Thousands form human chain in Transylvania for Szeklerland autonomy

Szkelers demand the establishment of a self-governing territory within Romania, similar to other "autonomous communities" in Europe · Bucharest insists Romania is a unitary state · Main Hungarian party in Romania prepares "law on territorial autonomy"

Thousands (120,000 according to organizers and 15,000 to police) gathered on Sunday to form a 53-kilometre long human chain calling for the autonomy of Szeklerland, a mostly Hungarian-speaking territory located in eastern Transylvania. Under the name of "Szekler Way" the initiative was aimed at pushing Romanian institutions to grant self-government to a territory which until 1919 was part of Hungary.

The Szekler National Council (one of the organizations that supported the mobilization) said that those mobilizing were expressing a new request for the exercise of "self-determination" by the Szekler people through an "autonomy" in the style of other "autonomous communities of Europe".

This was the second big mobilization that Szeklers have staged this year. In March, thousands demanded the establishment of a Szekler region within the process of administrative reorganization of Romania. The Szekler National Council says that, eight months later, no "answer to this petition" has arrived from Bucarest.

The Council argues that the establishment of an autonomy of Szeklerland would boost the economy, language and culture of the region.

The European Free Alliance (EFA) has voiced its support for the demonstration, which is an expression of "civic nationalism", according to the European party. EFA believes that the refusal to recognize the Hungarians in Transylvania and their language by the Romanian authorities leaves Szeklers "little choice except to call for autonomy if they are to survive as a national community".

The Hungarian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Németh Szolt, said that Bucharest should negotiate a political settlement with the representatives of the Szeklers. Németh has warned the Romanian government that Szeklers are not likely to "give up" their claims.

But the Romanian state holds a opposite stance against the idea of Szekler autonomy. Bucharest argues that the Constitution makes it clear that Romania is a unitary state.

Main Hungarian party in Romania prepares law on regional autonomy

The day after the event has taken place, the Vicepresident of the main Hungarian party in Romania, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romana (UDMR, Romanian acronym), has announced that his party is preparing a "law on regional autonomy", which will be ready within two months. Laszlo Borbely has told RFI International that other "examples" of autonomy can be found in Europe, as in the case of South Tyrol and Finland (he probably refers to the Aland Islands autonomy).

(Image: a section of the human chain / picture by Baranyi Ildikó/Erdé