Much media coverage regarding the economic crisis in the European Union focused on the banking and government finance fiasco, unleashed four years ago by the realization that
was a huge mess, which became Greece Europe’s mess thanks to the monetary union. From there, contagion spread, and Italy ran into troubles, and recently we had the Spain bailout, which gave us occasion to witness the unbelievable act of property expropriation in the form of the takeover of people’s bank accounts. Now there is talk about Cyprus perhaps needing a bailout, in order for its banking institutions to survive, and there are even rumors circulating about countries like Slovenia being next. All this is enough to make one’s head spin, and it certainly was enough to stall out Luxembourg Europe’s economy for more than half a decade now. In fact, we may have to wait until 2015 before Europe starts showing signs of recovery from a crisis that started in 2008. That is, if nothing else goes wrong in the meantime, and many signs indicate that many more things may still go wrong, and the EU is not prepared to deal with them. It is now crunch time for the Europeans, I believe this decade will decide whether they will continue to be global leaders in living standards and economic success, or whether the continent will disintegrate. It is even conceivable that they will revert to a state of conflict, which Europeans cannot afford, given that they are already experiencing demographic freefall.
Dangers lurking in seemingly obscure corners:
At the eastern edge of the European Union, there is a member country called
, which most people know of, for its connection to tales about vampires. I think it is important to point out that Romania is also part of a region known as the Balkans, which was nicknamed in the past as “ Romania Europe’s powder keg”. The First World War started in the region. The most recent bloody episode in European history also happened in the region, known as the “Yugoslav Wars”, with about 140,000 dead, according to the International Center for Transitional Justice and who knows how many brutal rapes (40-60,000 by most credible estimates), loss of property, displacement, and other sources of human suffering. It was a painful last reminder to Europeans that the twentieth century was a tale of not only prosperity and advancement, but also gruesome deeds of hate, chauvinism and extreme inhumanity, with tens of millions of victims, who paid with their lives, often under conditions and circumstances that give the human species a reason to loathe itself. Now the European Union has a few members from this volatile region. is one such state, and as a rebuff to West European idealism, has shown no evidence that principles of reciprocity in respect towards other nations will rub off any time soon. There is no chance whatsoever that Romanians will ever have a shared project to write a common history book with their Hungarian neighbors, and their ethnic Hungarian co-inhabitants of the country itself, like the French and Germans did. Romania
Romania; a potential destabilizing factor in the EU.
For those who do not know much about
, I want to start off, by giving some relevant background information to help people visualize the problem better. Romania in its more or less current form teritorially speaking came into existence in the aftermath of the First World War. Their prize for entering the war on the side of the entente powers was the region of Romania Transylvania, which historically was part of the Hungarian kingdom, and has had a multi-ethnic population for most of its existence as a political entity. Since the annexation of this territory, for the first time in at least 800 years of co-habitation by Romanians, Hungarians and Germans, the region is being ethnically homogenized to the point where its historical ethnic mix is no longer recognizable, except for a few enclaves, where Romanians are not yet demographically so dominant as to threaten the complete extinction of other cultures. In 1918, the population of Transylvania and the part of Banat ceded to , included aside from a slight Romanian majority, also a sizable German population, which made up 12% of the total, and Hungarians who were 32% of the total. Now, the German population has all but disappeared after over 800 years of existence, while the ethnic Hungarian population officially makes up about 19%, but in reality, it is more like 17%, because there are probably about 100,000 Rromas (Gypsies) who claim their ethnicity to be Hungarian. Even this number is misleading, because aside from a few counties where there are still cohesive communities, most of the region is now on its irreversible road to complete ethnic homogenization, so most minority communities are already condemned to extinction. There is no evidence that measures meant to protect other historical minorities in other countries, such as is the case with the Germans in Italy, French in Canada, or Swedes in Finland, such as giving Hungarian official language status, at least where it is still feasible, will ever come to pass. In fact, the opposite is true, because Romanian authorities are now engaged in measures meant to impede any practical use of the Hungarian language[i]. Romania
It is the last few remaining pockets of solid ethnic Hungarian inhabitants and the attitude of Romanian society towards their continued presence, which should be a source of concern for EU stability. In recent months, there has been a flare-up of incendiary actions as well as media miss-portrayal of the facts, which has led to tensions, which already led to street protests in many towns, mainly by Romanians, calling for among other things, the ouster of the ethnic Hungarian minority.
