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Black March in 1990 - Ethnic clashes in Transylvania

On 19 March 1990 Romanians attacked Hungarians who supported with Hungarian Roma and Székely people (subgroup of Hungarian people) kick them of Marosvásárhely (Romanian: Târgu Mureş) on the next day. Why did not ethnic clashes become a civil war?

22 March 2012

Protesters gathering in Marosvásárhely on 20 March 1990

Protesters gathering in Marosvásárhely on 20 March 1990


Twenty-two years ago, bloody clashes erupted between Hungarians (Székelys, Hungarian Gypsies) and Romanians in Marosvásárhely. Five people were killed and hundreds wounded. Although the most important details are still unknown, it has not prevented the Twentieth Century Institute and the Romanian Cultural Institute in Budapest to remember the infamous event, Black March on a around-table discussion. Károly Kiráy (economist, political scientist, a former Vice-President of National Salvation Front in Romania) reported on the most details in the House of Terror Museum. Hungarian public know a little about the ethnic clashes, although the veteran politician from Transylvania published memoirs, some of them are available on the Internet. (in Hungarian only)


Károly Király was the second man of Romania?

Király could have been Romania's second man for a few months in 1990. After Ceausescu's overthrow in 1989, he was elected of Vice President of Bucharest National Salvation Front. The organization acquiried control over Romania and its head, Ion Iliescu became the president. Next to him, Petre Roman, the interim Prime Minister, was No. 2 leader in early of 1990.

Király believes that Roman and Iliescu's role should be clarified in inciting ethnic tensions between the Hungarians and the Romanians . Roman appointed Motiut Adrian, as a state secreteray, who was close to an extreme nationalist organization called Vatra Românească. In February, Ion Iliescu had already warned the risk of Hungarian separatism - in public.Then people of Vatra Românească started inciting masses against the Hungarians in Marosvásárhely area - says Király.

Shock scenario in EU

Székelys and Hungarian Gypsies

Demand of The Hungarian-language education had strengthened significantly in Marosvásárhely at that time. András Sütő, writer, organised a peaceful demonstaration - without any separatist views - in Marosvásárhely on 16 March 1990 where one hundred thousand of people participated. In addition, a day after the Hungarians celebrated the 15th of March. Meanwhile, the Romanian media tried to show the quiet Hungarian crowd with candles against the Romanians otherwise. At the same time provocations were taken place in Marosvásárhely where Romanian protesters crushed a Hungarian chemist labels, and performed against the Hungarians in one of the districts on 16 March.

It was oil on the fire, because the opposite meanting of news spead among the Romanians: Romanians were abused in Marosvásárhely on 16 March. Meanwhile, the nacionalist Vatra Românească started heating up uninformed Romanians in the surrounding villages. Finally, transported Romanian villagers with bus attacked the headquarters of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania. András Sütő had one of his eyes gouged out during the 1990 ethnic clashes of Marosvásárhely. In that time the Hungarians also responded to the attack on them. On the following day neighborhood Székelys Hungarian Gypsies arrived to help Hungarians drive transported Romanians out of Marosvásárhely.

Five people dead (2 Romanians and 3 Hungarians), and hundreds of them were injured before the third day when the Romanian army intervened and restrained the clashes. Later, more than forty people were convicted including two Romanians, the rest of them were Hungarians and Hungarian Gypsies.

Iliescu's strange warning

Károly Király has been proclaimed for years that Ion Iliescu personally warned him a few days before the commemoration of 15th of March in 1990: " I have information about extremist organisations which want to disturb the celebration of the Hungarians". Iliescu, however, did not share any specifics, and so Király were not able to prevent the escalation of events. Before Tuesday's debate in House of Terror Museum, film clips shown that the th fallen Ceausescu regime' notorious secret service, the Securitate, justified its raison d'être after Marosvásárhely riots, and shortly thereafter the successor organisation was formed.

Romanian paricipants of round-table discussion in Budapest also placed the events in a broader context. At that time, in the first half of 1990, not only the Hungarians were beaten down brutally by Romanian villagers but also Iliescu's other opponets such as anti-communist students in Bucharest were intimated by the same way.


Ion Iliescu in 1990

Ion Iliescu in 1990

Why did not ethnic clashes become a civil war?


Another point of view of Smaranda Enache, Romanian international human rights activist, spoken. In 1990, the Soviet Union still existed, and in several locations - such as Nagorno-Karabakh - broke ethnic conlflict out similarly to Marosvásárhely scenario. Not to mention Yugoslavia and Kosovo, where ethnic conflicts bacame civil war.

But Gabriel Andreescu, political scientist from Bucharest, has pointed out that Romania was not Yugoslavia, and aparticular model of communication played a role, because there was communication between the Hungarian and the Romanian intelligentsia. The Romanian writers came up against Iliescu in 1990, unlike the Serbian Writers' Association, which supported Milosevic's nationalist policies in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In other words, there were forces which were not interested in deepening the conflict and eventually managed to avoid civil war in Romania. According to Radu Carp, international lawyer, coming free elections in the spring of 1990 had a great role , so the Romanian state was not interested in more serious conflict. The international media attention also helped to stop escalation of ethnic clashes.

This is in line an ethnic Hungarian political scientist opinion, who is not involved in the current discussion, but it should be recalled his high-impact study. Levente Salat also pointed out international context in connection with 1990. Although the possibility of war between Hungary and Romania was not ruled out by some Western analysts, the elite of both countries were concerned with the Euro-Atlantic integration, none of the state did not want to overstrain the chord of the nationality issue. On the other hand, the bureaucratic elites of both countries in maintaining their own powe to keep status quo - said Salat.

Returning to Tuesday's round-table discussion, the background of Marosvásárhely tragedy to clarify - stressed Smaranda Enache and one of the organisers of the event, Mária Schmidt, Director of the Twentiees Century Institute and the House of Terror Museum. Both of them advised to familiarise with the documents of Black March. Brindusa Armanca, however, the Director of Romanian Cultural Institute in Budapest, another organiser of the event said it is good that neither in Marosvásárhely or other parts of Romania "there are no walls between communities," and the goal is to keep it that way.