Cablegate: Romania's Ethnic Hungarians: Biographical Information On Key Leaders and Politicians
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 BUCHAREST 001623
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH; JANE MESSENGER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/23/2015
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM PINR RO
SUBJECT: ROMANIA'S ETHNIC HUNGARIANS: BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION ON KEY LEADERS AND POLITICIANS
Classified By: POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT GILCHRIST FOR REASONS 1.4 B AND D
1.(U) Summary: Romania's ethnic Hungarian party, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, (UDMR) has supported or participated in governing coalitions in Romania since 1996. Post provides below updated biographical information on a dozen key ethnic Hungarians, inside and outside the UDMR, who have an impact on political life and who regularly appear in the press or Embassy reporting. End Summary.
2.(C) Post divides the ethnic Hungarian political class roughly into two groupings: the Moderates, who have taken a gradualist approach toward greater ethnic rights and autonomy for Romania's ethnic Hungarians; and the so-called "Radicals", who seek more rapid reform. Since 1993, the Moderates, led by Bela Marko, have dominated UDMR politics and achieved their goals via cooperative dialogue with incumbent Romanian parties and leaders. The Radicals are divided into many factions, and include many former UDMR members disenchanted with the slow pace of change or lack ofopportunities for younger members. Some also seek changes such as nearly complete autonomy for the Szekler land region in Central Transylvania, and a completely segregated education system. Key Radical groups include the National Council of Hungarians in Transylvania (CNMT), the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM), and the National Szeklers' Council (CNS).
3.(U) Post also provides biographic information on two young up-and-coming ethnic Hungarian politicians as well as biographic information on two prominent local leaders in Cluj-Napoca and Maramures County.
----- THE MODERATES -----
BELA MARKO: UDMR President and Minister of State
4.(SBU) Bela Marko remains the UDMR's most prominent politician. He has led the party as president since 1993 and served in Parliament since 1990. In December 2004, he was tapped by incoming National Liberal Party (PNL) Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu to serve as a Minister of State, one of the three senior "Vice Premier" positions in the government. Marko's official responsibilities as Minister of State are for Culture, Education, and European Integration. In real terms, however, his placement in this senior slot was intended to reinforce politically the UDMR's position within the ruling coalition.
5.(C) Known for his seemingly perpetually calm demeanor, Marko has focused the UDMR's efforts on working with the established political parties rather than against them. Indeed, when he was first elected as president of UDMR, he stated in an interview that moderates such as himself have the "same goals" as more radical ethnic Hungarians. The difference, he said, lay only in the means used to pursue those goals. He subsequently led his UDMR on a path toward greater cooperation with other Romanian parties, effectively defining the UDMR's role as a centrist "dealmaker" party tipping coalition majorities to the left or right. Over time, this strategy has paid off, on issues such as the creation of separate Hungarian language schools, the restitution of important Hungarian religious properties, and the use of native languages other than Romanian in courts and other official settings.
6.(C) Marko has also thus far kept more radical factions of the ethnic Hungarian movement in check, although not without strong dissent from vocal opponents such as Reformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes or Zsolt Silagyi (see below). He has refused to enter a dialogue with the Hungarian Civil Union (UCM), a Radical fraction within UDMR. He and those around him have repeatedly expressed concern that by seeking to run its own candidates against the UDMR, the UCM risks dividing the ethnic Hungarians vote. Such a division would make it difficult for any ethnic Hungarian party to meet the five percent threshold necessary for entering Parliament. Marko's grouping in the UDMR has repeatedly taken measures to prevent the UCM from running as a party, such as successfully challenging the validity of a petition the UCM circulated in order to run as a party in June 2004 elections. UDMR contested that some of the over 40,000 signatures on the UCM's petition were not valid. The constitutional court ruled in UDMR's favor.
