The current Hungarian government’s active “national policy” (nemzetpolitika), whose aim is the “unification of the Hungarian nation across borders,” often leads to ethnic clashes in the neighboring countries, especially in Transylvania. At the moment we are in the throes of such a conflict over a military cemetery only a few kilometers from the pre-1920 border between the Kingdom of Romania and the Kingdom of Hungary.
Úzvölgye (Valea Uzului) today is an uninhabited village where in 1917 heavy fighting took place between the combined Austro-Hungarian and German forces and soldiers of the Kingdom of Romania, which had just entered World War I on the side of the Entente powers. Apparently, 27 years later, in 1944, fierce fighting in the same area also claimed several lives. The exact numbers and the nationalities of fallen soldiers buried here are hotly contested. In the late 1980s officials registered 1,300 graves of Romanian, Hungarian, German, and Russian soldiers. According to an older (1926) survey, in addition to the 350 soldiers of Austria-Hungary, 900 others of different nationalities were buried here.
The cemetery until very recently was under the jurisdiction of the purely Hungarian town of Sânmartin / Csíkszentmárton 30 kilometers away, but it was then administratively transferred to the small Romanian-inhabited village of Dărmănești / Dormánfalva. Csíkszentmárton had wanted to make the military cemetery a showcase instead of a neglected patch of weeds, and it received a substantial amount of money for the job from the Orbán government. Since then, as Pesti Srácok pointed out, “the place has become a place of pilgrimage for numberless compatriots.”
Only a month ago, a handsome group of Hungarian “traditionalists” who like to show off their expensive hussar uniforms descended on Úzvölgye. On June 4, designated as the day of belonging in remembrance of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon on that day in 1920, Péter Harrach, leader of the parliamentary caucus of the Christian Democratic Party, made a pilgrimage to the site to pay tribute to the dead Hungarian soldiers. Because of the attention showered on this cemetery by Hungarians from both Hungary and Transylvania, far-right Romanian nationalists became interested in Úzvölgye.
The trouble began with the transfer of the cemetery to Dărmănești, whose mayor was upset by the Hungarian “expropriation” of the cemetery. Since Romanian soldiers were also buried there, he proposed setting up a separate Romanian section of the cemetery. The Hungarians involved with the restoration of the site and the officials of Csíkszentmárton protested; they approached four different ministries to find out whether the village mayor had the right to alter the site without permission. According to a Romanian law from 2003, the municipalities are responsible for the maintenance of military cemeteries and memorials but they cannot alter them at will. They need the permission of the ministries under whose jurisdictions these sites fall, in this case the ministry of defense and the ministry of culture. Apparently, such permission was obtained neither by Csíkszentmárton nor by Dărmănești. Thus, both the Hungarian-supported renovation and the addition of a Romanian section were illegal.
What followed was almost inevitable. According to a recent poll, a majority (58.2%) of Romanians believe that Hungary is meddling in the internal affairs of the country, and an even higher number (64.4%) believe that Hungary’s goal is control of Transylvania. Far-right groups, including football hooligans from Bucharest, assembled on the day the Romanians planned to consecrate a statue and 50 some crosses, most likely anticipating trouble since the Hungarian community promised to prevent the event from taking place. On June 6, thousands of Hungarians arrived and formed a human chain around the property. The Romanians broke through the human chain relatively easily, as the Romanian gendarmerie stood by.
The event gave rise to a diplomatic dispute between Hungary and Romania. The Hungarian foreign ministry called in the Romanian ambassador, who refused to oblige, perhaps to demonstrate that the Romanian government considered the case to be a domestic issue. On the other side, the Romanian government asked Budapest to calm the Hungarians in Transylvania and urged the two groups to sit down and find a common solution. Hungarian parties in Romania, however, were definitely not calm. Two smaller parties, EMNP (Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt) and MPP (Magyar Polgári Párt), filed charges against the people involved, demanding compensation for damages incurred. Hunor Kelemen, chairman of the much larger RMDSZ, in an interview with a French radio station called the encounter a “provocation” in which civil organizations, priests, reservists, and former European parliamentary members participated. He condemned not just the extremists but the whole country. “Romania showed its real face, its so-called model minority rights. This is the real Romania of 2019,” he told his audience. He promised to take the case to all possible international organizations.
In Hungary, the nationalistic Jobbik party demanded the strongest possible reaction by the government. The far-right new party “Mi Hazánk” (Our Homeland) followed suit. LMP, whose new leadership approves the government’s “national policy,” was perhaps the most vocal on the issue. As Hír TV reported, Péter Ungár demanded “complete national unity in this case.” He promised talks with other opposition parties to shore up support for the Hungarian government’s position.
Although Ungár called on MSZP to use its influence in the Alliance of European Socialist Parties to intervene in Romania, MSZP hasn’t answered the call as yet. Párbeszéd, however, today expressed its solidarity with the Transylvanian Hungarians. “It is the duty of the government to guarantee the security of Hungarians by using the diplomatic means at its disposal.” Demokratikus Koalíció has also been silent. Momentum’s reaction in many ways is admirablebecause, in addition to noting that “those who attack minorities are the enemies of Europe,” it said that the Hungarian government’s “rhetoric and state-funded propaganda also poison the atmosphere of other European countries, offering lessons from nationalism.”
Of course, Momentum is right, but, as you can imagine, their statement wasn’t exactly well received in the government-financed media. 888.hu published an article under the headline “According to Momentum, the Hungarian government is responsible for the Romanian destruction at Úzvölgye,” adding that the “comrades of Kuncze, Pető, Demszky, Horn, Bauer returned.” The reference is to the leading lights of the liberal SZDSZ in the early years of the republic. This is a typical reaction in government circles to any criticism. Instead of answering the charge, their first reaction is to liken its critics to the cursed liberals, whom they hold responsible for every bad thing that has happened in Hungary since 1989.
Momentum is correct in calling attention to the adverse effects of the Orbán government’s nationality rhetoric and policies, which only inflame ethnic strife. Instead of encouraging dialogue, its stance leads to disagreements and sometimes even violence.