Attila Ara-Kovács and Bálint Magyar: Can we learn from history?

After so many years, the Hungarian state is finding itself for the first time in a conflict where the external limits to the actions of its voluntarist leaders are determined not by impersonal economic processes but by equally voluntaristic factors the dimensions of which, however, are much larger and cast a shadow much longer than their own. With no pressure from outside, Hungary’s current government has sided with a policy which may seem advantageous from the viewpoint of holding on to its power but run contrary to the country’s interests and long-term objectives. Moreover, it promises that the country will once again end up sharing defeat and disgrace with forces that will be remembered by history with nothing but contempt.

CRIMEA: THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA

What goes on in Crimea today is by no means a result of random incidents but fits perfectly into Russia’s aspirations to resurrect the empire and, on the other, is inspired by the same fateful divisions, fraught with ethnic conflicts, that are as characteristic of Ukraine today as they were in Georgia in 2008. Russia’s re-positioning of its world political influence is justified neither by economic performance nor by military potential in a global context. Just as at the time of the Romanovs in the 19th century or Stalin’s empire-building decades in the 20th, the only factor motivating Russian policy vis-à-vis its neighbors is naked power politics exercised at what it considers its peripheries. Back then, Russia was unable to present itself as a great power of full value, capable of a global performance and holding out the promise of an alternative comparable to that offered by its rivals. Nor is it capable of the same feat today. In fact, there is a reverse relationship: whenever Russia reaches the outer limits of its potential for peaceful growth, parallel with that, its aggressiveness begins to grow. As a consequence, cooperation with the Russian empire in the international arena could never be conducted in a “businesslike” contractual manner but by bargains based on the power conditions, genuine or assumed, of any given time.

It was during the reign of Cathering the Great that Russia annexed the Crime in 1783 Source: Wikipedia.org

It was during the reign of Catherine the Great that Russia annexed the Crimea in 1783
Source: Wikipedia.org

A certain amount of aloofness was always highly advisable for the great powers, whether rivals or allies in a given period, when dealing with a Russia of this character. This was so in the 19th century when Russia was regarded by the world practically as an Asian power, but also in the 20th when forced alliance or openly hostile Cold War policies were predominant. The limited courses left accessible by geographical closeness for nations which did not have the military and economic power to resist Moscow’s designs are a different issue. These nations were doomed to maneuver in a field of force dominated by a provisional alliance between the western democracies and an empire struggling with permanent economic crisis yet unable to “outgrow” its despotism. Seeking balance between the great-power blocs was a failure even when they were in a stable state (perhaps with the exception of interwar Czechoslovakia), but trying to stay afloat in escalating conflicts which promised to last long usually forced them into compromises guaranteeing a losing position. The circumstances are very similar today with the difference that the former Central Europe and the Baltic have since been integrated into the European Union, and their nations are all NATO members.  NATO membership entails their obligatory protection, meaning that their freedom cannot be sacrificed even for the sake of avoiding a world war. The geographic regions still open to bargaining between the great-power blocs have narrowed down and shifted to the east. Russia’s empire-building ambitions aimed at a Eurasian Union are intended precisely to prevent “switching teams” between international blocs, a game that could be more or less openly played by the countries of the region in the past quarter century.

That is the position in which the post-Soviet states “stuck” in the Russian sphere of interest even after 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated find themselves. They have made occasional attempts to break out of their predicament through their “color revolutions”. Of these states, Ukraine is the most important, not only because of its size and economic potential, but also because if, after 300 years, it were to succeed to ultimately free itself from the bonds of co-habitation with Russia, it would eliminate even the appearance of Russia’s great-power status. The events that took place in Kiev’s Maidan have already forced the Kremlin to modify its strategy. 2015 was set as the original target date for the formal announcement of the new imperial union on the construction of which Putin has been working for years. Without Ukraine, the Eurasian Union will never be what it was meant to be according to the Russian blueprint. For one thing, it will grow much more distant from Europe, the entity with which the biggest share of the trade and cultural relations of the Russian Federation has been conducted ever since it was founded. On the other, it will become overwhelmingly Asian, making Moscow more vulnerable to Chinese pressure as well as hostage to the dynamically developing, increasingly dynastic post-Soviet mafia-states of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan).

