About the Last Quarter of a Century – Briefly
Being aware of the deplorable fact that the vast majority of the judges and prosecutors in Târgu Mureş became sympathetic to Vatra Românească after the fall of Ceauşescu, I knew no good could come my way from them. Therefore I left Romania on March 30, 1990, at the Nădlac crossing. A Hungarian member of the Arad County Council of National Unity, Kálmán Cziszter, phoned the border crossing to say that a delegation under the leadership of secretary Hosu was travelling to Hungary. (He meant my lawyer friend, Zoltán Hosszú, later a senator for RMDSZ.) The delegation was escorted with salutes across the border by the commander of the border guards. It transpired that it had been very advisable to avoid the border crossing at Oradea, because when two days later Árpád Kemény, the son of Count János Kemény, crossed the Romanian-Hungarian border at Oradea he spotted my name in a notebook. After I arrived in Budapest, where my cousin István Szerdahelyi and his family gave me a warm welcome and put me up for more than six months, I immediately went to visit András Sütő in the military hospital. I was faced with a shocking picture. He would not allow filming by a TV crew for a joint interview so I alone reported to the Hungarian TV audience about the Black Spring of Târgu Mureş.
A few days later, I took part in Bratislava at a symposium discussing “Ethics and Politics”, under the patronage of Vaclav Havel, President of Czechoslovakia. In my contribution, I told the participants that these two concepts side by side sound very strange to me, given that I had to flee Târgu Mureş because I knew I was innocent. Many well-known opposition figures (e.g. Zoran Đinđić – who ten years later was killed as Prime Minister of Serbia, Petr Pithart, Adam Michnik, György Konrád, etc.) listened in shocked silence to my report of events.
During the third week of April, I travelled to Vienna on the invitation of the youth wing of the Austrian People’s Party, where I held an international press conference in the Austrian Parliament with senior Austrian politicians about the events of Târgu Mureş. The Austrian press agency reported in detail and several important newspapers asked for an interview. I was twice received by Deputy-Chancellor and Foreign Minister, Alois Mock. He asked what he could do for us, how he could help. I answered that we needed a European minority charter and an international court which would deal with the infringement of minority rights. When, a few days later, he visited his French colleague, he discussed at the joint press conference in Paris the necessity of establishing a minority charter and a court. Unfortunately, 25 years down the line, we are no further forward: the West European states still don’t make a distinction between native minorities and immigrants.
I also accepted an invitation from the German Foreign Ministry in Bonn, together with Eva Maria Barki, a lawyer from Vienna. My visit sparked a keen interest in the media.
Following the Romanian miners’ breaking up demonstrations in Bucharest, the Romanian editors of Radio Free Europe in Munich realised that they had made a big mistake when instead of reporting the truth about the Black Spring of Târgu Mureş, they parroted the false propaganda of the Romanian government. So they invited me to speak in a popular political program. Two well-know editors, Şerban Orăscu and Emil Hurezeanu questioned me for an hour about what we experienced in Târgu Mureş. After the programme we had a private talk, during which Emil Hurezeanu uttered a key sentence: “the Securitate made sure to get one of its members into the leadership of each new party in Romania”. When I asked him who it would be in the RMDSZ, he answered: “Mr. Kincses, you cannot ask such questions, but you are among the few about whom we know that had no contact whatsoever with the Securitate”.
In September 1990 I was received in Strasbourg in the European Parliament by Otto von Habsburg to whom I gave a memorandum in French about the events of Târgu Mureş and the situation of the Hungarian minority in Romania. Because I only had the original of the document and would have liked to keep a copy, Otto von Habsburg, prince and former heir to the throne, got up and photocopied the pages himself. How I had risen in the world coming to such a high-ranking “secretary”, I thought to myself. He was the first person after my flight in March who asked: Mr .Kincses, how are you doing in your personal life? I told him, not well, I still could not return home, because I got a friendly warning from Gheorghe Andreicut, chief prosecutor of Mureş County, that I would be arrested if I went back. So Otto von Habsburg secured me a three-month Vienna grant which was then extended by another three months by the Európa Intézet (Europe Institute) of Budapest headed by Ferenc Glatz. I wrote the book Black Spring during this period encouraged by my first publisher, Sándor Püski. My book was published in December 1990, followed in 1991 in Romanian – Martie negru la Tîrgu Mureş, 1992 in English – Black Spring, and 1994 in French – Sombre printemps a Târgu Mureş. The author of the foreword to the English edition, Christopher Keeling, said that this was the first post-communist inter-ethnic clash in Europe. I gave copies of the English edition to the first secretary of the US embassy in Budapest, Mr. Richardson, who spoke some Hungarian, and to the Russian and British ambassadors. All three knew what had happened in Târgu Mureş in the spring of 1990. A second edition in Hungarian and Romanian was published in 2001.
On the recommendation of Otto von Habsburg, I was received in the autumn 1991 by King Michael of Romania, to whom I had sent a copy of my book in Romanian.
