Szekely Land – the other side of the story. A reply to The New York Times

February 8, 2013 •English •Views: 5720

by Dan Tanasă

On February 6th, The New York Times published an article, signed by James Montague, in which it literally promotes the Hungarian theory of revisionism of the Trianon Treaty signed in 1920 after the First World War which lead to the extinction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and birth of Romania. The author clearly had no intention of writing an objective piece and to plainly inform the readers of the big picture of the so called SzekelyLand.

I do understand that it is hard to see the real issues writing an article 8000 km away, so assuming that Mr. Montague is of good faith and did not write the article on commission, I will kindly reply to his article with a few ideas.

First of all, Mr. Montague compares the Catalan issue with the SzekelyLand “struggle”. This is like comparing two different things. They might look the same for a superficial analyst but they are not the same. While the Catalans fight for Cataluña, in Romania the Hungarians fight for the independence of the Szekely Land. In a country where less then 200 people have declared themselves as being Szeklers when asked by the Census bureau, somebody is fighting for the autonomy of SzekelyLand! It doesn’t make any sense. And that is because the main porpoise of the so called autonomy of the SzekelyLand is in fact the revisionism of the Trianon Treaty by creating a smaller Hungary in the middle of Romania. How could anyone believe that 200 people can claim autonomy for a territory in the middle of a sovereign EU country? This makes sense only if we consider that, in fact, the main subject here is not the preservation of the Szeklers traditions and culture, but the creation of a smaller Hungary in Romania, in which Hungarians can fell “at home”.

Secondly, Mr. Montague chooses to ignore that fact that almost 40% of the population of the so called SzekelyLand is non-Hungarian, made by Romanians and other nationalities, which do not support the autonomy of the so called SzekelyLand. In fact, right at this moment the ethnic Romanians from the counties of Covasna, Harghita and Mureș, composing the so called SzekelyLand, are the ones that are constantly discriminated by the public authorities controlled by the ethnic Hungarians (city hall, county halls, public libraries, etc.). There are many public institutions (city halls, public libraries, other public institutions, etc.) in which there are no Romanians working at the present time and there will never ever be. Why? Because of the fact that the Hungarian language is forcedly imposed in the public space in the so called SzekelyLand. Despite the fact that Romania has only one official language, Romanian, Hungarian is imposed at all levels, in private and public institutions. For new job openings Hungarian is mandatory, whether the job is in a public or private sector. For ethnic Romanians it is a matter of learn Hungarian of leave the area. This is basically a form of ethnic cleansing against Romanians.

Thirdly, Romania was presented several times, including by the former president of the USA, Bill Clinton, as an example when it comes to promoting, defending and respecting minority rights, including Hungarians. Every minority in Romania has a member elected in the lower house of the Romanian Parliament. The Hungarian minority is represented in the Romanian Parliament starting 1990 with a handful of members. In the legislature that started December 9, 2012 the Hungarians have 28 members in the Romanian Parliament. Starting 1990, the Hungarians where constantly represented as well in the Romanian Government. Starting 2004, every department of the Romanian Government had dozens of Hungarians hired due to the presence of the Hungarian political party present in the government of Romania. The Hungarians in Romania even had a vice prime-minister in the person of an ethnic Hungarian, Marko Bela. Ethnic Hungarians are involved even at this moment in every major decision making in Romania, from the central government to the local level, in Covasna and Harghita counties, where they control everything: city halls, county halls, local public institutions, public funding, etc. Hungarians in Romania have access to public schools in their mother tongue; they have access to positions in public institutions, newspapers, TV shows, churches, all in Hungarian and all funded by public funds. Basically they have all the rights that any Romanian has. And this is as it should be. Having this, the allegations that Hungarians in Romania are discriminated or oppressed are pure lies.

The Hungarian leaders that currently lead public institutions locally in Covasna and Harghita counties constantly choose to disobey the Romanian laws and Constitution. The disrespect of the law and Constitution goes so far that they even choose to disregard decisions made by courts of law. I wonder how Mr. Montague would react if a mayor in USA would choose to disrespect the USA Constitution or a court order. Or is it that only the American Constitution is holy?

The Hungarian leaders from Romania support, by different ways and means, a vast number of far-right extremist groups that promote the revisionist ideology. The paradox is that fascist groups that have been banned by courts in Hungary are promoted freely in Romania by the Hungarian leaders simply because they support revisionism. It is well know the case of the writer Albert Wass, condemned in Romania for crimes against humanity, that is promoted by the Hungarian leaders, sometimes with public founds, just because he was a supporter of the revisionism and annulment of the Trianon Treaty that lead to the dissolution of the Great Hungary.