DOMINO EFFECT IN THE BUFFER ZONE

1. The occupation of Crimea should therefore be regarded as the beginning only. The reputation of the Russian regime is unlikely to be damaged any further, so what we can expect is most likely the uninhibited assertion of its real or assumed interests. That includes the restoration of the unity of the one-time Soviet military-economic complex for which major supply capacities used to be provided by industrial facilities located in Ukraine. The dress rehearsal for that has already been completed in the shadow of weapons in Crimea with a referendum intimating the Wilsonian principles. Even though the result had not been questionable for a moment; the approval of Putin’s will by the population of the peninsula was shamelessly fraudulent. (Just in Simferopol, the rate of “yes” votes was 123 per cent.) The next moves could be the “soft” annexation of the industrial regions of the Donetsk Basin, the population of which is also overwhelmingly Russian, as well as of Odessa and the coastal area, again in the shadow of weapons. That would practically cut off Ukraine from the sea and rob it of the highly important hydrocarbon repositories of the continental shelf.

2. With the tiny Moscow-supported puppet state of Transnistria announcing its desire to join Russia (the breakaway mini-state, though still formally a part of Moldova, is centered in the town of Tiraspol), we see a new phase of the encirclement of Ukraine unfolding. With the potential annexation of Odessa and with Moscow’s inciting the ethnic minorities, like the Gagauzes, of the southwest Ukrainian areas against Kiev, Transnistria will help establish a contiguous zone under Russian influence, putting Kiev increasingly at the mercy of the Russian empire and placing a bigger price tag on western solidarity with Ukraine.

3. The events in Crimea and especially Transnistria may force the truncated Republic of Moldova to escape into a rapidly established union with Romania. The conditions and prospects for such a union are already openly discussed by Moldovan politicians and analysts. Some see full union as an inevitable prerequisite for instant guarantees by the EU and NATO, for which not only the regional and economic conditions are in place but is also reinforced by tradition ranging from common language to shared national symbols. Others, considering the mixed ethnic background, envision a federal-type community as more viable.

4. In Subcarpathia, the agents of Russian nationalism have already started to provoke the region’s ethnic minorities with mother countries outside the Ukrainian borders (Hungarians, Romanians) into thinking that this might be the right historical moment and manner for their reunification with the mother country. In reality, for them it would be a game of Russian roulette where the player is offered a revolver with all chambers loaded.

At the same time though, due to the threatening presence of extreme nationalists in western Ukraine, the fears of these minorities are by no means groundless. Even if they refrain from raising a strong voice in defense of their minority rights, with no military protection to back them up, they might easily become targeted by frustrated Ukrainians with their national feelings hurt by the Russians against whom they can do nothing. Their position could become even more precarious if their claims could be interpreted as a preparatory stage to secession.

In addition, there is no great power around to remotely support an attempt at breaking away. Even Russia’s interests end at sowing political chaos in Ukraine. On the other hand, every single “mother country” affected is a member of NATO and the EU, both of which rule out meddling with the borders developed after World War II. Also, in 1994 they provided special guarantees for the territorial integrity of Ukraine when the Budapest Memorandum was signed, the very document on the legal strength of which they attack Russia for the annexation of Crimea. Moreover, Ukraine, though not an energy producer itself, has a key role in the transport of energy, so any hostility, or even deterioration in relations, might endanger the energy security of a number of European nations, mainly that of Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

In the light of all this, the extreme nationalist visions of the “return” of territories, fuelled by Russian interests, as broadcasted in Hungary by Echo TV (a television channel owned by circles close to the governing Fidesz party) with their not-so-subtle tone of encouragement are suicidal and threaten the very existence of the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia.

5. Another highly sensitive problem is the impact of the afterlife of the Ukrainian situation on Transylvania. In the wake of the annexation of Crimea, sealed by a referendum, the Romanian political elite is already looking with growing concern at claims of regional autonomy for the Szekler region, only made more provocative by personal visits by leading Fidesz politicians and Hungarian neo-Nazi leaders. By likening the position of Hungarians in Transylvania to that of the Crimean Tartars, the former Bishop and future Fidesz MEP László Tőkés poured oil on fire, providing further arguments to all those in Romania, whose goal it is to curtail the rights of that country’s Hungarian minority. In the wake of declarations of this kind by Hungarian political actors and developments in Crimea, aspirations of Szekler autonomy are decoded by public opinion in Romania as a first step on the road to the establishment of political and administrative conditions for eventual secession. In such an atmosphere it will hardly be surprising for the Romanian parties to resist granting any concession, even those which did not appear hopeless before, like giving prevalence to the ethnic-cultural principle in the development of EU regions.

