already decided that the whole of Transylvania shall be returned to Romania."92 The possibility of territorial adjustments in favor of Hungary was also not alien to the approach of the British political delegation participating in preparations for the peace conference. That delegation declared: "Having regard to the very large Hungarian minority (in Transylvania), some modification of the Trianon settlement may be desirable."93

It was in this atmosphere of political conflict of interest that the Paris Peace Conference was held between July 29 and October 15, 1946,94 and the Soviet point of view finally prevailed. Molotov declared that "The Transylvanian question has been settled to the satisfaction of the Romanian people."95 At that point the Soviet Union was more confident about the establishment of communism in Romania than in Hungary, where the Communist Party had received a mere 17 percent of the vote in the 1945 elections.

It should be noted that the Soviet Union had earlier considered an alternative solution to the Transylvanian question, when there had been a possibility of Hungary's changing its position during the war. In June 1941, the Soviet government had still offered its support to Hungary on the Transylvanian question if Hungary remained neutral in the German-Soviet war.96

The Elimination of Democracy

1946 and 1947 were years of political and class conflict in Romania. In the course of these struggles the Soviet Union and the Communist Party aimed at the liquidation of the former "ruling bourgeois class" and the leaders of the "historical" parties. The show trials of war criminals and the intimidation of political dissenters made open opposition impossible.


However, until the conclusion of the Paris Peace Treaty between Romania and the Allies,97 which Romania signed on February 10, 1947, such measures remained limited, largely due to the tactical considerations. Nevertheless, mass arrests began in May 1947, particularly among the ranks of the Peasant Party. On the July 15 the leaders of the Peasant Party, Iuliu Maniu and Ion Mihalache, were arrested. The arrests were not based simply on the criterion of association with the "old regime": they affected the Social Democrats and Liberals just as much. According to estimates, 60,000 people were executed in the course of the "purges" in 1946-47.98 Developments escalated extremely rapidly as a result of the Soviet presence in Romania. Parliament was purged of democratic elements and turned into a monolithic institution; at the same time, the Groza government came to play an entirely subordinate role. As a consequence of this King Michael I was forced to abdicate in December 1947; on the 30th a Romanian People's Republic ( Republica Populara Romana) was proclaimed.99 Soon thereafter, Parliament enacted a law100 arbitrarily abolishing the 1923 democratic Constitution. With that act, the dictatorship of the proletariat had begun in Romania.

1944: Year of Decisive Change for the National Minorities

The first phase of Romanian nationality policy following the Second World War developed even before the final conclusion of peace. At that time it was in the fundamental interest of the Romanian leadership, as a party to the peace negotiations, to prove to the victorious Great Powers and world public opinion that as a result of the new political course it would respect the rights of the national minorities living within its territory. Such a policy was also necessary in order to mollify the political leadership and public opinion in Hungary, so as to neutralize possible territorial demands based on the position of the Hungarian population in Transylvania. Winning over the large Hungarian population of Northern Transylvania, which had been returned to Romania, was also a matter of some importance. Providing reassuring prospects of complete freedom of development for the national minorities and of a situation diametrically opposed to the oppressive atmosphere of interwar Romania was the only means of avoiding strong resistance.


The end of the war, with Romania on the victorious side, and the measures taken by the Great Powers had a different effect on the fate of each of the national minorities in Romania. Thus, the various ethnic groups need to be discussed separately, at least when focusing on the immediate post-war period. One has to start with the fact that the two largest national minorities in Romania, the Hungarians and the Germans, belonged to the category of the Axis "satellite" peoples who had lost the war, and their position reflected this status, insofar as they were made the object of condemnation and collective punishment.

Their fate was really determined not so much by their previous conduct, as by considerations of great power politics, which confronted them with a pronouncement of guilt as a fait accompli.

The indifference of the Great Powers toward the principle of the protection of national minorities was already observable at the Paris Peace Conference. What is more, the discussions at the Peace Conference took place in an anti-minority atmosphere. Without any hope of support from their mother countries and without any international protection, they were isolated and defenseless.

Nonetheless, in contrast to the situation in neighboring countries, the German minority in Romania was not radically eliminated; apart from a few isolated cases there were not even any anti-German excesses. Even at the time of the total collapse of the Axis cause, following the turning point of August 23, 1944, the bulk of the German population remained in their ancestral homes and did not see any reason to flee. As the situation became precarious, Hans Otto Roth, the political leader of the Germans in Romania, took the initiative and appealed to the Saxons of Transylvania and the Swabians of the Banat to remain calm.101 His personality and influence in Romanian political circles unquestionably played a role in lessening any threat to the German population. However, subsequent events undid much of his work: he was ultimately unable to prevent discriminatory measures or a denial of rights to the German population.

