“The war of the flags”: Diplomatic spat over Szekler territorial autonomy

A few months back I ended one of my posts with a question: How long will the Romanian-Hungarian love affair that Viktor Orbán and  Traian Băsescu initiated back in 2009 last?

In the last few days over 200 articles have appeared in the Hungarian media on the “székely (Szekler) flag.” Before I venture into the tiff over the flag, let’s look at who the Szeklers or székelyek are. The origin of those Hungarians who live in Covasna (Kovászna) and Harghita (Hargita) counties in the eastern part of Transylvania is shrouded in mystery. Perhaps the most accepted theory is that they were originally a Turkic group that came along with the other Hungarian tribes to present-day Hungary. They were already Hungarian speaking at the time. Originally they settled in Bihor (Bihar) county around Oradea (Nagyvárad). From there they moved farther east and guarded the eastern regions of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Members of Jobbik parliamentary members holding up the "székely flag

Jobbik parliamentary members holding up the “székely” flag

As for the origin of the flag, it is even murkier. The Székely Nemzeti Tanács (National Council of Szeklers) claims that the design they came up with was inspired by the flag of the only Szekler prince of Transylvania, Mózes Székely (1553-1603). However, the flag attributed to Mózes Székely was not his heraldic flag but a so-called battle flag he received as a gift from Prince Zsigmond Báthori before a battle led and lost by him against the royal Habsburg forces. It was just one of many such flags and was never associated with the Land of the Szeklers. I think one can safely say that this flag is a new symbol for the Szeklers, who are currently demanding territorial autonomy within Romania.

So, what happened that caused a diplomatic spat between Romania and Hungary? Last month the prefects of the two dominantly Hungarian inhabited counties forbade flying the székely flag on private or public buildings. This flag had been displayed in Romania since 2010. László Kövér, speaker of the Hungarian parliament who supports the National Council of Szeklers, ordered the display of the flag on the parliament building in November 2010. In January 2012 the demonstrators of the Peace March demanded, among other things, autonomy for the Land of the Szeklers and carried hundreds of Szekler flags. The demand for Szekler autonomy spread beyond Transylvania and gained increasing support in Hungary.

After the Covasna County Court ruled that the Szekler flag cannot be displayed in Romania a local leader of RMDSZ asked Hungarian mayors to fly the Szekler flag in a display of solidarity. That was on January 18, and ever since one after the other, especially the more radical Fidesz mayors, have obliged. First it was Siófok that displayed the flag, then Budafok, and a few days later District VII, the historic Jewish quarter of Pest. No wonder that a blog writer who lives there made fun of all those Szeklers who inhabit Erzsébetváros.

Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of the foreign ministry, attended the ceremony that accompanied the display of the flag at the Budafok City Hall on February 5. There he delivered a speech in which he called the Romanian decision to ban the Szekler flag “symbolic aggression” and urged other mayors to follow suit. He insisted that “the steps Romania has taken lately are contrary to Romanian-Hungarian cooperation, the values of strategic partnership, and the norms of the European Union.”

A day later the Romanian prime minister, Viktor Ponta, answered in kind. Romania will not tolerate any interference in Romania’s domestic affairs. He described Németh’s remarks as “impertinent” and called on Romania’s foreign minister to make a vigorous response to the Hungarian government concerning the issue. Bogdan Aurescu, undersecretary of the Romanian Foreign Ministry, considered Németh’s words to be support for territorial autonomy, which the Romanian constitution forbids.

On the very same day Oszkár Füzes, the Hungarian ambassador, was called into the Romanian Foreign Ministry. During the conversation the Hungarian ambassador apparently said that Hungary supports the display of the Szekler flag in Romania. Moreover, he gave an interview to a Romanian television station where he stated that his country supports the Szeklers’ demand for territorial autonomy and gave a piece of advice to the Romanians: they should change their constitution and make Romania a multi-national state. At this point the Romanian foreign minister threatened Oszkár Füzes, who had gotten into trouble earlier in Romania, with expulsion. He added that even before possible expulsion Füzes will be persona non grata in Bucharest. He expressed his hope that Budapest will be able to keep its ambassador in line; if that effort is unsuccessful, “his mandate in the Romanian capital will be short-lived.”

János Mártonyi came to the rescue of his ambassador in Bucharest: “Oszkár Füzes did not say anything on the question of Szekler autonomy that would be different from the opinion of the Hungarian government.” Hungary’s position hasn’t changed with respect of Szekler autonomy in twenty-two years. He added that “we were not the ones who started the war of the flags.'” Zsolt Németh also put in his two cents’ worth, saying that “they are ready to negotiate but the solution is in the hands of Romania.”

RMDSZ, a much more moderate Hungarian party than either Fidesz or the Szeklers’ Magyar Polgári Párt, looked upon all this with trepidation. According to György Frunda, adviser to Viktor Ponta, this “diplomatic scandal” hurts the Hungarian community in Romania. Hunor Kelemen, chairman of RMDSZ, considered Zsolt Németh’s words inflammatory, adding that the fate of the Szekler flag is not in the hands of Hungarian politicians.

Today János Martonyi phoned the Romanian foreign minister, Titus Corlăţean. From what we can learn from the Hungarian news agency’s report, the two agreed to disagree. But “the negotiating partners concluded that the lessening of tensions is mutually desirable.” They will continue negotiations and “they count on the contribution of the diplomatic corps.” So, it seems that Romanian-Hungarian relations are currently so bad that the conflict needs the mediation of outsiders. It sure doesn’t sound too promising.

