Accessibility links

Breaking News

East European Perspectives: January 23, 2002

23 January 2002, Volume 4, Number 2

By Gabriel Andreescu

3. The Merits Of Multiculturalism: The Romanian Case
The evolution of interethnic relations in the last few years confirms the merits of this type of an approach to multiculturalism in a polity as "ethnoculturally" diverse as Romania is. Sixteen national minorities were recorded at the 1992 census (Weber, 1998). There are at least two "ethnocultural" groups for which the two-fold issue of integration and separation was posed in a dramatic fashion: the Hungarians, focusing on community privacy, and the Roma, insisting on integration.

3.1 Community Privacy And Integration In The Case Of Hungarians
The post-1990 options of the Hungarian community have partly been a reaction to the trauma inflicted by the assimilationist policies of the Ceausescu regime. To a certain extent, this explains the need for a strong and single organization "representing and protecting the common interests of Hungarians in Romania" (Bakk, 1998). This organization was established on 25 December 1989, as the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). The basic objectives of this organization were self-determination; safeguarding constitutional guarantees for the protection of the collective rights of national minorities; representation rights; the right to use the mother tongue; the establishment of minority cultural and scientific institutions; and the establishment of a Ministry of Minorities (Bakk, 1998).

One may conclude that from the first day of its establishment the UDMR has been conceived as a structure aiming to secure the highest possible degree of community privacy within Romanian society. Both in terms of its organizational form and in terms of its objectives and electoral success, the UDMR has been guiding the Hungarian community to a pluralist perception of contemporary Romanian society and the community's own relations with it. This should have logically made it possible for a "consensual" arrangement to work out. Yet the term "consensualism" appears neither in UDMR documents nor in the discourse of the Hungarian leaders. Instead, the implicit idea of a plural society is to be found in the request to grant the Hungarians the "status of conationality," as this demand was formulated at the Second UDMR Convention held in Targu-Mures from 24-26 May 1991.

However, the project of construction and inclusion of the Hungarian community in Romanian society was confronted by the violent outburst of nationalist and ultranationalist movements. The First UDMR Convention, on 23 April 1990, decided to embrace the Timisoara Declaration, a political document of an anticommunist essence, which the UDMR signed together with many other political and civic organizations. By signing this document, the UDMR became part of an ideological trend which divided Romanian society along a pro-democratic versus an anti-democratic fault line. Later on, the UDMR signed the document establishing the Democratic Anti-Totalitarian Forum (26 October 1990); exactly one year later, the Forum participated in the setting up of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR). This broad alliance of civic and political organizations devised its own plan of democratic development for Romanian society. By becoming a member of the Democratic Convention, the Hungarian community made a significant step towards its integration into Romanian politics.

In the next few years, the UDMR operated inside the Democratic Convention and participated as a full member in the elaboration of the Convention's strategy and projects. In parallel, the UDMR also elaborated its internal programmatic agenda, in the form of the Draft Bill on National Minorities and Autonomous Communities (18 November 1993). The Program was adopted at the Fourth UDMR Convention of 26-28 May 1995.

The draft reiterated and developed the concepts that had been invoked by the UDMR since its inception: "autonomous community," "domestic self-determination," "law-subject," and "public law-subject." This conceptual system was criticized for infringing on some constitutional provisions (Andreescu, Stan, Weber, 1994). The 1995 UDMR Program brought about changes in the form of an extension of, and an amendment to, the original goals of the draft bill, plus a partial reformulation of the program in order to make it consonant to the Romanian constitutional context. As a consequence, "internal self-determination" was now defined as a right applying to all citizens regardless of ethnicity, from the exercise of which national minorities should not be excluded (Andreescu, Weber, 1996)

The draft bill on national minorities and autonomous communities never made it on the parliament's agenda. The UDMR was subjected to strong political pressure, culminating in the adoption of Education Law no. 84/1995, which generated serious restrictions of educational rights that had been long-established in previous Romanian legislation -- including legislation passed under the Communist regime.

The UDMR's membership in the Democratic Convention created a protective umbrella for the organization which prevented the division of Romanian politics on an ethnic basis. Under these circumstances, the deterioration of interethnic strife into an acute conflict akin to that in former Yugoslavia was prevented as well. During the period when the Romanian government was dominated by nationalist and ultranationalist forces, the UDMR's alliance with the Democratic Convention again vindicated the importance of a minority's integration in the political life of the country.

4. The Reconciliation Model
The UDMR's earlier cooperation with opposition parties was instrumental in the forging, in the autumn of 1996, of a majority coalition. The new government was made up of two Romanian political alliances, the CDR and the Social-Democratic Union (USD), and the political representative of the Hungarian minority (i.e. the UDMR).

The governmental cooperation of UDMR and CDR leaders was the outcome of both predetermined factors and of random, accidental events, as attested to by former Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin (Andreescu, 2000). The UDMR's participation in the government was considered by various domestic and international actors to be an event of exceptional importance, engendering stability in the region. Some went as far as to refer to it in terms of a "Romanian-Hungarian model of reconciliation" -- a subject worthy of papers delivered in panels at international colloquia. On the other hand, the UDMR leaders often denied the existence a "model" in actual practice.

