The Failure of Nationalist Politics

The European financial crisis certainly prepared the ground for the growth of nationalist parties throughout the continent, particularly along the eastern frontier. Jobbik in Hungary, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Golden Dawn in Greece all benefited from the economic downturn. But amid all the attention the media has focused on this nationalist surge, it’s important to remember that many parts of the region already saw an earlier rise and fall of extreme nationalism in the immediate post-Communist era.

Cluj, a large city in the Transylvanian region of Romania that has an ethnic Romanian majority, is a good illustration of the limits of nationalist politics.

In 1992, Gheorghe Funar became mayor of Cluj, and he immediately set about instituting his own brand of ethnic cleansing. Signs in Hungarian disappeared from the streets. Funar tried to ban the ethnic Hungarian political party. He even denied that there was such a thing as Hungarians in Romania. “Here there are only Romanian citizens,” he declared.

Funar served a dozen years as mayor, and if anything his politics moved further to the right. He eventually joined the extremist Greater Romania Party (Romania Mare), served in the national parliament, and ran for president in the 2014 elections where he garnered less than .5 percent of the vote.

Funar was a prime example of a “second-order leader,” sociologist Istvan Horvath told me in an interview in May 2013. Horvath and I were meeting in a restaurant in Cluj that catered particularly to the Hungarian minority in the city.

“These second-order leaders realized that the Hungarian claims for a new status were a good way of legitimizing themselves as ‘founders of the nation,’” Horvath observed. “This stratum could administer the cities; they were efficient. But they were vulnerable because they had worked for the Communist Party before. They had to acquire legitimacy. There were few ideologies that people could recognize.”

And thus, many of these second-order leaders, like Funar, turned to nationalism. Funar invoked the fear among some Romanians that Hungary intended to reclaim its former realms in Transylvania. He painted ethnic Hungarians as a kind of fifth column helping Budapest in this aim. This nationalist ideology helped Funar whip up the necessary enthusiasm – and fear – to win elections. But it didn’t last forever.

“Eventually the elites around Funar proved to be lazy city administrators,” Horvath continued. “Their nationalist rhetoric prevented them from taking advantage of some forms of economic capitalist development, including foreign investment. People here started to realize that this kind of rhetoric was just not functional. The ‘Hungarian danger’ was too often invoked in irrelevant situations.”

Cluj began to fall behind. “Ultimately, people started to realize that this type of nationalism only produced isolation and a lack of confidence,” Horvath told me. “It was a gradual process by which people realized that a city could develop an image that attracted people or repelled them. Market processes played a part in this as well. After 1992, a dangerous stratification started here in Cluj. Industry fell apart. Nothing was happening economically compared to some other cities like Timisoara and Brasov. And people realized that the ‘Hungarian danger’ had little substance and nothing to do with economic investment.”

It took a generation before new leaders would emerge in Cluj who didn’t “want to renegotiate the city in terms of inheritance but in terms of the livability of the urban space,” Horvath concluded. “Some changes have occurred in these 20 years. If we I compare surveys done in the early 1990s, when people were asked whether Hungarians should be allowed to use their mother tongue in public administration, the change is not spectacular. The majority rejected this idea — and this is the dominant trend even now. But in other ways, things have changed. The idea of using competition in Hungarian-Romanian relations as a way of reasserting ethnic hierarchies has simply disappeared. Such ideas are considered naive by most Romanians.”

We talked about his role in the events of 1989, the trajectory of ethnic Hungarian politics, and his own political transformation over the years.

 

The Interview

 

Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

 

I was a student here in Cluj. I had a big Russian radio. I got it from the first honorarium I received for an article I’d written. I bought it from a guy going to Hungary. I helped him pack, and he offered it to me almost for nothing. We were following Radio Free Europe and Radio Kossuth in those days. When the Berlin Wall fell, I was in my room with my colleagues. We were sitting and listening and trying to understand it. We didn’t talk much about it. But I remember talking with my friends. We walked outside where no one could hear us to talk about whether the changes would reach Romania.