79 comments

  1. It’s really very disturbing all this involvement of Fidesz in affairs of the magyars and székelys in Transylvania. They are making things worse for them. On the other hand, we are talking about a flag: a flag that isn’t and never was the official flag of a country or county or town. So why are the Romanians upset? The idea of Székely automony is not new. It’s frustrating to see, once again, how people don’t look around a bit elsewhere to see how other countries have sorted out similar issues, like Alto Adige/Südtirol in Italy. (By the way, they have their own official flag) I could also bring up Quebec as a distinct society within Canada (but let’s not even talk about the language laws…… )

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  2. Oszkár Füzes is a weird guy. He was correspondent of Népszabadság (the most popular, though struggling left-leaning daily), no less, in the US a couple of years ago. Yet now he is ambassador in Bucharest, a rather sensitive post for Hungarian diplomats (although I am not sure if there was a huge competition). No CV of Mr. Füzes is available, his backgroud seems rather misterious. But the interesting thing is how he got to be a Fidesz-trusted functionary? In normal circumstances a Nepszabi connection means a complete no-go for Fidesz, well, unless he has proven his absolute loyalty in one way or another. You may guess.

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  3. Close to one fifth of the population of Romania is non-Romanian in ethnicity and language use. Thus the assertion that Romania is a unitary state, none of which exist on the European continent, is at best wishful nationalist thinking. There are over thirty autonomous regions on the continent of Europe and each is accepted by the EU. More are in the offing. The call for autonomy in Transylvania is not unusual and in the minds of many long overdue.
    The Szekler flag is a flag of a community domiciled in Romania, thus the charge that it is foreign, does not merit serious consideration. The Romanian Constitution accepts and protects the symbols of its minorities. The whole ‘flag issue’ is a question of tolerance and acceptance of European norms.

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  4. Unfortunately, the whole story is a bit more complicated. First, the Romanians (as always) are stupidly doing a lot of mess out of this. The political battle in this country is still going on, and remember that president Basescu has lately posed as a good friend of ethnic Hungarians (when the Government tried to impeach him, he called the Hungarians from Harghita and Covasna not to go to vote, and this was politically used by present government parties to raise nationalistic conflicts). Since almost 75% of Romanians voted three months ago against Basescu (well, more specifically against his party), and since Hungarian ethnics are seen as those who helped him keeping his chair, ethnic Hungarians are politically situated in a temporary bad perspective. On the other hand, ‘taliban’ Hungarian ethnic politicians are fighting a cruel battle with ‘taliban’ Romanian ethnic politicians regarding the future change of the constitution: ethnic Hungarians want to throw away the idea of a ‘national state’, while ethnic Romanians don’t even want to take this into consideration. As a scholar in political theory, all this nationalistic feelings really make me throw up. I do not see very soon a happy ending to all these – as long as ethnic Romanians still have Corneliu Vadim Tudor and as long as ethnic Hungarians still have Laszlo Tokes nothing good is going to get out of this. However, this international conflict around a simple flag shows exactly what all political and social scientists are saying for a long time: in times of crisis, stupid nationalistic feelings get inflated. I do not see a very quick ending to all these – and if Catalonia is going to make the move everyone fears, then there will be a lot of mess all around Europe – Székely Land included.

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  5. An :
    @Mutt: Today’s post reminded me of this Eddie Izzard piece, too. Never underestimate the importance of flags!

    Daft as it may seem, people do get very worked up about flags. We only have to look at the US to see this, where the flag is practically worshipped. One of the nice things about living in the UK is that we don’t take our flag too seriously (it’s used on everything from knickers to cars), but I’ve been on demos where the Israeli and US flags have been burnt and that is quite a disturbing thing to watch.

    On a lighter note – I was wondering if anyone would even notice if Debrecen flew the Szekler flag, as the Debrecen flag itself is horizontal bands of yellow and blue!

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  6. Csopi :
    Oszkár Füzes is a weird guy. He was correspondent of Népszabadság (the most popular, though struggling left-leaning daily), no less, in the US a couple of years ago. Yet now he is ambassador in Bucharest, a rather sensitive post for Hungarian diplomats (although I am not sure if there was a huge competition). No CV of Mr. Füzes is available, his backgroud seems rather misterious. But the interesting thing is how he got to be a Fidesz-trusted functionary? In normal circumstances a Nepszabi connection means a complete no-go for Fidesz, well, unless he has proven his absolute loyalty in one way or another. You may guess.

    This is what I found regarding him on Origo in 2008.
    http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20080804-karrierdiplomatak-mellett-minden-orszagban-vannak-politikai-kinevezettek.html

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  7. This is yet another situation where I don’t understand the ‘logic’ of the Orbán ‘government’.

    Given the history of relations between Romania and Hungary, and they way most people tend to react in this sort of situation (I might have been going to do it anyway, but now that you’re telling me to do it, it’s the last thing I’m going to do), the very worst way of helping the Szekler community towards autonomy would be for Hungary to start trying to force the Romanian government to give it autonomy (or anything).

    So, either Orbán really is that stupid and hasn’t learnt any lessons from history, or he’s up to something else. And that ‘something else’ is almost certainly using the Szekler situation to his own ends.

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  8. “After the Covasna County Court ruled that the Szekler flag cannot be displayed in Romania”

    Hi, Eva.

    The flag is not forbidden, that’s how Zsolt Nemeth strategically “misunderstood” the issue.
    It it is allowed, is has been allowed and it has been used during all sorts of political and cultural meetings in the last 5-10 years.

