On The Eve Of The Romanian Revolution – Some Considerations (II)

Larry L. Watts

Ceausescu arriving in Târgu Secuiesc, summer 1967 [Fototeca Online]

Preparing the Terrain for Violence[i]
One of the most effective allegations that could be leveled against Romania during the late Cold War was that of minority discrimination. However, the reason for the effectiveness of such allegations had less to do with exceptional minority abuse than it did the twin facts that, first, almost all states are organized to serve the wants and needs of their majority population primarily and, second, because of the near-universal tendency to favor members of one’s own ethnic, cultural or religious group more than “outsiders.” Thus, there is a discriminatory impulse embedded within virtually every state edifice and within the individuals that people it. Yes, there was minority discrimination in Romania. But was it official policy? And was it more egregious than elsewhere in the Soviet Bloc?
As a proxy for its no-longer-legitimate territorial demands on Transylvania, Budapest had launched a long-term campaign already by the end of the 1940s portraying Romanian authorities as abusing the ethnic Hungarian minority in that region.[ii] While those efforts fell on fallow ground, especially from the period of the show trials at the start of the 1950s and through the brutal normalization following Moscow’s suppression of the Hungarian revolt into the early 1960s, they re-emerged with a vengeance – and with the support of Hungarian-American organizations in the United States – during 1963-1965.[iii] By the start of the 1970s, the allegation that Romania was committing “cultural genocide” against its ethnic Hungarian minority became the battle-cry of officials in Budapest and was taken up by influential Hungarian-American organizations in the United States, most clearly and insistently expressed in the annual Congressional hearings on Romania’s Most Favored Nation status, newly-conferred in 1975.[iv]
Repeatedly during the 1970s and early 1980s the U.S. Congress and U.S. State Department conducted separate inquiries and investigations into alleged brutality and discrimination and, just as frequent, assessed the allegations as without foundation. Paradoxically, throughout the 1970s, Romanian treatment of its ethnic and religious minorities rivaled that of Budapest in its permissiveness. Leading Hungarian-American organizations in the United States, also sharing Budapest’s belief in a need for a reconsideration of the Romanian-Hungarian border, were not swayed by evidence to the contrary, particularly since allegations of Romanian abuse against ethnic Hungarians conformed to much older cognitive biases.[v]
The persistence of these allegations and the political influence of those making them prompted the U.S. Administration and U.S. Congress to launch their own inquiries. As the State Department noted in June 1980:
We also reviewed concerns regarding the treatment of national minorities, in particular the Hungarian ethnic group. In this connection US Embassy officers have again visited areas of Romania with a large Hungarian-speaking population. While it appears that instances of discrimination at the local level exist, our Embassy assessment indicates that there is no evidence to support reports of a policy of discrimination by the Romanian Government against Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority.[vi]
Likewise, a Congressional study group from the Trade Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee was sent to Transylvania in late April 1980 to investigate Hungarian and Hungarian-American allegations of brutal minority repression. The group, led by David Rohr, visited Târgu Mureş, Sfântul Gheorghe and Cluj-Napoca, and met with a broad range of community leaders, including Karol Király.[vii] The Congressional inquiry concluded that there was no observable evidence of “cultural genocide” nor did Romanian state authorities “ appear to be suppressing [the Hungarian minority] in a direct manner as a matter of policy.”[viii]
