Hungarians in Romania launch bill for territorial autonomy

Hungarians in Romania launch bill for territorial autonomy


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The Democratic Union of Magyars in Romania (UDMR), the sole party representing the minority in the Romanian Parliament, will soon submit a bill calling on the autonomy of the so-called Szeklerland, a Magyar majority inhabited area in central Romania, to a public debate and then to the legislative, political allies involved in the endeavor have disclosed.

Kulcsar Terza Jozsef, head of the Covasna branch of the Magyar Civic Party (PCM), a non-parliamentary party militating for the autonomy of Szeklerland  or Szekely Land (comprising of Covans and Harghita Counties, plus part of Mures County), said UDMR would submit the draft law on the autonomy to the Romanian Parliament.

“UDMR promised that, between 10-15 August, this bill will be made public and also submitted to a public debate. The joint working group of UDMR and PCM has finalized its works, reached a consensus on a project accepted by both sides and, following the public debate, the project on autonomy shall be submitted to the Parliament, hopefully in September” Kulcsar told Romanian news wire Mediafax.

Last month, Antal Arpad, the head of local branch of UDMR in Sfantu Gheorghe, the county capital of Covasna, said the bill on the autonomy of Szekely Land will focus on five main aspects: attributions to be delegated from central to regional and local authorities, official languages in the region, ensuring an ethnic proportionality in public institutions, fiscal autonomy and ensuring rights for the Romanians in the region.

Antal exemplified, speaking of prerogatives to be transferred to regional and local authorities, that all, but foreign policy and defense, should be handled locally. As concerns fiscal autonomy, he said all taxes shall be collected regionally and about 5 to ten per cent shall be transferred to the central government.

The new push for autonomy comes after local councils in over 20 towns in Harghita, Covasna and Mures passed several decisions to endorse a memorandum which stipulates institution of Szekely Land as an autonomous territorial unit. The county prefects challenged these decisions in court. But last week, PM Victor Ponta raised eyebrows after removing the prefect who attacked such a decision, replacing him with a Magyar politician. A Magyar sub-prefect was also appointed in the Mures County.

On Sunday, attending local festivities in the Harghita County, PM Ponta was welcomed by a band which played the national anthem of Hungary. A recording with the Romanian national anthem was then played, sparking criticism from Romanian politicians who accused Ponta of seeking the Magyars’ votes in the presidential elections this fall, which is a plausible explanation for his recent decisions.

But while looking for the Magyars’ votes, Ponta may alienate part of his traditional voters since the Magyar issue, namely their quest for territorial autonomy, is a delicate debate among Romanians. The topic has resurfaced this past month following a conflict in the ruling coalition, which UDMR is part of, after the Magyars asked the Romanian government to withdraw from a trial at the EU’s tribunal which analyzes a pan-European proposal for ethnic minorities’ autonomy, endorsed among other by UDMR.