Ethnic clashes of Târgu Mureș

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Târgu Mureș during the ethnic clashes (20 March 1990)

The ethnic clashes of Târgu Mureș (also called Black March)[1] refer to violent incidents between the Romanian and Hungarian ethnic groups in Transylvania, Romania in the early nineties. These clashes were the bloodiest inter-ethnic incidents of the post-communist era in Transylvania.[2] Târgu Mureș (Hungarian: Marosvásárhely) is a Romanian town, with an ethnically mixed population that was almost equally distributed between Romanians and Hungarians after the fall of the communist regime in December 1989. It has been an important cultural and political center for the Hungarian minority in Transylvania.[3]

In March 1990, short-lived, but violent clashes occurred there between the two ethnic groups in the town, involving ethnic Romanians from neighboring villages. These clashes left six people dead and three hundred injured.[2] The riots were broadcast nationally on Romanian television, and were covered by media around the world.

It is still widely disputed what exactly triggered the riots. The nature of the involvement of the media and the Romanian government are also questioned.

The events[edit]

Demonstration for Hungarian education
Romanian troops on the streets of Târgu Mureș
Destroyed buses

In the first days of March 1990, two episodes involving Romanian statues occurred. Graffiti was found on the statue of the Romanian historical figure Avram Iancu, and a statue of another Romanian personality in a neighboring town was stolen. After this, a Romanian newspaper referred to events of the same kind that took place before the 1940 Romanian-Hungarian conflict.[4]

During the celebrations of the Hungarian community occasioned by the national day of the Hungarian state (15th of March) accusations of nationalism and separatism began to be heard from the Romanian side.[2] The next day, groups of heavily intoxicated Romanians began to attack state-owned stores where ethnic Hungarians changed the signage also to Hungarian language.[2] Students sang anti-Hungarian songs and pillaged a Hungarian Protestant church.[2]

On 20 March, Romanian villagers despatched by coach and train arrived to the city and violently attacked the headquarters of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania.[2] The local Hungarian citizens tried to defend their interest but this act also fell into violence.[2] The involvement of the Romanian Government in connection with the stimulation of ethnic violence is not completely unfounded (Andreescu 2001, Gallagher, 2005).[2]

The media enlarged the tensions and contributed by its inflammatory discourse to the worsening of the situation.[2] The parliamentary report about the events confirmed that the media reported falsely about the heavy influx of Hungarian citizens to help their co-nationals in their fight for a separate Transylvania.[2] Incitements about "separatist" trends were used in an effort to manufacture ethnic conflict.[2]

Media issues[edit]

The events are viewed differently by the sides involved. The 16 March incident at "Pharmacy no. 28" is an example of the capacity of the media to present the same event with opposite connotations. A news brief was presented, by both the Romanian and the Hungarian press, each using it to draw attention to the danger represented by the actions of "the others". Romanian media announced that the pharmacist wiped inscriptions in Romanian, while the Hungarian press wrote that, on the contrary, the Romanians wiped the Hungarian language inscription.[5]

According to the Romanian media[edit]

According to the correspondent of the National Romanian Television, in the neighbouring town of Sovata, statue of Nicolae Bălcescu was knocked off, generating vehement protests of Vatra Românească organization [6]

Several teams of cameramen of the Romanian army filmed numerous episodes showing that those manifestations took an explicitly anti-Romanian turn. There were shown groups of Hungarians who chanted "Horthy, Horthy!" "Death to Romanians!" and "Transylvania to Hungary!". A 2010 article from Jurnalul Național talks about the influx of 10,000 Hungarian "tourists", officially coming to commemorate the Revolution of 1848. There are accounts that in the same period has produced the desecration of the statues of Avram Iancu, Nicolae Bălcescu and some arson attempts of Romanian houses in Sovata. These acts have generated counter-manifestations of the Romanian majority population.[7]

Also, then started the "road signs war" that would continue for years throughout Transylvania: one of the Târgu Mureș signs at the entry into the city was replaced with a Marosvasarhely Hungarian-language sign. The change has sparked anger from Azomureş Romanian employees that restored the Romanian sign.[7]

According to the Hungarian media[edit]

Human Rights Watch World report for 1990[edit]

In March, violence broke out between ethnic Hungarians and Romanians in the Transylvanian city of Târgu Mureș. On March 19, the headquarters of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) was attacked by a large group of ethnic Romanians. The police and army did not respond to the UDMR's calls for protection until several hours after the attack began. Many ethnic Hungarians trapped inside were seriously injured.