Realising that I could not return home because of the investigation in progress against me, after Vienna I applied in Budapest for asylum. I was granted it immediately and so I could work. I worked as a lawyer for Nuevometal. Between December 1991 and September 1992 I was elected secretary-general of the World Federation of Hungarians, then I returned to work at Nuevometal. I passed the exams necessary to practise law in Hungary and between 1993 and 2012, I worked as a lawyer in Hungary as a member of the Budapest Law Society. I returned to Transylvania in 1996, after which – until 2012 – I divided my time between Budapest and Târgu Mureş. I set up my lawyer’s office in Târgu Mureş in 1996, from where I have continued to work. I have been publishing articles in Hungary and at home about topics I think are important for the forging of our fate. My writings and interviews during the period of my flight were published in 1996 in the volume entitled From Târgu Mureş to Târgu Mureş (Marosvásárhelytől Marosvásárhelyig).
At home, I tried to contribute to improving and democratising the activities of RMDSZ. As president of the Mureş County section, I organised the nominations contest before the local elections. One quarter of the Hungarian electorate took part at the Târgu Mureş pre-elections – I was not prepared to ignore their will. I was unable to throw away a list of councillors sanctioned by the will of seven and a half thousand people and instead compiled a party list to the liking of the leaders. I had to go, also because it was not wanted that I organise in autumn the pre-elections for the parliamentary and senate candidates. I was removed against the rules of the party from the seat of the county president. Countless people from Târgu Mureş who had not forgotten Black Spring were outraged by this arrogance on the part of the leadership and did not vote. During the first round of the 2000 local election, Imre Fodor was 168 votes short of being re-elected. If the people of Târgu Mureş had not stayed at home in protest against the leadership of RMDSZ, then Imre Fodor would have remained mayor. The ballot counting committee would have been obliged to order a recount if it had received such a demand. What added to the problem was that several thousand votes had been declared invalid.
There IS a tradition which was preserved from my brief county presidency of the RMDSZ: each March 20, the party gives financial support to the families of the three Hungarian martyrs (Antal Csipor, István Gémes and Zoltán Kiss).
After December 1989, we fought here in Târgu Mureş to re-establish an independent Bolyai school and a Hungarian section of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Târgu Mureş, where all the teaching, theory and practice, including the final exams, could be conducted again in Hungarian. In spite of the fact that on January 19, 1990, the Mureş County Council for National Unity unanimously decided that the Bolyai school return to Hungarian for the following school year, this was achieved only 15 years later. The situation at the university has remained unchanged for 25 years. The attitude of the university senate, which has a two-thirds Romanian majority, reminds me of Talleyrand’s words on the Bourbons: “They learned nothing, they forgot nothing”. They don’t contemplate what kind of trouble the illegal restriction on the use of the mother tongue can cause... I am sure they do not know the warning of the first President of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk: “a contented minority is a factor for stability”.
In February 1990, a hundred thousand Hungarians could demonstrate on the main square with candles and books. Today, if we want to demonstrate or celebrate on the main square, we confront mayoral prohibitions.
In spite of all this, I am not a pessimist. First of all, the Romanian judiciary has come to a stage where it calls to account corrupt politicians irrespective of their party affiliation. So it must reach the point when it can judge our rightful demands also “irrespective of party affiliation”. If we look at what rights Romania’s own laws and the international agreements signed and ratified by Romania secure – on paper – to the Hungarian and other ethnic minorities, then we can easily formulate the aims we can achieve: that is, the respect for, and the implementation of, these regulations. Our task is to achieve through legal and political methods that monitoring reports about Romania examine not just corruption cases, but also infringements of lawful minority rights. We have to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in order to change Romanian court rulings effecting the right to free speech, free assembly and other discriminatory administrative measures. The mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind.
Romanian politicians of the past 25 years convinced us that we cannot expect them to deal calmly and patiently with the nationality question, let alone resolve it; they would be mad to give up their cheapest secure weapon: loudmouthed incitement based on centuries-old prejudices. Does one need economic, financial or legal training – or a grain of culture – to “bravely” point out the machinations, the separatist machinations, etc., of the Hungarians, repeating absurdities like a mantra? Nobody dares contradict, because they could not face their voters if they supported the “demands” of the Hungarians. (The Calvary of Smaranda Enache deters many.) Right now, there are no extremist parties in the Romanian parliament, but their former members and often their language and argumentation, turn up in other parties. And there is no government or parliament member ready to speak up against these faux “patriots”.
I think it is in the civil sphere – and there are signs that this is already happening – where we shall be able through slow, patient perseverance, to achieve a positive change in mentality in Romanian public thinking. Certainly not by aiming to directly win powers. Silviu Brucan reckoned at the time that this process would take 20 years. What an optimist!
Of course, our Hungarian political practice and mentality could also do with some corrections...
When we talk about international guarantees, when we mention the continued transformation of the legal environment, we must never forget that we can only achieve our aims here, in the place where we want to live. We can achieve our long-term goals if we can convince our Romanian compatriots by developing a set of arguments and a discourse that will make our truths understandable and acceptable to them. If we could win the international support I/we hoped for in March, 1990, then we could achieve our goal far more readily.