Late afternoon: “Europe is with us”

I telephoned President Iliescu and pealed him to come to Târgu Mureş at once. I said the situation was very dangerous and ethnic clashes could occur. I stressed that the Romanian mob violence that caused the grave injury to András Sütő had not improved the reputation of our country, and that it would be advisable to avoid a repetition of such incidents.

Iliescu answered that because the atmosphere was so tense he would not come. He would come in two or three days when the situation had calmed down. Iliescu never did come.

He also said that he was sending the deputy Defence and Interior Ministers and that they would take the appropriate measures. These gentlemen only appeared in public on the 21st, after the killings.

It wasn’t only me asking Iliescu to intervene. The Romanian Greek Catholic Bishop (later Cardinal) Alexandru Todea called on the President as early as March 19 to do something to stop ethnic clashes. Iliescu refused then, too, saying he would take steps only “at the very end”.

I also talked on the phone to Dr. Pál Kikeli, one of the vice-presidents of the Mureş County branch of the RMDSZ. He told me that he and another vice-president, István Káli Király, had just decided to go into hiding together. He gave me a telephone number, but with a bugged telephone it wasn’t certain that they wouldn’t be found if a search was really on for them.

He recommended that I should remind the people of the importance of peace and unity. But I already had my routine worked out here, for I had delivered three speeches earlier that day at Odorheiul Secuiesc. But he added something I had not thought of apropos this particular Hungarian crowd gathered in the town centre: I should send the people home because of the danger of being provoked.

In the Romanian variants of my speech delivered so the Vatra crowd would also understand me, I also called on people to disperse, but in vain. (I shall return to this.) After my telephone calls, I had to talk to the demonstrators.

My Hungarian and Romanian-language speeches – which were video-recorded – were as follows:

Kincses (in Hungarian): “Dear people of Târgu Mureş! It is a very great responsibility to speak on these two days. Yesterday, when I stood here (and was forced to resign), other people expected me to say something entirely different to what I have to say here today. My opinion is that here and now, conciliation is the only possible road to follow. We only have a future if we have trust in each other, if we do not constantly look on one-another with suspicion, if we do not let ourselves be misled by the extremists...

“In my opinion, yesterday’s demonstration was a typical case of what terrible pain can be caused by a sick idea born in the minds of some irresponsible extremists, of what a Fascistic climate of pogrom it can call forth. We shall of course demand that the organisers of yesterday’s demonstration be put before the courts and punished.

“But no generalisations are permissible: it has to be established exactly who was at fault, and to what extent. And the punishments must be tailored to the individuals.

“Let us not generalise. This is my request to the people of Târgu Mureş. I am very well aware that a great many Romanians of Târgu Mureş are stunned and shocked by the events of yesterday, We have to join forces with these true democrats in order to isolate those with sick minds. Those latter types we don’t need. It is anyway very important that we behave in a civilised manner in order not to lose the sympathy and understanding we won through our self-restraint yesterday, when it was so difficult not to go out into the streets. We need the support of Romanian and European democratic public opinion; otherwise we cannot achieve the equal rights that are due to us and to every minority.”

The crowd: “Europe is with us, Europe is with us!”

Kincses: “I would like to stress that we are not demanding privileges. We don’t seek equal rights at the expense of somebody else! We demand only those rights which have already been formulated in the Declaration of Alba Iulia in 1918 [the pact where Romanians outlined minority rights for Hungarians after the detachment of Transylvania from Hungary] and which were then included in the Versailles Settlement, also rights guaranteed in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in all international agreements which Romania has signed in the past 40 years.”

The crowd: “We demand our rights!”

Kincses (in Romanian): “Dear fellow citizens! I said yesterday too that I was in favour of unity. (...) Today the healthy body of Târgu Mureş rejects the few sick cells which have ruined our coexistence. (... ) We shall be able to restore the wonderful unity which characterised us during the December revolution, when our sons sacrificed their lives together here, in Martyrs’ Square. (...) We must be careful that in the local press no material should be published of the sort which appeared, for instance, in Los Angeles, which gives rise to altercations here, because it awakens in the Romanians the suspicion that the Hungarians want Transylvania. It is a shame that such a thing could have happened in the local Press, especially if we take into account that a gross forgery is involved. (... ) We shall soon read out aloud the draft programme of the RMDSZ, and I ask everybody to go home afterwards.” (My comment: In the end, I did not receive this draft from Kikeli.)

The crowd: (in Romanian) “We shall not leave!” (in Hungarian) “Now or never! We shall wait!”

