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Ethnic composition of Romania. Localities with Hungarian majority or plurality are shown in dark green.
Hungarians in Transylvania
Localities in Transylvania where Hungarian has co-official status (> 20% of local population).

The Hungarian minority of Romania is the largest ethnic minority in Romania, consisting of 1,434,377 people and making up 6.6% of the total population, according to the 2002 census.[1]

Most ethnic Hungarians of Romania live in areas that were, before the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, parts of Hungary. These areas are today known as Transylvania, where Hungarians make up about 20% of the population.[2] The region also includes the historic regions of Banat, Crişana and Maramureş. Hungarians form a large majority of the population in the counties of Harghita (84.6%) and Covasna (73.79%), and a large percentage in Mureş (39.3%), Satu Mare (35.22%), Bihor (25.91%), Sălaj (23.07%), Cluj (17.4%) and Arad (10.70%) counties.




Historical background

Distribution of nationalities within the Kingdom of Hungary, according to the 1880 census (based on mother tongue interpreted as the language one was most comfortable using[3][4]).

The first Hungarian presence on the present-day territory of Romania and Moldova might have been in what became Moldavia in the 8th-9th centuries, if the area called Atelkuzu comprised at least parts of that territory (see Etelköz). Remains of early Hungarian presence in that area, if any, might have vanished during the Mongol invasion of Europe, when the "overlords" of the Moldavian area, the Yasses (Alans) in the northern and the Cumans in the southern part of the area moved to the west (Hungary) or south (the Byzantine Empire). The Hungarian kingdom gained political dominance over the region during the first decades of the 14th century, yet by proxy: through Romanian voivodes originating from Maramureş (Máramaros), a Hungarian province neighbouring Transylvania and Galicia. A Roman Catholic Hungarian community was settled in Moldavia during and after this period, along the Siret (Szereth) and Trotuş (Tatrós) Rivers (see also Cotnari); a possible consequence of this presence was the emergence of a population that for a few centuries has been called the Csángó community.

After the federation of the Kavar, Onogur and Hungarian tribes invaded the Pannonian basin (in 896), with some delay they also gradually conquered Transylvania in the 11th century, reaching the natural eastern borders, the Carpathian range, in the 13th century. Transylvania became an autonomous province under the rule of either a prince from the ruling, Árpád dynasty or a member of the nobility of the Hungarian Kingdom (in the 11th century it was controlled for some decades by the Pechenegs, a Turkic federation that in 896 had caused the emigration of the Hungarians from Atelkuzu in the Ukraine; the Pechenegs were then assimilated by both Hungarians and Romanians) until the Ottoman victory over Hungary in the Battle of Mohács (1526).

After the conflict, Hungary became divided into three parts: Royal Hungary came to be ruled by the Habsburg Monarchy, conquered Hungary became part of the Ottoman Empire, while Transylvania became an autonomous principality under Ottoman influence, ruled mostly by Hungarian Princes.

By the end of the 18th century, the Habsburg Monarchy had conquered most of the former Hungarian part of the Ottoman Empire. After the independence war of Francis II Rákóczi failed to emancipate in Hungary in 1711, Habsburg control over Transylvania could be consolidated, and the princes of Transylvania were replaced with Austrian governors. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 the union of Transylvania with Hungary was proclaimed by the Transylvanian Diet; this claim was, however, not supported by the Romanian and Saxon ethnic communities of Transylvania, whose political representatives became involved in an armed conflict with the Hungarian national army (Honvédség). After the revolution's defeat 1849, Transylvania was again subject to direct control from Vienna. With the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 Transylvania became part of the refounded Hungarian Kingdom within the Astro-Hungarian Empire.

Although mostly controlled by Hungarians during the last millennium, Transylvania had been a multi-ethnic region with Hungarian, Romanian, Saxon (German) and other inhabitants (inter alia, Pechenegs, Cumans, Berendeys, Khwarizmian and Armenian immigrants) since medieval times. In spite of Magyarization policies by the Hungarian government after the Compromise in 1867, ethnic Romanians remained in the majority.

