The Black March of Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures) - a.k.a this is where extreme nationalism leads to (after the documentary series of Erdély Média)


March was not a month of happy celebrations for everyone. While it seemed that the Romanian revolution of 1989 brought together both Romanians and Hungarians, unfortunately the situation changed quickly in Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures). At the end of 1989 both Hungarians and Romanians protected priest László Tőkés together and sang the current national anthem of the country (Desteapta-te romane - Wake up, Romanian!) hand in hand. What could be the reason yet for the Romanians’ attack against Hungarians? This post will describe the events and their reasons in March 1990 in a diary format.

During the revolution it looked like both Hungarians and Romanians took democratic reconciliation seriously. The National Salvations Front, the members of which toppled the Ceausescus and organised their execution, recognised in Article 7 of their Revolution Declaration the double oppression of Hungarians and drafted provisions for the equality and protection of minorities. Freedom of press and opinion became relevant again. Civil society organisations were established. The most famous of them became the Pro Europe League with one Hungarian (Boldizsár Széky), and one Romanian leader (Smaranda Enache). The League was on the opinion that the reason for Ceausescu's dictatorship lasting so long was Romania’s isolation. Its main goal was Romania’s integration into the European Union and maintaining peaceful relations between Hungarians and Romanians within the country. A similar organisation, Platform of Friendship was formed at the headquarters of the journal Vatra (meaning fireplace), however the requests of Hungarians did not appeal to three Romanians (Hungarians only wanted free minority language use, education in Hungarian and lobby groups). These three Romanians established a separate nationalistic organisation at  Papiu Lyceum with the name “Vatra Romaneasca”.

Papiu Lycum, the birthplace of Vatra Romaneasca.

Hungarians wanted to separate their schools, however this found disapproval among the majority of Romanians. Smaranda Enache tried to calm them by saying that the obstruction of separating Hungarians was just oil on fire leading to even more conflicts. Romanians did not want to listen to her though. Instead, they called Ms. Enache a traitor. Romanians considered the separation of schools as a demand for privileges and a manifestation of throwing away the idea of fraternity. The students and teachers of  Bólyai Lyceum started organising protests as an answer.

The Bólyai Lyceum. Source: Székelyhon

In the meantime it turned out that most members of the National Salvation Front were former Communist cadres. This meant that the dreaded secret police of Ceausescu, the Securitate, was not dissolved. Its members were only sent on three months of paid holiday, which expired exactly on March 23, 1990. Shortly after that the National Salvation Front dropped its minority policy as well, because in spite of its former promise it decided to nominate itself for the elections.

From February 5 on, Romanians started demolishing Hungarian sculptures. They also attacked Hungarians in Szászrégen (Reghin), not far away from Marosvásárhely. The police did not intervene to prevent the atrocities. On February 8 no Hungarian was allowed to take part on the community assembly in Marosvásárhely. Vatra Romaneasca announced its goal, which was the protection of nationalism and the opposition of chauvinism, separatism and autonomy. The founding members of this organisation were doctors, lawyers, soldiers and former Communists. Even though the leaders of Vatra invited Hungarians to a peaceful dialogue, they initiated vehement demonstrations against separating schools. Hungarians responded with a peaceful demonstration for minority language use and education on March 10, organised by the famous author, András Sütő. Hungarians from other towns of Transylvania joined this demonstration. The Romanian press wrote negatively about the events, interpreting the requests of Hungarians as a first step to separate Transylvania from Romania, however this was a far cry from what Hungarians originally wanted.

The Romanian government took the side of Vatra Romaneasca, providing an official basis for the hostility against Hungarians. The Romanian press circulated rumours about the detriment and oppression of Transylvanian Romanians suffered because of Hungarians. Fake news started spreading around. One of them was in connection to the desecration of a Romanian hero’s, Avram Iancu’s sculpture on the main square of Marosvásárhely, however the script on the sculpture’s footing (“Le ved”) was written in broken Hungarian (the correct expression would have been “vedd le”, or more properly “döntsd le”). Due to the spread of these news the public was outraged and formed a chain around the sculpture in order to protect it from demolition. On February 18, miners from the valley of the Jiu river travelled to the capital to intimidate the enemies of the new system and ransacked buildings.

