Tag Archives: Transylvania

Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania and a Muslim Europe

A friend called my attention to an interesting article written by Gellért Rajcsányi, one of the editors of mandiner.hu. The young right-of-center journalist gave a title that must have been shocking to Hungarian readers: “Gábor Bethlen urged a Muslim conquest of Europe.” Bethlen, prince of Transylvania (1613-1629), is one of the revered heroes of Hungary. He is considered to be a man who brought prosperity and cultural flowering to the province and who was also an extraordinarily skillful diplomat. He managed to achieve relative independence for Transylvania, wedged between the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires.

What do Hungarian school children learn about Gábor Bethlen? Practically nothing. It is easy to summarize the information provided about this perhaps most famous Transylvanian prince in the history textbook for grade 10 students. We learn that Bethlen, who “acquired the throne with the assistance of Turkish troops, had to take into consideration the requirements of Istanbul if he didn’t want his country to find itself between two fires.” Another few sentences deal with Bethlen’s involvement in the Thirty Years War against Ferdinand II, king of Hungary, his initial successes and his subsequent failures, which forced him to sue for peace (Peace of Nikolsburg/Mikulov, December 31, 1621).

The larger part of Rajcsányi’s article is a transcription of a very long letter written by Gábor Bethlen to János Rimay, Transylvanian ambassador to the Porte. The letter was written on April 11, 1621, in the middle of Bethlen’s anti-Habsburg military campaign when “more and more of Bethlen’s supporters were turning away from him” and he was forced to renounce the Hungarian crown that had been offered to him earlier.

The letter Rajcsányi published had appeared earlier in the blog “Kitalált Újkor” (Invented Modern Times). According to the author of the post, in the 1830s József Tunyogi Csapó (1789-1858), a member of the Hungarian National Academy, published all of the ambassadorial instructions of Bethlen with the exception of this incriminating one. It was discovered only recently by Sándor Papp, a historian of Hungarian-Ottoman relations at the University of Szeged.

It seems that even the conservative but until now pro-Fidesz members of the Hungarian media have become tired of the anti-refugee propaganda which endlessly repeats the great Hungarian historical sacrifices in holding back Muslim terror from Western Europe. Although this may have been true before the Battle of Mohács (1526), the picture after that date is anything but clear. Rajcsák somewhat sarcastically remarks that 150 years after Mohács “Hungary needed the contemporary international NATO forces” to get rid of the Turks, who by that time were comfortably settled in the country. All the while “such great Hungarian heroes as Imre Thököly (1657-1705), whose statue is still on Heroes’ Square, and his friends, typically in Turkish pay, did their best to hinder the armies of Christian Europe while they sacked and robbed their homeland.” Besides Thököly, there are others whose historical assessment needs correction. Clearly, Rajcsák thinks that Bethlen is one of those.

Gábor Bethlen’s statue on Heroes’ Square

Rajcsák compares this 1621 letter to a conspiracy theory concocted by today’s Hungarian far right. In such a modern transcript this document would be proof that “the Protocols of the Grand Lodge of György ‘Dark Force’ Soros” are planning the Islamization of Christian Europe. Perhaps, says Rajcsák, it would be time “to do something with our pro-kuruc/anti-labanc historiography and educational system.” On the meaning of the words “kuruc” and “labanc,” take a look at a post I wrote titled “A distorted past haunts Hungarians.”

Ágnes R. Várkonyi, professor emerita of ELTE and member of the Academy, complained recently about the lack of research on Bethlen’s diplomatic efforts. It was only lately that historians discovered that Bethlen’s great plan was the creation of a Central European Confederation that would have included Bohemia, Moravia and, Croatia.” So far, so good, but in order to achieve this goal Bethlen, as this document proves, was soliciting a Ottoman military occupation of the whole area and beyond.

Bethlen through his ambassador suggested to the Sultan (hatalmas Császár/great emperor) that he move his troops to Belgrade and from there to Nagykanizsa, on the border between the Turkish occupied territories and Royal Hungary, all the way to Graz. He emphasized that it would take only four or five days to reach Graz from Kanizsa. It is easy terrain and food is plentiful in Styria and other neighboring provinces of Austria. From there it would be easy to reach Italy and march as far as Milan (Mediolanum), which at that time was ruled by the Spanish Habsburgs. Milan would allow the Ottomans to fight against Spain both on land and on sea.

