Early evening. “They have arrived, they’re here”
I returned to my office and received a telephone message that armed Romanian peasants, having been made drunk, were on their way from Reghin. In this situation there were two alternatives: either everybody goes home. or everybody stays. Therefore, I again went before the crowd and said the following:
“In Bucharest, a parliamentary session is beginning. This is the meeting of the National Bureau of the Council of Unity which is to deal with the situation in Târgu Mureş, and of the national minorities generally. It is, of course, impossible to know how long this meeting will last. Probably it will last a very long time, because the situation is extremely difficult and complicated. The question now is what to do? “
Shall we wait for the decision in Bucharest?
The answer of the demonstrators in front of the town hall: “We shall wait!”
Kincses: “Well, if this is the general opinion, then it is very important that everybody should stay in place and that the crowd should not disperse. And it should be very disciplined, because if only a few remain here, we can be subject to all kinds of attacks. This then is a collective duty, and everybody should stay here, and we should look after each other. This is the only way this can be managed.”
The crowd: “Now or never!”
Kincses: “In that case, we also have to think of the fact that we might have to defend ourselves...”
I proposed that the following communiqué should be read on Târgu Mureş Radio: “Those who want to go home should go home. Those who want to come should come because they may be needed...
We had to decide soon, because the Hungarian-language transmission of Târgu Mureş Radio lasted only until 20:00. But our tentative preparations to save ourselves were overtaken by events. Shortly after, at 18:00, the Romanian attack did indeed come.
This was how the moment was recorded by the person manning one video camera in the main square:
“Look, they have broken through. Jesus Christ, they have pushed out onto the square. With axes. They have gone crazy. I have never seen such a thing in my life. With pitchforks. Good God, he has fallen down. Where are the soldiers?”
One Hungarian journalist in the square prior to this moment describes noticing on the Romanian side a young woman, maybe 19 or 20, hoisted on someone’s shoulders. She was always looking to the rear. He heard her shout: “They have arrived, they’re here.” The young woman jumped down and ran to the side, and suddenly the square was a sea of axes.
By the time I got to the balcony from my office, I saw that the Hungarians had begun to fight back, and most of the Romanians had withdrawn to the Grand Hotel. I am told it is a mystery how the Hungarians ran only a certain distance before something made them stop, turn and confront the Romanians. Though at this point they were still without weapons and presumably used only their hands against the axes and pitchforks. From the town hall balcony, I tried to soothe the crowd with the following words.
“We have to end the struggle. Let us try it, perhaps we shall succeed. The soldiers are allegedly coming. In any case, we should not attack. We should not attack, only defend ourselves: Come back to the front of the town hall, to the centre! Come back, do not run!”
Parties of Hungarian workers and students started to arrive to supplement the original demonstrators who had been caught in the square by the first attack. I am told the workers were a model of team-work as they set down calmly to make Molotov Cocktails. one loading, one carrying, one stacking.
I went back to my office and phoned everywhere, and General Cojocaru promised that finally the army would come. (An hour earlier, the Hungarian demonstrators had begun chanting in Romanian: Let the army come! And so often subsequently, I have asked myself: What would have happened if it had not been us who were trying to call in the army, but the other side?)
The Hungarians were now trying to arm themselves in order to return to the scene. They dismantled fences and benches – indeed, it was possible to know who was Hungarian because they held green staves.
They also raided building sites for weapons. In short they got hold of anything that appeared suitable and returned to the front of the town hall. From there, they drove the Romanians back to the Grand Hotel.
Let me note that the Hungarians of Târgu Mureş wanted to avoid clashes to such an extent that this was the first time during the whole of this period under review that they had actively responded to a Romanian provocation or returned a Romanian attack. Furthermore, the first dead and injured were all Hungarian, which shows (in addition to the video-records), who started the violence. This particular piece of information was suppressed by Vatra doctors.
The Hungarians built barricades in the streets leading to the main square so that when, after a big delay – three armoured vehicles arrived; they got caught in the street to the right of the town hall and could not continue.
The Hungarians refused to let them through, saying they did not trust the army. After repeated requests of mine, they dismantled a barricade, and thus the three armoured vehicles were able to get to the corner of the square next to the Grand Hotel, closing down the square and the road leading to the town hall.
