Weekly review: the Scottish model reverberates in Transylvania

Weekly review: the Scottish model reverberates in Transylvania


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

On the very same day the Scots were voting in a referendum on their independence from the United Kingdom, in Bucharest, the leader of the Romania’s Hungarian Democratic Union (UDMR), the main party representing the Magyar minority in Romania, presented a controversial project on the autonomy of Szekely Land, an area inhabited by a Hungarian majority.

Seeking autonomy in the area which covers the Covasna and Harghita Counties and partially the Mures County has been a post-communist desiderate of the Magyars in Romania, but their endeavors have proven unsuccessful so far. The topic has stirred passions on the political stage and among the population, reticent about the Magyars’ quest for autonomy. All in all, the topic has been attentively managed by politicians, especially from an electoral perspective. And this is exactly what happened in this case, too.

“There is no similarity between the Szekely Land and Scotland. In my point of view, it is a big mistake to make such comparisons, because there is a whole different situation over there and when someone makes such a comparison, it means he hasn’t understood anything or he wants to create a diversion”, Kelemen Hunor, UDMR leader, explained, as the media tackled possible implications of the Scottish vote in Romania.

Hunor said the autonomy project concerns the whole three counties above-mentioned, even if Mures is only partially inhabited by a Magyar majority. In brief, the autonomy project has 97 articles and overall concern a transfer of some powers from central government in Bucharest to Magyar institutions in the three counties.

Here are the main provisions: the region will have its own President, a court of appeal to be founded in Targu Mures and which shall have jurisdiction over the three counties, introduction of the Magyar language as second language in the Romanian schools in the three counties, a move which will probably be met with resistance, as Hunor himself admitted, especially since many Magyars in the so-called Szekely Land do not speak Romanian, the country’s official language. Currently, Hungarian is optional in the Romanian schools, while Romanian is compulsory in the Hungarian schools.

Another article says 50 per cent of the National Lottery income and 60 per cent of the income generated by gambling will go to the regional budget. The tax collection will be done by regional institutions. Also, roads, highways and railways, forests and mines (except those of national interest) will become part of the region’s “inalienable patrimony”. At the same time, state owned real estate in the three counties will become property of the so-called Szekely Land’s authorities.

“I am expecting a heated debate in the beginning, but then we will slowly be able to discuss rationally about these topics”, Hunor said, admitting UDMR, which is a member of the social-democrats led ruling coalition, has not discussed the autonomy project with the main political parties in Romania. “We have to first of all discuss it with the Romanian society” he added, alluding the autonomy project had been submitted to a public debate.

The project has sparked feeble reactions on the Romanian political stage. Most probably, politicians, such as PM Victor Ponta, who is a front runner in November’s presidential elections, has kept mum about the project for fear he may estrange votes in the Magyar community, especially if he makes it to the second round where every single votes can make a difference. The same absent reaction from the opposition parties, too. The only voice which has rose against the project is Liviu Dragnea, deputy-PM, who clearly said these efforts “do not stand a chance to ever come to life”. “No, I don’t believe in this project, it has no chance of success because we are not supporting it, we are actually not supporting any autonomy project, we are very firm about it. The Constitution is very clear. I do not know what UDMR thinks about the finality of this project, but they haven’t discussed it either in the ruling coalition or in the Government”, Dragnea said point-blank.

Many say such an autonomy project didn’t come up randomly and it may be connected to circles close to Russia which is interested in destabilizing the internal situation in Romania. A report issued by a London based think-tank last month showed that Russian secret services are cooperating with Magyar leaders with a view to create problems in Romania, a country which has vexed Moscow by it firm support for Ukraine and direct assistance to the Republic of Moldova’s pro-European aspirations. Most probably, the autonomy project will survive until the presidential polls this fall and then it will be buried by the Romanian political parties.