If you can't read the text below please click here
EU Enlargement Watch - Romania
    Hungarian Human Rights Foundation
November 13, 2006. Issue No. 2.
   


Romania's Poor State of Preparedness for Membership
Will Bring Unresolved Minority Issues into the EU

 
In this Issue
  Romania's Poor State of Preparedness for Membership Will Bring Unresolved Minority Issues into the EU  
  Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn Ignores Requests by 5,000 Petitioners from Romania  
  Law on National Minorities Obstructed in Romanian Parliament  
  Transylvanian Autonomy Manifesto Adopted, Self-Determination Initiatives Criminalized  
  Attempts to Thwart Freedom of the Press and Expression  
Church and Private Property Restitution at a Near Standstill
Hungarian Professors at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj Threatened with Sanctions
Misinformation and Falsehoods Propagated on the Babes-Bolyai University Website

With the European Commission's September 26 decision to admit Romania into the European Union on January 1, 2007, it is clear that the Commission has chosen to sidestep the needs and aspirations of entire segments of the country's population, notably those of the 1.5 million-strong Hungarian minority. The deficiencies facing Romania's Hungarians were glaringly disregarded in the EC's 52 page Report (which does not even name the country's largest national minority), just as they were in the Commission's May 16 Report. Inexplicably, thousands of citizen letters in the Spring alerting Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn to longstanding human rights shortcomings were simply ignored. By failing to address the legitimate human rights concerns of the Hungarian minority, the Commission is pursuing a precarious course. It is sending the wrong message to the government of Romania, future aspirant countries and, most importantly, the very peoples EU membership is intended to serve. As the recent escalation of anti-minority sentiments hostilities in member-state Slovakia shows, avoidance of issues does not eliminate them. Instead, ongoing and substantive action is necessary to bring genuine, lasting reform.

The New York-based Hungarian Human Rights Foundation welcomes the European Commission's decision to monitor human rights related issues in Romania and Bulgaria through its qualified agency, the Vienna-based Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which -- according to a 2005 European Parliament resolution -- will be replaced in 2007 gives by the newly established Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). It is important that FRA's mandate include all issues brought to its attention by national minority organizations and the international human rights community. In addition to incidents of physical harassment, the Agency' should monitor those rights critical to the survival of minority communities: equal and full access to native-language education, restitution of properties confiscated from minority churches and civic organizations, and protection of national minorities in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity and cultural autonomy.

Before the EP Resolution on the extent of Romania's readiness for accession to the European Union is adopted at the December 11-14, 2006 Strasbourg Plenary, MEPs still have a small window of opportunity to effect positive change in Romania’s minority policies by setting specific benchmarks. By raising awareness through discussion of issues with fellow MEPs drafting the resolution in AFET and other delegated committees (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Budgets and Women's Rights and Gender Equality), all members can take an effective stand to promote human and minority rights.

HHRF's EU Enlargement Watch - Romania strives to independently analyze and report on developments in this critical component of Romania's EU integration process. HHRF has monitored the human rights situation of Hungarian minorities in East Central Europe since 1976. With offices in Budapest, Hungary and Kolozsvár/Cluj, Romania, the Foundation has closely tracked Romania's implementation of international human rights norms since the fall of communism. Unfortunately, since the first issue of HHRF's EU Enlargement Watch - Romania in March 2006, throughout the Spring and Summer we can report only very limited positive developments.


Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn Ignores
Requests by 5,000 Petitioners from Romania

 

Although urged by groups of MEPs, numerous Hungarian civic organizations and 5,000 letter-writing individuals, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn completely ignored the lack of progress on three of four major, long-standing deficiencies identified in the European Parliament's Resolution on the extent of Romania's readiness for accession to the European Union, adopted December 15, 2005:

1. To adopt a law on minorities;
2. To remove discriminatory measures from the electoral laws;
3. To take measures to protect the Hungarian minority in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity and cultural autonomy; and

4. To fully sustain higher education for the Hungarian minority by providing the financial means needed.

Even Romania's yearlong, deliberate obstruction of

   

a law on minorities is mentioned as if progress were imminent: the bill, according to the September 26 Rehn report, “is still being discussed in parliament.”" In fact, the draft law submitted by the government on May 19, 2005, has been held up (to this day!) through endless bureaucratic delays in various parliamentary committees.

Already at the April 3, 2006 Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) hearing with the Enlargement Commissioner, concerned Members of the European Parliament raised the lack of progress, but Mr. Rehn dodged their questions.