A decree issued on October 8, 1944,102 abolished the privileges granted to the German ethnic group in Romania (Deutsche Volksgruppe in Rumä nien) in 1940. On January 8, 1945, in a surprise move, approximately 100,000 people from among the German population were selected for deportation to forced labor in the Soviet Union. Romania had agreed to this -- without stipulating the nationality involved -- in the Armistice Agreement, as part of its reparations payment to the Soviet Union. The deportation affected men between the ages of 17 and 45, and women between 18 and 35. Data on the precise number of people deported differ, but according to several different estimates, approximately 80,000-100,000 people were involved;103 about 20 percent of them never returned.104


Subsequently, the German population was subjected to further discriminatory measures. In August 1945 a considerable part of them lost their citizenship and economic assets, as will be discussed below. The electoral law of July 14, 1946 deprived them of their right to vote on the pretext of war collaboration and war crimes. In the short run, some gains were made in the cultural and economic sector, but they were only short-lived. A Decree of October 16, 1946, for example, restored the houses, land, small businesses, and workshops to the Germans who had been forcibly evacuated.105

As mentioned earlier, the fate of the Hungarian nationality in Romania after August 23, 1944 differed sharply from that of the Germans; in this case, a crucial role was played by the Transylvanian question. As already noted, the Soviet Union had rewarded the Romanian withdrawal from the war and its subsequent action against the German and Hungarian armies by returning Northern Transylvania -- which had been re-annexed by Hungary in the Second Vienna Award -- to Romania. As a consequence of this from September 12, 1944, until November 11, 1944, with the extension of Romanian administration to Northern Transylvania under Soviet supervision, the Hungarian population of the "liberated" areas lived in fear of its very existence. No sooner had Hungarian administration been withdrawn from Northern Transylvania, than Romanian nationalist circles began inciting anti-Hungarian feeling among the Romanian population. According to the notes of one contemporary writer, "the clauses in the Armistice Agreement prescribing the punishment of war criminals were interpreted as if they referred, not to Romanian war criminals, but solely and entirely to the Hungarians in Romania."106 In the name of anti-fascism, all Hungarians, as the last allies of Hitler, could be collectively branded as fascists and therefore, as war criminals. A theoretical justification was thereby provided for the campaign of retribution beginning with the pogrom of the so-called "Maniu guard" in October 1944.107 By quick and decisive intervention, the Soviet military administration succeeded in protecting the Hungarian population; at the same time, in the name of the Allied Control Commission, it ordered the withdrawal of the recently established Romanian public administration from Northern Transylvania on November 11, 1944. The Soviets thereby achieved a dual purpose: they stopped conflict behind the front lines, which had interfered with the continuation of the war, and, at the same time, they gained the confidence of the terrorized Hungarian population, thus increasing the camp of Soviet sympathizers.


In this context it is worth noting that some of the Hungarians in Transylvania, though certainly not the majority, began to join leftwing organizations under the guidance of MADOSZ (Hungarian National Workers' Federation),108 particularly in the towns, some out of conviction, others for more complex reasons. One motive for this movement was the growing realization that nationality survival could be secured only by organized resistance. It should be added that the interwar labor movement in Romania had been more a means of struggling for higher wages than a conscious left-wing political movement, and neither the Hungarian National Workers' Federation (MADOSZ) nor the Romanian Communist Party had sufficient influence to mobilize the broad masses during that period.

For a clearer understanding of the historical background it is important to note that -- contrary to the view of contemporary Romanian historiography -- there were hardly any Romanian communists in Transylvania at that time. The membership of the Romanian Communist Party at the end of 1944 amounted to approximately 1,000, the overwhelming majority of them Jews and Hungarians. This in turn was reflected in the composition of the top party leadership, since the leading personages in the RCP were the returned "Muscovites," Ana Pauker and LászlóLuca, and the Romanian triumvirate, also called the "Troika," which consisted of Emil Bodnaras, Constantin Parvulescu, and Josif Ranghet. Only two Romanians from the "home front" succeded in entering the leading cadre, the intellectual Lucretiu Patrascanu and the worker Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Nonetheless, the number of party members belonging to the discontented national minorities steadily increased; here, as everywhere, the internationalist character of the communist parties undoubtedly played an essential role, appealing to the dissatisfaction felt by oppressed national minorities.

