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3. The Status of Minority Rights in Transylvania: International
Legal Expectations and Rumanian Realities

In examining the ways in which the international system works or does not work to protect the rights of national minorities, my underlying assumptions are that the institution of human rights is a good thing; that ethnicity, mother tongue, and native culture are some of the most powerful elements of identification and self-definition and that they are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the deprivation of one's ethnic identity is in itself a deprivation, if not of life, at least of liberty, and certainly of the pursuit of happiness. Oppression of minorities in the long run is inimical to the interest of majorities also, and only pluralism and tolerance will provide a solution to this problem that is consistent with progress and human dignity.

Many other scholars in the field probably hold similar commitments. The research on the subject of human rights is so interwoven with normative commitments that it is wise to summarize the underlying assumptions at the outset.

The study is mainly concerned with so-called positive minority rights and only to a limited extent with the right to nondiscriminatory treatment. Nondiscrimination is the first step, of course, but is not peculiar to national minorities. It is forbidden to discriminate because of race, sex, religion, color, or social origin. Minority protection proper involves a further step: granting minorities the right, as well as the suitable means, to preserve and develop their national identity, traditions, and culture.

This paper takes into consideration the actual conditions and status of Rumania's national minorities, most of whom are concentrated in the region of Transylvania, as compared to the standards of international law. There is unfortunately no comprehensive international code of minority rights, which still suffer the consequences of the collapse of the League of Nations system. Minority protection was part of that interwar system, shared its weaknesses, and went down with it amidst the general disintegration that led to World War II. The

cynical manipulation and abuse of the minority question by Hitler cast a shadow over the whole idea for many years, and recovery has been very slow. Even today mistrust remains. Conor Cruise O'Brien, who spent many years at the United Nations working on this problem, described this phenomenon in the following manner:

As a matter of experience I have found... that people who are all in favor of human rights generally speaking are very likely to sit up and look suspicious where there is any question of minority rights. Human rights is a pleasing abstraction impregnated with our notion of our own benevolence. But minority rights evoke a sudden sharp picture of "that lot" with their regrettable habits, extravagant claims, ridiculous complaints, and suspect intentions. Special rights for them? Not likely. Governments are representative, of course, either of majorities or more often of ruling minorities which of course do not think of themselves as minorities ever. It is therefore unlikely that an international association on the scale of the United Nations will promulgate an effective code giving protection to minorities.1

In spite of these pessimistic, even slightly bitter words, there is very slow, very incremental, but continuous progress in "international legislation" concerning minority rights. It works in many ways. It is very interesting to observe, for instance, the transformation that the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" is undergoing. There is the ever growing consensus that by now the Declaration has solidified into an international code of conduct instead of just a declaration of intention. Its specific rules have the weight of legal obligations. More importantly, while originally it was thought that the Universal Declaration did not include any reference to the rights of national minorities beyond the prohibition of discrimination, some recent interpretations strongly disagree with this view.[2] They argue that the idea of freedom of choice pervades the entire Declaration, and that Article 26 on the right to education or Article 27 on the right to participate in the cultural life of the community can have no interpretation other than that which includes the right to education in the mother tongue and the right to one's native culture, and all that it involves. It is very difficult to argue against this interpretation. This change in interpretation is similar to what happened to the American Constitution: even where the language did not change, it is a very different document from the one accepted almost 200 years ago.

Beside the reinterpreted Universal Declaration, there are numerous other documents defining international standards for treatment of minorities. Without going into the details, the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" should be mentioned, especially its Article 27, which explicitly provides for the cultural, religious, and linguistic rights of minorities. The "International Covenant on Economic,

Social and Cultural Rights" is also relevant, as well as the "International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination." The UNESCO "Convention Against Discrimination in Education" includes provisions recognizing the right of national minorities to their own educational system. Finally, the Helsinki Agreement contains three paragraphs on the rights of national minorities. While it is understood that the latter agreement is not legally binding on the parties, its political significance is beyond doubt in light of the parties' accountability for its implementation.

The sources consulted for this study include official Rumanian publications, often propaganda material intended to demonstrate the enlightened nature of Rumania's minority policies.[3] Also utilized are the few published studies on the subject, particularly the one by Robert R. King and the one by George Schöpflin.[4] Personal discussions with the above authors provided additional information and insights. A third source has been provided by the samizdats written by Hungarian officials within Rumania who became dissatisfied with the treatment of their fellow nationals and let their views be known in letters of protest against what they perceive as mistreatment of the minorities. The personal risks they took by protesting these conditions is a sufficient guarantee of the veracity of their accounts. One such samizdat, a document of about 16,000 words, was written under a pseudonym but was found highly reliable by Western experts and commentators.[5] Other sources are articles in the Western press[6] and, finally, interviews with well over 100 present and former residents of Rumania about their personal experiences. The most interesting of these interviews is one with a Rumanian sociologist who, as a member of a Rumanian government research institution, was one of the authors of a little propaganda booklet on the situation of the Hungarian nationality in Rumania. This booklet was published in several languages in 1976 and distributed around the world. The sociologist subsequently defected and today lives in New York City. His account on the factual basis of that booklet and the methods employed in writing it are highly enlightening.

For the illustration of the problems of minority protection, few examples could give as complete a picture as that of the Hungarians in Rumania. They are the largest national minority in Europe. They are an ethnic, linguistic, and religious minority at the same time, very distinct from the majority in all three aspects. In some parts of Rumania their population is concentrated in compact settlements, while in other areas they are interspersed with the Rumanians and the German minority population. Just across one border they do have a so-called mother country, which might be a source of protection and comfort,

but is instead often a cause of further friction and tension. Finally, Rumania is a totalitarian country where the government exercises full control over every aspect of the life of the population. Since the life of the minorities is under total government control, the intentions of government interference cannot be misinterpreted. Thus, the Hungarian minority situation is a classroom example of minority conditions, like the proverbial horse at the veterinary school, which has all the illnesses a horse might possibly have.

Given the geographical, ethnographical, historical factors, the multinational region of Transylvania could be a model for the coexistence of diverse nationalities in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and understanding. Unfortunately, the Rumanian leadership seems to have chosen a different path.

Before reviewing several aspects of the Hungarian minority's existence, the overall pattern should be outlined. The individual elements of Rumania's minority policies can not be viewed as distinct or isolated phenomena. The evidence is overwhelming that they are the interrelated components of a planned and consistently executed policy, which is more than the mere sum of its parts. This policy is based on a deep sense of insecurity that the Rumanian leadership feels about the problem as a whole. They are clearly uncomfortable with the existence of 3 million non-Rumanian inhabitants in the country. There is no room for these people in the neo-fascist mythology of the new Rumanian nationalism. The expression "neo-fascist" is used advisedly, not just as an expletive. A recent article on Rumanian history by a very authoritative source, President Ceausescu's brother, Ilie Ceausescu, borrowed a great deal of its vocabulary from Alfred Rosenberg's Der Mythus des. 20. Jahrhunderts. Ceausescu claims that the Rumanian people "had to fulfill a heroic, uneasy and glorious historical destiny during an existence of nearly two millenia." He also assures his readers of the racial purity of the Rumanian people by asserting that they "never did merge or mix with other peoples which moved into the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic region."[7] This basic insecurity, reflected in the fabrication of history, has cultural and political roots. At the time of their merger, Transylvania and the Old Kingdom had fundamentally different cultural orientations, and they differed also in their degrees of cultural development. These differences made it difficult for Rumania to digest the new acquisition. The political root of this insecurity is the dubious legitimacy of the acquisition of Transylvania, and of the right of sovereignty over millions of people who belong to other nations. In spite of all the efforts of Rumanian historians to pretend that some sort of divine justice was done at the close of World War I,

the fact remains that an imperialist peace was written in Versailles by world leaders who were ignorant about local conditions and likely could not have cared less anyway. Allies, as well as those who timed their switch to the side of the victors, were rewarded well, while the people who were thrown to an alien sovereignty were ignored. Not that all this was necessarily unjust; even justice may accidentally prevail when territorial adjustments are made at the conclusion of a major war. But it was done in a manner that has raised serious doubts about its legitimacy ever since. If legitimacy is missing at the outset, it can be acquired subsequently; it depends only on the consent of the ruled. A case in point is Yugoslavia, which not only treats its minorities fairly but plays an effective leadership role in trying to bring about an international code of minority protection. Rumania, on the other hand, regards its minority citizens as living question marks of the legitimacy of its rule over territory and population acquired sixty-five years ago. As a consequence, every aspect of minority existence is totally politicized and controlled. The government looks at Hungarian volumes of innocent poetry as time bombs and confiscates them at the border as contraband. Throwing the purity of the race so cherished by Ilie Ceausescu to the wind, it attempts to force its minorities to assimilate into the Rumanian population by gradually curtailing and eliminating the cultural opportunities and institutions of the minorities and by any other means at its disposal.

The minority situation in Rumania is examined here in the following areas of concern:

1. Recognition

2. Political rights

3. Cultural and linguistic rights

4. Religious rights

5. Economic rights

6. Legal remedy


The obvious first condition for the fair and just treatment of national minorities is the government's recognition of their existence. Some governments try to preempt the problem by denying that minorities exist within the jurisdiction of the state. While the Rumanian government recognizes the existence of its minorities, it does this with some qualifications. One is the obvious underrepresentation of the minority population in the official census statistics.

According to these figures, between 1956 and 1966 the non-Hungarian

population of Rumania grew by 9.9 percent, at a rate almost five times greater than the alleged Hungarian growth rate of 2.0 percent. Similarly, between 1966 and 1977 the total population of Rumania, excluding Hungarians, supposedly grew by 13.5 percent, while the growth rate of Hungarians was only 5.4 percent.[8] In reality, aside from statistical juggling, there is no circumstance that can be cited to justify such vast differences in growth rates.

One tactic involves the demographic questionnaire used to compile census data, of which the most recent was gathered in January, 1977. The form contains three spaces requiring identification as to "citizenship," "nationality," and "mother tongue," in that order. The census taker is instructed not to complete the "nationality" blank, as if he had forgotten to pose that question. As "citizenship" is obviously Rumanian, where "mother tongue" is Hungarian, the blank is later filled in as follows: "Nationality: Hungarian-speaking Rumanian." This artificial distinction between nationality and mother tongue, together with the "correction" of census returns, thus serves the dual purposes of understating the size of the Hungarian population and increasing the number of Rumanians. This practice was uncovered by the International Commission of Jurists[9] and confirmed by an interview with a former census taker.[10]

There is considerable pressure on minority persons who achieve international fame in arts, sports, or other endeavors to change their names to Rumanian-sounding ones. The domestic press often Rumanianizes these names even without the permission of those involved. Persons of achievement from among the minorities are often denoted as Rumanians who speak and write in Hungarian. Hungarian writers are deeply offended by being referred to as "Hungarian-speaking Rumanian writers" in the press. Even the official name of the minorities, "coinhabiting nationalities," strikes many minority individuals as implying their secondary dependent status to the "inhabiting nationality," the only really legitimate inhabitants of the country.[11] This may be just semantics, but this secondary, dependent, appendix status is powerfully demonstrated by the way the whole network of cultural institutions is set up in Rumania, which is discussed later.


One of the most sensitive areas of international relations concerns the political rights of national minorities. It strikes at the core of the existence, sovereignty, and legitimacy of regimes. In descending order, the right of self-determination has to be dealt with first. If all United

Nations resolutions, declarations, and covenants were to be taken literally, the minorities in Rumania would have the right to determine under what sovereignty they want to live; for instance, that they might want to secede from Rumania and join Hungary. However, self-determination is not a right, it is hardly more than a political slogan that has two functions. It has given legitimacy to the decolonialization movement, as well as to secession movements, not necessarily to those whose claim was justified, but to those that had superior firepower and --- like Bangladesh --- prevailed. The other function is to send chills up the spines of majority regimes and thereby serve as a bargaining tool in the hands of recalcitrant minorities. Political science still owes the world the answer to whose claim to secession is justified and whose is not. International politics not only can afford hypocrisy, it is one of the major currencies of the trade. Scholarship, however, cannot afford it. This paper does not have the answer, but secession is certainly a breakdown that results in the minority being driven to the point of desperation. It is hardly to be recommended as a general solution. A gradual depolitization of ethnicity, dissolution of borders, is a much more attractive alternative. Formerly very "hot" European borders are hardly noticeable today, in terms of the life of the peoples they divide.

Secession, of course, is only the most extreme result of the exercise of the right of self-determination. A minority may well be satisfied with political rights it can exercise while remaining part of a given state. The right to autonomy with a federal system is one of the strongest of such rights but it does not apply in the present case, Rumania not being a federal state. The right of local autonomy, however, is relevant. The Hungarian minority is fairly concentrated in some areas and could support an autonomous political structure. A Hungarian Autonomous Province existed for almost two decades until 1968, but it was autonomous in name only. It never had a statute and it hardly differed from the other provinces. Since its abolition, every succeeding reorganization of the administrative structure gerrymandered the provinces to deprive most of them of a Hungarian majority.

Even the simple right of representation, perhaps the most fundamental among the political rights of a minority, is completely missing for the Hungarians. Minorities obviously have to have representation as minorities, not only as individual elements of a heterogeneous population, in order to be able to articulate their special concerns. Although there are officials of minority extraction at every governmental level, they are permitted no meaningful voice in representing their own ethnic groups.

The Hungarian Nationality Workers Council was established in

1968 as the only body capable of serving the interests of the Hungarian minority. But the very document establishing this council exposes it as an instrument of the state, acting to undermine minority interests. The Council's stated purpose is "to assist the Party and the state, on both the central and local levels, in mobilizing the nationalities to assume their responsibilities in the building of socialism, in researching particular questions concerning the respective populations and in implementing the nationality policies of the Party."[12]

Károly Király, vice president of the Council for ten years until his removal in March, 1978, furnished ample evidence of the Council's abject ineffectiveness. In his letters to Party leaders, Király charged that the Council's activities "have declined to zero";[13] repeatedly, but to no avail, he called upon the government to "guarantee the proper organizational framework"[14] as a precondition to treating minorities in the proper fashion. Hungarians are proportionately represented, but only in those state and Party organs that are not allowed to exercise any real power, such as the showcase "Grand Assembly" and the 500-member Party Central Committee. Hungarians are virtually excluded from any body that is granted an effective role in matters affecting their own interests. Of the seven secretaries of the Party Central Committee, who are the holders of real power aside from Ceausescu, not one is of minority origin. The Secretary for Nationalities in the Party Central Committee cannot speak any minority language, only Rumanian. In the leadership of such vital organs as the Department of Culture and the Department of Education, not one Hungarian is to be found, even among the deputy ministers. On the county level, the ineffectual People's Councils and Party Committees by and large do maintain proportional representation. But where the real power lies, within the seven-eleven member Executive Committees and Party "Bureaus," Hungarians are grossly underrepresented. Indeed, in several heavily Hungarian-populated counties, such as Banat (Bánság), Arad, and Maramures (Máramaros), they are completely excluded from the Party "Bureaus." "In the same way," Károly Király pointed out, "it is nothing new that in cities where the majority of the population is Hungarian --- such as Nagyvárad, Marosvásárhely Szováta, etc. --- Rumanians who speak no Hungarian are being appointed as mayors."[15]

Of course, this deprivation of political rights has to be viewed in the context of a tightly controlled Communist dictatorship. The Rumanian majority cannot exercise self-determination either. They are also deprived of any possibility of making a political choice. What adds to the burden of the minority, however, is that even the Communist

leadership of that minority does not have any decision-making authority in their own affairs. For the minorities, therefore, nationalistic oppression comes on the top of the general political oppression, which victimizes every Rumanian citizen regardless of ethnic background.

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