Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Transylvania

During the Cold War, a part of Romania bounded to the north and east by the Carpathian Mountains, the Transylvanian Alps to the south, and the Alpuseni Mountains to the west. An area of some 21,000 square miles, Transylvania became part of Hungary by 1911. In the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, the victorious Allies forced defeated Hungary to cede Transylvania to Romania. In order to reward Hungary for acceding to the Axis, German dictator Adolf Hitler in the Second Vienna Accord of August 1940 restored northern Transylvania to Hungary. When Romania withdrew from the Axis in August 1944, declared war on Germany, and signed an armistice with the Soviet Union, the restitution of northern Transylvania was part of the agreement. It was formally restored to Romania in the Paris peace treaties of 1947.

Transylvania's population in 1948 was 3.75 million Romanians, 1.48 million Hungarians, 331,000 Germans, and 30,000 Jews. Roma and other ethnic groups made up 197,000. Many thousands of Germans and Jews who had not fled or been exterminated during World War II left Transylvania during the communist era. By 1977, only 8,000 Jews remained, and by 1989, just 130,000 Germans were left. The Hungarian minority was thus the main target of what Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu called homogenization, whereby migration, chiefly into Hungarian areas, altered the population balance. Although the 1948 constitution promised Hungarian language and educational rights and a Hungarian Autonomous Region was established in 1952, Hungarian rights were soon curtailed, particularly after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. In 1959, the Hungarian Bolyai University of Cluj merged with the Romanian Babeş University, and in 1968 the autonomous region was eliminated. Decrees in the 1970s narrowed Hungarian educational opportunities, limited the size of Hungarian newspapers, and made all archival materials state property and subject to collection and confiscation.

By signing the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, Ceauşescu opened himself to international criticism. From 1977 on, protests grew, and many were brutally silenced by the Securitate (secret police). Nevertheless, letters from Károly Király, a prominent member of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR), reached the Committee for Human Rights in Romania (CHRR), established in New York City to monitor violations of the Helsinki agreements. Király was forced into internal exile. Ethnic conflict was exacerbated in the 1980s with the launch of underground periodicals and a spate of anti-Hungarian literature. Soviet and Hungarian government officials began to criticize Romanian treatment of minorities. During his May 1987 visit to Romania, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev stressed the need for friendship among ethnic groups. The following year, however, Ceauşescu's systematization campaign, whereby villages were razed and their inhabitants resettled in agroindustrial complexes, led to a massive anti-Romanian demonstration in Budapest. Ceauşescu responded by closing the Cluj Hungarian consulate and expelling a Hungarian delegate from Bucharest. Concurrently, a steady flow of Transylvanian refugees, mainly Hungarian, entered Hungary in numbers that peaked at 25,000 during the first eight months of 1989.

Fittingly, the revolt that toppled the Ceauşescu regime began in Transylvania, where a vigil in support of László Tökés, a dissident Reformed Church pastor in Timişoara, turned into a major demonstration during 16–20 December 1989, interrupted briefly by military intervention that left 122 dead. Inspired by the events in Timişoara, an uprising in Bucharest two days later led to the flight, arrest, and execution of Ceauşescu on 25 December 1989.

Relations between Romania and Hungary improved markedly following a 1996 bilateral treaty in which each state renounced any territorial claims on the other and committed both to respecting the rights of ethnic minorities.

Anna M. Wittmann


Further Reading
Joó, Rudolf, and Andrew Ludanyi, eds. Translated by Chris Tennant. The Hungarian Minority's Situation in Ceauşescu's Romania. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994.
 

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