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March 21, 2023

Preparing the finishing stroke

Laszlo Tokes’ political career is dotted with both successes and failures. At first he was the man who triggered the revolution that overthrew Ceausescu and, together with him, communism in Romania. His role was the one of just an actor  in the prologue of a much bigger play, for his refusal to be evicted from Timisoara led to a first public protest in December 1989 that soon snowballed into a revolution the following few days. Symbolically speaking, he enjoyed the aura of a ‘hero’ of the Romanian revolution. The years of interethnic conflicts followed, with the new UDMR taking the role of an extended opposition even capable of inducing the refusal of the entire Hungarian community to sign the first post-communist Constitution of 1991. Laszlo Tokes was one of the most virulent leaders, with a maximal rhetoric. It was the epoch of his ‘honourary presidency’ of UDMR, seemingly even more prestigious than the executive presidency. The new 1996 coalition through which the Hungarian came to power was nonetheless going to change the force ratio both concretely and symbolically. Tokes has been gradually marginalised both by the installation of a leadership faithful to his competitor Marko Bela and by the exhibition of the advantages of an integrationist position. That turned Tokes into a radical betting on an accentuated and sometimes strident autonomism. The 2003 congress scrapped the honorary position reserved for a person who was criticising more his rivals in UDMR than the Romanian nationalist opponents. So began the epic story of a political alternative. It all started with a civic organisation – the National Council of Hungarians in Transylvania – the president of which he became. But his dream was politics proper. He first put his hopes into the Civic Hungarian Party, however with poor success and unsatisfactory cooperation with its boss. Meanwhile he had had a chance to measure his popularity in the European election, ending up being the only independent Romanian candidate elected to the European Parliament. He has slalomed through his relationship with UDMR on the list of which he eventually ran, but with his own political agenda. But the biggest support he got from Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime-Minister in office, from whom he ‘inherited’ the office of Vice-President of the European Parliament. In the meantime he god-fathered a new party, the People’s Party of Hungarians in Transylvania, the leadership of which he entrusted to a former collaborator, Toro Tibor. But all this time Tokes has been the ‘mentor’ of the party everyone unhesitatingly refers to as ‘Tokes’ party’.   Tokes has resigned as a UDMR member, a rather formal gesture as all these years he has worked against the Union more than all Romanian nationalists combined. He has tried all possible ways to undermine its legitimacy, steal its voters and take away from it the support of the kin-state. He has succeeded partially. His success in that respect has two main reasons. On the one hand, it  is the normal wear and tear of a formation that hasn’t really been able to reinvent itself after its Marko Bela epoch in the swirl of which it still navigates. On the other hand, Tokes presents himself as the alternative temptation to the integrationist strategy that we have seen so far. His discourse is focussed on that particular aspect: instead of autonomy, Hungarians received prefects and ministers. It is not a coincidence that Tokes resigns exactly as the government accepts the setting up of a Hungarian department within the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Targu Mures. It is the result of a political blackmail that is often used by UDMR. A meaningful victory – UDMR will claim in an electoral tonality. A compromise – their rival Tokes says. The interesting part is that one of the reasons invoked is a suspected complicity in favour of the Rosia Montana mining project. We should not forget that former presidential adviser Peter Eckstein-Kovacs resigned giving the same reason, while he is the current internal opposition in UDMR, after failing to be elected as president of the Union.  There is also an electoral interest, because some people’s antipathy for the project could bring extra votes. Anyway, it is difficult to appreciate if UDMR and PPMT will be genuine competitors or will cooperate in the forthcoming local election. Either way, Tokes will definitely be a redoubtable electoral locomotive. But the result may well be a first parliament without Hungarian MPs in it. The certain thing is that the currently applicable provisions on the electoral threshold do not allow two Hungarian parties de facto in the Romanian Parliament. So the fight will be fierce unless they compromise on having common lists of candidates. Tokes will probably take the opportunity this time and apply UDMR the finishing stroke, preferring to remove it from parliament in order to take the advantage of the more reformist atmosphere of an opposition fostering maximal approaches afterwards.

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