Can Romania Learn From Swiss Example?

THE world hoped in December that the interethnic solidarity which toppled the Ceausescu dictatorship would last in order to build a democratic Romania. After the revolution, the National Salvation Front quickly promised to restore the individual and collective rights of all citizens, and to repair the educational institutions of national minorities. But when the Front began to implement its pledges, nationalist elements in Romanian society initiated protests aimed at preventing the resurrection of minority schools and cultural institutions. These protests, some organized by neofascist groups such as the Uniunea Vatra Romanaesca (Romanian Hearth Union), took a bloody turn in mid-March when Romanian peasants, transported to Tirgu Mures, used pitchforks and other primitive weapons to attack a crowd of ethnic Hungarians, who were demanding the restoration of Hungarian-language medical instruction. The crowd ransacked the headquarters of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, a new organization with 600,000 members, which represents 2.5 million ethnic Hungarians.

Other multi-ethnic societies, such as Switzerland, avoid such strife by mandating toleration, enforcing multilingualism, and promoting self-determination on a local level. Romania could implement limited self-government for counties in Transylvania, even though Ceaucescu gerrymandered these ancient boundaries to dilute concentrations of minorities.

One danger of decentralization, however, was evident in the recent anti-Hungarian protests, as directives from Bucharest ordering the reestablishment of Hungarian schools were violently opposed by local nationalists. A Hungarian Autonomous Region with a Hungarian majority was established in 1952, but by 1968 it had been dissolved. Since the ethnic composition of the counties drawn by Ceausescu was inspired by the goal of assimilation, some administrative adjustments have to be made, based upon historical and geographical considerations.

Elements that sow hatred and distrust among nationalities threaten a potential democratic Romania. Despite current trends, Transylvania has a long history of toleration and liberty. The first Romanian-language Bibles were printed there. While vicious religious wars raged in Western Europe, the continent's first edict of religious toleration was issued in 1557 at Turda, near the site of the recent violence.

Transylvania had strong ties to Swiss and Dutch Calvinism through the Hungarian Reformed Church, while Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism linked a portion of the Hungarians and Germans to the West. The Unitarian Church was founded in Transylvania, and the Uniate and the Romanian Orthodox Churches completed the area's traditional diversity.

A confederation representing all of the religions and languages of Transylvania would allay paranoia about a multinational Romania, and protect the rights of the majority Romanians, as well as of the minority Serbians, Germans, Gypsies, Armenians, Jews, Hungarians, and others. There is a difference between exercising self-determination and cultural rights guaranteed under the Helsinki Final Act, and the charge of ``separatism'' leveled at ethnic Hungarians who demand the implementation of December's promises.

In the Europe of 1992, national boundaries are becoming irrelevant. Romania and the rest of Central Europe should imitate that example. Of course, formation of a confederation will be made easier as Romania's citizens achieve a civic culture that tolerates expressions of diversity.

Referring to Geneva as ``Genf'' or as ``Gen`eve'' does not delegitimize the Swiss state. The concurrent use of Tirgu Mures, Neumarkt, or Marosvasarhely should not provoke insecurity about the integrity of Romania either. By learning from the Swiss, Romania can restore the role that Transylvania historically played as a tolerant crossroads and melting pot of Western and Byzantine civilization.

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