 

What did you expect?

 

It’s hard to say. In a certain sense we were waiting for reforms because we were the unhappiest barrack in the whole Communist bloc. But we didn’t have courage to expect a radical change. To give you an idea of what it was like at that moment, the Securitate called me in that October. It was not something dramatic. But in order not to be called in again by the Securitate, I agreed to enter the Communist Party in November 1989. Somebody told me that the Securitate would not call in a member of the Communist Party. It was offered to me on the basis of my grades. So, in November, I entered the Communist Party because I was a little afraid. They threatened me, saying that if I didn’t cooperate, it would spoil my future. So, given that, I was obviously not expecting radical change.

 

What were your experiences on December 21, 1989? Were you here in Cluj?

 

No, because they gave us students an early break. This meant that I was able to go back to my hometown. The first train I took was from Timisoara. On the train there was a poster of Ceausescu with his eyes taken out. That was on the 17th or 18th of December. Nobody touched it. The picture was posted in the toilet. The whole train was crowded, but nobody touched it.

I was at home when I first heard that Ceausescu had fled. I didn’t know what happened. I crouched down in the room so that nobody could see me. I had this sense of release but also a fear of not knowing what would happen.

Then I became involved in the transitional power that was organized in my hometown of Miercurea Ciuc. For five or six days, we organized to replace the local police. I was elected or appointed within this new structure, but then afterwards I stepped down. I actively participated, though, which meant burning pictures of Ceausescu and also trying to limit some people’s more extreme sense of freedom when they broke into stores and did other nasty stuff.

 

What were you studying in those days?

 

Philosophy. I was attracted to the social sciences. But you could only have philosophy as a major and take sociology as a minor.

 

I used to joke in those days that I wanted to become either a priest, a journalist, or a Communist Party secretary. I’m Catholic but I like sex, and I don’t have sufficient capacity to be a demagogue like a Communist. So, I would have preferred to be a journalist. But I went into philosophy during that period. Officially, sociology was not recognized as a specialization. Sociology was closed down at the beginning of the 1980s, but they had to keep on the professors.

 

You said that you got an honorarium for an article you wrote. That was a journalistic article?

 

Yes, for a Hungarian weekly youth magazine. They were trying to identify new potential contributors. We were preparing articles about student life. This weekly journal had a monthly section for students. We started writing articles about how the library functions, what the exam session is like, and so on. There was only one page in the journal devoted to ideology. The rest tried to provide information for youth in general: advice on sexuality, on fashion. It was basically a tabloid that functioned during the Communist regime, and we put together two pages on student life.

 

It was published here in Cluj?

 

No, in Bucharest. But they had an editor in Cluj in charge of student life. He was a biologist so he also provided the advice on sexuality.

 

After the Christmas holiday in 1989, you came back to Cluj. How were things different when you came back?

 

It was shocking. There was a huge student movement to change the professors who were ideologically corrupting the youngsters. By January 2, a meeting for the students was organized to decide which professors should be changed. It was a huge meeting of all the students from the faculty of philosophy and history. That included 200 students, and most of them participated. We got involved in a serious debate, and we didn’t totally agree with each other. Some professors we agreed did nothing other than Marxist indoctrination at a very primitive level, but there was an intermediate category of professors about which we were undecided. There was a professor of epistemology who was in my opinion a good professor, but he at some time had served some Party function. We had a huge quarrel about whether he should be changed. He provided us good quality education. But there was a conflict of interest. He was one of the potential new leaders in the faculty, and other groups were pressuring the students to change him so that there could be other leaders.

For me, this unregulated freedom was a shock, and I found it problematic that the power of arguments reflected the power of the voices. We had the freedom to act over our own lives, to redesign our own education. But we didn’t have the competence. Many shouted that we should get rid of this examiner because he was a tough examiner! So, this was my first experience of freedom without a sense of logic.