The efforts of the Hungarian minority in Romania to maintain its own cultural institutions and its economic and political rights during the immediate post-war period began with a certain degree of Soviet support. Stalin -- using the national minorities as a means for undermining anti-communism in Romania -- promised far-reaching cultural concessions and stipulated that the annexation of Northern Transylvania by Romania was conditional on "the new Romanian government securing full, equal rights for the Hungarians in Transylvania."109


During this transitional period the Hungarians and Romanians of Transylvania found a meeting ground for settling their differences and to establish a modus vivendi under the protection of a neutral power, the Soviet Union. Thus, for four months, there were no official anti-minority pronouncements, and the dominant tendency in the treatment of the nationalities continued to be one of tolerance. During this brief period, it became clear for the first time since the end of the war that the national minorities desired democracy and justifiably believed that the nationalist excesses of the past could be brought to an end: it appeared that national primacy was to be replaced by the class struggle.

It was during this period that the Hungarian People's Alliance in Romania (Romá niai Magyar Né pi Szö vetség) was formed to replace the Hungarian National Workers' Federation (MADOSZ), which had ceased to exist in October 1944. The Hungarian press, which came back into existence at this time, fought for the survival of this new organization, whose aim was the protection of the political, economic, and cultural interests of the Hungarian national minority in Romania. The Romanian and Hungarian democratic parties joined in a coalition based on their common interests; they established village, town, and county organizations; a Central Executive Committee and a Central Advisory Board, including both Hungarians and Romanians, were formed in order to carry out the functions of the absent central authority. During this four-month period, which lasted from November 14, 1944, until March 19, 1945, a semi-autonomous, democratic self-government arose which resembled in many ways the one-time autonomous Transylvania.

Illustrative of the endeavor to promote Hungarian-Romanian co-existence on a democratic basis was the text of a declaration issued by the Hungarian People's Alliance during this period: "Just as sincerely as we profess the need for cooperation with the progressive Romanian democracy, we openly and frankly desire close economic, educational, and political cooperation with Hungary, the abolition of the need for passports, and the elimination of customs barriers."110 The Romanian Communist Party reacted with a similar tone: ". . . fighting against nationality oppression and for the development of the science, culture, and art of the Romanian and coexisting peoples, on the basis of the principle that these should be national in form and consistently democratic in content, the United Workers' Party guarantees by the letter and spirit of its organizational rules the realization of the equal rights that are the due of the coexisting nationalities.''111


Matters, however, were ultimately to turn out quite differently, as the situation in Romania and Transylvania worsened. The People's Front government of Petru Groza (1945-1947) promised relatively liberal autonomous rights to the nationalities; however, it fulfilled these promises to only a minimal extent. Certain members of the government, such as, Lucretiu Patrascanu, the Minister of Justice, and Lotar Radeceanu, the Minister of Labor, introduced anti-minority measures in spite of Groza's intentions. The arrests, deportations, executions, and attacks against the economic assets of the Transylvanian minorities continued.

It must be admitted, nonetheless, that under the Groza regime certain important national-minority cultural institutions were established, a start was made in organizing the literary life of the minorities, and minority representatives were elected to the nationality Secretariat of State and the Romanian Council of State and Council of Ministers.

Concessions were made particularly to the Hungarian national minority, largely because of the Transylvanian question, which had not yet been settled.112 It was characteristic of the new political climate that on April 6, 1945, Hungarian broadcasts were transmitted by Radio Bucharest for the first time.113 Similarly, a 1945 decree of the Lord Lieutenant of Cluj County and the city of Cluj called for the settling of various nationality political differences between the Hungarian and Romanian inhabitants, particularly the issue of the use of the mother tongue, on the basis of reciprocity.114 At the congress of the Hungarian People's Alliance, on May 6, 1945, Prime Minister Groza proclaimed Hungarian-Romanian fraternal solidarity, in a speech delivered in Hungarian; in a speech in Cluj on March 12th, delivered in the presence of Vishinsky, the Soviet Foreign Minister, Groza promised equal civil rights for the national minorities. Some time later, he made the following statement to a journalist from Hungary: "The sense of identity that the Hungarians in Romania have with the term 'minority' must be eradicated. ln the future, Hungarian-language schools can operate freely in the territory of Romania and nothing must hinder the free use of the mother tongue in the spheres of culture, public administration, and economic life."115


