Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for March, 2006

Apologies for absence

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 March, 2006

My current work schedule involves me spending 8 hours a day hunched over a keyboard typing material for an Educational Management CD Rom, and hence I am not especially desirous of spending my free time hunched over a keyboard typing up amusing slices of life in the eastern Carpathians. Plus my eye’s playing up again (it’s dust season in Csikszereda). Hence the current lack of activity on this blog. Soz.

Still, to keep you going here are a couple of pictures from last Saturday, from the village of Piricske overlooking the town and across to the mountains on the other side.

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Posted in pictures | 2 Comments »

Apologies for absence

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 March, 2006

My current work schedule involves me spending 8 hours a day hunched over a keyboard typing material for an Educational Management CD Rom, and hence I am not especially desirous of spending my free time hunched over a keyboard typing up amusing slices of life in the eastern Carpathians. Plus my eye’s playing up again (it’s dust season in Csikszereda). Hence the current lack of activity on this blog. Soz.

Still, to keep you going here are a couple of pictures from last Saturday, from the village of Piricske overlooking the town and across to the mountains on the other side.

Posted in pictures | 2 Comments »

Odds and Sods

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 March, 2006

Paula is three months old today. This is big news for a couple of reasons. Firstly we can tell people that she is three months old. Secondly, I can’t believe that she is already 1/4 of a year old. How did that happen? She’s even grown out of some of her clothes. Thirdly and most importantly, three months appears to be the cut off point for the period of fear. What I mean is that whenever you look on a website for questions regarding baby health, it basically tells you lots of details about what the problem could be, but then says “If the baby isless than three months old see a doctor – IMMEDIATELY” . So it feels good to know that she’s made it to three months and any infection panics like the one we had 6 weeks ago when she had to go to hospital, are now much more handleable (by her, and consequently by us).

It’s spring. More or less. The weather has warmed up considereably and now is only negative at night. In the daytime for the last week or so it has been really quite nice. There’s still snow everywhere, but it just looks dirty now, and drips everywhere.

As the snow has subsided, the true horror of the roads has become apparent. Pot holes have been a fact of life ever since I moved here, but they were small insignificant potholes – at least in comparison with the ones we have now. So bad are they, that they are beginning to spark protests (this is apparently very unusual in this town). We had posters on our road last week, and now this website has appeared. Basically people are getting at the mayor and the town council, and quite reasonably it would seem. For now, though, I avoid driving if at all possible. We must be the only town in Europe in which it is quite reasonable to commute in a four wheel drive SUV. (as opposed to anywhere else aside from remote hamlets or farms, where ownership of an SUV is a gas guzzling dick extension for the terminally inadequate).

Posted in csikszereda, paula | 3 Comments »

Odds and Sods

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 March, 2006

Paula is three months old today. This is big news for a couple of reasons. Firstly we can tell people that she is three months old. Secondly, I can’t believe that she is already 1/4 of a year old. How did that happen? She’s even grown out of some of her clothes. Thirdly and most importantly, three months appears to be the cut off point for the period of fear. What I mean is that whenever you look on a website for questions regarding baby health, it basically tells you lots of details about what the problem could be, but then says “If the baby isless than three months old see a doctor – IMMEDIATELY” . So it feels good to know that she’s made it to three months and any infection panics like the one we had 6 weeks ago when she had to go to hospital, are now much more handleable (by her, and consequently by us).

It’s spring. More or less. The weather has warmed up considereably and now is only negative at night. In the daytime for the last week or so it has been really quite nice. There’s still snow everywhere, but it just looks dirty now, and drips everywhere.

As the snow has subsided, the true horror of the roads has become apparent. Pot holes have been a fact of life ever since I moved here, but they were small insignificant potholes – at least in comparison with the ones we have now. So bad are they, that they are beginning to spark protests (this is apparently very unusual in this town). We had posters on our road last week, and now this website has appeared. Basically people are getting at the mayor and the town council, and quite reasonably it would seem. For now, though, I avoid driving if at all possible. We must be the only town in Europe in which it is quite reasonable to commute in a four wheel drive SUV. (as opposed to anywhere else aside from remote hamlets or farms, where ownership of an SUV is a gas guzzling dick extension for the terminally inadequate).

