A group of local Hungarians and liberally-minded Romanian allies in the Transylvanian town of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) are attracting some international attention, thanks to their flash mobs and a creative use of social media that call for the municipality to replace unilingual Romanian road signs with trilingual ones, featuring Romanian, Hungarian and German. The group calls itself Musai-Muszáj (the Romanian/Hungarian word means “must,” and originates from the German muss sein). If they are successful, visitors driving into Kolozsvár would be greeted by signs displaying the town’s three historic names: Cluj-Napoca in Romanian, Kolozsvár in Hungarian and Klausenburg, in German. (In the spirit of multiculturalism, one might also add Kloiznburg, the town’s Yiddish name, considering that in 1930, over 13% of Kolozsvár’s population was Jewish. Most of this community, however, spoke Hungarian.)
The Musai-Muszáj group comes across as determined, but their approach is not to alienate Kolozsvár’s Romanian majority. Instead, they seem keen to demonstrate that language rights for the town’s historic Hungarian and German communities do not pose a threat to Romanian culture, but rather add value for all residents of Kolozsvár. According to activist András Bethlendi, approximately 90% of supporters are ethnic Hungarians, but there is a growing number of Romanians who are demanding that city hall demonstrate a genuine commitment to multiculturalism and begin displaying the town’s name in the three historic languages. In fact, at one of the flash mobs in front of Kolozsvár’s Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral (Catedrala Adormirea Maicii Domnului), protesters demonstrated their commitment to Romanian-Hungarian solidarity with balloons representing the colours of the Hungarian and Romanian flags.
The problem, according to the Musai/Muszáj group, is that while the town’s mayor, and former Romanian prime minister, Emil Boc is keen to demonstrate to the European Union that Cluj-Napoca is a tolerant, multicultural town, and while he has offered some symbolic gestures to illustrate this commitment, his administration has been steadfast in refusing to include Hungarian on the city’s signs. “We can no longer tolerate that city hall speaks of multiculturalism and interculturalism, whilst relying on court orders to hinder the placement of multilingual city signs,” reads the Romanian/Hungarian “Manifesto for Kolozsvár” (Manifest Pentru Cluj/Kiáltvány Kolozsvárért).
According to Romanian law, municipalities must allow for multilingual signs, where the local ethnic minority reaches or surpasses 20% of the population. Nothing prohibits minority languages from being used on signs, if that proportion falls under this threshold, but local residents must often rely on a goodwill gesture from the local administration in these cases. In Kolozsvár, the proportion of Hungarians has recently declined to just 16%. Hungarians last formed the majority of the town’s population in the 1948 census, when they stood at 57%. Since then, emigration, the government-orchestrated re-settlement of Romanians from other regions of the country, rapid industrialization and assimilation have completely transformed the town’s demographic landscape.
Last summer, we reported on a Cluj county court judgment that paved the way for multilingual signs in Kolozsvár, as well as on Mr. Boc’s decision to appeal the ruling. Mr. Boc isn’t an intolerant Romanian nationalist like his predecessor, Gheorghe Funar, used to be. In fact, when the eccentric and openly xenophobic Mr. Funar was booted from power, local Hungarian musicians and actors put together a satirical, multilingual song, bidding farewell to “Funár Gyuri” (the Magyarized version of his name).
In contrast, Mr. Boc often speaks a few token words in Hungarian on March 15th, the annual commemoration of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution. Additionally, he is open to including Hungarian and German on the soon-to-be-erected commemorative “gates” that will stand at six key entrances to the city and symbolize the town’s multicultural heritage. The city has also launched free wifi in the downtown core, which includes a Hungarian-language interface…albeit, a grammatically incorrect one, according to a report in Transindex. But Mr. Boc seems steadfastly opposed to Hungarian on city signs, perhaps so as not to ruffle the feathers of chauvinist voters.
As part of Musai-Muszáj’s campaign, activists have convinced 1,000 supporters to submit applications to city hall demanding the inclusion of Cluj-Napoca’s Hungarian and German name on city signs. City hall is now having quite the task of processing the sudden influx of applications. On the group’s bilingual (Romanian/Hungarian) Facebook page, they made a tongue-in-cheek remark asking supporters to start preparing sandwiches, because organizers are held up at city hall for hours, as officials painstakingly register the hundreds of applications.
As part of their protest, the group organized curbside flash mobs at major intersections in Kolozsvár and held up signs displaying the names of cities in Eastern Europe in multiple languages. The demonstrators were characteristically cheerful and they often attracted a sympathetic chorus of car horns during these actions.
One of the most insightful and relatively recent academic studies into Romanian/Hungarian co-existence in Kolozsvár was produced by UCLA sociology professor Rogers Brubaker. His book, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town, argues that the nationalism of both Romanian and Hungarian elites in Kolozsvár contrasts with the relative “indifference” of the population to nationalist rhetoric, at least on an everyday basis. At the same time, Romanians and Hungarians in Cluj-Napoca often occupy completely separate and even segregated spheres. For instance, Transylvania’s largest town (population 306,000) has separate Romanian and Hungarian-language state theatres, Hungarians have their own schools, as well as their own academic departments at the bilingual Babeș-Bolyai University. In a Hungarian review of Professor Brubaker’s book, there is a discussion of the fact that these separate Hungarian institutions can be critical for a minority, as they provide a space where members of that group need not concentrate or even be conscious of their ethnicity and minority status.
As for Musai/Muszáj: the group is organizing a public, bilingual debate each month on issues concerning multiculturalism in Kolozsvár. Hopefully, this open, inter-ethnic dialogue will be of interest to both the city’s Romanians and Hungarians.