New pledge to minority in Romania

February 27, 1998

Romanian president Emil Constantinescu has promised that mother-tongue higher education will be available to all young ethnic Hungarians in Romania, beginning with the next academic year - providing they satisfy the entry requirements.

Mr Constantinescu's pledge came during a visit to Hungary aimed at strengthening relations between the two countries. It coincided with a debate in the Romanian parliament on an education bill which would make full provision for mother-tongue education for the Hungarian minority.

In advance of the law, the number of places in Hungarian-taught colleges and faculties had been increased to "fully satisfy the real demands", Mr Constantinescu said. New Hungarian-taught higher education colleges have recently been opened in Covasna and Harghita in central Romania, and Satu Mare in the west. At the same time, the number of places reserved for ethnic Hungarians at the University of Law had been increased "to the extent required by Hungarian applicants".

Mr Constantinescu's assurances came only a few weeks after MPs from the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (the principal political voice of the ethnic Hungarians) had threatened a walk-out that would bring down the coalition government. Mother-tongue education at all levels for ethnic Hungarians is one of the Romanian pledges written into the "basic treaty" of friendship between Romania and Hungary.

But Mr Constantinescu did not specify what courses the new higher education colleges would offer. There is a considerable difference between Hungarians' desire for full university education taught in their own language and, say, training colleges to produce primary school teachers for ethnic Hungarian villages in Romania.

Mr Constantinescu has made it clear that he opposes the ethnic-Hungarian demands relating to Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. This was originally founded as a Hungarian-taught establishment, but was "Romanianised" during the communist regime. The ethnic Hungarians now want it back - or at least for it to become a bilingual institution with parallel courses taught in Hungarian and Romanian.

However, Mr Constantinescu, formerly chairman of the University Rectors' Conference of Romania, is opposed both to a hand-back and to the "division" of the university. He has said it is necessary to preserve Babes-Bolyai University's "multicultural nature and unity" since, "this is in line with European requirements". He said it would be "tragic if we reached a phase when we started to divide laboratories, books and the botanical garden. They are a common heritage, and it is better to keep them together."

The Hungarians of Romania propose as an alternative the founding of a new, Hungarian-taught university in Romania, on which Mr Constantinescu, during his visit to Hungary, was silent.

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