Such fears will not appear altogether groundless to an unbiased observer either—for instance to representatives of the European Union—if, for instance, the major change in Hungarian policy regarding dual citizenship is also noticed. At the beginning, the introduction of dual citizenship was declared by Fidesz to be a symbolic act expressing the belonging together of the Hungarian nation as a cultural community. However, by granting voting rights to dual citizens residing outside Hungary, something which they had earlier denied they would ever do, they turned all those wishing to take advantage of that opportunity into citizens with equal rights of two countries at the same time. With that, these dual citizens have gained an entitlement in which emphasis is laid on their affiliation to Hungary even from the viewpoint of public policy. In certain critical periods like the current one, this poses a serious risk to the social life of the community, raising suspicions in Romanians that they may be facing the possibility of losing Transylvania again. As unrealistic as such a scenario may be, the fears it fosters politically are all the more real.

ADVENTURISM CLOAKED IN NATIONALISTIC RHETORIC 

There is little doubt that Hungary does not have any interest served by nationalistically loaded, provocative policies. Still, the Fidesz government is pursuing precisely such policies. Why is it doing that? The reason is that the mafia state absolutely needs the tense atmosphere of conflicts, genuine or made-up, internally as well as in its relationship with its neighbors. On the world political stage too: it continues its game of doublespeak with the European Union and its allies. It drags its feet in reacting to Russian aggression while sucking up to Putin’s imperial authoritarianism. A part of the Hungarian leadership—the head of state whose role is exclusively ceremonial and the impotent foreign minister—is reassuring the world about the government’s full solidarity with the trans-Atlantic alliance, while Orbán, the real source of all power makes decisions contrary to that solidarity. A secretary of state of the Foreign Ministry summons the Russian ambassador to express his concern over the annexation of Crimea while the same Russian ambassador is ensured by another secretary of state that the whole thing is nothing but a smokescreen or pure theatricals. And indeed, the nuclear energy deals signed recently with the Russians are to stay in force, as has been declared by Orbán, their fulfillment being—and remaining—a priority for the government.

A state of permanent mobilization, bellicose talk and the cult of seeking enemies all serve for Orbán to win a mandate (with a two-third parliamentary majority, if he can) for a long-term suspension of law and morality, and thus for stabilizing his rule. By pursuing such policies, however, the country is once again ending up on the wrong side, the side of the losers, while its international credibility is being further reduced.

In the sharpening conflict between East and West, quite to the contrary of what Orbán says, the region will never become the manufacturing centre of European industry but is far more likely to turn into a collision zone in which there is no economic growth, democratic traditions are diluted and the solutions of an eastern-type autocracy prove practicable. This is exactly the kind of place which not only foreign capital is fleeing from but talented people with an enterprising spirit also leave behind.

As a part of the region, owing to its internal conditions and external circumstances Hungary may find itself stagnating or on a downward slope for a long time to come. The damages that follow can be neither prevented nor reduced without a clear-cut, unequivocal and unmistakable commitment to the west, the type so characteristic of Poland, for instance. Particularly if in the meantime Orbán collaborates with the extreme right, the neo-Nazis, undisturbed. In the thinking of Fidesz, however, such considerations of genuine national policy are overwritten by the direct power and financial interests of the adopted political family of the mafia state. For them, therefore, the adventurism cloaked in nationalist rhetoric with which they react to a situation the seriousness of which they fail to recognize, is perfectly suitable.

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Ovidiu
Guest

Excellent, comprehensive, article.

I would disagree only with the implied idea that Hungary has much choice here.
Hungary will not be allowed to weaken the Eastern border of EU/NATO and to posit itself as a weak link/gap in the defensive line which runs from the Baltic to the Black Sea.It will not be allowed to become a gateway for Russian influence in Europe.This game is just too big for Orban.Forget Brussels, all Eastern European will gang up against him if he continues to try to play “both sides”.

