About a year ago I wrote an article about the slowly fermenting trouble in the relations between Romania and Hungary. I recalled in that article that Fidesz was keeping fingers crossed for Traian Băsescu, president of Romania, at the time when he was running for re-election in the spring of 2010. Fidesz leaders, who every summer make a pilgrimage to Transylvania, were actually campaigning on behalf of Băsescu during the summer of 2009.
Băsescu, with some difficulty, won the election and so, more dramatically, did Viktor Orbán. On the surface Romanian-Hungarian friendship seemed to be thriving. However, I was pretty sure even then that this honeymoon between the two countries would not last long because the Fidesz leader’s intense nationalism would sooner or later irritate the Romanians.
One didn’t need to be a Cassandra to predict a sorry end to the newly found friendship because this is exactly what happened during the tenure of Orbán Viktor between 1998 and 2002. Relations soured not only with Romania but with practically all the neighboring countries with the possible exception of Croatia, at least until the nationalist Franjo Tuđman was president of the country.
By the summer of 2011 cracks in the Hungarian-Romanian friendship seemed to be deepening. In the first place, the personal “friendship” between Băsescu and Orbán was one-sided because we know from WikiLeaks documents that Băsescu called Orbán “the last disgusting little nationalist of Europe” in the presence of the American ambassador to Bucharest. A year ago there were more and more incidents that involved Hungarian politicians and officials that irritated Romania mightily. For instance, Kövér in a speech said that Hungarian territorial autonomy in Romania would be “the will of God.” The Romanians told Kövér to pay attention to the business of Hungary and confine the will of God to his own country.
This Kövér speech was followed by other irritating incidents until it got to the highest levels of Romanian politics. By June 2011 Băsescu refused to attend a reception at the Hungarian Embassy in Bucharest marking the end of Hungary’s presidency of the European Union. A month later in July Băsescu refused to participate in the yearly “open university” week that is organized by Fidesz every year and attended by the top brass of the party. In the previous few years Băsescu did attend. At that meeting Orbán told his audience that “the time of Hungarian territorial autonomy hasn’t arrived yet.” Băsescu retorted that “there will never be any time when Hungary can intervene in the internal affairs of Romania. Hungary has her own problems which are not small. He [Orbán] should try to solve those.”
During the earlier administration the two governments held joint cabinet meetings but neither in 2010 nor in 2011 was there such a gesture. It turned out that Viktor Orbán personally stopped the practice.
After the summer of 2011 flareups between the two countries there was relative calm until a couple of months ago. Trying not to get lost in the details of the stormy Romanian politics of late, I must mention a few important facts. On February 5 the Romanian government of Emil Boc (Liberal Democratic Party) resigned and his place was taken by Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, whose tenure was short lived. In April 2012 his cabinet was dismissed following a no-confidence vote. In these governments RMDSZ, the main Hungarian party in Romania, was a coalition partner. RMDSZ insisted on the establishment of a Hungarian-English section of the medical school in Tîrgu Mureş (Marosvásárhely) as its price for participating in the Ungureanu government.
After the fall of Ungureanu, Băsescu asked Vitor Ponta, a social democrat, to form a government, and it seems that he is no friend of the Hungarians. According to Népszava Ponta’s government enacted a number of bills that are unfavorable to the Hungarian minority.
It is in this context that, most likely on László Kövér’s insistence, the Hungarian government financed the reburial of József Nyirő, the Transylvanian writer of decidedly far-right sympathies, in Romania.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Nyirő’s remains were supposed to be transported in a special coach attached to a train going to Șumuleu Ciuc (Csíksomlyó), where apparently more than 100,000 pilgrims gather every year at Pentecost. It was reported in the Hungarian press, however, that the Romanian State Railways didn’t get permission for this coach to be attached to the train. Unfazed, the Office of the Speaker of the House (László Kövér) decided that the remains will be transported to Romania in some other way.
Not only is the Romanian government unhappy about this reburial. The politicians of RMDSZ are also upset because they consider it an act of interference in the affairs of the Hungarian community in Romania. RMDSZ is a right-of-center party but obviously not right enough. Fidesz’s favorite is the Magyar Polgári Párt (Hungarian Civic Party), a party organized in the image of Fidesz in the Szekler region of Transylvania. The RMDSZ mayor of Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuies) considers the whole Nyirő affair a campaign ploy on behalf of the Magyar Polgári Párt, thus an act of interference in the forthcoming elections. According to the latest news, Romanian authorities are bent on not allowing Nyirő’s remains to reach Romanian soil. They are searching cars at the borders.
The Hungarian government is assuming the role of the injured party in this conflict. Although only yesterday Mircea Dusa, the new minister for liaison with parliament, announced that at the beginning of June the two prime ministers, Victor Ponta and Viktor Orbán, will meet, Péter Szijjártó, spokesman for Orbán, announced that “the meeting is not on the agenda.” And that’s not all. There will be a meeting in Bucharest soon at which the prime ministers of new members of the European Union will discuss “the future of the cohesion funds.” A meeting between the Romanian and Hungarian prime ministers is not scheduled.
László Kövér, despite requests by RMDSZ not to attend the reburial and thereby get involved in the Romanian campaign, plans to go to the reburial of Nyirő’s remains if they ever arrive. Meanwhile Romanian and Romanian-Hungarian politicians point out that Nyirő was “a fascist.” The Hungarian government might find this fact immaterial, but Romanian public opinion hasn’t “forgiven” Nyirő for his involvement in the fascist Hungarist Arrow Cross movement. Fidesz is not moved, and its leading politicians don’t seem to be terribly bothered by MSZP’s claim that Fidesz has moved to the far right of the political spectrum, right where Jobbik is.