The greatest improvement that the Hungarians in Romania achieved under the Groza government was the opening of the Hungarian Bolyai University in Cluj, on the basis of a decree of June 1, 1945. At that time, Bolyai University had thirteen faculties with Hungarian teachers. At about the same time, the CsángóHungarians of Moldavia were permitted to have schools with instruction in the mother tongue. During this period the use of both languages in shop signs and other public notices, signs, place names, and street names was to some extent a reality. The use of national-minority languages was permitted at the work place, official meetings, party conferences, and in the public sector, and the flags of the nationalities could be flown side by side with the Romanian flag. There were visiting professors from Hungary at the University of Cluj, and Hungarian newspapers could be imported in almost unlimited quantities. According to a contemporary writer, "the Groza government, which had proclaimed a democratic policy . . . wanted to create a Transylvania which would be a bridge rather than a barrier between Hungary and Romania.''116

The third major national-minority group in Romania, the Jews, who were still a political factor at that time, found itself in a different position than the German and Hungarian nationalities at the end of the war. As already mentioned, the Jewish population of Romania had been reduced by a half as a result of the events of the war: the majority of those who had disappeared were victims of racial prejudice that first broke out in the atrocities perpetrated by the Iron Guard and subsequently escalated into mass extermination during the war, while others were lost as a result of military service and deportation.

Immediately after the Romanian coup d'etat of August 23, 1944, the Jewish population was accorded a form of rehabilitation and a certain degree of toleration. This was all the more so because Romanian internal politics were preoccupied with the question of hostilities against the German and Hungarian armies. It would have been unsuitable to initiate discriminatory measures against the Jews, the victims of fascism, during or immediately after the "anti-fascist" military campaign. On the contrary, with the consolidation of the earlier left-wing movements, some of the Jews living in Romania gained a certain political role. This was reflected in the fact that a portion of the membership and leadership of the Romanian Communist Party at the end of 1944 consisted of Jewish intellectuals. The extent to which this picture was subsequently altered as a result of changes in the political constellation will be discussed later.


The first political organization of the Jewish national minority in Romania after the war, the Democratic Committee of Jews, founded in June 1945, attempted to group the Jewish population of the country into a united front. The committee consisted largely of communists and social democrats. They opposed the more traditionally oriented Federation of Romanian Jews, as well as the Jewish Party, which was soon abolished with the rise of the Romanian left. The first wave of Jewish emigration from Romania signalled a fundamental change in the political scene. In June 1947, 150,000 Romanian Jews chose to emigrate to Palestine (later Israel); by comparison, only 70,000 had emigrated before the end of 1944.117

With the consolidation of Stalinism, after 1949, within the framework of a developing system of nationality oppression, the Jewish national minority was also subjected to a succession of serious discriminatory measures. This was a preliminary stage of the period which began with the Rajk trial118 in Hungary and was characterized by Stalin's anti-Semitism and a "purge" of non-Romanian elements from the Romanian Communist Party. With the emergence of this new political constellation at the beginning of 1949, Zionist leaders were arrested and all Jewish institutions in Romania were nationalized.119

The Legal Status of the Minorities From the War Until the Foundation of the Totalitarian State

Following the Romanian coup d'etat of August 23, 1944, the national minorities living in Romania found themselves in an entirely new situation, which was to decisively determine their ultimate fate. Their existence has been closely linked ever since with the social, political, and economic life of the majority Romanian people. There were no international forums to protect their rights, nor was the issue mentioned at all in the peace treaties that concluded the Second World War. This was in sharp contrast to the well-known nationality principle that played an important part in the peace treaties and related international agreements after World War I. These treaties contained two basic principles for the protection of minorities: nondiscrimination against individuals and a guarantee of collective rights. Minorities were considered collectively and were under the protection of the signatory powers; the League of Nations had the right to apply sanctions, which proved the existence of a certain degree of jurisdiction (e.g., the right of petition).


The peace treaties concluded after the Second World War between the Allied Powers and the satellite states -- Italy, Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary -- called for the observance of universal human rights and basic freedoms, but no mention was made of international protection for ethnic or religious minorities. Treaty stipulations apply only to individual rights (nondiscrimination against persons; see for instance, Part 11 of the peace treaties). Although there is implied, albeit minimal, protection for minorities,120 collective rights, however, exist only in separate agreements (e.g., Article 7 of the Austrian State Treaty of 1955). The failure to incorporate guarantees of minority rights in the peace treaties concluding World War II meant that the minority question had become an internal matter, that is, it had changed from international to national right.121

In the peace treaty concluded between Romania and the Allies on February 10, 1947, there are provisions, although inadequate, giving minorities a certain amount of protection against discrimination. The Political Clause (Article 3 of Part 11), for example, guaranteed "equal rights for the inhabitants of Romania, regardless of race, language, religion, or nationality," as well as "the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms," that is, "the free expression of opinions in the press or other channels of information or at public meetings, freedom of religion and assembly."

