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Trouble in Transylvania: Romania Assailed for Treatment of Minorities

The Washington Post

Summoned by Romanian city officials to express support for their comments, the leader of the officially sponsored organization for ethnic Germans here denies that members of the community who seek to emigrate are automatically fired from their jobs--except, of course, for all the teachers.

“Teachers are not fired on the spot. They can finish the school year,” explained Drotleff Dieter, an editor of a weekly German-language newspaper. After that, even if their emigration permits are denied or delayed for years, “they have to look for another job,” he said.

Germans are not the only shrinking minority with troubles in Transylvania. The nominal chief of the Hungarian community, Tiberiu Nagy, concedes that Hungarian-language publications from Budapest are scarce and that course work in Hungarian is no longer available at the local university. “We don’t want to be assimilated,” he said. But “the fundamental conditions (for survival) are studies in the schools.”

Growing Criticism

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Even when presenting their own account of their large and long-established national minorities, Romanian authorities seem to offer ammunition to a growing chorus of international critics. For Western human-rights groups as well as their increasingly irritated Soviet Bloc neighbors in Hungary, this Balkan nation’s treatment of non-Romanians is a prime example of excesses by its neo-Stalinist government.

“The minority question in Romania is as delicate as it is important,” said a report last year by the U.S. group Helsinki Watch. Minorities in Romania, it noted, believe that the government of President Nicolae Ceausescu “is engaged in a deliberate policy of cultural extinction, or ‘cultural genocide.’ ”

Even though ethnic minorities, at 12% of the population, are more numerous in Romania than anywhere else in Soviet-allied Eastern Europe, Ceausescu has declared Romania a unified country and the Communist Party has adopted a goal of “national homogenization.”

Limited Opportunity

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In the last several years, the government has appeared to step up a policy of steadily constricting the opportunities of minorities to study, read and work in their own languages and to maintain cross-border contacts with national homelands. Exchanges between the estimated 1.7 million Hungarians in Romania and those in neighboring Hungary have been all but choked off. Members of the 300,000-strong German community seeking to emigrate to West Germany are strongly pressured to remain and sometimes persecuted.

In a region driven for centuries by national rivalries, the minorities’ plight is hardly unusual. In fact, the Romanian policies appear mild compared to the strong repression applied by neighboring Bulgaria to its ethnic Turkish minority. The level of tension here is also low compared to the explosive standoff between Serbs and Albanians in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

Nevertheless, Romania’s minority troubles may be emerging as the most significant in the region, if only because of the almost unprecedented degree of ill feeling they have stirred within the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact alliance. In the last 18 months, Hungary has turned from quiet diplomacy to public complaints about the treatment of Romania’s ethnic Hungarians, and the hostile replies from Bucharest have created one of the most open conflicts between two East European countries ever known in the Soviet Bloc.

Charges Bring Denials

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A typical exchange occurred last month, when a Hungarian journalist said on state television that “the Hungarian government has informed the Romanian government about the untenable nature of these border checks” between eastern Hungary and Transylvania, where most of Romania’s Hungarians live. The television program went on to criticize the “idolization of people” in Romania, where public life is dominated by Ceausescu’s personal leadership.

Romanian officials typically deny that there are any difficulties in relations with Hungary. At the same time, their statements refer to “certain circles” with ambitions to “revise borders” in Europe, an implicit accusation that Hungarians have designs on Transylvanian territory held by Austria-Hungary before World War I. These “irredentist forces,” Ceausescu has said, “threaten peace and security in Europe.”

The growing willingness of Hungarian authorities to speak out on the issue has been widely interpreted as a sign of the increased responsiveness of the relatively liberal communist government in Budapest to popular concerns and national feelings.

Bad Reputation

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In contrast, Ceausescu’s management of national minorities appears to form part of a pattern of heavy-handed social engineering that has helped give Romania a reputation for the worst human-rights conditions in the Eastern Bloc.


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