In late April, 17 civic organizations in Romania were joined by 5,000 individual letter writers, petitioning the Commissioner to make human rights an integral component of his discussions with the Romanian government. Though moderate and well-grounded, the letters went unanswered, and the requests were roundly ignored in Commissioner Rehn's apparent haste to curry favor with the Romanian leadership.


 

Civil Society in Romania Petitions
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn
April 6, 2006

The Honorable Olli REHN
Commisioner for Enlargement
    and
The Honorable Michael LEIGH
Director General for Enlargement
European Commission

Dear Commissioner Rehn,
Dear Director Leigh,

According to recent reports, it is your belief that the situation of Hungarians living in Romania is completely satisfactory, that the human and minority rights abuses facing the Hungarian community are basically resolved. We Hungarians, who actually live, work and pay taxes in Romania, know that this belief is inaccurate and misguided. The following are major deficiencies we find discriminatory and unacceptable:

  • Failure to adopt a Law on Minorities.
  • Limitations on the possibility to study in the Hungarian language in the public school system; prohibition on teaching Geography and Romanian History in the native tongue; denial of minority-language entrance examinations.
  • Refusal to address the Hungarian Székelyland's aspirations for autonomy.
  • Obstructing native language rights for the Csángó Hungarians.
  • Inadequate possibilities to pursue studies in the Hungarian language at the university level.
  • Refusal to restore the publicly-funded Hungarian university.
  • Failure to return 2,140 illegally confiscated church and properties.
  • Arbitrary re-districting into development regions to ignore natural evolution of regions throughout history.
  • Failures to implement bilingualism in Hungarian-inhabited communities.

We respectfully request that you highlight the importance of resolving these longstanding deficiencies as Romania prepares for accession to the European Union.

Very truly yours,

Bolyai Initiative Committee

Christian Youth Association of Transylvania

Transylvanian Hungarian Youth

Hungarian National Council of Transylvania

Hungarian Human Rights Foundation

Federation of Hungarian Youth Associations

Federation of Hungarian Civic Associations in Transylvania

Hungarian Youth Council

Union of Hungarian High-School Students of Romania

Hungarian Civic Association

 

László Mikecs Friends of Csángó Association

Francis David Youth Association of Romania

Hungarian Student Association of Romania

Politea Association

Hungarian Scout Association of Romania

Reform Association of Sepsi

Székely National Council

Reform Foundation

Csaba Sógor, Senator

Tibor T. Toró, Deputy

 


 

Unedited Excerpts from Letters
by Concerned Future Citizens
of the European Union

"... if by some miracle you can visit us here in the small town of Mikháza, Romania (Tg-Mures and Sovata), then please do so, so you can see how these places have been neglected, so you can see the Hungarian populations here. There are thousands upon thousands of us here. " (Zsolt J., Mikháza, Romania)

"I am a Hungarian Associate Professor born in Transylvania... Last year I visited Finland, spending some time in a Mökki by a lake, and I was fascinated from the way of thinking and living of Finnish people. And being born as a national minority in Romania, I was extremely positively impressed of the bilingual signs all over the country, in Finnish, and Swedish. That is the real democracy, fraternity and respect for other nations. A country to live in comfortably. My surprise and question is, that how can somebody, who knows well the Western European practice, first of all the Finnish one, claim that in Romania and Transylvania all the minority problems are settled?" (Tibor T. Ph.D.)

"I've read with certain amount of dismay in your Apr 3, 2006 English-language report on the situation of Romania and Bulgaria that you have not wasted one word on the Hungarian minority living in Romania...However as you MUST know, being in charge of enlargement for both Romania and Bulgaria, that Romania had a brutal regime until the end of 1989 during which the Hungarian minorities were treated with utter discrimination by Ceausescu and his henchmen. What is more, there were many underhanded and overt attempts to entirely abolish the 1.5 million Hungarian minority population. I HOPE, along with many concerned Hungarian citizens of the EU and the world at large that you will RECTIFY this and will pay special attention to the special situation of this large Hungarian minority. Otherwise we cannot see how the EU is REALLY committed to all its stated values. " (Hedi H., Ph.D.)

