MARCH 16: THE PHARMACY INCIDENT
A rehearsal for the events ahead was held on March 16 at the No. 28 Pharmacy of Târgu Mureş.
What really happened that day? The inclusion here of a detailed contemporary description of the day’s events is justified by the fact that this incident has subsequently been reheated in distorted form by the Romanian press and the Romanian government. The description in itself also conveys the grotesque climate of mid-March most tellingly.
When this incident occurred, I was on the way to Bucharest to protest the Los Angeles handbill slander. So I leave it to the Hungarian journalist Attila Bögözi to describe what happened. His account appeared in an article in the Romániai Magyar Szó [Hungarian Word of Romania] under the title:
The Anatomy of a News Item,
Before a Pogrom in Târgu Mureş
The passage of time opens up perspectives, and such perspectives help in the calm surveying of certain events, and in arriving at the understanding of the interconnections behind them.
What then did happen in Târgu Mureş on March 16?
According to many people, one of the blasts that set off the avalanche was the incident at Pharmacy No, 28 in the Tudor housing project. In this connection, the “Adevărul” published in its March 17 issue an eight-line Rompress [Romanian news agency] news item under a headline almost as big as the entire text:
What Did the Pharmacist Lady Permit Herself?
The following thing happened Friday night in the municipality of Târgu Mureş: Mrs. Körmöczi, manager of Pharmacy No. 28, changed the name-plate of the pharmacy, writing it out in Hungarian, and announcing that from that moment the pharmacy was not open to Romanians but would serve only Hungarians.
[Unfortunately, this stupidity was even reported by Kossuth Radio of Budapest! – comment by Előd Kincses.]
This news would certainly deserve to get into the Guiness Book of Records, although its author would most of all deserve the “reward” of the Supreme Court as a sufficiently hard punishment for crimes included in the penal code under the headings: incitement, falsification of facts, slanders, misleading of public opinion. So let us have a look at this example of misinformation:
1. The events around Pharmacy No. 28 – as will be seen later in detail – did not occur Friday evening, but between the morning and early afternoon. At 15.30 the unit closed, so no further incidents could have happened there.
2. There is no pharmacist called Mrs. Körmöczi (H) in the unit and there never has been.
3. The manager of the pharmacy has been for years László Györffi [ H].
4. A pharmacist whose name resembles that figuring in the text exists, and she is called Emese Körmöczky (HI). But – as we already indicated – she is not the manager and could not have arbitrarily changed the inscription of the pharmacy as suggested in the Rompress news item.
5. Emese Körmöczky has made a personal statement concerning the impossible activities attributed to her.
But now let us see what really happened:
Dr. Levente Nagy (H), Manager of the County Pharmaceutical Company, reports the following:
The Executive Bureau of the Mureş County Council of the National Salvation Front issued a communiqué from its January 14 meeting, which contains verbatim the following: ”The Executive Bureau instructed the territorial state administrative organs that they should see to it that where it is justified, the names of villages, outlets, institutions, etc., should be written in the languages of the coexisting nationalities”.
Incidentally, the display of bilingual or multilingual signs – irrespective of their importance in symbolising democracy and fraternal coexistence – is not prohibited by the laws in force but is recommended by them. (It is another matter that in recent years the opposite had become universal practice.)
By virtue of the resolution, we started in January to restore bilingual inscriptions at our units in the same forms as they had existed a decade before. To have the work done, we placed an order with the County Production and Service Enterprise on January 24 (Order No. 20). This order was later taken over by the Metalul Cooperative as a general contractor, which, from the end of January to March 16, on the territory of the entire town, painted beside – and not instead of – the Romanian word ‘Farmacie’ also the Hungarian word ‘Gyógyszertár’ in ten pharmacies. Unit No. 28, would have been the last. This was why on Friday, March 16, at around 11:00, a worker of the Metalul Cooperative arrived at pharmacy No. 28 in the Tudor housing project.
On February 28, Manager Levente Nagy was telephoned by Colonel Ioan Judea, who was then still the Chairman of the Town Council of the Provisional Council of National Unity. Let Levente Nagy again have a word:
“Mr. Judea asked nothing more or less than to stop immediately the ‘repainting’ of the inscriptions, because – according to him – we were doing this all over the town without approval. I informed him that I was unwilling to carry out any instruction on the basis of a telephone call, and he should send his message in an official document.”
As we have already mentioned, Mr. Judea was then the town chairman of the National Unity Council, while the Pharmaceutical Company is an entity of a national organisation. Thus Mr. Judea had no right to intervene in the internal affairs of the company for his stated reason, and even less could he give instructions to its manager.
A few days later, however, an official request was received by the company, in which the Temporary Council of National Unity of Târgu Mureş – over the signature of Chairman Ioan Judea and Secretary Iosif Ovidiu – instructed the County Pharmaceutical Company not to put out any bilingual signs, because their shape and content had not yet been approved by the committee harmonising commercial advertisements and signs.
The management of the company replied to the request in an official letter registered as No. 1035, on March 5. The detailed letter justified the restoration of the bilingual inscriptions as entirely legal. It referred to section 22 of the Ceauşescu constitution and to the January 14 resolution of the Provisional Council of National Unity.
The company sent both Judea’s letter and the above reply to the members of the town and the county councils of the Provisional Council of National Unity with the request that this matter should be discussed at the sessions of the executive bureaux of those bodies. No official answer was received to this request.
After these beginnings came March 16. László Györffi, manager of Pharmacy No. 28.
Around 11:00, having finished his work at the pharmacy in the November 7 district, the worker of the Metalul Cooperative arrived. After he placed the patterns for the new sign on the unit window, he asked to curtain off the working surface from the outside by some large piece of material so that he should not be disturbed by passers- by during his work.
Around 11:30 the candy-vendor from the corner stand unexpectedly ran in front of the pharmacy and arbitrarily tore down the covering material, and ran away with it. I caught up with him at his candy stand, and wanted to pull from him the material which he had taken away. At this, he made such a vigorous swing with his arm that if he had hit me, I would not be here now. I returned to the pharmacy, but in the meantime I noticed that the candy-vendor had gone to the other side of the street, towards the Favorit Inn, and that there he gave the material used as a curtain to a policeman, who went with it into the inn. I went after him to ask for the return of the material, but since he was not willing to return it either, I asked him to come over to us at the pharmacy and see what it was all about. He appeared within five or ten minutes, bringing the material, asked the worker of the cooperative to prove his identity, and called on him to explain on what basis the inscription was being rearranged. Both I and the employee of the cooperative said that it was being done officially, on the basis of an order. The policeman asked for the order number, but the worker did not carry this information with him. After this, the policeman left the premises. At the same moment a police jeep appeared. (We had not called it!). It stopped not exactly in front of the pharmacy entrance, but nearby.
At 11.45 a crowd began to gather around the jeep and to walk towards the pharmacy. All of a sudden this crowd rushed into the pharmacy, breaking down the door. They were followed by the policeman who had taken the temporary curtain from the candy vendor. Five or six people crowded into my office, which is immediately to the left of the entrance. They were accompanied by the policeman. They tried to out-shout each other, repeating the question about why the sign was being repainted. They demanded that the work to be stopped, and that the Hungarian inscription to be removed.
With such an aggressive crowd inside the pharmacy, I telephoned the management of the company to report what was going on. The chief pharmacist, Leila Munteanu, (R) swiftly appeared on the scene, together with section head, Árpád Hajdu [H] and chief accountant Csaba Gáspár (H). In the meantime the mob rampaged: it tore up the patterns of the worker of the cooperative, painted over the half-finished Hungarian inscription and threatened the life of the unit’s personnel. Since the husband of the pharmacist Emese Körmöczky was a member of the County Council of the Provisional Council of National Unity, we asked her to inform the county leadership, through her husband, of the gravity of what was happening and to urge that a member of the council should come to the scene to survey the situation which had developed.
Leila Munteanu, chief pharmacist, deputy manager of the company:
Soon after 11:30, Mr. László Györffi rang me and informed me of the events occurring at Pharmacy No. 28. Accompanied by two members from management, we immediately went to the scene. When we arrived, there was a crowd of approximately 200 in front of the unit. In the pharmacy, in the office of the unit’s manager, there was huge disorder. The letters of the sign-maker’s pattern were torn, the windows painted over, the paint was running on the floor, the handles of the sliding door were broken off. The staff was in an extremely tense mood. I went with Mr. Hajdu to the crowd demonstrating in front of the entrance and asked them something like “What do you want with the pharmacy?” Since the emotional state of the crowd was rather turbulent, I proposed that four or five of them should kindly come to the office so that we should be able to understand each other.
My first question to them was whether the bilingual inscription was such a bad thing. They formulated but one argument: that the inscriptions should be the same size and should be put side by side and not one under the other. Having promised this, I again approached the demonstrators asked them to go home.
Pharmacy 28 Manager Györffi:
The discussions with the crowd were still going on when, considering the danger from the increasing tension on the street, and in agreement with the company managers at the scene, we asked the police and the army for help. Between 12:30 and 13:OO the military sent six young soldiers and an officer. From the police we got the answer that owing to staff shortages they were unable to help. In the meantime the officer sent to protect us rang Colonel Judea and informed him of the situation which had arisen, and that the windows of the pharmacy were not broken.
However, by then the mood of the mob had become so excited that it unequivocally demanded the complete deletion of the Hungarian inscription which had been painted over. This Mr. Hajdu did to the general satisfaction of those assembled.
During these events, and in spite of them, customers were being served continuously until 14:00-14:30, when the crowd had grown to such an extent that safeguarding the customers had become impossible. The life and limb of the staff could no longer be assured either. Between 14:00 and 15:00 the soldiers again succeeded in driving the mob out of the pharmacy. But around 15:15-15.3O, under the pressure of events, the pharmacy had to be closed.
So this is what lay behind that eight-line Rompress news item. And since the honour of an innocent person was reviled before an entire country, let us finally read her statement.
Pharmacist Emese Körmöczky:
I graduated in Târgu Mureş in 1974. Until now I have worked in 15 places. I started at Bacău in the Pharmaceutical Control Laboratory. I was transferred back to Târgu Mureş in 1982. I have worked in Pharmacy No. 28 since it was opened.
I have never had any problems with anybody. For years I have been in the laboratory in the rear, making up prescriptions, so I have had no direct contact with the customers anyway. There has never been any complaint about my work. This is also proven by my annual reports.
On March 16, I was in the rear laboratory and learned about the events unfolding only when the crowd invaded the pharmacy. Hearing the commotion, I came forward to the office where I met the excited crowd. It threatened me too without me having given any reason for it. A tall man lifted a ceramic vase and shouted into my face in Romanian.
“Te omor! Te fac praf!“ (I’ll kill you! I will grind you to dust!). When I said “Hai, omoară-mă” (come and kill me), he put down the vase. Another man wanted to strangle me with his bare hands, but I did not suffer any injury. I only broke down crying and went back to the store room. I did not think of anything but only cried bitterly.
I learned about the accusations against me on Saturday, from the Hungarian-language Press review of Bucharest Radio. I heard the news at home, while I was house cleaning. I just stood there stunned, and did not know what to do. My world had collapsed around me. Why exactly me? I got very frightened.
I have not been living at home since then. I am afraid. If it is possible to lie so shamelessly, to revile the honour of people? What else can follow after this?
What did Emese Körmöczky do to deserve Rompress popularising her as the world star of nationalism and chauvinism?
The explanation lies in the personality of Colonel Ioan Judea. About ten days before the pharmacy incident, Emese’s husband, engineer Zoltán Körmöczky, demanded at a meeting of the Provisional Council of National Unity in Târgu Mureş that Judea be removed. His reason was that at a previous meeting Judea had spread the invented story of the three-step Hungarian plan for the separation of Transylvania. Körmöczky declared, making no bones about it, that in a democratic Romania there was no room for such instigators of hate. Unfortunately, despite the repeated requests of Károly Király, Colonel Judea was not removed from the office of Târgu Mureş – even though the Minister for Defence also learned of the blurting out of the “military secret”.
It was for this, that Judea involved the wife of Körmöczky in the matter. This is how he wanted to put the entire family into an impossible situation. As I have said, he was angry at András Sütő too, and settled accounts with him along similar lines.