Rhapsody for Peace - Reconciliation in Transylvania

By Chapman, Carolyn | The World and I, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Rhapsody for Peace - Reconciliation in Transylvania


Chapman, Carolyn, The World and I


The universal language of the arts is helping in efforts to resolve long-standing tensions between Hungarians, Romanians, and ethnic Hungarians in Romania.

It's unusual when young Hungarians from the minority population in Romania come together in the Transylvanian countryside to listen to popular bands from Hungary. It's even more unusual when Romanians come together to revel in the primal beat of Hungarian folk music as brightly costumed dancers stomp their feet and spin each other around. Music has worked its magic, however, since its recent addition to the Balvanyosi Summer Free University and Student Camp, which has held one- week programs during the past twelve summers to help heal the historically strained relations between these groups.

When native Hungarians, Romanians, and ethnic Hungarians living in Romania converge at the camp, their primary purpose is to seek solutions to the various political, economic, cultural, and social problems they face. In the evenings, though, after the serious talk is over, the mood lightens, the beer and palinka (powerful plum brandy) flow, and the entertainment, which includes the best folk and popular bands in the region, draws more people than the big-name politicians do.

"This has been the most stable program during the changes in central and eastern Europe," said Tibor Tor-, an ethnic Hungarian senator in the Romanian parliament and president of the Reformist Party. "This has been the place for the region's different nationalities to discuss their various ideas and find solutions together. Politicians, young people interested in politics, and the general public are trying to teach each other democracy and are trying to learn tolerance from each other."

A Mystical Site

Nestled in a valley in the eastern Carpathians and surrounded by endless forests of massive fir trees that are often enshrouded with a dramatic fog, the host town of two thousand epitomizes the image of rural Transylvania as a mysterious, mystical place where time seems to have stood still. Here, horse-drawn carriages are as common as cars, old ladies in black kerchiefs hawk their intricately embroidered tablecloths beside the road, and hitchhikers are a regular sight along the winding mountain roads. Like nearly all towns in Transylvania-- which was part of Hungary until the Treaty of Trianon ceded it to Romania in 1920--this town goes by two names: It's called Baile Tusnad by Romanians and Tusnadfurd by Hungarians.

Geographically, the Carpathians separate central Europe from the Balkans. This is the border of European Europe, say the Hungarians, because to the east, beyond the Carpathians, Romanian Orthodox is the predominant religion, coffee is served Turkish-style, and the general lifestyle feels more Asian than European. Driving through Romania (where most salaries range from $60 to $100 a month), it is obvious that Transylvania--with its neat, tidy villages and medieval churches and castles--is the country's richest region. Even the capital city, Bucharest, doesn't hold much attraction for tourists.

Idyllic Lifestyle

The 1.7 million ethnic Hungarians living in Transylvania are Europe's largest minority. They suffered the brunt of former dictator Nicolae Ceau_escu's forced assimilation policies and probably would have suffered the most from his planned "systemization" process, which would have bulldozed villages and moved peasants into huge concrete apartment blocks.

Because of the constant fear of losing their cultural identity under Ceau_escu, ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania seem to have deliberately cherished their songs, dances, and customs more than the Hungarians in Hungary have done; their lifestyle seems idyllic and pure to Budapesters visiting the area. The traditional bright-colored costumes that villagers in Hungary sometimes wear on special occasions are not an unusual sight in predominantly rural Transylvania. …

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