7.(C) Personal relations between Marko and Tariceanu are good, according to Embassy contacts. This is despite the fact that - as is the case with many in UDMR - Marko is known to prefer working with PSD-led governments. Prior to the November/December 2004 national elections, the UDMR under Marko's leadership had negotiated a planned coalition with the PSD. However, after PNL-PD presidential candidate Traian Basescu's surprise victory in the fall 2004 elections, and the latter's appointment of Tariceanu as PM, UDMR insiders tell us Marko saw no other option than to enter new negotiations with the PNL-PD. This fit squarely with his philosophy that the party can achieve success best through incremental change and through cooperating with both political blocs.
8. (U) Prior to assuming the leadership of the UDMR, Marko was a writer, poet, and the Editor-in-Chief of a Hungarian language literary magazine. He was born on September 8, 1951 in Targul Secuiesc, Romania. He is married with three children. He speaks Hungarian, French and Romanian, and has basic knowledge of English and Russian. (An interpreter is required for English.)
LASZLO BORBELY: Minister Delegate for Public Administration
9. (C) Lazlo Borbely is one of the three powerful, behind-the-scenes moderates within UDMR, commonly called "the Neptun Three." Together with Gyorgy Frunda (see below), and Gyorgy Tokay, he held a secret meeting in the seaside town of Neptun in 1993 with the PDSR party, the current day Social Democratic Party (PSD). At that meeting, he negotiated the UDMR's first cooperate dialogue with a mainstream Romanian political party. Leaders of the Radical movements (see below) frequently point to this initial cooperation with the PSD as a form of betrayal.
10.(C) Borbely is known for his affinity with PSD leaders, and for his strong organizational and negotiating skills. He was the key ethnic Hungarian architect of the UDMR-PSD cooperation protocols, signed annually between 2000 and 2004 while PSD was in power. During this period, the UDMR supported in Parliament the minority PSD government in parliament in exchange for incremental concessions provided in the protocols. Borbely was outspokenly disappointed with the surprise victory of Basescu's presidential election in November 2004. He did not hesitate to inform Embassy staff the day following Basescu's victory that UDMR would continue its cooperation with the PSD party, although just a few weeks later the UDMR would join the coalition led by the Liberal-Democratic (PNL-PD) Alliance.
11.(SBU) Borbely has been a Chamber of Deputies member of Mures County since 1990. In addition to being a Cabinet member, Borbely also serves as Executive Chairman of UDMR, the second most position within the party.
12.(U) Borbely was born on March 26, 1954, in Targu Mures. He graduated from the Institute of Economic Sciences in Timisoara followed by post-graduate studies at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest. He is married with one daughter. He speaks English, Romanian, and Hungarian.
GYORGY FRUNDA: Senator, Moderate UDMR Leader
13.(SBU) Many would consider Gyorgy Frunda "the most European" among UDMR leaders. He was a prominent member of Romania's parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe (COE) and has strong ties with EU Parliamentarians. He is charismatic and many UDMR members characterize him as the best speaker within the party. His primary professed goal has been to "ensure Western European rights for ethnic Hungarians, and other minorities." He is currently the chair of the Senate Human Rights Commission. His background as a human rights lawyer has also aided the UDMR on a number of occasions.
14. (SBU) Frunda was a member of the parliamentary commission that drafted Romania,s Constitution in 1992. One of the original "Neptun Three" who first negotiated with the mainstream PSD, he supports Bela Marko's "policy of small
steps." Frunda ran as the UDMR presidential candidate in the 1996 and 2000 elections. Within the UDMR, he chairs the Council of Representatives, a so-called "mini-Parliament" for setting policy within the movement.
15.(U) Frunda has been an MP since 1990, first as a Deputy, and from 1992 onwards, as a Senator representing Mures county. He was born on July 22, 1951 in Targu Mures. He graduated from the University of Babes-Bolyai, Faculty of Law and also attended post-graduate studies at the Salzburg Seminar. He is married with two daughters. He speaks fluent English and French, and has basic knowledge of German.
ATTILA VERESTOY: Senator, Leader UDMR Senate Group
16.(SBU) Verestoy represents the rare UDMR politician who became a multi-millionaire businessman. Weekly Romanian economic magazine, Capital, recently named him one of Romania's 300 richest people, estimating his fortune to be between USD 38 to 40 million, ranking him as the 60th wealthiest Romanian. He has a PhD in chemistry and was a researcher by profession during the Communist period. He earned his wealth in the timber and food industries after the fall of Communism. Since 2003, his wife and son have largely managed his businesses.
