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October 23, 2021

Nationalism, from Romanians to Magyars

Marko Bela was right when he said that the Romanian society by and large is more tolerant of Magyars than it was a decade ago. From various reasons, nationalism entered recession, and Romania’s European integration is the chief reason for it.

Romanian politicians could no longer afford to go against the tide, mainly that the European sympathies of the population have always been high. The nationalist rhetoric speculated for a while popular, mostly economic, frustrations and the confusion created by an excessively chaotic political environment, looking for scapegoats and bellicose, as well as conjectural solidarities. However, nationalist parties, which used to form an entire family, have entered a cone of shadow. Some of them were absorbed into parliamentary parties, and the only one that kept its identity, the Greater Romania Party (PRM), has proved unable to exceed the parliamentary threshold anymore.

Even the large parties, which once steadfastly employed such rhetoric, gave up on a fight that appears to no longer stir significant popular interest.

The Democratic Union of Magyars in Romania (UDMR) being a government coalition partner for so long was in itself a serious reason towards such development and also proof to the benefits of cooperation and of the ability to exceed what appeared to be irreconcilable divergences. The nationalist rhetoric has however flourished in the minority camp and branched off in two directions; on one hand, autonomist circles with more radical demands have entertained the nostalgia for a wholesome Magyar power at least at the level of certain localities or regions, of which the Szekler autonomy project is the best known example, given the relatively compact majority in the region. Nonetheless, autonomist projects have also been aimed at other areas as well, under the principle of combining various levels of self-governing. Such projects, which remained only on paper, have been doubled by an administrative practice of local autonomy, at the level of mayoralties, local councils, county councils, county departments of various state institutions. On the other hand, the formal policy of the UDMR insisted on negotiated solutions with Romanian parties. During the past one and a half decades, this resulted in the passage of a special legislation for ethnic minority rights amid greater tolerance from the Romanian majority. Most of the time however the focus was not on solidarity with the fairness of the principles behind legislative amendments, but mostly the practice of negotiated political, and implicitly social cohabitation. Adding to it is a diminished anxiety over the secessionist potential.

“The political conjecture allowing the good relations between Magyars and Romanians should not be played down either. Firstly, the UDMR lured Magyar elites with enhanced social insertion and the responsibility for a power once restricted.”

The political conjecture allowing the good relations between Magyars and Romanians should not be played down either. Firstly, the UDMR lured Magyar elites with enhanced social insertion and the responsibility for a power once restricted. This allowed the Magyar grouping to maintain both its influence and authority, and to make sure concurrent political projects don’t exceed a certain level. The good relations between the socialist government in Hungary and those the UDMR has been associated with also contributed to it. There had been a somewhat converging vision over the issue of Magyar immigration to Hungary and the responsibility of the Hungarian state over minorities in Hungary’s neighbouring countries. The situation is nonetheless altogether different now that the Viktor Orban government is in power. The political identity of the Hungarian Civic Union (FIDESZ) is tied, no matter how many metamorphoses it has gone through over time, to a rhetoric stressing the “unity of the nation”. This however supposes actions laden with symbolic and practical value, such as the granting of the dual citizenship. Taking advantage of the more laidback background of a fellowship under the EU structures, such measure was perceived as mostly benign. Romania, which practiced it with regards to the Romanian ethnic group in the Republic of Moldova, accepted it tacitly at home too.

Other than that, diplomatic tensions are rare and no fuss is made over them. The only discordant tones are linked to more provoking statements and actions. By and large, the UDMR has practiced over time a guarded style as far as statements are concerned, even if a dual parlance is the case, more straightforward when addressed to Magyars, and more veiled when aimed at Romanians. And that, as a means of protection against sensitivities. Provocations come on behalf of more marginal groups, as was the case with a youth that “hanged” a doll representing a Romanian hero of the bloody conflicts in 1848. Aside from the appeal to the memory of the past, which records victims from among both ethnic communities, the gesture goes beyond mundane political confrontation and calls for a legal assessment. While the knack is quite hilarious of the man being professional relocation to the incriminated hero’s native area, it nonetheless doesn’t solve the core issue here. What’s at stake is not “national dignity”, the French are likely to have had a different reaction had a doll representing Joan of Arc been the case, but the political firmness of observing democratic principles, which also have a negative component, of confining extremist gestures. To make a mockery out of anything, intently or out of indifference, won’t resolve the serious issue of popular mistrust in state institutions.

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