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August 14, 2022

Same good old UDMR

For two decades, UDMR has used a redoubtable rhetorical weapon: unity. To a party that has been in the government many years, not breaking apart has become a vital matter, especially after the introduction of the higher electoral threshold of five per cent, coming with the risk of not being in Parliament. Marko Bela has been a longevous leader, skilled when it came to setting up a highly effective system of political influence. That effectiveness first of all came from the access to the privileges of power. Local power (mayors, deputy mayors, local and county councillors, later on even presidents and vice presidents of county councils), but also national power (ministers, even a deputy prime minister, secretaries of state, as well as quite enough heads of government agencies and even prefects). Secondly, effectiveness was due to a few very resourceful foundations, some coming from Hungary, that managed to also dominate the ‘civil society’ of Hungarian minority, giving assistance with all sorts of initiatives and having many local energies gravitate around them.

The shift of generations however did affect his political strength – inertial to a certain extent – and has even contained it to a reactive registry, according to the challenges coming from the various competitors emerging in the meantime. The new UDMR president is a relatively young politician, but a ‘new guard’ has not truly imposed itself in the meanwhile. This new leader still follows very much on the legacy of his predecessor, whose ‘dolphin’ he was. Ever since the right went back to power in Hungary, the preferential support has gone in the direction of the competition – PPMT – a creation of the unsatisfied Laszlo Tokes. Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ also had a serious stake in the political change of the Hungarian community in Transylvania. The benefits pursued ought to be reciprocal. Orban would have an impacting victory if his autonomist rhetoric gained local political legitimacy. His nationalistic and conservative policy would acquire additional meaning if PPMT could replace UDMR, becoming a local FIDESZ extension that could be strengthened by the possible vote (or just popular support) of several million Transylvanian Hungarians. But this kind of political castling is not exactly simple in Romania. The risk is the one UDMR mentions with propagandistic ability: missing the Parliament. This is PPMT’s only chance to unseat UDMR. But the core matter is different, though: the exclusive autonomism advocated by Tokes’ soul party could be a poisoned fruit generating frustration relative to political offers. How hypocritical can be these Hungarian leaders who keep referring to the Catalan example – the Spanish region that is now so dependent on Madrid’s support?  Before it can be a reliable alternative, autonomism is a phantasm. ‘May Transylvania bide and be the Fairy Garden1’, ‘Transylvania – Switzerland of the East’ – these are phrasings that may be emotionally seductive, but can never be rationally convincing. If we look at PPMT’s autonomist offer, we will find quite enough germs of future discrimination, even if only because this dangerous dirigisme that would go as far as family planning. The concrete flaw of the autonomy model is still thorny. PPMT proposes regional parliament and government based in Cluj, as well as a federation of ‘member stats’ overlapping with the ‘historical regions’. The resentful tone (‘the big powers annexed Transylvania to Romania’) and the search at all cost of regional identities (they even suggest a special healthcare policy which is an unpleasant reminder of the American polemic around the ‘racial medication’) allow on to see behind the gilt of ‘Europeanism’ and appeal to tolerance a raw nationalism dressed up in federal clothing. Compared to UDMR’s tactical inconsistency since it has been strolling down the corridors of power, this kind of monomaniacal policy could seduce some, but it would only stand a chance in a troubled political context. UDMR can turn this to its advantage if it managed to double its administrative resources with an innovative political programme, less dependent on the agenda of its competitors, be they opponents or potential allies.

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