"I am a PhD student on the Physics Faculty of the Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania... When I was a 4th year student on the Physics Faculty of the Babes-Bolyai University, there was a possibility of obtaining a scholarship for high performance research activity. In that time I had my first publication in the "NATURE" international journal (with highest impact factor from all scientific journals)... Still the council of the Faculty decided that another Romanian girl should obtain that scholarship, not me the only Hungarian student, with the best research results...This is a small example which illustrates why we feel discriminated and we would like to have our own independent faculties, our own university and generally all the rights we deserve as an important minority of this country." (Mária E-R., Cluj-Napoca)

 
 
HHRF Recommends: Rights denials facing the Hungarian minority should have been included in the European Commission's September 26 Report. The EC and EP now need to find other avenues to protect the rights of Romania's 18 national minority groups. In the future European institutions should be attentive and responsive to the expressed needs of current and future EU citizens, the actual constituency of the Union.


Law on National Minorities Obstructed
in Romanian Parliament

 

EP Criterion: "[the European Parliament] reiterates that additional measures need to be taken to ensure the protection of the Hungarian minority in accordance with the principles of subsidiary and cultural autonomy. "

 
Article 27, European Parliament Resolution on Romania, December 15, 2005
 

 

 
The Romanian Parliament building
 

"In the field of protection of minorities, only limited progress can be reported. The draft law on the statute of national minorities and setting up the principles of equality and non-discrimination and multi-culturalism, is still being discussed in parliament. This legislative process needs to be followed closely." Page 39, September 26, 2006 EC Report on Romania.

Closely follow this “legislative process” is precisely what HHRF has done for the past 19 months. During this period, the Romanian Parliament has had more than ample time to discuss and adopt the bill on national minorities. Instead, it has posed every bureaucratic obstacle and legal maneuver to avoid this result. Early on, opposition forces and certain Romanian government coalition MPs formed an unlikely alliance to obstruct this long-awaited law. The latest ploy by this contemporary "monstrous coalition" occurred on October 4, when Deputies again boycotted the relevant joint committees rendering them inoperative.

The bill was submitted to Parliament by the government on May 19, 2005. Almost immediately, two of the dominant parties in the governing coalition turned against their own government's proposal. Thus, for more than one-and-half years, less than a quarter, or only 18 non-controversial articles of the bill's 78 total, have been “discussed.”

In its original form, the bill would grant the country's 18 recognized minority communities limited competence in areas that directly impact on their ability to preserve their cultural identities. One component of the bill under assault is the transfer of narrow powers to National Minority Councils, which the law would establish, and which exist in several other countries in the region.


Transylvanian Autonomy Manifesto Adopted,
Self-Determination Initiatives Criminalized

20,000 people called for "Autonomy for Székelyland, freedom for the Székelys" at a March 15, 2006 Grand Assembly held in Székelyudvarhely/Odorheiu Secuiesc, which adopted a Székely Manifesto by public acclamation, demanding internal self-determination, local democracy and self-administration for the region. 74 percent of the 1 million people who live in the traditional region of the Székelys [the counties of Hargita/Harghita, Kovászna/Covasna and Maros/ Mures], belong to this indigenous Hungarian population. Jointly organized by the Székely National Council and Transylvanian Hungarian National Council, the gathering came under unprecedented assault by all Romanian parties and the Romanian President himself, whose denunciations spread unsubstantiated fears of the region's secession, a scenario never contemplated by the Hungarian community. Romanian President Traian Basescu summoned local mayor Jenõ Szász to Bucharest and warned him not to proclaim the region's autonomy as it contravenes with the Romanian constitution. Even more troubling is the fact that up until the evening before the Grand Székely Assembly, the President continued to negotiate with ultra-nationalist Greater Romania Party President Corneliu Vadim Tudor on modalities of "obstructing the harmful meeting."

   
20,000 people demand self-administration for the region inhabited by the Székely population

Corneliu Vadim Tudor offered to organize a counter-demonstration in the town "bringing 100,000 true Romanian patriots to defend the motherland from the barbaric Hungarian hordes," an offer which President Băsescu ultimately declined. Béla Markó, President of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR) warned "it is very distressing that in 2006 someone is threatening the rights of free speech and public assembly through the planned deployment of aggressive crowds."


Attempts to Thwart Freedom of the Press and Expression

In addition to misinforming the public and fostering panic, Romanian authorities took steps to intimidate and criminalize pro-autonomy supporters. On March 8, 2006 policemen confiscated the latest issue of the Hungarian language Európai Idõ biweekly on sale in Marosvásárhely/Targu-Mures. Ioan Nicolae Cabulea, Head of Mures County Police Department claimed the action was "ordered" to investigate reports that the paper's editorial "What the Székely Nation Wants - The 12 Demands of the Székelys" infringed on Romanian national security. Smaranda Enache, President of the civic organization Pro Europa League and the Romanian Journalists' Association, exposed the move as a patent violation of freedom of the press and demanded a public explanation. Days later, the copies of the biweekly were back on the streets but no explanation was given.

