Three men caught my eye in 2014 after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s annual summer speech on a sunny Transylvanian afternoon, in the spa town of Băile Tușnad (Tusványos). They were eager political pilgrims. I’ve seen a lot of strange things here, but this was really disturbing.
Orbán gives a State of the Nation address in Romania every year, targeted at the country’s 1.2 million Hungarian minority. More than 500,000 of these have dual citizenship and the right to vote in Hungarian elections. Over 90% of those voters support Orbán’s Fidesz party. Orbán’s annual litany is truly an election-decider.
The embarrassing detail was on their T-shirts: Orbán’s men wore Putin’s portrait.
Since then, the bigger picture has become clearer. The Hungarian-Russian political alliance has now blossomed. At the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine, this cooperation took on its own Transylvanian topicality.
This war is about minority rights – as the Hungarian voters in Transylvania are told on a daily basis by the Hungarian state media and meme factories. And Russia and Putin personally (as well as Orbán) are the real champions of these minority rights. Putin is giving the Russians back their territories.
Are Transylvania or Ukrainian Transcarpathia, also inhabited by the Hungarian minority, next? The propaganda offers no explicit promises but only floating, informal hopes.
The Romanian majority in the polls is more in favor of the Ukrainian cause. Hungarian revisionism scares them. The war between Russia and Ukraine has a Hungarian-Romanian shadow.
On a hot October evening last week here in Transylvania a Hungarian right-wing extremist announced that Hungarians must be prepared for the annexation of Transylvania, for the oppression of the Jews and the Roma, and one of the local journalists should be hanged.
Romanian reactions to this were swift and fierce. Even the Prime Minister condemned the call for murder.
The journalist who they demanded to be hanged was me. I don’t know what kind of T-shirt would protect people like me in this time of war.