 

Who was ultimately responsible for the dismissal of the teachers?

 

In some cases, teachers left because they were close to becoming pensioners. Others were not really teaching any more. There were different factions in conflict. We didn’t realize that we were being manipulated. The professors selectively used our arguments to say that they were offering positions within the philosophy department, redesigning the whole faculty, restructuring the leadership. Practically speaking, no people were left without work. But those who were marginal before came to the center and they marginalized the others.

 

Did you get involved in the student movement at the time?

 

Yes. I started to be involved in the general movement of reform. Starting in March 1990, I was involved in the freshly organized Hungarian student movement. There was a demonstration in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely in March. We started to demonstrate within the university.

 

What do you think were the major accomplishments of those days?

 

The major achievement, personally, was that finally we got the whole space to self-organize, to create civic organizations and spontaneous movements. I learned how to organize this civil society. This competence helped me in other fields. My roommates organized a counter-demonstration to the Hungarians, and we realized that we didn’t want to reproduce what happened in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely. We started to have a discussion. Then, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like a minority. I had a sense that a hegemonic control was not preventing us from expressing what we wanted. We weren’t necessarily expressing ourselves coherently. But still, there was a freedom to say what we wanted. This was an important experience when we realized that we couldn’t achieve collective purpose without some forms of cooperation and communication. This was the major achievement here for all the students, Hungarians and Romanians. There’s even a film about this by Marius Tabacu, who was filming this episode of the students organizing two separate camps, and how we negotiated our interests. The new student circles realized that we couldn’t build a separate society so we had to build good relations.

 

There were also some tensions at the time. How did you experience the tensions between Hungarians and Romanians?

 

Until 1989, my social circle consisted of my roommates, who were all Romanians. We had very good relations, and do so even now. But after the changes in 1989, when there was a possibility to articulate ethnic interests, they were at first shocked. “Why are you doing this?” they asked me. “Why aren’t you satisfied? We’re dealing with the same shit, so what’s your problem? You never talked about this before.” They felt that we were not sincere.

And I was shocked that Romanians didn’t understand that I had to learn in Romanian, which they thought of as normal. They never asked themselves why this was normal since five years before there had been a separate Hungarian language section at the university. It was at that moment, when we realized that we were both being manipulated by certain circles, that we could talk sincerely.

For instance, one of the major nationalist leaders from Cluj had been a shitty journalist during the Communist period. Students in Communist Romania were forced to assist in agricultural labor for at least two weeks a semester. At one point, he tried to make an interview for a Communist paper with the students who were doing this agricultural work. He asked them if they were happy to do that work. They said, “We’re not happy. The conditions are terrible!” He was very aggressive and intimidating. He said, “So, I will quote you with your names.” When we realized that this guy was behind all this nationalism, that he was trying to recover his position based on this type of nationalistic argument, we realized that we were in the same position as when he was trying to intimidate us.

We were able then to talk about it and to come up with different approaches. The context of my social circle helped me a lot. I could understand what the Romanians were thinking. I was among the few who could do so. Usually people formed groups on an ethnic basis. In the philosophy department, there were only two Hungarians, and the other guy didn’t live at the college. So, I realized that I could mediate. I had some intercultural experiences, and I knew Romanian very well. I wasn’t just reacting emotionally to everything. Because of this type of experience, I started to focus my research on interethnic relations.

We were trying to rebuild our personal relations in the new political circumstances when I assumed a role in an ethnic political organization. My roommates didn’t, but that’s another story. They eventually came to terms with my decision. They were eventually able to have some understanding of what was happening to me, though they didn’t accept all aspects. It was an unpleasant experience for a week or two when we were quarreling as roommates, but after that it was a good experience.

 

Tell me more about the situation in Cluj. We saw the rise of Gheorghe Funar, and a lot of tension around the statue of King Matyas when I was here. Could that have been avoided?