After 1918

The interwar period

On December 1, 1918, a large assembly of Romanians of Transylvania met at Alba Iulia and called for a union with Romania, promising minority rights for all ethnic groups. The Romanians, who formed a majority of the population, were also joined by Transylvanian Saxons. In response, the Hungarian General Assembly of Cluj reaffirmed the loyalty of Transylvanian Hungarians to Hungary on December 22, 1918.

Ethnic map of Romania in 1930. Hungarians are represented in dark green.

Following World War I, with a disintegrated Austrian-Hungarian army and socialist and communist revolutions taking place in Budapest, Hungary could not resist the Romanian armed forces acting on behalf of the winning Entente powers, and gradually lost territories, including Transylvania, during 1918-1919. In 1919, the intervention of the Romanian army put an end to the communist republic led by Béla Kun and thus to Hungary's intention of regaining Transylvania.

The Romanian ambition of unifying Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania was supported by the Entente powers. In 1920, the unification was ratified, and border lines were finalised by the Treaty of Trianon. As a result, the more than 1.5 million-strong Hungarian minority of Transylvania found itself becoming a minority group within Romania. The same event was seen by ethnic Romanians in Transylvania as a liberation from their former minority status within the Kingdom of Hungary.

About 197,000 Transylvanian Hungarians fled to Hungary between 1918 and 1922,[5] and a further group of 169,000 emigrated over the remainder of the interwar period.[6] Among those who departed were destitute agricultural laborers, disheartened aristocrats, disillusioned intellectuals, workers and their families searching for better opportunities in Hungary or in some cases, overseas.[7] In 1921, the Popular Hungarian Party and the National Hungarian Party were founded. In 1922 these political parties fused to form the Hungarian Party of Romania.

The new regime's objective became to effectively Romanianize Transylvania in a social-political fashion, after centuries of Hungarian rule. The regime's goal was to create a Romanian middle and upper class that would assume power in all fields. The Hungarian language was expunged from official life, and all place-names were Romanianized.[6] In the land reform undertaken in 1921, Transylvanian aristocrats (most of them ethnic Hungarians or assimilated as Hungarians from other ethnic groups) were dispossessed of large landed properties, with the land being then given (in smaller plots) to peasants (the majority of whom were ethnic Romanians). This move, approved by Romania's King Ferdinand I, changed the ethnic distribution of land ownership.

The Hungarian population complained about the insufficiency of schools in their language and the pressure to send their children to Romanian-language schools. In the private economy, the dominant social position of Hungarian, Jewish and Saxon business people was somewhat eroded, as the Romanian government tried to improve the relative position of businesses owned by ethnic Romanians by adopting preferential, protective measures. Higher education was completely Romanianized, except for a chair of Hungarian Literature at the University of Cluj. On the other hand, the minority's cultural activities were barely obstructed by Romanian official policies.[6]

World War II

In 1940, the joint German-Italian sponsored Second Vienna Award gave back Northern Transylvania to Hungary, which held it until 1944. The award was intended to partly compensate Hungary for the territories lost with the Trianon Treaty, and ensure its continued loyalty towards Germany and Italy. However, it was again simply a re-drawing of national borders in a multi-ethnic region, without providing a real solution. Historian Keith Hitchins[8] summarizes the situation created by the award:

Far from settling matters, the Vienna Award had exacerbated relations between Romania and Hungary. It did not solve the nationality problem by separating all Hungarians from all Romanians. Some 1,150,000 to 1,300,000 Romanians, or 48 per cent to over 50 per cent of the population of the ceded territory, depending upon whose statistics are used, remained north of the new frontier, while about 500,000 Hungarians (other Hungarian estimates go as high as 800,000, Romanian as low as 363,000) continued to reside in the south.

During this period, some members of the Hungarian minority participated in discriminatory policies, harassment and killings against the Romanian population (see Treznea massacre, Ip massacre).[9] There were also atrocities by Romanians in 1944,[10][11] leading to a chaotic situation until the communist-dominated Petru Groza government took control in 1945.