Kirsten
Guest

If I were an Hungarian with national awareness along the lines I believe to be part of the national creed, I would wonder what I learn from this essay. That I should not continue to believe in the specific wisdom of playing all sides and using double-speak, of which I was told that has cunningly helped the nation survive in the many hard times? To mobilise people to be more interested in a Western future, I am afraid it needs more than an abstract threat of “being a loser”, which somehow is part of the national creed anyway, with the twist that by applying the above mentioned wisdom and double-speak, you can at least show the others that you can spoil their party (a bit), and to yourself that you can survive in the most adverse circumstances. The positive programme of Western democracy should be appealing to Hungarians, and that has to be sold! The “threat” of belonging to some (ugly) eastern autocratic world has apparently not yet sufficed to mobilise people on a broad scale. It has neither shown them how to become “Western”.

Member

Although I very much like the article, I would take exception to the following:
“By pursuing such policies, however, the country is once again ending up on the wrong side, the side of the losers, while its international credibility is being further reduced.”

I think that “wrong side, side of losers” is not the right terminology. It implies that it is a wrong side because it is a loosing side, and that is not the case. It is the wrong side now, as it was the wrong side before not for loosing but because it is the side of the morally and ethically bankrupts, and that had nothing to do with winning or loosing.

gdfxx
Guest

Some1 :
Although I very much like the article, I would take exception to the following:
“By pursuing such policies, however, the country is once again ending up on the wrong side, the side of the losers, while its international credibility is being further reduced.”
I think that “wrong side, side of losers” is not the right terminology. It implies that it is a wrong side because it is a loosing side, and that is not the case. It is the wrong side now, as it was the wrong side before not for loosing but because it is the side of the morally and ethically bankrupts, and that had nothing to do with winning or loosing.

Although I agree with you in principle, the implication may be wrong. The two characterizations of the sides Hungary joined several times are true independently from each other: it was the wrong side and it was the losing side.

Let’s hope that the wrong side will always be the losing side too.

tappanch
Guest

THe state of the mafia state in Hungary.

Fidesz local apparatchik drives under influence,
policeman reporting apparatchik is threatened and demoted, so he emigrated to Australia
apparatchik is rewarded by a junket to New Brunswick, NJ.

http://www.kapost.hu/fredi-jo-emberunk/

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Orbán and his ilk do not care about neighboring countries. They have believers and those believers do not care about economics and politics as long as their leader tells them to feel superior to others, because they are Hungarians. Orbán is telling them that there is a world conspiracy against him and against Hungary. Orbán is giving them the feeling of moral superiority telling them about “Christian values” endangered by the left-liberals. This has nothing to do with reality in Hungary, where after 40 years of communism so many do believe “Christian” is a code-word for non-Jewish and most people do not know except for baptism, marriage and burial what Christianity means. Orbán has told them that they came from the belly of the mythical Turul bird and they swallowed that,
While the left-liberal try to fight darkness with enlightenment Orbán and his ilk apply to emotions and until now they have been successful.

tappanch
Guest

Food for thought.

If Kosovo, populated by ethnic Albanians had the right to secede from Serbia,
and this right was supported by NATO bombing campaign in 1999,
in my opinion, NW Kosovo, populated by Serbians has the right to secede from Kosovo.

If Ukraine, populated by ethnic Ukrainians had the right to secede from the Soviet Union,
the Crimea, populated by ethnic Russians has the right to secede from Ukraine.

If Catalunya has the right to secede from Spain, the Basques have also the right to secede from Spain and France and the Kurds from Turkey.

Yes, the Szekely land has also right to secede from Romania. But the Northern part of Hargita, populated by ethnic Romanians has also right to secede from the Szekely land.

And so on…

petofi
Guest

Ovidiu :
Excellent, comprehensive, article.
I would disagree only with the implied idea that Hungary has much choice here.
Hungary will not be allowed to weaken the Eastern border of EU/NATO and to posit itself as a weak link/gap in the defensive line which runs from the Baltic to the Black Sea.It will not be allowed to become a gateway for Russian influence in Europe.This game is just too big for Orban.Forget Brussels, all Eastern European will gang up against him if he continues to try to play “both sides”.

