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October 2, 2022

The visibility of provocative gestures

A marginal extremist organization has organized a march on horseback in Miercurea-Ciuc in order to mark seven decades since Hungarian troops led by Regent Miklos Horthy entered the town. The participants numbered only in the dozens; the Mayor not only backed the event but also addressed the participants, with the event being followed by a public conference dedicated to the historical reevaluation of Horthy’s image.

Opinions obviously differed, ranging from sympathy or minimization to condemnation and alarmism. And so while the Vienna Dictate of August 30, 1940 is no longer commemorated as an unfair and criminal decision in Romanian history, those that have nostalgia for a Hungarian Transylvania have taken over the initiative in the opposite sense. Such a public event would have been unconceivable not earlier than a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the political process of decentralization has stabilized so much so that local authorities along with public order institutions enjoy full freedom to authorize an event that is inevitably provocative. The Vienna Diktat, the work of dictators Hitler and Mussolini as part of their plan to redraw the map of European states through diplomatic pressures or war, represented a historical drama for Romanians. The Hungarian state was given half of Transylvania at the negotiating table, a region with both Hungarian and Romanian inhabitants (in relatively equal proportions in the part won by Hungary) that had been under the control of the former for more than half a century and that had been recognized as part of the Romanian state at the Paris Conference of 1919 after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of World War I. In order to quickly Magyarize the new territory the Hungarian authorities took discriminatory measures against Romanians, but the darkest part consisted of the massacres and executions that took place on various occasions and that were meant, as usual in such situations, to maintain an atmosphere of terror that would paralyze political or armed opposition or that simply took place out of revenge. Although during the war years that followed the relations between the two states allied against Russia stabilized somewhat, for the Romanian authorities and population addressing this injustice remained a priority.

The geo-strategic interests of the USSR, one of the great winners of the Second World War, restored the whole of Transylvania to Romania, something that nevertheless reactivated the Magyars’ frustrations. For a while those frustrations were eased by offering the Magyars, who took advantage of the unpopular process of turning the country into a communist one, administrative autonomy in some parts of Transylvania. The relations remained tense because the “communist nationalism” of the Ceausescu era had a program of discriminating against Magyars. After the fall of the regime, UDMR, the Magyars’ new political representative, obtained, step by step, a fairly wide range of specific rights. The event in Miercurea-Ciuc has to be understood in this entire historical and political context. Obviously this is a marginal phenomenon. The organizing association (The Youth Movement from the 64 Counties – a clear reference to the administrative structure of a Transylvania that was part of Greater Hungary) has a low number of members and its popularity is effectively limited to nostalgics and extremists. The Magyar “extremism” in Romania (generally connected to the one in Hungary) has two dimensions: that of demands and that of methods. In what concerns the former, internal debates have agitated UDMR itself throughout time but its constant and long involvement in the exercise of power has given credit to its pragmatic and more moderate side. In what concerns the extremist methods, they have become the attribute of obscure and peripheral organizations. But their public actions, such as the event in Miercurea-Ciuc, fall under the same logic which more honourable organizations, even UDMR, have opted for in order to overcome historic taboos. The initiative has its legitimacy since it can render relative memories that are painful not just through affective memory but also through their ideological load.

However, apart from the irritation they can create among the Romanian population, such actions lack a political debouche, thus stoking, to the extent in which it incites the Magyars, a new frustration.

The very principle of re-discussing borders within the EU is outdated. The fact that European unity is not a permanent historical reality does not change the situation of political developments that reject territorial segregations. Such events rather plan to keep the pro-autonomy current alive, a current that is much more in line with European political tendencies than the dynamic of borders as such. Apart from that the event falls under the logic of the visibility of provocative gestures: it garners the interest of media institutions, it sparks debates, it generates reactions. In any case, the nationalist passions that are after all behind this (and are dominant in a wider mix) will remain more active than some politicians would like them to.

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