A simple journey of Mr. Montague in Covasna and Harghita counties would have shown him that those two counties are almost Hungarian and almost nothing there reminds the visitor that that part of territory is still Romania. Hungarian national flag is up on many public buildings, the so called Szekely Land flag as well is up on public institutions, despite the fact that it is illegal, Hungarian inscriptions are all over the places, people asking you in Hungarian when you enter stores, menus exclusively in Hungarian in restaurants, all mark the freedom that the Hungarians enjoy in the so called Szekely Land. This entire situation leads to grating privileges to the Hungarians living in the area and the emigration of Romanian to other parts of Romania, with a more friendly air.

Talking about friendly air and promoting tolerance I would point out the declaration of the mayor of Sfântu Gheorghe, the ethnic Hungarian Antal Arpad, made in 2008 while he was a member of the Romanian Parliament: Romanians in SzekelyLand could face the same fate as the Serbs in Kosovo if Romania does not grant autonomy to SzekelyLand. Basically, a leader of the Hungarians threatened Romania with a civil war if autonomy is not granted. Would Mr. Montague live in such an area with this “friendly” air?

The author chooses to ask Laszlo Tokes to testify on the subject. If the author would have had the decency to google him he would have seen that Tokes, considered a “symbol” of the struggle for the autonomy of the Szekely Land, is considered by a vast part of the Romanian society one of the most toxic characters of the public life in Romania, supported only by President Traian Băsescu for political reasons.

Lastly, I have to say that I believe it is totally unprofessional to ask a 22 years old boy to testify concerning the life of Hungarians in Romania during the communist era when that boy was not even born when the communist regime ended in Romania.

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28 Responses to Szekely Land – the other side of the story. A reply to The New York Times

  1. […] See also Szekely Land – the other side of the story. A reply to The New York Times. […]

  2. Maria says:

    With all the respect, if the Hungarian living on USA would like to have territorial autonomy one day, saying that is their land, how would you proceed as journalist and citizen? And if your reaction will be against this, would you like to be told that somebody will take your neck just because you’re a patriot? How you’ll like to be offended when you wear your American Flag as a sign of love and respect?

    As a journalist you have to reflect the reality, so please get more information before you publish. We are a clever, good and tolerant people and our hospitality is well known, in Romania minorities are the best treated ever, so why don’t you came to visit us and get interviews? You might see the reality and you’ll understand us better.

  3. ovi says:

    Dan, nu stiu ce ti-ai gasit sa te legi de ei, ei sunt cei care dau sfaturi impaciuitoare DUPA ce extermina populatii intregi (indieni). Marile imperii nu au niciodata interesul sa apere integritatea unui alt stat cand pot sa sustina sau cel putin sa ramana nepasatori in fata elementelor destabilizatoare a respectivei tari. Si in cele din urma de ce trebuie ei sa stie si de ce ar fi treaba lor sa intervina …cu ceva? Nimeni nu te respecta daca tu nu te respecti si daca nu punem noi mana atunci nu ajuta nici Dumnezeu, rezolvarea acestei probleme tine doar de noi. Ei cand vor sa afle lucruri despre noi isi trimit reprezentanti, nu-ti face griji. Si in majoritatea cazurilor toti cei cu un nivelul lor de trai inferior sunt vazuti ca fiind lenesi, e o chestie tipic americana sa uite pe ce anume a crescut tara lor (dar asta e alta poveste).

  4. ovi says:

    Well, James, Viva Mexico! Hope you have your dictionary ready 😉

  5. Bogdan B. says:

    J.M. says: “Whether you like it or not there are over a million people in Romanian who speak Hungarian.” More than one million of american cityzens speak hungarian, but U.S. have no any intention to give a region to make an autonom Bufallo Szekeland. This is not a valid argument.

    J.M. says: “They believe their culture was repressed.” If they believe U.S. are responsable for soviet occupation of Hungary you are prepared to pay subsidies for the remaining 30 years of communism in Hungary. Be serious, is a matter too important to have strong decisions based of what some believe or others. Ask, verify, study, try to know not just have oppinions based just on words of one side.

    J.M. says: “Plus you cannot wish away Ceausescu’s policy of transfer to change the makeup of Transylvania because it doesn’t suit your argument.” Sorry sir, but this phrase make me to believe you have a deep, deep lack of knowledge about Romania, roumanians and the history of the region. This country was founded on strong national principle. It’s not about Ceauşescu. This is the glue to put toghether all regions where romanians are live from the begining of history. This is what makes us a strong nation. If you are belive America never come an national state, is time to belive Romania never come an federal state. And I belive is not decent to ask me to make something you never do for you.

