Longtime Balkan Enemies Seek Friendship Improved Relations between Romania and Hungary Are Bringing a Variety of Benefits

By Colin Woodard, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Longtime Balkan Enemies Seek Friendship Improved Relations between Romania and Hungary Are Bringing a Variety of Benefits


Colin Woodard, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


It is a sight that would enrage a Romanian nationalist: Hungary's flag flying from an upper window of the temporary Hungarian consulate in Cluj, the historic capital of Romania's Transylvania region.

Last month, crowds of excited Romanian peasants gathered in front of the building, as well as inside the headquarters of the ethnic Hungarian political party here.

But this wasn't an angry, anti-Hungarian mob, as in the nearby city of Tirgu Mures in 1990. Rather, these villagers had come to apply for limited World War II-era pensions being offered by the Hungarian government, which ruled northern Transylvania from 1941 to 1945. "We're hoping that Hungary will give us money," explained an elderly woman. "But if they don't, well, at least we got to come down to the city." Romanians and Hungarians are starting to put the past behind them, including this century's territorial annexations and wartime atrocities. While the international community spends billions trying to hold ethnically divided Bosnia together, another historic Balkan flash point is mending itself. Major challenges remain, but improved relations between Hungary and Romania are already delivering political and economic benefits for Romanian citizens of both ethnic backgrounds. "The situation has improved a great deal in the past year," says Andrei Marga, rector of Cluj's ethnically mixed Babes-Bolyai University. "People are dealing more constructively with ethnic issues and are more open to multicultural ideals." Romania's 1.7 million ethnic Hungarians (most of whom live in Transylvania) have gained political clout since the election defeat of former Communist apparatchik Ion Iliescu one year ago. While Mr. Iliescu had relied on extreme nationalist parties in parliament, the present center-right coalition includes the ethnic Hungarian political party, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania. The tourism minister is an ethnic Hungarian, as are the governors of two Hungarian-majority counties. …

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