Nationalism strong factor

BUCHAREST, Jun 23, 2000 -- (RFE/RL) Romania's post-communist political allegiances have been characterized by some notable regional differences: Moldova and Muntenia (except for their large urban settlements) tend to favor the post-communist "successor parties," while the former Hungarian province of Transylvania has supported the present governing coalition parties.

A close examination of the 2000 local election results in Transylvania shows that the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) won that contest. While most important cities are still controlled by coalition representatives, the UDMR and the PDSR dominate the county councils, where the system for the distribution of seats is similar to that used in parliamentary elections. The main political organization of ethnic Hungarians, representing 23 percent of the region's inhabitants, came first in five of the region's 16 counties and has a majority in two counties. The PDSR, on the other hand, won in six counties but failed to secure a majority on the councils where it won.

Two cities attracted the most attention during the elections. One is Targu Mures, where in March 1990 Romanians clashed with ethnic Hungarians, leaving six dead and several injured. The city has since returned to "normalcy," but nationalist sentiments, though subdued, persist on each side. With its very large Hungarian ethnic minority, Targu Mures has been governed since 1992 by an ethnic Hungarian mayor, who in the past managed to enlist the support of some liberal-minded members of the town's ethnic Romanian majority. In the 4 June first round of the 2000 local elections, incumbent Imre Fodor was only 179 votes short of winning outright. But in the runoff two weeks later, Romanian Democratic Convention (CDR) candidate Dorin Florea won by a narrow margin of 2,723 votes, producing what is perhaps the greatest surprise in Transylvania in the local elections. Florea, until now the prefect of Mures county, conducted a campaign that clearly appealed to Romanian nationalist sentiments. He thus managed to enlist the support of the CDR's nationalist adversaries against the UDMR candidate Fodor, whose party is a CDR partner in the central government coalition. Florea now faces a UDMR majority in the city council and the difficult task of working with two Hungarian vice mayors.

Transylvania's "spiritual capital," Cluj, drew even more attention, however. Extreme nationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar, secretary-general of the Greater Romania Party (PRM), has headed the mayoralty since 1992, when he was still a member (and then the leader) of the Party of Romanian National Unity. In the first round of this month's elections, he garnered 46 percent of the vote and UDMR candidate Peter Eckstein Kovacs placed second with 21 percent (roughly the percentage of the city's population that is Hungarian). Fearing the runoff would bring about a strong division along ethnic lines, Eckstein Kovacs stepped down in favor of Serban Radulescu, the CDR candidate who placed third with just over 11 percent backing. This prompted all parties except the PRM to form a coalition against Funar. Most local intellectuals declared their support for Radulescu, and the local media intensified the strong anti-Funar campaign they had launched before the first round.

Radulescu centered his campaign on the need to return to "normalcy" in interethnic relations and to attract foreign investors, who have been scared off by Funar's anti-Western rhetoric. Clearly convinced he would repeat his 1996 performance, when he was one of the few mayors to win in the first round, Funar had conducted a surprisingly tame campaign. But ahead of the runoff he returned to waging an all-out war against the town's Hungarian minority and Magyars in Romania in general. He claimed that should Radulescu win, Hungarian would be introduced as an official language, a Hungarian-language university would be established (as it should have been long ago, in accordance with legislation already passed), and Romanians would be "kicked out of their homes." Moreover, according to the maverick mayor, Hungarian companies would buy up local firms, and Cluj would instantly return to being "Kolozsvar," the city's name under centuries- long Hungarian rule.

Funar's tactics worked again, particularly among those Romanians whom late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu moved to Cluj to "Romanianize" Transylvania's capital. The coalition formed by the anti-Funar parties--which surprisingly included the PDSR--turned out to be "too little, too late." This took few people unawares since both the PDSR and some parties represented in the CDR have on occasion played the "nationalist card" themselves. Funar won with 53 to Radulescu's 47 percent., leaving the city even more divided than ever and with a local council dominated by the anti- Funar coalition representatives.

But if Hungarian money seemed dirty for the residents of Cluj, German Marks proved attractive elsewhere in Transylvania. In the southern city of Sibiu, the runoff resulted in the overwhelming victory of Johannis Klaus, the candidate of the German Democratic Forum, over his PDSR adversary. That result was somewhat surprising: once dominated by Germans, the former Hermannstadt now has a population that is only 1 percent German. Klaus had offered global, not ethnic solutions for the city. Observers, however, note that Sibiu voters are hoping the ethnic German mayor will help attract investments from Germany and other EU member countries. The author is a freelance writer living in Cluj, Romania.

Original article