János Péntek

The University: The Minority's Need of Universality

The conference organised in 1999 by the Hungarological Centre declared mutual information and orientation as its main goals. I would like to talk about the Romanian situation regarding higher education in Hungarian language, as well as about the prospects of founding an independent university there, regardless of the point that by now some people should think this has become a hopelessly over topic, as there are daily news and statements about new ideas, plans and fresh frustrations. As some of you have probably noticed, the news in the press as well as the statements regarding recent developments, are full of contradictions, the extreme political prejudices are polarised according to self-justification and manipulative intent, open or concealed, without ever being able to exert any influence on the "final outcome", the preliminaries and the unfolding of the events. The contradiction is partly due to the fact that in Eastern Europe the parallel practice of internal and external orientation is still a commonplace. A good example of this was seen during the Hungarian Prime Minister's visit to Romania in July 1999. Immediately after the talks the Romanian Prime Minister in Marosvásárhely declared that after the enactment of the Education Law there could be no obstacle whatsoever in the way of founding the Hungarian university. Facing a Romanian audience two or three hours later at Kolozsvár, he already explained that because of procedural difficulties the idea of an independent Hungarian university had no chance of becoming a reality in the current parliamentary cycle. Sometimes the contradiction is manifested in the key protagonists' contradictory roles. In his capacity as a university professor, philosopher and rector, the Romanian Minister of Education usually makes an impression with his liberalism and his open and flexible approach both at home and abroad, which is completely at odds with the one he, the politician, creates ever since he has joined forces with the nationalists against such an important minority demand and, therefore, a minority itself; in fact, he is partly to blame for the universities abandoning their former, relatively neutral position in this matter, and coming to regard their opposition to making any progress in this issue more important than the educational reform.

It is, therefore, important that the "ambassadors" of Hungarian higher education, the guest professors and lecturers of foreign universities be properly informed. Since this is a conference on Hungarology, it is important that I should tell you the following: of all the studies in Hungarian, Hungarology enjoys relatively the best position in Romanian higher education (this favourable situation does not apply to Hungarian history and history of education). At each one of all three Hungarian faculties, two in Kolozsvár and one in Bucharest, the professional work is aided by a permanent Hungarian guest lecturer, while the invitations for brief visits have become regular features. In the fields of literature, linguistics and ethnography, training is extended beyond the undergraduate and teacher training levels to postgraduate courses, leading to both M.Sc. and Ph.D. qualifications. Almost every year we have applicants from Hungary for our doctoral programs; also, students from Pécs, Debrecen, Budapest and Szeged regularly receive part of their training at our faculties. Even the acceptance of degrees obtained in Hungary proceeds relatively smoothly in the field of Hungarology; Kolozsvár even accepts diplomas issued by colleges. On the other hand we feel sorry, and also find it somewhat insulting, that the acceptance of our diplomas is sometimes made difficult, especially by the Budapest university. The program for non-native speakers of Hungarian continues to cause problems. In Bucharest it is problematic, because so far there has been no opportunity to make it an independent faculty, and at Kolozsvár the start of such a program is hindered by a lack of interest. This privileged position of Hungarology can be ascribed partly to the relative independence of the faculties, and partly to the point that nobody has, as yet, tried to question the reasonability of teaching Hungarology in Hungarian.

In the matter of the independent university the entirely justified firm determination on the one hand and the quite irrational opposition and rejection on the other have now become a kind of visceral face-off. The foundation of universities, and even the development of a specific university structure, comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, while the building, development and operation of the university is a professional matter. A visceral reaction to the problem is evident on both sides. The issue has been attended with an intense international expectation for the past three years. It was rightfully expected all around that, if nothing else, this much can be achieved by the interest group's participation in the government. Also, Hungarians thought that now was their best chance to get their independent university. This is in contradiction with the logic of history, which shows that the establishment of Bolyai University was due exclusively to the peace treaties concluding the war and to the pressure by the international community, while the participation in the coalition only lead to the neutralisation of international pressure, being powerless in itself, and increasingly so as Romania's European integration is being delayed. The fortieth anniversary of the former university's merger also lends actuality to restitution. It is not the round figure of four decades that has special importance in this, but the fact that a whole generation has passed, with the last of the Bólyai graduates having gone into retirement, withdrawing not only from the professional life but also from the public life, and the loss of this generation has further weakened the community's spiritual power.