After World War II

After the war, in 1952, a Hungarian Autonomous Province was created in Romania by the communist authorities. The region was dissolved in 1968, when a new administrative organization of the country (still in effect) replaced regions with counties.

The early communist party of Romania heavily relied on non-Romanian elements, among which were many Hungarians (many of whom were of Jewish origin). In the first decade or two of the Communist regime, the situation of the Hungarian minority improved: a few Hungarian newspapers and theaters were created etc.

Merging of Hungarian schools with Romanian ones began in 1959, and was completed in the mid-1980s. Teaching staff were progressively Romanianized in the wake of this consolidation, so that the proportion of Hungarian children educated in their mother tongue steadily declined. Nevertheless, even in 1989, 80% of Hungarian children in grades 1-4, 76% of those in grades 5-8 and 41% of those in high school were studying in their native tongue.[12]

In 1959, the Hungarian University of Cluj was merged with the Romanian one to become an almost exclusively Romanian language institution. The event was marked by the suicide of several Hungarian professors. Ethnic Hungarians were progressively excluded from the administrative apparatus of the regime, the army officers corps, and economic management. In the 1980s even Hungarian educational and cultural studies became headed by ethnic Romanians.[6]

Once Ceauşescu came to power in 1965, emphasis was put on nationalism, and the situation of the Hungarian minority gradually worsened. Education in history became focused on the Romanian history of Transylvania, which consistently omitted the role played by Hungarians. Bennett Kovrig summarizes the situation in his study Partitioned Nation: Hungarian Minorities in Central Europe:

The official nationalist ideology revived and accentuated the nation-building myths of the prewar period. Thus the ethnic Romanian nation and its state were represented as an organic unity; the Hungarians were depicted as historical interlopers in the process of Daco-Romanian continuity, as the fundamentally alien oppressors of Romanian Transylvania in the past, and as unassamilable, crypto-revisionist threat to the integrity and cohesion of contemporary Romania. The Hungarians’ claim to cultural autonomy implied that a distinction could be drawn between cultural and civic allegiance, but Romania’s rulers emphatically rejected the civic form of nationalism in favor of the essentially xenophobic dogma of organic Romanian nationhood. By the early 1980s, the regime’s favoured authors were publishing virulent diatribes against the Hungarians.
Thus ethnic Romanians were encouraged to believe that all their troubles, past and present, were due to the presence of Hungarians. The latter, on the other hand, were too conscious of their history and too rooted to a community to accept the status of unwanted, second-class citizens. To be sure, cordiality was not wholly absent in daily contact between Transylvania’s Hungarians and ethnic Romanians; and the autochthonous Romanians were generally less hostile than those transplanted from Moldavia and Wallachia. But the fact is that the nationalistic propaganda struck a responsive chord among the mass of Romanians. The few active Hungarian dissidents soon lost hope of conciliating the latter or the rulers; their efforts were aimed more to raise minority spirits and alert world public opinion.[6]

The regime discriminated against ethnic minorities. Few members of these minorities were co-opted in party structures and administration, and many were stripped of their functions. However, mere expulsion was not the main objective of the regime. For instance, West Germany and Israel were obliged to pay a per capita ransom for the Ceauşescu regime to accept the emigration of Germans and Jews (however, the Jewish and German communities were rapidly depleted by emigration). Hungary didn't have the money nor the political will to follow suit.[6] The regime weakened, but did not destroy, Hungarian institutions (schools, publishing houses, newspapers and cultural organisations) that continued to provide a framework for ethnic networks and permitted Hungarians to quickly and effectively organise after 1989.[13]

The minority situation after 1990

Map of Romanian counties with notable Hungarian presence.
Ethnic map of Harghita, Covasna, and Mureş Counties based on the 2002 data, showing localities with Hungarian majority or plurality.

