Angry mayor shows his colours: Gheorghe Funar, who is a serious patriot, insists there are no Hungarians in Romania, writes Adrian Bridge in Cluj

Adrian Bridge
Thursday 22 September 1994 23:02 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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JUST in case you miss the huge blue, yellow and red Romanian flag prominently displayed in Gheorghe Funar's office, there is another, smaller version on his desk. And another pinned to the wall. And another on the mantelpiece.

Mr Funar takes his patriotism seriously. Indeed, since becoming mayor of the Transylvanian town of Cluj in 1992, he has turned it into something of a crusade. Within months of taking office, dual language signs, put up for the benefit of the town's 23 per cent ethnic Hungarian minority, have been taken down, and 'foreign' banners and the singing of non- Romanian national anthems have been outlawed.

Last year he unveiled the first of two large monuments to Romanian national heroes, clearly intended to dwarf others in the town, testifying to the region's hundreds of years under Hungarian rule.

He has also stepped up calls for the banning of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (HDFR), the political party representing Transylvania's estimated 2 million ethnic Hungarians. According Mr Funar, 44, those people's interests do not need to be represented. 'There are no Hungarians in Romania,' he declared to The Independent. 'Hungarians can be found in Hungary. Here there are only Romanian citizens. And they all enjoy the same rights under the law.'

Ethnic Hungarians, not surprisingly, dispute that. They allege that Mr Funar, who heads the extreme nationalist Romanian National Unity Party (PRNU), a member of the governing coalition in Bucharest, is at the forefront of a systematic policy of discrimination against them that aims at the negation of their historical and cultural ties to Transylvania.

The HDFR, which also boasts extremist elements, would like to see a range of rights for ethnic Hungarians enshrined in the bilateral treaty currently being negotiated between Romania and Hungary. In addition to the right to mother-tongue tuition at all levels of education, the party would like more autonomy in regions where ethnic Hungarians are.

Such demands are a red rag to Mr Funar, who sees them as the thin edge of a wedge. 'After autonomy would come annexation,' he storms. 'It is all part of Budapest's master plan to take control again.'

Like other extreme Romanian nationalists, Mr Funar seriously believes that Hungary has territorial designs on Transylvania, one of the territories it lost when the Austro-Hungarian empire was disbanded after the First World War. He wastes no opportunity, moreover, to hark back to discrimination Romanians faced during the centuries of Hungarian rule, and, more recently, to alleged atrocities committed against his kinsmen during Hungary's four-year occupation of northern Transylvania in the Second World War.

As elsewhere in eastern Europe, ethnic tension has risen in Romania since the overthrow of Communism in 1989. Only once, however, has it erupted into serious violence: in March 1990 four people were killed in street battles in Tirgu Mures.

Most educated Romanians dismiss any talk of parallels with the former Yugoslavia, describing Mr Funar as a ridiculous little man with a large chip on his shoulder, whose rantings ultimately do not count for much. They draw hope, too, from the fact that the new government elected in Hungary earlier has made it clear that it wants a treaty with Romania in which the current border will be recognised.

Such a treaty, which in addition to a border clause would also contain one specifying ethnic Hungarian rights in Romania, would do much to allay suspicions on both sides.

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