“Szeklers are not Hungarians” – Budapest disagrees

Recently the Hungarian Academy of Sciences issued the statement: The dominant historical, archaeological, ethnographic and linguistic standpoints consider the Szeklers to be an integral part of the modern Hungarian nation in ethno-cultural terms.

This is the latest in an ongoing debate about the Szeklers (Székelyek in Hungarian).

In February 2013 demonstrators appeared in front of the Hungarian Consulate in the Romanian city of Cluj (Kolozsvár in Hungarian). They carried a sign which read „Szeklers are not Hungarians.”

Szeklers are not Hungarians.

According to the Orbán Government there are 1.2-million citizens identified as “Hungarians” in Romania and about half of them are ethnically Szekler. Szeklers live far from the Hungarian border in the middle of Romania, an area called Szeklerland covering three Romanian counties (Mureş, Harghita and Covasna).

Map of Szeklerland.

Szeklers speak Hungarian, although today most of them are bi-lingual, and they maintain a strong and distinct community identity. Some say that Szeklers and Hungarians are separate nations, similar to the Germans and Austrians who have common German roots and language, yet are separate nations. Others state that Szeklers are “Hungarians” and no further discussion is needed.

Freedom to Szeklerland.

During the Communist era, between 1952 and 1968, there was an autonomous region in Romania at the area of Szeklerland called Magyar Autonomous Region, with Târgu-Mureș (Marosvásárhely) as capital.

Szeklerland is not Romania.

A new wrinkle in the Szekler debate is that Mr. Mihály András, of the Szeklers’ World Alliance (Székelyek Világszövetsége) has initiated a petition to declare that Szeklers who live within the borders of Hungary constitute an independent ethnic group. These are Szeklers who migrated to Hungary from Szeklerland and now demand minority status in Hungary. The petition was rejected.

Mihály András, of the Szeklers’ World Alliance.

According to Hungary’s National Election Committee there are currently thirteen ethnic groups that meet the legal criteria. The Szeklers do not satisfy all requirements including, residing in the current territory of Hungary for at least 100 years, and having their own language.

To complicate the issue there is another tiny Hungarian speaking ethnic group in Romania, the Csangos. Without the Szeklers and the Csangos, the Hungarian minority would be only 600,000, far from the 1.2 million number.

Hungary’s policy is based on the idea that the nation is a 15-million strong “world nation.” Ten-million within the borders, 2.5-million outside Hungary within the Carpathian basin. Another 2.5 million is the Diaspora, e.g. in North America. People with Hungarian heritage in the Carpathian basin and the Diaspora are called “Hungarians” and they are part of the “Hungarian nation body.”

I have reservations about the “world nation” concept and question the validity of these numbers. The total number of Hungarians both in the Carpathian basin and in the Diaspora is significantly lower. The Hungarian world nation is probably about 12-million strong.

Obviously the Szeklers and Csangos in Romania should decide for themselves whether they want to be identified as Hungarians and be included in the “Hungarian nation body.” The Academy in Budapest shouldn’t issue ill-timed proclamations on this touchy and very political issue.

Szeklerland does not exist

As a Hungarian American I am a bit annoyed that the Orbán government calls us “Hungarians.” In North America we are Canadians and Americans, proud of our Hungarian roots and heritage, and few of us endorse Hungary’s current “nation policy.” It would be more appropriate to call us Americans and Canadians of Hungarian origin.

György Lázár

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