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March 28, 2023

Propagandistic cremation

A Catholic was cremated solely for state propaganda reasons. Although they were about to be reburied, the six decades old remains of Nyiro Jozsef ended up in a small burial urn instead of a new coffin (made out of Szekler wood this time). In order to find the urn, Romanian policemen searched luggage like in a police novel not lacking suspense. The story also features a Parliament Speaker reiterating a not very kind appellative which two neighboring people used to brand each other with for centuries – “barbarian,” and Hungarians that attack each other over the head of Romanian authorities, accusing each other of electoral stunts. And in the backdrop of it all, the largest Catholic pilgrimage in Romania. Let’s unravel the story a bit. The ruling party in Budapest is a conservative party that has staked for two decades now on a kind of nationalism whose actions cross the state’s borders.

Which entailed: financial support (foundations), social support (facilities on the labor and medical services markets), political support (collaboration with local parties), media support (propaganda in favor of the “national” culture) and European support (legislation for the protection of minorities). The main beneficiary: the Hungarian community in Transylvania, the largest outside Hungary. Caught up in a prolonged fight against the left-wing (socialist and liberal), Viktor Orban’s Fidesz de facto leaned towards positions more vehemently promoted by the far-right Jobbik party (whose leader, Gabor Vona, in fact comes from Fidesz’s political-intellectual circles). The political culture of the Hungarian right-wing is one of the most virulent in Europe: sacked heads of institutions, press censorship, marginalized and harassed intellectuals, an anachronistic style of propaganda. In this sense, recovering “national values,” namely interwar right-wing intellectuals, is a common tactic. Szekler autonomy has been promoted for two decades. It isn’t something unusual, even during the Hungarian age the Szeklers were defending their political autonomy privileges. The context is that of a united Europe with two neighboring states that mutually worked to improve relations that once were so tense (joint government meetings, cross-border cooperation, expanding consular activity, even joint military exercises), of innovations made in Romanian legislation in order to protect minorities and of adaptation to EU’s regionalist policy. Apart from this however there is a fairly dynamic current of promoting extended forms of autonomy. Projects, local associations, petitions, electoral initiatives and especially a generalized rhetoric make autonomy the second daily preoccupation of today’s Szekler. When the president of a Hungarian party (influential mostly in the area) comes up with the reburial of a local nationalist writer the political dimension is more than obvious. Dealing with the past is a delicate issue in Eastern Europe. In Romania careers are still made on the basis of controversies concerning the past of renowned intellectuals. The temptation of the far-right, of anti-Semitism and of nationalist xenophobia has marked plenty of intellectuals that cannot be easily excluded from Romanian culture. A similar phenomenon can be seen in neighboring Hungary. However, when anti-Romanian passions are at stake, suspicions are understandable on this side of the border. History should not be beautified in the name of peaceful cohabitation, it should be constructively overcome. Aesthetics cannot be distinguished from politics and the outlook should not be sweetened nor obscured. At the same time however, the historical context has to be explained with nuance, without applying anachronistic standards and taking all data into account. That is how Nyiro Jozsef, a writer Romanians are in fact unfamiliar with, should be read. He probably did not love Romanians, just like Eminescu did not love the Russians (not to mention the Jews). Apart from ideological circumstances, moral responsibilities are however an imprescriptibly benchmark. In the last two decades, when it came to the Hungarian issue Bucharest authorities oscillated between the temptation of populist nationalism and the pragmatism of collaborating with UDMR and Hungary. Almost every government accepted decisions and laws in this sense only after first rejecting and criticizing them. Not out of principle, but out of opportunism. At the same time, it’s often difficult to set the border of flexibility in such situations. It’s not the first case of refusal with diplomatic consequences, but many other cases in which Hungarian authorities took part in political events in Transylvania should not be forgotten. The thing that probably led to the refusal this time was the pompous programme that the Szekler leaders came up with and scheduled to coincide with the backdrop of the Catholic pilgrimage, a programme with an almost military symbolism. But for such a refusal not to seem singular, let’s remember the failed Romanian attempt to rehabilitate, more than a decade ago, Ion Petrovici, a prestigious philosopher that was rather guilty of being part of a government that stood out through anti-Semitic measures than of fighting in the name of an obviously morally reprehensible cause like others did. The irony in the failed reburial affair is that the former Hungarian writer was cremated for propagandistic reasons although the Catholic Church does not encourage cremation at all (although it has tolerated it for half a century out of reasons of aggiornamento).

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