These recent problems are no accident. It is obvious that someone is fanning the flames, of an otherwise already simmering fire. There is never a sure way of knowing what the reason is behind this deliberate inflaming of nationalism, but my personal guess is that it has to do with the current plan of regional reorganization of local counties. The plan includes the incorporation of the two counties that still have an ethnic Hungarian majority into a bigger county, where Hungarians will become a minority of less than 30%, meaning that they will no longer have a voice in their own local matters, except at a municipal level, if they are in the majority there. This is not necessarily the intended goal of
’s political elites. I believe the overall re-drawing of Romania ’s map has more to do with more individual based considerations that many politicians desire to achieve, having more to do with monetary and power gains, rather than nationalistic goals. Nevertheless, creating the perception among the Romanians that busting up the last ethnic stronghold of the Hungarians is the most important reason for them to support their project, would help gain popularity for the project, needed to make it reality. Romania
The latest worrying sign that this is an organized campaign meant to foment ethnic hatred is a recent article published by Larry Watts on the mainstream news site Adevarul, which was an inflammatory attack, meant to vilify the Ethnic Hungarian minority through a distorted presentation of
Transylvania’s history (the clasical, Hungarians bad, Romanians good). Larry Watts, as the name suggests, is not of Romanian origin, thus the article had the added effect of having the illusion of impartiality on its side. What most readers did not realize is that Larry Watts is not just any ordinary foreigner. He claimed asylum in , during Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship, and since then he seems to have been well integrated in the repressive Securitate (secret service) apparatus. He continued his presence in the re-named, but not purged secret service, after the revolution. He maintained close ties to former post communist president Ion Illiescu (A former high ranking communist), who is among other things, suspected to have used a choreographed incident of violence in March, 1990 between ethnic Hungarians and the Romanian majority as an excuse to keep the Securitate apparatus intact, citing national security. So, in other words, Romania has seen this movie before, and it had dramatic negative effects for the country, including the labeling of the country as a risk to any investment, due to instability, as well as the fact that they played right into the hands of the former communist apparatus, which even after 23 years, still seems to hold much clout and ability to influence things. Unfortunately, people there are far too oblivious, and caught up in their hatred of the Hungarian minority, seeded into them from early childhood through what they call “history lessons” around there, and rasied to fever pitch by the intense media campaign which started a few months back. It has been a vicious campaign, involving even the lowest of the low technique of brazen acts of information falsification[ii]. This is what is happening in a European Union member country presently, which is far from the ideal of the EU of bringing peace to the continent. It is another sign of EU failure. I bet, if one were to go back a decade or so, and tell the original members of the EU that they would have a member among them, where such events would be commonplace, they would have never believed that it could be possible, yet here we are. Romania
The danger few seem to understand:
It seems to me that most people think that the only source of danger in this situation would be widespread violent, perhaps even armed conflict between the two sides, which everyone feels they can prevent through official action. That kind of violence is unlikely to happen, because the Hungarian minority has been too decimated in the past decades, to pose a risk of widespread violence. Hungarians in
have no choice but to swallow any injustice or humiliation (which lately has been almost a daily event). Problem is that next door, there are ten million Hungarians who do not have to accept their ethnic kin to be treated that way, and any retaliation on their part, does not have to involve violence, nor does it have to come in the form of official government action. We live in the 21’Th century, and we are highly inter-connected. For instance, Romania exports about $50 billion dollars worth of goods to the European Union. Problem is that most of it has to go through Romania , with few cost effective alternatives as a last resort. Hungary
There is no danger that the Hungarian government itself would block the flow of goods from
. The EU would simply lean on them a little bit, and they would back down. But what if it was not the government who would act, but a political organization such as the extreme right wing Jobbik, backed by about a million sympathizers? By mobilizing only a small fraction of their supporters, they could block all border entry points to and from Romania with ease. The Hungarian government would not be able to do anything to stop it, because the action would enjoy widespread popular support, so like I said, it is all out of the hands of government entities. Romania
