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In the past, the flag inspired heroism and sacrifice on the battlefield. Sometimes, people died to protect it, and the symbol generated enthusiasm or sacrificial spirit. A conquered flag was more precious than the head of an enemy, or the abandoned weapons. Losing a flag was more dishonouring than a withdrawal. But flags acquired a major role in the modernity of various mass ideologies.
The national or party flag invaded the collective imaginary. Some images from the early’30s from Germany show houses that had at their windows bunches of flags with swastikas or hammer-and-sickles. Some of the big public rallies looked like seas of flags. Not honouring the flag had become, in certain contexts, the sign of a punishable subversion. In a certain sense, during peace time too, the flag still evokes the wars of the past, the conflicts that led to military and political victories.
However, the world has changed, and thinking along the lines of a symbolic culture that is largely obsolete is not only anachronous, but also sterile. Inevitably, those who dream about affirming a political identity which is hard to accept by the others commit themselves to a symbolic war. This is the case of Szeklers. Public rallies in traditional attire, flags with venerable symbols, labels displaying an archaic writing, Szekler ‘gates,’ these all attempt to create an autonomous universe, if only at a symbolic level, dreaming about a future political embodiment. For now, it is a victory of self-pride, because the benefits of the autonomist protectorate are marked by potential ambiguity.
As suggestive as they may seem, evaluations tend to oppose the autonomy, which cannot bring the claimed prosperity, because of purely economic reasons, no matter how much economic support it would receive from Hungary. It would be an artificial structure, but arguments are often ignored in history. Many Szeklers may be seduced by this discourse, which can still find enough adepts, no matter how the political context might evolve.
The discussion about autonomy has two concrete roots in the political evolutions of the last two decades. First, there is FIDESZ, one of the poles of the Hungarian bi-party establishment. Nationalist and conservative, the party led by Viktor Orban was able to win an absolute majority in the latest elections, which allowed it to adopt a policy that continues to be aggressive. And not only with the opposition at home, but also with the EU and neighbour countries. For example, it adopted less restrictive provisions regarding the double citizenship, thus considerably expanding its political basis beyond the frontiers of the state. These were associated, through the years, with a rhetoric that values the unity of the nation and traditional culture. Sometimes it enjoyed more success in Transylvania than in Hungary. On the other hand, there was a major split in the politics of the ethnic Hungarian minority of Romania. The frustration of Laszlo Tokes, who lost his position of authority within the UDMR, generated several parallel parties, which made efforts to go on different paths.
But a strong political identity was needed to seduce an electorate that was used to the beneficial victories of UDMR. And the only thing they found was autonomy, a theme that worried their opponents, which they had to integrate in their own rhetoric, although its nuances were somehow dissonant with their general strategy, which was about a wise, but relentless temporisation – a stance that yielded results on several occasions. Autonomy was postponed for a later moment, but UDMR joined this game of political fictions. Same as the policy of the Hungarian right actually supported emigration and contributed to a form of demographic decline among the Hungarian minority of Romania, the autonomist policy can have perverted effects.
Some of the more responsible leaders of UDMR know it, but have no alternative to the present impasse, so they rely on the context and the opposition of Romanian politicians. The problem is that the regionalist reform is unavoidable and its consequences can be significant. And their dilemma is by no means simple. If they give up a ‘Szekler’ region, they partly lose the support of the electorate. If they do not accept a variant agreed by the power, they risk becoming partly outcasts in Romanian politics. The only worthy ally would be a Romanian party that would assume a less conjectural policy towards the Hungarian minority, so principles too can be negotiated, not just the contexts. But there is no such thing, for now.