Hungarian-language teaching in Romania

January 1, 1999

Hungarian-taught higher education for Romania's Hungarian minority was promised in the 1997 Hungary-Romanian Treaty of Friendship. To allay Romanian fears of Hungarian irredentism, the Romanian government planned a multi-ethnic Petofi-Schiller University to include teaching in German - although Romania's shrunken German minority had not asked for it.

But the future of the PSU, in the Translyvanian town of Cluj, is in doubt. Last month, Romania's opposition Social-Democratic Party won a court ruling that the PSU would contravene Romania's constitution.

Martyn Rady, senior lecturer in history at London University's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, says: "Minorities often demand rights of mother-tongue education to the highest level since this is one of the ways in which they feel their identity to be best secured."

He notes that the Council of Europe Framework Convention enjoins member states to promote identity: "Romania holds one of the leading places in the provision of multi-language education at primary and secondary level. It is a matter of surprise that they have held out so firmly against completing the educational cycle."

"National minorities" - communities with a clear ethnic identity living in a traditional homeland outside the "kindred state" - raise a big legal issue: do they have "collective rights" as a community? International bodies take different views; the International Labour Organisation recognises such rights; not so the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

These issues are a matter of concern to Romania's government because the country wants to join European structures, including the European Union and Nato. David Randall of Kingston University, chair of the inter-university study group on education in Russia, Eastern Europe and the CIS, says:

"Modern universities are established to service the needs of students, promote education and the international society. The situation is highly politicised, but if the Romanian government aspires to the standards of the EU, it needs to consider the requirement of all end-users - including the Hungarian minority."

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