After the army’s arrival, I spoke again:
“The soldiers are here, they take their place. Nothing should be done to them. Everybody should now stay in place. I ask everybody to stay in place’, nobody should pay attention to the military. Hungarians, remain in your places!”
But the arrival of the armoured vehicles emboldened the Romanians. (“The army is with us.”) They started to throw missiles at the Hungarians more and more aggressively. Paving stones were delivered by a dump truck, gasoline by another truck. Molotov Cocktails were being produced, which they threw at the Hungarians. (This information was provided to me by witnesses, since I was in the town hall until the end.)
According to some witnesses, the Vatra people siphoned off fuel from the army vehicles, too, in order to make Molotov cocktails.
After a successful missile barrage, the Romanians began to climb over the armoured vehicles and advanced again. During this time, according to other witnesses, at least one of the armoured vehicles drove over to the Romanian side, turned around, and then proceeded towards the Hungarian lines slowly, while the Romanian mob sheltered and followed behind it, were throwing stones.
One Hungarian describes how he became aware of a curious sound, like a tin house collapsing. He looked up to see a big Romanian truck descending upon him. He leapt out of the way, at the same time realising that the sound was the noise of stones thrown by more alert Hungarians pounding the sides of the truck. The windscreen was smashed, the driver pressed on blindly, demolishing a lamp-post and a fountain before striking the steps of the Greek Catholic church. This truck struck and killed one of the Hungarians. The crash was forceful enough to kill one of the Romanian passengers. When the vehicle came to a halt, the other Romanians on board immediately jumped up and started throwing down iron bars. They had come to arm their compatriots, but this area had just been cleared by the Hungarians in one of their sweeps.
The square was full of broken staves and bottles and the clanking of armoured vehicles manoeuvring, belching smoke. One Hungarian witness recalls seeing three people on fire that night: one of them hit squarely on the back by a Molotov cocktail.
The ambulances had approached from all directions, and they concentrated on retrieving the wounded: the Hungarians from one end of the square and the Romanians from the other. Parties of Hungarians launched out into the Romanian lines and took prisoners. One captured Romanian was beaten severely by Hungarians despite the appeals of his captors that he was a prisoner. He had to be put straight into one of the ambulances, his head a bloody mess.
Control over the square ebbed and flowed during this time, with the Hungarians facing the difficulty of confronting the Romanians sheltering behind the armoured vehicles. The Romanians began to advance again. Then, at about 20:00, small parties of young men began to arrive with silent steps behind the Hungarian lines’. They wore white so that they would identify each other, and they were well armed. The Hungarian Gypsies of Târgu Mureş had arrived.
The Gypsies called out: Hungarians never fear! The Gypsies are here! The Hungarian crowd roared. Together, they attacked and forced the Romanians back behind the armoured vehicles. One of the Gypsy leaders told me: “Mr. Kincses, should we not come to help the Hungarians, when we are Hungarian Gypsies, and it hurts us if the Hungarians are being beaten!” He added: “Today you, tomorrow us...”
After this, the Romanians only continued to throw things, but did not dare again to cross the line formed by the armoured vehicles. And many of the Romanian vehicles that had transported the mob to Târgu Mureş now began to burn.
At this point, I rang Colonel Gambra, the police commander, and asked him how it was possible that he had not provided security for Târgu Mureş against the Romanian peasants. To which Gambra answered in an off-hand manner: “What can I do if I don’t have enough men available?”
The truth about the behaviour of the police was told later, in an April transmission of the Panoráma programme of Hungarian Television, by the physician Dr. Előd Uri. He was then the Vice-President of the Reghin branch of the RMDSZ, though he has since resettled in Hungary, his life having been threatened by Vatra people. He reported that at the edge of Reghin, the buses and trucks carrying the peasant force were indeed held up, but only until approximately 12 vehicles had assembled. And then it was a police car that led them to Târgu Mureş!
I was repeatedly telephoned in these hours by Hungarian leaders in Covasna and Harghita counties, who asked how they could help us. They said several thousand people wanted to come and help Târgu Mureş. I said that such help was not needed, that the conflict should not be broadened. I proposed that instead they should bombard Iliescu, Stănculescu, Petre Roman, Chiţac – the main Romanian leadership, in other words – with phone calls, insisting that these men finally take measures.