The Hungarian community in Romania – Transylvania
Hungarians in Romania are the largest Hungarian community living beyond the borders of the state of Hungary. A century ago, a Hungarian-speaking population of more than 1.6 million – ie 32 per cent of the total population – lived in historic Transylvania and other areas annexed to Romania after WWI (together, these areas have since then been known as Transylvania).
Owing to Romanian policies aimed at weakening the Hungarian community culturally and economically, curbing the use of Hungarian, and changing the ethnic proportions of the population, this rate has continually declined: according to the 2011 census, the Hungarian population now numbers only 1,238,000, or less than 20 per cent of the total population in the area. In the same period a traditionally multinational Transylvania virtually lost its historically significant German-speaking community of Saxons.
The largest Hungarian block is Székely Land (Szekler Land) in the eastern part of Transylvania, in the centre of present-day Romania. The Székely Land enjoyed a kind of self-government for many centuries, and the Romanian state also guaranteed regional autonomy in most of this historic region named, from 1952, Hungarian Autonomous Region (from 1960, Mures Hungarian Autonomous Region). After Nicolae Ceauşescu took over the party leadership in 1965, the territorial division of Romania was reorganized, abolishing the autonomous region in 1968.
Although many consider autonomy under the communist dictatorship to have been no more than window dressing with serious constraints on human rights in general and minority rights in particular, Hungarians were less affected by discriminatory measures in the autonomous region than elsewhere in Transylvania. Historic Hungarian cities outside of the Székely Land such as Cluj-Napoca [Kolozsvár], Oradea [Nagyvárad], Satu Mare [Szatmárnémeti], and so forth, lost their Hungarian majority and were relegated to a minority status. As the territorial autonomy of the Székely Land and the success of Transylvanian Hungarian autonomy aspirations in general are essential for the survival of the Hungarian community in Romania, Hungarian organizations advocate constructive debate on autonomy statutes in order to establish a broad political consensus.
While the regulatory context gradually softened between the 1990s and Romania’s accession to the EU, Romanian authorities continue to hinder the use of Hungarian in public administration, and obstruct the Transylvanian Hungarian community’s efforts to use mother-tongue names of their own choice for their own settlements, public spaces, and institutions. The authorities regularly use administrative measures to intimidate Hungarians. Even in Harghita and Covasna counties, where Hungarians continue to be in the majority, the law still remains to be fully enforced. Today, the Transylvanian Hungarian community’s sense of security has been shaken due to the recently intensified anti-Hungarian attacks. In many areas, minority rights are being restricted. Professional informers work hard to undermine the acquired rights of Transylvanian Hungarians. Hungarian organizations urge the implementation of legislation and real bilingualism in municipalities where Hungarians are in significant numbers or in excess of 20 per cent.
The protection of cultural and linguistic diversity in Transylvania may be promoted by the proper conduct of the Council of Europe’s periodically recurring minority protection monitoring procedures. Going against the expectations of European minority protection, the Romanian government is blocking these procedures, thwarting the review of the fulfilment of commitments made on the basis of conventions relating to minority protection. As the government’s report on safeguarding minority rights was recently (in early 2016) completed with a delay of more than two years and also with an intention to conceal violations, the largest organization of Hungarians submitted a shadow report.