His Excellency, Mr Klaus Johannis, the
President of Romania has been awarded the prestigious International Charlemagne
Prize of Aachen 2020. According to the citation he is “an outstanding proponent
of European values, of freedom and democracy, of the protection of minorities
and of cultural diversity […]”. Sadly he has recently chosen to be the
opponent of “the protection of minorities and cultural diversity”. In
an inflammatory speech broadcast on the 29th April, President Klaus Johannis
resorted to incitement against the country’s Hungarian minority – the first
serious attack of this nature from a Romanian head of state since the fall of
communism three decades ago. In https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMPMULeorjg, he accuses his Romanian political opponents of conspiring
with Hungary “to give Transylvania to the Hungarians”, potentially
inciting deep-rooted ethnic fears.
The President’s Saxon ancestors arrived in Hungary about 850 years ago on the invitation of the Hungarian King Géza II. This hospitality had been extended to all subsequent generations and waves of Saxon settlers until 1920 when, as a result of the Paris Peace Treaties, Transylvania was awarded to Romania by the Great Powers. Their religious rights, use of language, cultural identity and customs had been protected by successive Hungarian kings to the extent that in 1486 the universitas saxonum, a self-governing body, was granted to them by King Matthias. During the Reformation and its aftermath Transylvania was one of the safest places to live for Protestants, many of whom were notable members of the Saxon community. The Parliament of Torda in 1568 granted freedom of conscience and religion for all three nations living in Transylvania at the time. This remarkable phenomenon – the first in the world, established hundreds of years before it became the norm in the rest of Europe – also worked in practice.
Those of us Hungarians and Romanians living in the UK, work tirelessly to establish harmony, understanding and cooperation between the nations, to celebrate our respective cultures and languages. Therefore, we Hungarians found President Johannis’ inflammatory words misguided, unacceptable and unbefitting of the Office of President. Exactly thirty years after the anti-Hungarian riots of Tirgu Mures/Marosvásárhely re-introduced inter-ethnic violence to post-Communist Europe, his words have the potential to re-ignite ethnic tensions not just in his country but also abroad where Hungarians and Romanians co-exist peacefully, as we do in the UK. In that spirit we object in no uncertain terms to his treatment of ethnic minorities and blatant disregard of fundamental human rights. We sincerely hope that His Excellency will make amends to rectify the current explosive situation and promote understanding between the nations both at home and abroad so that the citation of the Charlemagne Prize will ring true.