The March sit-in

After the 1989 change, the Hungarian students of the medical university in Târgu Mureş established as early as January 15 their interest-group organisation, the Târgu Mureş Hungarian Student Association (HSA). The whole country was still in a state of euphoria, but the antipathy with which the Romanian students reacted was remarkable. They couldn’t or wouldn’t understand why a separate Hungarian student association was necessary. They called their Hungarian colleagues chauvinists, separatists. One could suspect even then that this was a phenomenon which was also manipulated from behind closed doors. The retrograde teaching staff of the old regime, politically discredited, professionally deficient, felt threatened and quickly whipped out the ever-effective chauvinistic humbug. From the beginning, the HSA made the case for full Hungarian teaching, imagining it in the long term as a faculty of the Hungarian Bolyai University. In the short term, its aims were Hungarian-language practical training, parity (same number of representatives) and not proportional representation in the university senate, as well as a separate number at the entrance exams. Six weeks of negotiations – if it could be called negotiations when one party rejects any proposal off-hand − achieved nothing. Anti-Hungarian invective and mass incidents all the way up the line created an even less favourable atmosphere for the negotiations. In this atmosphere, with the lack of even a minimal inclination to compromise, the idea of a sit-in strike had already emerged at the end of February. As a last attempt, on March 6, a mixed teacher-student delegation travelled to Bucharest to see Paul Cornea, deputy education minister, and to attempt the impossible. The talks were again unsuccessful, so the HSA announced a sit-in for March 7 as a final attempt to achieve its aims.

On the morning of March 7, the Hungarian students assembled almost in its entirety on the sports grounds of the university, walked from there into the building and occupied their places appointed by the organisers on both sides of the corridors and to the sides of the stairs.

Following this, they handed over a petition to the rector of the university describing the reasons and aims of the sit-in. The media − TV, radio − quickly reacted to the events. Many private people and organisations – among others, the Association of Hungarian Doctors and Pharmacists, the local Catholic Church, the local RMDSZ, a group of workers from Reghin, MADISZ, KMDSZ, etc. – assured the students of their solidarity. Several members of the teaching staff expressed their solidarity by joining the sit-in. A minority of Romanian students watched passively; the majority kept publishing provocative posters and announcements. On March 12, they organised a counter-demonstration. They crowded into the corridors, shouting, smoking, wearing Vatra Românească badges and destroying the order that had prevailed. They claimed that the Hungarian students’ sit-in disturbed teaching and that their demands had a separatist and revisionist character. In the meantime, it transpired that the expected visit of an Education and Nationality Committee delegation from Bucharest had been cancelled because of “illness”. This delegation would have provided the official framework for the negotiations between the Romanian and Hungarian parties. Tensions kept growing. Hungarian and Romanian students were explaining their points of view to reporters of the Vienna-based ORF TV. Members of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee were collecting information by listening to both parties. In the afternoon, Hungarian and Romanian students and teachers sat down to negotiate with the participation of the infamous Colonel Judea, President of the Târgu Mureş NSF. Given that, during 90 minutes of talks, it was impossible to conduct a fruitful dialogue because of personal remarks and inflammatory statements, the Hungarian delegation was forced to leave the room. The sit-in continued in a similar atmosphere on March 13 and 14. By March 15, the university was in a furore. The sit-in continued; the (Hungarian film crew) Black Box was making interviews with the rector and student leaders, and in the afternoon the students joined the commemoration at the memorial of the Szekler Martyrs.

On March 16, the atmosphere worsened following the chaos around the pharmacy in the Tudor district. The sit-in continued, although there was no hope for further negotiations. The town was pulsing like an inflamed boil. Around the student halls, wild Romanian crowds were dancing in ecstasy. On Saturday, March 17, there was no sit-in. The Romanian student league organised another Romanian demonstration, in the same atmosphere as before, with similar xenophobic slogans. In this atmosphere, when aggression was so overpowering, one had to seriously contemplate the further consequences of the sit-in. Therefore, on the morning of March 19, when the Hungarian students gathered on the sports grounds as usual, their leaders announced that they would all walk to the Fortress Church and temporarily suspend the sit-in. (They did not suspect then that it was actually over.) There were rumours that the long-awaited parliamentary committee had arrived from Bucharest. The decision proved to be fortuitous, because in the afternoon drunken Romanian peasants were taken first to the university to teach the Hungarian students a lesson. Luckily, they found them gone. So this is only the end of the chronicle of the sit-in. We can only add that, following Black Spring, the majority of the protesting students fled to Hungary.