On the following morning, some 15,000 ethnic Hungarians gathered in the town square to protest the previous day's events. A group of approximately 3,000 ethnic Romanians hostile to the Hungarians' demands for autonomy began to gather on one side of the square in the early afternoon. Tensions escalated as word spread that buses of ethnic Romanian peasants from neighboring villages were heading toward town to support the Romanians in the square. By 2:30 p.m., the Chief of Police gave assurances to ethnic Romanian and Hungarian leaders in the square that the police had blocked off entrances to the city. However, unconfirmed reports indicated that the police allowed buses of ethnic Romanians through the roadblocks. Romanian peasants from villages outside Târgu Mureş arrived in the town center long after the roads should have been closed, and joined the Romanians already in the square.

Around 5:00 p.m., violence erupted between ethnic Romanians and ethnic Hungarians, breaking the single line of 50 police that the authorities had sent to divide the two groups. Although the police and army had been made aware of the potential for violence by both Hungarian and Romanian leaders, who had made numerous reports of the escalating tensions in the square, the authorities once again failed to respond in an adequate manner to protect the citizens of Târgu Mureș.[8]

According to the US State Department Human Rights Report for 1993:

The UDMR condemned the Supreme Court's June 7 rejection of an appeal in the case of Pal Cseresznyés, an ethnic Hungarian serving a 10-year sentence for attempted murder as a result of his involvement in the Târgu Mureș incidents of March 1990. Cseresznyés participated in the savage beating of an ethnic Romanian, which an international journalist captured on film. The UDMR's complaint centered on the length of his sentence and on the fact that he was the only one of those filmed who was brought to trial. The court maintained that, regardless of the fates of the others involved, Cseresznyes had received a fair trial and was guilty as charged. Thus it found no legal reason to grant an appeal.[9]

Casualties and legal consequences[edit]

The balance of clashes is five dead (three ethnic Hungarians two ethnic Romanians), and 278 injured. During the penal investigation and court trials that followed, two ethnic Hungarians (Pál Cseresznyés and Ernő Barabás) and seven others were convicted.[10]

Emblematic victims[edit]

Hungarian writer András Sütő

There were victims on both sides, two of which received particular attention:

  • On 19 March 1990, the Hungarian writer András Sütő was seriously beaten when ethnic Romanians attacked the offices of the Democratic Union of Hungarians (UDMR). With several bones broken and blinded in one eye he was carried to the Bucharest Military Hospital, then, later, by a military aircraft to Budapest, Hungary, where his life was saved, but he retained a permanent eye injury. The attackers were never officially identified, or convicted.[11]
  • On 20 March 1990, Mihăilă Cofariu, one of the ethnic Romanians from Ibănești village was severely beaten until unconsciousness and even after. As a consequence, he remained neurologically disabled. The event was presented in international media as a Hungarian being beaten by Romanians. Mihăilă Cofariu was brought in coma to the county's Emergency Hospital and he spent several months in hospitals in Romania and Germany. One of the perpetrators, ethnic Hungarian Pál Cseresznyés, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was released in 1996 by Romanian president Emil Constantinescu, as an act of reconciliation. The other convicted perpetrator, Ernő Barabás, emigrated to Hungary. He has also received a 10-year imprisonment sentence, but the Hungarian authorities denied all extradition requests from the Romanian authorities.[12]

Dispute over the causes[edit]

The prevalent opinion among the Romanian public is that the incidents were triggered by direct attacks by ethnic Hungarians against Romanian institutions, symbols, statues and policemen. Supporters of such opinions[who?] claim that the riots are part of a plan to separate part of Transylvania from Romania and re-integrate it with Hungary.[citation needed]

Most ethnic Hungarians in Romania and Hungarian public opinion in general maintain, however, that these rumours about Hungarian violence against Romanians and/or state institutions were unjustified or widely exaggerated. Hungarians also state that rumours about ethnic Hungarian violence were spread in order to undermine legitimate demands of ethnic Hungarians (such as language, cultural rights, or possible ethnic-based regional autonomy).[citation needed]

