QUESTIONS, including those I often ask myself:
I. As a lawyer, I cannot get around the question of what the penal responsibility of the planners and organisers of the violence of March should be.
The answer is Section 357 of the Penal Code, which defines the crime of genocide as follows.
Genocide: in order to destroy fully or in part a community or national, ethnic, racial or religious group, by committing some of the following actions:
a) Murdering members of the community or group.
b) Grave injury to the corporeal or spiritual state of the members of the community or group, etc...
The law punishes these by death and complete sequestration of property, or 15-20 years jail. (The death sentence was abolished shortly after the revolution.)
And now comes the essence. The last paragraph of the section reads:
An accord made for the sake of committing genocide is punished by 5-15 years’ jail, the suspension of some rights, and partial sequestration of property.
II. Many people have asked whether the central Romanian leadership could have prevented the two nights of violence in Târgu Mureş (especially the second) if it had tried. Of course it could have! First, if it had applied the full rigour of the law against the organisers and participants of the attack on the RMDSZ headquarters in Reghin on January 25 (this demonstration was accompanied by wild anti-Hungarian slogans – drinking Hungarian blood, etc.), then the invasion of Târgu Mureş two months later could not have occurred.
The government similarly did not act after the anti-Gypsy violence in Reghin on February 5.
And then, come the violence in Târgu Mureş, not only did the military and the police fail to effectively intervene on March 19, but by their encouraging presence, their commanders behaved as accomplices!
On March 20, a single tank should have been placed across the road between Târgu Mureş and Reghin, and then the armed peasants could not have been transported to Târgu Mureş. Local police commanders simply did not carry out the order of Interior Minister Chiţac to do this.
The Minister of Defence, General Stănculescu, himself acknowledged to the Budapest Television programme Panoráma that he had known the Hungarians would demonstrate peacefully to protest the violence of March 19, that there would be many of them, but that he did not think the Romanians would attack. But many people warned him by phone about the danger of a Romanian attack, that it could have been anticipated, and that the military should intervene. Why did he not act on the 20th?
It would really not have been such a big deal. On the morning of March 21, the soldiers were indeed able to intervene, and it was of course these order-restoring pictures that were broadcast to the West!
III. Why would the Romanian leadership need the spectre of bloody clashes between ethnic groups?
A) Because it was able to reactivate immediately the Securitate, the unemployed officers of which had not received their full pay for exactly three months, i.e. the period between the revolution and March 21.
(I recall that in early January, I proposed that the police building in Kogălniceanu Street be handed over to the health authorities so that the destroyed Clinic of Dental Surgery could once more be able to function. My idea was that the police could move into the empty Securitate building. To my proposal General Scrieciu, the County First Vice-President, answered that we should maybe wait a bit with the redistribution of buildings...)
B) Because violence made it possible to divert attention from the economic impotence of the government.
C) Because it offered a good occasion for the nationality question to be wielded again as a club in the political struggle.
D) Because they were able to arrest the democratisation process and begin the task of political regression.
After I drew up this list, an economist member of an old Transylvanian Romanian intellectual family suggested adding the following analysis of their motives:
E) The inducement of ethnic conflicts in Transylvania could also have been stimulated by leading sons of the old Romanian kingdom (Moldavia and Vallachia) as it existed prior to Versailles/Trianon. Their fear was that Transylvania would achieve a position of economic hegemony over their own regions. All other things being equal, foreign capital would naturally give priority to the already much more developed Transylvania, and Romania would find itself further cut into two. So they needed the tensions induced by ethnic conflicts to diminish Transylvania’s attractiveness to outside investment.
According to Smaranda Enache’s opinion published in Krónika, if it had not been for this bloody conflict, “the Transylvanian Hungarians and Romanians would be working on joint projects”. It is not a secret, she added “that together with the intellectuals of the Provincia circle we have been thinking for years about a Romania where the regions – maybe following the Spanish example – had bigger independence, which wouldn’t mean their independence, so Transylvania would not break away but would just get autonomy within the country’s borders. I believe that this could happen. But our knowledge of each other is in a very early stage, both for Transylvanian Romanians and Hungarians. And without this we do not get very far, with or without autonomy.
IV. Why was the pogrom programmed for this date, and could it have been avoided if the Hungarians had conducted a cleverer policy?
Hungary was experiencing at that time a political interregnum or power vacuum ahead of elections at the end of March which were to finally replace the post-Communists with a democratically elected Western-oriented government. The resultant weakness there highly justified the choice of date for the pogrom. I believe this situation explains why the Budapest Foreign Ministry and the Hungarian leadership generally, did not react to the Romanian provocations earlier in March, specifically the oft-repeated charge that “the Hungarians want to take Transylvania back.” Whatever complaints they did make were certainly not public, anyway.
To foster anti-Hungarian feelings, Romanian propaganda also used the wreaths with the Hungarian colours which were laid at the Hungarian embassy in Bucharest and at other sites on the occasion of the Hungarian National Day of March 15. Despite this wreath-laying having the permission of the Romanian government.
But concerning the wisdom of our actions in these months, Hungarians also made a mistake when – in the euphoria of December, 1989 – they did not immediately begin to bombard the “newly-liberated” Romanian mass media with materials which would have begun to correct the traditional Hungarian enemy-image that existed in the Romanian mind.
It is beyond doubt that the Romanian Television, the newly-named Rompress news agency, and most of the Press remained in the hands of the old Communist-Fascists who had served the Ceauşescu regime. A change in the climate of ethnic distrust would therefore have been very difficult to achieve. But intensive, clever publicity – started immediately – would certainly not have been wasted.
Be all this as it may, a singular historic opportunity to make peace between Romanians and Hungarians was lost during these days. This peace is no less necessary now, though its achievement does not seem likely any time soon.
It is very difficult for an Hungarian to live today in Transylvania, where the victims are imprisoned and humiliated while the culprits are glorified as national heroes and elevated to the best positions and offices. Let it be stressed, the situation of true Romanian democrats is also very difficult; they are also constantly threatened and terrorised by the agents of the Vatra. President Ion Iliescu and his government bear great historical responsibility for this situation.
On March 20, at the meeting of the Presidium of the National Council for Unity, Iliescu condemned the events of the 19th in Târgu Mureş and reported that 17 persons and the mayors of three Romanian villages were under arrest.
At a press conference on March 21, Prime Minister Roman declared that 38 persons, including two village mayors, had been arrested, the latter having led the (March 19) attack of armed peasants against the headquarters of the RMDSZ.
We also informed him of the far more serious events of the 20th. But instead of telling the truth about that, he and others like him embarked down the path of consciously misleading domestic and international opinion. Thus they ruined any remaining chance for peaceful coexistence in Romania, of achieving an acceptable Romanian-Hungarian relationship.
The misinformation was helped involuntarily by the national leadership of the RMDSZ, because they signed a joint declaration with the National Liberal Party after the violence, on March 22 1990. I quote a sentence: “Starting from the conviction that these provocations are, on the one hand, organised by those who see their privileges (that were) secured by the vanished dictatorship now endangered in the country, on the other hand by those reactionary circles abroad, who on the Hungarian part are enthusiasts for irredentism, on the Romanian part of extreme Romanian nationalism, we distance ourselves from both with full conviction.” What can I say? This is somehow the way to secure ammunition for Romanian propaganda, raising fear of the Hungarian danger and – on top of everything – mix together the responsibilities of the aggressor and the victim.
The attitudes and responsibility of the Romanian leadership marked by Ion Iliescu, Petre Roman and Victor Athanasie Stănculescu during the events of Black Spring were reported by Pál Szűts, ambassador of Hungary, in his memoir, Bukaresti Napló (Bucharest Diary), 1985-1990, beginning on page 290 (abbreviated text):
I joined the events when Barna Marosi called me in the evening hours on March 19 and reported what was happening in Târgu Mureş. As soon as I had hung up, I immediately called on a direct phone line [Hungarian] Prime Minister Miklós Németh, [Hungarian] Foreign Minister Gyula Horn and [Hungarian] Defence Minister Ferenc Kárpáti. I asked for their help. It was clear to us that Sütő had to be taken immediately to Budapest, if there was a way. I also tried the Romanian Foreign Ministry but I could not reach anybody. I knew the direct number of minister Stănculescu and called it. I failed to reach any of the Romanian leaders. By the time I got the answer that a plane was ready to take off from Budapest, I had to tell them not to go to Târgu Mureş because the Romanians had brought András to Bucharest. We found out – by this time our whole embassy joined the search for the Romanian leaders – that the commander of the hospital was General Cafriţa. I asked my colleagues to immediately call the General and tell him I am going to the hospital to visit András Sütő. I was received at the gate and taken to a room where I found András’s wife Éva and a doctor, Dr István Kerek, from Târgu Mureş. Iliescu and two generals were coming from the sick-bed of Sütő. Iliescu expressed his sympathies to Éva, he said he had talked to Sütő and he respects the wish of the family that he be taken to Hungary. Iliescu sat on a chair by my side. I told him, that the Hungarian government was deeply worried about the event and was expecting efficient measures from the Romanian government in investigating the case and stopping the bloodshed. President Iliescu qualified the events as extremist action which according to him was aimed at destabilising the present leadership ahead of the upcoming elections. He promised that, based on the photos taken at the scene, they would continue the arrests they had already started. They would try to find out with all means who was behind the riots. He said the Romanian people’s interest lies in peaceful coexistence with the minorities. He expressed his regrets about the event; he distanced himself and the leadership from extremist actions. He blamed the local leadership.
