More than 1,000 people gathered at the Romanian Embassy in Budapest to demand autonomy for the Transylvanian region of Székely Land on Sunday. Protests were held in Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures) in Romania and at some other of its embassies around the world.
The date was chosen for the protests in remembrance of three Székelys – János Török, Mihály Gálfi and Károly Horváth – who were executed on that day in 1854 after conspiring to overthrow the Habsburg rule.
The Székelys are a Hungarian-speaking ethnic group living in the valleys and hills of the eastern Carpathian Mountains. The region was an autonomous entity from medieval times until the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. Along with Transylvania, it became a part of Romania after the First World War. From 1952 it became an autonomous region within Romania. This lasted until 1968, when soon after taking control of the country, dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s reforms divided Romania into the current counties.
Autonomy efforts have been on the agenda since the fall of his regime. Székely organisations aim to reach a higher level of self-governance and territorial autonomy for their land, but the latter is unlikely any time soon. In 2009 – after discussing the issues of minority rights and regional autonomy in Budapest – President Traian Basescu affirmed that “the Hungarian minority will never be given territorial autonomy”. Also the Constitution of Romania defines the country as a “sovereign, independent, unitary and indivisible national state”. It has often been argued that, as a result of this provision, any ethnic-based territorial autonomy would be unconstitutional.
Protesters nevertheless put together a petition demanding just this along with the Székely Land becoming a separate administrative region and a separate development region in order for the more effective use of EU funds. “We demand that Romanian authorities stop prosecuting the use of Székely symbols and refrain from the harassment of people speaking Hungarian,” said the petition, which was handed over to Maros County Prefect Corneliu Grosu.
Unfortunately they did so without affixing a stamp or even a signature. “I am certain that this petition has both sentimental and historical foundations and while it remained anonymous, we will still treat it according to its importance,” said Grosu on Monday, adding that he had already sent the document to Bucharest.
Solidarity protests were organised in Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York and near the White House in Washington DC. The Hungarian communities of Ottawa and Toronto gathered in front of the respective headquarters of the Romanian Foreign Service. Supporters of the cause did the same in Munich, Brussels, Helsinki, Stockholm, Vienna and Zurich.
London was the only place where police did not allow access to the Romanian Embassy. “Our presence was not requested by the Romanian embassy,” the chief of the police force told the reporter of state news agency MTI. “Their building is in a street which is classified as private property, where demonstrations are not allowed.” Following some verbal back and forth, the 120 supporters held the protest in a nearby alley.
Greater Hungary fears
Many in Romania fear that if Székely Land is granted territorial autonomy then it will be followed by their secession and rejoining of Hungary, and this is why Budapest supports the efforts of Székelys. “This is such a complete nonsense that I don’t even wish to respond,” Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi told Romanian news network Digi24. “But I would like to point out that forms of autonomy do not weaken a country but make it stronger. It reduces instability and raises the community’s sense of belonging”. When asked about the Székely flag and other symbols, Martonyi said this issue could be solved rather easily. “While allowing these symbols would not affect the well-being of Székelys, it would be good for morale both for the Hungarian communities and in the relationship of the two countries.”