Recently, I had a chance to chat with Johannes Bloos the Deputy Consul General of the German Consulate in San Francisco, California. Mr. Bloos is a Saxon; his parents were part of this German speaking community in Brasov, Romania, before they immigrated to Germany.
We talked about another Romanian-Saxon, Romania’s new president – Mr. Klaus Iohannis. His recent election was almost a miracle, since he is not Orthodox as are most Romanians. A Protestant, he is not even an ethnic Romanian, but a Saxon, a German-speaking minority living for 800 years in Transylvania.
Before he was elected President, Iohannis was the well-respected mayor of Sibiu, a city in Transylvania, where he cracked down on corruption and hired street sweepers to keep his city spotless. According to opinion pools, voters like him, and trust him more than ethic Romanian politicians.
The Hungarian government was surprised by his election. Mr. Orbán, Hungary’s fiery Prime Minister has declared himself the leader of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin, and his government relentlessly criticizes Romania’s flawed minority policies, especially the alleged oppression of Hungarians. A couple of years ago, he got into a shouting match about autonomy and minority rights with Romania’s previous President, the emotional Mr. Basescu. Don’t expect that from Mr. Iohannis.
The plain talking Mr. Iohannis made it clear that his orientation is toward the West and added: “What is happening in Hungary now that is not democracy going in the right direction.” Iohannis has shifted the tone of Romanian-Hungarian relations, and made it clear that he is not a buyer for Orbán’s nationalist rhetoric, and won’t be pulled into discussions about that with Budapest.
Mr. Orbán’s often illogical “nation policy” is based on the idea, that Romanian citizens of Hungarian origin are “Hungarians”, and they are part of the “indivisible Hungarian nation body.” Orbán even crafted a National Unity Declaration that Hungarians of the world owe some kind of loyalty to Budapest.
Now, with Iohannis as president, Orbán is in trouble. How can Hungary claim that Romania’s minority policies are outright discriminative, when a minority Saxon was elected president? Iohannis’s meteoric rise to the top proves that blanket criticism is not well-founded.
And Iohannis knows well the complex history of Saxons in Romania. In a recent autobiography he mentioned Hungarian oppression of Saxons in Transylvania, where Hungarians attempted to “Magyarize” the Saxons in the 19th century.
Mr. Iohannis defines himself as a Romanian with Saxon roots. He feels that his country’s minorities, including the Hungarians, are adequately represented in the Romanian Parliament, and Orbán’s nationalist interference into Romania’s internal matters is just noise, nationalist grandstanding for political purposes.
He has introduced a cool-headed pragmatic style, and expects good relations with Budapest. Iohannis visited Warsaw, where he was warmly received; in Berlin he got a hero’s welcome. Chancellor Merkel was all smiles, and she didn’t hide her support to Romania’s brand new Saxon president. The chemistry was obvious between the two leaders.
But Merkel doesn’t think that Iohannis is part of the German “nation body”, she doesn’t preach about Romanian violations of Saxon minority rights. German politicians see Iohannis as a Romanian who happened to have Saxon roots, and who speaks perfect German with a funny accent.
It seems that Iohannis simply outclassed the grandstanding Hungarian politician and by ignoring Orbán’s nationalist rhetoric made him look silly.
He is in no rush seeing the Hungarians. Romanian media speculates that maybe later this year he’ll meet them. Iohannis knows well that Mr. Orbán will be at his best behavior, he wouldn’t dare to attack Ms. Merkel’s best Romanian friend.