EducationPolitics

Thousands Protest in Transylvania Against Romania’s Planned Closure of a Hungarian Catholic School

On Wednesday, thousands gathered in the Transylvanian city of Targu Mures (Marosvásárhely) at a protest held in support of the local Roman Catholic High School, which was set to be closed by Romanian authorities.

Protesters listening to Alba Iulia Archbishop György Jakubinyi speak at a protest in defense of Targu Mures’ Roman Catholic Secondary School, held in front of the city prefect’s office (Photo: MTI – L. Gergely Boda)

As Romania’s Roman Catholics are overwhelmingly ethnic Hungarians, the move was seen by many in the Hungarian community as an ethnically- and religiously-based attack on the part of the government.

The move to close the Hungarian school began due to Romanian government claims (whose lengthy background you can read about in Hungarian here) that the school lacked proper documentation. This subsequently led to a case being launched last year against the school’s principal and the school itself.

The protest was organized by the Roman Catholic Status Foundation, and included leaders of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches of Transylvania, all of which have majority-Hungarian membership.

Major speakers at the event included György Jakubinyi, Archbishop of Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár) as well as Béla Kató, Reformed Bishop of Transylvania, and Barna Kapás, head of the Status Foundation.

Alba Iulia Archbishop György Jakubinyi speaking at the protest in Targu Mures (Photo: MTI – L. Gergely Boda)

Protest leaders called on the Romanian government, and on the Ministry of Education in particular, to issue a governmental or ministerial decree guaranteeing the continued operation of the Catholic Theological High School.

In his speech, Archbishop Jakubinyi said that this was a protest “in defense of our rights.” Quoting famed Transylvanian bishop Áron Márton, Jakubinyi added that

This is not politics; this is our life.

Hungarian Diplomatic Response

In response to the Romanian government’s planned closure of the school, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry summoned Romania’s ambassador for discussions.

State secretary Levente Magyar voiced the Hungarian government’s shock and told a press conference that the move was equal to

an attack against the Catholic Church, the Hungarian minority, children, families, and the restitution process in Romania.

Magyar also claimed that the Hungarian government would suspend its support for Romania’s aspirations to join various international organizations such as the OECD. At the same time, he said Hungary continues to consider Romania a strategic partner and an important ally.

Ethnic Hungarian religious leaders gathered on the steps of the Targu Mures prefect’s office, as part of a protest against the closure of the city’s Roman Catholic High School. In the foreground, a poster can be seen emblazoned with the message “Don’t Abandon the School!” (Photo: MTI – L. Gergely Boda) 

He called on Romania to resolve the issue of Hungarian education in Targu Mures as soon as possible.

Magyar further claimed that, while Romania has repeatedly promised to resolve the problem, instead several hundred children and their parents have been misled. The Romanian side has rejected numerous proposals made by Hungarians and parents have been “intimidated”, he added.

Zsolt Nemeth, the head parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told a press conference held on the issue of the Catholic secondary school in Targu Mures that the ruling Fidesz party objects to “the Romanian authorities’ persecution of Christians”. Nemeth, of Fidesz, welcomed a demonstration held in Targu Mures and praised parents’ and students’ perseverance in protecting their basic rights. He also noted that the historic churches, interest representation bodies, political organisations and ethnic Hungarians in Romania have joined forces in their protest.

Nemeth said it is important that Romania should respect the right to church education, the restitution of church property and the freedom of religion.

Romanian Response

Initially, Romania’s foreign ministry responded by saying that Romania does not violate the education rights of either Hungarian minorities or Catholics, and by dismissing the Hungarian government’s stance on the case of the Targu Mures secondary school as election campaign posturing.

The ministry said Romanian authorities “regret” that the case of the school “has become a topic of the Hungarian election campaign” and that children’s rights to quality education are “being sacrificed for political interests”.

Arch-Dean Father Dénes Oláh speaking at the protest, organized by the Roman Catholic Status Foundation (Photo: MTI – L. Gergely Boda)

The ministry added that authorities were in constant dialogue with the parties involved to find a lawful solution to the school’s situation, warning that all educational institutions in Romania have to comply with the country’s laws, regardless of religious affiliation or ethnic makeup.

The statement said Hungary’s decision to tie the issue of the Targu Mures school to matters such as its support for Romania’s aspirations to join international organizations like the OECD was a “wrong and unfriendly” one.

A Successful Protest: Romanian Prime Minister, Education Minister Weigh In

On Thursday, the Romanian government’s stance softened significantly, with Prime Minister Mihai Tudose himself saying that his Foreign Ministry had issued an “excessively harsh” response to Hungary.

Speaking to Romania’s Digi24 TV network, Tudose said that he did not believe that Hungary truly wanted to prevent Romania from entering the OECD, and that if such would be the case, it would not be announced by a state secretary.

Referring to the school closure controversy, Tudose insisted that Romania would never close a school for ethnic or religious reasons, and described the entire affair as a “bureaucratic mistake” at the local level.

Criticizing his own foreign ministry, Tudose said that

While supposedly the cream of the diplomatic crop is there, there response was more reminiscent to that of a sports ministry. They treated it like a boxing match: if you hit me, I’ll hit you!

Following these comments, Liviu Pop, Romania’s Minister of Education, announced that Targu Mures’ Catholic School would not be closed after all, but rather would be officially placed under the rubric of the Hungarian-language Farkas Bolyai High School.

 In a statement, the minister announced that children would be signed up for classes, and that classes should begin on Monday. The students and teachers would officially be assigned to the Farkas Bolyai High School while the ongoing legal case is still underway, but that neither the school’s location nor its teachers would change. In addition, once the case comes to a conclusion, Pop said,

everything will go back to normal.

 

Via MTI, origo.hu, transindex.ro, szekelyhon.ro, and magyarkurir.hu

Images via MTI