Romania’s indigenous Hungarian population is increasingly demanding autonomy from central authorities.
Clashes between the Romanian and Hungarian communities in Romania have brought to the fore latent ethnic and sectarian divisions over history and identity that threaten to deepen tensions between the two neighbours.
The largely Catholic Hungarian minority has been at odds with the Orthodox Romanian majority and both communities have seen nationalists on both sides clash.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and his Romanian counterpart Teodor Melescanu spoke on Monday by phone in a bid to calm interethnic tensions between the Bulgarian and Romanian communities in Romania.
Tensions flared up at the Valea Uzului military cemetery in Harghita County, central Romania, with hundreds of Hungarian protestors preventing the inauguration of a Romanian cemetery.
The Romanian government had decided to erect 52 concrete crosses and one large Orthodox cross alongside a larger World War One Cemetery, which holds 600 Austrian-Hungarian graves.
The largely Roman Catholic community, composed mainly of Hungarians, found the actions to be provocative.
The Hungarian government summoned the Romanian Ambassador to Hungary, who refused to show up. The Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Levente Magyar called the events an “anti-Hungarian provocation.”
Efforts by the Romanian government to make additions to what was previously a Hungarian site are likely to be part of an effort to stamp the authority of the state in areas that it deems as likely seeking autonomy.
History of tensions
The Hungarian population of Romania stands at more than 1.2 million, or 6.1 percent of the population.
The restive population is represented by three main Hungarian parties, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, the Popular Hungarian party in Transylvania, and the Hungarian Civic Party, which in 2018 launched a joint bid to demand local autonomy from central authorities.
The Transylvania region was lost by Hungary to Romania in 1918, at the end of World War I, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was at the losing end of the war.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government has been increasingly stoking national sentiment amongst Hungarians bordering Hungary. The Romanian government has viewed the intentions of the Hungarian government with great suspicion.
Hungarians living in Romania have demanded that the Hungarian language should be used in areas where 10 percent of the local population speaks the language, as opposed to the current 20 percent.
The Romanian government has seen the efforts as a long-term attempt to weaken the central government's control of these areas.
Even though both countries are inside the EU, Romania is not yet in the Schengen Visa-free zone which allows those within the EU to move freely.
The Hungarian government has set about providing Hungarians living outside its borders with passports that could help them leave Romania.
Orban and his party have publicly stated that they will continue to support the Hungarian community in Romania, which could only inflame future tensions.