In the aftermath of the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the inter-ethnic relations of Transylvania worsened. Ethnic-based political parties were constituted by both the Hungarians, who founded the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, and by the Romanian Transylvanians, who founded the Romanian National Unity Party. Ethnic conflicts, however, never occurred on a significant scale, even though some violent clashes, such as the Târgu Mureş events of March 1990, did take place shortly after the fall of Ceauşescu regime.

In 1995, a basic treaty on the relations between Hungary and Romania was signed. In the treaty, Hungary renounced all territorial claims to Transylvania, and Romania reiterated its respect for the rights of its minorities. Relations between the two countries improved as Romania moved to join Hungary as a full EU member. A number of Hungarian-speaking border towns which for decades were cut off from Hungary now have virtually free movement via new border-crossings.

The situation of the Hungarian minority has improved since the November 1996 election of a governing coalition including the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) as a junior partner. Since 1996, the UDMR has been a member or supporter of every governmental coalition, including the Justice and Truth Alliance (2004-07). Political agreements have brought the gradual implementation of major advances in the official status of the Hungarian language in all localities where it is spoken by more than 20% of the population.

While numerous Hungarian newspapers, books, other publications and even broadcasting hours on public television have existed in Romania even during the Ceauşescu regime, their number and diversity started decreasing after the 1989 revolution. The same is true for the number of elementary schools, high-schools, colleges and universities teaching in Hungarian, as well as for cultural institutions such as Hungarian theaters and opera houses funded by the Romanian state.

Even though Romania adhered to all the European laws for protecting minorities' rights, this as not proved satisfactory to all members of this community. There is a movement by Hungarians both for an increase in autonomy and distinct cultural development. Initiatives proposed by various Hungarian political organizations include the creation of an "autonomous region" in the counties that form the Szekler region (Székelyföld), roughly corresponding to the territory of the former Hungarian Autonomous Province as well as the historical Szekler land that had been abolished by the Hungarian government in the second half of the 19th century, and the re-establishment of an independent state-funded Hungarian-language university.

All in all, however, the situation of the Hungarian minority in Romania has been seen as a model of cultural and ethnic diversity. Romania has been referred to in many instances as an example to follow in respecting minorities' rights. In an address to the American people, President Clinton asked in the midst of the air war in Kosovo: Who is going to define the future of this part the world… Slobodan Milosevic, with his propaganda machine and paramilitary forces which compel people to give up their country, identity, and property, or a state like Romania which has built a democracy respecting the rights of ethnic minorities?[14]

On July 9, 1997 while on a brief visit to Bucharest President Bill Clinton made the same statement: "You have turned old quarrels into new friendships, within and outside the country’s frontiers. You have signed treaties with Hungary and Ukraine. For the first time, you have shared a democratic government with the Hungarian ethnics. You let minorities play a larger role in creating your future. Together with them, you represent the new Romania".[15]


The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) is the major representative of Hungarians in Romania, and is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. The aim of the UDMR is to achieve local government, cultural and territorial autonomy and the right to self-determination for Hungarians. UDMR is a member of the European Democrat Union (EDU) and the European People's Party (EPP).

In the 2004 legislative elections, UDMR gained 10 seats in the Romanian Senate, or 6.23% of the total vote, and 22 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (6.17% of the total vote). In 1996, UDMR became part of the National Democratic Convention coalition government, holding two ministerial portfolios in the cabinet. The party is also part of the current coalition government (2004-2008), where it holds four ministerial portfolios. Romania's vice-premier, Béla Markó, is also a member of the party.

(to be written about autonomy of the Székely Land movement)



The Székely people are Hungarians who mainly live in an area known as Székely Land (Ţinutul Secuiesc in Romanian), and who maintain a different set of traditions and different identity from that of other Hungarians in Romania. Based on the latest Romanian statistics, there are approximately 670,000 Székely.


