If Laszlo Tokes had had the decency to die back in 1989, now he’d be a martyr to the revolution, a hero to all of Romania.
Unfortunately, he’s still alive and continues to be the burr under this country’s saddle, just like he was back in 1989 when his stubborn refusal to leave Timisoara helped kick off the revolution. Everything was great back when he concentrated his energies on pissing off the Communist regime but the guy just doesn’t know when to quit.
One day someone is going to have to write a definitive biography on this man because only a lengthy monograph can properly explain how a single individual has managed to alienate and anger so many people (including his own wife) for so many decades and yet continue to play a minor but important role in this country’s modern history.
Moons over Marosvásárhely
Last Sunday, a few thousand Szeklers marched around in Targu Mures, ostensibly to commemorate three men executed in 1854 but mostly to demand autonomy for the Szekler homeland.
Last year things had gotten a little out of hand so this year the TM City Hall decided to deny their protest permit. The Szeklers (along with a few screwballs from Jobbik) went ahead and marched anyway, earnestly waving their historic blue crescent moon flag (despite appearances, there’s no connection to Islam). The riot police moved in and there were some minor scuffles.
Laszlo Tokes, who isn’t even a Szekler, was the featured speaker at the rally and used the occasion to make an absurd comparison between Szeklers and Crimean Tatars. My partial translation of his remarks:
Szeklers in Szekeley Land are, just like the Tatars in the Crimean peninsula, in danger of becoming a minority in their own land,” said Tokes, who called on the European Parliament and other European institutions to help the Szeklers obtain their autonomy.
Of course Tokes never let reality get in the way of his political grandstanding. From Wikipedia:
After a period of political unrest in Crimea, Russia violated the treaty and annexed the Crimean Khanate in 1783. After the annexation, many Crimean Tatars were massacred and exiled into Siberia.
Soviet policies on the peninsula led to widespread starvation in 1921. Food was confiscated for shipment to central Russia, while more than 100,000 Tatars starved to death, and tens of thousands fled to Turkey or Romania.
That’s right – between Imperial Russian policies of the 18th century and Soviet-era persecution, most Crimean Tatars were forcibly driven from their home. Many of those who emigrated to Romania are still here, represented by not one but two political parties in the parliament that have guaranteed seats thanks to Romania’s extraordinarily generous policy of respecting ethnic minorities.
Always the victim
Meanwhile the Szeklers have composed the majority of Szekely Land for the past thousand years, including during the Communist regime and up to the present day. Szeklers have access to newspapers, television and radio stations in their own language, schools from kindergarten through university that teach in their own language, full protection of their language, culture and customs and yet they continuously complain about being “under threat”.
I live in Cluj, which has a substantial Hungarian population and in the entire 14 years of my visiting and living here I’ve only met one Romanian who was vocally racist against Hungarians. I’ve never had the slightest problem with Hungarians and last year I greatly enjoyed the Hungarian festival despite the fact that I only speak a few words of the language.
But the Hungarians in Cluj are of the “normal” variety of Hungarians while the Szeklers are, and always were, something else entirely. As I wrote in my post about the festival, there were quite a few Szeklers in attendance and not one of them would even speak to me, either in Romanian or English. Instead they focused on hawking bloodthirsty games to kids written in an ancient runic alphabet that absolutely nobody uses or understands.
The Szeklers also had a big display set up at the festival (some of which was in English) to explain why they want their autonomy and I honestly couldn’t understand it. They constantly throw around the word “autonomy” without ever actually explaining what it is that they want. A separate parliament? A separate legal system? I’ve seen a few websites online saying they want their own license plates (for cars) and an internet address for web domains but that’s hardly a reason to march around town and clash with riot police.
A Szekler in Romania can go his entire life and never once have to speak a word of Romanian or any other language. He can go to school, get a job, get married, read a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch TV, attend a hockey game and eat his traditional foods in peace, something that can’t be said about Mexicans in America, Indians in Britain or even ethnic Romanians in the Republic of Hungary. And yet these Szeklers keep on demanding their “autonomy” without anyone ever really knowing what that means.
Romania, as it stands, is not a federation. The national administration is incredibly top-heavy, with nearly everything being decided in Bucharest. That chafes plenty for the ethnic Romanians in Transylvania or Moldova as much as it does for the Lipoveni (Russians), Tatars and Szeklers. But that’s just how it is right now. Maybe one day it will change and maybe that change will be good for this country, but as far as I can tell the Szeklers prefer being the aggrieved victims more than they do working towards political alliances with other groups who also want more autonomy.
Even the “ordinary” Hungarians of Romania can barely stand the Szeklers, the mainstream UDMR Hungarian party never once siding with the Szeklers’ nebulous demands for autonomy. The UDMR is a political party led by some very successful and smart people and have managed to form coalitions (including with the current “Alianta PUP” government) with Romanian parties in order to achieve their objectives, which include more Hungarian-language instruction at universities in Targu-Mures (something that benefits the Szeklers).
Meanwhile the Szeklers, who tend to vote for more fringe parties like the MPP have no representation in parliament, no political alliances (except with the UDMR) and thus have no chance of ever getting anything done at the national level, which is why their greatest “successes” revolve around the number of Szekler flags they can fly in front of government buildings.
Even the “martyrdom” of three Szeklers in 1856 is a bit of a historical whitewash, something I’ve seen cropping up in pro-Hungarian accounts of the events of 1848 (which I wrote about in my article Szabadsag). The way the story is told now is that the entire Hungarian nation rose up in 1848 to throw off the shackles of Austrian Imperial aggression. In reality, the Hungarian “core” (roughly analogous to the modern day nation of Hungary) took forever to convince the Kingdom of Transylvania to join forces with them.
The Szeklers stayed out of the fight until it was too late and yet today all you will hear from their end is about the heroism of Aron Gabor, the sole Szekler leader who moved to join the “regular” Hungarians.
By 1867, the Austrian Empire “merged” with the Hungarian kingdom and thus created one of Europe’s greatest powers, which was glorious and magnificent right up until the last minute, smashed beyond recognition at the end of World War 1. The peace treaty a few years later (Treaty of Trianon) broke up the empire and Szekely Land became forever behind “enemy” lines when it was awarded to the brand-new country of Romania.
Whether it’s their “brother” Hungarians, ethnic Romanians, Russians, Austrians or Traian Basescu, the Szekely have a bad habit of blaming everyone but themselves for their troubles, minor as they are.
If the Szeklers are choosing to emigrate to Hungary (which eagerly gives them citizenship) or Bucharest or elsewhere in the European Union, that’s a voluntary migration of people in search of jobs. Nobody is persecuting these people or interfering with their local affairs, at least not any more so than they do with other regional communities. And there’s certainly no mass movement of ethnic Romanians (or anyone else) to Szekely Land.
Meanwhile over in Ukraine, the Svoboda (“Freedom”) Party just declared that that country’s ethnic Hungarians are enemies of the people (link in Hungarian) and someone just poured gasoline on a Hungarian monument in western Ukraine. “Regular” Hungarian politicians in Ukraine, Romania and Hungary have denounced this but so far not a word of protest from the Szeklers.
Of course not, as they’re too busy protesting about their own victimization at the hands of Bucharest, a city that’s “run by gypsies” according to the placards that they were waving during Sunday’s rally. If it doesn’t involve them directly, quite frankly the Szeklers just don’t give a shit.