A Debate on the Szekler Flag
February 28, 2013 - Attila Dabis - Bez kategorii
An answer to Keno Verseck's article, published on February 9th 2013 in Spiegel Online.
As Foreign Affairs Commissioner of the Szekler National Council, I was delighted to note that Romania’s conduct towards the Szekler flag has reached the sensitivity threshold of the publicity of the international press. Besides the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the German ARD, the British The Economist and the Turkish Hürriyet, Spiegel Online has also analysed the recent Romanian events thoroughly. The remarks in this latter article, however, made by the Hungarian and Romanian-speaking author Keno Verseck, seem to be in need of some correction.
The Spiegel article mentions that a diplomatic crisis has emerged between Hungary and Romania over a single “piece of fabric” the Szekler flag. This “petty dispute” has developed into the “gravest diplomatic conflict” in the relation of the two countries, which has been normalising since the mid-1990s. The conflict was triggered by the new prefect of Kovászna County, Dumitru Marinescu, who on February 2nd ordered the Szekler flag to be removed from the Ceremonial Hall in Sepsiszentgyörgy where his inauguration was taking place. A few days later, Németh Zsolt, the Hungarian Secretary of Foreign Affairs declared this case an act of “symbolical aggression” whose suspension he expected from the Romanian government. This revelation was later interpreted by the Romanian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, as “interference into internal affairs”.
Furthermore, the Spiegel article mentions that “voices of reason” are seldom heard amongst the “nationalistic hysteria”, due to the fact that this conflict is “useful for both governments during their campaigns,” and thus, a “quick resolution of the Flag war is not to be expected”. On one side we have the Orbán-government which is becoming increasingly unpopular due to his “clear- cutting politics” in the social system, and who therefore wants to gain votes among Hungarians living abroad with his “nationalistic paternalism”. On the other side, we have the Ponta-cabinet which wants to adopt an administrative reform that would turn the present 41 districts of Romania, including the three districts overwhelmingly inhabited by Hungarians, into eight larger counties, “depriving the Hungarian minority of several rights”. End of the reminder.
It is not my objective to list all the international documents to whose implementation Romania has unsuccessfully committed herself. The infringement of rights was not contested by the Spiegel article, as it would have been difficult. I will, however, list (without demand to perfection) similar precedents from previous years. It was in December 2009 that the Szekler flag was first placed on the local council building of Makfalva (north-west Szeklerland). This event was followed by a police interrogation in January 2010 and an investigation of the state prosecution, as well as by the deputy prefect of Maros County aiming to remove the flag. The deputy prefect was unable to mention a law that forbids the use of the Szekler flag, however, he added that what is not legally prohibited, is not necessarily allowed. The rules applying to this issue (first of all Act Nr. 75 of 1994) stipulate that it is mandatory to place the Romanian flag on public buildings, but the flags of other states can only be on display during ceremonies and events. Accordingly, these regulations consist of no orientation point for the use of the Szekler flag.
This was the first regulatory procedure in the case of the Szekler flag which was ended by the decision of the responsible prosecution on August 10th 2010, declaring that the Szekler flag is the symbol of a historic community, and doesn't violate any legislation. This judgement didn't have a deep impression on the former prefect of Kovászna County, Codrin Munteanu, who – in order to remove the Szekler flag from the mayor’s office of the municipality of Uzon – turned to the courts, and later on called upon the mayors of his county to take off the Szekler flags from all the mayors’ offices. As the prefect put it: “The flag on the mayor’s office of Uzon symbolises a non-existing [sic] entity and violates the law in the same way as if someone would place the flag of a football team or a car factory on the town hall.” It is this tradition in which the case of Sepsiszentgyörgy mentioned by the Spiegel article fits, and was exacerbated by the prefect of Hargita (the other Szekler county beside Kovászna), Adrian Jean Andrei. In an official statement on the February 11th 2013, he called upon the mayors of Hargita to remove all Szekler flags from their public buildings.
In the long history of this unworthy series of events, this is the first time the Hungarian diplomacy has expressed its opinion through the secretary of foreign affairs. Németh Zsolt not only mentioned that the Hungarian government expects its Romanian counterpart to suspend the symbolic aggression against the Transylvanian Hungarian community, but he also encouraged the municipalities of Hungary to place the Szekler flag on their town halls as a sign of solidarity. The number of municipalities fulfilling this call multiplies not only in Hungary, but also now in Slovakia, although not because they have political interest in it.
The Hungarian government has no interest in inducing the tensions, especially not against a Romanian government with a two-thirds majority, as the Ponta-administration is in a position to easily impose administrative measures upon Hungarian-Romanian dual citizens living in Romania, which would make it difficult or even impossible for them to cast their votes during the Hungarian parliamentary elections in 2014. This would be unacceptable from a government which, according to Mr. Verseck, “considers itself to be the political representative of all Hungarians, including those outside the state borders”.
On one side, therefore, we find the continuously committed violation of rights by a state power, while on the other there is a statement from a foreign affairs secretary and silent solidarity of the municipalities which have placed the Szekler flag on their public buildings. It is puzzling for me as to how Mr Verseck is able to place these noticeably distant manifestations on the same level of “nationalistic hysteria”, which exhibit mutual absence of “voices of reason”. Instead of the causes it is rather worthwhile looking at the effects of this interpretive framework. If this conflict is nothing more than a “diplomatic exchange of blows” between two Eastern European countries, Western Europe has nothing left to do but to put this case on the bottom drawer of the shelf filled with the unfortunate childhood diseases of problematic, young democracies. The suspicious Eastern Europe again. Let us turn the pages.
This is the undifferentiated reflex greeted many times during our foreign trips made in order to promote the autonomy aspirations of Szeklerland. It is a common phenomenon even from the most relevant figures of the European political palette that they do not know anything about the situation, ad absurdum about the existence of the Szekler people, or the way in which Romania treats its international obligations relating to minorities.
Dear Mr Verseck, Dear Editors of Spiegel! Consider this letter as an invitation to the autonomy rally which will take place on March 10th 2013 in Marosvásárhely (Tîrgu Mureş). Visit us and report on how the Szekler flag waves as a symbol, not only of the Szekler people, but its decades long, peaceful aspiration for territorial autonomy. Autonomy, as Füzes Oszkár, Hungary’s Ambassador to Romania, has referred to earlier, is a claim of the local community. The rights or deprivation of rights, on the other hand, are not exclusive matters of a locality or state, but a moral issue concerning the whole of the international community. Therefore, fly the Szekler flag on your public buildings and institutions, as well as, or only in your homes.
Dabis Attila is a political scientist and the Foreign Affairs Commissioner of the Szekler National Council (www.sznt.ro/en/index.php).