Hungarian American Coalition Leaders Press for Minority Rights During Roundtable Discussion with Former Romanian President Ion Iliescu

Washington, DC – On September 12, 2000, Coalition Chairman, Edith Lauer, and Executive Committee members Dr. Edward Chaszar and Frank Koszorus, Jr. attended a Roundtable Discussion organized by Center for Strategic and Intenational Studies for Mr.Iliescu.

The purpose of Iliescu’s trip was to polish his image in Washington, promote Western investments, and posture Romania as a strategic partner of the United States. The questions posed to him focused Romania’s poor record of addressing the concerns of the Hungarian minority under Iliescu’s administration to the former president’s anti-NATO statements during the alliance’s air campaign against Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing policies.

Out of approximately ten questions, three focused on issues affecting the Hungarian minority. Frank Koszorus, Jr. asked Mr. Iliescu whether he supports the recently adopted “urgent ordinance” against discrimination and Western-style autonomy rights for minorities. Instead of answering this question, Mr. Iliescu attempted to convince the audience of what he characterized as his former government’s “accomplishments” in the area of minority rights. Iliescu also referred to Romania as a unitary state, which, he said, prevented him from supporting territorial autonomy. He drew a parallel between Romania and France, which does not recognize minority rights. He also asserted that Romania’s record was superior to Hungary, ignoring that the latter gives far-ranging local autonomy, local representation, and generous financial assistance to minority communities and their institutions in Hungary.

In her question Edith Lauer described the disappointing lack of progress on restitution of Hungarian church properties nationalized by communists in 1948. She used the example of the Reformed High School of Kolozsvar (Cluj), that in spite of regaining legal title to its former buildings, has recently been prevented from using any of the classrooms promised to them by Education Minister Marga for the present school year. She asked Iliescu if he recognized that there was a major problem in the area of church property restitution, and if elected, what would he do to address this problem?

Mr. Iliescu sidestepped the question by stating that property restitution was a general problem in Romania, where people should not expect to have unreasonable claims satisfied by “going back to the Austro-Hungarian Imperium.” He implied Hungarians were creating new problems by trying to resolve old problems.

“This session clearly indicated to me why there is no support from the Hungarian minority in Transylvania for Iliescu’s candidacy in the upcoming election,” said Edith Lauer afterwards. “Washington must unambiguously signal Iliescu that continued democratization and respect for minority rights are prerequisites to the special relationship Romania seeks with the United States.” added Frank Koszorus, Jr.

The Hungarian American Coalition is a nationwide non-profit organization that promotes public understanding and awareness of Hungarian American issues.

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