Minorities Research 1.

Jenő Zágoni

The Educational Laws in Romania and Their Bearing on Hungarians
(1918-1995)

 On June 28, 1995 the Romanian Senate and House of Representatives correlated and passed the Educational Law No. 85/1995. Next day fifty three members of the opposition—Hungarians and Romanians alike—called the Constitutional Court’s attention to the Law’s violations of the constitution and lodged a protest. The supreme legal body turned down the protest, after which President Ion Ilionescu ratified the bill with his signature. The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (HDUR) launched a civil disobedience campaign against the ratification of the Law, judged as discriminative and believed to be designed against the Hungarian population. By contrast, the political leaders of Romania, along with the media, have been trying to steer public opinion into believing that the new Romanian Educational Law surpasses the European norms, while the Hungarians have, for the past seventy five years, been trying to secure for themselves privileges at the expense of the indigenous population, and have been bent on a separatist policy. In reality, this Law is an instrument in the hands of the visionaries of a Romanian nation state, and significantly contributes to the non-Romanian nationals’ assimilation or expulsion. The Hungarians are defending their rights. In the region that has been their homeland for more than a thousand years, they try to remain Hungarians by cultivating their language and culture. In the following we try to outline, in a nutshell, the events of the past seventy five years in the fields of educational politics in an effort to reveal the obvious objectives of the Law in question.

 Still before the Trianon Peace Dictate, on December 19, 1919, Romania signed the Minorities Agreement with the Principal Allied and Associated Powers in Paris. The Paris Peace Conference obliged Romania to guarantee for the non-Romanian population in the lands handed over to them the fundamental human and civil rights. This had to be emphasized as Romania had failed to carry into effect similar obligations undertaken at the Berlin Congress of 1878. (That was when Romania’s sovereignty was acknowledged.)

 The Minorities Agreement of Paris declared that Romanian citizens could be limited in the use of their native tongues in private and religious life, in public life and in a court of law. Therefore, in regions where nationalities other than Romanian live in significant numbers, the government is obliged to guarantee public education in the native language concerned. Chapter 11 of the said agreement laid down that “Romania agrees to grant local self-government to the Szekler and Saxon communities in educational matters.” It is this self-government that the struggle is fought for now, as Romania has not carried into effect one single point of the agreement.

 Prior to this, on December 1, 1918—when the Romanian National Council called for a meeting of the Romanian population at Gyulafehérvár to decide in the matter of union with Romania—a resolution was published, section III/1 of which announced: “...the co-inhabiting nationalities will receive full national freedom: education, public administration and the service of justice will be in their own native tongue...”

 In the following we shall briefly touch upon the subsequent fate of their voluntarily made resolution and the obligations undertaken before the great powers only with regard to education.

 Already in the academic year of 1919-1920 tuition in Hungarian language was cancelled in 900 elementary schools, while university education was abolished altogether. Secondary education in Hungarian was eliminated in government school by the middle of the decade.

 Following the Second Vienna Award, the Hungarian school network was restored in Northern Transylvania. The number of Romanian educational institutes was reduced—as these had been established forcibly in Hungarian settlements—, but in villages and towns where Romanian tradition flourished, or in settlements where Romanians formed the majority, the Romanian schools were left intact. In fact, during the Horthy regime Romanian language was a compulsory subject in Hungarian secondary schools in Northern Transylvania.

 In Southern Transylvania tuition in Hungarian was limited to church schools right until the end of 1943. Then, however, all Hungarian schools were closed down.

 After World War II, the relative stabilisation of the political and economic situation, but most notably the deceptive tactics of the Gróza government, made the restoration of the Hungarian schools, as well as the establishment of new ones, possible. In the academic year of 1946-47 there were already 1,036 government and 754 church schools, of which 184 were secondary.

 Following the nationalisation (1948), there were 383 kindergartens, 1,320 elementary schools (grades 1-4), 440 junior high schools (grades 5-7) and 93 secondary schools available to Hungarian children and young people. After the Autumn of 1947 Hungarian schools were established in Moldavia for the ‘Csángó’ Hungarians.