Avram Iancu, Romanian national hero. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 Similarly to Bólyai Lyceum, the situation of the medical university in Marosvásárhely was not simple either. After the revolution the Hungarian students established their own lobby group in order to protect themselves from exclusion from university educations, however Romanians turned against them saying that they would not be separated from those whom they grew up together with and played with as children. On March 6, 1990, a mixed Romanian and Hungarian and a separate Romanian delegation went to Bucharest to negotiate with the Department of Education. Their request was parity or equal representation, practical education in Hungarian and suggestions about the competition on the entrance exams. However, the representatives of the Department of Education postponed their decision about these requests until after the governmental elections. The Hungarians’ reaction was a sitting demonstration. In spite of this demonstration the Department of Education still remained passive. The Romanian students first were only watching the demonstration of their Hungarian classmates, however due to Vatra Romaneasca’s intervention they organised a counter-demonstration, accusing Hungarians with separatism and demanding privileges for themselves. On March 14 Hungarian lecturers took side of the Hungarian students. A governmental committee has arrived to Marosvásárhely on March 19. The Hungarian students intercepted their demonstrations for these news. At the same time Romanian students took over the whole university. Later also Romanian lecturers arrived with their wives. The Romanian students and lecturers started shouting loudly, there was no chance for coming to an agreement. The Hungarian students had no other option than leave.

University of Medicine and Pharmacy. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On March 10 some people demolished the sculpture of Nicolae Balcescu in Sovata. Balcescu worked out minority laws for Romanians together with a former Hungarian Finance Minister, Lajos Kossuth, when Transylvania was still part of Hungary after the revolution in 1848. Even though the investigations of the demolition led to Romanian sources, Hungarians were blamed for the crime in an article issued on March 15. This article fuelled Vatra Romaneasca even more. It did not matter for them that the Hungarians put the sculpture back to its original place.

Romanians in Temesvár (Timisoara) were not satisfied that the former Communists remained in leading positions. On March 11 they drafted a proclamation, condemning Communism and demanding that the law on voting should prohibit the nomination of former Communists during the next three voting cycles. They stood up against nationalism, emphasising that it was not only Romanians who sacrificed their lives for the revolution, but also Hungarians, Germans and Serbians took part in it. They invited chauvinists for a re-education. However, this proclamation did not help the Hungarians either.

On March 15, a Hungarian national holiday, people were talking about the importance of reconciliation between Hungarians and Romanians. They flew Hungarian, German and Polish flags. Representatives of Hungarian organisations held a speech. In Marosvásárhely and in other towns Hungarians laid wreaths around the sculptures of Nicolae Balcescu too. Romanians did not know how to approach this holiday, however the press started its hate campaign again. Articles wrote that Hungarians were celebrating their win over Romanians and were expressing their wish to join Hungary. Romanians interpreted the revolution of 1848 as an attack against their nation. It did not matter that the main national holiday in Hungary was not on March 15, but on August 20. This hate mongering led to further feud, demolishing sculptures and beatings.

As a result of democratisation scripts appeared both in Romanian and in Hungarian in Marosvásárhely. On March 16, intoxicated Romanians from another town gathered in front of a pharmacy in Marosvásárhely’s Tudor quarter, where a Hungarian script (“gyógyszertár” - meaning pharmacy) could be read on the window. As they could not scrape the script off from the outside, they broke into the pharmacy with force and wanted to remove the script with solvent. This event led to a commotion. The Romanian mass started molesting Hungarians. The police did not intervene to stop the violence. A newspaper article announcing that the lady working at the pharmacy wanted to let only Hungarians in gave impetus to the Romanians’ wrath. Both Hungarian and Romanian employees of the pharmacy condemned this article. The mass, noticing some signs on the balcony of an apartment used on the demonstration organised by the Bólyai’s Hungarian students turned their attention towards this apartment. They broke in and ransacked it. By that time the mass swelled up to 2000 people demanding Hungarian blood. The angry Romanians recruited more people and started ripping off Hungarian scripts. A Trabant car accidentally run into the crowd, injuring some people. The crowd beat up the driver and then set the car on fire. The media reported this accident as a deliberately organised attack against Romanians as well. Absurd stories started circulating, one of them reporting that Hungarians delivered a Romanian girl into the morgue, who was still alive. Even though the media admitted its lies soon after this incident, it did not soothe the anger of Romanians. The writers of the fake articles were not made responsible. However, the Romanian mass proceeded to the medical university to “create order”. The demonstration ended only after midnight.

In the meantime, the League of Romanian Students organised a demonstration on March 17 for the reason that the Hungarian students’ demonstration disturbed them. The Romanian students regarded the Hungarian demonstration as aggressive and opposed the separation saying that it would prevent Hungarians learning to speak proper Romanian. The demonstration transformed into atrocities against Hungarians again, ending up in beatings and ripping of the Hungarian scripts of the local parish church. Romanians also wanted to desecrate Hungarian graves, however the guards of the cemetery chased them away with the help of the grave-diggers. The Union of Democratic Hungarians in Romania put a pressure on the police to stop the violence, however the police still remained silent.

On March 18, Romanian university students demonstrated in several towns against the Hungarian demands. The press continued its incitement to hatred. Vatra Romaneasca started organising “cultural events” in Szászrégen (Reghin) and Déda (Deda), and advertised another “cultural event” for the next day in Marosvásárhely as well.

On March 19, Romanians started an illegal demonstration in front of the town hall. A government committee arrived to town. Hungarians hoped for a dialogue, however the Romanian demonstrators demanded the resignation of Hungarian leaders in spite of the fact that recently they hailed Dr. Előd Kincses for demanding the impeachment of former Securitate leaders. The Hungarian students were afraid to demonstrate at the university. Instead, they were gathering at the fortress church. As an act of solidarity Hungarian secondary students followed suit in other churches. In front of the town hall tension grew bigger and bigger, while the parents of Hungarian university students went to the fortress church as well, in order to protect their children.

Some of the Romanian demonstrators broke into the town hall and injured the secretary of Dr. Kincses. A Romanian colleague hid Dr. Kincses. In the meantime, there were already 3000 Romanians at the main square. Dr. Kincses was not willing to resign in front of them (he was the county president). He only wanted to resign in front of the committee, which elected him. However for the pressure of Vatra Romaneasca and General Judea, the Romanian leader of the town, he had no other choice than resign. For the news of Kincses’ resignation the crowd started to disperse, however a few hundred people still remained at the square.

Later that day buses with police escort brought in drunk peasants from the Upper-Mures region and the valley of the Ghurgiu river. The peasants were carrying sticks, cudgels, axes and pitchforks. These peasants were the audience of the “cultural events” organised by Vatra Romaneasca in Szászrégen and Déda. They received some information about Hungarians harming their relatives and throwing Romanian babies against walls. The outraged peasants started ripping off Hungarian scripts. They even beat up a fellow Romanian only because he said “Karcsi”, thinking that he was calling for a Hungarian.

The Romanian peasants wanted to break into the National Theatre, in order to demolish the Hungarian section, but two Romanian actors prevented them from doing so. The police did not even attempt to restore order. The Romanian peasants threatened to beat Hungarians to death. They wanted to set fire on the Teleki library.

In front of the headquarters of the Union of Democratic Hungarians in Romania (UDHR) there were about 300 Hungarians waiting for a reaction from the UDHR. There were only a few people from the leadership in the building though, as most of them went to Budapest, Hungary, for a Hungarian-Romanian friendship meeting. The famous writer, András Sütő sent the people home. Some of them did not want to go home though. The Romanian peasants were heading for the UDHR headquarters in the meantime. Hungarians asked the police for help, however they only received empty promises that everything would be all right. Romanians also wanted to attack the local radio station and demanded its relocation to the valley of the Ghurgiu river, where Hungarians would not have access to it. The Romanian broadcasters protected their Hungarian colleagues. In the meantime a huge crowd started gathering in front of the UDHR headquarters and started attacking Hungarians. András Sütő called the Hungarians into the building and they closed the gates. The Romanian crowd started attacking the building with axes, pitchforks and cudgels. About 79 Hungarians became prisoners of the UDHR headquarter’s attic. Eventually, the angry Romanians broke into the building. The Hungarians were waiting for the police and the military to intervene, however only six policemen arrived to the premises, who were only waiting without doing anything. The Romanian crowd grew to 1500 people. 25 Hungarians could escape through the back garden. The Romanian peasants ransacked everything and they wanted to set the attic on fire. The Hungarians wrote down a list of the names of people stuck in the attic. Fortunately, the arson was unsuccessful as the Hungarians found some sand and threw it on the fire. General Judea arrived to the scene, but he brought neither policemen nor soldiers with him. He asked the Romanians to leave and promised  the Hungarians that they would not be harmed if they came down from the attic. The Hungarians were afraid to leave the attic. Judea started threatening them that the soldiers (who were not present) would go away if they did not come down. András Sütő risked going down, however the Romanian peasants beat him so badly that he lost sight on one eye. The Romanians denied the incident saying that András Sütő already had problems with his eye before the beating. A Hungarian soldier of the Romanian army came to his rescue. Had the soldier not protected Mr. Sütő, he could have been beaten to death. The Romanian peasants beat the other Hungarians too. After Mr. Sütő was taken away the crowd dispersed though. They were not interested in the other Hungarians. The folk music and culture night organised by Vatra Romaneasca ended around that time as well. The prosecution of the court went to the premises to investigate what happened. More than thirty people had to be taken to hospital, 29 of them were Hungarians. The 30th person was the Romanian who shouted “Karcsi”.