The Csángó (Romanian: Ceangău, pl. Ceangăi) are people of Roman Catholic faith, some speaking a Hungarian dialect and some Romanian. They live mainly in the Bacău County, Moldavia region. The Csángó settled there between the 13th and 15th centuries and today, they are the only Hungarian-speaking ethnic group living to the east of the Carpathians.

The ethnic background of Csángó/Ceangăi is nevertheless disputed, since, due to its active connections to the neighboring Polish kingdom and to the Papal States, the Roman Catholic faith persisted in Moldavia throughout medieval times, long after Vlachs living in other Romanian provinces, closer to the Bulgarian Empire, had been completely converted to Eastern-Rite Christianity. Some Csángó/Ceangăi claim having Hungarian while others Romanian ancestry. The Hungarian-speaking Csángós have been subject to some violations of basic minority rights: Hungarian-language schools have been closed down over time, their political rights have been suppressed and they have even been subject to slow, forced nationalisation by various Romanian governments over the years, because the Romanian official institutions deem Csángós as a mere Romanian population that was Magyarized in certain periods of time.


Owing to its multicultural roots, Transylvania has a very diverse culture, in which Hungarians left probably the most distinctive mark. There is a vast network of Hungarian theaters, more than 200 years old and still functioning, and some of them, like those from Cluj-Napoca, Târgu-Mureş and Timişoara have international reputation. The number of Hungarian social and cultural organizations in Romania has greatly increased after the fall of communism, with more than 300 being documented a few years ago. There are also several puppet theatres. Professional Hungarian dancing in Romania is represented by the Maros Folk Ensemble (formerly State Szekler Ensemble) in Târgu-Mureş (Marosvásárhely), the Hargita Ensemble, and the Pipacsok Dance Ensemble. Other amateur popular theaters are also very important in preserving the cultural traditions.

While in the past the import of books was hindered, now there are many bookstores selling books written in Hungarian. The two public wide-coverage TV stations broadcast several Hungarian programs with good audiences also from Romanians. This relative scarcity is partially compensated by private Hungarian-language television and radio stations, like DUNA-TV which is targeted for the Hungarian minorities outside Hungary, particularly Transylvania. A new TV station entitled "Transylvania" is scheduled to start soon, the project is funded mostly by Hungary but also by Romania and EU and other private associations. There are currently around 60 Hungarian-language press publications receiving state support from the Romanian Government. While their numbers dropped as a consequence of economic liberalisation and competition, there are many others private funded by different Hungarian organizations. The Székely Region has many touristic facilities that attract Hungarian and other foreign tourists.


According to Romania's minority rights law, Hungarians have the right to education in their native language, including as a medium of instruction. In localities where they make up more than 20% of the population they have the right to use their native language with local authorities.

According to the official data of the 1992 Romanian census, 98% of the total ethnic Hungarian population over the age of 12 has had some schooling (primary, secondary or tertiary), ranking them fourth among ethnic groups in Romania and higher than the national average of 95.3%. On the other hand, the ratio of Hungarians graduating from higher education is lower than the national average. The reasons are diverse, including a lack of enough native-language lecturers, particularly in areas without a significant proportion of Hungarians.

At Babeş-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, the largest state-funded tertiary education institution in Romania, more than 30% of courses are held in the Hungarian language. There is currently a proposal by local Hungarians, supported by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, to separate the Hungarian-language department from the institution, and form a new, Hungarian-only Bolyai University. The former Bolyai University was disbanded in 1959 by Romanian Communist authorities and united with the Romanian Babeş University to form the multilingual Babeş-Bolyai University that continues to exist today.


Ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania have mixed opinions about their identity. Many of them tend to define themselves as being Hungarian, Transylvanian and Romanian at the same time, and there is even a sense of pride about this fact. Many Hungarians living in Transylvania were disconcerted when the referendum held in Hungary in 2004 on the issue of giving dual-citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living abroad failed to receive enough electoral attendance and the vote was uncertain. Some of them complain that when they are in Hungary, they are perceived as half-Romanians, and are considered as having differences in language and behaviour. However, a large proportion of Transylvanian Hungarians currently work or study in Hungary, usually on a temporary basis. After 1996, Hungarian-Romanian economic relations boomed, and Hungary is an important investor in Transylvania, with many cross-border firms employing both Romanians and Hungarians.