 

It was in a certain sense inevitable and unavoidable. There was a certain logic to the elite change in Transylvania. Those figures who were kind of oppositional and kind of liberal didn’t know about administrating power. I’m referring to people like Doina Cornea, people who were oppositional figures under Communism and then were simply unable to handle the technicalities of power. Those who were second in line were better able to handle different technical situations.

Also, these second-order leaders realized that the Hungarian claims for a new status were a good way of legitimizing themselves as “founders of the nation.” This stratum could administer the cities; they were efficient. But they were vulnerable because they had worked for the Communist Party before. They had to acquire legitimacy. There were few ideologies that people could recognize. And then along came the Hungarians with their grievances and minority nationalism. It wasn’t aggressive, but for many Romanians it was unacceptable, and it generated a reaction. It was an ethnic mobilization for both Hungarians and Romanians. There were no alternatives at that moment. But at least we avoided an open conflict.

Only after 15 or 20 years has a new generation emerged that doesn’t want to renegotiate the city in terms of inheritance but in terms of the livability of the urban space.

 

Things seem to be much better these days. How would you describe the process by which this region moved from conflict to coexistence? Was this gradual or were there important interventions along the way that improved the situation?

 

It was more gradual. Eventually the elites around Funar proved to be lazy city administrators. Their nationalist rhetoric prevented them from taking advantage of some forms of economic capitalist development, including foreign investment. People here started to realize that this kind of rhetoric was just not functional. The ‘Hungarian danger’ was too often invoked in irrelevant situations.

For instance, the Hungarian gas company tried set up here. The Romanian nationalists were against it because they didn’t want to “fuel the Hungarian tanks.” But most people realized that this argument was bullshit. There were jokes in the pub: “Just imagine you’re in a Hungarian tank and you go to a gas station in Transylvania. Are they going to say that they’re not going to serve you?” And of course tanks don’t get filled up at ordinary petrol stations.

Ultimately, people started to realize that this type of nationalism only produced isolation and a lack of confidence. It was a gradual process by which people realized that a city could develop an image that attracted people or repelled them. Market processes played a part in this as well. After 1992, a dangerous stratification started here in Cluj. Industry fell apart. Nothing was happening economically compared to some other cities like Timisoara and Brasov. And people realized that the “Hungarian danger” had little substance and nothing to do with economic investment. In different strata there was a different speed of realization.

 

When I was here in 1993, one of the dominant stories was the pyramid scam. Was there any ethnic dimension to those scams?

 

Indirectly. The elites close to these scams, the ones that provided administrative and legal support, were mainly ethnic Romanians. Also, the ethnic composition of this early economic reform, the privatization of the former Communist property, was closely controlled by local and state administration where Hungarians were underrepresented. There was an economic asymmetry between Hungarians and Romanians, not just here in Cluj but throughout Transylvania. In the upper 10 percent of the income structure, there were fewer Hungarians than Romanians — but also in the lower 10 percent. In the early redistribution of the Communist wealth, and the opportunities to develop larger firms, the administration played a bigger role. The networks involved, and the social capital involved, were mostly ethnic Romanian and not mixed. Specifically with the Caritas pyramid scam, those who made money were from both communities. But there were some special beneficiaries who got their money earlier or had privileges to reinvest their money or got information about when to take out their money — these were not Hungarians.

 

Tell me about the role that the ethnic Hungarian parties have played here. How would you compare it to the role that the Movement for Rights and Freedoms has played in Bulgaria, a place where you’ve spent a lot of time?

 

It’s not really similar. The ethnic logic was more openly expressed here in Romania. At the beginning of the regime change here, those who were in power were willing to have good relations with Hungarians. The freshly organized Romanian opposition movements started to question the authority of the National Salvation Front. Then they started to compromise and say that ethnic groups had to be represented within this new transitional structure. Ethnicity was accepted as a legitimate interest around which you could organize political parties. This was not the situation in Bulgaria. They didn’t accept ethnicity. And the discourse is not as open there as it is here.

