Multicultural Romania: Young Hungarians use creative protests to call for trilingual Cluj-Napoca

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.

Musai/Muszáj demonstration in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoca, calling for greater trilingualism. Balloons represent the  colours of the Hungarian and Romanian flags. Photo: Tamás Bethlendi.

Musai/Muszáj demonstration in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoca, calling for greater trilingualism. Balloons represent the colours of the Hungarian and Romanian flags. Photo: Tamás Bethlendi.

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.

Emil Boc greets Kolozsvár's Hungarians at  1848 commemorations, and speaks in front of the Hungarian national colours. Photo: Emil Boc, Facebook.

Emil Boc greets Kolozsvár’s Hungarians at 1848 commemorations earlier this year, and speaks in front of a display of Hungarian national colours. Photo: Emil Boc, Facebook.

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.

A Muszai-Muszáj activist holds up a sign at a flash mob in Cluj-Napoca. Photo: Facebook.

A Muszai-Muszáj activist holds up a multilingual sign at a flash mob in Cluj-Napoca. Photo: Facebook.

Musai-Muszáj activists line the streets of downtown Kolozsvár. In this photo, they display the name of the Transylvanian town of Timișoara/Temesvár in Romanian, Hungarian, German and Serbian. Photo: Facebook.

Musai-Muszáj activists line the streets of downtown Kolozsvár. In this photo, they display the name of the Transylvanian town of Timișoara/Temesvár in Romanian, Hungarian, German and Serbian. Photo: Facebook.

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 bookNationalist 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.

9 Comments

  1. A slight correction. Timișoara/Temesvár/Temeswar is not, and has never been a Transylvanian city. It is the capital city of the Banat/Bánság region. Although a common mistake, Banathians tend to be offended by this misconception. Please write Banathian instead of Transylvanian. Köszönöm!

  2. Babeș-Bolyai University is segregated because the Hungarians insisted for a long time until they were succesfull.

  3. Charlie London says:

    Hungarian nationalism in the Trianon countries causes a lot of trouble – especially when Orban canvasses voters in border countries with his desperate bid to hang on to his ever diminishing support base.

    He should stop meddling in other country’s affairs.

    In addition, so-called Hungarians that live in these countries should assimilate into that country – pay their taxes, vote in the country and become good citizens – and learn the language and culture of their adopted country.

    Trianon was a long time ago and they just have to suck it up.

    If you don’t want to be, for example, Romanian then go back to Hungary………

    And stop causing trouble in someone else’s country – Slovakia prosecutes those who try and maintain dual citizenship.

    And realise anyway that as members of the EU we should be just one happy family.

    Look forward and stop trying to rewrite history.

    Irredentism just feeds the Hungarian Magjar Guarda – just as beer expands their beer guts.

    • Christopher Adam says:

      Charlie London,

      I agree that Prime Minister Orbán’s policies and various forms of interference have been problematic. But the “so-called Hungarians” (as you refer to them) tend to already speak Romanian fluently, they pay their taxes in Romania (I imagine like any other citizen of Romania) and they vote in Romanian elections (even if sometimes in lower numbers than ethnic Romanians). I would, however, strongly suggest that their forced assimilation or threats of expulsion if they “don’t want to be Romanian” will not bring us closer to becoming “one happy family” in the European Union.

      The reality is that Romania has over 1.2 million citizens whose mother tongue is Hungarian, and Hungarians form the majority population in two counties. I think that the goal should be to engage in, and promote dialogue between ethnic Romanians and ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania and to celebrate, rather than be frightened of multilingualism and multiculturalism.

  4. Salomon Morel says:

    1. “A group of local Hungarians and liberally-minded Romanians”.

    I wouldn’t call them “liberals”. I would call them “useful idiots” or “philo-Hungarians”. Can’t they see that the Hungarians that they are backing are not like them? That, that particular Hungarians are Hungarian chauvinists?

    You may ask, and what is wrong with being a philo- Hungarian? Nothing, of course. But an alliance between chauvinists and liberals is absurd.

    2. “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.)”

