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Unofficial flag issue heats up Romania-Hungary relations, change of constitution demands on the table again


A recent incident involving the unofficial flag of the the Secuiesc region, or Székely Land triggered comments from both the Romanian and Hungarian sides, which could fuel a bigger diplomatic quarrel. After the state secretary of Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Nemeth Zsolt said that Hungarians from Transylvania are subjected to a symbolic aggression and asked all mayors in Hungary to display the Székely region flag, it was Romania’s turn to respond. Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta asked the Foreign Affairs Minister to take a firm position and say that Romania does not accept impertinence anyone from abroad or lessons about how local authorities should work and which flags should be flown. The set of comments came after the Székely Land flag was recently flown at the investiture ceremony for the new Covasna county prefect, but was taken out of the room by Romanian authorities.

Romania, through state secretary at the Foreign Affairs Ministry Bogdan Aurescu expressed concern to the Hungarian Ambassador to Romania, Fuzses Oskar, and asked Hungary to stop engaging in practices that give the false impression that Romania does not respect the norms in protecting the rights of national minorities. “The statements made publicly by the Hungarian official are unacceptable and such actions are against the strategic partnership and good-neighborliness between the two countries,” Aurescu went on. The Hungarian Ambassador was called in urgently at the Foreign Affairs Ministry immediately after the Hungarian statements, and Romania sent its official message.

The issue is sensitive, as the Hungarian minority in Romania, which live in the Székely region in Transylvania, have been lobbying for autonomy, and flying the flag is a symbol of that.

Hungary’s response however was less passive: The Hungarian Ambassador said he supported Nemeth Zsolt’s declaration entirely and that if he were Romanian, he would have supported the change in the Romanian Constitution as to allow for autonomy. He further said that flying the Székely Land flag in public institutions in the counties where Hungarians live is a natural right, which allows the Hungarian minority – called Secui – to feel at home. His statements in Romania were made during a TV show.

The statements are made at the same time as Romania placed on the table the matter of changing its Constitution via a referendum this fall, to clarify the dos and don’ts for the country’s president, and the Hungarian statements could be seen as an attempt to win support for including the right to autonomy into the new Constitution. “I support the demands for cultural autonomy, for territorial autonomy, and for personal autonomy. All forms of autonomy are OK for me if the Hungarians in Romania and of course the Romanians in Romania understand this, peacefully and democratically,” said the Hungarian Ambassador. The Hungarian minority in Romania is trying to push a change into the first Article in the constitution, replacing the ‘National state’ with “multinational, sovereign and indivisible state’.

After hearing the statements made by the Hungarian Ambassador, Romania’s Foreign Affairs Minister Titus Coraletan said he hopes it was a mistake, because asking for a change in Constitution is a breach of diplomatic measures, and if he will not stop, Romania will take all necessary steps to end his mandate. In return, Nemeth Zsolt, who caused this row suggested the Romanian PM might have understood something incorrectly about the flag issue, saying there is no European law that stops the flying of the unofficial flag.

The unofficial flag issue stems back to November 2012, when the court decided it is legal to use this flag in Covasna. In January 2013, the president of the Covasna county council, Tamas Sandor, asked mayors in Sfantu Gheorghe and Targu Secuiesc to fly the unofficial Székely land flag in front of their city halls, “because the Székely land is our heart,” said Sandor.

Nemeth Zsolt and the Hungarian vice – Prime Minister Semjen Zsolt are among known and open supporters of the autonomy of the Székely land in Romania, an issue which has been creating bad blood between the two countries.

Corina Chirileasa, corina@romania-insider.com 

 (photo source: Wikipedia)