Photo of US Ambassador to Romania holding Szeklerland flag stirs controversies
A photo showing US Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and several Magyar local officials in Covasna holding the flag of Szeklerland (Tinutul Secuiesc in Romanian) has stirred controversies in the Romanian media and social media.
Szeklerland is a region in central Romania where the majority of the population is Hungarian. Magyar politicians aim to get more autonomy for the region and some even fight for its independence. Most Romanians oppose the idea of an autonomous Magyar region and see it as a threat to Romania's integrity. Romania's Transylvania province, which includes the three counties that present themselves as Szeklerland, has been under the ruling or part of the Kingdom of Hungary, the Hapsburg Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before gaining its independence and completing its union with Romania on December 1, 1918.
Hans Klemm, the US Ambassador to Romania, has visited Sfantu Gheorghe, the capital city of Covasna county, on September 13. It was the second time when the Ambassador visited Covasna county in the first year after taking office, at the local authorities’ invitation.
During his visit, the Ambassador was photographed together with local leaders of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), while holding the flag of Szeklerland. Sfantu Gheorghe mayor Antal Arpad posted the photo on his Facebook page. He stands to the left of the US Ambassador.
“I offered the US Ambassador the Szekler community’s flag as a gift, a flag that has become the symbol of the (Romanian) authorities’ lack of respect towards the Szekler community. I mention that this flag was first used in 1599, when Szeklers fought alongside Michael the Brave,” the mayor wrote on Facebook.
Romania's anticorruption prosecutors started an investigation on the Sfantu Gheorghe mayor earlier this year, charging him with public funds misuse. However, the Sfantu Gheorghe citizens reelected Antal Arpad as their mayor in June.
Some rushed to say that appearing in this photo has been a diplomatic gaffe of the US Ambassador as it may be interpreted that the US approves and supports Szeklerland's autonomy efforts. The photo appears during the pre-electoral campaign for the parliamentary elections, a campaign in which nationalism is looming as one of the main topics of debate, reports local Hotnews.ro.
The US Embassy reacted to this photo, in a statement sent to the main local news agencies: “Ambassador Hans Klemm is the United States’ Ambassador for the whole Romania. He regularly travels the country, meeting with various groups in all areas of Romanian society. As an ally and strategic partner of Romania, the United States supports and applauds democracy in Romania and Romania's efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions by the full and equal participation of all segments of society.”
In a statement, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) said that Hans Klemm’s visit is the area is part of his duties to get informed on site about the realities of the state of residence. “Such visits also involve the need to understand and take into account the possibility that sensibilities might exist. We sent these considerations to our American partners in a discussion with the US Embassy in Bucharest,” reads the statement from MAE.
The US Ambassador also explained the gesture of taking this photo in a press conference he held in Craiova, on Wednesday. "Some local leaders in Covasna asked me to take a photo with them. But I can assure you that, as US Ambassador to Romania, the only two flags that are important to me are those of the US and Romania," Klemm said according to local Mediafax. When asked by the journalists why he accepted to take the photo he said he wanted to be polite.
This controversy comes shortly after another one, which was caused by the American Ambassador to Chisinau James Pettit, who recently said that Moldova is not Romania and should remain an independent state.
Irina Popescu, email@example.com
(Photo source: Antal Arpad on Facebook)