In terms of institutional structure, there is quite a big difference between the Turkish minority in Bulgaria and the Hungarian minority here. The Hungarian party has had a very strong cultural component and included many intellectuals. Also, the party maintained on the surface a policy of communication and cooperation with the transitional power. Domokos Geza, for instance, had a personal relationship with Iliescu, and the party had two or three people in the top leadership. They were helping the transition in terms of ethnic politics. But then in March 1990, with the rise of nationalist rhetoric, the National Salvation Front decided to have better relations with these new Romanian nationalists.

There was a lot of pluralism within the Hungarian party. You had a conservative nationalist wing that was rather powerful around Laszlo Tokes, which eventually resulted in a split. And you had another type of leadership that was more open to compromise. These were persons who had engaged in some administrative functions under Communism and had some experience of negotiations in politics. Gradually this segment that was more open to compromise and that was not as idealistic as the conservative nationalist segment started to dominate. This determined the way that Hungarians could do politics within Romania. In 1996 they successfully entered the alliance of the Democratic Convention. So, until now, it has been a policy of gradual changes, with projects that are more incrementalist than very ambitious.

 

When you say incremental versus very ambitious, what would the very ambitious projects look like?

 

I can give you several examples. When the first Romanian constitution was drafted, there was huge pressure for Hungarians to be recognized as a co-nation. Everyone knew that nobody would support that. Moreover, by pressing in that direction, the Hungarian party could lose out on smaller changes because of the negative reactions generated against it because of the constitutional issue.

Then there was the whole autonomy concept advanced by the Hungarians. This was in a certain sense a good thing because it offered a long-term perspective. The alternative was not exactly clear. To incrementally impose different minority rights connected to language and administration? This type of very ambitious project was presented in this way, as long-term and without alternatives. The Hungarian party (RMDSz) divided on this question – to negotiate here and now for more autonomy in an incremental way or to wait for an opportunity to press for full autonomy. The latter was particularly risky, since there might not ever be such a window of opportunity

 

What has been the impact of Hungarian politics from Hungary, particularly Fidesz?

 

During this whole process, it was rather ambiguous. Hungary had an interesting consensus at the beginning on how to relate to Hungarians abroad. At the beginning, the consensus was that Budapest should listen to the demands of Hungarian minorities in other countries and accept their positions. Then, in 1995-6, Hungary had a real chance to enter NATO. And the possibility of entering the EU came after that. So, Hungary signed a bilateral treaty with Romania and accepted certain regulations covering the relationship between the Romanian government and the Hungarian minority here. I really don’t know what would have happened if the two countries hadn’t signed this agreement. But it was the first sign that Hungary’s foreign policy was much bigger than just supporting Hungarians abroad.

Then there was a kind of cleavage in the parties in Hungary. It became clear that these parties had different logics. Fidesz, which later became a conservative party, was not in government at that time and was protesting against this bilateral treaty. On the other hand, Fidesz was sympathetic with the national conservative wing in the RMDSz. There was a generational connection. Many friendships had been formed in Budapest. On the other hand, this logic of national unification started to grow with the first Fidesz government in 1998, and this turned into a kind of power policy. Fidesz gave up on the minimal consensus of talking with the representatives of the Hungarian minorities abroad and accepting their claims. They said instead that Budapest defines the interests of the whole Hungarian nation: “We are in the majority and we know what is best for the nation regardless of where they are living.” Fidesz began to believe that those making pacts at the center in Bucharest could not be loyal to Budapest, regardless of whether they had the support of their own population.

This Fidesz logic also applied to demographic policy. Generally, in all Eastern European countries, there has been a demographic decline. It was not exactly a novel policy for Fidesz to propose that the Hungarian population could be boosted by an inflow of Hungarian minorities. This is where their policy of dual citizenship came in. So, at this moment with Fidesz, Budapest determines the policies and the players, but the interests are not necessarily converging with those of the minority communities.

