Romania's President Traian Basescu was repeatedly booed during a speech on July 18 at an ethnic Hungarian cultural festival in central Romania. (Read RFE/RL's recent interview with Basescu here.)
Basescu is a regular guest to the region rich in spas and mineral water and has always been keen to mingle with the locals, of whom up to 75 percent are ethnic Hungarians known as Szeklers.
But this time around things were a bit different. Basescu, who is facing reelection later this year, repeatedly stated that the only form of autonomy the Romanian Constitution allows is local administrative autonomy, and not ethnic autonomy -- and he was repeatedly booed by the overwhelmingly ethnic Hungarian audience.
Basescu, a former sea captain, did not lose his nerve and even managed to crack a joke and invite a woman from the audience to explain what she understood by ethnic autonomy. Nevertheless, it was clearly an awkward moment for a politician who is generally met with lots of sympathy by the crowds.
It comes at a time when several ethnic Hungarian political and activist groups, including the main ethnic Hungarian party, UDMR, are more and more displeased by their losing lucrative positions in the local and central administration following the results of elections last fall.
UDMR, which used to be part of every Romanian government from 1996-2008, has gradually renounced its moderate stance and began pushing for regional autonomy. And another organization, the Hungarian Civic Forum, has recently urged all ethnic Hungarians in Romania to cast invalid votes in the upcoming presidential poll as a sign of civil disobedience.
When he took the stand to speak against autonomy in the middle of an ethnic Hungarian crowd, Basescu undoubtedly knew that he would risk being booed, and maybe even risk losing some ethnic Hungarians’ votes.
But, as one Romanian present in the crowd put it, he also knew that the loss would be compensated generously as he may have just won the more numerous votes of Romania’s nationalist parties’ sympathizers.
-- Eugen Tomiuc