Csíkszereda Musings

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

Archive for the ‘Szekely Autonomy’ Category

What does Kosovo mean for Székelyföld ?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 February, 2008

Obviously I have a few travelogues to file at some point on this blog, but since I arrived back here on Friday night one issue has dominated the Romanian and local news. That is the issue of Kosovo’s independence and what it means for Székelyföld autonomy.

Romania is (it seems) looking askance at this development with the eyes of a country who would rather this can of worms were not opened. This is partly down to good neighbourliness, but partly to do with worries about Székely demands for more autonomy. So, do they have a reason to worry? Are there any points of commonality between the two?

In some regards there are distinct similarities between the two places. Both Yugoslavia and modern day Romania emerged from the post WW-I shake up of Europe. Until last weekend both Kosovo and Székelyföld were regions in which a national minority were in the local majority. In both cases the simplistic nationalist line that you hear from the Serbian or Romanian far-right is along the lines of “If they don’t like it here, they should piss off to their own countries” (which of course leaves aside the significant point that Hungary/Albania isn’t “their own country”).

But that’s about it, to be honest. There is no danger of Székelyföld declaring itself independent. The responsibility for the existence of Kosovo as an independent nation lies almost entirely with Milosevic. Without his murderous policies of ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo there is absolutely no chance that this unilateral declaration would garner any attention, let alone recognition. Post-Ceausescu Romania, for all its faults, is not brutalising and oppressing the Székelys. It has not attempted to drive them out of the country. It might not be a completely level playing field, but it’s completely uncomparable with Kosovo. Indeed (and paradoxically) the only way that Székelyföld would ever stand the slightest chance of becoming some kind of independent nation (and to be totally honest, I don’t actually know anyone who wants such a thing anyway), would be the election of some vile extremist PRM/PNG coalition government from hell, which then set about attempting to turn Transylvania into the new Bosnia. Such a thing is (thank fuck) not likely to ever come about, so in turn, there is no chance of an independent Székelyföld. What is up for debate, though, is a level of autonomy.

The words have been flying. Hungarian politicians have been on talking about the opportunity provided by Kosovo to get the issue of autonomy back on the table (I disagree, by the way, and think this is a bad time to raise it because the EU will be looking to keep a lid on all this talk despite the precedent they have set). Funar, bigot-xenophobe-wanker ex-mayor of Cluj has come out with a proposal to ban Hungarian medium education, stop Hungarians talking to each other and generally attempt to suppress dissent and oppress a significant minority of Transylvanians (I’m told that Funar is actually quite an intelligent bloke, but this strikes me as being the most stupid thing anyone could have said – if there’s one thing that’s likely to give Transylvanian Hungarians a chance of being heard beyond Bucharest and Budapest it’s proposals like this one). Meanwhile Basescu has repeated his insistence that Székelyföld will have no more nor less autonomy than anywhere else. This is not a position with which I disagree in principle, but since he trotted it out two years ago and has done absoultely nothing towards decentralisation in Romania since, it is clear that what he means by “Covasna will have the same amount of autonomy as Calarasi and Constanta” is, in fact, “absolutely none”. I know he’s fully locked into the Bucharest political scene, being ex-mayor of that city, but I suspect he needs to get out a bit more.

It will be an interesting few weeks. And all this while the final of the Romanian Ice Hockey championship is being fought out between TWO teams from Csikszereda.

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Posted in politics, Szekely Autonomy | 6 Comments »

Autonomy 2

Posted by Andy Hockley on 7 March, 2007

I did promise some time ago to do a series of pieces about the movement for Székely autonomy, and suggested that my review of Alina Pippidi’s article about Transylvania would be a good first step (she never wrote back to me by the way, in case you were all waiting for me to publish her response)

Anyway, just to set the scene for those unaware of what is going on, the region in which I live – Székelyföld in Hungarian, Szekler Land in English, Ţinutul Secuiesc in Romanian – is angling for some form of autonomy. Now, I have to confess that at this point it gets a little bit confusing to me. What is being requested is referred to as “Cultural Autonomy” and not “Territorial Autonomy”. The latter is discounted mostly because there are obviously Romanians living in this region too, and the quickest way to get anyone’s back up is to call for territorial autonomy. But that means what is being sought is something which I can’t quite get my head around – this mysterious cultural autonomy. To me, cultural autonomy already exists (as it does in every non-dictatorship) – the Székely are free to speak their own language, print their own newspapers, pursue their own traditions and culture, and receive an education in their native tongue. So it’s unclear to me what cultural autonomy means.