With the dually named Committee for Human Rights in Rumania/Hungarian Human Rights Association (CHRR/HHRA) in the vanguard, several Hungarian-American organizations sought to discredit these investigations as having been manipulated by Romanian authorities.[ix] For example, insisting that ethnic Hungarians in Romania regularly informed his organization of gross discrimination and abuse, CHRR/HHRA leader Laszlo Hamos then argued tautologically that his sources should be trusted because persons suffering such gross abuse would be unlikely to prevaricate. Senator Charles Vanik, one of the sponsors of the amendment linking more liberal emigration policy with MFN status, underscored that, on the contrary, first-hand observations and inquiries by U.S. officials were more persuasive than the hearsay accounts offered by the CHRR/HHRA and other individuals and organizations.[x]
Hamos countered that his sources be given precedence over the findings of Congressional study groups (or State Department investigations) since “most of the elements of discrimination and denationalization campaign in Romania do not lend themselves to on-the-spot observations, especially not by highly exposed Western delegations whose every step is carefully watched either overtly or covertly.”[xi] Therefore, Hamos argued, the U.S. Congress would be better served by relying on the writings of “several local dissident Hungarian leaders” – published in English translation – and “instead of relying on secondhand observations and generalizations by foreign delegations which visit Transylvania under restricted circumstances, to pay close heed to those voices which emanate from within Romania itself.”[xii] During the first half of the 1980s, the degenerating internal situation and increasing isolation of Romania lent credence to such allegations, which now encountered diminishing Congressional and State Department resistance.[xiii]
By 1987 the theme that Romania’s allegedly brutal treatment of its minorities was about to result in an outbreak of ‘justifiable’ terrorism in Transylvania was vigorously pressed and widely disseminated by Bloc-wide active measures. For example, the largest circulation Finnish newspaper reported that ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania were being “be converted to terrorists” and would soon “begin hitting international targets,” just like “the Basques, Armenians and Palestinians, because domestic oppression” meted out by authorities in Bucharest made terrorism “a logical alternative.”[xiv]

Speeches in Târgu Secuiesc, 15-18 iunie 1967

The Hungarian Embassy in Romania continued to disseminate these active measures just as it had when former Hungarian intelligence chief Sandor Rajnai was Ambassador in Bucharest (during  brought János Fazekas, an ethnic Hungarian and former Romanian deputy prime minister, to a meeting Szűcs had arranged with the Israeli Ambassador in Bucharest. The meeting was extraordinary, and not only because it revealed official Hungarian sponsorship for separatist militancy in Romania. Since Hungary did not even have diplomatic relations with Israel such a meeting would have been impossible in any other Warsaw Pact state.
1978-1982). In 1988 Hungarian Ambassador Pal Szűcs
Szűcs and Fazekas recounted the tale of “cultural genocide” to the Israeli diplomat, insisting that Romania’s “alleged anti-Hungarian ‘repression’” was akin to Nazi-era anti-Semitism and predicting that it would compel ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania to rise up and cause blood to “flow in the streets.”[xv] Budapest maintained this apocalyptic line even after 1989, predicting an inevitable “system of violence” that would result in the “killing of people, massacres – from ethnic cleansing to certain kinds of persecution,” and “uncontrolled migration within the region and out of the region,” if autonomy were not granted Transylvania.[xvi]
Szűcs cultivated the Israeli Ambassador partly in order to drive a wedge between Tel Aviv and Bucharest and advance the general goal of isolating Romania from its international partners, and partly for the specific goal of undermining Romanian efforts at advancing the peace process in the Middle East.[xvii] The extravagant likening of the plight of the ethnic Hungarians in Romania to that of the Jews during the Holocaust was one way of pursuing these goals. Another was to orchestrate the condemnation of Romanian minority policies by leading rejectionists in the Palestinian Liberation Organization as a means of discrediting Bucharest’s involvement in Middle East mediation.