András Sütő. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On March 20, the participants of the Hungarian-Romanian friendship meeting condemned the events of the previous night in Marosvásárhely and the beating of Mr. Sütő in a common declaration. A Romanian philosopher, Gabriel Liiceanu emphasised that in the dialogue between ethnicities arguments are crucial instead of force. Back in Marosvásárhely, Hungarians were outraged about what happened the previous day and went out to the main square. A spontaneous demonstration started. The participants demanded to re-instate Dr. Kincses into his office. Romanians considered the demonstration as an anti-Romanian attack again, organised by the UDHR.

The prosecution started cross-examining the injured in the hospitals. The UDHR tried to organise a crisis unit, its members asked Hungarians to stay home and at their workplaces instead of assembling at the main square. Unfortunately, the gathering could not be prevented. Hungarians wanted to reckon the atrocities of the previous day and the lack of statutory protection.

According to the lies of the Romanian media the UDHR called Hungarians for strike. Hungarians asked for the provision of basic human rights, however the answer was that this cannot be made possible until the election. Romanians also started gathering under the sculpture of Avram Iancu. In the meantime the representatives of Hungarian youth organisations started protecting the building of Vatra Romaneasca, so that the provocateurs would not believe that Hungarians wanted to attack it. On the balcony of the county hall the Temporary Committee of National Unity also condemned the previous day's events. The 15,000 Hungarians at the main square demanded that President Ion Iliescu and Károly Király, MP, travelled to Marosvásárhely to view the demolition.

At noon Romanian demonstrators arrived from the direction of the Tudor quarter shouting chants of Vatra Romaneasca. The church also condemned the events of March 19. Hungarian workers of a local bakery advertised strike, civil organisations also condemned the events and asked the organisers to be prosecuted, together with the abolition of Vatra Romaneasca. In the meantime the Romanian crowd had swollen to 3000 people. Tension started growing with the increase of the crowd’s size. The leaders tried to calm down the Romanians.

The county committee ordered police protection, however the police did not estimate the gravity of the situation correctly. Romanian youth organisations also asked the police and the military to intervene. Hungarians asked the military to close down the roads leading to town. The committee assured them that this would happen and added that the valley of the Ghurgiu river would also be closed down. Hungarians saw though that the military was doing nothing. As a response they tried to close the square down themselves, while the leaders of the UDHR were looking for a place to hide.

Romanian youth organisations asked for peace and understanding and for the withdrawal of the former Securitate officer, who was inciting hatred at the foot of the Avram Iancu sculpture. Florian Aurel, the leader of the Mures Valley Social Democratic Party also called for peaceful cohabitation, emphasising that hostilities harm the EU accession of Romania.

By 4:00 p.m. Dr. Kincses came back and informed the crowd that Hungarians do not want any privileges, but only keeping the agreements guaranteed in the international treaties, including the Trianon Peace Treaty. Tension kept growing. Romanians started throwing stones and glass at Hungarians. Hungarians pressed the army for protection, however they denied it with the excuse that the Hungarian demonstration was a peaceful one, that is why intervention was unnecessary.

In the meantime, Romanians started gathering on the side-streets with clubs, sticks, axes and pitchforks in spite of the allegations that the military closed down the roads leading to town. In Bucharest the Committee of National Unity sat down to negotiate, however it did not plan to travel to Marosvásárhely.

At 5:30 p.m. the Romanian peasants started attacking the peaceful Hungarian crowd. Hungarians started a successful counter-offensive and re-occupied the main square. There was no other option for them than protecting themselves as the military and the police were still reluctant to stop the atrocities. From the balcony the leaders of the UDHR asked the Hungarians to stop the counter-attack, fearing that in case they would leave the square, the Romanian peasants would attack those who found refuge in the county hall.

Suddenly a runaway truck appeared out of nowhere, fortunately later though than planned and the Hungarians could jump away from it. One person was still hit and died on the spot. On the platform of the truck there were about a dozen Romanians armed with huge stones which they were supposed to throw at Hungarians. A Romanian lost his life as well, but Hungarians were blamed for this attack too.

Before the counter-attack the military appeared on the scene as well, however the Hungarians lost trust in them and they did not want to let them in. Their prediction was correct as Romanians started using the tanks as support. While the attack of theRomanians was not condemned, the Hungarians were made responsible for their counter-attack. In Bucharest an investigation committee was established.