Posted in csikszereda, paula | 3 Comments »

Football Fever

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 March, 2006

Football fever is gripping the nation. This is because both Rapid (hooray) and Steaua (boo, hiss) have reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup. However, in a cruel twist of fate, the two have been drawn to play each other in the quarter final, meaning that rather than an exciting European away trip to Gelsenkirchen or St Petersburg or, errrm, Middlesboro, they don’t even get to leave Bucharest to play the tie. On the one hand this means that there will be at least one Romanian team in the semi final, so there is that advantage, but on the other it means that the excitement of European football is heavily diluted.

All the TV channels have been wall to wall football since even before the games last week in which Rapid (hooray) put out Hamburg, and Steaua (boo, hiss) put out Betis. Following the two wins, though and the subsequent quarter final draw, it has been never ending. I presume this will go on at least until the semi-finals, and should one of them actually make it to the final the networks will implode in an orgy of happiness and self-congratulation. It’s got to be rough if you don’t like football. Or possibly worse still if you support Dinamo. Basescu has been in on the act, showing up to watch a couple of the games in person, and then at the weekend inviting all the players to the Cotroceni Palace for a little get together.

Now, I have to say that the apparent interest and national feeling for Steaua baffles me. Even now, they are taking the lion’s share of the media coverage, and it seems from what I can gather that they are supported by most Romanians. Yet, when you look at their past (and even their present) it’s a wonder that they are not utterly despised by most of the country. To explain: Steaua were the team patronised by Ceausescu. They won most of the championships during his rule, got all the good players, and presumably got the benefit of a surprisingly large amount of refereeing decisions. (Romanians may be interested to learn that there are two things non-Romanian football fans know about Steaua – the European Cup win of 1984, and the whole Ceausescu/Securitate* connection). If I were Romanian I would hate Steaua passionately, and no amount of fawning media coverage would make me change my mind. Indeed, I do hate Steaua passionately, and I’m not even Romanian and didn’t know life under Ceausescu.

OK, you might be saying, Ceausescu’s dead, Steaua must be allowed to have a clean slate and be judged on their present day merits. Well, you might be right, but Steaua are now owned by today’s most repulsive man in Romania, Gigi Becali. He’s not Ceausescu, I’ll grant you, but given enough power I reckon he’d do a similar job. Why do I feel such disgust towards this man? Well he’s a fundamentalist bigot for a start (he once said that he had nothing against Jews as long as they converted to Christianity), and an egomaniac of the highest order (last year he commissioned a painting of the Last Supper with the Steaua team replacing the disciples and him in the Jesus spot). His money comes from dodgy dealings with the army (ie he buys stuff off them cheap, and sells stuff to them expensively – like a small scale Dick Cheney). He is on TV all the time, and for some reason then media seem to love him. He has openly expressed support for an extremist right wing Romanian organisation called Noua Dreapte, which is in favour of a return to the years between 1941 and 1944 when Romania was ruled by the fascist Antonescu* and his Iron Guard.

So, I, and any other neutral football fan from outside Romania, will obviously be supporting Rapid. They are the third club of Bucharest, and are so very definitely an underdog. They have a nice manager, Razvan Lucescu, who always comes across as an affable good bloke whenever I see him interviewed. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching them and willing them on as they have surprisingly beaten Feyenoord, Rennes, Shakhtar Donetsk, Hamburg and others. But above all, their hardcore fans are less obnoxious than Steaua’s, they are not owned by Gigi Becali, and it would make Nic and Elena turn over in their graves. Go Rapid!

PS One of the rumours surrounding the Ceausescu years is that after the 1984 European Cup final which Steaua won on penalties from Barcelona, the goalkeeper Ducadam refused to hand over the car that he won for being man of the match to Ceausescu’s son. In return for this act of defiance, the securitate broke his hands (obviously a big deal for a goalkeeper), and he never played top level football again. The official story is that he contracted some kind of blood disorder, and that is why he retired from the game. I have no idea which of these two stories is true, but the very fact that the first one exists and is believed by many will give you some idea of the way this country used to be run.