Demonstrative in this regard was the August 1988 interview that Yasir Arafat’s security intelligence chief in the PLO, Abu Iyad gave in English to the Hungarian Press Agency MTI for English-speaking audiences.[xviii] Employing Budapest’s now standard allegations of “cultural genocide,” Iyad called for Romania’s exclusion from the Middle East peace process.[xix] Iyad, a vocal supporter of the Arab Rejectionist Front, was working constantly to block Arab-Israeli negotiations at the time. His attitudes and behavior were well suited to his recruitment by the KGB as one of its agents, code-named KOCHUBEY.[xx] Reportedly, Soviet authorities introduced the PLO security chief to the terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez – “Carlos the Jackal” – while both were in Moscow in 1979, and the two conspired to assassinate the moderate King Hussein of Jordan.[xxi]
Iyad could not have been more explicit in signaling his purpose of discrediting Bucharest as a mediator in the Middle East.  After accusing the Romanians of committing “a sin” against the Palestinians by allegedly treating “the Transylvanian Hungarians as cruelly as the Israelis treat us in the occupied territories,” the KGB’s top agent in the PLO declared for the Hungarian Party’s press service that he was:
…at a loss to understand how a socialist country can take such drastic measures as the razing of [Hungarian] villages, which has nothing to do with Marxism and socialism. I would like to tell you that I have sympathy for the Transylvanian Hungarians, who suffer like the Palestinian people under military occupation. They are forced to flee from their native land, which is expropriated; their villages are destroyed; and they are deprived of their cultural and national identity.[xxii]
In fact, not a single Hungarian (or other minority ethnic) village was ever destroyed or modified in any way under the “systematization” program, despite Budapest’s continued insistence that it was a plan for “the destruction of Hungarian villages.”[xxiii] Despite scores of Hungarian press reports and articles, Hungary received no refugees from destroyed Hungarian (or Saxon or Serbian) villages for the simple reason that Ceauşescu had excluded Transylvania from the “systematization” process already in 1987, informing Budapest of his decision by 1988.[xxiv] Hungarian officials, and Hungarian-American organizations, simply ignored these assurances and continued to describe the program – which affected three ethnic Romanian villages between Bucharest proper and the main airport during 1986-1990 – as one designed for the “destruction of Hungarian villages.”[xxv]
 Having set out this active measures theme, Iyad stated his view that:
[Romanian policies in Transylvania] bode no good for Ceauşescu's mediation between us and Israel, since a country can only act against oppression and hostilities after putting their [sic] own house in order ... If they are unable to solve their own problems, how could they help in settling the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict?[xxvi]
As one Radio Free Europe analyst observed, Iyad’s claim that Romanian mediation in the Middle East was “no longer desirable” and his attack on Romania in “such an emphatic, not to say exaggerated, fashion,” may have been prompted by some “special incentive” offered by “Hungary or the USSR.”[xxvii] It certainly did not reflect the perceptions or thinking of ruling elites in Israel and Egypt.[xxviii]

[i] Parts of this study were appeared as Chapter 15: “From Partner to Pariah” in Larry L. Watts, Extorting Peace: Romania and the End of the Cold War, 1978-1989, Bucharest, RAO, 2013.
[ii] See for example, the Hungarian ambassador’s report from Moscow, 1946, in Lucian Nastasă, Andreea Andreescu, Andrea Varga, editors, Maghiarii din Romania (1945-1955): Minoritati ethnoculturale. Marturii documentare [The Magyars of Romania (1945-1955): Ethnocultural Minorities. Documentary Witnesses.], Cluj-Napoca, CRDE, 2002, Document 110, pp. 357-358; MOL, KÜM, XIX-J-1-a-Rom-IV-135-1540-1946, f. 220-226. Likewise, Party leader Ernö Gerö agreed that furthering Hungarian claims required the party to “stress the rights of the Hungarians rather than territory.” Martin Mevius, Agents of Moscow: The Hungarian Communist Party and the Origins of Socialist Patriotism 1941-1953, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 119.  The same effort was highlighted by the 1946 mission of Party leader Matyas Rakosi and Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy to the United States, France and Great Britain. See e.g. Rakosi’s statement to Népszabadság, 13 August 1945; Attila Kóvari, The Antecedents of Today's National Myth in Rumania, 1921-1965, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1983, p. 130; “Mathematics for the Millions,” Time, 1 July 1946; The Manchester Guardian, 19, 20 June 1946. See also the proclamations of chief communist ideologue at the time. Jószef Révai, “On the Hungarian Peace,” Szabad Nép, 28 April 1946; Nastasă, Andreescu and Varga (2002), Documents 107 and 109, pp. 329, 341.
[iii] Hungarian-American groups in the USA succeeded in mobilizing Congressional representatives to request a “sense of Congress” declaration on alleged repression of ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania in 1963.
[iv] See for example, the page-long advertisement paid for by the Committee for Human Rights in Rumania (alternately named the Hungarian Human Rights Association) entitled: “Will The United States Endorse Cultural Genocide?” The New York Times, 7 May 1976. For a detailed description of the Most Favored Nation (MFN) hearings on Romania, see Mircea Răceanu, Istoria Clauzei Naţiunii Cele Mai Favorizate în Relaţiile Româno-Americane [The History of the Most Favored Nation Clause in Romanian-American Relations], Bucharest, Institutul Naţional Pentru Memoria Exilului Românesc, 2009.
[v] The willingness of Hungarian-American organizations to trust Budapest, particularly on the issue of recovering Transylvania from Romania, had long-established roots. At the 1929 inauguration of the World Federation of Hungarians, formed to work with the Hungarian Revisionist League precisely for the purpose of lobbying Western (and world) opinion on the behalf of their territorial claims first against Romania followed by Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, the leading Hungarian-American organization at the time gave the keynote speech, in which it pledged to do its best to further that goal. Mark Imre Major, American Hungarian Relations 1918-1944, Astor, Fl., Danubian Press, 1974, available at www.hungarian-history.hu. See especially Chapter VI: “Emigration as an Ally: Hungarians in America,” pp. 137-139. Budapest’s World Federation of Hungarians “looked after” the interests of Hungarian émigré organizations in the West and, as one historian has noted, by the 1970s their attitude towards Hungary “could be described as one of loyalty.” Jorg K. Hoensch, A History of Modern Hungary: 1867-1994, New York, Longman, 1996, p. 274. Hungarian-Americans pursued these ends honestly, themselves victim of misapprehensions systematically propounded through Hungarian institutions since the First World War that (1) the Hungarian population in Transylvania was as large, or larger, than the Romanian, and that (2) Romanian claims on the territory were neither as ancient nor as valid as Hungarian claims.
[vi] U.S. Department of State counselor Rozanne Ridgway in Hearing before the Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means, June 10, 1980, Washington DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980, pp. 44. As Ridgway stated: “It is obvious that Romanian policies in the area of human rights are not the same as ours, nor do they fully conform to what we consider to be the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act. Nevertheless, we have found that the Romanian Government is prepared to carry out open and comprehensive discussions in this area. This was highlighted during the Human Rights Round-Table meeting held in Romania in February [1980,] which included U.S. Government officials, CSCE Commission representatives, and members of private organizations interested in human rights.” Ibid.
[vii] The towns visited were chosen not only as three of the most important settlements in Transylvania but as representing the variety of settlement patterns. In Cluj-Napoca, for example, ethnic Hungarians made up less than a quarter of the population, in Târgu Mureş there was a rough parity between ethnic Hungarians and ethnic Romanians and, in Sfântul Gheorghe, ethnic Hungarians were more than three-quarters of the local population.
[viii] Extension of the President’s Authority To Waive Section 402 (Freedom of Emigration Requirements) Of The Trade Act Of 1974, Hearing Before The Subcommittee on International Trade On The Committee On Finance , United States Senate, 96th Congress, Second Session, 21 July 1980, Washington, U.S. GPO, 1980, p. 252. The Congressional study underscored that: “None of the people interviewed believed that the termination of the present trade relationship with the United States would help the minority situation.” Hamos maintained just the opposite, insisting that his organization could put the U.S. Congress in touch with individuals within Romania that would advocate its isolation from U.S. contacts and support. Ibid.
[ix] Aside from the CHRR led by Laszlo Hamos, the main organizations involved in this campaign were the “Committee for Collaboration of the Hungarian Organizations of North America,” led by Istvan Gereben, and the American-Transylvanian Foundation of Washington, led by A. Tamas and Christina Kun.
[x] As Senator Charles Vanik pointed out after Hamos recommended the book published by Albert Wass – Witness to Cultural Genocide – as authority, “If you went to Romania now, you could bring back letters or affidavits signed by people who are living there. Your testimony becomes hearsay. It is something you heard or something you read, something that is not in your personal observation or something that was reported to your organization in a publication written by someone we can’t cross-examine, written by someone we don’t know, written by someone we can’t test.” Extension of the President’s Authority To Waive Section 402 (Freedom of Emigration Requirements) Of The Trade Act Of 1974, Hearing Before The Subcommittee on International Trade On The Committee On Finance, United States Senate, 96th Congress, Second Session (1980), pp. 254-255.
[xi] Ibid, p. 91.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] See e.g. Genocide in Transylvania: Nation On The Death Row, compiled by the Transylvanian World Federation and the Danubian Research and Information Center, Astor, Fl., Danubian Press, 1985.
[xiv] Martti Valkonen, “Gorbachev Aided the Minority,” Helsingin Sanomat, 13 July 1987, p. 19 in JPRS-EER-87-141, 23 September 1987, pp. 1-3. Helsingin Sanomat was Finland’s largest circulation newspaper.
[xv] Yosef Govrin, Israeli-Romanian Relations at the End of the Ceausescu Era, New York, Routledge, 2002, p. 129. Fazekas was apparently involved in a 1984 coup attempt, which included efforts to provoke violent ethnic clashes in Transylvania. See e.g. Dennis Deletant, Ceauşescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989, London, Hurst & Company, 1995, p. 344. Hungarian Ambassador Szűcs was also a senior officer of the Hungarian World Federation.
[xvi] Geza Entz, responsible for Hungarians abroad in the Hungarian Democratic Forum government, to Stephen Engelberg and Judith Ingram, “Now Hungary Adds Its Voice to the Ethnic Tumult,” New York Times, 25 January 1993.
[xvii] This was also a principal target of the Romanian defector Ion Mihai Pacepa. For a discussion of Pacepa’s efforts in this direction see http://larrylwatts.blogspot.ro/2013/08/mr-pacepas-disinformation-ii-anti.html.  Israeli and Egyptian leaders publicly vouched for the sincerity of the Romanian role, as did President Carter, so as to leave no doubt in this regard. While U.S. scholarship generally ignores the Romanian role in the Middle East peace process, Israeli diplomats and scholars have analyzed it in greater detail. See e.g. Govrin (2005). Govrin was in charge of the Soviet bloc for the Israeli Foreign Ministry from the late 1970s, served as Ambassador to Romania during 1985-1989, and then returned to the foreign ministry as its secretary general. See also Aba Gefen, Israel At A Crossroads, Jerusalem, Gefen Publishing Ltd, 2001, pp. 164-178. Gefen was Israeli Ambassador to Romania during 1977-1982.
[xviii] MTI (Hungarian Telegraph Agency) in English, 22 August 1988.
[xix] Michael Shafir, “PLO’s Second in Command Denounces Romania’s Treatment of Hungarian Transylvanians,” RAD Background Report/168, Radio Free Europe Research (RFER), 25 August 1988, pp. 1-3, in Open Society Archives (OSA), Box 37, File 5, Report 65. Iyad also fed disinformation to Western interlocutors according to which the terrorists Abu Nidal and Ilich Sanchez Ramirez (“Carlos the Jackal”) were CIA assets. See e.g. David Yallop, To the Ends of the Earth: The Hunt for the Jackal, London, Jonathan Cape, 1993, p. 214; Seattle Times, 24 February 1993; Patrick Seale, Abu Nidal: A Gun For Hire, New York, Random House, 1992. Referring to the Yallop and Seale volumes, Daniel Pipes observed that “Neither of these British writers supposes that Khalaf [Iyad] used them to distance the PLO from its most unsavory allies. They prefer to become instruments of his disinformation.” See the review of Yallop’s book in Daniel Pipes, “The Middle East,” Orbis, Fall 1993, http://www.danielpipes.org/581/to-the-ends-of-the-earth-the-hunt-for-the-jackal.
