Hungary irate over Romanian leader's comments about autonomy

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Szijjarto, holds a press conference in response to the recent remarks by Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. Hungary's foreign minister says provocative comments by Romania's prime minister about autonomy efforts by Szeklers, a group of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, are "totally unacceptable" and "unworthy of the 21st century." (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP)
Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Szijjarto, holds a press conference in response to the recent remarks by Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. Hungary's foreign minister says provocative comments by Romania's prime minister about autonomy efforts by Szeklers, a group of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, are "totally unacceptable" and "unworthy of the 21st century." (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP)
FILE - A file photo taken on March 10, 2013, shows participants holding a huge Sekler flag in front of the Romanian embassy during a demonstration for Szekler autonomy in Budapest, Hungary. Hungary's foreign minister says provocative comments by Romania's prime minister about autonomy efforts by Szeklers, a group of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, are "totally unacceptable" and "unworthy of the 21st century." Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose said Wednesday Jan. 10, 2018, on Realitatea TV that "if the Szekler flag flies on institutions there, they'll all fly next to the flag." (Lajos Soos/MTI via AP,file)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's government on Friday condemned provocative comments by Romania's prime minister about the autonomy efforts by Szeklers, a group of ethnic Hungarians in Romania.

Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose said Wednesday on Realitatea TV that "if the Szekler flag flies on institutions there, they'll all fly next to the flag."

In Hungary, the comments were taken to mean that they should be hanged.

Tudose "practically threatened a national minority and its representatives with execution," Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said. "This is totally unacceptable and unworthy of Europe, European values and the 21st century."

Szijjarto said that his ministry had summoned Romania's ambassador to express Hungary's position about the statements. Szijjarto said Tudose needed to "rectify this situation at the earliest opportunity."

Romania's foreign ministry replied that Tudose's comments did not contain any "anti-Hungarian connotations," but were about "the necessity to respect the constitutional order and law in Romania, a unitary, sovereign and indivisible state."

The foreign ministry added that "initiatives regarding diverse forms of territorial autonomy based on ethnic criteria have multiplied recently, which is regrettable" as Romania has undertaken "substantial measures in favor of the Hungarian minority over time."

Political parties in Hungary across the political spectrum joined in condemning Tudose's remarks. The left-leaning Together opposition party said the comments "recall the darkest eras of history," while the nationalist Jobbik party said they were part of "the series of the anti-Hungarian attacks in the recent years."

The rights of around 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians in Romania, including about 700,000 Szeklers in eastern Transylvania, has been at the center of political feuds between the two countries for decades. Hungary lost Transylvania in the peace treaties after World War I.

Tudose, who also predicted a year "of quarrels instead of one of unity" between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians, was the target of criticism also in Romania.

"Through his primitive message, characteristic of the Middle Ages, the prime minister deeply insulted and openly threatened the Hungarian community in the Szekler lands," said Balint Porcsalmi, executive chairman of the Union of Democratic Hungarians in Romania.

Tudose's comments will likely strain relations between his governing left-wing coalition and the main party representing the interests of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, which formally supports the ruling coalition.

___

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

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