(Ion Iliescu’s exoneration was unmasked by General Ion Scrieciu in a video interview from 2010. He reported that Ion Iliescu had asked him whether he needed the help of the miners. So, apart from Gelu Voican Voiculescu and Petre Burcă, a third source confirms the fact that on the occasion of the “spontaneous” peasant movements, Bucharest intended to send its miners from the Jiu Valley to Târgu Mureş. According to the General, an additional 500 people from Suceava and Vâlcea each were ready to intervene with force in our town. The remarkably wide geographic area of the interventionists (and we should not forget Zlatna and Turda) ready to go, categorically invalidates what Ion Iliescu claimed – namely that the conflict in Târgu Mureş was locally organised. It is well know that the marching-miners solution is an invention of the Ion Iliescu brand.)
Mr President, I said. I had the opportunity to personally experience in Târgu Mureş one week before the events the anti-Hungarian activities which preceded what happened last night. I find it extremely serious that the ringleaders of this conscious incitement were some high-ranking officers of the Romanian army. A major, a colonel and even a general. I judged the situation to be so serious that I mentioned it to Defence Minister Victor Stănculescu on March 12. I named military leaders from Târgu Mureş who incited the crowds and asked emphatically that the case be investigated and those responsible be punished. Then I asked for his help with the transport of András Sütő to Hungary. He promised the latter. Between Tuesday and Friday, all my initiatives to take up contact were frustrated by the Romanian leaders. To my knowledge, during this period Prime Minister Miklós Németh sent a message to his colleague Petre Roman through the [Romanian] ambassador in Budapest.
I was asked by Budapest to get the phone number of Petre Roman (the number known to me did not answer). I personally went to the Foreign Ministry, but in spite of this I only got the number on Thursday, by which time I still had not managed to contact any other leader. On this day I gave a telephone interview to the Népszabadság newspaper of Budapest. It was published the next day. By this time there were demonstrations in front of the Hungarian embassy in Bucharest and Petre Roman finally granted me an audience.
I started with a reproach because I had been asking since Tuesday morning to be received by a leader, but in spite of my urgings I only got an answer this morning. The Prime Minister apologised and said he had not been informed of this. I had not come to convey a message from home but to tell him my detailed opinion. I thoroughly prepared for this conversation and I presented my opinion, point by point, about the situation that had developed and the liability of the Romanian government. I took the events of Târgu Mureş one after the other. Who used force first? On March 20 we established with President Iliescu jointly that it was an organised Romanian movement. Mr Iliescu used the adjective extremist. I think if it had not been like this I could not have met him and General Ionel Vasile, Chief of Staff, at the bedside of András Sütő. I reminded him of the inflamed crowd transported on trucks, of the 24 serious casualties, among them 23 Hungarians, three dead of which two were Hungarians, one Romanian. (The casualties became officially more later.)
Vatra Românească had been instigating the mood for a while. From the Canadian documentary shown on television, it is clearly visible that the Vatra demonstrators are calling for the rope for László Tőkés. In his answer, Prime Minister Petre Roman stressed that he understood my worries apropos the events and the government statement, but the publishing of the government statement of March 21 might have been influenced by electoral interests.
The ambassador reported that there were several demonstrations outside the Hungarian embassy. He invited the leaders of the demonstrating students into the embassy building, talked with them and they parted in total peace. Some students whom he found friendly helped set up a Romanian television interview with him. But by some unfortunate (?) accident, the interview was never broadcast. The ambassador blamed the Romanian authorities for their attitude in the burning of the Hungarian MALÉV airline offices in Bucharest during this period. Demonstrators set the offices on fire, but the authorities said the blaze was “self-lit”.
The Hungarian ambassador was talking only about the responsibility of those Romanian leaders who were in the public view. He could not have known about the role of Virgil Măgureanu. Măgureanu became the first leader of the restored secret service. At the time of Black Spring, Securitate employees were on three months’ paid leave while being under the protection of the army. At the time, the background activity of Măgureanu included close contacts with Vatra Românească. Today, this is an open secret. And I repeat: Romanian public opinion did not protest at all against the return of the hated Securitate people. And only their name had changed – to SRI (Romanian Information Service).
Did Irish Television film the mistreatment of Mihai Cofariu, who had been brought from the village of Ibăneşti 60 km away, or was the “iconic” victim somebody else?
The saviour of the life of the unfortunate Cofariu, the late neurosurgeon, Dr. Árpád Kisgyörgy, made the following statement on March 1, 2006:
I, the undersigned Dr. Árpád Kisgyörgy, of Târgu Mureş, Victor Babeş Street 10/14, in full awareness of my criminal liability in case of a false statement, make the following declaration in connection with the events of March 20, 1990:
On March 20 I took part with other health workers at the demonstration in the centre of Târgu Mureş. After violence broke out, with the throwing of hard objects (bottles, stones, bricks etc.) doctors and nurses were called into the building of the Prefecture to give first aid. When I entered the building, I found a lot of wounded, drunk people with bleeding heads and faces. I examined them and instructed the health staff how to treat them and they bandaged the wounds. While I was treating the wounded, my attention was drawn to the right side of the room where there were several severely wounded people. I established their condition: they needed complex medical treatment and therefore had to be taken to the Emergency Hospital of Târgu Mureş. I accompanied the patients in the ambulance and they were taken to the ground floor of the hospital. Seeing that one of them was in very serious condition and the need for brain surgery was probably high, I had him taken to the intensive care ward. Here we established his identity: he was the 42-year-old Mihai Cofariu from Ibăneşti. We kept him all night under medical surveillance and made the necessary examinations before the operation, including a brain X-ray. The next morning we took the patient into the operating room. The diagnosis was the breaking of the left temple bone, which had intruded into the brain and caused the contusion of the right temple lobe. I performed the operation with the help of the anaesthetist Dr. Katalin Boda Deák. After the operation, the condition of the patient stabilised. The next day, on March 22, a white-coated inspection team from Sibiu turned up, examining all brain surgery cases. We could not work all day, but I could do nothing about that. They had to admit that we had done our job properly, according to the Hippocratic Oath. On March 23, 1990, and with my agreement, the patient M. Cofariu was transferred to Bucharest, where his treatment was continued. I had found M. Cofariu in the building of the Prefecture before the physical, hand-to-hand confrontations filmed by the Irish Television had started.
This statement fully corresponds to M. Cofariu’s own statement, who always said in court that when he left the bus he was immediately knocked out and he does not remember anything. He also reported that during the Sunday service of March 18, the Orthodox priest announced that they had to travel to Târgu Mureş to protect the Romanians from Hungarian aggression. On the TV footage, it is clearly visible, and it is also an absolutely widely-known fact, that the busses carrying the Romanians from the Gurghiu valley were more than 100 metres away from the location of the filmed incident.
After I was allowed to return home, I filed an appeal representing Ernő Barabás, who fled to Hungary in time and who had been sentenced together with Pál Cseresznyés for mistreating Cofariu to ten years in jail. In vain did I propose several times to call an expert witness to establish whether the filmed victim was really Cofariu. The Romanian courts threw out this well-founded proposal for proof. By making my doubts public, I did not aim to prove that the victim of the well-known scene was not a Romanian. I want to add that the Black Spring resulted in countless such clashes; there were five dead (three Hungarian, two Romanian), but they are never mentioned, although they lost their lives 25 years ago. The German paper Bild am Sonntag wrote on March 25, 1990 that the victim on the Irish TV footage was also Romanian, Ion Secarea from Ungheni. The relevant article describing the frightful incident (a man is lying on the ground while others are beating him with wooden and iron clubs) is to be found in the annex of this book.
None of the three killer drivers were sentenced. On the contrary, Ioan Covaci from Reghin, who mortally crushed Antal Csipor in the village of Ernei, was given 10,000 lei in compensation by the Baia Mare court – where the court cases were moved to assure “impartiality” – for damage to his vehicle with which he committed the crime.