Organizations in Transylvania promoting greater self-administration are exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech in line with Resolution 1334/2003 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on Positive Experiences of Autonomous Regions as a Source of Inspiration for Conflict Resolution in Europe.

 
HHRF Recommends: Official harassment of autonomy movement leaders must be terminated; the Chamber of Deputies of the Romanian Parliament should immediately adopt the proposed Law on National Minorities.


Church and Private Property Restitution
at a Near Standstill

 

EP Criterion: "[the European Parliament] emphasizes the need to speed up implementation of the law on the restitution of property."

 
Article 21, European Parliament Resolution on Romania, December 15, 2005
 

 

"As regards property restitution, some progress has been made. The legislation has been modified to streamline the regime of establishment and payments of compensations. However, the processing of claims remains slow." EC Report on Romania, September 26, 2006, page 39 .

On March 9, 2006 Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu officially launched the Property Fund set up to compensate the victims of Communist expropriation. Essentially a public relations ploy rather than the long-overdue and genuine reparation, half of the 114 companies in the Property Fund are not listed on the Romanian Stock Exchange and therefore cannot be traded. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the Property Fund is non-functional and unable to adequately compensate former owners of previously demolished and therefore non-returnable properties. Serious doubts exist as to how and when the Property Fund, with a proposed portfolio of 14.4 Billion RON (approx. 3.9 Billion EUR), will actually compensate the approximately 180,000 former owners.

One of Romania's most serious shortcomings in implementing EU norms continues to be in the critical area of property restitution, mentioned in Article 21 of the EP's December 15, 2005 resolution. The near-total failure to return 7,500 properties confiscated from religious denominations between 1945 and 1989 by the Communist regime continues 16 years after the Romanian revolution.

2,140 of these properties were taken illegally from the four traditional Hungarian churches (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Unitarian and Lutheran). Despite various government ordinances, two laws (501/2002 and 247/2005)

   

and countless deadlines for implementation, the Hungarian denominations have regained actual possession of only 59 buildings, or less than 3 percent of the properties rightfully belonging to them.

Since January 2004, HHRF closely monitors the status of the 2,140 properties confiscated from the Hungarian community through a Restitution Working Group, which includes legal representatives of the affected Hungarian churches. Results are recorded in a regularly updated Database of Confiscated Church Properties, available on the Internet.

The international community has clearly and repeatedly called on Romania to remedy this flagrant human rights violation, notably in Opinion No. 176 (1993) on the application by Romania for membership of the Council of Europe and Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1123 (1997) on the honoring of obligations and commitments by Romania.

H. Res. 191, unanimously adopted by the United States House of Representatives on May 23, 2005, identified eight specific steps the Romanian government needs to take for genuine restitution to occur, but only two of these have been realized within the past year.

 
HHRF Recommends: Romanian authorities must rapidly overcome the extensive delays created by local authorities who refuse to cooperate with the government's Special Restitution Committee, withhold essential documents and attack the Committee's decisions in courts of law to obstruct implementation.


Hungarian Professors at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj Threatened with Sanctions

 

EP Criterion: "[the European Parliament] calls on the Romanian authorities to fully sustain higher education for the Hungarian minority by providing the financial means needed."

 
Article 27, European Parliament Resolution on Romania, December 15, 2005
 

 

 
 
BBU wants to intimidate us and potential supporters, says Hantz, but we will not give up.

Three Hungarian instructors at the university have been threatened and intimidated by Rector Nicolae Bocsan because of their efforts, at home and abroad, to promote an independent Hungarian-language institution. On July 21, Barna Bodó, Péter Hantz and Lehel Kovács were reprimanded by the University's Disciplinary Committee for "continuously propagating false information on the University, severely harming its international fame." Barna Bodó, President of the Bolyai Initiative Committee was reproached; Vice-President Péter Hantz got a written warning for being the driving force behind an international petition: Dozens of renowned academicians, including Nobel Prize Laureates Elie Wiesel, George A. Oláh and Imre Kertész have urged the re-establishment of a state-funded Hungarian Bolyai University. The petition was printed in March in The Times of London and reported on in a feature article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on February 22, 2006. Upon learning of these statements, former rector and acting President of the Academic Council of the Babes-Bolyai University Andrei Marga threatened in the Romanian media to sue Kertész, but subsequently withdrew.