He himself, who would attack the Habsburgs from the north, would need only 30,000 Ottoman and 15,000 Tatar troops, which in his estimation would be sufficient to penetrate as far as Passau and Bavaria where he would camp and take hold of the Danube River. Bethlen hoped that even Ferdinand II could be captured in Vienna, surrounded by Hungarian-Turkish and Tatar troops. Thus Ferdinand’s realm would be a Turkish protectorate, just like Transylvania was. The sultan would be able “to buy not just one fort as his father did in Eger but a whole kingdom.”

We see no sign of the legendary Polish-Hungarian friendship in this letter because Bethlen is envisaging a massive attack on Poland by at least 100,000 Tatars, reinforced by 40,000 Turks, who would “burn, rob terribly the country all summer and fall.” The only concession Bethlen wanted to secure from the Ottomans was that the Porte “would promise that the territories of the Hungarian Crown wouldn’t be in any way altered.” If these promises are kept “we will serve the great emperor joyfully … just as Transylvania has been securely under the wings of his greatness ever since King János [Szapolyai (1487-1540)].” Soon enough, other countries would join the Ottoman Empire and thus “the whole of Europe would belong to the all-mighty emperor.”

Finally, Bethlen reminds the Porte that “we could have made peace with the Germans but, because we didn’t want to break our promises to the almighty sultan, we suffered incredible dangers in order not to violate the trust of His Mightiness.”

The letter is so specific and detailed that it is very difficult not to take it at face value. I agree with Rajcsányi that it would be time to start rectifying the misinterpretations of historical facts committed over the centuries.

January 7, 2017

Fidesz censorship in Transylvania

Today I am venturing into an area about which I know relatively little: the situation of the Hungarian media in Transylvania. Keeping track of the media within the country’s borders is hard enough. I have little time to browse Hungarian news sites outside of the country. I’m not alone, it seems. The Transylvanian-born Gáspár Miklós Tamás, or, as he is known in Hungary, TGM, noted lately that Hungarian-Hungarians are neither interested in nor knowledgeable enough about local affairs to be able to follow the Transylvanian Hungarian media.

I’ve written several posts in the past about Viktor Orbán’s determination to have control over Hungarian political parties in the neighboring countries. As early as 2010 Fidesz refused to finance or even recognize parties that had in any way cooperated with the political majority. In Slovakia the successful Most-Híd party was not even accepted as a Hungarian party because its membership included Slovaks as well as Hungarians. Instead, the Orbán government poured money into the Party of the Hungarian Coalition, which since 2010 has never been represented in the Slovak parliament. Most-Híd, on the other hand, has been an active participant in Slovak politics and is currently a coalition partner in the third Fico government.

Something similar was going on in Transylvania as well. Ever since 1989 Romanian-Hungarian voters have been exclusively represented by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania or RMDSZ. The Orbán government, however, was anything but satisfied with the party because RMDSZ off and on participated in Romanian coalition governments. Relations between the Budapest government and RMDSZ deteriorated to the point that Orbán opted to support a right-wing party in Romania called Magyar Polgári Párt (MPP). The hope was that MPP would be strengthened to the point that it could assume the leading role in Romanian-Hungarian politics. By 2014, however, when it became clear that MPP would not be able to compete successfully against RMDSZ, Orbán had to change tactics. Hungarian politicians were dispatched to patch up the political division between the two Transylvanian parties to ensure that Hungarians would have representation in the Romanian parliament. Viktor Orbán even went to Transylvania to campaign on behalf of RMDSZ. But although the Orbán government had to give up its original idea, it didn’t leave Romania empty-handed. In exchange for its support, it seems, the RMDSZ leadership had to agree to some major concessions.

With this lengthy introduction, we have arrived at the “compromise” between the party of Transylvanian Hungarians and the Budapest government. In return for the generous support Budapest is now providing to RMDSZ, Fidesz demands obedience and total ideological identification with the Orbán government’s far-right political orientation. RMDSZ until now had given money to publications that were somewhat critical of the Orbán government. No longer. Viktor Orbán demanded the cleansing of all “objectionable” publications.

The first victim was Erdélyi Riport published in Kolozsvár/Cluj. RMDSZ was financing the publication through a foundation which is apparently quite well endowed. The Erdélyi Riport had been in existence for 14 years, but the foundation recently informed the editors that due to a lack of money the publication “will be suspended for an indefinite period of time.”

