In 1989 Laszlo Tokes was lifted from obscurity to history. The hand of fate was active again this year, but the consequences were crueler--personally and politically.
Two brothers of the Reformed Church pastor and revolutionary were the targets of apparent assassination attempts.
Tokes himself--an ethnic Hungarian credited with sparking the Romanian revolution late last year--was severely injured in a car accident in Hungary in August, four months after a swing through the United States and Canada that included Los Angeles.
And in early December, Tokes cut short his convalescence at a Budapest hospital to return to Romania to campaign against charges that he had engaged in “anti-state and anti-nation activities.”
While Tokes had been a target in the press for months, his foes increased their tempo on Dec. 5 when a key figure in the ruling National Salvation Front publicly called for his arrest and trial. In a statement, Tokes denied any seditious activities against the front, which has ruled the country since the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist regime during the Christmas season of 1989.
Shortly after Tokes’ return to Romania, dissatisfaction with the country’s new government peaked in observances of the revolution’s first anniversary that were also protests of the new regime. Demonstrations and strikes marked the level of disenchantment, particularly in Timisoara, the Transylvanian city where the revolt began. At an ecumenical church service there, Tokes called for “a second revolution--a revolution of human rights, of dignity, but without bloodshed.”
Ironically, Tokes’ current problems are an extension of the controversy that embroiled him under Ceausescu, whose government attempted to suppress the culture of Romania’s 2.3 million ethnic Hungarians. Then, the outspoken Tokes was the target of an intimidation campaign because of his defense of the Hungarian minority and more general criticisms of the government.
His pulpit protests rallied his parishioners and other residents of Timisoara to his defense. When the government ordered internal exile for Tokes, broad-based demonstrations supporting him flamed into a rebellion that spread to Bucharest. Within little more than a week, Ceausescu was overthrown, tried and shot.
In his latest clash with authority, Tokes, 38, charged that Romanian newspapers portrayed him as “a traitor, an anti-Romanian chauvinist, Transylvanian irredentist, CIA spy, an agent of the Hungarian or the former Romanian secret service, thereby inciting hatred not only against my person but generally against the Hungarian minority . . . . “
He added, “As a committed advocate of peaceful social changes, national cohesion and reconciliation of ethnic minorities, I repeatedly and firmly raise my voice against the destructive, inciting, divisive, destabilizing attempts of provocation that endanger the Romanian national democratic progress and the success of national reconciliation.”
Yet despite the broken pelvis that confined him to a hospital bed and the political battles that now engage him, Tokes had a few good moments in 1990.
On May 8 he was elevated to bishop of the Reformed Church in Oradea, Romania, a diocese with 500,000 people. Tokes used the ordination ceremony to call for his church to remain politically active in post-Communist Romania. Also in May, Tokes was awarded a Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms prize for his role in the overthrow of Romania’s totalitarian state. Another recipient of the prize was Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel.
Although foul play is not suspected in Tokes’ accident, attempted assassinations were made against his two brothers, according to press reports. In June, Jozsef Tokes was pushed off the road by another car while traveling in Transylvania. In May, Andras Tokes escaped attackers armed with knives, apparently members of the nationalist Vatra Romanesca (Romanian Hearth) organization.
In the still murky and violent world of Romanian politics, Tokes must have round-the-clock protection, says Emese Latkoczy, a director of the New York-based Hungarian Human Rights Foundation which sponsored Tokes’ tour of North America.
Latkoczy, who visited Tokes in September, adds, “The secret police are as active as ever . . . . Certainly Tokes has bodyguards which are his own. They’re not state-provided.”