* Note that a number of factual errors have been pointed out to me in the comments below.

Posted in football | 12 Comments »

Football Fever

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 March, 2006

Football fever is gripping the nation. This is because both Rapid (hooray) and Steaua (boo, hiss) have reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup. However, in a cruel twist of fate, the two have been drawn to play each other in the quarter final, meaning that rather than an exciting European away trip to Gelsenkirchen or St Petersburg or, errrm, Middlesboro, they don’t even get to leave Bucharest to play the tie. On the one hand this means that there will be at least one Romanian team in the semi final, so there is that advantage, but on the other it means that the excitement of European football is heavily diluted.

All the TV channels have been wall to wall football since even before the games last week in which Rapid (hooray) put out Hamburg, and Steaua (boo, hiss) put out Betis. Following the two wins, though and the subsequent quarter final draw, it has been never ending. I presume this will go on at least until the semi-finals, and should one of them actually make it to the final the networks will implode in an orgy of happiness and self-congratulation. It’s got to be rough if you don’t like football. Or possibly worse still if you support Dinamo. Basescu has been in on the act, showing up to watch a couple of the games in person, and then at the weekend inviting all the players to the Cotroceni Palace for a little get together.

Now, I have to say that the apparent interest and national feeling for Steaua baffles me. Even now, they are taking the lion’s share of the media coverage, and it seems from what I can gather that they are supported by most Romanians. Yet, when you look at their past (and even their present) it’s a wonder that they are not utterly despised by most of the country. To explain: Steaua were the team patronised by Ceausescu. They won most of the championships during his rule, got all the good players, and presumably got the benefit of a surprisingly large amount of refereeing decisions. (Romanians may be interested to learn that there are two things non-Romanian football fans know about Steaua – the European Cup win of 1984, and the whole Ceausescu/Securitate* connection). If I were Romanian I would hate Steaua passionately, and no amount of fawning media coverage would make me change my mind. Indeed, I do hate Steaua passionately, and I’m not even Romanian and didn’t know life under Ceausescu.

OK, you might be saying, Ceausescu’s dead, Steaua must be allowed to have a clean slate and be judged on their present day merits. Well, you might be right, but Steaua are now owned by today’s most repulsive man in Romania, Gigi Becali. He’s not Ceausescu, I’ll grant you, but given enough power I reckon he’d do a similar job. Why do I feel such disgust towards this man? Well he’s a fundamentalist bigot for a start (he once said that he had nothing against Jews as long as they converted to Christianity), and an egomaniac of the highest order (last year he commissioned a painting of the Last Supper with the Steaua team replacing the disciples and him in the Jesus spot). His money comes from dodgy dealings with the army (ie he buys stuff off them cheap, and sells stuff to them expensively – like a small scale Dick Cheney). He is on TV all the time, and for some reason then media seem to love him. He has openly expressed support for an extremist right wing Romanian organisation called Noua Dreapte, which is in favour of a return to the years between 1941 and 1944 when Romania was ruled by the fascist Antonescu* and his Iron Guard.

So, I, and any other neutral football fan from outside Romania, will obviously be supporting Rapid. They are the third club of Bucharest, and are so very definitely an underdog. They have a nice manager, Razvan Lucescu, who always comes across as an affable good bloke whenever I see him interviewed. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching them and willing them on as they have surprisingly beaten Feyenoord, Rennes, Shakhtar Donetsk, Hamburg and others. But above all, their hardcore fans are less obnoxious than Steaua’s, they are not owned by Gigi Becali, and it would make Nic and Elena turn over in their graves. Go Rapid!

PS One of the rumours surrounding the Ceausescu years is that after the 1984 European Cup final which Steaua won on penalties from Barcelona, the goalkeeper Ducadam refused to hand over the car that he won for being man of the match to Ceausescu’s son. In return for this act of defiance, the securitate broke his hands (obviously a big deal for a goalkeeper), and he never played top level football again. The official story is that he contracted some kind of blood disorder, and that is why he retired from the game. I have no idea which of these two stories is true, but the very fact that the first one exists and is believed by many will give you some idea of the way this country used to be run.

