Autonomy – beyond ethnicity

To Marc Gafarot, representative of `Convergence and Union`, Transylvania is, like Catalonia, a territory meant for a legitimate autonomy. To HVIM [Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement], a Hungarian far-right movement, Transylvania still represents a piece of a transnational political reality. To Laszlo Tokes, Szeklerland is like Crimea, where the Russian ‘colonists’ stole the lands of Tartars. Or like Lower Tirol, currently a region pacified only by granting it a special status within the Italian state. Why this need for comparisons and implicit associations? The reality of a united Europe produced, in time, a culture of transnational associations. Even the European eurosceptics think to act the synergetic way.
In their turn, autonomists mutually support each other. Extremist parties, too, have common lists for the European Parliament.

These forms of association paradoxically show to what extent the European paradigm is alive. Few years ago, C.V. Tudor’s Greater Romania Party expressed its solidarity with the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen. At the other extreme, the extra-parliamentarian leftists established efficient European connections. Despite the divisions, which seem increasingly paralysing, there is a parallel phenomenon of a new dynamic of associations. There certainly exists a history of Szekler autonomist spirit, for instance. Which begins in the Middle Age and continues until the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Which takes new forms once Transylvania gets incorporated into the Romania state after the First World War. In the new post-communist conditions, this autonomist spirit has resurrected.
But the present European context also plays an important role in the extent of the phenomenon. The regionalist political philosophy is part of a certain crisis of today’s EU. In various states appear diverse proposals that want either to reconfigure the map of regions (making them larger or smaller than present ones), or to change their status. It is a tendency that includes the issues of administrative efficiency, rethinking the political identities or economic recovery. Szeklers also dream of autonomy because they hope in an economic boom (possibly a tourist one, like in Lower Tirol/the Alto Adige region of Italy) that will bring local prosperity. They think with hope at the possible benefits of a fiscal devolution. In crisis of political identity (just the ethnic reference being obsolete), they try to bet on the more actual concept of subsidiarity. Thus, understanding the entire policy in favour of Szekler autonomy as a form of nationalism only simplifies a much wider framework. This is not s simple conflict between Romanians and Hungarians, based on ethnic-cultural diversity. It is about a deeper political discomfort. Millions of Romanians chose the exile these years (especially in Italy and Spain) out of economic reasons. In their turn, several hundreds of thousands of Hungarians from Romania also chose the exile (mainly in Hungary). Against this background of discontentment, the autonomist alternative gains adepts. Let’s not forget that Romanian regionalist parties, too, appeared more than a decade ago, although they did not resist for long. It cannot be denied that the reason for their short life, in Transylvania’s case, is also the prudence of Romanians (even if wishing an autonomy of their own) to not implicitly encourage an unwanted Hungarian secessionism. Even at the much softer level of formal regionalisation, the process is postponed indefinitely by the thorny ‘Szekler issue.’ If, however, Romanians are sabotaged by secessionist fear, Hungarians can more freely put their hopes into the benefits of autonomy. Which is an open door for a crisis of political projects. Even UDMR is at a loss about what it should demand as price of joining the ruling coalition.
During almost two decades, it obtained almost everything, except the notable Szekler autonomy. If it dropped this objective, it would run out of means to seduce its electorate. A real renewal of this party has not occurred yet, this is why it is still captive to a policy that scored its share of wins, but now is depleted in terms of vision. We should not neglect the aspirations beyond ethnic identity. There are many Romanians who obtained the Hungarian citizenship, although they have no Hungarian relatives, nor do they speak the language, but are interested by the advantages it offers. No matter how immovable interethnic conflicts may seem, let’s rather consider this whole panoply of motivations of a different nature, which entertain the autonomist dream. In order to defuse them, viable alternatives are needed, capable to redirect the energies of the populations discontent with the results of present politics.

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