The most important aspect is the time factor: time is, undoubtedly, not on our side. We have failed to halt the fundamental negative tendencies, or perhaps even to slow them down. The level of schooling and education continued to drop among Hungarians; they have become ineligible for important professional and intellectual positions and their chances are getting worse in every walk of life. Without university only two solutions are available: one is to emigrate and the other is to assimilate. A "top list" of schooling adequately reflecting the given national minority's situation has been emerging in every outer region: we know it from István Csernicskó's recently published book "A magyar nyelv Ukrajnában (Kárpátalján)" (The Hungarian Language in Carpatho-Ukraine) that according to the census of 1989 the Russians lead the top list with regard to university qualification; the Hungarians with regard to secondary school education; the Romanians regarding primary school; and in all likelihood the Gypsies in illiteracy. In Romania, too, Hungarians lead the list in secondary school education, according to the evidence of the census of 1992, while they come ninth in university education (after the Jews, the Armenians, the Greeks, the Germans, the Poles, the Bulgarians, the Serbs and the Romanian, falling behind the latter, and also the national average, by two per cent or about 35,000 to 40,000 people). And regarding the last decade, which is seen as crucial, the standards of Hungarian public education further deteriorated. It would be no exaggeration to talk about a crisis in public education, which is actually turned into a cul-de-sac by the lack of a university.

The suggestion that without a sufficient number of qualified teachers it is no use pushing ahead with the idea of an independent university; that we must accept the existing situation; and that if we are unable to start a faultless university, then we should not even try it, are all too familiar, even among Hungarians. Admittedly, in the past decades in all the outer regions more Ph.D. degrees and professorships have been conferred on members of the majority, than on members of the minority. In explaining this we can either adopt a racist point of view, or claim that with its inherent linguistic and ethnic bias the system itself is racist. And that is both unacceptable and intolerable. We must educate young people, create positions for them and guarantee their professional advancement. And that, in turn, is possible only in an institutional framework, with the help of positions linguistically discriminated. This is confirmed by the example of the Kolozsvár University, where almost two-third of the current faculty staff of about 250 lecturers have been admitted to university positions with in the past couple of years. Since then a substantial number of them have already proven their worth professionally, with a growing number of them having obtained academic qualifications considered so vital (and to some extent fetishised) in the university system. By contrast, at the medical university of Marosvásárhely, where there are no separate positions for Hungarian tutoring and where linguistic preconditions are not set, the efforts to drive out the Hungarian members of the faculty continue. As to the myth of perfectionism, that must be abandoned. There has never been a university that was perfect from the start: a newly founded university must be ready to be perfected and developed and thus, under appropriate management, it can compete with any other university, given some time.

The first year of the nearly three years of coalition period (1997) was a period of great hopes, negotiations and promising steps; the second (1998) was a time of growing pressure, increasingly acrimonious debates and procrastinated decisions; the third (1999) brought results way below expectations, as well as much disappointment. Hopefully, the fourth year will not be remembered as a year of resignation and acquiescence, the fitting conclusion of a century of unfavourable and humiliating experience for an entire community. The main achievement of the first year was the education bill, put into effect as an emergency government decree, which seemed encouraging from the viewpoint of the university, also. In April and May we conducted talks in the matter of the Kolozsvár University's internal regulations, which also seemed promising. At the end of the year, when the first signs of a government crisis appeared, the interest group gave up the demand that geography and history should be taught in Hungarian, in return for the promise that there would be no obstacles in the way of founding the independent university. But now we have neither this nor that, which is an excellent illustration of how one should never compromise on a principle, because that would always fire back.

For a short while after the cabinet reshuffle everyone had faith in the new minister. On March 17, 1998 the Hungarian lecturers of the Kolozsvár University published a petition that they had submitted to the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education, in which they firmly demanded the official recognition of Hungarian as a language of tuition at the Babes-Bólyai University, along with the requirement of running the university council on a parity base, the independent handling of the Hungarian language share in the budget, the establishment of five independent schools (humanities, natural sciences, law and economics, training of religious instructors of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church). The petition also emphasised that basic research should continue to be conducted jointly, sharing laboratories and libraries. As the next step, the education department of RMDSZ (the Democratic Alliance of Romania's Hungarian Minority) produced its document, the Draft Proposal on the Settlement Structure of Romania's Hungarian Colleges. At a session held around the same time by the Council of Kolozs County's Delegates both the Kolozsvár and the University representatives expressed their dissatisfaction with the document, leading to the formation of an independent draft proposal by one of the parliamentary representatives of Kolozs County. In June a government decree was issued on the establishment of a committee with the purpose of putting together the plans and the accreditation documents of the independent university, and also containing the option of turning the two Hungarian schools into an independent faculty. (This was rejected by the academic staff and the heads of both faculties as a mere symbolic gesture, misleading as well as misunderstood.) On October 23, 1998 Government Decree 687 was promulgated under quite well-known yet highly suspicious circumstances about the establishment of the Petőfi-Schiller University and the creation of a preparatory committee (the appointment of its members was then delayed by the Minister of Education, of all people.)