@Ovidiu

“This game is just too big for Orban.”

And what if Orban is not “the player” but “the pawn”?

tappanch
Guest

The number of cross voters [voters that registered to cast their ballots in one electoral district to elect a representative in another one] has reached 80,570.

Pocakos
Guest

If you quote Wikipedia.org (see picture) please do it properly

“……The Crimean Khanate, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, succeeded the Golden Horde and lasted from 1449 to 1779. Until the late 18th century, Crimean Tatars maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire, exporting about 2 million slaves from Russia and Ukraine over the period 1500–1700. The Khanate was conquered by the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great in 1783. From 1853 to 1856, the peninsula was the site of the principal engagements of the Crimean War, a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia….”

tappanch
Guest

ethnic Hungarian votes from mainly Romania and Serbia

received from consulates/embassies 47,293
(my understanding is that you can just drop off 10,000 votes and no questions asked, no identities checked)

received in mail directly at the Election Office: 28,905.
(How is it possible that the Office received exactly 4700 ballots yesterday?
Answer: 1% chance)

Processing day; opened; ratio of ballots found valid

March 31; 11,202; 75.54%
April 01; 0
April 02; 17,852; 81.03% (relaxed criteria for acceptance?) as of 10 AM

tappanch
Guest

I would like to point out that if I am an ethnic Hungarian with no Hungarian address and register a Hungarian address 6,5,4,3,2 days before the election, I shall have 3 votes.

1 as a new citizen with no Hungarian address
2 as a a regular citizen with Hungarian address.

Source – 267. § (a) of 2013. évi XXXVI. törvény [Election law]

All right, 257. § (1b) would restrict it to 2 votes, but this is impractical:
the local office will not know whether I cast my ballot for parties in mail or not earlier.

tappanch
Guest

The Fidesz attempt to get an extra seat through the ethnic Gypsy list failed on March 25.
More than four thousand “Gypsy” citizens de-registered from the ethnic list since then and will vote for parties instead.

March 25: 19,922, peak
April 02: 15,484, backdated to March 31

tappanch
Guest

“Reginam occidere nolite timere bonum est si omnes consentiunt ego non contradico.”

Bishop of Esztergom, 1213

A királynét megölni nem kell, félnetek jó lesz, ha mindenki egyetért, én nem, ellenzem.

A királynét megölni nem kell félnetek, jó lesz, ha mindenki egyetért, én nem ellenzem.

[I am going to modify a sign a I saw a tiny bit:]

Rossz atom[ot] nem kell félnetek, jó lesz,

Rossz atom nem kell, félnetek jó lesz,

Explanation for English speakers:

Rosatom (Rossiyskiy Atom) – company that will build the Paks 2 atomic power plant.

Rossz atom = Bad atom.

nwo
Guest

Excellent blog post. Unlike some other readers, I do believe it is a fair characterization to say that Hungary is once again choosing (or risks choosing) the wrong side in this struggle, and it is easy to understand the thinking: the money that comes in more easily feeds the appetite of the FIDESZ machine and with far less questions being asked. The EU, of course, has the power to push back if institutionally it was able to reduce Hungary’s position in the EU (restrict voting rights etc. and to stop the flow of EU funds to Budapest), but for this to happen Hungary will really need to misplay its position (entirely conceivable). One thing I would challenge in the blog is that while I agree Hungary is not likely to be the manufacturing center of Europe, I think with a “weak HUF” and relatively good logistics and the feeling that Orban will go after all foreign companies EXCEPT the large manufacturers, the export drive manufacturing part of the economy may well thrive and grow for some time.

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Bowen
Guest

OT: Transylvanian Hungarians have been sent a glossy ‘news’ letter from Antal Rogan (big photo of him and his kids on the front). Dated March 31, it begins ‘Tisztelt Honfitarsam! Kedves Baratom!’

It says that things have been great in Hungary since the Gyurcsany era. The nation is stable, unemployment has dropped, and prices have dropped too.

In Budapest, things are great. There is a new Metro 4, the BKV passes have dropped by 10%. The Palace District (Palotanegyed) has been rebuilt (this is not true – it was being rebuiltd before 2010, but work ceased after that).