17.(SBU) Verestoy reputedly had close business ties in the early 1990s with representatives of the anti-Hungarian party, National Union of Romanians (PUNR). He is also known to have close ties with PSD leaders, having been one of the architects of the signed protocols of cooperation with PSD between 2000 and 2004. Thanks to his economic influence, Verestoy is one of the most powerful members within UDMR. He is the UDMR's faction leader within the Senate group.
18.(U) Verestoy is the Senator representing Harghita County. He was born on March 1, 1954 in Odorheiul Secuiesc. He attended the Polytechnic School of Bucharest in the Faculty of Chemistry. He is married with one child and speaks English, French, Hungarian, and Romanian.
IULIU WINKLER: Minister Delegate for Commerce
19.(C) Appointed Minister Delegate for Commerce in December 2004, Winkler has been active in ethnic Hungarian politics for more than a decade. A thoughtful, soft-spoken interlocutor, Winkler is well-liked within and without the UDMR. In private conversations with Embassy staff, he has articulated pro-US, pro-business points of view that reflect considerable insight and reflection.
20.(SBU) An electronic engineer by training, Winkler has risen through the ranks of the UDMR since he first joined in 1991. From 2000 to 2001, he was Vice-president of the UDMR-Hunedoara Organization and in 2001 he became its President, re-elected in 2003. As an MP from 2000-2004, he was a member of the Chamber of Deputies Budget and Finance Commission and of the EU Integration Commission.
21.(SBU) Winkler speaks fluent English, as well as Hungarian, Romanian, and German. He holds two bachelors degrees and is a 2003 graduate of the Bucharest-based National Defense College. He has also attended several postgraduate courses in Romania and abroad. He took business courses in Germany, Hungary and France and studied civic and political action at a US-affiliated school in Timisoara.
PETER ECKSTEIN-KOVACS: Senator, Human Rights Advocate
22.(SBU) A lawyer with expertise in human rights and local public administration, Eckstein-Kovacs remains a staunch advocate for minority rights in the Human Rights and Legal Affairs Commissions of the Senate. During a one-year period in 1999, he was also the Minister for Ethnic Minorities. In this role, he repeatedly criticized and opposed the actions of the former extreme nationalist mayor of Cluj.
23.(SBU) Eckstein-Kovacs is a founding member and President of the Liberal Club Union within UDMR, which advocates economic liberalization and aligns itself more closely with the National Liberal Party (PNL) than with other mainstream parties. He is also a founding member of several local human rights NGOs and a strong advocate for the restitution of Hungarian churches and other religious properties seized under communism.
24. (SBU) During the campaign for 2004 local elections, Eckstein-Kovacs outwardly supported a DA alliance candidate rather than a PSD one. This was despite the fact that the UDMR supported the PSD government at the time. He was also outspoken in expressing dissatisfaction with the UDMR-PSD cooperation protocols. He voiced strong support for PNL-PD presidential candidate Traian Basescu during the December 12, 2004 presidential election run-offs, although the UDMR had already arranged an electoral pact with the PSD. With his free market economic views, his outlook contrasts greatly with the larger number of UDMR politicians who espouse social democratic views.
25.(U) Eckstein-Kovacs has represented Cluj county in the Senate since 1996. He was born on July 5, 1956, in Cluj-Napoca to parents of both Jewish and Hungarian descent. He graduated from the University of Babes-Bolyai, Faculty of Law. He attended post-graduate studies at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest. He is married with one daughter. He speaks English, German, French, Hungarian, and Romanian.
