Átlátszó, a group of investigative journalists, has a Transylvanian branch, Átlátszó-Erdély (ÁE), and a separate website that covers Hungarian-Romanian corruption cases. The permanent staff is small; only three journalists work in-house, while four others contribute occasional material. Three people are responsible for translating some of the material into English and Romanian. Zoltán Sipos, ÁE’s editor-in-chief, is already the target of verbal abuse by those for whom the disclosure of corruption is a sin against Hungarians in general.
Átlátszó-Erdély’s latest effort looked into the Pro Economica Foundation, the organization responsible for administering a Hungarian government program designed to stimulate economic growth in Transylvania, primarily in the form of agricultural subsidies for 2,000 Hungarian farmers living in the counties of Harghita, Covasna, and Mureș (Hargita, Kovászna, Maros). They will receive a maximum of 70,000 leu or 14,000 euros to purchase farm equipment or breeding stock, to establish orchards, and so on. To qualify, they have to come up with 25% of the capital investment. The total cost of the program is 30 million euros. This time Átlátszó-Erdély worked together with Magyar Hang’s Csaba Lukács, who is from Transylvania and often tackles Romanian-Hungarian subjects.
Apparently, a lot of farmers lost their chance to compete for the government money because, although the deadline for the grant proposals was June 21, registration for the program ended on May 29. Moreover, applicants had only one week to register before, on May 28, Pro Economica announced that the registration process was over because registrations had reached their limit. Considering that nothing about the registration period had appeared in the Transylvanian Hungarian media, it was difficult to believe that so many farmers had signed up. It was only on the websites of Pro Economica and the Hungarian government’s “Határtalan gazda” (Frontierless farmer) that the event was publicized. On May 24 Krónika of Kolozsvár published a lengthy article about the Hungarian state’s subsidies but failed to mention that those who are interested in applying first have to register.
Not to worry. Those farmers who missed out because of the abruptly closed registration window could, it seems, pursue an alternative, corrupt route. Royal Dru SRL, a company in Maroskeresztúr (Cristești) associated with Pro Economica, is, if I understand it correctly, the only Romanian farm equipment firm on the Hungarian government’s list of approved suppliers. If a Szekler farmer looking to get a piece of farm equipment wins one of these grants, he is obliged to buy the equipment from Royal Dru. And the firm not only sells tractors. For 1,000 leu it also writes applications for the grants. In mid-June when ÁE phoned Royal Dru, an associate claimed that registration slots were still available. Perhaps not surprisingly, the man behind Royal Dru has close ties to RMDSZ, the Romanian-Hungarian Democratic Alliance.
And it is here that Magyar Hang added their own information to the story. They discovered that there is an understanding between the Romanian and the Hungarian governments that, in exchange for Hungarian government agricultural subsidies to the Szeklers, Romanians will also be able to receive Hungarian grants. The Romanian language publication g4media.ro claimed that a well-known social democratic politician and businessman, Vasile Gliga, had been the recipient of an earlier grant. ÁE suspects that the Hungarian government is loath to reveal that from Hungarian taxpayer money Romanian nationals also received grants. That’s the reason, they claim, that the list of the 495 winners from a similar project in 2017 is still not available.
That may be, but I suspect that the real reason is not so much the Romanian ethnicity of many of the recipients, because Pro Economica stipulated from the beginning that “there is no ethnic constraint, [only] the application must be submitted in Hungarian.” It is the individual winners, like Vasile Gliga, who are problematic. First of all, Gliga is an important social democratic politician in Mureș County. He is not exactly an impoverished farmer in need of a few thousand euros. He is the founder and owner of the Gliga Group, which manufactures violins, violas, and cellos. His son, Cristian, opened a U.S. branch of the company in Pasadena in 2001. The Gliga Group has an estimated annual profit of over five million dollars.
Let me add here some information I gleaned from an interview with Stefano Bottoni, a prolific Italian-Hungarian historian whose professional interest is Romanian history. As he said in the interview, “the Orbán government’s overwhelming presence in Transylvania is irritating, but since Romanian entrepreneurs also find [Hungarian state largesse] profitable, the Romanian government turns a blind eye.” Economic penetration in Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia is part of a government program. The Orbán government spends money on businesses and builds churches and schools. “Simultaneously they also create a Hungarian state administration.”
Individual Hungarians have invested a lot of money in Romania. In Bottoni’s estimation, by now the value of these investments might be several million euros, with about one third of that amount ending up in the pockets of the Romanian political elite and businessmen. Apparently, initially the Romanians demanded a 50-50 split in the investments, but Orbán refused, claiming that the Serbs were getting only 30%. Romania backed down and agreed. According to a 24.hu article reporting that Lőrinc Mészáros had purchased 1,290 hectares in Romania, 40% of Romanian arable land is already in foreign hands. I suspect that ever more Hungarian oligarchs will follow Mészáros’s example because landownership is considered to be a very attractive investment by the present business elite in Hungary.
While the Hungarian political and economic presence in Transylvania is growing, the number of Hungarians is decreasing. Bottoni is pretty certain that by now the number of Hungarians in Romania is lower than 800,000, down dramatically from the 1.2 million reported in the 2011 census. The same is true of the Hungarian areas of Ukraine and Serbia, where the Hungarian government also doles out substantial grants. For now, Hungarian taxpayer complaints about these state grants given in neighboring countries are muted, but they are clearly resented. Add to this the many stories about expensive football stadiums and academies in the neighboring countries and the shameless use of Hungarian ethnic votes to bolster Fidesz at election time. One day Hungarian taxpayers will revolt.