Historically, the Székely people considered themselves an ethnic group distinct from Hungarians in Transylvania, even though they now identify mainly as Hungarians.



  • 1992 - 1,624,959 persons, 7.1% of the population of Romania
  • 2002 - 1,431,807 persons, 6.6% of the population of Romania

In 2002, 46.5% of Romania's Hungarians were Reformed, 41% Roman Catholic, 4.5% Unitarian and 2% Romanian Orthodox. A further 4.7% belonged to various other Christian denominations.[16]

Transylvania only

  • 1786 - 29.4% of the population
  • 1910 - 1,662,948 persons, 31.6% of the population of Transylvania (including Hungarian-speaking Jews and Danube Swabians)
  • 1992 - 1,603,923 persons, 20.8% of the population of Transylvania
  • 2002 - 1,415,718 persons, 19.6% of the population of Transylvania

By county

County Hungarians Population
Harghita (Hargita) 276,038 84.61%
Covasna (Kovászna) 164,158 73.81%
Mureş (Maros) 228,275 39.26%
Satu Mare (Szatmár) 129,258 35.22%
Bihor (Bihar) 155,829 25.92%
Sălaj (Szilágy) 57,167 23.07%
Cluj (Kolozs) 122,301 17.37%
Arad (Arad) 49,291 10.70%
Maramureş (Máramaros) 46,300 9.06%
Braşov (Brassó) 50,956 8.75%
Timiş (Temes) 50,556 7.59%
Bistriţa-Năsăud (Beszterce-Naszód) 18,349 5.89%
Alba (Fehér) 20,684 5.40%
Hunedoara (Hunyad) 25,388 5.20%
Sibiu (Szeben) 15,344 3.67%
Caraş-Severin (Krassó-Szörény) 5,824 1.76%
Bacău (Bákó) 4,528 0.64%
Bucharest 5,834 0.31%

Another 16,089 ethnic Hungarians live in the other counties of Romania, (primarily in Bucharest) where they make up less than 0.1% of the total population.


  1. ^ Populaţia după etnie
  2. ^ Minorities in Europe - Hungarians in Romania
  3. ^ Rogers Brubaker (2006). Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town. Princeton University Press. p. 65. ISBN 9780691128344.  
  4. ^ Eagle Glassheim (2005). Noble Nationalists: The Transformation of the Bohemian Aristocracy. Harvard University Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780674018891.  
  5. ^ Raffay Ernő: A vajdaságoktól a birodalomig. Az újkori Románia története (From voivodeships to the empire. The modern history of Romania). Publishing house JATE Kiadó, Szeged, 1989, pp. 155-156)
  6. ^ a b c d e f Kovrig, Bennett (2000), Partitioned nation: Hungarian minorities in Central Europe, in: Michael Mandelbaum (ed.), The new European Diasporas: National Minorities and Conflict in Eastern Europe, New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, pp. 19-80.
  7. ^ Kürti, László (2001), The Remote Borderland: Transylvania in the Hungarian Imagination, Albany: SUNY Press, p. 32.
  8. ^ Hitchins, Keith (1994), Rumania: 1866-1947 (Oxford History of Modern Europe). Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ Treznea. Trauma, nationalism and the memory of World War II in Romania
  10. ^ Atrocities against Hungarians in the Autumn of 1944 (in Transylvania, Romania)
  11. ^ The Hungarians in Transylvania: Victims of Romanian Nationalism
  12. ^ Rogers Brubaker, Margit Feischmidt, Jon Fox & Liana Grancea (2006). Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691128340; p. 88
  13. ^ Brubaker et al., p.88
  14. ^,additional text.
  15. ^ [1], additional text.
  16. ^ Populaţia după etnie şi religie, pe medii

Further reading

External links

See also

  • Romanians in Hungary


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