Preamble to the pogrom
On the day of the pharmacy battle, many Hungarians were beaten up in other parts of town, including the editors of the Népujság of Târgu Mureş, three staff members of Hungarian Television’s Panoráma programme, etc.
The pharmacy battle could have escalated far more if Károly Király had not arrived home. In his memoirs published under the title Nyílt kártyákkal (Cards on the table) he describes the events of March:
On March 15, I was in Bucharest and had a conversation with Iliescu lasting more than one hour, during which I told him how things stood and tried to convince him that the authorities should intervene.
If he did not do it, then it meant that he was knowingly helping those provoking the situation.
Unfortunately, Iliescu’s attitude had changed within a few days. He agreed that events had to be controlled, but he asked: why did schools have to be separated so quickly? What were the bilingual signs which hurt Romanian feelings? Etc. Or in other words: withdraw and then you might get away with it.
The start of the pogrom in Târgu Mureş was set for the next day, the 16th.
The Satu Mare case was over. The pharmacy problem was next.
I have to say that the limping man who started the scandal was a Securitate agent; he was later recognised.
According to certain signs, there were some persons brought in from outside villages, from the surroundings of Iernut in the Câmpia Transilvaniei region. That there was no bigger trouble is due to the fact that I flew back home on the evening of the 16th.
I have to report that the demonstration around the pharmacy had been going on since the morning, but I did not get any information about this from anywhere in Bucharest. The first person who told me what had happened since the morning – that the crowd numbered several hundred people, that there was fighting – was the driver who waited for me at the airport.
When I arrived home I immediately phoned the county chief of police, Colonel Gambra.
“Any news, Colonel?”
“Well, there was a demonstration outside a pharmacy, but we took care of it...”
“So there is no problem there now?” I asked.
“I’ll look into it, Mr Vice-President. I’ll send somebody to the site and call you later, if you agree.”
I called the commander of the local garrison, General Cojocaru.
“What is the news, General?”
“Well, the stove is smoking. We are just cleaning up with my wife etc.”
“And how about politics?”
“And the pharmacy?”
“Oh, right. Two guys got into a fight during the morning but order was restored a long time ago.”
“As far as I know, it was not.”
“Well, I’ll ask Gambra what the hell his men are doing,” he answered.
The third person I called – I had a government phone in my flat – was Interior Minister Chiţac.
“What do you know about Târgu Mureş?”
He said: nothing in particular. He got information that there was some commotion outside a pharmacy, but order had been restored a good while ago.
I told him: “You should know there is no order. Several hundred people have gathered and they are on their way into town. If they told you there was order, then they lied.”
He then said he would call Gambra.
I said: “Before you call him, you should know two things: you should look into the situation in other counties, especially the ones with mixed populations. And the police should be alerted everywhere: they should be careful because they should anticipate provocation. Is my word enough or do you need instructions from Iliescu as well?”
Chiţac: “Mr. Vice-President, I regard it as an order and I act immediately.”
I swiftly called Iliescu; he had heard that there was something, but...
The obfuscation, distraction, concealment was working. And the dough kept rising in the meantime.
Gambra called me reporting that there were a lot of people who had set off but he did not have the forces to stop them. He had asked Cojocaru for soldiers but he had refused...
I told Iliescu to talk to General Stănculescu and tell him to order the army to intervene.
Iliescu’s ambivalent attitude revealed itself on this account again. He said he was dealing with things there, but I was here, I was the vice-president, and I should tackle things and deal with them.
I said: “Shall I take it that you are giving me full authority?”
He said yes. I said: “all right, but tell Stănculescu and Chiţac, because the army does not come within my jurisdiction”.
Colonel Judea was the president of the town’s National Salvation Front. When we talked, he held his telephone receiver out of his window so that I could hear the demonstrators who had just arrived outside the town hall. They wanted to hang Király, Tőkés, Sütő, and Kincses. This is what they were shouting. I reprimanded him and said he was responsible for what had happened. The plan was that the demonstrating crowd march to the Szekler Martyrs’ memorial – where about 60 Hungarians were guarding the wreaths, led by József Mihály – and then on to the university. There, there were Hungarian medical students on strike and it would have been easy to provoke clashes. By this time, allegedly, the crowd had grown to number 2,000.
In the end, I threatened the senior commanders − Cojocaru, Scrieciu and Gambra −with court martial.
Scrieciu took my threats seriously and declared: “I promise you that nothing will happen.” By this time, it was 11 pm. Scrieciu went down to the demonstrators to lead them. They did not go to the Szekler Martyrs’ memorial but set off in the direction of the Fortress Church. And they did not go to meet the demonstrating Hungarian students, but returned to the main square. Apart from shouting, nothing happened.