    OK, I see why the Hungarian, German and Romanian names of the town are historical names. It is because the town has been successively part of the Hungarian Kingdom, Habsburg Empire and the Romanian state. But it was never part of an “Yiddish” state…

    BTW, this info that most of the Hungarian Jews spoke Hungarian makes me wonder what prevents Hungarians in Transylvania to emulate their example and speak Romanian. You know, you got it, to be like the Jews were for Austro-Hungary – “good citizens” 😉
    They never asked for “linguistic rights”, isn’t it? Good ethnic minority, these Jews!

    3. “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.”

    Assimilation !? Traitors!

    4. “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.”

    Of course, like they do in multicultural USA, which can be an example in multiculturalism for Romania to follow.

    • Christopher Adam says:

      Salomon Morel,

      What exactly makes the Hungarians who are spearheading bilingual (Romanian/Hungarian) public debates and who run a bilingual Facebook page, or occasionally demonstrate with bilingual signs, Hungarian chauvinists? If anything, they strike me as quite refreshing in how they approach these questions: they call for dialogue between the different languages and cultures of Cluj-Napoca…and they are happily fluent in Romanian.

      • Salomon Morel says:

        My comment was entirely a mocking one. You could call it even a trolling one. I have nothing positive to say.

        The history of the world since the dawn of the age of nationalism, but most likely even before, has been nothing but “my nationalism” VS. “your nationalism”.

        How to solve such conflicts? I don’t believe that any thinker has found a solution yet, other than all nations giving up their “ethic identity” (which includes besides language religion too) in favour of an artificial “global” one.

        Coming to your question. I like to use strong, black and white words. For me the world is divided between “idiots” and “smarts”, for instance.

        For you, probably, a “chauvinist” is a person with violent tendencies, who uses vulgar language – a violent boor.

        I use “chauvinist” as a synonym for a “nationalist” or a “patriot”. I am well aware that it has a negative connotation but form me “chauvinist, jingo, hawk, nationalist, patriot, etc.” represent the same concept – a person who likes to use sentences like “we, the …ians or we, the …ish people” – a tribalist.

        Let me illustrate with an example. Take Ruth, the Moabite woman of Biblical fame. You remember that she decided to leave her country and emigrate to Israel. Now, if in Israel she had decided to join the “Democratic Union of the Moabites in Israel” party I would have found it very odd. If you cared for your “national culture” so strongly then stay in you country!

        You may think that I am too harsh, too Manichean in my judgement.

        If you think so then all this talk of “preserving national identity” is just a silly game (like most of the things people do, btw).

        Any outsider (neither Romanian or Hungarian) reading your article would immediately realise that Hungarians in Romania have (collectively) no “real” problems. Read the news to find examples of real problems…

  5. Dr. Habil. Andras Fodor says:

    This is great news, many thanks for it, Christopher.
    The relatively short (150-years, 1526-1686, including Bánát and Temesvár) history of the independent Transylvania left non-removable memories of this tree-nation territory. The recent new and creative joint movement should be warmly welcome. This was the way as late Gábor Bethlen used to govern Transylvania. The Tranyslavanist Movement, which is finally aiming at establishing an independent “Eastern Switzerland” is one of the most progressive in our recent European history.

  6. dr. dilil orban says:

    Dr Habil, these kinds of comments are exactly what makes us very suspicious of your little “trilingual protests in CLUJ-NAPOCA”, demands for autonomy, bilingual signs, segregated schools, universities, etc. The fact is, as your comment clearly indicates, that many hungarians in Romania are not seeking to preserve their culture, language, etc but rather to form a separate state and form their own ‘independent’ “Eastern Switzerland”, “Northern Kosovo”, “Western Donetsk Republic” or whatever else you feel like calling it … The trilingual language protests are just one little tiny step in changing the perception about Transilvania as being largely Romanian to being an “Eastern Switzerland” and thus – separate, deserving a special status or even independence. To that our answer (I guess according to the author coming from the ‘non-liberal’ Romanians) is a BIG: F@&# YOU!

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