Which brings us back to some form of territorially based autonomy. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of such a change in the status of the region?

Firstly, the idea of giving the regions of Romania more autonomy is something I strongly believe in. Romania is extremely centralised and more regional autonomy would make the local political leaders more accountable, would mean actions could better address the needs of local populations and ultimately would make the country more democratic. This doesn’t of course mean that things would be better, but at least shit decisions would be more locally accountable.

Recently, the Romanian president made some comment to the effect that Székelyföld would have autonomy when Caracal (a region somewhere in the south) had autonomy. This was taken by many to mean that the Székely could stick their autonomy where the sun doesn’t shine but could also be read as him knowing that the writing was on the wall for the over-centralised Romanian state and making it clear that he knew that the way forward was much more regional autonomy. It may even be that the EU are pressing Romania to be more regionally based, and that this will happen sooner rather than later. Hence, there will be greater regional autonomy, but it will happen on a countrywide basis rather than just granting autonomy to one particular region.

The question then is not whether there should be regional autonomy, but when it will happen and, crucially, on what basis the new regions will be formed. This is why the question is important now, because it is almost certainly the case that it is now that the decisions to devolve power to as-yet-unformed regions is being taken – and if the Székely want to benefit from this change they will need to put across a strong case for one of the regions being Székelyföld (and I’m quite sure that the Romanian government will be looking to create regions that neutralize or dilute Székely autonomy). Already I’ve heard on the grapevine that the new regions are liable to be formed of three counties each, and that Harghita and Covasna would be connected to Brasov rather than Mures county. That would (I imagine) ensure a Romanian majority in the new region, and finish any moves for an autonomous Székelyföld. I have no idea whether this is indeed likely or whether it’s just rumour and hearsay. [It ought to be noted that the current counties themselves were created under Ceausescu and were designed to break up the historical regions and dilute ethnic identity – or so Hungarian Romanians tell me, at any rate. I can’t say whether this is valid or not]

So, the next piece in this series will be on whether it would be a good idea for Székelyföld to be one of the new regions in a more federal Romania. A subject which I have decidedly mixed feelings about.

Posted in Szekely Autonomy | 7 Comments »

Autonomy 2

Posted by Andy Hockley on 7 March, 2007

I did promise some time ago to do a series of pieces about the movement for Székely autonomy, and suggested that my review of Alina Pippidi’s article about Transylvania would be a good first step (she never wrote back to me by the way, in case you were all waiting for me to publish her response)

Anyway, just to set the scene for those unaware of what is going on, the region in which I live – Székelyföld in Hungarian, Szekler Land in English, Ţinutul Secuiesc in Romanian – is angling for some form of autonomy. Now, I have to confess that at this point it gets a little bit confusing to me. What is being requested is referred to as “Cultural Autonomy” and not “Territorial Autonomy”. The latter is discounted mostly because there are obviously Romanians living in this region too, and the quickest way to get anyone’s back up is to call for territorial autonomy. But that means what is being sought is something which I can’t quite get my head around – this mysterious cultural autonomy. To me, cultural autonomy already exists (as it does in every non-dictatorship) – the Székely are free to speak their own language, print their own newspapers, pursue their own traditions and culture, and receive an education in their native tongue. So it’s unclear to me what cultural autonomy means.

Which brings us back to some form of territorially based autonomy. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of such a change in the status of the region?

Firstly, the idea of giving the regions of Romania more autonomy is something I strongly believe in. Romania is extremely centralised and more regional autonomy would make the local political leaders more accountable, would mean actions could better address the needs of local populations and ultimately would make the country more democratic. This doesn’t of course mean that things would be better, but at least shit decisions would be more locally accountable.

Recently, the Romanian president made some comment to the effect that Székelyföld would have autonomy when Caracal (a region somewhere in the south) had autonomy. This was taken by many to mean that the Székely could stick their autonomy where the sun doesn’t shine but could also be read as him knowing that the writing was on the wall for the over-centralised Romanian state and making it clear that he knew that the way forward was much more regional autonomy. It may even be that the EU are pressing Romania to be more regionally based, and that this will happen sooner rather than later. Hence, there will be greater regional autonomy, but it will happen on a countrywide basis rather than just granting autonomy to one particular region.

The question then is not whether there should be regional autonomy, but when it will happen and, crucially, on what basis the new regions will be formed. This is why the question is important now, because it is almost certainly the case that it is now that the decisions to devolve power to as-yet-unformed regions is being taken – and if the Székely want to benefit from this change they will need to put across a strong case for one of the regions being Székelyföld (and I’m quite sure that the Romanian government will be looking to create regions that neutralize or dilute Székely autonomy). Already I’ve heard on the grapevine that the new regions are liable to be formed of three counties each, and that Harghita and Covasna would be connected to Brasov rather than Mures county. That would (I imagine) ensure a Romanian majority in the new region, and finish any moves for an autonomous Székelyföld. I have no idea whether this is indeed likely or whether it’s just rumour and hearsay. [It ought to be noted that the current counties themselves were created under Ceausescu and were designed to break up the historical regions and dilute ethnic identity – or so Hungarian Romanians tell me, at any rate. I can’t say whether this is valid or not]

So, the next piece in this series will be on whether it would be a good idea for Székelyföld to be one of the new regions in a more federal Romania. A subject which I have decidedly mixed feelings about.

Posted in Szekely Autonomy | 8 Comments »

"Subjective Transylvania" – a review

Posted by Andy Hockley on 17 January, 2007

Recently (at the end of a fairly fractious exchange in the comments section of my post on the Romanian Orthodox Church’s attempt to Romanianise Csikszereda), somebody enigmatically signing themselves “MS” suggested I read this book which is available online through OSI (Soros) in Hungary. So I did. And it was well worth reading, I can tell you. If you download it you’ll find that it’s 147 pages in Word, which may be rather daunting, so I’ll attempt to offer a brief review here. Hopefully if this piques your interest you’ll read it yourself.

The book, which I assume was eventually published by OSI, is entitled “SUBJECTIVE TRANSYLVANIA: A CASE STUDY OF POST COMMUNIST NATIONALISM” by Alina Mungiu Pippidi PhD, who is a Romanian social psychologist. It is a throughly researched study into the disagreements between and perceptions of Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, including reams of qualitative data. It concludes with some suggestions into what the future might hold and some suggested models for the future in creating a more harmonious situation. It’s not clear when it was written, but it was obviously (from the context given) at some point during the Constantinescu government of 1996-2000.

I’ll admit that my first impression was a negative one, since early on in the inroduction to the work Dr Pippidi refers to the 1990 ethnic clashes in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely as a “violent outburst” while then going on to refer to an incident in Udvarhely “where the local community instigated by the town council brutally evacuated four Romanian nuns”. Now I’m not familiar with this incident, and have no idea whether the adverb “brutally” is justified (I’m assuming it is), but it seems a bit biased to append it to whatever happened there and to merely refer to the mini-civil-war in which 8 people died and countless others were injured in Targu Mures as a “violent outburst”. Given the context in which I’d received the link, I began to suspect that this would be yet another biased nationalistic tract of which there are so many out there (from both sides).

However, I gave the book a second chance, and am glad that I did. Since in the main the author (aside from the instance above and a later jarring reference to “the Hungarian problem”) is broadly impartial and prepared to let her subjects speak for themselves. What really surprised me, I suspect, was how familiar all the quotes were – she interviews various groups of Tranyslvanians from different places, different ethnic backgrounds, different age groups, etc – and all of them repeat what I hear more or less every day about the differences and similarities between the two communities. I have cut and pasted some examples below:

Some comments on being a Transylvanian Hungarian
“When I was in Hungary I visited the fathers-in-law of a friend of mine. And they were surprised I speak such a good Hungarian. I never felt so insulted in my life.”