Mercifully, our earlier requests for people to go home had not been met. The Hungarian demonstrators feared that if they dispersed the Romanian crowds would settle matters with the Hungarian leaders who were in the town hall, and would beat up or murder every Hungarian they caught. Indeed, it is obvious that if the demonstrating Hungarian crowd had not taken up the fight with the invaders, the balance would have been much worse, and then we would have had to count many more than the three Hungarian dead. It is incontestable that the opinion of the crowd was correct; they knew better what had to be done than we did. Arrangements were made for the potential fight. Women and children were told to leave the demonstration. The men were told to stay together in tight formation and to reinforce their flank facing the Grand Hotel.

Nicolae Juncu (in Romanian): “I call on everybody – those here in the square, the ones standing in front of the Grand Hotel and those, too, who are standing in front of the Mayor’s Office – to have patience. We shall try to solve the situation.”

After I had finished my speech, I was warned that information had been received by the Mureş County leaders of the Provisional Council of National Unity that armed Romanian peasants from the Reghin region were again assembling. I therefore rang Interior Minister, General Mihai Chiţac, to demand that the two demonstrating camps be separated by adequate forces, and that a repetition of the invasion of armed Romanian peasants from the Gurghiu valley and the Reghin region should be prevented. I stressed that the vandalism of the 19th had done great damage to the international reputation of Romania, and a repetition must be avoided.

Interior Minister Chiţac reassured me that he had already issued orders to Colonel Gambra, the police commander of Mureş County, to separate the two camps with adequate forces, and to prevent the possible invasion of Târgu Mureş by outside groups.

The “adequate” force was a cordon of about 80 policemen to control 20-22,000 people. This cordon dissolved when the Romanian attack came. It had been set up at approximately at 13:30 by General Scrieciu at the demand of the RMDSZ. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that it would also have been useful to supplement this official protection with some more comprehensive self-defence measures of our own.

Following my talk with Interior Minister Chiţac, I at once telephoned County Police Commander Gambra. He assured me he had taken measures to close down the Gurghiu valley so that the Romanian peasants would not be able to leave and come to Târgu Mureş. The town, he said, “cannot be penetrated.”

After this, I rang Károly Király in Bucharest. He said he would do everything possible and talk to all competent persons. In order to avoid further harm, he warned that we should also think of organising our own self-defence.

I spoke to Defence Minister Stănculescu, who told me that a deputy minister was coming to Târgu Mureş to take appropriate measures. But the Defence Minister was unwilling to order the immediate intervention of the military.

Next on the phone, I appealed to General Constantin Cojocaru, the Mureş County military commander, for the army to intervene and prevent clashes between the ethnic groups. Cojocaru first said that he did not have sufficient forces available. After the Romanian attack had started, and after a second telephone call, he announced that he had taken measures for the military to intervene.

After all these telephone conversations, I was warned that the Romanian demonstrators were getting more and more aggressive and that it was to be feared that the Hungarians would lose their patience. I therefore told County First Vice-President Srieciu that we should try to convince the crowd – he, the Romanians, I, the Hungarians – that there was no place for violence.

A few minutes before 17:00, I addressed the crowd (in Hungarian): “Unfortunately, it seems that there are also people who do not like peaceful demonstrations and are trying to disturb things. I ask you not to forget that the scenario is an old one. They again want to provoke us, and want to try to prove that we are destabilising the country because we want to detach Transylvania. This would then, of course, serve as an excellent argument for the introduction of a military dictatorship...

“We ask nothing but equal rights: a Hungarian section in the medical university, a Bolyai school. This has nothing to do with territorial demands... These are base manipulations to which we have fallen victim so many times, and now they are trying to manipulate public opinion again. On this point, Bucharest Television is unfortunately very much at fault, having broadcast a number of lies...”

Ioan Scrieciu (in Romanian): “I ask everybody to keep calm. Do not respond to provocation. I call on the Romanians standing in front of the Grand Hotel to leave. No party should let itself be provoked because it is not right that we are behaving in this way. I beg you to leave the square in front of the Grand Hotel and to go home.

“People around the statue should also go home.” (He was referring to the statue of Avram Iancu, where the Romanians had started to assemble a few hours before.)

To calm down the crowd, the Hungarian theatre director András Hunyadi announced that the Hungarian actress Kinga Illyés would recite poems to them.

Kinga Illyés: “I bring you, dear friends, the words of poets. The words of poets, who never took recourse to violence. They wrote and spoke only in the name of pure humanism, the soul, and justice.”

Beautiful poems addressed to ugly times followed.