    What is forbidden, the whole issue here, is its display on official-state-administrative buildings (mayor office, county chief). On such buildings the Romanian law says that only Romania’s flag and EU’s flag can be put (and NATO in some situations, military units, etc).

    This Szekeler-flag has become associated in the eyes of the public opinion with the szeklerland-autonomy initiatives and its display on official buildings is not only illegal (any other flag would be) but is also understood as a challenge to the state.

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  9. “The origin of those Hungarians who live in Covasna (Kovászna) and Harghita (Hargita) counties in the eastern part of Transylvania is shrouded in mystery.”

    Mystery indeed. From what I’ve read, the academic opinion tends towards the idea that the original Szeklers established themselves in what is now Romania some time before the ‘main body’ of the Hungarians arrived in the Carpathian Basin. (And they probably weren’t the only Hungarian communities already established in ‘Hungary’.)

    The relationship between the main part of Hungary and the Szeklers has always struck me as one of the weak points of the whole post-Trianon ‘story’. The assumption is always that the Szeklers were part of Hungary and Trianon separated them, but their history is actually one of fairly continuous separation from the main part of the Hungarian settlement throughout Hungarian history.

    That is not to argue that their plight isn’t serious and shouldn’t be the concern of their fellow Hungarians, but I doubt that being thought of as ‘part of Hungary’ (especially for purely political, opportunist, reasons) is going to help them. And I suspect that those doubts are also shared by a considerable number of the Szeklers themselves.

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  10. Ovidiu :
    “After the Covasna County Court ruled that the Szekler flag cannot be displayed in Romania”
    Hi, Eva.
    The flag is not forbidden, that’s how Zsolt Nemeth strategically “misunderstood” the issue.
    It it is allowed, is has been allowed and it has been used during all sorts of political and cultural meetings in the last 5-10 years.
    What is forbidden, the whole issue here, is its display on official-state-administrative buildings (mayor office, county chief). On such buildings the Romanian law says that only Romania’s flag and EU’s flag can be put (and NATO in some situations, military units, etc).
    This Szekeler-flag has become associated in the eyes of the public opinion with the szeklerland-autonomy initiatives and its display on official buildings is not only illegal (any other flag would be) but is also understood as a challenge to the state.

    Hi Ovidiu (I think I know you from another WordPress blog),

    My understanding is that the law is somewhat unclear (from adevarul.ro). Another article I read from the same site says that it is legal, and it was deemed legal by an ethnic romanian judege. It’s confusing to me.

    Cheers

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  11. Hi gmaghera,

    What was deemed legal was the “county-flag” for the Covasna county.

    The county-flag is not the Szekler-flag of which Eva talks, that flag is this one :

    http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/ro-cv.html

    Even this one would not still not be allowed to be put on the buildings, the text of the sentence allows that county-flag be used “used at ceremonies”. Which is not big deal since even Hungary’s flag (Hunagrian minority ethnic symbol) can be legally put on public-buildings on special occasions as 15 March celebrations, cultural-events, etc.

    The conflict started in Covasna because the president of county-councils (Tamas Sandor) and the mayor of Sf.Gheorghe/Szentgyörgy town (Antal Arapd) decided to put the politically-charged “Szekler-flag” on the public building on a permanent basis and refused to requests of the prefect to remove it..eventually it escalated

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  12. Andrei,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment, but I couldn’t help myself cringe at the comparison between Vadim Tudor si Tokes Laszlo. There might be some parallels between the two, especially in how they are perceived by the other ethnicity, but Vadim Tudor’s excesses (using derogatory terms, flying off the handle in public, etc.), are hard to match. He can sometime behave very uncivilized which does not stand for Tokes, as far as I know. (I’ve personally met Tokes, interviewing him for a Romanian language high-school newspaper in early 1990 and he seemed very calm and collected. That’s not really what I’m basing my opinion on though).

    But you’re absolutely right about nationalistic ‘taliban’ politicians being present on the Hungarian side as well. I blame both sides. Someday hopefully we’ll get past all of this nationalistic crap.

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  13. Hi gmaghera,
    I do agree that the comparison between Vadim Tudor and Tokes Laszlo is not quite common – and maybe not entirely true (maybe that between Vadim Tudor and Gabor Vona is better). However, my comparison does not relate to the two personalities as a whole – of course nobody can find another Vadim Tudor (fortunately!). I was only pointing to the fact that unfortunately both individuals took a very extremist side here: Tokes, with ‘territorial autonomy or else!’, and Vadim, with… anything else! I think that even some form of autonomy (even a federation like in Germany, why not!) can only be discussed by reasonable persons who can use a milder tone.

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  14. That the origins of Szeklers are murky, or that the flag is not old enough, are totally irrelevant here; frankly, I don’t see what the analytical role of these claims by the author of the blog is, if any. It is also irrelevant that FIDESZ politicians said what they said, rather than anyone else. What is relevant is the following:

    (1) the Romanian state, as embodied in institutions and laws, like any other nation-state, is an ethnic state; in our particular case the ethnic group that monopolizes its symbols is Romanians,

    (2) it has clearly been shown in political theory and political philosophy starting early 1990s (see for instance the work of Will Kymlicka, among many others) that even the Liberal notion of a neutral state leads, in practice, to effective ethnically based nation-states, where one ethnic group monopolizes language and symbols of the state,

    (3) Romania is an ethnic-nation-state on paper (e.g. the constitution), but in reality it is not, and this creates the tension, whose easing will bring you two options:

    (a) pluralize the language and symbols all the way up to the highest levels of administration (two official languages of the state, two languages used in the national assembly, two flags or one flag containing both types of symbols, even change the name “Romania” to something that does not have ethnic connotations),

    (b) allow as much local autonomy as possible wherever the minority culture resides (so, two languages in the local administration and courts, two types of flags on all local public buildings, etc.).

    Admittedly, option (a) is extremely hard to implement, so option (b) is what we find in places like South Tyrol.

    Returning to our particular case, when a newly appointed state representative in the territory (the prefect) has as his first ruling to remove the Szekler flag from the state buildings, that is quite insolent and, indeed, a symbolic aggression against the local ethno-cultural community. One might also ask: why these prefects are always ethnic Romanians, without exception, and usually sent from the center (Bucharest)?

    To reiterate my opening point, even if the Szekler flag has been created just 5 minutes ago, if the Szeklers chose it as their symbol, the state has to accept it and give it due respect, if indeed the Romanian state is able at all to catch up with the civilized world, which I very much doubt.

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  15. István Aranyosi :
    One might also ask: why these prefects are always ethnic Romanians, without exception, and usually sent from the center (Bucharest)?

    Because they aren’t. The former prefect was Gyorgy Ervin (from RMDSZ). He was replaced after the PDL-RMDSZ govt. coalition fell in March 2012.
    If I recally correctly Ervin, had been prefect for 3 years when he was removed.

    The Hungarian prefect Ervin also ended up suing Tamas Sandor in 2011 for because Tamas was refusing to reproduce Romania’s state symbols (coat of arms-seal) on the official documents of the County-Council.

    They are/have been a lot, dozens, of such “mistakes” of the Covasna administration and the new prefect tried have them fixed. But of course they were/are mistakes on purpose, challenging the state in the area.

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  16. @Ovidiu re county flags. Yes, I read about this Transylvanian custom of having specific flags for counties. Interesting. Originally I wanted to add a few pictures of different coats of arms but I couldn’t quite justify their inclusion. Transylvania has a coat of arms that can be actually found in the coat of arms of Romania. In that one can see the sun and the half moon that is also depicted in this “new-old” flag the National Szekler Council came up with.

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  17. On a related note, here’s an excellent article that appeared in The New York Times a couple of days ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/sports/in-romanias-top-hockey-team-ethnic-hungarians-find-a-strong-voice.html?_r=0

    As far as the flag story is concerned, even educated Rumanians admit that there’s nothing wrong with flying the Székely flag on public and private buildings. For example, the journalist Lucian Mindruta – who lives in Bucharest and has no Hungarian ties, apparently – posted an image of the flag on his Facebook page in solidarity, adding that “today, I’m a Székely too.”

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  18. You miss an inportant point. Romania is a multiethnic country one of the last in Europe. I am not talking about the immigrants in France or UK or Bulgaria with two groups, but where various linguistic and ethnic identities live side by side. True, this multiculturalism is much weaker than it was 30 or 100 years ago, but the fact is that Romania still has a number of separate and smaller ethnical identities, a bit like those existing back in Austria-Hungary (an empire, as opposed to a nation state). This richness, multilingutstic tradition is in itself a strength of Romania, and a homogeity (romas are a bit different issue, but they tend to live separately from the majority) of Hungary makes Hungary poorer.

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  19. Eva S. Balogh :
    @one can see the sun and the half moon that is also depicted in this “new-old” flag the National Szekler Council came up with.

    The “half-moon and sun” symbol has also been present (since 14th century) on the coat of arms of Wallachia and also on that of Moldavia. Thus on the present coat-of-arms of Romania it can be seen no less than three times (Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia provinces, but not on that of Banat and Dobrogea)
    The symbol is the symbol of the old-Turkish people (Cumans, Pechenegs et al. used it). some Turkish tribes/populations from Central Asia still use it today.

    It is a mystery why it is present on that of Wallachia and Moldavia but the name of first ruler of Wallachia was Basarab (which means in the old Turkish languages: Father-Ruler/Basar-Aba)

    While Basarab was recognized at that time as being a Walach/Romanian by the king of Hungary at that time (“Basarab infidelis Olahus noster” -as Louis Anjou was calling him in a document of the time) some speculate that he was a bona-fide Turkish fellow.

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  20. Tyrker :
    … even educated Rumanians admit that there’s nothing wrong with flying the Székely flag on public and private buildings. For example, the journalist Lucian Mindruta

    Romanians are not an 100%-monolithic-block. You can even find Romanians who are skeptical about the claim that Mary gave birth yet she was virgin, but the rest 99.96 % of them declare that they are Christian-true-believers.

    In Romania there aren’t many who don’t get the meaning of this “game of the flag” which is played on the public buildings in the Hungarian dominated Szekely-area.
    And the the polls have shown, repeatedly over the last 10 years, that the overwhelming majority of the Romanians oppose the autonomy projects of the Hungarian minority.
    It would be suicidal for any politician to support these initiatives and, in fact, in the last 10 years there has been no practical advance on this issue. It has been, and it still is, mere talk and demagogy … because symbolic posturing (as this one with flags) is something easy-cheap to do.
    But there is also a lot danger too in this game since the Romanians perceive it as a challenge to “their” country. The intellectuals, as Mandruta and others, and some realize the danger and intervene do play down, calm down, something which everybody in Romania knows that it escalate in a Yugoslavia-like ethnic confrontation in Transylvania.

