Romania’s new president ignores Orbán’s nationalist rhetoric

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.

In 2011 Mr. Orbán (left) got into a heated discussion with Mr. Basescu (right) previous President of Romania.  Mr. Zsolt Németh Hungarian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is listening in the middle.

In 2011 Mr. Orbán (left) got into a heated discussion with Mr. Basescu (right) previous President of Romania. Mr. Zsolt Németh Hungarian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is listening in the middle.

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.

German Chancellor Merkel shares a light moment with Klaus Iohannis (left) President of Romania and Jean-Claude Juncker (middle) President of the European Commission

German Chancellor Merkel shares a light moment with Klaus Iohannis (left) President of Romania and Jean-Claude Juncker (middle) President of the European Commission

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.

György Lázár


  1. Orban the “Führer” sucked at least abroad, if not at home due to his in large part submissivie, primitive, chauvinistic, anti-Semitic subjects who are not able to challenge him, even though he and his clique completely plunder and exploit them.

  2. Avatar Salomon Morel says:

    Hmm… Firstly, Romanians electing a “sash” (Transylvanian Saxon) or a “shvab” (Banat Swabian) is not the same thing as electing a “ungur”,”tzigan” or Jew candidate. Believe me, it is not the same thing!

    Secondly, he definitely is not a nationalist (let alone a chauvinist) Romanian (Basescu was a bit of a nationalist). But maybe that is because he is not ethnically Romanian. While Orban is 100% Hungarian. So, again the comparison is wrong. You should ask instead whether he is a nationalist German because that is his relevant “tribe”. He entered Romanian politics as a candidate for the ethnic party of the German minority… So… A moderate nationalist, maybe. GERMAN nationalist.

  3. Some Romanians will try to label him German first, which is not how he sees himself, as he said “I am Romanian with German roots” I hope for Romania’s sake that he encourages the minorities to view things regarding their minority in similar ways since that is how Romania will gain strength amid all of the trouble makers of the world. With so many opportunists like Orban and others, they need to stay strong as a nation, dividing people along ethnic lines does not serve any good purpose in any country.

  4. Avatar Gyula Bognar, Jr. says:

    Thank you, excellent article! I enjoyed it.

  5. Why you are not looking back in the last 800 years, because the Saxons of Transylvania had their own Autonomy in Transylvania, under Hungarian rule, not today in Romanian times and neither Hungarians own Autonomy . This is the only thing which the so called “nationalist Orban” supports, a human right for self administration. It’s petty that you are not objective from beginning, this is not good for a jurnalist!

  6. istvan, the only petty thing in this whole story is actually your comment – and let me help you understand yours’ and your leaders’ seemingly chronic lack of common sense; throughout history, no less:

    You claim that a minority should have autonomy and you cite the Saxon minority having had it under hungarian rule in Transylvania, over 100 years ago. If so, how come current minority ethnic groups in present-day hungary do NOT have autonomy?

    If a minority should have autonomy, how do you explain that, in hungarian-ruled Transylvania, before 1918, while the Saxon Minority did have some autonomy, the actual MAJORITY never had any – in over seven centuries they had none, period

    you out of your mind, guys?!

    Is it still a mystery to you that even one of the Saxon “beneficiaries” of the formerly hungarian-ruled Transylvania, Mr. Iohannis, the President elected by romanians couldn’ t care less for your bitter, stiffed-lip hungarian claims, you guys? And that he’ d rather be proudly ruling the land in the name of, and for the Majority romanians who elected him? Democratically.
    Democracy, hmm… that thing an orban friend of putin might find some day just boring and annoying and likewise just a waste of time

    good-bye, eastvan

  7. Good article. I really feel ashamed for some of my co-nationals, Romanian or otherwise that feel like the 800 year-old spite is still a “thing” in the 21st century.

    The Romanian constitution clearly states “The national sovereignty shall reside within the Romanian people”, “The territory of Romania is inalienable” but also that “Romania is the common and indivisible homeland of all its citizens, without any discrimination on account of race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion, sex, opinion, political adherence, property or social origin” and “The State recognizes and guarantees the right of persons belonging to national minorities to the preservation, development and expression of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity.” I fail to see how there is still a topic to be debated.

    @istvan: No autonomy does not mean lack of human rights. If you think that, I strongly suggest looking back in recent history and current events to really see abuse of human rights.