It goes on to mention that unfortunately the left-opposition is in crisis, with scandals involving Simon Gabor and Zuschlag Janos.

It then goes on to praise Orban Viktor, Hungary’s Prime Minister, who has created a strong parliament and is working to make things better for families and children.

Fidesz are awaiting your vote.

Guest

@nwo:

Hungary can not (should not …) compete with Asian countries for manufacturing of those cheap crappy plastic goods that you find in the Tesco or Walmart (which is China’s biggest customer …) and other products need expertise which seems to be leaving Hungary at a fast pace …

It’s a difficult situation also for the manufacturing companies (Mercedes, Audi and Opel are the best known examples) – they have to find qualified people that don’t want too much money …

The wages can’t be too high (then the products would be no longer competitive) and not too low – then the people would move abroad.
Even around relatively rich Hévíz we see and hear all the time from people who are thinking about leaving Hungary or have left already.

Ron
Guest

Wolfi: The wages can’t be too high (then the products would be no longer competitive) and not too low – then the people would move abroad.

The costs cannot be too high. The wages can be high, as long as there is effective and efficient production, so that the wages as percentage of the costs of manufacturing is low.

The problem in Hungary is that the (net and gross) wages are low, but that the costs of the wages is high, mainly due to the fact that the Social Security and other wage taxes on top of the Gross Salary (in other words the Super-majority taxes) are high and not capped.

Also the other problem is that most employees are well educated, but there is a big difference (qua salary) between Management and subordinates. Some times the difference is more that ten fold.

Guest

@Ron, ok – you have to consider the total cost vs productivity – but where is Hungary’s advantage then?

As we all know, many/most of the best people leave the country – whether it’s the physics prof from my wife’s family, or the teacher (who works in a totally different job of course) or the hair dresser (a friend of ours) who was so surprised, when she found that she gets more just in tips than she used to earn in Hungary …

Now for something totally different:

The German SPIEGEL again has a scathing report on Orbán’s clan/family which is plundering Hungary!
http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ungarn-ministerpraesident-orban-und-sein-clan-a-959798.html
Angyan is quoted: The ministeries are full of members of the Fidesz mafia families …

Ron
Guest

Wolfi:@Ron, ok – you have to consider the total cost vs productivity – but where is Hungary’s advantage then?

There is no advantage for Hungary currently or in the past. The tax and social security system as set up in 1990 was a dead-end from the beginning. And except from the percentages and introduction of some new taxes has not been changed since.

The whole system (tax and civil code) does not work for the people or companies, but only for the government’s budget and tax office. And for a very small moment I was hoping that VO will change this system, but he did not.

Btw when are we going to discuss the new Civil Code at HS?

Joe Simon
Guest

The West was feeding the Russian Bear. Part of Finland, Poland, Bukovina and Bessarabia were annexed by Stalin under the benign watch of the West. Churchill even accepted the annexation of the Baltic states by Stalin. No wonder the Bear now is perplexed.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :

tappanch :
The number of cross voters [voters that registered to cast their ballots in one electoral district to elect a representative in another one] has reached 80,570.

These numbers are abnormally high. Something is terribly fishy here.

Here? Something is something terrible fishy wit the whole voting process as it is. Just like Tappanch pointed out, you cab vote twice, you can cast votes w/o anyone checking your i.d., you can vote by proxy, you can vote by mail, and all the previous only apply for some while an other set of rule applies for others.

Member

@nwo, gdfxx Just some technicality. So if God forbid for some reason Russia would come out of this game winning, then Hungary this time will be on the “good side, winner side”? All it takes is to win and everything is justified?

tappanch
Guest

@Eva, Some1

First of all, the international observers and the opposition MUST demand detailed statistics about the recent address changes, especially in the March 31 through April 6 week.

Day; election district; # of people moved out; # people moved in

#(people moved in) – #(people moved out) = approximately #(new citizens registering a fictitious Hungarian address)

Joe Simon
Guest

ver
The reference to Tőkés is unfair. The Romanians want nothing less than the assimilation of Hungarians and to erase all traces that Erdély was ever part of Hungary. The Bishop consistently opposes this policy.

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