    Yet some other part of the media tries to ignite the issue, it is the part which is associated with old corrupt elite which now feels the the (EU backed) justice system in Romania has started working in the last few years and are really fearful for they liberty. This part of the elite (elite in the economic-politic sense, not intellectual elite) wants to ignite again the Romanian nationalism and an anti-EU process..not because they would be really nationalists but because Romania’s EU membership has started to interfere with their illegal and corrupt activities.

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  21. I would add to the analysis (which I think is very good) of Ovidiu in #28 that the policy of transplanting ethnic Romanians during the Ceausescu era (and even before) into Transylvanian cities previously almost exclusively inhabited by Hungarians led to a few generations of Romanians in these cities who feel insecure and express this by supporting extremist view like those of Funar or Vadim Tudor. They interpret any event like this flag brouhaha as a potential attack on their presence there. I also think that there are some (should I call them naive or what?) Hungarians who still think that this is reversible.

    In my opinion it will take much more time, education and open discussion to eliminate this very harmful phenomenon.

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  22. gdfxx :
    I would add to the analysis (which I think is very good) of Ovidiu in #28 that the policy of transplanting ethnic Romanians during the Ceausescu era (and even before) into Transylvanian cities previously almost exclusively inhabited by Hungarians led to a few generations of Romanians in these cities who feel insecure and express this by supporting extremist view like those of Funar or Vadim Tudor. They interpret any event like this flag brouhaha as a potential attack on their presence there. I also think that there are some (should I call them naive or what?) Hungarians who still think that this is reversible.
    In my opinion it will take much more time, education and open discussion to eliminate this very harmful phenomenon.

    Yes! And that’s also what happened in Südtirol/Alto Adige, where Italians mostly from the south were transplanted to cities, towns and villages where the population was all German-spekaing, were given all the government jobs like at the post office and such that caused much conflict (there is more to the story but let’s not get into detail). From my friends who are from Székelyföld I have heard that there were some villages were there have always been Romanians living there alongside the Hungarian majority for centuries and they all pretty much got along, and theses Romanians had conflicts with the newly transplanted Romanians too, not just the Hungarians.

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  23. István Aranyosi:To reiterate my opening point, even if the Szekler flag has been created just 5 minutes ago, if the Szeklers chose it as their symbol, the state has to accept it and give it due respect, if indeed the Romanian state is able at all to catch up with the civilized world, which I very much doubt.

    I believe that the rest of the world would disagree with you. First there is the Constitution and/or Basic Law and/or some kind of flag law, which specify what flag is acceptable, where and how you can display it. And what the penalty if you break this law would be.

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  24. The amended “Basic Law” will permit the restriction of the autonomy of the universities for financial reasons. It also permits that students can be forced to work in Hungary for an unspecified amount of time if they received any financial support (or loan?) from the government.

    It also bans the homeless. (What about auto da fe against them)

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  25. The new amendments further restrict the rights of the Constitutional Court as well.

    ‘If our men do not ask you to examine the constitutionality of part A of a law, only part B, you, the Court are not allowed to examine part A.’

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  26. Ron :
    István Aranyosi:To reiterate my opening point, even if the Szekler flag has been created just 5 minutes ago, if the Szeklers chose it as their symbol, the state has to accept it and give it due respect, if indeed the Romanian state is able at all to catch up with the civilized world, which I very much doubt.
    I believe that the rest of the world would disagree with you. First there is the Constitution and/or Basic Law and/or some kind of flag law, which specify what flag is acceptable, where and how you can display it. And what the penalty if you break this law would be.

    Ron, I think both you, and István are correct at some level. While there might not be clear laws around flags internationally (I’ve even had a somewhat difficult time finding the U.S. laws around it, where I live), István is evoking the EU right of self-determination, which sometime conflicts with Romania’s perception of sovereignty. Freedom of expression is another piece to the puzzle. I’ll go back to the U.S. example on this one. It is illegal to burn the U.S. flag, but the Supreme Court has ruled that doing so is part of “free speech”.

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  27. Ron: “I believe that the rest of the world would disagree with you. First there is the Constitution and/or Basic Law and/or some kind of flag law, which specify what flag is acceptable, where and how you can display it. And what the penalty if you break this law would be.”

    That doesn’t mean it’s right or civilized. Assume the Hungarian constitution would prevent the use of the Gipsy flag. Wouldn’t you be in favor of changing it?

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  28. “Freedom of expression is another piece…”

    “Freedom of expression” is not the issue here. To bring it into debate, to pretend that this is the issue, as Zsolt Nemeth did, is gross political hypocrisy. As some people here may recall, in Harghita and Covasna you can, and you do have, even Horthy-celebrations without any interference from the central Romanian authorities, let alone mere expressing your ethno-cultural Hungarian identity. All places are full of ethnic Hungarians symbols, the language of communication there is Hungarian (Romanians living there have learn the language or leave), the administration and the public institutions are controlled by the ethnic Hungarians.

    The issue here is challenging the state (the Romanian state) by adorning the administration buildings with the well known ‘szekler-autonomy-flag’.
    Nobody in Romania, people and politicians, is that naive so as not to realize what is the message.

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    1. Ovidiu :
      “Freedom of expression” is not the issue here. To bring it into debate, to pretend that this is the issue, as Zsolt Nemeth did, is gross political hypocrisy. As some people here may recall, in Harghita and Covasna you can, and you do have, even Horthy-celebrations without any interference from the central Romanian authorities, let alone mere expressing your ethno-cultural Hungarian identity. All places are full of ethnic Hungarians symbols, the language of communication there is Hungarian (Romanians living there have learn the language or leave), the administration and the public institutions are controlled by the ethnic Hungarians.
      The issue here is challenging the state (the Romanian state) by adorning the administration buildings with the well known ‘szekler-autonomy-flag’.
      Nobody in Romania, people and politicians, is that naive so as not to realize what is the message.

