Putin ponders border revision between Hungary and Romania

Russian President Vladimir Putin raised eyebrows among Romanians and raised hope among some Hungarian nationalists, by suggesting that reviewing the post World War II border between Hungary and Romania could be on the agenda, if people question Russia’s borders and territories. In June 1920, the Treaty of Trianon confirmed Hungary’s loss of Transylvania and its transfer to Romania. During the interwar period, Hungary’s key foreign policy aim was the recovery of these and other lost territories. In August 1940, Hungary’s wish came true. Through the Second Vienna Award, initiated by Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Italy, Hungary recovered 43,492 km² in land from Romania. Northern Transylvania, where ethnic Hungarians formed 55% of the population, was transferred to Hungary. On a personal note: my father’s cousin was a child in Kolozsár (Cluj) and he recalls how exuberant his Hungarian Jewish family was, when Hungarian troops moved in to the region and reclaimed the land. The deportation of Transylvania’s Hungarian Jews four years later, at the hands of Hungarian officials, left many Jews in Kolozsvár and elsewhere in the region dumbstruck and devastated.

Hungary's territorial gains in World War II, as an ally of Nazi Germany.

Hungary’s territorial gains in World War II, as an ally of Nazi Germany.

In 1947, the Treaty of Peace with Hungary, signed in Paris, transferred northern Transylvania back to Romania. Hungary also lost all other World War II territorial gains. In fact, in 1947 Hungary even lost a handful of additional villages to Czechoslovakia, which during the Treaty of Trianon were allowed to remain with Hungary.

The Hungarian-language Transylvanian Főtér website discovered Vladimir Putin’s surprising statements. Mr. Putin was giving an interview to Bloomberg when he was asked about borders determined at the end of World War II. Mr. Putin’s position is that if the revision of any post-World War II borders, impacting Russia, are up for discussion, then the decision to return Transylvania to Romania in 1947 must also be considered.

The Bloomberg journalist had asked President Putin about whether Russia would be willing to return to Japan the Kuril Islands–the Soviet Union invaded the region in 1946, and expelled close to 17,000 ethnic Japanese. The question arose following Mr. Putin’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and talk of closer economic ties between the two countries.

Bloomberg also asked Mr. Putin about the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad in the Baltic region. The area was historically part of Prussia and then later Germany. The Soviets occupied the area on April 9th, 1945, resulting in the forced removal of the local German population. The journalist’s suggestion regarding Kaliningrad was meant as a joke, but Mr. Putin responded with seriousness.

“Putting aside the joke, If someone wants to review the outcome of the Second World War, then we can talk. However, then we must not only talk about Kaliningrad, but also about the eastern part of Germany, as well as the city of Lvov, once a part of Poland, and so on. And on this list we also have Hungary and Romania,” remarked Mr. Putin. The Russian president referred to any talk of border revision that may negatively impact Russia as opening a Pandora’s box in Europe.

Unlike in 1941, today Transylvania (even northern Transylvania) has a large Romanian majority, due in large part to the organized settlement of Romanians in major Transylvanian cities following the Second World War, as a conscious attempt to change demographic realities in the region. Today, more than 74% of Transylvania’s 6.4 million population identifies as ethnic Romanian. Hungarians comprise 19% of this population, according to Romania’s 2011 census. Ethnic Germans now comprise just 0.5% of the Transylvanian population. The members of the Roma community, who often speaks Hungarian at least as a second language, stand at 4%, according to official statistics.

Hungarians continue to form a majority in two counties of Transylvania. In Hargita County, the Hungarian population stands at 83%. In neighbouring Kovászna County, Hungarians comprise 74% of the population.

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