March 15 is Hungary’s national holiday, marking the beginning of the 1848 Independence revolution against Habsburg domination. We now know from a document that Hungarians got hold off during the riots on the night of March 20 that Vatra had been thinking a lot about March 15. Already at the end of February, they were discussing how the anniversary celebration should be made the pretext for a fuss, that Romanians must be left feeling insulted by it all. This they had decided already at the end of February!

On the eve of the Hungarian national holiday, there was a memorial meeting in Târgu Mureş accompanied by an artistic evening at the Palace of Culture. The Romanian leadership of the county was invited, but did not turn up. Romanian artists did take part, and the entire performance passed undisturbed.

On March 15 we laid a wreath at the statue of Nicolae Bălcescu. Here, Aurel Florian, the county chairman of the Social Democratic Party, spoke in Romanian. We also laid a wreath at the statue of the Szekler martyrs – the martyrs who were executed as victims of a 19th Century anti-Habsburg uprising. (Szekler being the name given to the hardy, indigenous Hungarians of eastern Transylvania.) We also unveiled a plaque at what is now the office of the Calvinist parish, the Teleki house (the Telekis being an old Transylvanian Hungarian aristocratic, politically active and philanthropic family), commemorating the last night spent in Târgu Mureş by the Polish General Jósef Bem, who fought in 1848/49 with the Hungarians against the Habsburgs.

On national holidays, of course, flags and other decorations came out. And in normal times and normal places, nobody would be vexed by the hoisting of a flag. But in the Târgu Mureş of the Vatra – and despite allegations to the contrary – nobody risked it. I must emphasise that in Târgu Mureş I did not see any Hungarian flag hoisted either before or after the December 1989 revolution. We did everything to avoid an incident, but it was not upon us.

We organised the commemorations of March 15 with great care, taking into account Romanian (read Vatra) sensitivities and the potential for provocation. And so they tried – just like with the painting of the statue of Avram Iancu – to create tensions and to provoke incidents from among those under their influence. It was bad luck for them that Lajos Demény had arrived in Târgu Mureş who described the events as follows:

On March 15, 1990, I was in Târgu Mureş, where I had arrived from Cluj during the morning. I was received with the instruction to stay by the phone because I would be called by Vice Prime Minister Emil Drăgănescu (inherited from Ceauşescu). I had to wait in the office of Ion Scrieciu. [The question arises why he could not have waited in my office?]

He turned up at around 3 pm with the news that the Hungarians of the town had been carried away in the three sites of the commemoration, had caused disturbances and damage, and were lining up under Hungarian flags to commit terrorist actions. He said he received the news from reliable local police and counter-espionage sources. He said he had prepared a report for the government and he asked me to sign it.

I showed readiness to sign the report, but only after having been personally convinced of this state of affairs through on-site inquiry. Informing the government is a great responsibility and I cannot sanctify with my presence in Târgu Mureş and even less so with my signature on report about events of which I had not been an eye-witness. So I asked him to drive with the car at my disposal to the reported three locations and then report what we had both seen and experienced. As I refused to act otherwise, he was forced to visit all three sites of the March 15 commemorations together with me.

We witnessed everywhere commemorations proceeding with the utmost order and with the discipline characteristic of the Hungarians of Târgu Mureş. We did not encounter any breaches of the peace, not one Hungarian flag, no anti-Romanian inflammatory slogans. Such a report was dead in the water, but I was still shocked to hear in the late-night news after my return to Bucharest that: “In Târgu Mureş, there were anti-Romanian demonstrations and disturbances”. In vain did I tell the government what I had actually seen. In vain did I ask Romanian Television to issue a correction.