Tens of thousands marched peacefully in Romania and Hungary today in support of Szeklerland autonomy.
The Szeklers are a tribe of Hungarians who settled the western Carpathians before the remaining Hungarian tribes entered and occupied the Carpathian basin in 900 A.D. Although they speak Hungarian the Szeklers have their own identity and culture and are one of three nations to settle the central part of modern day Romania known as Transylvania, the other two being Saxons and Romanians.
Formerly an autonomous principality run by elected princes, Transylvania maintained its political independence during the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans and most of Hungary. After the Habsburg armies drove the Ottomans out of Hungary, Transylvania was attached to the Austrian empire.
Growing 19th century Hungarian nationalism gave rise to calls for unification with neighboring Transylvania.
As part of the Austrian Hungarian compromise of 1867 the Principality of Transylvania was abolished and its territory was absorbed into the Hungarian part of the newly established Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War Transylvania was ceded to Romania per the terms of the Treaty of Trianon. Home to much of the Hungarian literature, art, and philosophy of the late 19th and early 20th century, its loss was a bitter pill for the Hungarians to swallow. (Imagine the United States being forced to cede the entire Northeast, mid-West, and California to neighboring Canada).
The Second Vienna Award of 1940 returned the Szekler region to Hungary. After the Second World War the agreement was nullified and the Szekler region was returned to Romania.
Today’s “Big March for Szekler autonomy” was organized by the Szekler National Council (SZNT). Four columns of marchers, each carrying a 250 m long Szekler flag, converged to form a 53 km long human corridor stretching along 14 settlements between Bereck and Kokos. Many individual marchers carried Szekler and Hungarian flags. Basque, Catalan, Scot and southern Tirol flags were also displayed. As many as 120,000 people are reported to have participated.
The marchers were protesting government plans to alter Szeklerland’s political boundaries. Its organizers, including the four main Transylvanian Hungarian political parties, demanded the boundaries of the original eight counties and 153 local governments be preserved and finalized through regional plebiscite. Balázs Izsak, president of the Szekler National Council, called for a “mutual home independent of national, ethnic or linguistic heritage.” According to him the Szeklers want “autonomy, not independence from Romania.”
Simultaneous demonstrations took place in Budapest and in the countryside. In Budapest sympathizers marched from Heroes Square to the Romanian embassy chanting “Szeklerland is not Romania,” “Down with Trianon,” and “Autonomy for the Szeklers.” Fidesz publicist Zsolt Bayer and United Civil Forum (COF) co-founder Laszlo Csizmadi led the column carrying a large banner with the words “Territorial Autonomy for Szeklerland”. The column was accompanied by a small truck bearing the banner “Hungarians! The Szeklers are in danger!”
Today’s demonstrations risk being perceived by the government of Romania as a political provocation organized and sponsored, either directly or indirectly, by the Hungarian government. The first act of the Fidesz-KDNP government back in 2010 was to introduce a bill giving all people of Hungarian descent the right to vote in Hungarian elections. This was the first and only bill to be supported by all the parliamentary parties, none of which dared risk antagonizing potential voters abroad.
An estimated 1.3 million ethnic Hungarians live in Romania.
Referenced in this article