 However, nationalisation was accompanied by educational reforms, which in most of the cases adversely affected the Hungarians. Theoretical teaching was replaced by technical colleges of Romanian-Hungarian faculty. In places where Hungarians lived in isolated pockets, their schools were closed down one after the other.

 At that time the four Hungarian polytechnics and universities were still left alone. The Bolyai University of Science in Kolozsvár had eight departments, the Medical and Pharmaceutical Institute of Marosvásárhely had five, the Art College of Kolozsvár had for and the Agricultural Institute, also in Kolozsvár, had one department.

 After the revolution and war of liberation of 1956—in the events of which Transylvania’s Hungarian population took an active part—certain measures were effected to improve public morale. Some of the institutions of theoretical education were restored, the famous schools of several hundred years standing were allowed to be named after illustrious Hungarians (Ady, Kölcsey, Brassai, Bolyai...), and school anniversaries could be celebrated. However, the situation changed for the worse in the Autumn of 1958, with the brief period of ‘privileges’ coming to an end. The “fight against Hungarian cultural separatism and nationalism” was launched.

 In February 1958 János Kádár and his team visited Romania. In a speech made in Marosvásárhely, Gyula Kállay summed up his experiences as follows: “We have already known and highly appreciated, and we have now also been given first-hand experience, of the fact that in the Romanian People’s Republic the legal equality of the nationalities has been established in all areas of economic and cultural life.”

 As soon as the illustrious guests returned to Hungary, the “union” of the various types of schools started, foreboding the danger of the gradual but thorough elimination of the Hungarian language. After the academic year of 1966-1967 not a single Hungarian-language technical college was allowed to function.

 In 1968, when the draft of a new Educational Law was debated in the Great National Assembly (Parliament), the Minister responsible mentioned nationality education for the first time in years. He proudly announced that “more than 240,000 children belonging to Romania’s nationalities study in their native tongues in nearly 2,000 schools.” He forgot to mention, however, that in the academic year of 1950-1951 there were 3,413 such schools, of which 2,450 were Hungarian. By 1968, the number of the non-Romanian schools had, therefore, decreased by 1,486. Also omitted from the Minister of Education’s speech was the fact that by then higher education in Hungarian had almost completely been abolished.

 Presidential decree no. 703 was issued in 1973, compelling the schools in every Hungarian settlement to set up classes in Romanian, regardless of the number of students. For Romanians, three students were already enough to set up a Romanian class, while the corresponding number for Hungarians was twenty-five. As a result of the decree, the Hungarian schools vanished from small Hungarian villages and isolated pockets of Hungarian communities. To make sure that the schools stay open, in many places the teacher or the teacher couple enrolled some of the children (at least three) in the Romanian class. In this way the teachers and the children could all stay in the village. In several Hungarian settlements the authorities forcibly set up Romanian classes by intimidating the parents and the children.

 After 1985 the practice of posting to Hungarian villages teachers who could not speak Hungarian began, while Hungarians were sent to remote Romanian regions. In many instances, one half of a teacher couple was given a job in Transylvania, and the other in Oltenia or Dobrudja several hundreds of kilometres away. Romanian classes were set up in Hungarian secondary and high schools of several-hundred-year history; Hungarian inscription as well as group photos of former teachers and students were removed; and a large number of the classes had to be conducted in Romanian. Anyone trying to protest was likely to face retaliation from the state security police.

 As seen from the above passages, immediately before, as well as shortly after, signing international agreements the Romanian state promised far-reaching rights to the Hungarian population, incorporating them in the documents and “endorsing ” them with signature. Soon after this, however, the GOAL takes precedence, meaning the establishment of Romania as a homogeneous nation-state.