* Note that a number of factual errors have been pointed out to me in the comments below.

Posted in football | 12 Comments »

Who are the Szekely?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 19 March, 2006

I was searching through Google News to see whether any English language media had reported anything about the whole March 15th thing here, and there really wasn’t a great deal, but I did notice a repeated misconception about who the Szekely are. At least two reports essentially equated the Szekely with the Hungarian population of Romania, which is definitely not my understanding of the situation. And given that I’m married to a Hungarian Romanian who is not a Szekely, I reckon my understanding is correct. So anyway, I thought I’d do a bit of research and try and fill in the gaps in my knowledge about who the Szekely are and let you know what I found out. After all, I did choose a Szekely themed URL for this site when I set it up, so I really ought to have a clue who they are.

The origins of the “Szeklers” (this is the German word for the group, and apparently seems to be the official English language version too, though I reckon outside of Hungary, Romania and ethnographic faculties of universities, there are about 3 native English speakers who have even heard of the Szekely) are not certain. Some say there are basically a subset of the Magyars who came to Europe from Central Asia however many hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Others that they are not originally Magyar, but from other places – they could be Turkish, Scythian or Hittite, for example. One thing that aids the Turkish theory is the fact that ancient Szekely writing is runic.

Anyway, what ended up happening is that the Szekelys, warriors like the Saxons, were assigned to the border regions of the Hungarian empire, with them basically lining the Eastern Carpathians (the Saxons took the Southern Carpathians). Transylvania for many years was known as the “union of three nations” – three areas ruled by the Saxons, the Szekely, and the Hungarian nobility. Anyway, what this means is that while there’s no obvious ethnic difference between the Szekely and the Hungarians, and they both speak the same language, and both are predominantly Roman Catholic, it is more or less considered these days that the Hungarian speakers of Harghita, Cavasna and part of Mures counties are the Szekely, and the Hungarian speakers in the rest of Transylvania – Cluj, Targu Mures, Maramures, Oradea, Timisoara etc are Hungarians (and not Szekely). The Szekelys in general seem much more traditional and have held on to their folk culture very successfully.

I also discovered that there is another group known as the “Szekelys of Bucovina” who were descended from a group of around 1000 Szekelys who fled Szekelyföld in 1764 after the Austrians massacred around 400 Szekelys at Madefalva (Siculeni in Romanian) a village about 5 km north of here. They ended up in Bucovina (the other side of the mountains from here). One of the villages there they named “Istensegíts” (God Help Us), which gives you a sense of their flight. Their population grew to about 13,000, but after Bucovina became Romania they felt increasingly isolated, and eventually under some deal between Hungary and Romania (in 1941? This isn’t clear to me) they were all evacuated and used by the Hungarians in an attempt to Magyarise the area of Vojvodina (now in Serbia) (ie they were settled there to change the demographics of the area). This was fairly shortlived as Hungary ceded control of the area in the Second World War, and they were once again forced to flee. They eventually settled in Tolna county in Hungary where they live to this day.

So there you go, some background and information about the Szekely, so that if ever you encounter an article like this one, you can feel informed enough to think to yourself “Actually it’s not true to say Romania’s ethnic Hungarians, also known as Szeklers,” and feel all smug.

Posted in history, transylvania | 9 Comments »

Who are the Szekely?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 19 March, 2006

I was searching through Google News to see whether any English language media had reported anything about the whole March 15th thing here, and there really wasn’t a great deal, but I did notice a repeated misconception about who the Szekely are. At least two reports essentially equated the Szekely with the Hungarian population of Romania, which is definitely not my understanding of the situation. And given that I’m married to a Hungarian Romanian who is not a Szekely, I reckon my understanding is correct. So anyway, I thought I’d do a bit of research and try and fill in the gaps in my knowledge about who the Szekely are and let you know what I found out. After all, I did choose a Szekely themed URL for this site when I set it up, so I really ought to have a clue who they are.