At around 8:00 p.m. rumours started spreading around that help was coming for the Hungarians. Interestingly, the military really closed down the roads leading to town this time. Romanians started throwing Molotov-cocktails. At the back of the Hungarian a group of people appeared with weapons, shouting “Don’t be afraid, Hungarians, here come the gypsies!” The gypsies wanted to help Hungarians because they were afraid that after finishing with Hungarians they were the next in line for Romanians.

Together with the gypsies more Hungarians came from the direction of Sovata, offering help as well. The group broke through the wall of tanks and chased the Romanians away. The Romanian peasants from Hodac and Ibanesti could not go  home as Hungarians set their buses on fire and beat them. Those Romanians who could not hide were kept as prisoners at the county hall. Hungarians started nursing both their compatriots and the Romanians. They started asking the Romanians about who brought them to town.

Commemorative plaque for Mr. Béla Puczi in Budapest. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On March 21, the army promised by Petre Roman, member of the National Salvation Front, arrived at 6:00 am., however the main fights were already over by that time. In the morning the investigating committee arrived with Gelu Voican Voiculescu. Mr. Voiculescu organised the execution and burial of the Ceausescu couple. General Judea was present as well. He informed Iliescu the previous day about the “impossible, chauvinistic demands" of Hungarians. Hungarians started whistling and did not let the members of the committee talk. Dr. Kincses asked them to stop both the demonstration and the strike. Romanians ordered Hungarians to leave the main square. Hungarians were reluctant as they felt their fight would not make any sense, if they had left. Their leaders told them that in order to avoid more casualties they had better leave. This made the Hungarians leave. A security zone was formed on the square. The military was cruising the town and disarmed people. The committee tried to persuade both parties to sit down together. The members of Vatra Romaneasca continuously blamed Hungarians and kept saying that Hungarians wanted to break away Transylvania from the rest of Romania. Their goal was to mislead the committee. The committee tried to make the parties approach their views though. As the members could not come to an agreement, they issued a common declaration instead. In this declaration Hungarians declared that under no circumstances did they want to break away Transylvania from Romania. The parties agreed to inform the public about the improvements. Minority language education and scripts in both languages were re-instated.

The buses, which Hungarians burnt down. Source: Wikimedia Common

The main mistake of the committee was to put too much emphasis on the reasons of the attack instead of trying to find a solution. Thus, due to tension rising again, Romanian youth organisations wanted to set up a crisis unit. Finally they could reach an agreement with the committee though. Committee members praised the Romanian youth and asked them to educate the residents and to help re-instate the order. From 3:00 p.m. on all kinds of demonstrations were prohibited. After that the UDHR cancelled its demonstrations, however the leaders of Vatra organised one. Gelu Voican Voiculescu tried to calm the demonstrators saying that Hungarians only wanted a kind of cultural identity. The crowd booed him and asked to call in those miners whom the government called to Bucharest to oppress resistance against the National Salvation Front a few weeks after the revolution. While Hungarians kept themselves to the prohibition of demonstrations, Vatra washed its hands saying that its representatives were not present, as they were organising cultural events elsewhere. While the Hungarian government asked to punish those responsible for the demonstration, the Romanian government blamed them for incitement to demonstrate.

On March 23, the town looked silent, however there were tensions at work between Hungarians and Romanians. Even though there were no beatings any more, the lynch atmosphere persisted and only Hungarians or gypsies were arrested. Those town leaders who did not arrange for the protection of Hungarians were dismissed (Judea among them). Some Hungarian leaders were excluded from the negotiations as well. A new leadership was elected. During this election Hungarians chose the Romanian members of town leadership, while Romanians chose the Hungarian members. This newly elected leadership governed the town until the governmental elections on May 20, 1990.

On March 24, the negotiations between Vatra Romaneasca and the UDHR came to a stillstand. At the end the two parties could still issue an agreement about minority language use. They acknowledged that the rights of Hungarians were breached in the Ceausescu era, however they emphasised a solution based on international treaties. That evening Romanians demonstrated again. The leaders of Vatra Romaneasca were present on these demonstrations.

On March 25, Hungarians criticised the biased policy of the Romanian government. They protested the exclusion of foreign journalists and asked for an independent international legal committee to investigate the reasons for the events. They sent a petition to Helsinki Watch, the Human Rights Committee of the UN and to the Council of Europe.

As a consequence of the events the Securitate was not dissolved, but re-organised under the name of Romanian Intelligence Service with the reason that the events showed how necessary this service was. The atrocities had six fatal victims and a lot of injured. Those Romanians, who killed Hungarians on purpose were not prosecuted. Those Hungarians who could not put up with the tensions any more left the country (not only from Marosvásárhely). The events deteriorated the international reputation of Romania and entrepreneurs avoided Marosvásárhely for a while as well.

Source: Erdély Média