---- THE RADICALS ----
LASLO TOKES: Protestant Reformed Bishop
26.(SBU) Tokes is commonly known in Romania and internationally as the priest who sparked Romania's revolution. After Tokes criticized publicly the Ceaucescu regime in December 1989, hundreds of Romanians surrounded his house to protect him from threatened internal deportation by the former secret police. This was the first large-scale public protest against Ceaucescu's regime and produced the first bloodshed. In return for his important role at the outset of the so-called "Revolution," the UDMR awarded Tokes the title of Honorary Chairman. In the initial post-Revolution years, Tokes was an important face for the UDMR internationally and among the most influential members within the movement
27.(C) However, his radical agenda of pressing the UDMR to demand full autonomy for ethnic Hungarians has isolated him over time, particularly as other UDMR leaders took on a moderate approach. At the same time, his prestige has diminished domestically and internationally, as accusations surfaced of embezzlement and collaboration with the former internal intelligence service. Between 1996 and 2000, when UDMR was part of the then center-right ruling coalition, Tokes continuously pressured the UDMR to withdraw from the government.
28.(SBU) In 2003, the UDMR revoked Tokes' position as Honorary Chairman. He left the party and has since become one of the fiercest critics of UDMR leadership and policies. During the 2004 electoral campaign for mayor of Cluj, for example, he asserted that he would prefer "an extremist Romanian" to a "a treacherous Hungarian," casting his support behind extreme nationalist Gheorge Funar over the moderate UDMR candidate.
29.(C) Tokes is presently the Chairman of the National Council of Magyars from Transylvania (CNMT), an ethnic-Hungarian faction. UDMR leaders have repeatedly expressed that Tokes' opinions do not remotely represent the party's majority views. Many lament that it is unfortunate that Tokes, who once was the symbol of Romania's "Revolution," is now viewed more as a marginalized radical.
30.(U) Bishop Tokes was born on April 1, 1952, in Cluj. He attended the Theological Institute of Cluj. He is married with two children. He speaks English, Hungarian, and Romanian.
ZSOLT SZILAGYI, Former UDMR Deputy
31.(SBU) Zsolt Szilagyi became the youngest Deputy in the Chamber of Deputies when he entered Parliament in 1990 at the age of 21. He was known as the protege of Bela Marko early in his career. Their ideologies diverged over the years, however, and by 2004 Szilagyi had become the most vocal Radical. In 2004, together with 17 other members, he walked out of the UDMR. His attempts to create a rival ethnic Hungarian party - the Hungarian Civil Union (UCM) - have been unsuccessful to date. But he has vowed to continue trying to form an electoral alternative to the UDMR. His efforts have gained the support of Hungary's Opposition Party, FIDEZS.
32.(SBU) No longer in Parliament, Szilagyi now resides in Oradea. He is a strong supporter for both Bishop Tokes and the latter's push for autonomy in the Szekler Land region. In addition to his leadership of the UCM, he is also Vice Chairman of the Transylvanian Hungarian National Council, led by Tokes.
33.(SBU) Szilagyi was born on July 29, 1968 in Oradea. He graduated from the Polytechnic School of Timisoara in Construction Management. He is married and speaks English, German, Hungarian, and Romanian.
------ TWO UP-AND-COMERS ------
ATTILA MARKO: State Secretary for Inter-Ethnic Relations
34.(SBU) Human-rights expert Attila Marko is an up-and-coming UDMR politician currently serving in the politically appointed position of State Secretary in the Department of Inter-ethnic Relations. He began his political career as the founding member of the city of Brasov's UDMR branch. With a solid background in legal issues, he soon became human rights advisor to UDMR president Bela Marko.
35.(SBU) In 1997, Attila Marko began his career with the department which he presently heads. He witnessed de facto the development of the department, then named the Department for the Protection of National Minorities. He has served in various positions in the Department, becoming State Secretary in January 2005. Besides being an expert on human rights, Marko is also a specialist on property restitution issues. He has been Vice President of the commission in charge of the restitution of religious property ) formed by the so-called Law 501/2002 - since 2002. Like his contemporary, Anton Niculescu, Marko is more of a technocrat and not involved in party infighting.
36.(U) Marko was born on September 27, 1968, in Brasov. He attended the Law School of Budapest. He is married and speaks English, Hungarian, and Romanian.
