Minority wrangle ends in deadlock

October 12, 2001

The long-running dispute over university education for Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority is damaging diplomatic relations between Romania and Hungary, according to Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase.

The latest talks of the Hungarian-Romanian Joint Minority Commission ended in deadlock last week when the Romanian side refused to sign the closing document. They claimed the Hungarians had tried to write in a clause saying the Romanian delegation was willing to support the foundation of a Hungarian-taught university in Transylvania.

This was an issue that could be decided only by the Romanian education ministry.

Mr Nastase claimed the minority question was being politicised in Hungary, in the run-up to parliamentary elections next spring. But he stressed that the Romanian government did not support the idea of a separate Hungarian-taught state university.

All that it will countenance is making the existing Cluj Napoca "multicultural" with Hungarian-taught courses running parallel to Romanian ones. But it has agreed to the Transylvanian Hungarians setting up a private university, which opened for enrolment last week.

On January 1, a new "status law" comes into force in Hungary. This will make ethnic Hungarians living outside the country eligible for certain forms of assistance from the Hungarian state, regardless of their citizenship.

The law has caused controversy. Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, chairman of the Hungarian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said it had "damaged Hungary's international reputation" by causing friction with neighbouring countries with substantial ethnic-Hungarian minorities.

It has also evoked fears of an influx of young Hungarians from Slovakia, Romania and Serbia seeking jobs and university places in Hungary.

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