“We, Transylvanians, sometimes feel like second rank Hungarians when compared to Hungarians from Hungary and second-rank Romanian citizens when compared to Romanians. We sometimes feel betrayed by both”

and, interestingly, from some of the Romanian subjects:
“It’s more honorable to be from Transylvania than from any other part of Romania. When I am sometimes ashamed of being a Romanian I feel better when I think I am from Transylvania “

On the cultural differences: “Romanians need less than we do to feel satisfied. They watch TV and they feel happy, while we are concerned by one or by other and we can’t get over it so easy. We Hungarians are so deadly serious”

And the following sentiments I have heard so many times that I have lost count:

This is the bosses business, politics that is; we ordinary people get along fine. (Hungarian workers, Cluj)
It weren’t for politics we wouldn’t even know who’s Romanian, who’s Hungarian, as it was in Ceausescu’s times, we were all alike then. (Romanian workers, Cluj)
You just can’t imagine how well we get along with people here [Romanian]. Politics doesn’t let us live peacefully. (Hungarian peasants, Miercurea Niraj)

I think my favourite bit would have to be this:

The most telling fact is, perhaps, that a social representation of nations living like a family within Romania is simply missing, so difficult it is to imagine an in-group including both Romanians and Hungarians. When asked ‘Were Romania a family, how would it look like’ most Hungarian groups told us they cannot conceive it as a family ‘or we would be the intruders’ (intellectual, Miercurea Ciuc). Even Romanians had difficulties. ‘It would be like a mother-in-law with the daughter-in-law’ (classical image of conflict in the Romanian folk-stories) (peasants, Cluj). At the other extreme is this beautiful representation of a young Romanian student in Cluj:
The father should be a German, the Hungarian the cook and the Romanian should take care of the house. Now it’s not working because the father is Romanian, not German.

As I say it is a fascinating piece of research, and well worth reading.

At the end Dr Pippidi concludes with the need to find a solution that satisfies the following (very little of which I can find any reason to disagree with):

1. to secure the right of the Hungarian minority to a shared public sphere of its own, that meaning ‘a communal domain that is constructed not only as an arena of cooperation for the purpose of securing one’s interests but also as a space where one’s communal identity finds expression’ (Tamir: 1993: 74). This space already exists to a large extent: all that is needed are supplementary legal guarantees.
2. to eliminate by a policy of affirmative action the disadvantages Hungarians still experience (proportion of Hungarian students compared to Romanians; proportion of Hungarian policemen, and so on) This was started in 1997, when the University of Cluj (babes-Bolyai) reserved seats for Hungarians applying for the Law School: this allowed them to be accepted with a much lower threshold than the Romanians.
3. Creating incentives for the Hungarian elite to choose moderate instead of radical policies
4. The same for the Romanian Transylvanian elite
5. Eliminating unnecessary competition between the two national groups as groups wherever this can be avoided
6. Preventing a deepening of the division between the two national groups and keeping a decent level of communication and interactivity between them in order to create at least occasionally a ‘in-group’ of both Romanians and Hungarians, instead of having them permanently exclude each other.
7. Eliminating the Hungarian theme from the Romanian internal political debate
8. Adjusting the political system in order to satisfy the listed requirements with reasonable costs and at a pace that would not endanger the stability of the political system (so often threatened both by ethno-regionalism and by the Romanian nationalist reaction).

Sadly, not much seems to have changed since the time 8(?) years ago when this was written – Hungarians are still very underrepresented in the police force, for example. (pt. 2)

And finally, in order to achieve the above, the author presents three models and critiques them. These models are
1. Hegemonic Control [the state controls/coerces/forces the minority group into submission]
2. Federalism [autonomous regions are created – the question remains whether these are formed on ethnic lines (cantonisation) or not (federalism)]
3. Consociationalism (yes, I had to look it up too) [By which power is somehow shared, either formally or informally. She opines that this was beginning when the paper was written, as the UDMR (Hungarian party) was at that time part of the ruling coalition. It has been ever since, to my knowledge]

She seems to lean towards the third, and I would be interested to hear how she feels now, given that to all intents and purposes this consociationalism has been going on for ten years now, and the problems seem to be exactly the same as when the paper was written. (I’ve written to her to ask).

