Hungarians in Romania launch bid for territorial autonomy

The Democratic Union of Magyars in Romania (UDMR), the sole party representing the Hungarian ethnic minority in the Romanian parliament, will soon submit a bill that proposes the creation of an autonomous Szeklerland in central Romania, where Hungarians form the majority of the population.

The bill would be subject to a public debate before being tabled in parliament, UDMR’s allies involved in the process have disclosed. Kulcsar Terza Jozsef, head of the Covasna branch of the Magyar Civic Party (PCM), a non-parliamentary party militating for the autonomy of Szeklerland or Szekely Land (comprising of Covasna and Harghita counties, plus part of Mures county), said UDMR would table the bill in parliament.

The new push for autonomy comes after local councils in over 20 towns in Harghita, Covasna and Mures passed several decisions to endorse a memorandum envisioning the creation of Szekely Land as an autonomous territorial unit. The county prefects challenged these decisions in court, but prime minister Victor Ponta surprisingly removed one prefect, replacing him with an ethnic Hungarian politician.

At the weekend, attending local festivities in the Harghita County, Ponta was welcomed by a band that played the Hungarian national anthem. A recording with the Romanian national anthem was then played, sparking criticism from Romanian politicians, who accused Ponta of chasing ethnic Hungarian votes in the presidential elections, due in autumn.

But while looking for the ethnic Hungarian votes, Ponta may alienate part of his traditional voters since the issue of autonomy for areas populated predominantly by Hungarians is a touchy one, with Romanian-Hungarian ethnic tensions going back centuries and still occasionally straining relations between Bucharest and Budapest.

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(Area in orange indicates municipalities where Hungarians are the majority of the population. Illustration: