We are satisfied anfd greatful to receive your bureau’s response to our statement, adopted by the protesters at Marosvásárhely on March 10 of this year – the day of Szekler liberty. We are satisfied with, and graceful for your readiness for dialogue, the fact that you substantially addressed the majority of the issues we brought up, that you find the protection of Romania’s cultural diversity necessary, that you expressed intent for Romania to respect its commitments, and the effort to “recognize higher level standards for the protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities”.
At the same time, please allow us, to voice our reservations and criticism against multiple statements of the letter. We hope that you will appreciate our honesty.
Your statement regarding Recommendation 1201/1993 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, is unacceptable. This statement, to be precise:
“This document has no binding legal value; consequently, it does not create an obligation of territorial reorganization for the states, or an obligation to guarantee territorial autonomy.”
According to this response, it may be necessary to analyze both the legal binding value of the above mentioned recommendation, as well as the resulting obligation: guaranteeing territorial autonomy.
Upon joining the Council of Europe, Romania made a one sided, voluntary commitment, to fulfill the requirements set out in this document. This commitment was approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe through Opinion 176/1993. (The Assembly “appreciates the written declaration of the Romanian authorities in which they commit themselves to basing their policy regarding the protection of minorities on the principles laid down in Recommendation 1201/1993”.)
The reaction of the assembly to the the statement of Ion Iliescu, who, like you, denied the obligatory nature of the recommendation, is well known. The Assembly adopted Order 508, based on the Columberg report. This regulation confirms, that the voluntary commitments made by the member states during accession are obligatory.
In resolution 1123/1997 on honoring obligations and commitments by Romania, the assembly clearly wishes that Romania commits itself to “basing its policy regarding the protection of minorities upon the principles laid down in Recommendation 1201 (1993)”.
Resolution 1115/1997 on Setting up of an Assembly committee on the honoring of obligations and commitments by member states of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) took the place of Order 508, while preserving the obligatory nature of the commitments of member states, as well as the possibility to “penalize persistent failure to honor obligations and commitments accepted”.
The recommendation also gained binding legal effect through the contract between Hungary and Romania on understanding, cooperation and good neighborliness (1996), in which the contracting parties agreed to treat its dispositions as legal obligations.
Respecting and fulfilling the international commitments of the states is a fundamental requirement of stability, their denial or bypassing interpretation is incredibly serious and unacceptable for the international community. For this reason I ask you, prime minister, to reconsider your statement on the non-obligatory nature of the recommendation and ensure that Romania fulfills its commitments undertaken both during accession to the Council of Europe, as well as those undertaken as part of the bilateral contract between Hungary and Romania.
Once we settled that recommendation 1201/1993 is obligatory for Romania, We will quote article 11, which is relevant to our autonomy aspirations: “In the regions where they are in a majority the persons belonging to a national minority shall have the right to have at their disposal appropriate local or autonomous authorities or to have a special status, matching the specific historical and territorial situation and in accordance with the domestic legislation of the state.”
What we asked, and continue to ask, is that we start a dialogue concerning the practical applications of these dispositions: Szeklerland must receive a special status matching its specific historical and territorial situation and autonomous authorities, based on an organic law. For these aspirations, we are seen as the enemy, labeled with pejorative adjectives, threatened by the authorities, and our mayors are constantly harassed for the use of our symbols.
You have found it important to mention that “the Advisory Committee for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Committee of Experts for the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, as well as the Council of Europe’s Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General praised the measures Romania has taken for the internal consolidation of the framework of minority-protection, and the application of the dispositions of the two conventions”.
Presenting the situation would’ve been more realistic if you had also referenced the recently adopted report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, regarding Romania. This report contains 52 (!) recommendations regarding changes to certain laws, procedures or practices, 13 of them being repeated requests that were not met in the wake of earlier orders. Regarding the Szekler flag, the committee brings attention to the Romanian authorities’ hypocrisy, and asks that the authorities apply the principle of equal treatment regarding the use of national symbols.
Regarding the territorial-administrative reform, you stated that “there is no international regulation that would prescribe a given territorial-administrative structure for the states. In this process, the states must consider efficiency and bringing decision making as close to the citizens as possible, as well as to avoid measures that clearly violate the interests of national minorities”.
Let us make it clear that we never stated that a given territorial-administrative structure would be prescribed for the states, however we did call attention multiple times to standards of international law that must necessarily be taken into consideration during any form of administrative reform:
- The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which Romania ratified with law 282/2007, and which clearly states in article 7: “In respect of regional or minority languages, within the territories in which such languages are used and according to the situation of each language, the Parties shall base their policies, legislation and practice on the following objectives and principles:… b) the respect of the geographical area of each regional or minority language in order to ensure that existing or new administrative divisions do not constitute an obstacle to the promotion of the regional or minority language in question;”
- Article 16 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which states that “The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities and are aimed at restricting the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention.”
