Hungarian Conservative

Let Transylvania Be Again What It Once Was! — Reflections on Szekler Freedom Day

Hungarians take part in a demonstration for the autonomy of the Transylvanian territory in Romania in Budapest, Hungary on 27 October 2013.
Hungarian and Sekler flags at a sympathy demonstration in Budapest for the autonomy of Seklerland on 27 October 2013.
Ferenc Isza/AFP
‘On 10 March this year, the author of these lines has only one wish: that a miracle may happen in the modern, so-called democratic Romania, and it may become like it was in the 1950s, or even like in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, in the 13th and 16th centuries. Because, if that happened, it would give freedom and autonomy to Szeklerland as in a true 21st-century European—and a European Union—country...’

When I say the word “Transylvania”, it encompasses everything: my heart, my soul, the molecules of my brain cells, everything I was, am, and will be, from my painted rocking cradle to my headstone. It is in my blood. I have fought for Transylvania with all my writing, with all my speech, always and everywhere. For the Transylvania that I know can never be mine but can still be of those who have stayed, suffered, and persevered with loyalty despite all the torments and trials. With all my remaining strength, with all my efforts, I am still fighting today to make Transylvania what it once was: the homeland of three free peoples, the land of equality before God and man, decency, and human kindness.’*

The above words were written by Albert Wass, the Hungarian literary genius in exile, in his essay ‘Transylvania — The Unnameable Force’. And indeed, until the Trianon Peace Dictate in 1920, Transylvania was a part of the globe where those speaking Hungarian, Romanian, German, and other languages, regardless of their religious affiliation, could live peacefully side by side. Live, prosper, and develop.

As is well known, religious tolerance existed in Transylvania already at a time when communities in the ‘developed’ West were still killing each other over their Catholic and Protestant beliefs. In 1568 at the most famous Diet of Torda, religious freedom was proclaimed. The essence of the edict was that the four most widespread religions at the time—Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Unitarian—became established religions (in the Latin term of the time, recepta religio). Although Greek Orthodox Christians, who made up only a quarter of the Romanian population, were not protected and the practice of the Jewish religion was also restricted, the population of Transylvania was so influenced by the law, which was unusually tolerant by world standards at the time, that

peaceful coexistence became natural from the second half of the 16th century.

In the same way, autonomy, that is, the independence granted to a community within a state, was also natural in the ‘Fairy Garden’ (the name given to Transylvania by Hungarian writer Zsigmond Móricz), a part of the Kingdom of Hungary. As early as 1211, King Andrew II of Hungary granted autonomy to the Teutonic Knights, who settled in the Barcaság (the Land of Bârsa, Burzenland in German), a region between the bend of the Olt, the snowy hills of southern Transylvania, and the Carpathian Mountains. A few years later, in 1224 the German Saxons of Transylvania, who lived in the area between Szászváros (Orăștie) and Barót (Baraolt), were also granted a high degree of autonomy. It is not by chance that German historiography calls the Andreanum, a charter of privilege that ended the sovereignty of the various stewards over the Saxons, the goldener Freibrief, or the ‘golden charter of freedom’.

During the Middle Ages and early modern times, thanks to these developments, the eastern part of the Kingdom of Hungary became a region whose reputation spread far and wide. This is vividly demonstrated by the words of the famous Ottoman Turkish world traveller and historian Evliya Çelebi, which appear in his travel book written between 1650 and 1660, about Wallachia: ‘Because of the extreme ruthlessness of the rulers of the Vlach (Romanian) provinces, the Vlach (Romanian) serfs are moving en masse to Transylvania, claiming that justice and legal order do exist there.’ The above perfectly illustrates why all the statements of Romanian historians, which came to light after the emergence and spread of nationalism and sought to portray the Kingdom of Hungary as a state that oppressed the Romanians of Transylvania from the Middle Ages onwards and assimilated them by force, are untrue and false. It cannot be denied that the nationalism of the 19th century generated misconceptions that guided certain decisions and statements of some members of the Hungarian political elite. For this reason, we must be able to apologize, so let us apologize, for the fact that the inclusion and acceptance of the Romanians as a ‘fourth nation’ did not happen in time. Also, let us apologize for the aspersions of the Hungarian members of the Hungarian parliament shouted during the era of dualism, which was systematic and insulting to their fellow Romanian nationalists from Transylvania. Nor can writer Jenő Rákosi’s dream and hope of a Hungarian state of thirty million people, which could have only come true through the assimilation of nationalities, be considered the most fortunate statement. We apologize for all this, if descendants can do that at all 150–200, or God forbid, even more years after the events.

At the same time, we insist that the Romanian public and Romanian historians not forget all those Hungarian statesmen who took serious steps to ensure that

the largest nationality in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, the Transylvanian Romanians, found a home in their fatherland.

Lajos Kossuth, for example, worked together with Nicolae Bălcescu, a leading politician of the Wallachian Revolution of 1848, to draft the Hungarian Romanian reconciliation plan that had a major influence on the wording of the Hungarian parliament’s resolution on nationalities adopted on 28 July 1849. It was a pity that the bloody suppression of the revolution by overwhelming force prevented it from being put into practice.

Under József Eötvös, Minister of Religion and Public Education, in 1868 a law on national education was passed which became world famous for its tolerance of nationality issues, as it stipulated that all children in the Kingdom of Hungary could attend school in their mother tongue. In the run-up to the First World War, Hungarian Prime Minister István Tisza tried to build a consensus with the Romanian national minority representatives in Transylvania, for which he even asked for the help of the Romanian Government and its Prime Minister in Bucharest. As we know, all attempts were in vain; Hungary, a loser of the Great War (as the First World War was called by its contemporaries), lost not only Transylvania but two-thirds of the country’s territory as well. The successor states and the great powers tried to reassure the Hungarians who had signed the Trianon Peace Dictate (a peace dictate and not a treaty because Hungary could not be represented in the peace negotiations that ended the war, only at the end of the congress was it necessary to sign the peace proposal) that the Hungarian communities under the jurisdiction of the newly established states could establish and maintain schools, cultural associations, use their mother tongue in public administration—and further promises could be listed for a long while.

Reality, however, turned out to be completely different. In Partium, Transylvania, and the eastern part of Banat, which had been snatched away from Hungary, the Romanian state did not even try to give not only the Hungarians but also none of the nationalities the rights and opportunities they needed to continue to exist. On the contrary: for more than a hundred years now,

the plan—sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly—has been to assimilate these communities.

I suspect that the deceived ethnic Romanian politicians and clerics of Transylvania, such as Alexandru Vaida-Voevod and Nicolae Brânzeu, seeing the results of the past century, would now decide quite differently on the question of Transylvania’s belonging. Since the signing of the Trianon Peace Dictate, the German community that had gained autonomy in the Kingdom of Hungary has completely disappeared. The Greek Catholic Romanian community has been decimated, thanks to attempts to forcibly reintegrate them into Orthodoxy after 1945. Herkulesfürdő (Băile Herculane), a tourist paradise under the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy, now rather resembles a ghost town, while the industrial city of Temesvár (Timișoara), known as the second Manchester at the end of the 19th century, is merely a shadow of its former self. It is safe to declare that Transylvania, once renowned for its religious and ethnic diversity, has not developed during the decades of ‘Romanian rule’, but only regressed.

It has regressed even compared to the country it was seventy years ago, when it was a communist state, officially known as the Romanian People’s Republic (Republica Populară Română). In the 1950s a Hungarian Autonomous Province (MAT) was created and existed, although Soviet coercion played a major role in this, and it included most of Szeklerland, too. The province, with Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș) as its seat, had a Hungarian population of more than 564,000, and the rights of the Szeklers were also much better asserted than those of Hungarians living in other Transylvanian areas. The Szekler Hungarians in the area of the MAT were less exposed to the sometimes violent assimilation efforts that were being pursued elsewhere in Transylvania. In contrast to the autonomous provinces that existed in communist Romania, the governments elected in recent decades in the country, which claims to be a democracy, would not even hear of an autonomous Szekler freedom. The autonomy aspirations of all nationalities living within Romania are in themselves prevented by the country’s constitution, which provides for a homogenous nation-state where Romanian is the only official language. The truth is, of course, that the Romanian governments fear that Szekler autonomy will eventually turn into separatism, which is all the more amusing because Szeklerland is located in the very centre of present-day Romania.

Despite the Romanian governments’ total rejection of their aspirations, the Szekler people’s struggle for freedom and their fight for survival still continues today. According to the decision of the Szekler National Council of 6 January 2012,

on 10 March Szekler Freedom Day, the day of the Szekler people’s unity, is celebrated every year.

The choice of the day is no coincidence. In 1854 János Bágyi Török, a college teacher, Mihály Martonosfi Gálffy, a lawyer, and Károly Nagyváradi Horváth, a landowner, were executed on the Postarét in Marosvásárhely on this day, in an attempt to rekindle the flames of the blood-soaked 1848–49 Revolution.

On 10 March this year, the author of these lines has only one wish: that a miracle may happen in modern, democratic Romania, and it may become like it was in the 1950s, or even like it used to be in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, in the 13th and 16th centuries. Because, if that happened, as a truly 21st-century European—and a European Union—country, overcoming its entirely baseless fears, it would give freedom and autonomy to Szeklerland. I am convinced that this is the only way the Transylvania of today could become reminiscent of its old self. Of the old Transylvania, which was the true homeland of many nations and was, to quote Albert Wass, ‘the land of equality before God and man, of decency, and human kindness’…

*This and all the other quotations in the article were translated by Hungarian Conservative.

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1 December 1918 — The Annexation of Transylvania, the Bánát, Partium, and Máramaros to Greater Romania
‘On 10 March this year, the author of these lines has only one wish: that a miracle may happen in the modern, so-called democratic Romania, and it may become like it was in the 1950s, or even like in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, in the 13th and 16th centuries. Because, if that happened, it would give freedom and autonomy to Szeklerland as in a true 21st-century European—and a European Union—country...’