[xx] See, e.g. Iyad’s discussions with Stasi chief Ernst Mielke in June 1978. John O. Koehler, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, New York, Basic Books, 2000, pp. 367-368. Arafat was also playing both sides against the middle. By the spring of 1980 he was warning Zhivkov that the “possibility exists that Israel might reach an agreement with Jordan, the spirit of Camp David might be restored, and Jordan might start negotiations again,” which, the PLO claimed, “will undoubtedly disrupt the balance of powers in the region.” He assured the Bulgarian leader that the PLO was “making efforts to oppose that.” Minutes of Conversation Between Todor Zhivkov and Yasser Arafat, Damascus, 22 April 1980, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 1-B, Record 60, File 264. Translated by Dr.Rositza Ishpekova. Edited by Dr. Jordan Baev, Kalin Kanchev. Obtained by the Bulgarian Cold War Research Group. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113416.
[xxi] John Follain, Jackal: Finally, the Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, New York, Arcade, 2000, p. 126. As part of his effort to torpedo Romania’s role in the Middle East peace process, the Romanian defector Pacepa re-assigned the roles of conspirators against the King of Jordan from Iyad and Carlos to Ceausescu and Arafat.  Ion Mihai Pacepa, Red Horizons, Washington DC, Regnery Gateway, 1987, pp. 16-19.
[xxii] The Hungarian press agency then circulated Iyad’s statement for Western audiences. MTI (in English), 22 August 1988; Shafir (1988).
[xxiii] See the remarkable set of charges to this effect in Béla Révész, “‘Out of Romania!’ Reasons and Methods as Reflected in State Security Documents 1987-1989,” Regio – Minorities, Politics, Society, vol. 11 (2008).
[xxiv] Govrin (2005), pp. 125-126. Ambassador Govrin’s source was the Hungarian Ambassador, Pal Szűcs. According to Szűcs, “Ceauşescu argued that the systematization of the villages was implemented in the regions of Moldova, Muntenia [Wallachia], and Dobrogea, but not in Transylvania ‘where the villages are built in a compact form’.” Ibid. Szűcs told Govrin this as part of an informal briefing regarding the recent visit of Hungarian International Department chief Mátyás Szűrös to Bucharest on 23 October 1988.
[xxv] Govrin’s assessment, that this represented an official “retreat from the plan” regarding “systematization” in Transylvania, was born out by subsequent events. The Israeli diplomat noted, however, that his Hungarian counterpart ignored Ceauşescu’s rather explicit exemption of Transylvanian villages and reinterpreted his position “to mean that no decision had been taken as yet to include the Transylvanian villages.” Govrin (2005), pp. 125-126. Szűcs further noted to Govrin that Ceauşescu had “sharply criticized the Hungarian leadership, accusing it of inflaming anti-Romanian sentiments in the Hungarian population.” For continued insistence that the “systematization” program was aimed against Hungarian villages and had actually taken place see e.g. Révész (2008), pp. 16-19.
[xxvi] MTI (in English), 22 August 1988; Shafir (1988), p. 2. The Hungarian interviewer claimed that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres complained how “the socialist countries condemn Israeli tyranny and the suppression of the Palestinians, while Romania does the same to the ethnic Hungarians and other minorities of Transylvania.” While Budapest did exert considerable effort to enlist Tel Aviv on its side and the active measures campaign did influence Israeli opinion, Israeli leaders were cautioned by their diplomats on the ground to stay well clear of the “Transylvanian problem.” See the discussion in Govrin (2002). Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres refused to condemn Ceauşescu during the 1989 revolution because he was “on world matters a man for peace.” Washington Post, 24 December 1989, A22.
[xxvii] Shafir (1988), p. 2.
[xxviii] For Israeli perceptions see Govrin (2004) and Gefen (2001). Gefen’s council persuaded Tel Aviv that the debate over minority rights in Transylvania was not an appropriate comparison for Israel and Palestine.

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