 After the fall of the regime in December 1989, many people entertained hopes about the realisation of the Hungarians’ rights in a democratic Romania. The promises made by President Iliescu, as well as by almost all the representatives of the new political elite, fostered illusions in the leading Hungarian personalities in this respect. Even the first measures taken by the new government suggested positive changes, as did the freedom of action allowed to Hungarian interest groups.

 These changes also affected the area of education in Hungarian, bringing rapid results first of all in the predominantly Hungarian Székelyföld. Initially the return to the original arrangements was smooth, but when the earlier leaders saw that they could avoid retaliation for their crimes, they once again became active. The prominent nationalist and anti-Hungarian teachers, party functionaries and secret police compiled the “Har-Kov Report”, in which they declared themselves the victims of persecution by the Hungarians of Székelyföld and the martyrs of the Romanian nation. Among other people, they were the ones who initiated the measures against education in Hungarian. Their actions culminated in the pogrom of Marosvásárhely.

 The series of protests and demonstrations throughout Transylvania have been going on since March 1990 in order to call the various human rights organisations’ (UN, UNESCO, European Council...) attention to the violations of human and minorities rights by the Romanian government.

 The Education Law’s section regarding the “minorities” of Romania forms a brand new violation of the same category.

 The Constitutional Court disregarded both the demonstrations against the draft of the Educational Law published in 1993 and the movement organised by HDUR and supported by nearly 500,000 signatures for education in native languages. According to the Constitutional Court’s judgement, the draft proposal of Romania’s National Council for Educational Reforms complied with the constitutional principles and did not contain a single violation of the law. However, Transylvania’s Hungarian population and HDUR representing it had a different opinion. According to this, some of the articles of the Education Law passed on June 28, 1995 were in breach of the Constitution, violating and limiting the right to education in one’s native tongue, while some other passages were contradictory and liable to misinterpretation. Even in comparison to Education Act 28/1978, which was operated during the Communist regime, the new law meant a step backward.

 As a result of the HDUR’s protest, the European Parliament passed a resolution within a summary procedure, which condemned Romania for the deterioration of the minorities’ situation, for which the new Education Law bore the blunt of the blame.

 In response, the government and all the parties in Romania, including the Democratic Convention which had previously co-operated with the HDUR, rejected the European Parliament’s “charges”, announcing that “in Romania the minorities enjoy privileges. As to the Educational Law, that served as an example for the countries of Europe.”

 But how could a law be “exemplary”, when it declares that:

--in Romania the language of education at every level of schooling is Romanian;

--in every settlement classes have to be organised and run in Romanian language;

--in secondary schools the Romanian language and literature should be taught according to the program and textbooks used in Romanian schools;

--in secondary schools Romanian history and Romania’s geography should be taught in Romanian, according to the program and textbooks used in Romanian schools; examination in these subjects should also be in Romanian;

--vocational teaching should be done in Hungarian, both in vocational training schools and in post-lyceums;

--the language of both the entry and the final examinations at all levels of education must be Romanian;

--in higher education tuition is allowed in minority languages only in teachers’ training colleges, art colleges and medical schools.

A Detailed Analysis of the Educational Law’s Effects on Minorities and the Foreseeable Consequences

A) The limitation of education in one’s native tongue

Paragraph 3 of Chapter 32 in the Constitution lays down the following:

“The right to study their native tongue is guaranteed to persons belonging to national minorities, along with the right to be educated in the language; the modes of carrying these right into effect should be specified in separate laws.”

 Paragraph 118 of Chapter XII in the Educational Law is in accordance with the spirit of the paragraph quoted above:

 “Persons belonging to a national minority have the right to education and training in their native tongue at all levels of schooling.”