The "essence" of this model consisted in the RESOLUTION. of tensions arising between the demands of the Hungarians' representative organization and what Romanian parties were prepared to offer. In 1996, an implicit pact was concluded between the Hungarian minority, which had earlier embraced the formula of self-determination, and the Romanian majority, whose governmental representatives were now ready to propose -- as an alternative to self-determination -- the instrument of "special measures" aimed at protecting national minorities within the current constitutional framework and through expanding legislative provisions. By accepting to negotiate the content of some special measures (in education, the use of the mother tongue in local administration, seats in public administration), the UDMR implicitly gave up -- at least temporarily -- the draft bill's approach to its relations with "Romanian representatives of national sovereignty." It also temporarily renounced several provisions included in its past program: domestic self-determination, autonomous community, etc. (This should not be taken to mean that the actual negotiations were conducted on such terms, or even that the coalition agreement was drawn up along these explicit terms).

But it was this new situation that made the CDR-USD-UDMR coalition possible, along with all the crucial consequences of this "historical first" (power was shared by Hungarians and Romanians for the first time in this country's history). One can, consequently, speak of a "model," as long as the use of this description is not taken to imply the IDEAL. solution of Romanian-Hungarian relations. The Romanian "model" was well-noted elsewhere, and may be said with a high degree of certainty to have served as a precedent for Slovakia after the 1998 victory of the opposition over the Vladimir Meciar regime.

What conclusion can one drive from these developments' significance for multiculturalism and the inherent tensions between integration and group privacy? The first obvious conclusion is that community privacy is a matter of degree, that is to say that it depends on the specifics of the ethnic community in question. In the case of the Hungarian community in Romania -- but this applies to all Hungarian communities in Central Europe -- there is a high degree of privacy, expressed by demands for the full self-administration of the community's cultural, political, social, and even economic life (in the UDMR terminology: "community self-determination").

A second inference is that the benefits and disadvantages of privacy by no means lack a temporal dimension. The participation of the Hungarian community in Romanian political life replaced what in the early 1990s were ideological cleavages with far more manageable political cleavages, and viewed from this perspective it undoubtedly turned out to be beneficial for society at large. The horrid developments in Kosova, by contrast, were partly the outcome of the Albanian minority's refusal to enter the "political arena" of the Yugoslav Federation, thereby foregoing the chance that at one point existed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic and his party. This is why the content and the degree of community privacy are always contextual. The depth and the meaning of an ethnocultural minority's integration vary from one situation to the other, and from a certain point in time to another.

Third, the Hungarian example shows that privacy and the integration of communities are not necessarily or even usually antagonistic. One does not progress or regress at the expense of the other one. The UDMR's participation in the government has provided an opportunity for ensuring, formally as well as in practice, the safeguarding of community privacy. But at the same time and in parallel, it provided an opportunity for maximal integration, as confirmed by the significant change for the better in Hungarian attitudes towards Romanians, and the other way round (Culic, Horvath, Rat, 2000).

Finally, the issue of community privacy does not depend on the negotiating communities (whether minority or majority) alone, but also on other actors that may count in the negotiation. The fact that most of the Hungarians in Romania live in Transylvania, close to Hungary, enabled them to develop close economic and cultural relations to Hungary. For that reason, their level of privacy may go as far as to cover economic activities. The recent Act on Hungarians Living in Neighboring Countries ("Status Law") indicates that the existence of external actors may influence the issue of multiculturality to a much wider extent.

(The author, a dissident under the Ceausescu regime, is now director of the "Romanian Review of Human Rights.")


Andreescu, G., 2000, Locurile unde se contruieste Europa: Adrian Severin in dialog cu Gabriel Andreescu (Places Where Europe Is Being Constructed: Adrian Severin in Dialogue with Gabriel Andreescu) (Iasi: Polirom).

Andreescu, G., Stan, V., Weber, R., 1994, Conceptia UDMR privind drepturile minoritatilor nationale, ( The UDMR's Conception of National Minority Rights) (Bucharest: Centrul pentru Drepturile Omului).

Andreescu, G., Weber, R., 1996, Evolutia conceptiei UDMR privind drepturile minoritatilor nationale, (The Evolution of the UDMR's Conception of National Minorities' Rights) (Bucharest: Centrul pentru Drepturile Omului).

Bakk, M., 1998, "The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania," working paper (Budapest: Institute for Central European Studies), May.

Culic, I., Horvath, I., Rat, C., 2000, "Ethnobarometer," in Interethnic Relations in Post-Communist Romania (Cluj: EDRC), pp. 253-349.

Weber, R., 1998, "The Protection of National Minorities in Romania: A Matter of Political Will and Wisdom," in Kranz, J. (ed., in cooperation with Kupper, H.), Law and Practice of Central European Countries in the Field of National Minorities Protection After 1989 (Warsaw: Centre for International Relations), pp. 199-269