The economic ramifications of such a disruption in the flow of goods would have a devastating effect not only on the original intended target, but also on the entire EU economy. Fifty billion dollars worth of goods per year may not seem like such a big piece of the trade pie within
Europe, which is measured in trillions of dollars. Problem is that many of the goods exported from Romania are not finished goods, but intermediate, which could have an exponential and devastating effect on EU industrial output, and Europe’s global market share in manufactured goods. An airbag manufactured in may only cost a few hundred dollars at most, but it goes into a Volkswagen manufactured in Romania , which costs perhaps $20,000, or more. The financial crisis is one thing to have to deal with; move some newly printed money here, a bailout there, some budget cuts, and so on. Industrial disruption however is not so easily addressed. It is real physical economic disruption, which cannot be fixed at a push of a financial button. Germany
This situation, potentially spinning out of control is the last thing that
Europe needs right now, given the already much covered by the media financial situation they are facing. European goods still have a chance to be sold in large volume to the rest of the world. A fortunate thing, because the European consumer is not in the mood to buy, given that youth unemployment is approaching as much as 50% in many countries, and even overall unemployment is now higher in the EU than it was in the , during the worst stages of the housing bust. If they are not able to finish and ship their products, their market share will slip, and perhaps never recover. US
This is a danger it seems no one is anticipating, and no one identified to date. Proof of it comes in the form of the attitude of EU officials towards the Hungarian minority living in EU states, such as
or Romania . The green light for what is going on now in Slovakia was given a few years back by the Romania Union, when they effectively declared that the Slovak language law, which allowed for ad-hoc prosecution of the Hungarian minority for use of their language in public, was “within EU norms”. This set the guidelines for the Romanian government. Ironically, it even gives such abuses legitimacy, because it allows governments to claim that they are not doing anything wrong, because after all they are abiding by world-famous EU guidelines for human rights.
Some like to push the myth that the EU is powerless to act in such situations, but that is not necessarily true. Last year, when EU MP, Tokes Laszlo approached Viviane Redding, who oversees the EU justice system and pointed out to her that the Romanian government is using the courts in order to re-nationalize property belonging to the Hungarian Reformed Church, such as is the case with the Szekely Miko school, she told him she was not interested. It is a strange position to take by someone in charge of overseeing that all members of the EU are following the rule of law. She certainly seems to have no trouble intervening in
’s affairs over such legal changes as more rigorous examination of religious cults, in order to prevent fraud. This really is meant to prevent fraud and not meant to oppose religious freedom, because most mainstream religious organizations are aproved and recognized, yet it is being attacked rigorously, even before there were any victims of such a measure as proof of religious repression as a result of the law. Hungary
If no outside action is taken, I believe it is now only a matter of time before things will blow out of the ability to control, of all authorities in the region and into the hands of non-official entities. As I pointed out, ethical considerations are not the main reason why this needs to be addressed. We are living in a world, which no longer tolerates these sort of disruptions to our economic activities. A European Union, which allows such problems to go un-addressed, is a
Union that has no future. It will break up, and it will likely mean the end of European relevance on the global stage, and perhaps worse.
[i] Romanian authorities are currently going after any entity which might decide to advertise for a job position, and include a request for knowledge of the Hungarian language. It is a double-standard measure, for no other language is persecuted in this manner, and it is in fact worse than other minorities made up of immigrants, such as Latinos in America (Hungarians being a historical minority, should generally be granted more rights than immigrants, not fewer).
[ii] Earlier this year Romanian TV station Antena 3 falsified an image of Covasna county’s official site, claiming that they do not provide Romanian language information. This is just an example of a barrage of distorted information that is hitting the public daily for a few months now.