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March 23, 2023

Right-wing conjectures

A new people’s party is appearing in Romania. It is the party of an ethnic minority, a party that militates for strengthening this identity and turning the national minority into a regional majority. Yet, the “popular” trademark is no coincidence. The new political project was initiated by Laszlo Tokes, who has close connections with the European People’s Party. Actually, he was even appointed vice-president of the European Parliament – a place that should have been occupied by a member of the EPP.

Laszlo Tokes is a MEP that won his place in the EP as an independent, back in 2007. His personal and political relation with acting Hungarian PM Viktor Orban got him close to the EPP group. Orban supported him as his successor for the position of EP vice-president, when he won the elections in Hungary. The FIDESZ leader has always been closer to Tokes than to the leaders of UDMR, who had better relations with the Hungarian socialists that were in power until not so long ago.

There were many reasons that brought the two politicians together. Viktor Orban initiated the process of granting the so-called ‘Hungarian permits’ to the ethnic Hungarians living outside the borders of the Hungarian state. Beyond their symbolic value, these permits also bring certain social benefits (work permit, health insurance etc.). The pragmatic leftist governments that came to power in Budapest moderated the right wing’s zeal to become the supporter of the whole Hungarian nation, blaming the unwanted effects of this measure, such as a significant immigration that led to a demographic setback in Transylvania. The left also took into account the protests of the average Hungarian citizen against the blow thus dealt to public resources and the distortions provoked on the labour market. The common element that kept the right-wing in Budapest and the entourage of Laszlo Tokes together was nationalism, with populist influences meant to counter the privileged position of UDMR.

Though the latter is now a member of the EPP, its designation as “popular” is still ambiguous at best. UDMR had a good collaboration with the Romanian socialists, sometimes even better than with the rightist coalitions that always evoke internal dissensions when they are unable to meet the demands of their Hungarian partners. The relation with PSD and the monocolore government of PM Nastase is still a model for UDMR, which tries to reiterate it now with PDL. Because of its numerous alliances with both left and right-wing parties, the party led by Marko Bela lost its ideological identity. Though it was conceived, from the very beginning, as a federation of ideological platforms, this did not matter, as the Union acted rather like a federation of interests. Officially, the dominant group was an exponent of the center-right, but in the real politics, the options beyond ethnic demands have become conjectural. This does not mean that the entourage of Tokes is more manifestly rightist. To counter the hegemony of UDMR, Tokes resorted to an anticommunist and anti-leftist rhetoric, accusing the party led by Marko of continuity with the antinational policies of Hungarian communists (an accusation that is largely false).

After various attempts and after being the leader of a “civic” structure (the Transylvanian Hungarian National Council) for a few years, Tokes now wants to found the Transylvanian Hungarian People’s Party. Relying upon his popularity with the ethnic Hungarian population of this region, the visibility granted by his high position in Brussels and the decisive support of Hungary’s government, the future party leader also wants to take profit in the changes that will certainly occur within UDMR.

Even if Marko Bela is re-elected for the 8th time as leader, the current political cycle is ending. However, as UDMR’s achievements are undisputable and beyond any doubt, Tokes raised the stakes even higher and now seeks the territorial autonomy. If Marko and his party used a double rhetoric through the years, Tokes wants to speculate every political discontentment by referring to a sole myth: the autonomy. Nationalist pride, autarchic obsession or the hope for an economic “boom,” autonomy is advertised as the universal solution to all problems.

Although this policy invokes the ideological landmarks of European regionalism, this is not the real reason behind the kind of initiatives promoted by Tokes. It is, however, true that the regionalisation process is slowly advancing in Romania. The reason for this slow pace is the fear of secessionism. Only the solidarity of various Romanian parties can yield results with this regard. But, in order to achieve this, more than regional pride is needed. Both Romanian left and right lost all interest in regionalism.

The political future of UDMR and of the other ethnic Hungarian parties largely depends on their ability to find a new ideological basis for regionalism. Otherwise, everything will remain at the level of conjectural moves, like the current initiative of Laszlo Tokes.

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