So as to counter-balance and reject the Hungarian initiatives and the hesitant moves of the government, the nationalist politicians won over the Romanian university staff and the majority of the elite intellectuals. Already as early as 1990, the "self-appointed" representatives of the Kolozsvár University took a hostile stance against the "split" of the two universities. In 1998 they repeated this gesture. In June the forty-eight universities joining the Romanian National Bourgeois Forum rejected the idea of an independent university in a public statement. In July the Romanian Society of Fundamental Sciences declared that it was in the interest of the Romanian state neither morally nor financially to train professionals in Hungarian language. Minister of Education Morga and State Secretary of Higher Education Korka both regarded the demand for a Hungarian university as the manifestation of ethnic separatism, reiterating the other nonsensical argument of nationalists, namely that nowhere in the world was this paralleled. (Sadly, in its 1998 Report, even the Hungarian government's Office of Hungarians Living Beyond the Border felt it necessary to write the following: "... in Europe it is not customary to establish universities on ethnic principles..."; Jelentés, 20. 1.) The phantom of ethnic separatism and the charges of ethnic university continue to hold out against our persistent correction, whereby we demand an independent university not on an ethnic basis but on the basis of the language of education, and this university would be open to all ethnic groups, and as far as the use of languages is concerned it would be as tolerant as all other universities.

Nevertheless, the October 2 resolution regarding the Petőfi-Schiller University generated a counter-reaction on the part of the Minister of Education and the President of the Senate's Education Committee, himself a member of the Greater Romania Party. It was judged anti-constitutional by the deans of four legal faculties. On October 15 the National Conference of University Rectors demonstrated their solidarity with the Ministry of Education, declaring the government decree both dangerous and unlawful. In the last sentence of the Resolution motivated by political aggression, the body found it important to emphasise, in an ostentatious show of its pure and innocent motives, that the academy and the universities wished to preserve their political impartiality in the future. The Hungarian lecturers of Kolozsvár University responded to this five days later in a statement, in which they expressed their shock over the fact that, with the dictatorship over, now it was not the extreme political forces but the country's highest university forum that rejected the Hungarian community's rightful demand for an independent university; the Hungarian lecturers furthermore believed that the security and the unity of the state were jeopardised by this, and that now the university as an institution provided a platform for extreme political views.

An objective legal and political analysis of the recent developments by the Romanian Helsinki Committee of the Protection of Human Rights was also published on October 20. I would like to quote the warning that the Committee gave in the form of its conclusion word for word, as the document, despite all intended purposes, was given very little publicity in Hungary: "The Committee is of the opinion that the statement by the country's university community against Government Decree 687 of 1998 might result in a gross deterioration of the public spirit with unforeseeable consequences. The Committee finds it important to emphasise the following:

a) Opposition to Government Decree 687/2 of 1998 in the current, very difficult economic situation, which in all likelihood will further deteriorate in the future, will channel the public's dissatisfaction in the direction of ethnic tensions. This mechanism will have an effect on internal security and stability. It will do significant damage in Romanian society and might lead to Romania's marginalisation within the international community.

b) The Helsinki Committee expresses concern in connection with the university community's organised opposition to the Romanian government's intention to achieve ethnic peace by establishing a university where Hungarian and German would be the language of tuition. This opposition aims at the escalation of ethnic tensions in Romania. The Yugoslav example has shown that as soon as the majority's elite intelligentsia places itself at the spearhead of the attacks, the deterioration in the relations between the ethnic groups would speed up. This was how the hostile stance of certain Serbian intellectual groups, of writers and university lecturers, against other nationalities not only contributed to the outbreak of the war, but was also instrumental in the creation of an atmosphere that made the tragedy possible. In Kosovo the effects of those high-profile public statements that discussed the "threat" and the "danger" ingrained in ethnic demands were plainly visible. Every time when groups of intellectuals deliberately mislead public opinion, as it is happening in Romania today in connection with the minorities' right to higher education in their mother tongue, it becomes nearly impossible to counter-balance the tendencies leading towards direct confrontation.

