Szeklerland is a historical region in Eastern Transylvania, composed of Covasna, Harghita and parts of Mureș county, where the Hungarian community constitutes roughly 75% of the total population. In recent years there have been numerous lawsuits, as well as currently ongoing cases against various local councils in Szeklerland for putting up inscriptions that read “Községháza” (used in small towns) or ”Városháza” (used in cities) - both meaning “Town hall” in Hungarian, alongside the Romanian equivalent, which is “Primărie” or “Casa Comunală”. The issue is part of a larger effort by Romanian authorities (most notably the prefects’ offices) and nationalist organisations against all types of bilingual inscriptions in the areas where Hungarians make up a majority or a significant number of the population. These efforts include banning bilingual street signs, road signs and “Town hall” inscriptions, as well as hindering bilingualism in the public administration in general. Unfortunately, not only are these cases admitted in court, but they are regularly lost by local councils, pointing to the fact that the judicial system and Romanian authorities in general are often also positioning themselves firmly against the language rights of national minorities.
The legislative framework on linguistic rights for national minorities in Romania is by no means coherent, various provisions are spread across a range of laws, there being no comprehensive law on minority language use. Moreover, while laws are generally permissive, concrete norms aimed at implementation, monitoring and follow-up are often lacking.
Due to the vague and often contradictory legal provisions, the local councils generally lose the court cases initiated against them in the matter of “Town hall” inscriptions. Our organisation conducted a survey in 137 municipalities in Szeklerland and found that in 31 of these Hungarian mayors have been called upon to remove the “Town hall” inscriptions in Hungarian, and the local councils that refused to do so have been subsequently sued. In 25 instances the local councils have already lost their case in court.
Law No. 215 of 2001 on the Local Public Administration and the relevant methodology attached to it does not specifically regulate “Town hall” inscriptions, only the case of official plaques with the names of the public institutions. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs regularly cite the methodology of the said law in court, and they subsequently win these cases against the local councils. A new Administrative Code, which unfortunately was not passed in Parliament last year, suggested that in cases such as the “Town hall” inscriptions, historical and linguistic communities should be allowed to use the contextually equivalent translation of Romanian denominations and expressions, instead of their loan translation.
The banning of “Town hall” inscriptions has become so vicious that recently courts gave an unprecedented exorbitant fine to the mayor of Corund/Korond (nearly 100 thousand euros) for not taking down the “Town Hall” inscription in Hungarian, thus signalling an escalation in the persecution of Hungarian inscriptions by Romanian authorities. In contrast, Romanian authorities have not taken any legal action regarding the bilingual (Romanian-German) Primăria - Rathaus inscription on the forefront of the town hall in Ghimbav/Vidombák/Weidenbach, for instance, where the German population constitutes a mere 1%. This points to a clear double standard applied by the Romanian state, which is not willing to show the same consideration towards the Hungarian community of Romania.
For further information, please consult the two most recent yearly reports of the Micro Imre Association, where you can find an extensive chapter on the linguistic rights of national minorities in Romania, as well as a newsletter from April 2019 detailing the specific case of the mayor who received an exorbitant fine for not taking down the “Town hall” inscription.
OPINION OF THE MICO IMRE ASSOCIATION
The banning of bilingual (Romanian-Hungarian) signs in Romania is increasingly problematic, particularly in the light of this latest, extremely exaggerated fine for putting up a bilingual “Town hall” sign, which is contrary to various UN and Council of Europe principles and recommendations regarding the right of minority communities to use their mother tongue, including within framework of the local and regional public administration.
MINORITY MONITOR RECOMMENDATIONS
The Mikó Imre Association for the Protection of Minority Rights calls on Romania
To elaborate and adopt a comprehensive law on minority language use, one that also deals with specific cases that are not currently regulated, like “Town hall” inscriptions and street names.
In lieu of a comprehensive law on minority language use, to update and broaden the linguistic rights of national minorities within the existing legislation, taking into consideration the percentage of a specific minority within a city/town/village or region, as well as the specific needs and wishes expressed by a minority community.
The Slovenian legal system provides for strict bilingualism in the form of topographical inscriptions in the settlement area for the Hungarian and Italian ethnic communities.