The issue of language took centre stage in Romanian politics last week as the opposition leader of the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL) declared that the only language of the state is Romanian. In his statement, Crin Antonescu said that although he supported the use of native languages of minority ethnic groups and encouraged preserving their cultural identity, the Romanian language is the only State language.
Speaking at the end of a meeting of the PNL Central Political Bureau, Antonescu remarked, ‘We have said we agree with the native language to be used and with all the means by which the minorities’ cultural and linguistic identity should be preserved, but we have always said the only language of the Romanian State was and remains Romanian.’
These comments came in response to remarks made by Kovacs Peter, the Secretary General of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR, a junior ruling coalition partner) who has claimed that Hungarian should become an official language in those regions of Romania where Hungarians (or Magyars) form the majority of the population. These regions include Bihor, Satu Mare and the Salaj Counties (West). Peter stated that he counted on the support of Romanian politicians in attaining this objective, but that he did not expect it to be attained very soon; ‘since we have reached 64 language rights from null in twenty-two years, then in the next twenty years we’ll reach a situation in which Hungarian will be an official language on a regional level’.
The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights states that ‘every linguistic community has the right for its language to be used as an official language in its territory’. In Finland for example, the State has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, alongside four other official minority languages: Sami, Romani, Finnish Sign Language and Karelian.
Hungarians in Romania are the largest ethnic community, representing 6.5 percent of the population, according to the latest census conducted in 2011. The great majority of Magyars live in the West of Romania and many are seeking autonomy for two counties, Harghita and Covasna there. Whilst UDMR asks for cultural autonomy other smaller Hungarian parties outside Parliament are seeking full autonomy from Romania.