 In stark contrast with this, in the following paragraphs the Law, instead of regulating the guarantees of the constitutional right, methodically limits this right to the extent that amounts to the deliberate elimination of education in one’s native tongue.

a) Paragraph 1 of Chapter 8 endorses the practice employed in the 1970s and 1980s:

By carrying this law into effect in Hungarian villages, where there is no demand for schools and classes in Romanian, the authorities can put pressure on the parents to enrol their children in Romanian classes and schools. And in the case of small schools, on the pretext of the shortage of funds only Romanian classes will be set up, even if there are no more than two or three Hungarian children enrolled in them, thus abolishing countless Hungarian classes and schools. There are numerous examples for this practice from the Communist era.

b)   According to Paragraph 2 of Chapter 9, the state supports the received religions only through the organisation of their specific secondary and higher education institutions, as well as through the training of church officials. Regarding educational institutions of other categories, the religious denominations can organise them only within the framework of private education, without receiving any state subsidy.

 In 1948, following the government’s decree No. 176, a total of 1,593 schools were nationalised, of which 1,300 (81.6 per cent) were Hungarian ecclesiastic schools.

 After the fall of the Ceausescu regime in 1989, the Hungarian churches reclaimed their property, including the ecclesiastic schools. Paragraph 1 of Chapter 166 of the Law concerned excludes the possibility of giving these schools back to their rightful owners, at the same time prohibiting even a partial restoration of the network of ecclesiastic schools.

c)   By making Romanian the mandatory language used in teaching Romania’s geography and Romanian history, as well as in the vocational courses, the Law limits the non-Romanians’ right to study in their native tongue, while excluding the possibility of their training in their native language:

“The above subjects are to be taught on the basis of the curriculum and textbooks designated for Romanian classes. Examination are to be held in Romanian.” (Paragraph 2 of Chapter 120.)

 In those branches of learning, where the entry exams are held in the subjects mandatorily taught in Romanian (law, history, art history, economics, veterinary sciences, agricultural sciences, etc.), the Hungarian students are at a disadvantage in comparison to those pupils who learned these subjects in their native tongue.

d)   Chapter 23 declares the following: “In the state-run higher education institutes, if requested but subject to conditions specified in this Law, classes and departments can be organised in the training of teachers and artists in minority languages.”  This clause limits higher education in minority languages to two areas--the training of teachers and artists--prohibiting the training of economists, engineers and legal students.

e)   The most damaging section of the Educational Law is Chapter 124:

 “At every level of education, the entry and final exams are to be held in Romanian. In schools and classes as well as in vocational training courses where the language of education is a minority language, examination in that language is permitted.”

 Since the vocational training courses, technical colleges, master schools, post-lyceums and higher education courses are almost without exception in the Romanian language, Hungarian applicants have to compete for admission with Romanian students in Romanian in subjects that they studied in Hungarian.

B) Education in Hungarian Today

 In an attempt to demonstrate the danger posed by the Educational Law with the help of concrete figures, we shall present the current situation of education in Hungarian. We would like to point out that the previous legislation limited the practice of education in Hungarian less severely.

 Of the 79,508 Hungarian children (6.4 per cent of the total number) enrolled in elementary schools for the academic year of 1993-94, only 4.9 per cent studies in schools where the language of education is Hungarian. In the case of the isolated Hungarian communities, the proportion of Hungarian children studying in Romanian classes can be more than the half of the total number.

 The systematic Romanisation of the vocational training courses has been going on for years. 

 In secondary education, 5.64 per cent of the students are Hungarian, yet only 4.2 per cent can study in Hungarian. There are areas (light industry, transportation, telecommunication, food industry, sport, commerce, etc.), in which the language of education is exclusively Romanian. By contrast, the start of entire Hungarian classes are approved in construction industry, machine industry and timber industry.

 In counties where Hungarians live only in isolated pockets, vocational training courses in Hungarian are practically non-existent. 

 Of the 390,681 students attending vocational training courses in Romania, 6.5 per cent are Hungarian, yet only 1.6 per cent (6,242) can study in Hungarian.

 In the academic year of 1993-94, there were 25 vocational training courses altogether in four counties and 12 institutions. Even here, 70 per cent of the subjects were taught in Romanian. Vocational training in Hungarian is, therefore, practically non-existent.