  6. James Montague says:

    Dan, thanks for taking the time to write about my story for the New York Times. Although I would like to point out a few things which you have said which are a little misguided. Unlike you I have come to this issue from a neutral perspective. I have no agenda, no anti-Romanian axe to grind (on other Romanian nationalist websites it has been written that this was clearly the product of a Jewish-Secret Service conspiracy for instance). I write about sport and where sport sometimes reflects a political reality on the ground.

    So let’s drill down in to some of what you know. Whether you like it or not there are over a million people in Romanian who speak Hungarian. Who view themselves as Hungarian, and who feel a kinship with Budapest rather than Bucharest. I didn’t invent these facts. They are facts on the ground. The ice hockey team HAS become a focal point for the town, its politicians and its people. They believe their culture was repressed. Laszlo Tokes was a key figure in the revolution. He may have squandered that good will with many Romanians for his connection with Basescu and his efforts for autonomy in Romania for the Hungarians, but this in itself is an interesting point. And the main reason I quoted him. Elod Papp was the former president of the club and a politician. Again, this shows the nexus between the club and Romanian-Hungarian politicians.

    I am well aware of the other populations in the region. Which is why I said it was patchwork of ethnicities and language. Plus you cannot wish away Ceausescu’s policy of transfer to change the makeup of Transylvania because it doesn’t suit your argument.

    This article was a way of illustrating a fascinating and I think increasingly important political dynamic in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine. I have not written YOUR version of history. I think the phrase you used in another post was that you were merely a blogger who wrote about the ethnic cleansing of Romanians in Romania. I mean…. you kind of lose your credibility a little.

    You can say a lot of things. That it wasn’t well written, that I was an outsider and didn’t understand the nuances, but you misunderstand the role of journalism. I do not write a piece that is for or against. I write a piece that is. This was going on in this town on this day and this is what it means. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    Best of luck with your endeavours, yours,


    • James Montague says: “This was going on in this town on this day and this is what it means”. Let’s translate: I am the Ceausescu of the journalists, and I see what I want to see and I hear what I want to hear, you fools.
      Nu te bucura că te-a băgat în seamă, Dane! Ție îți dă impresia că părerea ta e importantă pt el, dar are grijă ca cititorii NYT să nu afle că există o părere contrară lui. Etica ”jurnalistă” e identică în SUA și RO…

      • Dan Tanasa says:

        Nu mă bucur chiar deloc Mihai. Voi reveni și eu cu o replică!

        • Gabi says:

          Dane , ia intreaba-l pe acest mascarici daca a auzit de compatriotul sau Larry Watts si daca nici pe el nu-l crede ??
          Întreabă -l sa ne spună ce studii are ? ca vorbește tare pe lana subiect , nici nu știe bine ce si cum , știe sa se uite pe harta unde e Covasna ?
          Cine îl plătește sa facă aceste jocuri ?

          Ia întreabă-l pe acest imbecil daca nu isi amintește când ne-au vândut la ruși ….. se incepe iar procesul ??

          Nu suntem un popor de genii asta e clar, DAR INTELIGENTA NU A FOST SI NICI NU ESTE UN ELEMENT RAR LA ROMANI !
          Sa dea argumente ! ii putem contra argumenta cu o cantitate dubla , a văzut masacrele de la Ip si Traznea ? l a văzut pe omul ăla desfigurat din Târgul Mureș ? l a văzut pe ametitul ala care spanzura papusa aia ? l a văzut pe hocheistul care a fost bătut ….? ……n …..n…

          Un imbecil care merita doua peste nas !

        • Gabi says:

          Un sfat amical, daca imi dai voie, foloseste concurenta lor si explica le cât sunt de pe lângă subiecti, poate ajuta , explica le ca au beneficiat de sange si suflete romanesti in Afganistan …. un soldat roman a murit chiar când a mers in ajutorul trupelor americane …..

    • saviana says:

      you will have the right to make all those silly comments only when: will read som real romanian history will allocate to all minorities some territory of their own that they will declare republic INSIDE USA
      3 americans will give back all properties to native americans

      then and only then you will have the right to talk about things that you have no ideeas about

    • Gabi says:

      Definitively you are out of reality !

      I can prove this even if you wake me up in middle of night ….. and I can give you a lot of arguments
      I am sorry but, until now, I believed in the dream ” honestity and professionalism of USA journalism “….. but unfortunately….

