PER Report: Political will: Romanias path to ethnic accomodation

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Subject: PER Report: Political will: Romanias path to ethnic accomodation

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PER Report: Political will: Romania’s path to ethnic accomodation

The report is also available in PDF format at PER web-site:


FEBRUARY 22-24, 2001


The Experience of Political Alternation: The UDMR’s Road from
Opposition to Power and Back to Opposition
The UDMR’s Relationships with the Political Majority Before and After
the 2000 Elections
The Poiana Brasov Agreement and the Meaning of Extremism in Politics
European and Domestic Standards on Interethnic Relations; The Impact
of the 2000 Elections on the Status of Minorities
Political Protocols and the Legislative Agenda
Address by President Ion Iliescu
List of Participants
Other PER Publications


This is a report of a discussion that would have been all but
impossible to imagine ten years ago: Romanian and Hungarian political
leaders from Romania sitting down to review and analyze their
successful cooperation in building that country's program for ethnic
accord-and to consider what must be done to preserve that achievement.

When the Project on Ethnic Relations began its work in Romania in
1991, it took almost a year to persuade Romanian officials and leaders
of the ethnic Hungarian community just to gather around the same
table, so deep was the mistrust. But once they did, it marked the
beginning of a lengthy, and continuing, political process that makes
Romania a uniquely successful example of what can be accomplished. The
path was not, and is not, easy. It involved hard, often bitter,
debates between Romanians and Hungarians, intensive political
bargaining and tradeoffs, and many setbacks and disappointments. And
yet a group of key leaders, although deeply loyal to their own
communities, saw that compromises were necessary. They were willing to
take political risks to realize their vision of interethnic harmony.

Any interethnic accommodation is inherently fragile. It is easily
upset by political opportunism, economic difficulties, or outside
influences. So Romania's accomplishments are neither complete nor
permanent. The debate over interethnic arrangements will go on
indefinitely - as it should in any democracy.

On February 22-24, 2001 the Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) held a
seminar in Predeal, Romania to review and evaluate Romanian-Hungarian
relations in the wake of the November 2000 elections that brought to
an end the coalition government in which the Hungarians had been
participants. Surprisingly, the new ruling party, the PDSR (which was
returning to power after a four-year hiatus) and the ethnic Hungarian
party, the UDMR, managed to work out a protocol of understanding that
not only preserved many of the measures that had been instituted under
the previous, interethnic, coalition, but promised additional major
steps, especially concerning administrative decentralization and the
use of the mother tongue.

We do not yet know the ultimate outcome of these initiatives.
Nevertheless, the reader who wants to take measure of what has been
accomplished in Romania over the last decade will have it in this
report. The debates between Romanians and Hungarians (and the Roma) at
the Predeal meeting were civilized, self-analytical, and modest, even
when there were disagreements. Above all, each side was well informed
and aware of the needs and interests of the other, and was at least
willing to take them into account and to discuss them if not always to
act on them. Participants included representatives of the presidency,
cabinet members, and leaders of political parties including the Party
of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), the Democratic Alliance of
Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), the National Liberal Party (PNL), the
Christian Democratic National Peasant Party (PNTCD), and the Roma
Party (PR). Officials from NATO, the U.S. Department of State, and the
United States Embassy also participated.

The agenda included a dialogue on the impact of the 2000 elections on
the status of minorities in Romania; European and national standards
on minority issues; the protocols between the PDSR, UDMR, PNL, and the
Roma Party; the legislative agenda; the recent experience with
electoral change and political succession; the passage of the UDMR
from oposition to power and back to opposition; and the significance
of extremism in politics. The domestic and international importance of
the agreements between politicians representing the majority
population and national minorities was the subject of an address
delivered on behalf of President Ion Iliescu at the opening of the

Western participants underlined that Romania had gone further than
most countries in Central and Eastern Europe in changing the tone of
interethnic relations. They noted this was the result not only of the
participation of the UDMR in the coalition that governed Romania from
1996 to 2000, but of the unprecedented protocols signed after the 2000
elections by PDSR and UDMR-unique examples in a region filled with
ethnic tensions and conflicts. They also observed that these
arrangements had been devised by political leaders from Romania, not
imposed from outside. Romania's interethnic progress, they said, will
be an important asset in the quest for NATO and EU membership.

(Since the Predeal seminar, Romania has promulgated a Law on Public
Administration and has outlined a comprehensive strategy for the
Romani communities in Romania.)

This report was written by Dan Pavel, director of PER's Bucharest
office and edited by the PER staff in Princeton. Participants have not
had the opportunity to review its contents before publication, for
which PER assumes full responsibility.

Allen H. Kassof, President
Livia Plaks, Executive Director
Princeton, New Jersey
July 2001

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