 In higher education, the language of education is Hungarian only in the training of teachers and actors. Hardly any Hungarian students are admitted to university courses in economics, law, history and philosophy. Of the 11,932 students studying law at the country’s state-run universities, only 98 (0.8 per cent) are Hungarian. Similar conclusions can be deduced from the relevant figures, broken up according to departments and nationalities, of the Babes-Bolyai University of Science.

 By now less and less people realise, and still less care, that in the not so distant past Romania’s “province” known as Transylvania was the foremost seat of learning and intellectual life for the Hungarians, the Romanians and the Saxons alike.

 Today even the mere utterance of the word ‘autonomy’ irritates the Romanian public. This is so, regardless of the fact that, wherever they had been in majority, they themselves  had enjoyed local autonomy in the past. To find an example, one only has to think of the ‘kenéz’ courts of the Romanian districts of Hátszeg, Déva and Jófő in Hunyad county, where justice was done according to “Romanian law” even as late as the middle of the 15th century.

 In 1675 Princess Zsuzsanna Lorántffy founded a school on the estate of Fogaras “for the glory of God and the betterment of the Vlach nation”, where the language of education was Romanian. This was not a rare example during the past centuries.

 Even during the First World War, the Hungarian state maintained 2,408 Romanian schools in Transylvania. The Orthodox and the Romanian Greek Catholic churches, like all the other religious denominations, were entitled to set up educational institutions. During the same period, there were eight teachers’ training institutes for Romanian nationals. The number of elementary and secondary schools could even have been larger, had there been a public demand for them. From the earliest times right until the twentieth century, the schooling of children in rural areas were hindered by their large-scale employment in animal husbandry (sheep farming) and agriculture. From their early childhood onwards, the boys lived with their father far from their home village, in remote mountain pastures, often as far as Turkey.

 The Saxon population of Transylvania lived in a self-contained world of their own. For 800 years they enjoyed full autonomy, organising their economic, cultural and educational life independently.

 As to the higher education of Hungarians in Transylvania, in addition to the universities of Pécs, Buda, and Pozsony, a network of colleges were established in Transylvania, too. In 1622 Prince Gábor Bethlen persuaded the Diet to arrange for theestablishment of an “ordinary academy” at Gyulafehérvár. Along with so many other reputable institutions, the colleges of Nagyenyed, Kolozsvár, Székelyudvarhely and Marosvásárhely are no longer in existence (in their original function). First the Kolozsvár University was declared to be a Romanian university, and then later was restored. In 1959, under the banner of “the fight against separatism”, it was “amalgamated” with the Romanian university. The “interdenominational university” established by the churches of Transylvania in 1920 with the aim to train secondary school teachers was closed down by the Romanian government. The language of education at the Economics Academy of Kolozsvár, the Commerce Academy of Kolozsvár and the Royal Law Academy of Nagyvárad was changed to Romanian. The Law Academy of the Reformed Church at Máramaros, along with the Roman Catholic Church’s teachers’ training colleges at Kolozsvár, Nagyszeben, Szatmánémeti and Temesvár and the Reformed Church’s teachers’ training college at Kolozsvár were closed down.

 We have already described the conditions today in the above passages.

 The community of Hungarian nationalities (and not “minorities”!) continues its peaceful campaign for its rightful demands. Addressing its message to the more reasonable sections of the Romanian people, the Hungarian community want to make one thing very clear at its demonstrations rallying hundreds of thousands of people all over Transylvania, as well as in its proclamations and memorandums sent to the international organisations: ”The mother tongue—the guarantee of our national survival—is not a bargaining chip.” It demands that the Romanian authorities give us the opportunity to realise full self-government, including a cultural autonomy, which would guarantee the establishment of an independent Hungarian educational system, from the kindergartens to the universities. Last but not least, it demands the return of the church property, the schools built from the Hungarian congregations’ generous donations.

 These demands do not amount to more than the obligations Romania voluntarily undertook in its Gyulafehérvár Declaration of December 1, 1918, as well as in the various international agreements it signed subsequently.