- The European Charter of Local Self-Government, ratified by Romania through law 199/1997, which regulates the protection of borders of territorial-administrative units, and states that “Changes in local authority boundaries shall not be made without prior consultation of the local communities concerned, possibly by means of a referendum where this is permitted by statute.”
Similar dispositions are contained within the contract between Hungary and Romania on mutual understanding, cooperation and good neighborliness, which declares: “The Contracting Parties, without infringing upon measures taken within their general integration policies, shall refrain from any policy or practice with the purpose to assimilate the persons belonging to national minorities against their will and shall protect these persons against any action which aims at such assimilation. They shall also refrain from measures which, by altering the proportion of population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities are directed against the rights and freedoms which result from international standards and norms mentioned in paragraph 1 of this article.”
You also stated that “The Szekler National Council’s arguments referring to the Romania violating regulation 1059/2003 on the creation of the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics, in unfounded, seeing as the purpose of the regulation is to create a common category for statistical purposes, that allows union level gathering, compilation and distribution of statistics”.
It is a well known fact that in Romania, the development regions coincide with the NUTS2 territorial units, which are important means of accessing EU monetary funds, and are elements of the EU’s cohesion policies, and in Romania, they serve as the foundation of certain administrative-territorial reform projects as well, in particular, those of your government. A sincere approach to the matter of the administrative reform addresses this project as well, a project that would integrate Szeklerland, where the Hungarians make up 75% of the population, into the central region, where their percentage is reduced below 30%. The intent is so obvious, that it needs no further supplement.
But let’s just take a look at the status of NUTS2 regions on a European level. Regulation 1059/2003 on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics states, that “non-administrative units must reflect economic, social, historical, cultural, geographical or environmental circumstances”.
In accordance with article 3, section 5, “if for a given level of NUTS no administrative units of a suitable scale exist in a Member State, in accordance with the criteria referred to in paragraph 2, this NUTS level shall be constituted by aggregating an appropriate number of existing smaller contiguous administrative units.” In Romania, NUTS2 regions were created with the aggregation of an appropriate number of counties, but while ignoring certain prescribed criteria: “This aggregation shall take into consideration such relevant criteria as geographical, socio-economic, historical, cultural or environmental circumstances”.
The cultural and historical criteria were respected in all of Europe, with the exception of Romania (as shown by the annexes to regulation 1059/2003). In this regard, the example of some provinces where the threshold regarding population limits have been disregarded in order to protect the autochthonous minority of the region, can be considered as constructive. The regulation prescribes minimum and maximum population thresholds to individual territorial units, this being 800,000 and 3,000,000 in the case of NUTS2 regions. However, looking over the existing regions we find Valle d’Aosta in Italy, with a population of only 130,000. So, how did it become a separate NUTS2 region? Well, according to the “regulation, individual non-administrative units may however deviate from these thresholds because of particular geographical, socio-economic, historical, cultural or environmental circumstances”. Seeing as Valle d’Aosta has historically rooted cultural traditions, due to its autochthonous French population, the Italian authorities respected regulation 1059/2003, which according to your perception, does not prescribe any obligations for Romania. What’s more, the name of Valle d’Aosta appears in two languages in regulation 1059/2003: Valle d’Aosta and Vallée d'Aoste – this goes beyond the minimal obligations, and that’s because Italy isn’t looking to fulfill just the minimal obligations when it comes to protection of minorities. When Romania reaches this level of democracy, Szeklerland will not only be an independent NUTS2 region, but, thanks to the cooperation of the romanian authorities, will also appear in the annex of this regulation under the name of Ţinutul Secuiesc/Székelyföld. The autonomous province of Bolzano/Bozen, has a similar status with only 510,000 inhabitants.
In the letter you addressed to us, you restated the idea, that the administrative reform is „a means of efficient administration of the state, the opportunity to chose the best form of government”, as if the current map of the development regions, the foundation for your administrative reform, would guarantee efficiency. This cannot be further from the truth. The change in GDP per capita in the past years in the central region, clearly shows the inefficiency of the aggregation of the six counties, as well as the indirect discrimination of the areas with an hungarian majority.
The following table and ethnic map reflect the changes in GDP and the artificially maintained continous impoverishment of Szeklerland, when compared with the counties with a romanian majority, which are favored by the romanian regional development policies.
You also stated that „the states are not obligated to promote an administrative-territorial reform based on ethnic criteria or segregation. What’s more, such a reform could seriously affect the functioning of state, the coexistence between majority and minority, as well as the protection of the fundamental rights of persons living on the territory of that state.”
Neither the document addressed to you, or any other document does not contain the words ‘ethnic’ or ‘segregation’. We have never asked to be isolated, or separated from the rest of the country. What we asked for is the recognition of the Szekler community and Szeklerland with its cultural, linguistic and religious particularities, in accordance with Romania’s international commitments. We even ask autonomy for all inhabitants of Szeklerland, as Szeklerland is, in our conception, a historical, cultural region. To call this aspiration ‘segregation’, is an intentional, malicious distortion of our endeavor, and promises nothing good for the community to which I belong.
The consistency and vehemence with which you deny the concept of ‘ethnic criterion’, does remind us of one text which contains this expression. But we were not the ones who composed this text – I’m talking about the administrative law 2/1968, currently in effect:
“Article 3: A county is made up of cities and villages – the base territorial administrative units of the state – in function of the geographical, economic, socio-political and ethnic circumstances, as well as the population’s cultural and traditional relations.”
After reading this text, the origin of the expression ‘ethnic criterion’ in your letter, as well as the texts issued by other authorities becomes clear, but so does your intention – contrary with Romania’s commitments – to remove this criteria from all of the state’s administrative laws. By doing so, Hungarians in Romania would lose one of their recognized rights.
It is obvious that retaining this criterion during the creation of the new regions, as well as the application of the principle of subsidiarity – that you yourself have referenced – would lead to Szeklerland’s autonomy, which is treated by the Romanian political class with prejudice and superstition.
It is difficult to interpret your following statement: “Consequently, Romania has no obligation, based on European law, to change the internal administrative order of the country, and to create administrative-territorial units based on ethnic, cultural or historical criteria.”
An administrative reform is currently underway in Romania, a ‘change to the internal administrative order’. This is why you initiated the revision of the constitution and commissioned the CONREG report in 2013, so you can later justify the improvised creation of the development regions in 2003. Contrary to your claim, during the creation of the new administrative units, the ethnic, cultural and historical criteria remain mandatory. Undeniably, it is not only mandatory, but also rational and democratic. Without it, we can speak of neither efficiency, nor stability.
Resolution 1985/2014, adopted not long ago by the Council of Europe, states this in article 10.3.2: The assembly calls on the Council of Europe member states, to “take into account, irrespective of economic motives, the added value of historic regions in terms of culture, language, traditions and religions when defining/reforming the administrative and/or territorial structure/units of the country or of certain State institutions”, similarly to the above mentioned international agreements Romania has ratified.
Finally, we need to talk about your insistence on trying to justify your government’s minority policies with the lack of Romania’s international obligations. Is there really no chance for Romania to – as you say – “obligate itself to identify the best means to provide the highest level standards when protecting the rights of persons’ belonging to minorities”, or to do more than the minimal application of the international norms? Article 12 of recommendation 1201/1993 states that “nothing in this protocol may be construed as limiting or restricting an individual right of persons belonging to a national minority or a collective right of a national minority embodied in the legislation of the contracting state or in an international agreement to which that state is a party”. This requirement assumes the possibility that there are member states of the Council of Europe which rather than denying the mandatory nature of their international commitments, or constantly seeking limiting or bypassing interpretations, provide broader rights to their minorities than what the recommendation prescribes. What’s more, the requirement does not permit interpretations that would limit the collective rights of minorities already recognized in international treaties or the laws of the state. Both the letter and the mentality of the recommendation differs from your approach the minority rights, both individual and collective. Consequently, there’s a major difference between providing “the highest level standards when protecting the rights of persons’ belonging to minorities”, and seeking the mandatory minimum set out by international norms, as well as the limiting and bypassing interpretation of those norms.
I’m not surprised that you claim international law only recognizes individual rights. In this context, it would’ve been important for the Romanian public is introduced to the failed amending propositions, rejected by the Council of Europe during the adoption of resolution 1985/2014 that would’ve erased the concept of collective rights from the document.
In conclusion, we state again our belief that social peace can only be guaranteed through dialogue – this in necessary to creating an atmosphere of tolerance as well, which is also called for by the ECRI report, and in its spirit we ask, that you accept audience with a committee made up of representatives of the Szekler National Council, and Szeklerland’s local authorities, so we can directly present you our conception regarding Szeklerland’s future. We, along with the majority population, are interested in making sure that the guarantee of the rights of national minorities happens with the application of the positive European experiences.
President of the Szekler National Council
Marosvásárhely, June 20. 2014