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Explained: the ‘Hungarians’ in Romania marching for more independence

Explained: the ‘Hungarians’ in Romania marching for more independence
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By Chris Harris
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Around 3,000 ethnic Hungarians protested in Romania on Saturday and called for more autonomy from Bucharest.

Hungarians in Romania?

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Yes, there are ethnic Hungarians that live in Transylvania, a central Romanian region that used to be part of Hungary.

Transylvania became part of Romania following a treaty at the end of World War I.

Hungary got part of it back before Romania regained it after World War II.

Why are we talking about this now?

On Saturday there was a march by one group of ethnic Hungarians — called Szekler people — who live in the Transylvania region.

Around 3,000 people gathered in Targu Mures — a city that is home to many ethnic Hungarians — and displayed a giant Szekler flag, a symbol of the Hungarian minority seeking greater self-determination in Romania.

They are calling for Szeklerland, a sub-region within Transylvania, to be given more independence from Bucharest.

There are around 600,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Szeklerland, making up 75% of the region’s population.

In wider Romania, a country with a population of 19 million people, there are around 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians.

What does Bucharest think?

Ethnic Hungarians’ demands for more autonomy has never attracted much support from Bucharest and this latest push is no different.

Liviu Dragnea, chairman of Romania’s ruling Social Democrats (PSD), has said the demands are “unacceptable and unconstitutional”.

The issue is not without controversy.

Earlier this year Romania’s then prime minister, Mihai Tudose, responding to calls for more autonomy for Szeklerland, made a veiled threat to ‘hang’ members of the country’s ethnic Hungarian minority.

Tudose said: “If the flag of the Szekler community will wave over the institutions there, everybody will wave next to it.”

But "wave" was also interpreted as "hang" and it sparked a diplomatic spat between Bucharest and Budapest.

The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania has put calls for autonomy before the parliament but experts say there is little chance they will be taken seriously.

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What does Budapest say?

Figures close to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban are believed to be linked to the latest demands for more independence.

That saw Romania’s three Hungarian political parties launch a joint bid on January 8 for territorial, local and cultural autonomy.

Orban, who is facing a general election next month, has sought to boost his nationalist credentials by reaching out to ethnic Hungarians.

Euronews revealed in 2015 that Budapest had given out 675,000 new Hungarian citizenships in just four years.

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The vast majority of new passports were handed out to those living in neighbouring Romania (268,006), followed by Ukraine (28,395) and Serbia (87,529).

What’s the Szekler people’s view?

“We insistently affirm,” begins a statement on the website of Szekler National Council.

“The autonomy of Szeklerland does not violate the territorial unity and sovereignty of Romania, it does not violate the interests of the Romanian people living in Szeklerland, and it does not contradict the constitution of the country!

“The autonomy of the Szeklerland — as per the European practice — means that the Szekler-Hungarian community, who make up the majority population in their homeland, would have the right and the actual capacity to manage, on their own responsibility and in the interests of the region, a substantial share of public affairs, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, and in the interest of all national communities living on its territory. This also serves the interests of Romania.”

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