A further development toward international standards of protection for minorities can be seen in the work of the United Nations. This is especially clear in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), dealing with the basic human rights of both individuals and groups. Both the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (proclaimed on December 10, l948)122 raised protection of minorities to an international principle. In addition, after World War II there were a number of international treaties for the protection of minorities; they included the UN Convention for Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (Dec. 9, 1948); the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms (Rome, Nov. 4, 1950); the UN Convention Against Discrimination in Education (Dec. 14, 1960); and the UN World Pact on Civil and Political Rights, Article 27 (Dec. 16, 1966). Furthermore, since 1949 the UN Commission on Human Rights has had under its jurisdiction the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which is primarily concerned with racial discrimination.123


The UN's efforts to clarify the problem of protecting minority and group rights have taken concrete forms since 1972, especially after the publication of the so-called Capotorti Reports which will be discussed later.

In conclusion it must be said that in the UN Charter there are no international standards for protection of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, although the international basis of the UN Charter has priority over the principle of regional jurisdiction. The limited interest in this question is found primarily in ideological quarrels (the East-West conflict), as well as in contrary territorial aspirations (Europe, Africa, etc.). One of the fundamental principles of the rights of ethnic groups, the right of an individual to belong to an ethnic group without suffering discrimination, is still lacking.

The first experiment aimed at a solution of the nationality question in Romania after the war took place during the transitional period of the people's democracy, under the Sanatescu government, with the establishment of a Ministry of Nationality Affairs.124 This was followed by the Nationality Statute of February 6, 1945,125 which attempted to provide a legal framework for the rights and obligations of the members of the national minorities in Romania, consolidating all those decrees in force which guaranteed the freedoms and rights of the nationalities. The statute prescribed the free use of the mother-tongue in education, in public life, and in judicial proceedings in those parishes where the national-minority population was more than 30 percent. The Nationality Statute was reconfirmed by the Groza government.126 A further decree banned the official use of the term "minority," replacing it with the concept of "co-inhabiting nationalities,"127 in accordance with Marxist-Leninist nationality policy. However, this concept still had connotations of second-class status as compared with that of the majority nation.

The purpose of this nationality policy, which can be said to have been a liberal one, was, on the one hand, to gain sympathizers from the ranks of the national minorities for the strengthening of communism and, on the other hand, to prove to the victorious Great Powers and world public opinion that, with the onset of the democratic period, the nationality question in Romania had been solved, before the conclusion of the peace treaties and the final settlement of the Transylvanian question. The clauses protecting minorities contained in the Nationality Statute were destined, in fact, to remain valid only until the conclusion of the peace treaties.


Just how much the Nationality Statute was the result of political and tactical considerations was revealed in other aspects of nationality policy not long after it had been enacted. The agrarian reform law of March 23, 1945,128 for example, had serious consequences for the national minorities in Romania, particularly the Germans and Hungarians. It is worth noting that the land reform affected primarily the owners of small and very small holdings, i.e., the broadest section of the population, and in large part it was shaped by considerations of war guilt. For example, according to Point c of Section 11 of the law, those landowners who had fled to countries at war with Romania, or had fled abroad after August 23, 1944, lost their property rights. Moreover, according to Point d, the landed and other property of "absent" individuals was also to be confiscated. It is obvious that this law affected primarily the German and Hungarian population of Transylvania; Article 3 further stipulated that the landholdings and any other agricultural property of all those Romanian citizens of German origin or of Romanian citizens or institutions who had collaborated with Hitler's Germany were to be expropriated without compensation; finally Point a of Article 3 stipulated that this expropriation did not apply to those Romanians who had found themselves in Hungary or in Germany as a result of wartime labor service. The law regarded as "absent" primarily those members of the German or Hungarian minorities who had fled from the Antonescu terror in Southern Transylvania to Northern Transylvania or to the West, and those who had fought in the German and Hungarian armies and had left for the West during the retreat. Those Hungarians and Germans, however, who had been deported from the battle areas, who had left their homes because of the bombing, who had been called up for military service in the Romanian army, who were disabled as a result of the war or were under medical treatment, or who even simply happened to be abroad on private business with a passport or who, due to advanced age or ill health, were unable to cultivate their land were placed in the category of "refugee" or "absentee." The landholdings of all these individuals were expropriated.

The land reform was carried out not in accordance with social need but on the basis of nationalistic considerations: 80 percent of the redistributed land of Hungarian landowners and 98 percent of German property became Romanian property.129 It is characteristic that 94.6 percent of the individuals affected by the expropriations and 49 percent of the land expropriated, including the expropriations in the Banat -- were in Transylvania.130

 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] Elemér Illyés : National Minorities in Romania