I have been meaning for a while to write a post on the movement for autonomy in Szekely land, and this seems like a good starting point for what will end up being a series of pieces. I realise that there are so many issues to discuss in such a debate (the concept of nationality/ethnic identity; language and culture; balkanisation vs autonomy; centralisation vs de-centralisation; nationalism; discrimination against minorities; and many many others) that to attempt to do so in a shortish blog post would be impossible. I will (over the course of the next months) return to this subject and attempt to build up a picture of what I believe would be the best way forward. Not that my opinion matters as such, but I feel I ought to offer one at least.

Posted in intercultural communication, Szekely Autonomy, transylvania | 8 Comments »

"Subjective Transylvania" – a review

Posted by Andy Hockley on 17 January, 2007

Recently (at the end of a fairly fractious exchange in the comments section of my post on the Romanian Orthodox Church’s attempt to Romanianise Csikszereda), somebody enigmatically signing themselves “MS” suggested I read this book which is available online through OSI (Soros) in Hungary. So I did. And it was well worth reading, I can tell you. If you download it you’ll find that it’s 147 pages in Word, which may be rather daunting, so I’ll attempt to offer a brief review here. Hopefully if this piques your interest you’ll read it yourself.

The book, which I assume was eventually published by OSI, is entitled “SUBJECTIVE TRANSYLVANIA: A CASE STUDY OF POST COMMUNIST NATIONALISM” by Alina Mungiu Pippidi PhD, who is a Romanian social psychologist. It is a throughly researched study into the disagreements between and perceptions of Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, including reams of qualitative data. It concludes with some suggestions into what the future might hold and some suggested models for the future in creating a more harmonious situation. It’s not clear when it was written, but it was obviously (from the context given) at some point during the Constantinescu government of 1996-2000.

I’ll admit that my first impression was a negative one, since early on in the inroduction to the work Dr Pippidi refers to the 1990 ethnic clashes in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely as a “violent outburst” while then going on to refer to an incident in Udvarhely “where the local community instigated by the town council brutally evacuated four Romanian nuns”. Now I’m not familiar with this incident, and have no idea whether the adverb “brutally” is justified (I’m assuming it is), but it seems a bit biased to append it to whatever happened there and to merely refer to the mini-civil-war in which 8 people died and countless others were injured in Targu Mures as a “violent outburst”. Given the context in which I’d received the link, I began to suspect that this would be yet another biased nationalistic tract of which there are so many out there (from both sides).

However, I gave the book a second chance, and am glad that I did. Since in the main the author (aside from the instance above and a later jarring reference to “the Hungarian problem”) is broadly impartial and prepared to let her subjects speak for themselves. What really surprised me, I suspect, was how familiar all the quotes were – she interviews various groups of Tranyslvanians from different places, different ethnic backgrounds, different age groups, etc – and all of them repeat what I hear more or less every day about the differences and similarities between the two communities. I have cut and pasted some examples below:

Some comments on being a Transylvanian Hungarian
“When I was in Hungary I visited the fathers-in-law of a friend of mine. And they were surprised I speak such a good Hungarian. I never felt so insulted in my life.”

“We, Transylvanians, sometimes feel like second rank Hungarians when compared to Hungarians from Hungary and second-rank Romanian citizens when compared to Romanians. We sometimes feel betrayed by both”

and, interestingly, from some of the Romanian subjects:
“It’s more honorable to be from Transylvania than from any other part of Romania. When I am sometimes ashamed of being a Romanian I feel better when I think I am from Transylvania “

On the cultural differences: “Romanians need less than we do to feel satisfied. They watch TV and they feel happy, while we are concerned by one or by other and we can’t get over it so easy. We Hungarians are so deadly serious”

And the following sentiments I have heard so many times that I have lost count:

