Comment: In 2001 Romanian Transylvanians, not Hungarians, called for autonomy with about the same results.

Romania's radical Hungarians call for autonomy

BUCHAREST, April 29, 2003(Reuters) - Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has asked the country's General Prosecutor to investigate radical ethnic Hungarians for making fresh demands for territorial autonomy, the government said on Tuesday.

Calls by leaders of Romania's 1.7 million ethnic Hungarians after the 1989 fall of communism for more rights, including autonomy, met stiff opposition and ignited Romanian fears over the future of the central province Transylvania.

Renewed demands for territorial autonomy came at the weekend at a conference of the National Council of Hungarians (CNM) in the Transylvanian town of Odorheiul Secuiesc.

In a statement the government said that "while fully observing the right to free association," Nastase had asked the General Prosecutor to investigate the group whose declared objectives included "cultural and territorial autonomy."

The first article in Romania's Constitution proclaims the Balkan country of 22 million people to be an "indivisible nation state."

The newly-created CNM groups ethnic Hungarian politicians who present themselves as a more radical alternative to the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR), which claims to represent the interests of Romania's ethnic Hungarians. The CNM says UDMR has "abandoned the ideals of the ethnic Hungarians."


  "It's not a crime to ask for autonomy... We should have the right to self-determination," CNM leader Balazs Izsak told state news agency Rompres after the conference.

Analysts say the UDMR's balanced approach in recent years to other sensitive issues, including tuition in Hungarian in universities and the use of the Hungarian language in court, has helped defuse ethnic passions and ensure political stability.

The UDMR is also a political ally in parliament of the leftist ruling Social Democratic Party.

Romanian nationalists have in the past accused ethnic Hungarians of plotting to rejoin Transylvania to Hungary, which ruled the land from 1867 to 1918 and occupied it again during World War Two.

Hungarians and Romanians each claim Transylvania as the cradle of their civilisation, and three people were killed and scores were injured in ethnic clashes in the Transylvanian town of Tirgu Mures in 1991.

However, ethnic problems have eased in recent years as Romania has presented itself as a bulwark of stability in the Balkans, compared to the deadly ethnic conflicts in the
neighbouring former Yugoslavia.

In 1996, Bucharest and Budapest signed a political treaty guaranteeing their borders and setting aside territorial claims.