The Helsinki Committee calls upon the government bodies to follow a political line that secures social peace. It greatly underlines the extraordinary danger inherent in the elite intellectuals' intention to mislead the public in connection with the rationale and the possibilities in the granting of minority rights.

In view of the dangers regarding the possible consequences, the Helsinki Committee will send its Announcement to the human rights and the minority organisations, the international institutions and all those governments that have a stake in the stability of the region. We shall also forward the text of the announcement to universities in other countries."

The Helsinki Committee's concerns are not at all unfounded, since the main provocateurs and protagonists of uncertainties in the region are the raving nationalists and war criminals emerging from these elite intellectuals, psychiatrists and psychopaths in the same person, mafiosos bent on destroying their nation while fancying themselves as national heroes.

Finally, after a long-drawn-out labour, the new Education Law was born and enacted in 1999. This is far less than what the Hungarian community rightfully expected (the abolition of all limitations and negative discriminations on a linguistic or ethnic basis), and even falls short of what the emergency government decree of 1997 guaranteed, but offers a little more than the earlier, 1995 version of the law had provided. Although the law has no prohibitions and limitations with respect to the university, it guarantees nothing, while the Accreditation Law, modified simultaneously with the enactment of the Education Law, further reduces the chances of the foundation of an independent university.

So where are we at the moment, and what are the possibilities and chances of moving on from here? At Kolozsvár we must go ahead with the build-up and rejuvenation of personnel and the improvements in quality, primary internal, which we have been carrying out in the existing framework since 1990 practically uninterrupted: today the University has approximately 4,000 Hungarian students (20 per cent of the total number), of whom about 2,500 (12-13 per cent) had studied in Hungarian during the previous year in 32 schools. We must exploit the possibilities of development offered by the reform of higher education: the university operates off-campus colleges in Hungarian language also, at Sepsiszentgyörgy (economics, administration), Gyergyószentmiklós (tourism, topography-surveying), Szatmárnémeti (administration). These colleges must be strengthened professionally. Another new and important development is that since the Autumn of 1999 teacher's training has been conducted at college level, instead of secondary school level, at the off-campus colleges of the University: in Hungarian at Székelyudvarhely, Nagyenyed, Kézdivásárhely, Kolozsvár and Szatmárnémeti. These colleges will found education in Hungarian for the forthcoming decades, and so it is important that the standard be raised at the highest possible level from the start.

The University's Hungarian lecturers are determined to demand, as of the start of the next academic year, the establishment of independent schools in every single higher education institute where a substantial number of Hungarian students attend the courses (university, medical school of Marosvásárhely, technical university, agricultural university, art academies, etc.), in accordance with the spirit of the Education Law. Within the University's own manoeuvring space there is very little chance for success; to be able to realise this, high-level political intentions and influences must come to the rescue.

The independent university and the Petőfi-Schiller University-a dead-end from the start-along with the artificially concocted excuse of multiculture, continues to be the touchstone of education politics and minority politics.

The cause of the university is a cause backed by the entire community. This motivates all the other projects, religious, regional or private. Of all of these, the most promising is the Reformed Church's planned university at Nagyvárad, which has been functioning as a college for a few years now. (Meanwhile, the Pro Universitate Partium Foundation became officially registered in Romania, and its board of trustees at its October 1, 1999 meeting passed a resolution to found-on the structural model of the István Sulyok Reformist College-the Christian University of the Partium, taking steps towards obtaining a temporary license and accreditation. The new university held its official opening ceremony on October 3. -the ed.) The projects are hindered by two fundamental problems: one concerns preparation and co-ordination, which are usually less than satisfactory, the other is connected to the surveying and the establishment of the professional conditions. Naturally, the realisation of the plans and continuation of the projects already started all have financial preconditions. The subsidy possibly put up by the Apáczai Public Foundation could be a substantial one.

The national minorities lived through the end of the 20th century and of the 2nd millennium in a subordinate and vulnerable condition. For them, the university means a chance for spiritual, professional and human advancement, a chance for self-realisation, equality and human dignity. The idea of a university also contains the idea of universality. A university without an adjective, which is not ethnic, not multicultural, simply a university. At the university that we are fighting for it is the mother tongue, in our case the Hungarian language, that will establish spiritual and human dignity, the chance for survival and advancement for the entire community.