PER Cluj Conference Report

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Date: Wed, 21 Oct 1998 08:16:15 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: PER Cluj Conference Report

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PER Cluj Conference Report

NOVEMBER 14-15, 1997
The devil is in the details.  Those who work on promoting interethnic
accord know very well the wisdom of this adage.
Romania is a country that has the potential to become an island of
amity in a sea of interethnic conflicts.  Its largest linguistic
minority are the Hungarians, who constitute about eight per cent of
the total population of twenty-three million.  Since the 1989
revolution that overturned the Communist regime, there has been a
constant, often heated, debate about the rights of the Hungarian
community, centering on two key issues.  One is the extent to which
localities should be self-administering, to provide a degree of
political autonomy for ethnic minorities. The other concerns the
availability of education in the Hungarian language, through the
university level.  Would it promote interethnic harmony, or would it
lead to ethnic segregation and separatism and, as some Romanians fear,
eventually to a loss of territory?
These issues are complicated by several facts.  One is that the
borders between Romania and Hungary have shifted back and forth
several times during this century, making one group or the other the
titular or dominant nationality during different periods.  Another is
the considerable intermixture of Romanian and Hungarian populations. 
Only two of Romania's 39 counties have an absolute majority of
Hungarians, and the most concentrated Hungarian populations are well
within Romanian territory rather than at the border with Hungary. 
Finally, there is the agreement among all political parties in
Hungary, albeit with considerable variations in degree, that the fate
of ethnic Hungarians in the neighboring countries is the legitimate
concern, indeed the responsibility, of Hungary.
Despite these obstacles, Romania and Hungary, under considerable
pressure from the West to conform with the requirements for membership
in NATO and the European Union, succeeded in 1996 in signing a
bilateral treaty that seemed to signal a departure from their
traditionally hostile relationship. And, all the more remarkable,
later that year the new government that was installed in Romania
following presidential and parliamentary elections included for the
first time as coalition partners the ethnic Hungarian party - the
Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania.  Part of the bargain was
that the new government would make concessions to long-standing
Hungarian demands for new laws and practices in local administration
and would change educational policies to enlarge the scope of
Hungarian-language instruction.
But then there were those details…The government did in fact
promulgate emergency decrees along the agreed-upon lines, but they
were subject to parliamentary approval.  The governing coalition
enjoyed a comfortable majority, but some members of the coalition
parties broke party discipline, and the new laws were voted down in
parliament.  At this writing, the laws are still being debated. 
Meanwhile, on more than one occasion, the ethnic Hungarian party has
threatened to leave the coalition - a move that would seriously
detract from Romania's international image and its prospects for
acceptance in Euro-Atlantic structures, damage its relations with
Budapest, and exacerbate domestic tensions.  As this report goes to
press, a governmental commission has been formed to assess the
feasibility of opening a separate state-sponsored Hungarian university
in Transylvania (the region of Romania where most Hungarians live). 
Whatever the outcome of the present impasse, it is clear that the
issue has deep roots and that there are powerful sentiments on both
The ongoing debates about education are explored in this report.  The
first part consists of an essay by Gabriel Andreescu, a distinguished
journalist and human rights activist in Romania.  He compares the
provisions of old and new laws and speculates on their impact in
practice.  The second part, also written by Dr. Andreescu, is the
summary of a seminar organized by the Project on Ethnic Relations in
cooperation with the Department for the Protection of National
Minorities of the Romanian government.  The seminar, which was held in
Cluj, Romania, in November 1997, was the setting for debates between
advocates of opposing views on whether and how instruction in the
Hungarian language should be expanded, and on whether Babes-Bolyai
University in Cluj, which presently integrates Hungarian instruction
under the same roof with Romanian, should be divided into separate
Romanian and Hungarian institutions on the same campus.
Since this report was written, the political tensions surrounding the
issues of schools and universities has continued.  In June 1998, the
Hungarian party considered leaving the governing coalition, charging
that its partners had failed to deliver on a promise to establish a
separate Hungarian university.
The report was edited by Warren R. Haffar of PER's Princeton staff and
Robert A. Feldmesser, PER's Senior Editor.  Although PER is
responsible for this edited text, which has been translated and
adapted from the original Romanian, the views expressed here are those
of the author.
Allen H. Kassof, President
Livia B. Plaks, Executive Director
Princeton, New Jersey
June 1998

(The full text of the report - 41 Kb in plain text - is available from
the MINELRES moderator by request. 

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