Romanian government involvement[edit]

Ion Iliescu, President of Romania at the time of the incident

The nature of the involvement of the Romanian government is also disputed. The official account is that the government quickly succeeded in calming the situation and ended the clashes. However:

  • Many members of the ethnic Hungarian side claim that the government was purposely slow to act, failing to stem the violence at the beginning and thus responsible for its escalation. They support their arguments with filmed scenes, where police or other representatives of the authorities overlook some misdoings. They also criticise the fact that the vast majority of persons taken under custody after the events were ethnic Hungarians, which, in their opinion, suggests an ethnic bias.
  • Many members of the ethnic Romanian side claim that the government did not intervene fast enough to protect the population, and that clearly identified Hungarians involved in acts of violence were not condemned.

According to a 1990 report by Human Rights Watch, "the authorities (...) failed to respond in an adequate manner to protect the citizens of Târgu Mureș".[8] In this sense, the riots can be seen as a symptom of the fact that police and the law enforcement agencies in general were very weak and morally compromised at that time, as a consequence of the way the Communist regime had fallen. This opinion is reinforced by the similar pattern followed by some subsequent events (Piaţa Universităţii and the miners' invasion of Bucharest).

Western media involvement[edit]

The quality of Western media coverage of the riots is contested by many Romanians. An often-cited example is the gruesome footage of Mihăilă Cofariu mentioned above who was presented as a Hungarian being beaten by Romanians in the documentary 'And the walls came tumbling down: Bad Neighbours', directed by Peter Swain and produced by ethnic Hungarian Paul Neuberg.[13] According to its director, the filming crew arrived in Transylvania after the events and most footages, including the one of Mihăilă Cofariu, were provided by the Hungarian producer team, who let them believe that Cofariu was in fact a Hungarian being beaten by Romanians.[13] Also, during filming, the crew had no contact at all with any ethnic Romanian, all the documentation being gathered only from Hungarian sources, including some Hungarian contacts from the political scene.[13]

Western media, picking up the story from this documentary, presented the Mihăilă Cofariu footage in the same way, as a Hungarian being beaten by Romanians. This particular disinformation is often used in Romanian media to link various similar cases of anti-Romanian disinformation in Hungarian and Western media.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ildikó Lipcsey, Sabin Gherman, Adrian Severin, Romania and Transylvania in the 20th Century, Corvinus Pub., 2006, p. 193
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, Myth, Identity, and Conflict: A Comparative Analysis of Romanian and Serbian Textbooks , Lexington Books, 2011, ISBN 9780739148679
  3. ^ Guntram Henrik Herb,David H. Kaplan (editors): Nested Identities: Nationalism, Territory, and Scale, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1999 [1]
  4. ^ Stroschein, Sherrill (2012). Ethnic Struggle, Coexistence, and Democratization in Eastern Europe. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 104. ISBN 1-107-00524-8. 
  5. ^ (Romanian)
  6. ^ "Corespondentul TVR Dorin Suciu, despre Revoluţie şi incidentele din martie 1990 de la Tg. Mureş". Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  7. ^ a b (Romanian)
  8. ^ a b Human Rights Watch World Report for the year 1990.
  9. ^ Human Rights Report, January 31, 1994, US State Department.
  10. ^ Les relations roumano-hongroises dans la perspective de la construction ... Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Ethnic Hungarian Writer and Activist Andras Suto, 79". Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  12. ^ "Romania libera - stiri iesite din tipar - actualitate, investigatii, politica, cultura, diaspora, video, anunturi de mica publicitate". Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c "Culisele manipulării conflictului româno-maghiar din 20 martie 1990" (in Romanian). Adevărul. 2010-03-14. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  14. ^ Artificial tensions from Budapest, article in Ziua, 2006 (reference below).


  • Romania, Human Rights Developments, Human Rights Watch World Report for the year 1990. The section dealing with Romania contains a description of the events and their context. Accessed 17 Jan 2006.
  • 1993 Human Rights Report, January 31, 1994, US State Department (Archive), Romania Human Rights Practices. Accessed 17 Jan 2006.

External links[edit]