When Scrieciu returned, he called me from Judea’s office on the government phone: “Mr. Vice-President, I report that nothing happened. The people are dispersing and going home.”
I said: “I was sure that if you promised me that nothing would happen, then nothing would, given that you organised it, and if you so wished, not even that much would have happened.” He, of course, protested.
Another episode that throws more light on things: Gambra phoned me at 1 am reporting that people went home from the main square, and the town was quiet. He added: “General Cojocaru and Scrieciu told me off for telling you how things were...”
This makes it clear who was in fact behind the events of Târgu Mureş. Ceontea’s men alone −without the help of the police and the army and without agreement from above −could not have organised things.
On Monday morning 5 am I set off to Bucharest by car. When I arrived at eleven, I was informed that the buses had set off from Gurghiu...
I dropped my bags and went straight to Iliescu. We knew by then that there were a lot of buses made available in Gurghiu and that the police was securing unhindered passage for them...
In the afternoon of the 19th, around 5 pm, I was informed that András Sütő and others were stranded in the RMDSZ headquarters and that they were under siege. I immediately phoned Târgu Mureş, the chief of police, the army, Judea −and, when I saw that nothing was happening −Interior Minister Chiţac.
At 6 pm, the Târgu Mureş police reported that there was no problem, Sütő and the others were free. Of course, I was not satisfied with this. I called András’s flat and talked to his wife, Éva.
“I don’t know anything, Karcsi. I am in despair. He didn’t phone or anything.” I made more phone calls. At 8 pm I was told the Hungarians who had been in the building had been put in a tank and rescued. I phoned again. “It isn’t true; nobody was rescued.” At the end, Chiţac said he had been told that they’d got away, and he didn’t believe his subordinates would dare to lie to him again. And then I was hit by the realisation of what had happened. I called Chiţac back.
He answered: “These are bandits, Mr Vice-President. That’s all I can say.”
By the time I found out what exactly had happened to Sütő, it was 11 pm. I went to Iliescu: “What you concocted is now in the pot,” I said.
“What happened?” he asked in surprise.
I told him that András Sütő had been badly beaten. He was alive, but minus one eye. Iliescu was moved and said we should both go and speak on television. I said I would not do that because I might say things that would lead to no good.
The following day, a crowd of 15 to 20,000 gathered in Târgu Mureş.
The County Council convened and I was recalled. I was informed in Bucharest that people from the Gurghiu valley were back again.
I went to Iliescu. Petre Roman was also there.
I asked for two things: a meeting of the Executive Committee should be called and, until then, the army should block the roads, or else there would be a massacre. They agreed and promised everything. They gave the orders in my presence. It was confirmed that these orders had been understood. I learned later that this was not true.
If the supreme leaders’ attitude had been ethical, if they had not thought that it would be good for the Gurghiu valley people to come and teach the Hungarians a lesson, then things would not have escalated.
Colonel Judea was summoned and told that he would be immediately demoted and taken to court. In the morning, when I went to work, Judea was guffawing in the porter’s room, greeting me loudly and saying he arrived during the night with the airplane which brought András Sütő. Victim and perpetrator together. Judea was neither demoted nor taken to court. He continued his destructive work. Today he is retired and has written a book.
It is also true that when, the next day, I visited András Sütő in the military hospital, where he had been brought, the commander of the hospital, a doctor-general, came with me to the gate. “Mr. Vice-President, forgive us Romanians for this barbarity,” he said. We hugged.
The next open rehearsal for the imminent pogrom was organised by the Romanian Students’ League.
The demonstrators set out from their student lodgings and marched to the sports palace on the other side of town. On passing the Fortress Church, they broke into the parochial offices and manhandled officials there. They tore down the wreath decorated with a ribbon in the Hungarian red, white and green which had been placed by Hungarian diplomats at the unveiling of the plaque commemorating the sojourn of General Jósef Bem in Târgu Mureş in 1848. Other Hungarians, too, were manhandled during this demonstration.
The demonstrators also surrounded the statue of Avram Iancu, put a Romanian flag into its hand, and called out that those who were Romanians should kneel and that the bozgor [vagrants/foreign scum – insulting nickname for Hungarians] should remain standing. Of course, everybody kneeled.
Major Vasile Ţîra declared to the crowd: the military is with you and will finish with the irredentist, revisionist Horthyites!