 

At a personal level, among your friends, how many people take advantage of the benefits that Budapest extends — travel, work, health care?

 

I’d identify three categories, which comes out of a survey that I’m working on. There are people who get no concrete benefits but symbolically feel that dual citizenship is good. I have friends, with whom I sometimes have quarrels, who say that they prefer the Hungarian passport. One friend doesn’t even identify as Romanian when we go to Austria to ski. For him, it is emotionally gratifying to have this Hungarian passport. He’s not excluding the option of moving to Hungary. But it’s an open-ended question. As he has said, “I am afraid that my son will marry a Romanian girl. I don’t want mixture in my family, so I’m not excluding the option of going to Hungary.”

In the second category are the pragmatists. I know people who took Hungarian citizenship simply because they said that they could work in Germany without restriction (at that time Germany had restrictions for Romanians entering their labor market). Moreover, when you go there with a Hungarian passport you can negotiate a higher salary because Romanians have a bad image.

There’s a third category of people who say that they’re not taking Hungarian citizenship because several aspects of Hungarian-Hungarian relations are not openly discussed, certain principles are not respected, and Fidesz can just decide who it wants to support politically. They see citizenship as a political trick at the moment, and there’s no forum to discussion their concerns.

Of those who have citizenship and are active politically, the majority will vote for Fidesz. More than one third of the population refuses to participate in such a vote. But 70 percent of those who have clear party preference will vote for Fidesz.

But for Hungarians here, what happens in other nations is of less interest. They are much more interested in following economic attitudes connected with EU policy. In terms of liberal Romanians, they are shocked at the illiberal turn of the Orban government and that Orban uses this as a model for a liberal democracy. Other Romanians believe that Orban has guts for standing up to the IMF. People were very annoyed when Antall declared that he was the prime minister for 50 million Hungarians. But this kind of declaration is no longer so sensitive for Romanians. They’re much more focused on economic policy, globalization, and international structures.

 

Have you done work on Roma community?

 

Some.

 

Would you say that social distance has increased?

 

Yes, over the last 20 years. When we speak of Roma, we are talking about a very heterogeneous reality. In many urban centers, under Communism, Roma were in different stages of assimilation, even in lifestyle. They were becoming closer to mainstream social life. During Communism, everyone was stealing from agricultural production, because it was state-owned. Now there is private property, and when Roma steal it’s a different problem. After 1989, they were the losers of deindustrialization as the first to be fired. The breakdown of the whole economic structure in a certain sense recreated Roma. They are now on the margins. The distance has increased in this sense.

 

There has been the emergence of a Roma elite — cultural, political, intellectual — in Hungary, in Bulgaria. Has that happened here as well?

 

Yes. Many international activists in the Roma field believe that Romania has developed the largest segment of young Roma intellectuals.

 

Has that affected perceptions in society of Roma?

 

I don’t think it has had much effect. This elite strata has a different social root than the Roma that people face in everyday life. I know several biographies of people in the Roma elite. One had a father who was a police officer. Others came from quarters where they were successfully assimilated and were able, if only partially, to maintain their social status after the Communist period. These are not people from urban shantytowns. These are not poor rural Roma. Some people will get dressed in the traditional way and assume they have some connections to these communities. But there is a huge discrepancy between people seeing these types and seeing the rest of the Roma community.

 

How do you see the future of interethnic relations in Romania? Some people say that the future will be determined by economics, as companies treat all people as consumers. Others argue it comes down to a political question, an issue of power.

 

Some changes have occurred in these 20 years. If we I compare surveys done in the early 1990s, when people were asked whether Hungarians should be allowed to use their mother tongue in public administration, the change is not spectacular. The majority rejected this idea — and this is the dominant trend even now. But in other ways, things have changed. The idea of using competition in Hungarian-Romanian relations as a way of reasserting ethnic hierarchies has simply disappeared. Such ideas are considered naive by most Romanians. Of course, even today some Romanians will say stupid things like: Hungarians should go back to Hungary. But in general, people in the mainstream simply talk about restricting Hungarian elements in the linguistic landscape.