    Once again, thank you for the article.

  8. Your text is accurate. One of the reasons people elected Iohannis was to prove that they have nothing against minorities and if you are a reasonable politician you can be elected even as president no matter what your religion or ethnic origin is. But he was mainly elected because people believed he was not a corrupt politician and he can guaranty the fight against corruption. And at this moment Romania has one of the most efficient system to eradicate big corruption in eastern europe. About hungarian nationalist I can say i understand their drama of a country that lost enormous after the two world wars, but their new way to approach the issues that hungarian minority faces in countries around Hungary is destructive for their hungarian brothers. In Transilvania people don’t want troubles, they want a better life for them and their children, and they understand that this can only happen in a strong romanian state that provides for everybody. And thats why romanians and hungarians voted together for a new type of politician like Iohannis. And they reject now any extreme agenda coming from inside and abroad. A politician like Victor Orban, with a speech coming from a different era not from the realities of the European Union, as intelligent and charismatic he might be, would have never been elected in Romania. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Ungurii, asupriti in Romania? Cum il face Iohannis sa para „penibil” pe Viktor Orban | Gardianul.Net

  10. Dear Istvan, yes you are right the Transsylvanian Saxons had autonomy under Hungarian and later under Habsburg rule. But lets not forget that not Bucharest has abolished the Saxon autonomy. It was the Hungarians who did this in 1866. In this year the autonomy of the Skekely was also abolished. 1919 Bucharest took over a Saxon minority with no autonomy. And also like Budapest never felt the need to restore the autonomy of Saxons and Szekely.

  11. Avatar András Gollner says:

    Good article and generally good discussion. The one thing we should also take into consideration, is that under the EU, with open borders and a commonly agreed upon safety net, there are now finally pan-European guarantees in place for the human and civil rights of ethnic minorities. If those guarantees are not provided, please take the transgressors to the Hague, prove your case Mr Orbán, rather than cry wolf through hill and gully. The aggressive insistence of Orbán for autonomy for the neighbouring countries’ Hungarian minorities is simply a demonstration of something we have known for a long time: Orbán is the wolf, who is masquerading in sheep’s clothing, to achieve party-political browny points with his Hungarian electorate. His insistence that Hungarian ethnic communities in EU member states be given autonomy is simply a provocative step that demonstrates one thing: his anti-EU, mean-spirited nature, his unwillingness to work within the system of pan-European cooperation. Use the EU Mr Orbán, to protect Hungarian ethnic rights, rather than foment inter-country rivalries through populist, nationalist propaganda. Three cheers for the level-headed Johannis and to Roumanians who elected him as their President. If only Hungary’s electorate would show bit of the same kind of wisdom.

  12. Mr. Lazar, you certainty don’t want to understand the situation in Hungary and you don’t want to accept the fact that Transylvania once would be part of Hungary. Although, these are facts the must be taken into consideration when analysing Mr. Orban’s Hungary policy re Hungarians living in Romania.

    Just FYI – Sibiu is called Nagyszeben,at least it is for every Hungarian, should you consider yourself as one of them.

    Electing someone with Saxon origin to Romanian Pm proves nothing in relation to Romania’ Hungarian minority policy.

    Having the Hungarian Pm standing up for the rights of Hungarians for a territorial autonomy is surely generating a lot of conflicts in the area but having people with Hungarian origin not supporting it is a shame on them and my feel is that you are one of them.

    You can hate Mr. Orban, you can look at him as the devil, fair enough. But running into false and rather stupid evaluations of his acts is very funny.

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  14. Mr. Lazar you robbed precious minutes from my life with your article. Shame on you! Not that I am defending Orban but to have the wrong attitude against the Hungarians from Romania aka székelys, who were there before the saxons and romanians and now thay can’t even have a university on their mother language… shame on you!

    • I see a lot of lies in these comments here. Hungarians have the right to study in their own language in Roumania at all levels. What some of them want is universities exclusively for Hungarians, where Romanian students don’t have access. One word discrimination

    • Your claims simply are not true, my ancestors are from Transylvania and ethnically Hungarian, Hungarians do have the right to study at all educational levels in the Hungarian language, the problem is that the Hungarian communities want to exclude Romanians and this is simply wrong. There were many years of Hungarian Ization long before there was a Romania and now they think they have the right to continue to try this? This is why there is tensions throughout Europe with Hungarian ethnic minorities. If they want to continue to live in peace, they need to stop taking direction from the likes of Fidesz and Jobbik who would love to stir up the populace to perhaps take back the territory. It is pure craziness if you ask me.

