Severe anti-Hungarian statements made on the 29th of April by Romanian President Klaus Werner Iohannis shocked the approximately 1.2 million Hungarians living in the country. The President showcased his most primitive, aggressive and cynical side through his performance of last Wednesday, unprecedented in Romania since the regime change. The statements of the President were sparked by the tacit approval of a draft law on the autonomy of the Szeklerland region in the lower house of Parliament. Initiated by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ), the main points of this documents are allowing important decisions affecting the region to be made at a local level, a larger percentage of the money generated by the region to remain there, and for the Hungarian language, spoken by the majority Hungarian population of the region, to receive official status alongside Romanian.
In his malicious statement, the President deliberately confuses autonomy with independence, and accuses the biggest opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), of conspiring with RMDSZ to “sell Transylvania to the Hungarians”, for which – according to Iohannis – the president of PSD receives a quid pro quo from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Through his statements the President stigmatized the entire Hungarian community, marking its members as potentially endangering the national security of Romania. Iohannis also mocked and disrespected the Hungarian language, a language spoken by more than 6% of the citizens of Romania, by saying “Good day” in Hungarian to the above-mentioned opposition party, using an extremely sarcastic tone.
“Klaus Iohannis made a hysterical statement, unworthy of a head of state, and which is reminiscent of the aggressive and dangerous politics of the Greater Romania Party: Hungarians are stealing Transylvania. Today we witnessed a statement unprecedented in the last 30 years, as misinformation and incitement to hatred are sounding from the microphones of the presidential palace. RMDSZ strongly rejects this kind of language and incitement. The President must apologize for his very dangerous sentence!” – declared Hunor Kelemen, the president of RMDSZ.
“This country belongs not only to Romanians, though we see that lately the President, the Prime Minister, public figures are speaking as though only Romanians lived in this country. Let it be clear, Hungarians also live in this country, and we don’t want to tear Romania apart” – said Árpád Antal, the president of the Szekler Council of Local Representatives, mayor of Sfântu Gheorghe/Sepsiszentgyörgy.
The above-mentioned council, comprised of the local representatives of the three counties that make up Szeklerland, said in their statement that the Romanian President is not only the president of the Romanian people, but of all Romanian citizens living in the country. “Therefore, it is an outrageous and unworthy political act on his part to incite against the Hungarian-speaking citizens of the country. This statement from him has made it clear that he does not support linguistic and cultural diversity, nor regionalism, which is an important driver of every successful country.” They called on the President to apologize publicly.
Following these events, on the 4th of May, Klaus Iohannis made another statement in which – instead of an apology – he doubled down on his previous anti-Hungarian rhetoric, practically giving way to ultranationalist discourse in the country.
In these new declarations the head of state criticized the tacit adoption of the Administrative Code, once again attacking the PSD for supporting a draft law which – due to minority rights granted by it to the Hungarian community – could lead to the autonomy of Szeklerland, affirmed Iohannis. The President called the law drafted with the help of RMDSZ a parallel administrative code, and spread misinformation about this document by stating that it would make the use of the Hungarian language compulsory throughout Transylvania. In fact, the said law would allow the use of Hungarian alongside Romanian in those areas where at least 20% of the population is Hungarian-speaking, in accordance with several international treaties signed by Romania.
In their response, RMDSZ wrote that in Romania – a country often hailed as an example in terms of minority rights – the President is basically resenting the fact that RMDSZ is asking for the reinforcement of minority rights that have been in place since 2001 and for the ability to use the symbols of the community without fear of punishment. “RMDSZ has been continuously fighting to strengthen and expand the linguistic rights of the Hungarian community for 30 years now. There is nothing unusual about this! We are not fighting in the streets, but in Parliament. Not in its dark rooms, as the President affirms, but in front of the plenary, through constitutional means” – says the statement of RMDSZ.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that the President’s comments put the representatives of the Hungarian community in an extremely precarious position, as it is expected that Romanian parties will refrain from any collaboration with them, so as not to be branded “friends of the Hungarians”.
“It is unacceptable that the President has – in a wholly unconstitutional manner – collectively stigmatized a significant part of the country’s citizens. The head of state has gravely violated the Hungarian community’s right to dignity, has spoken in an unworthy and discriminatory manner about Hungarians, who comprise 6% of the country’s population. Which is why we immediately reported the incident to the National Council for Combatting Discrimination” – declared Erika Benkő, the director of the Mikó Imre Minority Rights Legal Services Assistance.