An internet news site called maszol.ro has also run into difficulties with RMDSZ and its foundation. At the beginning of December the editors of maszol.ro, successor to Új Magyar Szó, refused to publish an article that criticized Péter Szijjártó’s “instructions” to Hungarian diplomats to boycott Romania’s national holiday. The author of the article was immediately fired. The same thing happened a few days ago to Hugó Ágoston, the editor responsible for maszol.ru‘s op-ed page. Ágoston, a well-respected journalist in Transylvania, believes that the reason for his dismissal was his “criticism of the Hungarian government’s anti-democratic policies, especially its poisonous hate campaign and its treatment of the media, in particular the elimination of Népszabadság.

Hugó Ágoston

Although the Hungarian media in Transylvania was never entirely independent since it always relied on RMDSZ for funding, for a long time there was an understanding that RMDSZ wouldn’t foist any ideology on the publications it financed. That changed over the last year or so when Orbán reached an “understanding” with RMDSZ. Ágoston in his letter to kettosmerce.blog emphasized the necessity of returning to the pluralism that existed before 2014. I’m sure that Ágoston doesn’t really believe that this is going to happen any time soon. The fired journalist’s farewell article can be read here.

TGM in his article rightly points out that the Orbán government’s meddling in the affairs of a foreign country is worrisome and legally questionable. The Romanian government also supports Hungarian publications, and therefore it might be troubling to Bucharest that “the Hungarian publications in Romania are being edited, censored, directed, or banned either from the private residence of Viktor Orbán or from the Prime Minister’s Office.” It is truly amazing that Orbán refuses to tolerate even the very small liberal community that exists in Transylvania where the overwhelming majority of Hungarians are loyal supporters of Fidesz. His goal is total control at home as well as abroad.

January 4, 2017

Zoltán Tibori Szabó: Holocaust Memorial in Cluj/Kolozsvár

The author of today’s post is Zoltán Tibori Szabó, an associate professor at the Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj/Kolozsvár and a distinguished author and investigative journalist. His main interests are Transylvanian history as well as the history of the press, media law, and the Holocaust in Romania and Hungary.

The article published here is an English translation of the original Hungarian that appeared in Élet és Irodalom, a political and literary weekly, on June 13 following the unveiling of the Holocaust Memorial in Cluj/Kolozsvár on May 27. Those who were present have attested that it was a dignified event that included all segments of society regardless of political view or creed. It seems that Romania is ahead of Hungary, and not just as far as economic growth is concerned. In Hungary the protest on Szabadság tér continues. The contrast between Budapest and Cluj/Kolozsvár is striking.

Before World War I Kolozsvár had a population of 50,000, practically all Hungarian speaking, including 7,000 residents, or 14% of the population, who declared themselves to be of the Mosaic  faith (izraelita). Throughout the 1920s the population of the city kept growing; by 1927, according to the Magyar Zsidó Lexikon, the Jewish community had grown to 14,000. As you will see from Mr. Tibori Szabó’s article, in May 1944 18,000 Hungarian citizens of Jewish origin were deported to Auschwitz, where most of them perished.

We rarely have the opportunity to talk about Hungarian communities outside of Trianon Hungary. I am therefore especially pleased to be able to present this article, which describes the events that took place in Cluj/Kolozsvár in commemoration of the tragedy that occurred seventy years ago.

  * * *

Anna Horváth, the Hungarian Vice Mayor of Cluj/Kolozsvár was awarded the Friend of the Romanian Jewish Federation service medal by Aurel Vainer, the President of the Federation. Vainer also represents the approximately six thousand Jews of Romania in the Romanian parliament.  The Vice Mayor received this award as recognition for her initiation, persistent support and implementation, together with the Hungarian members of the city council, of the first Holocaust memorial in one of the public squares of Cluj/Kolozsvár. The memorial was built by the City Council, financed from public funds and it was unveiled during a dignified remembrance ceremony on May 27, exactly seventy years after eighteen-thousand Jews of Cluj/Kolozsvár were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the majority were murdered in gas chambers, their bodies were burned and their ashes were spread in the fields around the death camp or thrown into the nearby Vistula River.

As a matter of fact Anna Horváth persistently represented the position formulated already a year earlier by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ). This position originated from facts, it forced a deep self-reflection  and reached a straight forward conclusion. The conclusion was that we, Hungarians, have to face most honestly what happened, we have to openly accept our part of responsibility and irresponsibility, we have to provide reparations to the survivors, where still possible, we have to work towards reconciliation with great tact, and we also have to explain to our own children everything that happened, to prepare them for similar inhuman aggressive manifestations, that in the future possibly may target exactly us/them; so that this kind of horror should not be repeatable ever again.

The facts, of course, include that the Holocaust in Northern Transylvania did not start in the spring of 1944 – as it is suggested from many places nowadays – but years before that. It started already during the fall of 1940, when, as a result of the Second Vienna Award, the Hungarian military authorities arrived to the returned Northern Transylvanian territories, and the often amazingly tactless military administration of the Hungarian motherland had begun. The first deportation started during these weeks-months, between October and December of 1940, when the Hungarian authorities collected the Jews from several localities in the Szekler counties, to transport them over the Soviet border – via Kőrösmező (today Yasinia, in Ukraine), through the Tatár-pass – to Soviet territory. This happened despite the fact that most of those deported were born in Hungary, until the Peace Treaty of Trianon (1920) they were Hungarian citizens and during the two World Wars Romanian citizens, thus based on the Vienna Award they became Hungarian citizens again.

It is a sad fact also, proven by plenty of archival documents and testimonies, that deportations from the Northern Transylvanian counties continued during 1941 and 1942, mostly through the same Kőrösmező – Tatár-pass route, as earlier. And they did not end with the bloodbath at Kamenets-Podolski that took place by the end of August, 1941. Between the fall of 1940 and the winter of 1942 the Hungarian authorities sent to their death approximately five thousand Jews from the Northern Transylvanian territories, mostly based on invented pretenses but in many cases following clear socio-economical goals.  Most of the victims were machine-gunned or shot in the head and buried in mass graves at Kamenets-Podolski or were executed in the ghettoes of Ukrainian Galicia or Transnistria.  According to eyewitnesses, dead bodies were floating in the Dniester River for days, among them many of the Jews from Northern Transylvania. A large proportion of those dragged away during this period from Northern Transylvania were Jews from the counties of Máramaros, Szatmár and Beszterce but there was also a substantial number from the counties of Bihar, Kolozs, Maros-Torda and the Szekler counties (Csík, Háromszék, Udvarhely). This mass slaughter, that was the second chapter in the North Transylvanian Holocaust, was also designed, organized and executed by the Hungarian authorities, but the foundation for it was laid by the anti-Semitic propaganda that started in Transylvania at the beginning of the 1930s; it was completed step-by-step in the press and from the church pulpit by the Transylvanian Hungarian population, mostly based on the model from Hungary, their motherland.

The third chapter in the large losses of lives among the Jewry of Northern Transylvania was caused by the drafting into labor battalions. Thousand of draft-age Jewish men were sent to the Eastern front – but without any weapons. And there the cruelties of the Hungarian army, the war itself, the famine and the quickly spreading infectious diseases ended the life of at least two thirds of the approximately fifteen thousand Transylvanian labor draftees.

The fourth and final chapter of the wild anti-Jewish war in the Hungarian-ruled Northern Transylvania was the mass deportation during the spring of 1944. After the occupation of Hungary by the Germans on March 19, 1944, the government of Döme Sztójay (appointed by Governor Horthy), in cooperation with the Germans, organized and with frantic speed completed the Northern Transylvanian chapter of the “final solution”.  The 1941 census counted in Northern Transylvania 151 thousand Jews and 14 thousand persons that were categorized as Jews based on the Hungarian racial laws of that era. Of these, between May and June of 1944, about 135 thousand people were gathered, pillaged, locked into ghettoes and then in three weeks they were all crowded into stock cars and deported to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

During the four phases of the murderous regime four-fifths of the Northern Transylvanian Jewry perished. The number of Northern Transylvanian victims is estimated to be between 125 and 130 thousands. Out of the eighteen thousand people deported from Cluj/Kolozsvár more than thirteen thousand died, among them about four thousand innocent children under 14. To these victims was dedicated the worthy memorial by the people of Cluj/Kolozsvár. The memorial was dreamed up by the late Hungarian Jewish sculptor Egon Márk Löwith from Cluj/Kolozsvár. His idea was implemented by Tibor Kolozsi, the well known sculptor from Cluj/Kolozsvár (who wrote himself forever into the history of Transylvanian art, by expertly restoring the group of statues representing King Matthias, the Kolozsvár-born great Hungarian Renaissance ruler, in the main square of Cluj/Kolozsvár).