      While freedom of expression is usually an individual’s right, it does apply to the collective, too. Would you agree with the point that most of the locals are in favor of this flag? I think the point of contention here is whether the local administrative building should abide by the will of the locals or the central government. And that’s where self-determination comes in. The two notions are related in this case, IMO.

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  29. Jano :
    Ron: “I believe that the rest of the world would disagree with you. First there is the Constitution and/or Basic Law and/or some kind of flag law, which specify what flag is acceptable, where and how you can display it. And what the penalty if you break this law would be.”
    That doesn’t mean it’s right or civilized. Assume the Hungarian constitution would prevent the use of the Gipsy flag. Wouldn’t you be in favor of changing it?

    No there needs to be rules and regulation about flags. Otherwise, we could hang up the Romanian flag on top of Hungarian parliament, or British flag or the American flag or in your case the Gypsy flag. This is what I would call the formal rule of the flag.

    As a freedom of speech you can bring any flag you want (in Hungary), exception may be the Nazi flag or the Communist flag. And may be you want to put at up at home.

    As to destruction of the flag in public, I would not know the answer, in some countries the penalty is death and others you are considered a hero.

    I always thought that there was some kind of official thing to do this, which may be deviate from country to country.

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  30. Interesting. When I click on this link, at the top is a banner flash ad for the anti-Bajnai campaign
    (Together [with Gyurcsany] they destroyed the country).

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  31. Dear Tappanch: it is a coup, and in addition in two months the majority of the constitutional court will be Fidesz appointed. End of story.

    But who cares about the constitution when the utility bills go down? Water, electricity, natural gas and maybe pension will go up? When we finally have a government that dares to stand up against robber capitalsts and foreigners and protect the interests of Hungarians? Why is this a problem? This goverment loves Hungarians, while prevous governments hated Hungarians, Gyurcsány and Bajnai were only happy if they could restrict and introduce austerity programmes to cut pensions and family welfare programmes. Now, that era is over — for good. MSZP and Bajnai are the past. The future is our time, it belongs finally to Hungarians.

    In fact it is now MSZP which is forced to up the ante: they also want tp decrease the bills plus want free higher education. Well, its a bit late isn’t it?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hiUuL5uTKc

    You gotta be smart and think ahead strategically. Ha.

    NOT.

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  32. “No there needs to be rules and regulation about flags. Otherwise, we could hang up the Romanian flag on top of Hungarian parliament, or British flag or the American flag or in your case the Gypsy flag. This is what I would call the formal rule of the flag.”

    But that doesn’t need to be restrictive. Every minority should be able to use the flag they choose even on official buildings parallel to the flag of the state.

    On flag burning: It’s just simply primitive and stupid regardless if it’s illegal or not.

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  33. Dear Dr Scheppele,

    Is it OK to put things into the “Basic Law” that go against the previous rulings of both the Hungarian Constitutional Court and the European courts?

    ————————–
    @Cicvarek

    My heating bills
    Dec 2012= 1.00*x
    Jan 2013 = 1.35*x
    Feb 2013= 1.97*x

    bill = (fixed charge) + (factor)*(per unit charge)
    Even if both (fixed charge) and (per unit charge) are decreased by 10%, they can write any number in the place of (factor), so the amount of the charge is arbitrary.

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  34. Tappancs, the thing with a price decrease like this is that the more you use (the higher the bill), the more you save.

    Not very fair, but certainly looks good in a cold winter.

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  35. gmaghera– Would you agree with the point that most of the locals are in favor of this flag ?

    At the verbal-symbolical level I would say that “yes”, they would be in favor. At the level of “really believing” and actually doing something about it the answer is rather “no”.

    There have been many “pro-autonomy” rallies in the last 10 years. The last one was few months ago (just before the general elections) in Sf.Gheorghe/ Szentgyörgy and no more than 1000 people showed up (out of 41 000 Hungarians in the town). It seemed as if there were way more “szekler-autonomy-flags” than people.
    At the booths, RMDSZ- the main Hungarian party which is known for its policy of giving up to the pro-autonomy rhetoric once it joins the Govt. coalition (as it has done for the last 17 years) has got 380 000 votes.
    The competitor of RMDSZ the (Fidesz backed) strong pro-autonomy party, the EMNP-party, a party whose declared purpose was/is the autonomy-issues (and the critique of RMDSZ for its “lack of will” to openly support the autonomy-issues) got only 40 000 votes.

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  36. GGo :
    Tappancs, the thing with a price decrease like this is that the more you use (the higher the bill), the more you save.
    Not very fair, but certainly looks good in a cold winter.

    Not quite. There is no meter for (factor), the company can put any number in the formula it likes.

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  37. OT (well not totally):

    We’re just watching a movie “Kalandorok” which I got as a Xmas present (with English subtitles for me to learn Hungarian …) which tells the story of three losers in Erdely …

    Starring Rudolf Péter of Üvegtigris fame.

    Unbelievably funny and sad at the same time!

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  38. Eva S. Balogh :
    @Ovidiu re county flags. Yes, I read about this Transylvanian custom of having specific flags for counties. Interesting. Originally I wanted to add a few pictures of different coats of arms but I couldn’t quite justify their inclusion. Transylvania has a coat of arms that can be actually found in the coat of arms of Romania. In that one can see the sun and the half moon that is also depicted in this “new-old” flag the National Szekler Council came up with.