      If you have no idea about Constantin Brancoveanu , read about him and cry ….. it is about our essence …..otherwise shut up and do not be painful…….

    • raducanu gabriel says:

      james i`m sorry but you`re far away from the… next time do a better reserch.And by-the-way… those hungarian speakers are romanian citizens,most of them do not know to speak romanian language and they are romanian citizen.isn`t that funny?
      so… for you i have an answer:in you`re country there is a line of words like an answer to all that is in conflict to you`re ideeas or contry or whatever…:”THIS IS AMERICA TAKE IT OR LIVE IT”.Am i wright?
      Well you better stay at sport section and leave our problem to us.Don`t coment them ,don`t talk about it cause is not you`re concern… THIS IS ROMANIA BRO… YOU TAKE IT OR NOT.
      So… until next time it`s better to stay out of etnic debate if you don`t know the problems and the history issues of this part of the world.

    • Dan Tanasa says:


      Thank you for taking the time to replay to my article. I whish my article could have appeared in the pages of the NY Times, but I guess the idea is not to share an objective image of the story.
      Firstly, let me just tell you that I do not support the idea of you being a Jew-Secret Service member. I have no idea if you are a Jew or not. I don’t care. This is simply not the subject here.
      Secondly, I never denied the existence of Hungarians in Romania. I simply do not agree with the Hungarian revisionism that you so openly support. Recently, a full report about the financial support of Tokes from Budapest came out. This is illegal even in the USA and I am pretty sure that if word would come out that a political party in USA is being financed by foreign state someone would go to jail. On top of it, Tokes is an open supporter of the war criminal Wass Albert, who is responsible for killing Romanians and Jews in the Second World War in Romania, and Nyiro Jozsef, a former member of the fascist Arrow Cross Party in Hungary. So, is it safe to say that by promoting Tokes you also promoted anti-Semitism and fascism? I believe it is.

      Unlike you, I base my posts on documents to prove the ethnic cleansing of Romanians in the so called Szekely Land. You choose to portray only one side of the story (perhaps the side that paid for the story). So, I wouldn’t be so concerned about my credibility as it is based on documents not on opinions of Hungarian extremists that promote hatred and revisionism.

      Lastly, your reply has confirmed me that you wrote the piece on commission. I can only hope it’s a good one.

      • sara stancescu says:

        Ma doare sufletul sa vad cata nedreptate se face! La ce au ajuns ungurii sa faca in afara cu imaginea Romaniei. Ar trebui ca ziarul american sa publice si povestea noastra (care pana la urma este cea adevarata).

    • Andreea Soare says:

      Dear Mr. James Mangue,
      If you allow me I would like to make some comments related to your present comment and not to the article itself. First of all, as far as I know, having a neutral position means taking all sides of the story and opinions of all people, groups directly involved in the equation. Concerning Laszlo Tokes, maybe you don’t care and maybe it’s not even for you to give an opinion about his possible connections with President Basescu and the eventual political interests but – and I would like that you answer my question as a journalist but also as a citizen living in a democratic country ,a citizen aware of his rights but also obligations- is it possible or even acceptable to present the opinion of an extremist, a provocator,a supporter of war criminals condamned for crimes agaisnt Jews and Romanians, a guy who constantly instigates to inter-ethnic hatred, to separatism, to disrespect towards the national and international laws and treaties in a state, two states even because he has double Romanian and Hungarian citizenship and both countries are members of the European Union and Nato ?Including disrespect of current borders, although respecting current borders was, by the way, one of the pre-condition for accession to EU. Is it possible to even consider his position as the voice of a responsable political leader in the context of everything that signifies EU and Nato? And no, he’s not everything I have said above just because I say so or just because out of various considerations,strong emotional reactions, etc. of the Romanian people.He is even more, considering he was -is(?)- a priest and I do believe that his doubtful moral probity, that is to use an euphemistic term,is an important aspect especially when you are a public figure and senior politician. I believe it was your duty to previously make a short investigation about this character and it would have been enough to read some of his declarations, then come and see realities on the ground and THEN talk about facts on the ground. Again, you mention something that you call “fact on the ground”; yes, there are over 1 million and I underline it ROMANIAN CITIZENS ethnic Hungarians.But then again, let me tell you that you are wrong. First of all Romania protects and respects the rights of 20 minorities, including Hungarian minority. HUNGARIAN and NOT SZKELY which are two completely different things with two different stories and histories.The Szekely people is a population of around 200 people recently declared. Would that make an American neighbourhood? :)) The fact that they are disputed by Budapest and some Hungarian politicians living in Romania, politicians paid by Romanians for the sake of which they swore to fight is another story and I can’t help wondering, doesn’t that tell you anything? The fact that Hungary is basically offering and asking Romanian citizens nomatter their ethnicity to accept double citizenship and on the other hand Hungarian political leaders from Romania advice pure Romanians to declare themselves Hungarians doesn’t tell you anything either ?Why is Hungary obsessed to enlarge even artificially their population? You want to be impartial and talk about facts on the ground? Then why don’t you talk about the incredible, outrageous unprecedented discrimination agaisnt ethnic Romanians that is happening for over 23 years in that so called “Szekely land”,meaning in their own country ROMANIA, Mr James? Come and see it with your own eyes and if you need material I can give you more than you can imagine; documents, proves, testimonies.Because DE FACTO, autonomy already exists there.De jure, no but de facto, yes. The fact that emotionally speaking they might feel closer to Budapest rather than Bucharest is not the point here. I’m sure that there are millions of Americans of Mexican ethnicity( for example) feeling closer to Mexico City rather than Washington but living in the United States and therefore respecting the laws of the country whose citizens they are. That’s the reason laws, Constitutions, International treaties were invented. I can not come to Chicago there where lives a big Romanian community and ask for autonomy (independence) of Chicago because I feel closer to my country of birth and I want BY ALL MEANS, which means death threats, public protest of a paramilitary organization on the streets,to force you to declare a city autonomous. Or can I, Mr. James? Would that be legal and tolerated in your country? And if you want I even have arguments to sustain my demands: there are way more than 500 Romanians living in USA and the second spoken language in NASA is Romanian.So, please, make up your mind, if you want to present the story from historical point of view then read a few basic things about Romanian history and it’s enough to read the book quite recently publushed in USA talking about the origins of Indo-European languages and therefore about Romanians ancestors and history and see who was first mentioned of living on those territories, especially Transylvania way before Jesus Christ, if you want to treat the subject from an emotional point of view then present the view of all ethnicities involved and if you are strictly refering to a legal point of view in the context of the current European and International politics, then inform yourself better with the existing laws and treaties.
      P.S. Because you mention Ceausescu desire of changing the make-up of Transylvania: recently, a Hungarian political leader came up with an interesting proposition: to relocate all Hungarians living in other parts of Romania and to send them in the areas already inhabitated by the Szekely people in order to maintain|create a Hungarian compact area. How is that as a “modern” post-communist nazi view, Mr. James?
      Respecfully, A.S.

  7. […] an ethnic Hungarian living in Miercurea Ciuc, a small town in Harghita county, in the so-called Szekely Land from Romania, sent me a death threat message, simply because I am a journalist and a social activist for the […]

  8. Alexandru says:

    felicitari domnule Dan.

  9. iulian velicu says:

    Domnule Tanasa,
    Va admir pentru cele scrise si vreau sa va intreb daca acesta este un drept la replica publicat in NYT.
    Cu stima,

    • Dan Tanasa says:

      Este un drept la replică dar nu cred că cei de la NY Times îl vor publica.

      • Carmen says:

        D-le Dan aveti dreptate in tot ce ati scris. Felicitari, si nu va lasati. Daca Montague este numai un fotograf, n-are cum sa stie adevarta situatie din tara Romaneasca, situatie care a devenit tot mai critica cu trecerea anilor. Am ajuns acum sa ne fie frica de ei? Asa se vede !! Este teribil ! 30 de ani in urma cind eu eram tinara, si 40 de ani in uruma cind eram mai copila, tot de ei ne loveam. Erau in toate pozitiile de putere, si daca nu stiai ungureste, nu gaseai de munca, sau erai batut in scoala…vad ca acum striga liber pe strada, ca o sa ne taie giturile cind vor…

        In care tara ati auzit Dvs. ca locuiesti si poti sa strigi public ca tai gituri la oamenii acelei tari, sa-i bati sa-i ameniti public fara nici o frica? In care? In niciuna, ca te ia de pe strada si te baga la inchisoare imediat. De ce i se permit ungurilor in Tara Romaneasca ? De asta multi romani am plecat din tara acum 20,30, 40 de ani, ca eram opresati in tara noastra, si uite ce se intimpla acum?! Putem sa facem ceva credeti? Ce se poate face?

  10. ppp says:

    James Montague ISN’T the author, he’s the photograph, you moron. The author is a romanian woman.

  11. […] Cititi si Szekely Land – the other side of the story. A reply to The New York Times by Dan Tanasa. […]

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