This restaurant is a popular place for Hungarians. But Romanians also come here. There isn’t ethnic separation. It’s more like culturally sensitive marketing that goes on. Let’s not forget that in March 1990, the conflict started with someone who wrote the name of a store in Hungarian. Many people at the time interpreted that to mean that the store wouldn’t serve Romanians any more. No one can imagine these kinds of gestures any more. In this respect, there’s been a steady but slow evolution toward coexistence at a social level.

In terms of politics, our major problem is that the minority regime is much more part of a conditionality than an organic evolution. The Romanian elite granted minority rights in terms not of autonomy but of special measures to preserve identity. That’s definitely a big step. But this was not part of a change in the philosophy of the elite. It was seen as a conditionality connected to the costs of European integration. Now with the economic crisis, people are having doubts about the benefits of integration and therefore doubts about the political minority regime. There’s no threat of a downgrading in the near future. But the majority of the Romanian political elite doesn’t have a political culture that includes maintaining difference as a value because it offers stability and avoids some types of tensions and conflicts. Because minority rights were adopted as part of sticks and carrots, they are not sufficiently integrated.

The type of social tensions induced by ethnicity present at the beginning of the 1990s is not possible any more. Nineteenth-century nation-building strategies like Funar’s are not possible any more. But we still might see the recreation of threats at another level in the future. With the Roma, I’m pessimistic. There is an underclass, though I know this is not a popular term. Some segments of the Roma are out of reach of social stratification, the market, and so on. The reintegration of these Roma is very difficult. In the context of the market economy, that experiment of integration and assimilation that the Communists did is almost impossible now. We have more and more poor Roma communities that survive on different marginal sources of income and aren’t part of the formal job market. When these marginal sources of income become scarce, then tensions arise.

Some pessimists say that the Hungarians decided not to integrate the Roma into the labor market because the costs were too high, so they chose to bring in Hungarians from abroad. Even if this is a myth, I think that someone will try to realize such a project here in Romania. We’ve identified two or three regions in Romania where there is extreme poverty, a minimal institutional presence, and very low prospects for economic development. There’s a serious need to integrate Roma into the work force in these areas, particularly if there will be large-scale infrastructure development. But at least in the medium term this kind of integration is not foreseeable.

 

Are there any surprising results from your research?

 

In terms of dual citizenship and migration, we were expecting a big change in attitudes of Romanians toward Hungarians and their access to public goods. I was expecting that dual citizenship, which raises questions of loyalty, would generate more rejection of Hungarians at the level of public feeling, but it’s not true. Only the most nationalistic Romanians, about 10-15 percent of the population, feel that way. It doesn’t create a problem for the majority of Romanians. We thought maybe this would reshape the whole notion of citizenship rights, but it didn’t.

 

When you think back to your worldview circa 1990, has it changed in any significant way based on your experiences of the last 20 years?

 

Yes. If I had to express it in terms of political ideology, I went from being a liberal to being a leftist. I was a naive person who believed that political integration into Europe would create wealth and more democracy. Now I realize that this is not sufficient. I thought the market was the solution to many things. Now I realize that the market is not necessarily a solution to anything. It can also be a source of problems. I was expecting that a much more globalized and internationalized way of thinking would bring more democracy and stability. Now I see that globalization means a lack of control by states over resources and wealth. It’s not necessarily a social utopia that should be supported unconditionally. I was naive when I considered what the West could bring us. I looked at all that uncritically. I’m becoming more skeptical. Each region should consider if not a third way then at least alternatives to the dominant way of looking at the world. These alternatives are missing and should be much more encouraged.

 

Is there a place in Romania for people like you, politically, in terms of a party or a movement?

 

There are movements, but I don’t fit into the various leftist movements. I consider these initiatives kind of naive because they make a priority of protest rather than reflection. I have circles of friends in which I can talk and write, but I don’t interact with any existing civic or political structures. I don’t feel the need for them.

