After April 2018, Transylvania could become the “hot” region of Europe.

Disputes between Hungary and Romania have been going on for almost 100 years. Although the Hungarian authorities actively support the Hungarian minority everywhere, Transylvania has more chances to become a new Catalonia.

Over the past 100 years, borders in Central and Eastern Europe have been rewritten again and again, separating entire groups of people from their home countries with new borders. Although the lands often moved into new hands relatively peacefully, the sudden appearance of an ethnic minority in the country led to increased tensions.

This tension can become a real indicator of the violation of the civil rights of ethnic minorities in Central Europe, and politicians, especially populists, have taken up the topic of diaspora experience in a particular country.

As elections approach in April 2018 in Hungary, Prime Minister Victor Orban appeals to the Hungarian minority in Romania, criticizing the Romanian leaders. His supporters emphasize that he is trying to support the Hungarians everywhere.

The origins of the crisis lie in the end of the First World War

The growing tension between Romania and Hungary can be attributed to the First World War and the Treaty of Trianon. Despite the fact that the Treaty of Trianon put an end to military operations between the allied powers and the Kingdom of Hungary, the world was given a difficult price to the Austro-Hungarian successor state. 

Hungary lost 2/3 of its population and territory, having lost its former imperial center in the center of Central Europe. Most of the territory was transferred to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Romania, as well as Austria, Italy and Poland.

The entire region of Transylvania, a home to 1.3 million ethnic Hungarians, which makes this Hungarian minority one of the largest, has moved to Romania.

The loss of such a large part of the territory and the population will surely leave its mark on national memory. Recently, politicians in Hungary revived discussions on this issue.

Diaspora Policy

Speaking on June 4, the head of the administration of the Hungarian prime minister, János Lázár, called on the beneficiaries of the treaty to apologize, insisting: “Trianon was a dictate, a historical injustice against the nation.”

Lazar cautiously tried to emphasize that Hungary does not advocate redrawing borders, but simply tries to ensure that the rights of Hungarian minorities are protected everywhere. Romania has not done so. The Romanian authorities used such words as “provocative” and “dangerous” to describe the appeal of the Hungarian government to this problem.

This is not the first time that Lazar intervened in the situation on behalf of the Hungarians in Romania. Last spring, Lazar supported the ethnic Hungarian brewer Andras Lenard in Romania, which was pressured by Heineken. The company sued the brewer, claiming that their names, albeit in different languages, were too similar.

Hungarian politicians reacted to the call for a boycott of Heineken products, and also proposed legislation prohibiting the use of the red star Heineken as a symbol of communism. As a result, the company dropped charges against Lenard.

Hungary’s intervention in the case of Lenard reflects a broader state policy towards the Hungarian minority in Romania. In 2010, the Orban government expanded the laws on Hungarian citizenship, as a result of which ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries have the right to acquire citizenship and, therefore, the right to vote.

Since parliamentary elections are expected in 2018, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban encourages Hungarians in other Central European countries to register for voting.

Orban’s critics argue that he is just trying to use 1 million voters who have the right to vote in Romania, to get the desired majority in the parliament for his party Fidesz. Fidesz does not have enough space to occupy most seats in the parliament, which will allow them to make constitutional changes.

Given that in the 2014 elections, 95% of the votes of citizens residing outside Hungary voted for Fidesz, the mobilization of voting in Transylvania is of key importance to Orban’s administration. The fact that Orban can mobilize thousands of votes in the diaspora is a sign that the protection of minorities in Central Europe is a problem that can not be ignored.

Orban not only encourages the Hungarian minority in Romania to vote in the Hungarian elections, causing further criticism from Romanian figures. On a trip to Transylvania shortly before the elections in Romania in 2016, Orban was outraged by the actions of the government, saying that the government is not able to help ethnic Hungarians.

Orban went so far as to say that the Romanian government does not respect the Hungarian minority. He noted that voting in the elections is in their own interests.

Romanian critics of Orban accused him of trying to interfere in the country’s policy. Former President Traian Basescu even called for the expulsion of the Hungarian ambassador from Romania.

Reunification with Transylvania

ReConnect Hungary is a program for Canadian and American youth with Hungarian roots. The program is aimed at helping the Hungarians in North America to revive the feeling of patriotism by traveling to their native region and participating in volunteer projects.

It is interesting that the study tour is not limited to Hungary only; guests visit Hungary, as well as the Hungarian diaspora in Serbia, Ukraine or Slovakia, which shows how young Hungarians outside of Hungary support their national identity and traditions.

As of 2017, the program offers a three-month program ReConnect Transylvania. Participants of this program will spend 3-6 months working with NGOs in Transylvania to “get to know their Hungarian roots”. ReConnect Hungary also offers a one-week extension of the original two-week program ReConnect Hungary to study Hungarian culture in Transylvania. This public-private partnership creates the concept of a Hungarian nation that exists beyond the accepted borders, including the diaspora in the discussion about Hungarian culture. ReConnect is part of a larger scale, called diaspora tourism.

Proponents of the trend argue that it cultivates a sense of cultural heritage abroad and encourages the development of tourism, critics argue that local leaders use it for manipulation of foreign citizens.

Maintaining a national identity abroad can be a powerful tool. Hungary has already made some progress in this regard.

In 1987, Hungarian human rights funds, consisting of second-generation citizens living in America, successfully lobbied Congress to abolish the status of the most favored nation in Romania.

Lobbying efforts were undertaken in response to human rights violations under the communist regime of Ceausescu, as well as specific abuses against the Hungarian population in Romania.

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