This is the bosses business, politics that is; we ordinary people get along fine. (Hungarian workers, Cluj)
It weren’t for politics we wouldn’t even know who’s Romanian, who’s Hungarian, as it was in Ceausescu’s times, we were all alike then. (Romanian workers, Cluj)
You just can’t imagine how well we get along with people here [Romanian]. Politics doesn’t let us live peacefully. (Hungarian peasants, Miercurea Niraj)

I think my favourite bit would have to be this:

The most telling fact is, perhaps, that a social representation of nations living like a family within Romania is simply missing, so difficult it is to imagine an in-group including both Romanians and Hungarians. When asked ‘Were Romania a family, how would it look like’ most Hungarian groups told us they cannot conceive it as a family ‘or we would be the intruders’ (intellectual, Miercurea Ciuc). Even Romanians had difficulties. ‘It would be like a mother-in-law with the daughter-in-law’ (classical image of conflict in the Romanian folk-stories) (peasants, Cluj). At the other extreme is this beautiful representation of a young Romanian student in Cluj:
The father should be a German, the Hungarian the cook and the Romanian should take care of the house. Now it’s not working because the father is Romanian, not German.

As I say it is a fascinating piece of research, and well worth reading.

At the end Dr Pippidi concludes with the need to find a solution that satisfies the following (very little of which I can find any reason to disagree with):

1. to secure the right of the Hungarian minority to a shared public sphere of its own, that meaning ‘a communal domain that is constructed not only as an arena of cooperation for the purpose of securing one’s interests but also as a space where one’s communal identity finds expression’ (Tamir: 1993: 74). This space already exists to a large extent: all that is needed are supplementary legal guarantees.
2. to eliminate by a policy of affirmative action the disadvantages Hungarians still experience (proportion of Hungarian students compared to Romanians; proportion of Hungarian policemen, and so on) This was started in 1997, when the University of Cluj (babes-Bolyai) reserved seats for Hungarians applying for the Law School: this allowed them to be accepted with a much lower threshold than the Romanians.
3. Creating incentives for the Hungarian elite to choose moderate instead of radical policies
4. The same for the Romanian Transylvanian elite
5. Eliminating unnecessary competition between the two national groups as groups wherever this can be avoided
6. Preventing a deepening of the division between the two national groups and keeping a decent level of communication and interactivity between them in order to create at least occasionally a ‘in-group’ of both Romanians and Hungarians, instead of having them permanently exclude each other.
7. Eliminating the Hungarian theme from the Romanian internal political debate
8. Adjusting the political system in order to satisfy the listed requirements with reasonable costs and at a pace that would not endanger the stability of the political system (so often threatened both by ethno-regionalism and by the Romanian nationalist reaction).

Sadly, not much seems to have changed since the time 8(?) years ago when this was written – Hungarians are still very underrepresented in the police force, for example. (pt. 2)

And finally, in order to achieve the above, the author presents three models and critiques them. These models are
1. Hegemonic Control [the state controls/coerces/forces the minority group into submission]
2. Federalism [autonomous regions are created – the question remains whether these are formed on ethnic lines (cantonisation) or not (federalism)]
3. Consociationalism (yes, I had to look it up too) [By which power is somehow shared, either formally or informally. She opines that this was beginning when the paper was written, as the UDMR (Hungarian party) was at that time part of the ruling coalition. It has been ever since, to my knowledge]

She seems to lean towards the third, and I would be interested to hear how she feels now, given that to all intents and purposes this consociationalism has been going on for ten years now, and the problems seem to be exactly the same as when the paper was written. (I’ve written to her to ask).

I have been meaning for a while to write a post on the movement for autonomy in Szekely land, and this seems like a good starting point for what will end up being a series of pieces. I realise that there are so many issues to discuss in such a debate (the concept of nationality/ethnic identity; language and culture; balkanisation vs autonomy; centralisation vs de-centralisation; nationalism; discrimination against minorities; and many many others) that to attempt to do so in a shortish blog post would be impossible. I will (over the course of the next months) return to this subject and attempt to build up a picture of what I believe would be the best way forward. Not that my opinion matters as such, but I feel I ought to offer one at least.

Posted in intercultural communication, Szekely Autonomy, transylvania | 7 Comments »