The origins of the “Szeklers” (this is the German word for the group, and apparently seems to be the official English language version too, though I reckon outside of Hungary, Romania and ethnographic faculties of universities, there are about 3 native English speakers who have even heard of the Szekely) are not certain. Some say there are basically a subset of the Magyars who came to Europe from Central Asia however many hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Others that they are not originally Magyar, but from other places – they could be Turkish, Scythian or Hittite, for example. One thing that aids the Turkish theory is the fact that ancient Szekely writing is runic.

Anyway, what ended up happening is that the Szekelys, warriors like the Saxons, were assigned to the border regions of the Hungarian empire, with them basically lining the Eastern Carpathians (the Saxons took the Southern Carpathians). Transylvania for many years was known as the “union of three nations” – three areas ruled by the Saxons, the Szekely, and the Hungarian nobility. Anyway, what this means is that while there’s no obvious ethnic difference between the Szekely and the Hungarians, and they both speak the same language, and both are predominantly Roman Catholic, it is more or less considered these days that the Hungarian speakers of Harghita, Cavasna and part of Mures counties are the Szekely, and the Hungarian speakers in the rest of Transylvania – Cluj, Targu Mures, Maramures, Oradea, Timisoara etc are Hungarians (and not Szekely). The Szekelys in general seem much more traditional and have held on to their folk culture very successfully.

I also discovered that there is another group known as the “Szekelys of Bucovina” who were descended from a group of around 1000 Szekelys who fled Szekelyföld in 1764 after the Austrians massacred around 400 Szekelys at Madefalva (Siculeni in Romanian) a village about 5 km north of here. They ended up in Bucovina (the other side of the mountains from here). One of the villages there they named “Istensegíts” (God Help Us), which gives you a sense of their flight. Their population grew to about 13,000, but after Bucovina became Romania they felt increasingly isolated, and eventually under some deal between Hungary and Romania (in 1941? This isn’t clear to me) they were all evacuated and used by the Hungarians in an attempt to Magyarise the area of Vojvodina (now in Serbia) (ie they were settled there to change the demographics of the area). This was fairly shortlived as Hungary ceded control of the area in the Second World War, and they were once again forced to flee. They eventually settled in Tolna county in Hungary where they live to this day.

So there you go, some background and information about the Szekely, so that if ever you encounter an article like this one, you can feel informed enough to think to yourself “Actually it’s not true to say Romania’s ethnic Hungarians, also known as Szeklers,” and feel all smug.

Posted in history, transylvania | 6 Comments »

March 15th (Part 2)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 March, 2006

Just came home from a little tour of the festivities, which basically involved a lot of speeches outside the city hall. Couldn’t understand the full text of the speeches, but the themes were all about reaching out between communities in the spirit of brotherhood (In one ten minute spell, I must have heard the word “testveriseg” (brotherhood / fraternity) about 7 times. I think most of the real nagy sajtak were just over the mountain in Udvarhely though so ours was a fairly subdued affair. They even had László Tőkés at their do. (The Bishop from Timisoara who sparked the 1989 revolution which brought down Ceausescu. Because he is a bishop for the Hungarian Reformed Church, whenever they refer to him in print in English he is referred to as a “Reformed Bishop”, which amuses me greatly)


The City Hall – notice both Romanian and Hungarian flags

Petofi Sandor – poet, revolutionary, and now, statue

Nicolae Balcescu – also adorned in flags and wreaths

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism | 2 Comments »

March 15th (Part 2)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 March, 2006

Just came home from a little tour of the festivities, which basically involved a lot of speeches outside the city hall. Couldn’t understand the full text of the speeches, but the themes were all about reaching out between communities in the spirit of brotherhood (In one ten minute spell, I must have heard the word “testveriseg” (brotherhood / fraternity) about 7 times. I think most of the real nagy sajtak were just over the mountain in Udvarhely though so ours was a fairly subdued affair. They even had László Tőkés at their do. (The Bishop from Timisoara who sparked the 1989 revolution which brought down Ceausescu. Because he is a bishop for the Hungarian Reformed Church, whenever they refer to him in print in English he is referred to as a “Reformed Bishop”, which amuses me greatly)


The City Hall – notice both Romanian and Hungarian flags

Petofi Sandor – poet, revolutionary, and now, statue

Nicolae Balcescu – also adorned in flags and wreaths

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism | 2 Comments »