    I believe that the yellow thing in the flag is supposed to be a star. The shamans of Central Asia decorated their drums with a star and a half moon.

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  39. tappanch :

    GGo :
    Tappancs, the thing with a price decrease like this is that the more you use (the higher the bill), the more you save.
    Not very fair, but certainly looks good in a cold winter.

    Not quite. There is no meter for (factor), the company can put any number in the formula it likes.

    Am I missing something (again)?

    Surely (factor) is the number of units consumed? And this can easily be checked by just looking at the meter.

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  40. Ron :

    Eva and other Americans good luck with (another) storm. I understand that the state of emergency was declared in Connecticut and two other states.

    Why not? I’m really getting sick of it. We really should move south. However, for the time being we have electricity and I will set up tomorrow’s blog this afternoon. Just in case.

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  41. Sorry to be OT again, but this really sounds like a Hollywood desaster movie:

    “Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and banned cars from the road beginning at 4 p.m. today as Massachusetts braces for a potentially historic blizzard that could blanket the state with more than 2 feet of snow, whip up winds to 70 miles per hour, and batter the coast with giant waves.”
    http://www.boston.com/metrodesk/2013/02/08/national-weather-service-repeats-its-warning-blizzard-coming-blizzard-coming/lu16IdVkHUKvWpeDP5hf9K/story.html

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  42. @Paul
    There is NO meter. The company FoTav declares a different (factor) every month. I have no way to reduce (factor), I have no say how much heat they put into the system.

    As a matter of fact, the outside temperature is not cold now, around 0 C, but they heat too strong, as if it were minus 20 C, they waste resources, as usual (we have to pay no matter what). I and tens of thousands like me have to open the windows

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  43. Eva S. Balogh :
    @Paul, the “double” occupation of the Hungarian Basin is not a mainstream theory. It was advocated by Gyula Laszlo and it has been discarded by most historians dealing with the period.

    I wasn’t so much thinking of a ‘double occupation’, as multiple movements into the Carpathian Basin over a fairly long period of time.

    The Hungarians raided across the Carpathians for years before Árpád’s invasion, so surely it’s reasonable to assume that some of these raiders liked what they found and settled in the Carpathian Basin well before Árpád arrived. It also seems to me likely that there could have been other, more sizeable, migrations of Hungarians across the mountains before Árpád as well – he was certainly aware of Hungarians already living in the Carpathian Basin.
    There was also a later mass movement of Hungarians into the Carpathian Basin – those left behind after the original migration.

    So, with the likelihood of sizeable groups of Hungarians moving into the Carpathian Basin, both before and after Árpád, surely it can’t be ruled out that one of those groups could have been the people who we now call Szeklers?

    The alternative theory, that the Szeklers are descended from Hungarians from the west/centre of the country posted to the East as border guards, strikes me as a bit too simplistic and implausable (despite the apparent neatness of the meaning of the name ‘ székely’).

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  44. tappanch :
    @Paul
    There is NO meter. The company FoTav declares a different (factor) every month. I have no way to reduce (factor), I have no say how much heat they put into the system.
    As a matter of fact, the outside temperature is not cold now, around 0 C, but they heat too strong, as if it were minus 20 C, they waste resources, as usual (we have to pay no matter what). I and tens of thousands like me have to open the windows

    OK – I didn’t realise you were talking about a community heating system.

    My first experience of Hungary was staying in a panel house apartment in Budapest in the winter and I was amazed that the flat – and every other one we visited – was so hot they had to open the windows! At first I thought this was some compensatory thing to do with living in a country with very cold winters*, it was only later that I discovered that they had no control over the heating.

    I had almost the opposite experience on my second visit, during a heat wave the following summer. Left in the flat on our own during the day, I did the typically British thing of opening the windows to let the ‘breeze’ in – and was not Mr Popular when my hosts returned in the evening to a hot flat.

    *Although I think there is some truth in this. From personal experience, Hungarians tend to heat their houses to a higher temperature in the winter than we Brits do. Typically in the UK the thermostat is supposed to be set to 21 degrees, but if I set the heating to that temperature in our lakás my wife complains it’s freezing!

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    1. Paul :

      I had almost the opposite experience on my second visit, during a heat wave the following summer. Left in the flat on our own during the day, I did the typically British thing of opening the windows to let the ‘breeze’ in – and was not Mr Popular when my hosts returned in the evening to a hot flat.
      *Although I think there is some truth in this. From personal experience, Hungarians tend to heat their houses to a higher temperature in the winter than we Brits do. Typically in the UK the thermostat is supposed to be set to 21 degrees, but if I set the heating to that temperature in our lakás my wife complains it’s freezing!

      That’s funny… It reminds me how when my dad, or European friends come over to visit California and get pissed at me for having the air conditioner in the house and car set at 72 F (22 C). And putting ice into all of our drinks (even when out in the cold) just adds insult to injury! 😛

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  45. I think it’s a lot wiser to separate the Szekler autonomy issue from current politics. There’s no doubt in my mind that on both sides this biceps flexing is a lot more for domestic consumption. I’m sure that provocation has been going on on both sides but I do believe that a bilingual multiethnic Szeklerland with autonomy inside Romania would be the most civilized solution eventually. That only hurts national pride, not national interests.

    As many has pointed out before me in this thread, the main source of disturbance is that talibans on both sides captured the issue and while Basescu is mainly a pragmatist that was willing to let Orbán run his show in exchange for support from the ethnic Hungarians, the two Victors are almost identical in their attitude and hunger for nationalistic verbal karate. I don’t expect anything good on this front anytime soon.