Holocaust Memoria, Cluj/Kolozsvár executed by Tibor Kolozsi following the design of Egon Márk Löwith

Holocaust Memorial, Cluj/Kolozsvár by Tibor Kolozsi following the design of Egon Márk Löwith

The memorial raised in the Postakert (today called the Caragiale Park) consists of five irregular granite prisms wedged into each other. Years ago, during a visit to Maestro Löwith’s studio he gave me a small explanation of his plan, whose concept was born during his stay at the Dachau concentration camp. The five prisms represent an important peculiarity of the Nazi concentration camps: the symbol of the five-person row of detainees. Five people, leaning all over, but grabbing each other, supporting each other, lifting each other, dragging each other, so that they remain standing. It is a symbol of the victory of life over madness and death, of the continuity of life – despite of the tragedy. I found it important to share this secret of the artist with the wide public, because many who looked at the monumentally stunning memorial in a superficial fashion, believed to see and count six blocks, assuming that it referred to the six hundred thousand Jewish victims of the Holocaust from Hungary or the six million Jewish victims from Europe.

The memorial’s base has an inscription in three languages: Romanian, Hungarian, and English. The English text reads as follows: ”In memory of over 18,000 victims of racial hatred, Jewish men, women and children, deported from Cluj and surroundings to Auschwitz, in May-June 1944.” Not anti-Hungarian, not anti-German, not anti-Romanian, not anti-Russian – simply anti-racist. This is reflecting the fact that the initiative of RMDSZ was introduced to the City Council by the representatives of the Hungarians of Cluj/Kolozsvár, where the representatives of the Romanians supported it unanimously. It also expresses that the memorial was implemented through exemplary cooperation of the right wing dominated Cluj/Kolozsvár City Council and the left oriented Romanian Social Democrat–RMDSZ coalition government and it concentrates only on the victims. It does not explain, it does not interpret history, it does not falsify. Simply: it recognizes, it expresses sympathy, it mourns.

It was a moving experience to see and to listen to the survivors who gathered from all over the world for the unveiling of the monument on May 27. One of them, Edit Balázs, an art historian and an academic, arrived from the North American continent. During the spring of 1944 she was dragged into the ghetto virtually from a class of the Jewish High School of Cluj/Kolozsvár and she was fifteen when she arrived to Auschwitz. She went through many ordeals and humiliations. In front of the monument she called herself lucky in her speech. To hell with such luck, I was thinking and watching the faces and gestures of those around me, I certainly was not the only one with this thought.  During the morning symposium organized at the Babeş-Bolyai University, in a crowded large room, several survivors described their Calvary.  In the afternoon, after the unveiling of the memorial and the Caddish said by the rabbi, some of those present were caressing the black stone blocks. “For me this is going to be my parents’ tombstone, because they were not given a tombstone” – said another survivor.

Cluj/Kolozsvár thus commemorated in a series of dignified events the catastrophe that occurred seventy years ago.  The scientific symposium held at the university, the moving discussions with the survivors, the reunion of the former students of the Jewish High School from all over the world, the presence of the children and grandchildren of the survivors, the mourning ceremony at the synagogue and the speeches and Transylvanian Jewish songs that followed – these just assured the frame for the unveiling under dignified circumstances, in a public square, in the Postakert, facing the old Poale Tzedek synagogue (now the Transit House, a facility of the modern culture and arts) and a whole row of houses once inhabited by Jews, of the Holocaust memorial. Thus the survivors could feel the empathy first of all of the Hungarians but also the Romanians of the city.

Some placed flowers on the memorial, others placed stones. They stood in line in front of the memorial: high school students, college students and retired people; Catholic priests, Lutheran and Reformed church leaders; the Transylvanian Orthodox Archbishop; Emil Boc, former Prime Minister and the Mayor of Cluj/Kolozsvár; Hunor Kelemen, the Deputy Prime Minister of Romania and Minister of Culture; Hungarian and Romanian politicians, university professors and other intellectuals. And Anna Horváth, the Hungarian Vice Mayor of Cluj/Kolozsvár, surrounded by grateful survivors. And many simple citizens of the city. They were moved. They were overcome by emotion. They had their heads bowed. They were dignified. They felt solidarity with the victims.

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.

The Great March of the Szeklers

In today’s post I’m relying heavily on an excellent article by Attila Ara-Kovács on the background of the Szeklers’ demand for territorial autonomy in Romania. The Szeklers (in Hungarian székelyek) live primarily in the hills and valleys of the Eastern Carpathian mountains in three neighboring counties: Harghita (Hargita), Covasna (Kovászna), and in parts of Mureş (Maros). Although the exact circumstances of their settling and their precise ethnic origin are controversial, we know that today’s inhabitants of these three counties have been living there from time immemorial. According to the Hungarian Etymological Dictionary, the written word “székely” dates to at least 1092.

