Parties clash over ethnic university

July 17, 1998

THE MAIN political party representing Romania's Hungarian minority has renewed its attempt to re-establish a Hungarian-language university in Transylvania.

But the move has met with opposition at home from both government and opposition parties, and in Europe, where it could run counter to Council of Europe guidelines on education for ethnic minorities.

The Romanian press seized on remarks by Finnish MEP Gunnar Jansson, the Council of Europe rapporteur on Romania, implying criticism of the proposal. But he told The THES he was misrepresented.

The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania, which is a member of the coalition government, has submitted a bill to parliament calling for a main campus in Cluj-Napoca and faculties in Tirgu Mures and other Transylvanian towns.

Hungarians have long pressed for a university. The existing Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca was traditionally Hungarian-taught, but was "Romanised" under the post-war Communists.

Bishop Laszlo Tockes, the Reform Church cleric whose persecution by the Communist authorities in December 1989 triggered the fall of the Ceaucescu regime, is honorary president of the Hungarian party. He believes the establishment of a university is "the cornerstone of Hungarian policy in Romania".

But party leaders last month rejected a proposal to withdraw from Romania's ruling coalition if the bill is not passed by the end of the year.

Even the opposition Alliance for Romania Party, which has a vested interest in cashing in on the government split, had called the idea to quit the coalition over the bill "politically and morally inadmissible".

Babes-Bolyai University already runs Hungarian-taught courses after a sustained Hungarian campaign. The government has also indicated that it would possibly countenance a second "multi-cultural establishment" to include tuition in other minority languages (German and Ukrainian).

Across the border recent elections in Hungary have brought to power a government which will defend the interests of all Hungarians. With Hungary among the front runners for membership of the European Union and Nato membership, Romanian politicians are aware that their country's treatment of its Hungarian minority could well affect Romania's chances of joining them.

It was with some satisfaction, therefore, that the Romanian news-agency Rompress reported remarks Mr Jansson allegedly made in Strasbourg last month criticising the bill.

He was reported to say that the Council of Europe rules do not demand the establishment of separate universities for ethnic minorities but that they have access to education in their mother-tongue at all levels.

He said he did not express a view and that Romania decided its own education system in line with international standards to create and promote harmony.

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