An interesting political twist: Hungarians in Romania

I rarely write about Hungarian minority politics in the neighboring countries because I really don't know much about it. Or put it this way: I know a great deal less about the ins and outs of Slovak-Hungarian or Romanian-Hungarian politics than I do about purely Hungarian affairs. However, the latest political events in Romania intrigued me.

Recently there were presidential elections in Romania. The first round took place on November 22, 2009, and on Decemer 6 a run-off election was held between Traian Basescu, the current president and a member of the Democratic-Liberal Party, and Mircea Geoana, president of the senate and chairman of the Social Democratic Party. Although most exit polls favored Geoana, the authorities declared Basescu the victor with 50.33% of the votes. The Hungarian party, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ or Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania), supported Geoana. They were particularly enthusiastic because Geoana was expected to choose a Transylvanian Saxon, Klaus Johannis, to be prime minister. It was predicted that if Geoana became president, RMDSZ headed by Béla Markó would be part of the new government under Klaus Johannis.

Not that RMDSZ had been excluded from earlier governing coalitions. Between 2004 and 2008 RMDSZ occupied four important positions in the Romanian government. Moreover, Béla Markó himself was deputy prime minister in charge of culture, education, and European integration.

Meanwhile, Fidesz (a perpetual meddler in Hungarian minority politics) was backing Basescu although on the surface Geoana's victory with a Transylvanian Saxon prime minister seemed more advantageous from the Hungarian point of view. On the night of the elections when the polls were still predicting a Geoana win, Zsolt Németh, Fidesz's foreign policy expert, expressed his opinion that for Hungary Geoana's victory would be a disaster. It's a mystery to me why. Perhaps Fidesz didn't like the "socialist" adjective in the party's name.

A few days were spent contesting the results, but after a recount of the absentee ballots the constitutional court refused to declare the elections fraudulent. RMDSZ was not down and out, however. About a week later I found references to the possibility that Traian Basescu might approach the Hungarian party to join the cabinet under the reappointed Emil Boc (Democratic Liberal Party) because there were still about twenty seats missing for a majority. The Democratic-Liberal Party, the National-Liberal Party, and RMDSZ could form a coalition. By December 14, Hungarian papers predicted that RMDSZ "may count on a few ministerial positions" in the new government.

Soon enough it became clear that the Markó-led RMDSZ is a pragmatic party. Yes, they were supporting Geoana in the campaign, but now it was time for negotiation. The early reports speculated that RMDSZ would get two or three cabinet posts. Soon enough the Romanian paper Evenimentul Zilei reported that in addition to three ministerial posts, Markó would most likely become deputy prime minister again.

By December 18, Markó announced the details: RMDSZ will get the posts of minister of the environment, minister of health, and minister of culture in addition to the position of vice prime minister. According to the latest news: László Borbély will be the minister in charge of the environment, Attila Cseke, minister of health, and Hunor Kelemen, minister of culture. In addition, RMDSZ's demands include passing a minority law, a new education law, and the introduction of "decentralization" measures. The last demand actually means greater regional freedom. If there can be no talk of autonomy decentralization will do. All these demands are very important from the Hungarian point of view. RMDSZ also wants to discuss the financing of the Hungarian university, Sapientia, in Cluj (Kolozsvár).

What does Fidesz thinks of all this? I really don't know. Fidesz is no fan of RMDSZ. The Fidesz leadership several times suggested that Markó and the RMDSZ don't represent the interests of the Hungarians of Romania. They accused Markó and his party of collaborating with the Romanians, and surely that is a cardinal sin in their eyes. In the last few years they did everything in their power to set up another Hungarian party with the active assistance of László Tőkés, the hero of the Romanian revolution of 1989. The new party was called Magyar Polgári Párt (what else?), but it did very poorly in the local elections of 2008.

So now an interesting situation is emerging. Basescu, Fidesz's favorite, won but RMDSZ, not at all the favorite of the Hungarian right, will join the government endorsed by Basescu. Will they still be "collaborators"?  We will see. For the time being neither Fidesz's web site nor its "unofficial" mouth-piece, Magyar Nemzet, has expressed an opinion. Just the bare facts. I guess they are trying to formulate the "proper" response to this new development.

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