But back to the present. According to the latest census 612.043 Hungarians who call themselves Szeklers live in these three counties, which are perhaps the least developed and poorest regions in Transylvania. Their growing demand for autonomy was prompted by Romanian efforts to rethink the country’s administrative borders. The European Union urged member countries to create regions that would take into consideration a healthy economic mix. Such plans were also underway at one point in Hungary, but they died a slow death, mostly at the hands of the officials of the traditional county administration. Fidesz was also not about to give up the one-thousand-year-old tradition of the county system. After all, it was Saint Stephen who set it up.

In Romania the debate began already in the early 1990s, but it was only in 1998 that a final decision was reached. Romanian officials introduced an administrative set-up consisting of 6 regions whose borders were drawn in such a way that the counties where the Szeklers are in the majority were attached to a larger unit made up of Alba (Fehér), Sibiu (Szeben), and Braşov counties. In this mix, the Szeklers were in the minority, just over 20% of the population. This arrangement was not only unfavorable to the Hungarian minority but also made no sense economically.

Eventually the Romanian government came up with a new arrangement which they are planning to introduce soon. The three Szekler counties will be attached to Braşov county, the second most developed and industrialized part of Romania after the Bucharest region. In this new region the Hungarians will make up 43.85% of the population, a considerable improvement over their present situation. As Ara-Kovács points out, one could carve out a unit consisting only of the three Szekler counties so that the Hungarians would have an absolute majority, but such an arrangement would leave these three counties without any outside, sorely needed financial resources.

The recent demonstrations are in part directed against this plan of forming a larger economic and administrative unit from Braşov, Covasna, Harghita, and Mureş counties. In addition, the Szekler National Council, the chief organization behind the demonstrations, has been demanding territorial autonomy quite independently of the controversial administrative remapping of the region. Let me stress that the present Romanian government is dead set against giving territorial autonomy to the Hungarians. The Romanian constitution specifically states that Romania is a unitary state, one and indivisible. No Romanian government in the foreseeable future will sit down with any group to discuss plans for territorial autonomy. The Romanian government claims with some justification that in the last fourteen years the Hungarians in Romania have had wide cultural autonomy, not only in the territory inhabited by the Szeklers but everywhere a certain percentage of the population consists of Hungarians. Hungarians in Romania have their own schools, they can use their own language, and on the whole their situation is better than at any other time in the last eighty years. Therefore, launching a worldwide propaganda campaign for territorial autonomy is ill-timed and most likely counterproductive.

Then there is the problem with the so-called Szekler National Council itself. It is enough to look at the organization’s website to see that the leadership has very strong ties with Jobbik. For example, on October 25, it was triumphantly announced that “Jobbik joins the Great March of the Szeklers.”

The Great March of the Szeklers

Yesterday I talked about the sympathy march that was organized by CÖF, the so-called civic organization that is in fact financed by the Hungarian government. But the really big event was a 55 km march between Ozun (Uzon) and Chichiș (Kökös) in Covasna county. It was called the Great March of the Szeklers. The organizers were expecting at least 100,000 marchers, some of them wearing the customary local folk costumes. Although we don’t have reliable numbers, by all accounts the crowd was enormous. Naturally there was also a Calvinist church service which was recorded by Duna TV, a state television station providing news for Hungarians in the neighboring countries. The Great March was broadcast by MTV, the public television station.

So the march drew thousands of Szeklers and got extensive media coverage. The problem is, however, as Ara-Kovács points out, that the organizers don’t have clear ideas about what kind of autonomy they really want. “The only thing that is clear is that they want to live their lives without the Romanians.” And surely this is neither desirable nor possible.

The Szekler National Council is actually the creation of Fidesz. It is being financed by the Hungarian government. Even the Great March was financed by Budapest. The Szekler National Council, in addition to its goal of territorial autonomy, has its own political agenda. It wants to dominate Hungarian politics in Romania, taking the reins away from RMDSZ (Romániai Magyar Szövetség or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România), the leading Hungarian party in Romania that has often participated in Romanian government coalitions. As opposed to RMDSZ, which promotes peaceful and cooperative coexistence between Romanians and Hungarians, the Szekler National Council is a radical nationalist party.

Meanwhile in Budapest a sizable crowd, organized by so-called civic organizations and Fidesz, had their not so great march from Heroes’ Square to the Romanian Embassy on Thököly út where the right-radical and anti-semitic Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of Fidesz, was among the speakers. Some of the demonstrators sent a message to the Romanians inside of the embassy: “The land of the Szeklers doesn’t belong to Romania!” Well, it does and it will.