This was the same major who, two days earlier, had directed a demonstration in Satu Mare which led to the arrest and resignation of the Hungarian leaders of the Temporary Council of National Unity, Ferenc Formanek and Ferenc Pécsi. Initially they wanted to provoke clashes here. They did take the Mureş County saboteurs there, but it was for two reasons that they did not manage to provoke ethnic clashes. The Satu Mare branch of the RMDSZ called off the event planned at the Satu Mare Bălcescu statue, because the location was described by the extremist press as dishonouring Romanians.
Instead they laid a wreath at the statue of Christ in the Catholic cathedral.
The inhabitants of the town did not oppose those who made the Hungarians, Ferenc Formanek and Ferenc Pécsi, resign. And drunken “demonstrators” smashed the windows of vehicles with Hungarian number plates. It came to blows: many fled from groups armed with sticks and iron rods into the church. Ferenc Szűcs was beaten within an inch of his life.
Ferenc Formanek, vice-president of the NSF and RMDSZ, told the story of Satu Mare’s Black March in detail in an interview given to the magazine Krónika in 2010. He reported that there were no problems cooperating with Nicolae Popdan, president of the NSF, and Nicolae Manea, co-vice-president, regarding both matters of the schools and other questions. They fully supported the celebrations on March 15 and started laughing when they heard about Vatra fears regarding the annexation of Satu Mare to Hungary. Colonel Rădulescu – who had been sent from Bucharest – and counter-demonstrators unknown to the people of Satu Mare (Vatra members from Târgu Mureş) beat up the celebrating Hungarians whom they identified by the rosettes they wore. Then they marched to the town hall where they demanded the sacking of Ferenc Formanek and Ferenc Pécsi. They did not know these men at all, so when Formanek stepped forward they applauded him and only started whistling after his name was announced. As in Târgu Mureş, the police took the side of the demonstrators. Eventually, not only Formanek and Pécsi were demoted, but also the tolerant Romanian president and vice-president of the NSF.
What Ferenc Formanek’s report confirmed my opinion that the Romanian-Hungarian clashes were planned to erupt in Satu Mare, because − given the closeness of the border − the blame could have been easily placed on Hungary. Although Târgu Mureş is no border town, the Romanian government in its statement of March 21, 1990, shifted the responsibility for the bloody clashes of Târgu Mureş onto Hungary.
In his memoirs published in 1994 (Revoluţie şi reformă – Revolution and Reform), Ion Iliescu tells the following tale: “More than 10,000 Hungarian citizens arrived by busses, trains and cars to the March 15 celebrations which were hyped up by the media and well-prepared. They caused incidents in Satu Mare, Sovata, Târgu Mureş and other places. They demonstratively put up the Hungarian flag on public buildings ... they incited with anti-Romanian songs, slogans, causing confusion and panic among the Romanian inhabitants. During the following days, Romanians started protest demonstrations.” Everybody in Târgu Mureş knows that no incidents happened here, the commemoration of March 15 ran its course in the best order and not one Hungarian flag was raised. At the Bălcescu statue where I also laid a wreath, Aurel Florian, the Mureş county president of the Social-Democratic Party, spoke in Romanian about the importance of March 15, stressing the necessity of reconciliation. Gavril Irşic, the police chief of Satu Mare, also denied that Hungarian tourists had caused any trouble. It seems the former president mistook Vatra members for Hungarian tourists and the Romanian tricolour on public buildings for the Hungarian flag...
The Vatra men of Târgu Mureş did not throw their weight around at that time solely in Satu Mare, but appeared in numerous cities over the country (Iași, Bucharest, Braşov, Sibiu, etc.) and organised inflammatory, anti-Hungarian demonstrations. Even the slogans were fully identical and inspired by one secret programme. Obviously, only central support could have made such widespread activity possible.
Károly Király returned unexpectedly on March 16. The possibility shouldn’t be excluded that his presence and his resolute intervention postponed the tragic events briefly.
The Mureş County presidium of the RMDSZ, noting on the afternoon of March 18 how the situation was deteriorating, asked the population through Târgu Mureş Radio (in Hungarian and in Romanian) to refrain from violent actions. It especially warned Hungarians not to respond to aggressive Romanian manifestations. At the same time, it petitioned the central and local leadership of the Provisional Council of National Unity, warning that the situation was extremely tense, and that anti-Hungarian atrocities were to be feared.
In the morning of March 18, I went to the Youth Cultural Centre, where the national conference of the Hungarian Democratic Youth Association was in progress. Two or three Romanians were waiting for me outside the building and asked whether I was Előd Kincses. To my affirmative answer, they added that they were curious to see what I looked like.
There was a sharp argumentative mood at the Hungarian youth conference, and as a lawyer I tried to help to formulate the correct resolutions about the situation. My speech was published by Dr. Zoltán Ábrám on the tenth anniversary of the Hungarian Democratic Youth Association. It said:
I am not a member of the national leadership of RMDSZ; I am here as a lawyer of Târgu Mureş. I was called to give my personal opinion and to help answer questions arising. I do not wish to interfere with internal matters; I only wish to share a few of my opinions. I am trying to find answers to some questions which grew out of the revolution.
The rules of the RMDSZ were written up mostly in Târgu Mureş. We received suggestions from all over the country. There are parts of these rules which are essential for you. For example, the RMDSZ recognises collective membership, so your organisation can join RMDSZ as a collective member, though this does not mean a subordinate relationship – you would keep your independence.
Or, according to the RMDSZ rules, the central and local branches are autonomous in structure and have a two-way relationship. You should embrace similar principles, so that county and central bodies deal only with things that cannot be solved on the spot. This way autonomy is secured, the organisation can function, while in national matters joint ideas will prevail.
I agree that there should be a programme for the Hungarian Youth Association. If you define yourselves as an association, irrespective of the fact of whether you have only collective members or also individual ones, you have to have a programme. The situation is the same in the case of the RMDSZ, which regards itself as an association, and the RMDSZ programme is made in this spirit. The programme has to be accepted by the organisations forming the association. A joint platform is needed so that members don’t just do things according to their own ideas, but take joint steps in certain issues. So, it is advisable to have the smallest common denominator.
If we accept that we are on our way to democracy, then in no case will it be the Bucharest courts defining whether you regard yourselves to be an association or a party. This is an internal matter of your organisation. Therefore it is my opinion that − if you are registered by the Bucharest courts − then you can take part in political struggle. It is clear to all of us that we all want to somehow achieve our rights. For this, we have to use the tools of political struggle. We need to find mass support in this political struggle.
One of the delegates before me said that if you register yourselves as a party then you exclude religious organisations. I don’t know whether this is really so. In the whole of Western Europe, religious people and churches have a serious political role. I do not think it would be unacceptable for the churches if you registered yourselves at the Bucharest court and declared that you are an open association with collective members. Because there can be collective members who want to be political, while others would wish to stay away from politics. At least this is the way I see the structure of the association. Otherwise, we would have to talk about a monolithic party and not an association.
The structure of an association is optimal because the member organisation can be linked to the association in a way that serves its interests. Therefore, if the Association of Hungarian Youth Organisations defines itself as an association and is registered at the Bucharest court, then − in case of need − it can use the tools of political struggle. In a given situation, member-organisations who wish can start the political struggle. I also think the same thing about RMDSZ.
Given that it was mentioned that reform-communists should be totally left out, I wish to share my opinion on this issue. Do not misunderstand me, I do not wish to force my will on the congress, but to say that we do not want somebody because he is a reform-communist is the same as saying that we do not want a royal child. I don’t think this is the way to think in a democracy. I will give you an example. Fourteen years ago Károly Király was the first to oppose Ceauşescu, risking his life. I have known Károly Király for the last three months and we have worked together very well. He is all for radical change and would be driven out of the country if we threatened with perestroika.
The highest Romanian leadership declared already in January that we want a market economy. I find it wrong if people like this were to be driven out of political life.
Elections are approaching and, through them, we can take an important step towards democracy. Because there will be lists to vote for, it is not good to stand alone for election. Hungarian votes would be split and fewer Hungarian delegates would make it into Parliament. So you have to really think about standing alone. Therefore the Association of Hungarian Youth Organisations and RMDSZ have to agree on joint lists.
I wish the delegates of the Târgu Mureş congress great success in solving the problems we all face.
The poet, Géza Szőcs, told me at this meeting that he had decided to come home.
On the afternoon of the 18th, I was called to the headquarters of the RMDSZ. We all felt that tragedy could occur at any moment. It was for this reason that the already mentioned bilingual call through Târgu Mureş Radio had been issued. We especially wanted to prevent the Hungarians from falling into a trap and marching into the streets. We were able to assert our influence to such an extent that the Hungarians of Târgu Mureş did not march into the streets – not even on the afternoon of March 19. Though ironically, if they had done so, they may have been there to save András Sütő from the grave wounds he was so shortly to receive.
Before continuing this description of events, I wish to briefly report on the famous students’ strike. I hand over to Attila Puskás, then in his fourth year of studies, at present assistant lecturer at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Târgu Mureş.