    Eva, good luck with the blizzard!

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  46. @Paul, there were no Hungarians. There were numerous tribes (at least 8+3) with Turkic ruling families usually and Ugric commoners and stolen women from other people.

    Only two tribal names are Ugric (magyar and nyék), the other six (tarján, jenő, kér, keszi, kürt & gyarmat) are Turkic.

    Other auxiliary tribes were called berény, ladány, varsány, várkony (from Avar?), őrs, kaláz (from Khwarezm), kazár (from Khazar), bercel and probably eszkil* (both Volgan Bulgar tribal names).

    The name “magyar” comes from the name of the strongest tribe “megyer”.
    (It is similar to the situation when the Jews were renamed after the strongest tribe Judah among the 12 previously nomadic Israelite tribes.)

    The Székelys moved to Transylvania from the area of Telegd, Bihar in the 12th century – that we know. It is uncertain whether they are descendants of the Eskils.

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  47. GGo :
    Tappancs, the thing with a price decrease like this is that the more you use (the higher the bill), the more you save.
    Not very fair, but certainly looks good in a cold winter.

    Forgive my ignorance, please, but it looks good to whom?
    The countless of thousands, who using candles and the like to light with, using – if anything – firewood to heat up their dwellings?

    Some days ago I’ve heard (through the internet) an elderly lady speaking in a radio talk-show about the subject. Her utility bills decreased with about 300:-HUF – about one (1:00 €!!) Euro after the ‘good news’.

    You know, why? Because her bill usually is around 3 – 3500 HUF… How comes so cheap?

    She can not afford to heat up her flat with gas, time and again she manages to buy some wood, that’s about the heating. She using gas only to cook, – when she has something to cook at all, and, for lighting she has one 25 Watt’s light bulb what she using sparsely, only when she really needing it….

    What do you think, just how much saving that 10% gave to Orbán, Lázár, Szijjártó?
    Because they needed (deserved?) it, obviously, otherwise why should they got it at all, but still?

    You know, in any normal, civilized society, when a government will support the people in need, they give support for the very people, don’t lowering prices to everyone indiscriminately.
    After all, it wouldn’t even be that hard to grant personal – say, to aunt Bessy – discount on her bills, if they ever intended to help…

    As I’ve heard, they’ve just got the taste of the idea for earnest: already the 30% decrease in the works!
    The best part: the people happily applauding, without realizing, that they been suckered into – again – paying Orbán’s, Lázár’s Szijjártó’s utility bills!

    See, just how retarded a nation can grow in a few years time..? Takes only a handful unscrupulous megalomaniacs, a load of nationalist slogans, a couple of scapegoats to blame for everything, and all goes smoothly.

    Nice, isn’t it?

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  48. The Szekelys were divided into branches called “nem” (genus) until the 16th century.

    Two of the branch names correspond to Hungarian tribal names (jenő, tarján), others (örlőc, medgyes, ábrán, halom, aghaz) do not.

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  49. “@Paul, there were no Hungarians. There were numerous tribes (at least 8+3) with Turkic ruling families usually and Ugric commoners and stolen women from other people.

    Only two tribal names are Ugric (magyar and nyék), the other six (tarján, jenő, kér, keszi, kürt & gyarmat) are Turkic.

    The name “magyar” comes from the name of the strongest tribe “megyer”.
    (It is similar to the situation when the Jews were renamed after the strongest tribe Judah among the 12 previously nomadic Israelite tribes.)”

    I know. But imagine what my post would have looked like if I tried to be that accurate!

    I was using ‘Hungarian’ as a convenient term to cover all that (as is common, at least in popular histories). As always with Hungary/Hungarians it’s a genetic/ethnic nightmare – the language is the only common identifying factor. Hungarians are Hungarians because the speak/spoke Hungarian (although, as you are no doubt icthing to tell me, even that is a gross simplification). And, interestingly, the Szekers themselves apparently did not originally speak Hungarian.

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  50. As for heating costs – when my in-laws built their house they installed a modern gas central heating system. But. linked to the system, down in the cellar. is an old-fashioned ‘burn anything’ furnace.

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  51. @Spectator and Paul:

    Yes, even here near “rich” Hévíz we have a similar situation regarding heating. Some of our neighbours use only bottled gas for cooking and wood for heating – though there is gas in all the village,installing a central heating system and the connection to the gas line would be too expensive for them.

    Others use any kind of material in their heating – coal, plastic whatever, the smell is sometimes unbelievable …

    When we see the black smoke rising from their chimneys it’s time to go inside and close every opening …

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  52. wolfi :
    Populism and hysterics on both sides …
    And I’ve been thinking that we live in the 21st century, working for a USE = United States of Europe to speak with one voice …

    I wonder if you have heard yet the somehow profane Hungarian expression: “Beating the nettle with the dick of someone else”..?

    That’s what Orban and Co. doing right now, using and abusing the – otherwise rightful – sentiments of the people on both side of the border, never mind, that it hurts the case, and the retorsion hit back to those who still live there, who cares?

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  53. Andrei Stavilă :

    Kirsten :

    Andrei Stavilă :
    Eva, sorry for the OFF TOPIC, but I couldn’t find your email: maybe you can use this picture of a very interesting toy I spotted in Budapest in December http://stavilaandrei.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/my-budapest-30-our-children-must-know-their-leader/

    I hope it is not Made in China.

    Hah, can you ever find something not made in China these days? They even replicated the Heroes Square: ” rel=”nofollow”>

    It’s difficult to know what to think about this!

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