Romanian crowd storms Hungarian cemetery in Transylvania: an ugly incident and illegal

Yesterday afternoon, a Romanian crowd broke into an Austro-Hungarian military cemetery in Transylvania, despite heavy police presence and a human chain of ethnic Hungarians protesting peacefully. In Budapest, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó summoned the Romanian ambassador, who refused to appear.

Yesterday afternoon, a large group of Romanians broke into the Úz Valley cemetery, which was established in 1917 by Austrians and Hungarians as the burial place for the fallen heroes of WWI and WWII battles. The cemetery falls under the jurisdiction of a Transylvanian village called Csíkszentmárton/Sanmartin Ciuc, in Hargita/Harghita County. Some weeks ago, the local council in Dormănești/Dormánfalva – a town of 8,600 inhabitants located some distance away in Bacău/Bákó county and which does not have jurisdiction over the cemetery – began a so-called “renovation” on the cemetery grounds, erecting concrete crosses and a memorial to Romanian war heroes.

The Romanian Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Defense have said that the new crosses and memorial violate the law.

Yesterday morning, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó called upon his Romanian counterpart, Minister Teodor Melescanu, to prevent any further provocations and resolve the issue peacefully. The council of Dormánfalva/Dormănești, however, scheduled the inauguration of the newly and illegally erected Romanian war memorial to take place on Thursday afternoon. Eager to protect the burial site of their fallen heroes, some 1,000 ethnic Hungarians formed a human chain in silent prayer around the graveyard. Despite police presence, several from the Romanian crowd eventually broke through the police cordon and the fence and tore open the cemetery gate. Some members of the Hungarian group were physically attacked and injured.

Sadly, leaders of the Hungarian community in Transylvania and in Hungary had, in fact, appealed several times to the leading Romanian officials – including Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă and Foreign Minister Teodor Meleşcanu – to resolve the dispute. While Romania’s relevant ministries as well as county-level authorities have all pronounced the newly erected crosses illegal, the Ministry of Defense repeatedly refused to conduct on-site consultations. 

While FM Teodor Melescanu promised to take action, the Romanian ambassador in Budapest, who was summoned by Minister Szijjártó yesterday, refused to appear today, citing orders from the Romanian government.

“The Hungarian position is unchanged. Because of the ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania, Romania is a country of special importance for Hungary,” reads a statement issued yesterday by Tamás Menczer, state secretary for Information and International Representation of Hungary, adding that on account of being an important economic and trade partner, Hungary strives to develop good bilateral relations with Romania.

At the same time, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry requested a “complete investigation” of the conflict and that the Romanian government uphold all relevant international commitments.

“Considering that they weren’t able to prevent this from happening, the Government expects Romania to compensate and provide explanation to the several hundred thousand Hungarian citizens, who have been deeply offended,” Menczer said, adding that even the Romanian authorities had confirmed that Dormánfalva had no right to erect concrete crosses and a memorial to Romanian war heroes in the cemetery.

Meanwhile, Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister responsible for National Policy, took to his Facebook page to comment on the shameful developments. “If the Romanian leadership didn’t want to prevent this barbarism, then it’s a moral scandal; if they weren’t able to, then that’s a public administration failure,” he wrote.

The story is developing.