It has been reported that a regional court in the Romanian city of Constanza has rejected a petition for the early release of Zoltán Szőcs, a minority rights activist convicted of terrorism charges in 2018.
It is not often that one hears of a minority or human rights activist having handed down a lengthy jail sentence in a European context. Well-funded human rights NGOs and their activists have been flouting the law and protecting others doing so for years with impunity. However, in the present case, Szőcs is a member of an indigenous ethnic minority in Romania, a group whose concerns European Union authorities are systematically failing to recognize.
The convicted activist is a member of the 64 County Youth Movement (HVIM), an organization that aims to promote the cultural identity of the Hungarian minority living in the diaspora but also to call attention on instances where they would face discrimination or violence because of their nationality. In 2018, Szőcs was convicted alongside his fellow HVIM member István Beke of preparing an act of terrorism, and both were sentenced for five years in prison.
According to the charges, the two activists were preparing to detonate an explosive device during a Romanian military parade in 2015. The evidence that DIICOT, the Romanian special anti-terrorism prosecution service has presented amounted to a number of fire-crackers found at the apartment of one of the defendants. Fire-crackers can be legally owned and kept in Romania. On the basis of tapped phone conversations between the defendants, the prosecution had concluded that these firecrackers were meant to create a device that could be used to cause an explosion at the military parade. However, during the first trial most of these charges were thrown out by the court as there was insufficient evidence to support these accusations. The two activists were later convicted by a higher court on the appeal by the prosecution during what many observers regarded as a highly irregular, political trial.
The argument cited by the judge during Szőcs’s petition for early release was that he “still did not fully comprehend the weight of his crimes” while in an earlier appeal by the other convicted activist, István Beke, the court had rejected his early release saying that “not enough time had passed for him to be reformed”.
It is clear for many observers that the trumped-up charges and the secretive trial that led to the conviction of the two activists was politically motivated, as anti-Hungarian sentiments play well into the hands of Romanian domestic politics. On the one hand, ultra-nationalist circles feel threatened by a culturally self-conscious Hungarian minority, while on the other, Romanian liberal and globalist political circles are strongly opposed to the patriotism and historic national identity that indigenous minorities represent.
The current Romanian political circles are also aware of the fact that the European Union’s institutions responsible for the rule of law and the protection of human rights will not intervene on behalf of Hungarian prisoners’ of conscience. The reasons for this are similar to those of the Romanian liberals, but the main factor is clearly the political and ideological tensions simmering between the EU’s current left-wing elite, and the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán. EU decision-makers are aware of the fact that any signs of a worsening situation for the Hungarian minority in surrounding countries will make the Orbán government look impotent and will play into the hands of the Hungarian opposition which is wholly aligned with the EU’s current pro-migration and open-society agenda.
The historical grievances motivating the Romanian political elite to keep alive anti-Hungarian paranoia in their society are well known, even though such thinly veiled anti-democratic behavior is hardly justifiable for an EU member state. To paraphrase the Romanian court’s own words, the Romanian political elite employing divide-and-rule tactics “still did not fully comprehend the weight of their crimes”. Yet, it is the complicit silence of the all-so-loud human rights NGOs and the European Commission’s human rights structures that is so scandalous. Their well-aimed inaction that encourages countries like Romania, Ukraine or Slovakia to openly intimidate their Hungarian-speaking citizens can hardly be mistaken for anything else than a shameful proxy-war against the Orbán government.