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On This Day – In 1918 Hungary Lost Transylvania To Romania

Tamás Székely 2015.12.01.

On 1st of December 1918 Romania officially declared its union with Transylvania (Erdély / Ardeal / Siebenbürgen), an ethnically mixed and culturally colourful Central European region, which previously had belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary for centuries. For Romanians, this day is a great national holiday and a good reason to celebrate, while for Hungarians it is one of the most tragic days in the nation’s history. In particular for the ethnic Hungarians of Transylvania, who were promised comprehensive minority and language rights 97 years ago, but still struggle for chances of self-governance and national autonomy.

Assembly of the delegates of ethnic Romanians in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) in 1918

Assembly of the delegates of ethnic Romanians in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) in 1918

In fact an assembly of the delegates of ethnic Romanians was held in the city of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) by the end of 1918, and it declared the union of Transylvania with Romania on this day in front a public event attended by tens of thousands of Romanians. In that period of time Hungary was sunk into deep political and social anarchy as the result of losing the First World War in alliance with imperial Austria and Germany. The new revolutionary Hungarian elites, who came to power in October 1918, were not able to prevent the Czech, Serbian and Romanian armies from occupying large parts of the collapsing country.

According to the last pre-war census, Transylvania had a population of 5,262,495 in 1910, of which 53.8% were Romanian, 31.6% Hungarian and 10,7% German (Saxon) with the dominance of the latter two in most of the larger towns and cities. The percentage of Romanian majority in Transylvania has significantly increased since it became part of the country, however, still about 20% of the Transylvanian inhabitants belong the the Hungarian minority, composing majority in the Szeklerland (Székelyföld) region and significant minority in other counties of Transylvania.

Share of Hungarian population in Romanian districts in 2011

Share of Hungarian population in Romanian districts in 2011

Since the day of 1st of December has remained a rather controversial issue between the two nations, public opinion shapers never let this day go away without making further comments every year. In conservative daily Magyar Nemzet Hungarian journalist Csaba Lukács argues today that Romania’s national holiday is necessarily malevolent as it marks the tragedy of a neighbouring country.

“This is how things work in this corner of Europe”, says Lukács, adding that it is understandable why ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania are not willing to celebrate on this day, especially when Romanian extremists regularly set up provocations both in Hungary and in Hungarian-populated towns of Transylvania. It is hard to gain any sign of mutual respect until local Hungarians are treated as “scapegoats” for all the past, present and future problems of Romania, the Hungarian journalist insists.

US Secretary of State John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry

Whatever Hungarians feel today, Romania’s national holiday meets with warm response in other parts of the world. US Secretary of State John Kerry released a press statement yesterday, sending his best wishes to Bucharest. “Nearly a century ago, a group of Romanian leaders came together to establish a united, democratic state that promoted the equality and freedom of its citizens“, Kerry says without hesitation.

“Today, we honor those early visionaries and those who have followed in their footsteps, dedicating themselves to advancing the shared values of dignity and human rights around the world”, he added. We cannot know how familiar Mr Kerry is with Central Europe’s modern history, but if a tiny proportion of these “values” had had anything to do with reality in the last 97 years in Romania, both Hungarians and Romanians would have more reason to celebrate on this or any other day of the year.

source: rubicon.hu and mno.hu