Diplomatic row breaks out between Hungary and Romania

December 3, 2016

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“Hungarian people have no reason to celebrate December 1st.” – Péter Szijjártó (right), Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

“In light of the Hungarian foreign minister’s insulting behavior for which there is no precedent, the only response for Romania is to immediately expel the worthy Hungarian ambassador from Romania and recall its foreign delegation from Budapest.” –  Traian Băsescu (left), Former President of Romania (2004-2014)

A diplomatic row has broken out between Hungary and neighbouring Romania following an announcement on Thursday by Hungary’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó, that he had forbidden Hungarian diplomats from attending events commemorating December 1, Romania’s National Day.

It was on this day in 1918 when Romanian delegates gathered at Gyulafehervár resolved that an area belonging to the Kingdom of Hungary encompassing the better part of 26 counties should be attached to the Kingdom of Romania.

Szijjártó said it would be strange for employees of Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to participate in Romanian national events scheduled for December 1.

“Hungarian people have no reason to celebrate December 1st,” he said. “For this reason I forbade every Hungarian diplomat and everyone working in the foreign service, as well as everyone working in the ministry in Budapest, from participating in Romanian national celebrations organized at home or abroad.”

“Surprised and perplexed”

Romania’s foreign ministry responded by saying it was “surprised and perplexed” by Szijjártó’s actions.

“Such a decision is difficult to understand, especially as the incontestable right of nations to celebrate their values and national symbols is one of the fundamental values of the European Union and the Atlantic community,” the ministry announced. “Romania was and remains committed to respecting these values.”

Hungarian pro-government media was quick to pat Szijjártó on the back.  Daily online 888.hu wrote:

“Finally we are putting the Romanian national celebration in its proper place . . . Unfortunately, in past decades the Hungarian foreign minister was not always on top of things.  For this reason it is a great joy to see Péter Szijjártó finally behave on December 1st in a manner that is expected of a Hungarian foreign minister.”

Not everyone agrees.  Movement for a Modern Hungary (MoMa) chairman Lájos Bokros called Szijjártó’s actions “life-threatening stupidity.”  The former finance minister offered the following comments:

“Trianon (the treaty imposed on Hungary by the victorious powers after the First World War, stripping the country of two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its ethnic Hungarian majority—ed.) is a painful tragedy for us Hungarians and not worthy of celebration.  However, diplomacy is not about that.

“Participation in national celebrations is never about the historical content but about the country in question.  Imagine if diplomats from Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia or Austria did not attend Hungarian state events because they concluded that there was no reason for them to celebrate August 20th.  Would we feel insulted by this?  Is such isolation good?

“Imagine if not only the Romanian government is insulted but the Romanian people as well.  The Romanian government announces that from this time forward Transylvanian Hungarians must prove their loyalty by attending state celebrations, and whoever fails to do so is a traitor.”

Bokros said Szijjártó’s statement was indicative of just how much the Hungarian government is not interested in the fate of Transylvanian Hungarians.  “They are just pawns in a game, the goal of which for the Orbán government is to incite tensions between the two nations, reverse the slow process of reconciliation, and to trample underfoot results achieved to date . . . purely in order to whip up unbridled nationalism at home in the interest of easily winning the next election.”

The MoMa chairman said that inciting hated against a neighboring country was the only method the government had for shoring up its popularity after losing the October 2nd referendum and “given the weak economy and pervasive corruption.”

Băsescu responds

Former Romanian President Traian Băsescu answered the provocation in kind by posting the following open letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on his Facebook page:

My friend, Viktor Orbán, we don’t want to visit you in Budapest the way we did in the history of the past 100 years without your permission.  But don’t push us, because we have our limits.  I am not stating this to be aggressive, but only so that Budapest understands that we do not have a minority complex when it comes to Hungary.

Encouraged by the fact that Donald Trump deemed Viktor Orbán worthy of attention, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, the hapless Péter Szijjárto, hiding behind the skirts of Hungary’s extreme right-wing politics, issued the provocative order that not a single Hungarian diplomat participate in events honoring the Romanian national holiday, since “Hungarian people have nothing to celebrate on the occasion of the first of December.” 

I could list many reasons why Hungarians living in Romania could be at least as proud as Romanians on the occasion of December 1st.  But the primary reason for this is that, unlike in Hungary, Hungarians living in Romania for the past 26 years have been part of a Romanian leadership that is respected at home and abroad and which committed itself to NATO and the European Union.  Budapest has held these values to be superfluous and pointless for a good many years.

In light of the Hungarian foreign minister’s insulting behavior for which there is no precedent, the only response for Romania is to immediately expel the worthy Hungarian ambassador from Romania and recall its foreign delegation from Budapest.  Without doing so these political adventurers will not understand that Romania’s border extends to the Tisza river.