Misinformation and Falsehoods Propagated
on the Babes-Bolyai University Website

Meanwhile, even a cursory examination of the Kolozsvár/Cluj-based Babes-Bolyai University homepage reveals that it is University itself that propagates false information on the availability of Hungarian education at this public institution and misrepresents the school’s history. Here are only four of the falsehoods we found:
 

     

1) Under "About UBB - the multicultural character" the website claims that "starting with 1995, Babes-Bolyai University has received no complaints whatsoever concerning instances of ethnic discrimination or disruptions in the multicultural system..."

This is untrue. There have been countless complaints about discrimination against Hungarians by not granting three autonomous faculties within the institution where the language of instruction is Hungarian. The aspiration for departments in Natural Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences has been promoted by both ethnic Hungarian instructors and students within the university, the ethnic Hungarian political party DAHR, and international human rights groups like HHRF. In fact, the university website goes on to say that:

2) "...it has introduced separate lines of study, enjoying distinct representation and decision-making autonomy at any level (department, faculty, university)."

This statement is untrue considering that the Babes-Bolyai University Senate has repeatedly denied permission to create the above-mentioned three faculties. There are, in fact, only two Hungarian-run faculties at the university. Ethnic Romanians heads all others, and the ethnic Romanian majority administration consistently vetoes all Hungarian initiatives.

3) The website also says that the "Babes-Bolyai University provides complete studies in the mother tongue of the minorities, being, in this respect multilingual."

This is patently not true. In fact, it is precisely the lack of adequate Hungarian-language education that propels the Hungarian community to insist on its own public institution. First, about 30 per cent of ethnic Hungarians have to attend Romanian courses at various institutions around the country because their majors are not available anywhere in Romania in the Hungarian language.

   

Although their numbers would clearly warrant a separate institution (the 1.4 million Hungarians make up 6.6 percent of the country and 20 percent of Transylvania's population), for example, engineering and dentistry cannot be studied anywhere in Hungarian, in Romania. At the Babes-Bolyai University, Hungarians cannot study Business Administration, Law, European or American Studies in their native language either.

4) The homepage states that: "The Babes-Bolyai University is the oldest academic institution in Romania, which embodies the entire academic tradition in Transylvania, inaugurated with the Jesuit College founded by Prince Stephan Bathory in 1581."

This sentence is a telling example of how official Romanian history distorts and conceals the facts. On the website there is no reference at all to the fact that "the oldest academic institution in Romania" was founded and supported by ethnic Hungarian princes for over 400 years. In the Middle Ages the language of tuition was Latin, which in the early 1800s changed to Hungarian. The Hungarian-language University itself was founded by Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef in 1872 and after World War I in was taken over by the Romanian authorities. Following World War II two separate universities coexisted in the city, the Romanian-language Babes University and the Hungarian-language Bolyai University. In 1959, the two institutions were forcibly merged, and studies in Hungarian were gradually eliminated in most areas.

The current Hungarian-language version of the website makes no reference to the Hungarian tradition of the university. In fact, the history link is blank. Questioned by HHRF's Enlargement Watch - Romania in May 2006 the university administration answered "it is being prepared." It is November, yet the link promised since the Summer is still blank.

 
 

Official statistics clearly show that Hungarian students are significantly under-represented at Romania's colleges and universities, and are thus under-educated and disadvantaged compared to ethnic Romanians. According to the 2002 national census, 6.6 percent of the country's population is ethnic Hungarian; but in the 2004/2005 academic year, only 4.4 percent of students enrolled in institutions of higher education were of Hungarian nationality. In other words, an estimated 13,000 Hungarian youth is missing out on a college education. Even more disturbing is the fact that only 1.6 percent of all students enrolled in higher educational institutions can study in Hungarian - leaving 19,136 Hungarian students deprived of this opportunity.

 
 
HHRF Recommends: University authorities must correct the punitive action taken against advocates of equal opportunity education. At minimum, the Romanian government should finally take the long-promised steps necessary to establish autonomous Hungarian faculties within the existing structure of the Babes-Bolyai University.

For more information on Hungarian minorities and news in Hungarian
visit our website at www.hhrf.org.


To unsubscribe please click here.
Copyright © Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, 2006