ANTON NICULESCU, State Secretary
37.(SBU) Anton Niculescu was appointed State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in spring 2004. From 2003 until his appointment, Niculescu was UDMR's Executive Vice President, heading the party's EU Integration Department. Before 2000, he worked for the rightist coalition government, first as Deputy Secretary General and then as State Secretary for European Integration. In between the governmental positions, he also worked as a Political Specialist for the U.S. Embassy.
38.(SBU) A young and dynamic politician, Niculescu has been involved in a broad range of activities since his student days. In the early 1990s, he was a journalist at a Hungarian-language publication and a contributor to Radio-Free Europe. He later became political counselor to the Freidrich Naumann Foundation, Foreign Affairs advisor to the UDMR President Bela Marko, and Parliamentary Expert in the Senate. During the electoral campaign in 1996, he was the spokesperson for UDMR presidential candidate Gyorgy Frunda.
39.(SBU) In more recent years, Niculescu has specialized in EU integration issues, working as Director of the Open Society Foundation and advisor to other EU-funded programs. He is known to dislike squabbling within his party, and known to Embassy Officers to be even more moderate than the moderates of the UDMR. He may possibly follow in Frunda's footsteps and pursue a career focused on EU integration. Although Niculescu lacks Frunda's legal background, he is highly knowledgeable in EU issues and well connected to the EU Parliament.
40.(U) Niculescu was born on May 6, 1964, in Targu Mures. He graduated from the Polytechnic School of Bucharest, Faculty of Chemistry. He also has a Masters in International Relations. He is divorced. He speaks English, German, French, Hungarian, and Romanian.
--------- Two Prominent Local Leaders ---------
GYONGYIKE BONDI: PREFECT, MARAMURES COUNTY
41.(SBU) Gyongyike Bondi represents the rare female ethnic Hungarian who has risen to a position of significance within the UDMR. A Communist Party member during the Ceausescu period, Bondi was a founding member of UDMR and held her first important position within UDMR as the party's Secretary in 1998. Between 1996 and 2004, she represented Maramures County in the Chamber of Deputies for two terms. In 2004, she left Parliament and was appointed to Prefect of Maramures County, holding also the title of Executive President within UDMR's branch in Maramures. Bondi's focus as Prefect has been on the economic, industrial, and tourism development of her county. During a visit by an Embassy Political Officer, Bondi expressed tremendous interest in the flow of U.S. direct investments and the possibility of tourism development targeted at foreigners in her county of high potential.
42.(C) At present, no UDMR female members are present in the Parliament or in State Secretary positions. Indeed, several ethnic-Hungarian politicians have lamented to Post "the apparent lack of equal opportunity" within the UDMR leadership. Bondi currently represents the exception to the rule to this barrier.
43. (U) Bondi was born on October 2, 1952, in Cluj. She graduated from Babes-Bolyai University, Faculty of Economics. She is married with two children and she speaks English, French, Romanian, and Hungarian.
JANOS BOROS: VICE-MAYOR, CITY OF CLUJ-NAPOCA
44.(SBU) Boros has been Vice-Mayor of Cluj-Napoca since 2000 and is known to have a close working relationship with influential PD Mayor, Emil Boc. In his second term as Vice-Mayor, he is closely involved with the Mayor in city renewal projects such as the development of new housing for young families, the restoration of the city center, and the creation of more parking spaces within the city limits. Separately, he also oversees the provision of basic infrastructure for the whole city. Boros has held positions of increasing responsibility in the Cluj County branch of the UDMR. Prior to being elected Vice Mayor, he was Secretary of the City Council and City Councilman of the UDMR from 1995 to 2000.
45.(C) During several meetings with an Embassy Political Officer, Boros repeatedly indicated his strong support of U.S. investments in Cluj-Napoca. He recently partnered with an American investor in the opening of "Justin's," an upscale caf-bar named after his American partner.
46.(U) Boros was born on January 24, 1948 in Cluj-Napoca. He received a B.A. in Engineering from the Technical University of Cluj. He also studied four years of theology at the Roman-Catholic Institute of Theology in Alba-Iulia. He is married with one daughter; his wife is currently a physics professor in Budapest. He speaks some English, Romanian, and Hungarian.
47. (U) Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest.