Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ethnic Hungarians threaten to quit Romanian government over refusal to create Hungarian region

By Associated Press
June 15

BUCHAREST, Romania — An ethnic Hungarian party is threatening to topple the Romanian government by withdrawing from the coalition if a plan to reconstitute the country into regions isn’t revised.

A dispute over how Romania should be divided has flared up over the past week, after President Traian Basescu failed to back proposals to create a new region incorporating a mainly Hungarian area in central Romania.

Last Friday, Basescu said he wanted to divide Romania into eight regions rather than 41 counties and the capital, to give the regions more administrative autonomy from Bucharest.

Ethnic Hungarians want a region, called Szeklerland, cut along ethnic lines in central Romania, uniting three counties where they are in the majority — a desire that Basescu failed to satisfy.

Critics have warned that the creation of a Hungarian-dominated enclave in the heart of Romania could lead to demands for territorial autonomy in a part of the world that is already home to several separatist movements from Moldova to Bosnia.

Basescu’s plan prompted the Union of Democratic Hungarians in Romania, the party that represents Romania’s 1.4 million ethnic Hungarians — in a total population of 22 million — to threaten to quit the government unless Szeklerland is included in the plan.

“It must be clear that there will be no support from us on such a project,” said party leader Kelemen Hunor, who is also Romania’s culture minister. “If (the project) goes forward without our support, it means we’ll have a problem in Parliament, there will not be a majority.”

That could lead to the collapse of the government since the two opposition parties, the Liberals and Social Democrats, are bitterly opposed to Basescu, who has been president since 2004, and his Prime Minister Emil Boc.

Another Hungarian leader Sandor Tamas, told online newspaper Gandul.info that Hungarian churches and others were preparing for “civic disobedience” if the region is not recognized.

“If this cannot be solved politically, we will be forced to turn to civic disobedience....More precisely, this means we will stage a peaceful protest.... And if that does not solve it, we’ll see,” he added.

Romania’s Hungarian community mainly live in Transylvania region in central and west Romania and enjoy broad minority rights. Since 2001, they have been allowed to use their native tongue in local administration in areas where they are more than 20 percent of the local population.

Since six people died in 1990 during ethnic clashes in the year after the revolution, relations between the two groups have been smooth especially since both Romania and Hungary are now members of the European Union and NATO.

However, an economic downturn, a weak government in Bucharest which needs the support of the ethnic Hungarian party to survive, and upcoming elections have led to friction between Romanian and ethnic Hungarian politicians. Romanian opposition parties say the government has made too many concessions to the Hungarians, while the ethnic Hungarians want more concessions.

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Alina Wolfe Murray in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

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