 

When you think back to 1990 and everything that has changed or not changed in Romania between then and now, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 most dissatisfied and 10 most satisfied?

 

7.5.

 

Same scale, same period of time: your own personal life?

 

It fluctuated with divorce, and so on. Considering what I thought I would become in 1989 and what I am today. I would say 9. I have a job that is satisfying. I’m doing a bit more than I was willing to do, but that’s not really an issue.

 

Looking into the near future, how would you evaluate the prospects for Romania with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 most optimistic?

 

I have no clue. I would say 6, but this would be just a hope. I hope for at least 6.

 

Cluj, May 17, 2013

 


5 Comments

  1. Szilárd

    Quite good article/interview you have here. I’m one of those Transylvanian Magyars who didn’t vote for FIDESZ exactly because of their nationalistic discourse and alliance with those idiot Nazis from Jobbik, not to mention the Putin-like behavior Mr Orban have.
    And as Mr Horvath, I’m quite left leaning.
    About autonomy I’m very much against it, since it wouldn’t mean anything more than more FIDESZ/JOBBIK marching bands on my street and I’m already sick of it anyway.

    Edit: Mr Horvath’s friend statement “I’m afraid that my child will marry with a Romanian” it’s quite a good example of what nationalism and xenophobic mindset can do to a human being. I’d be ashamed to admit that I even know such a person, Mr Horvath called the guy a friend. I wonder if the guy’s kids would marry a Black or Indian person how much of a fuss would be there in his little mind.

    • thank you for the comment!

    • Ardeleanu'

      No brava măi Szilárd, dacă ar fi mai mulți ca tine am scăpa de o chestiune care ne face să pierdem mult timp degeaba, români sau maghiari.
      Regarding your article, I would say that it is not that well documented mr.Feffer, you did show only one side of the story.Cluj has a hungarian ethnic as vice-mair and a lot of other hungarians ethnics in the administration, did you know that???
      When I will have time to read the article entirelly I will post the conclusions.

      • Well, it was an interview with one person, so it’s not surprising that it shows one side of the story. But I did interview other people throughout Transylvania and Romania in general in an effort to portray other sides of the story…

  2. Boldly honest, sincere and insightful without all the deceptive posturing of political rhetoric. There are many nuances here that are revealed in the pragmatic depiction of real politics and social complexity, integration, divisions and oppositions. The impression of “freedom” as a consciousness after suppression and repression can almost define the foundations of current “libertarian” imbalances. The fallacy that freedom can be misinterpreted unrestricted (the tyranny of freedom appears rational…) is equally as compelling to see the phrase “unregulated freedom” used in the shadow of a past controlling authority (still unconfused by regulating liberties as a distinction). Yet it is gratifying to see the clarity of mind and understanding in the paragraph denoting what has been “learned” in the last 20 years. It is something that is missing in most all the “transitional” narratives I have seen. More importantly, I believe every sentence stated by Istvan Horvath,…and that is indeed quite rare!

    Worth repeating:
    When you think back to your worldview circa 1990, has it changed in any significant way based on your experiences of the last 20 years?

    Yes. If I had to express it in terms of political ideology, I went from being a liberal to being a leftist. I was a naive person who believed that political integration into Europe would create wealth and more democracy. Now I realize that this is not sufficient. I thought the market was the solution to many things. Now I realize that the market is not necessarily a solution to anything. It can also be a source of problems. I was expecting that a much more globalized and internationalized way of thinking would bring more democracy and stability. Now I see that globalization means a lack of control by states over resources and wealth. It’s not necessarily a social utopia that should be supported unconditionally. I was naive when I considered what the West could bring us. I looked at all that uncritically. I’m becoming more skeptical. Each region should consider if not a third way then at least alternatives to the dominant way of looking at the world. These alternatives are missing and should be much more encouraged.

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