An explanation: I am the Harry Richards who edited the first English-language edition of this book nearly a quarter of a century ago. I used a fake name because, back then, I was a news editor in the Central News Division of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, based in Munich. RFE/RL was preparing to break up in its then form and relocate to Prague. I elected not to follow, and considered a new career as a freelance journalist mining at the same seam – Eastern Europe. Access and interviews are, of course, vital for a newsman. I didn’t think I would get far there with the leaders of the Romanian Vatra Românească organisation if they identified me as having described them in print as Fascistic. Well, I chose another career, so now I don’t have that identity problem.

I see in this new English-language edition of Mr Kincses’s book – in among many revisions as more issues have clarified – he notes the informed speculation in Romania that Vatra Românească was only ever a front anyway. That more obscure forces were manipulating unstable forms of Romanian nationalism during that post-revolutionary decade. He identifies a Securitate unit, and the colonel in charge of it, who are now believed to have organised the later invasions of Bucharest by Romanian miners, transported there to beat anti-government demonstrators. He notes the theory that this same unit was also responsible for the earlier invasion of Târgu Mureş by inflamed Romanian peasants discussed here.

So where are we now?

Certain things I mentioned in 1992 did not happen: the Slovak treatment, for instance, of its Hungarian minority has been poor, but not SO bad that it might have prompted some Hungarian action. Meanwhile, the crimes that Serbians were to commit in Bosnia and Kosovo shocked the civilised world.

And, of course, in the East, now we are occupied by the behaviour of Putin’s regime. Its attacks on Georgia. Its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its fostering of separatist violence in eastern Ukraine. Its killing of its domestic opponents on the streets of London and at home. Its intimidation and cyber-attacks on the Baltic Republics and their institutions.

Grave matters. So then why is this relatively minor incident in Transylvania, which cost only five lives on the night, still worthy of note? Well, I suggest, (and, as I noted in my original foreword) because it was the first case of inter-ethnic, inter-community, killing to explode out of the overthrow of Communism in Eastern Europe. And swift it was in coming.

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama, an American political theorist, came out with his work, “The End of History and the Last Man”. He wrote:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Even at the time, this thesis was dubious. It could have been argued even then that Communism had only put the themes of history into the deep-freeze. Hungarians and Romanians, Poles and Russians, officially became fraternal, Socialist allies. The collapse of Communism did not mean the world had progressed beyond the last (and false, Communistic) take on history and embraced “the universalization” of Western liberal democracy. Rather, contemporary history – mainly the theme of nationalism  – was liberated to resume its story.

The corruption and lawlessness of Communist Romania was slow to fade. It has been noted that – unlike elsewhere in Eastern Europe – no new political party became the direct successor of the Communists (unlike, for instance, the Hungarian Socialist Party). But that was not necessarily a sign of political health; rather, the cynical apparatchiks of the old regime ceased to be clearly “in view” and adopted new mantles – often Romanian nationalism.

That has changed. The ethnic German population of Transylvania has continued to tumble in numbers. But today, the Romanian president is a German – Klaus Iohannis, the former mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu, elected on a pledge to cement the rule of law and to “get to work”.

Meanwhile, former prime minister, Victor Ponta, was facing corruption charges including money laundering and forgery when he was driven from office for this and other scandals in November 2015. Progress, of a sort.

Christopher Keeling

Editor of the first and second English-language editions

Hungary, January 2016