Weekly review: electoral atmosphere sprinkled with Magyar extremism

Weekly review: electoral atmosphere sprinkled with Magyar extremism


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The Romanian authorities have been scrambling for a few days to contain the risk of Magyar extremism following a march which turned violent early this week, staying alert for other public manifestations today, on the national day of Hungary which is set to have elections next month. Romania has turned thus into a vital electoral stage for Hungarian politicians since it hosts the largest Magyar community living in Diaspora.

On Monday evening, about 4,000 Hungarians marched through the city of Targu Mures, lying on the edge of the so-called Szeklersland, the Magyar majority inhabited in central Romania, covering about three counties – Covasna, Harghita and partially Mures. After speeches spanning three hours, the organizers told the participants to march downtown to the seat of the prefecture, the government representing institution in the country, even thought they were not authorized to leave the initial route they were given permission to march along. As they left, groups of demonstrators later identified as having come from Hungary started shouting at gendarmes, pushing in attempt to break the security cordon and throwing stones at a certain point, chanting “Hungaria”, “Let the Trianon perish” (Trianon, the WWI treaty which forced Hungary to cede Transylvania to Romania) and “Autonomy”.

The incidents sent the Romanian central authorities in security meetings after it turned out among the organizers of the rally in Targu Mures was Jobbik, the far right Hungarian party. On Tuesday, the Romanian President Traian Basescu called on the Romanian Parliament to pass a law on banning Jobbik leaders from entering Romania. “Yesterday, I noticed a high level presence of the far right party Jobbik. I think it is the high time we put an end to this presence on Romania’s territory. I am publicly calling on the Government and the Parliament to outlaw the presence in Romania of members of this party. This is an extremist party that has no responsibility for the united Europe” Basescu said a televised press conference.

In his turn, PM Victor Ponta said “it is clear there is an electoral campaign underway for the elections in Hungary and extremist forces (…) are making campaign on Romania’s territory”. He said his government would soon announce measures against Jobbik. But the leader of the Hungarian far right party, Vona Gabor, voiced “bewilderment” at the warnings sent by both Basescu and Ponta. “If this is what I am banned for, what will happen to the other thousands of participants?” he said in a post on Facebook. “if you have a problem with me or the Jobbik program, be men and say it clearly: your problem about me is that I support Szeklers’ autonomy” he added.

Why is Jobbik so present in Romania on the eve of national elections in Hungary? Because about 360,000 Hungarians living in Romania have dual citizenship and can vote in next month’s polls. With the Szeklers in Romania incessantly fighting for autonomy, Jobbik found a good field to sow its extremist views and that explains a constant and even growing activity from the far right party which the latest polls give it about 11 per cent of the votes. Some also pointed out these tensions are related to the situation in Crimea, since Jobbik is known to have forged close relations with Aleksandr Dughin, Kremlin’s main ideologue.

The tension was augmented after Laszlo Tokes, a leading representative of the Magyar minority and a member of the European Parliament, called on the EU institutions to help Szeklers get territorial autonomy, warning the Hungarian ethnics risk otherwise becoming a minority as is the case with the Tatars in Crimea these days, words that were met with outrage in Romania. Tokes, an emblematic figure of the 1989 anti-communist revolution, last year called on Hungary to ensure Szeklersland some sort of protectorate, also sparking fury in Bucharest.

On Friday, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced a ban on entry in Romania for members of four Hungarian organizations, including Jobbik. All these members deployed extremist activities on Romania’s territory, the ministry added, pointing out the measures are consistent with the communitarian legislation. Both the Hungarian authorities and the envisaged Hungarian nationals are to be informed, it further said. A Jobbik candidate running for a seat representing the Magyars in Targu Mures warned these measures can spark “an international scandal”.

In the meantime, 30,000 Magyars are expected to march today in various towns and cities across Transylvania on Hungary’s national day. About 1,000 policemen have been mobilized to ensure public safety at events expected to take place in 15 counties. Among the Magyrars, many voiced concern the celebrations could be high-jacked by extremist, given the tense political climate. At the same time, Romanian far right and nationalist organizations will hold their counter-rallies today.

But many analysts say that, from an electoral standpoint, the tough language between the Magyar radicals and the government in Bucharest suits both sides. Besides Jobbik addressing that segment of the Magyar Diaspora which fights for territorial autonomy in Szeklersland, the Hungarian issue has always been an electoral nutrient on the other side, among the Romanian voters. With the Euro-elections approaching, where far right parties across Europe are expected to perform very well, the tough speeches on both sides are likely to continue.