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  16. Avatar Christopher Adam says:

    I’m not sure that having Hungarian-language universities in Romania qualifies as discrimination. In Canada, there are unilingual French universities (Université de Montréal, UQAM, etc.) Anglophone students do have access to these universities, if they are able to study in French. If Hungarian-language universities in Romania admit anyone, regardless of their linguistic or ethnic background, provided that applicants have a desire and ability to study in the language of that university, then I don’t see any problem at all.

    • in Roumania there are mixed Universities, especially in Transylvania, where anyone can go and chose to study in the language they speak, Romanian or Hungarian. Having segregated institutions in a mixed society in European Union 2015 is seems pretty obsolete, Roumania is not Canada, and Transylvania is not Quebec. The problem with the politics from Hungary towards their brother leaving outside their borders is that they don’t see other ways to keep their ethnic and cultural identity but by creating conflicts with the majority populations in those countries. Luckily most of Hungarians ethnics in those countries don’t follow this ideology. But is true that some of them loose their cultural and ethnic identity due to the lack of positive solutions from their elites.

  17. *living outside…. 🙂

  18. Avatar Christopher Adam says:

    I think you’ve got a point in terms of the issue of political elites in Hungary attempting to intervene in the affairs of the community in Transylvania and their use of conflict as a way to maintain ethnic cohesion.

    Bilingual universities, like Babes-Bolyai, can work and exist alongside unilingual ones. Frankly, I suspect that in many cases it makes more sense for Transylvanian Hungarians to attend a bilingual institution if they wish to succeed professionally in Romania.

    But Canada and Quebec, I believe, can serve as a model when it comes to developing and maintaining an inclusive and multilingual/multicultural society. While I do think that there have been some really important strides in Romania when it comes to minority rights, when there are cities and regions where the Hungarian population is near or in excess of 50%, yet in the local police, civil administration, prefecture and judiciary there are barely any Hungarians, then there is, indeed, a problem.

    • thank you for your reply. The realities of Romania are different from what you were presented. Hungarians had a vice prime minister till few month ago, their party UDMR was in power, with coalitions, for the most out of all Romanian parties in last 25 year. They have mayors, they have all authorities they are endowed from elections, and also government appointed officials in areas where are majority. What their politicians sell now is the idea that only separated the Hungarians can live better and keep their identity, and you can see that also in Catalunia, Scotland etc. I believe that is totally wrong to do in E.U. today. I can accept competition between cultures, it can make us all better, but segregation is not a solution within Europe, we have enough enemies outside. 🙂

  19. Avatar George Pearson says:

    This was a very instructive article on the current situation in Romania. Still, a history buff, I can not follow some of the comments. The Szekely were the first in Transsylvania? I believe the Romans, the ancestors of the Romanians were there even before them and they exterminated/assimilated the original Dacian population. Nevertheless, people in the region should learn to look forward and not back. This means for the Romanian to understand that they will have to deal with a Hungarian minority and for the Hungarians that they will have to live with a Romanian majority.

    • There is a very long history of “genocide” in the region. The Romans tried to wipe out the Dacians, the Hungarians tried to rid the territory of the the Romanians, then the Romanians tried it with the Hungarians. This is why there is such tension with regards to the Hungarian communities wanting to exclude the Romanian language from their Universities, it is seen as a form of genocide so to speak. If they can increase the number of “Hungarianized” people then they can get further autonomy in the region. Romanians however, will not let this happen. I don’t believe this will ever be solved, unfortunately. I feel that the Hungarians should just learn to live happily with what they have so there are no further attempts to take away further rights within the region. I also think they should learn to speak Romanian, so many refuse to do this and expect the country to adapt to them, there is such a strong sense of entitlement in the region, I get annoyed by them when visiting. It would increase their chances of employment if they are ever faced with opportunities outside the region into Romanian speaking territory. Most just complain that they should have everything and never have to learn another language. Very frustrating. And this is MY people! I should point out I live in Canada, I speak only Hungarian and English, I don’t speak Romanian.

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