But how life really was for Hungarians in Romania after the two World Wars?
The Hungarian minority living in Transylvania has suffered discrimination under Romanian rule. During the Communist Era, Marxist-Leninist internationalism gave way to nationalism in Romania, and the Hungarian minority suffered under the policies of leaders Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceausescu.
Stalin used the support of the Hungarian minority to defeat anti-communism in Romania and promised them full equal rights if Romania annexed Transylvania. Stalin ordered Romania’s King Michael to support Petru Groza as Prime Minister to preside over the “transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Under Groza, Hungarian broadcasts were played on Radio Bucharest, and the Hungarian Bolyai University in Cluj was established. Groza also supported the 1945 Nationality Statute which guaranteed rights and freedoms for national minorities.
During this time the Communist doctrine of land redistribution was enacted; 80% of the redistributed land formally owned by Hungarians, however, became Romanian, and the citizenship of 300,000 to 400,000 Hungarians and Germans were put into question.
In 1947 King Michael was forced to abdicate and Gheorghiu-Dej of the Romanian Workers Party took over. Gheorghiu-Dej consolidated his power through a series of purges in which he expelled “foreigners” and “agents of Moscow,” in favour of home-based Romanian communists.
He reduced the Bolyai University to a secondary school and restricted travel so that Hungarians in Transylvania could not see their families in Hungary. He also began a campaign against the Hungarian Peoples Party, which started with the arrest of its leaders on false charges of espionage and ended with the party’s abolition in 1953. By 1949, the West was complaining of human rights violations in Romania.
This virulent nationalism worsened after the death of Stalin in 1953. Gheorghiu-Dej declared that the problem of national minorities and discrimination was solved. One could be punished for even speaking of the issue. A process of “Romanianization” began. Bilingualism of advertisements, announcements, conferences, and public discussions was abolished. All institutions were declared “national,” and no minority could obtain a position of importance in them. The Romanian Communist Party was referred to as a national party, and all other political organizations were outlawed. There was much discrimination in industry, where it was very difficult for a member of a minority to obtain a managerial position.
Hungarian students in Transylvania organized anti-Soviet and anti-Romanian demonstrations. Gheorghiu-Dej declared that all of the Hungarians in Transylvania were collectively guilty of “revisionism” and “counter-revolutionary attitudes.” In a series of waves, he had 40,000 people arrested.
In 1965 the RCP elected Nicolae Ceausescu as General Secretary. His policies would prove to be very destructive to the Transylvanian Hungarians. Any outsiders who tried to defend the national minorities were declared to be “infringing on national sovereignty.” Romanian nationalism forbade the Hungarians any international help.
In 1974 Ceausescu was elected as the President and he established laws in 1974 which made all historical documents, archives, libraries, and anything else of cultural or scientific value property of the state and then barred Hungarian scholars and researchers from access to them.
1989 saw the end of Ceausescu and a hopeful beginning to an interim regime. Romanians and Hungarians alike took part in the coup d’etat which ousted Ceausescu.
Once the “socialist utopia” was finished, the ruling powers attempted to replace it with “national independence” and “ethnic or racial purity.” The nationalist backlash took the form of the Vatra Romaneasca (Romanian Cradle) Party. This nationalist group was responsible for an anti-Hungarian rally in Tirgu-Mures in 1990 in which eight people were killed and 800 injured in a dispute over schools and bilingual signs.
In 1992 the mayor of Cluj has removed all Hungarian signs, opposed Hungarian schools, and banned international symposia which he claimed were based on Hungarian irredentism.
The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (HDFR), the party which represents the Hungarian minority, has had little success in fighting nationalism. In March 1993, after they had requested more decentralization, two Hungarian prefects were replaced in the mostly Hungarian counties of Harghita and Covasna.
The problem of Romanian nationalism has not disappeared with the fall of communism; it has steadily continued.
There were many pro-independence movements in Székely Land (Szeklerland). The Szeklers makeup about half of the Hungarians in Romania and live in an ethnic block. According to official data from Romania’s 2011 census, 609,033 persons in Mureş, Harghita and Covasna counties consider themselves Hungarian (56.8% of total population of the three counties). The Székelys (Szeklers), a Hungarian sub-group, are mainly concentrated in these three counties. Since 2006 there were 4 peaceful demonstrations for autonomy.
In May 2010, the Hungarian Parliament decided to give ethnic Hungarians who live outside the country the right to claim Hungarian nationality as a second citizenship — which potentially includes the right to vote.