Some of UDMR’s electoral banners have sparked uproar. Their message is directed against the country’s capital city and against centralism, and is in favour of Transylvania and of local prerogatives. Essentially, nothing new. Nothing new in Europe, where a party such as Italy’s Northern League has for long used the slogan ‘Roma ladrona,’ in other words: the capital city which is stealing the provincials’ money through excessively centralised taxation. And nothing new even in Romania, where at the end of the 1990s regionalist political projects were blooming. The Moldovans’ Party for instance, or the Transylvania-Banat League. Even PSD was launching, during the Nastase Government, a so-called “Manifesto for Transylvania,” with pronounced regionalist intentions that did not amount to much. In fact, there has been a lot of talk about regionalisation also under the impact of the European philosophy which has privileged, for several reasons, regional identities. One of the reasons was to relax the pressure of nationalisms, in favour of circumscribed and competing cultural-territorial loyalties. A process of decentralisation corresponded to the various strategies of administrative reform, although with results that were more modest than in other countries. The EU’s growth crisis in recent years has led to a change in emphasis. The more so since the return to national borders, against the backdrop of out-of-control migration flows, is accompanied by a rise of populisms with a nationalist tinge: in the face of a common “enemy” it’s wiser to join forces.
However, in the face of the endemic corruption one can find in the capital city, but also in a provincial backwater, decentralisation no longer works like a magical concept. In fact, the amplitude that the “local barons” phenomenon took was also a form of regionalisation, albeit perverse. A quasi-feudal, discretionary form of local power. And in such a moment of ebbing in what concerns regionalism, such as the one we are experiencing now, those who continue to insist on this, at least at the level of electoral propaganda, are the Hungarians. Desiring to outgrow their condition as a minority, they are trying to regain influence in various local institutions where their share can be decisive. Hungarians are twice motivated to seek decentralisation, because it allows them also to more strongly back their ethnic difference. A goal not lacking in ambiguities, because ethnic solidarity is not a guarantee of institutional success. And democracy does not necessarily lead to efficiency, being only a premise that features virtues and vulnerabilities. How much should ethnicity matter in administration remains an open issue, because excesses can be just as counter-productive as shortcomings. An administration locally dominated by UDMR can be just as mediocre as others. So a clearer distinction between the protection of minorities and institutional reform issues would be welcome. UDMR, which apart from autonomy and the redrawing of the administrative map of regions has attained almost all the goals included in its 1990s programme, is mixing the planes, staking on the same emotional drive. But in today’s extremely mobile world, such tendencies have all the chances to take on reactionary nuances.
The advantages of integrating in a unique European structure are at risk of being lost if the EU devolves. And the nationalist backsliding can once again poison European geopolitics. A balanced system of promoting ethnic or regional identities can be a more solid protection in relation to the tensions of the future. Let’s take the example of bilingual signs. Cluj, a city with centuries-old Hungarian tradition, does not have what in other areas is already common-place. The reason is the law itself, which imposes such a measure only if the minority population surpasses 20 percent. The Ceausescu regime’s policy to industrialise and Romanianise Transylvanian cities, and then the post-communist migration and the devolution of the population growth rate have led to the current situation. The lengthy administration of nationalist mayor Gheorghe Funar took advantage of the figures to refuse the use of bilingual signs. His successor, Emil Boc, who represented a real change at local level, did not however go all the way in this sense. The project concerning the placing of small towers at the city’s entry points eventually remained on paper. Why this step back? Simple populist calculus? One of Cluj’s problems of essence is that it does not manage to assume more coherently its own history. Seven centuries since the first mention of the medieval city were recently marked. The moment was marked only as part of the “Hungarian Culture Days,” as if Romanians have nothing to do with a history that doesn’t concern them. And such examples can continue. If decentralisation is not a guarantee of administrative efficiency, sometimes only central authority can correct local backsliding. Without the intransigence of the Government of the day, the opening of a Hungarian consulate in Cluj would have been delayed for at least a decade, given the fierce opposition of the same Gheorghe Funar.