Wikileaks - CLVI

Saturday, 03 September, Year 3 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

30423 4/8/2005 13:52 05BUCHAREST887 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000887



E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PHUM, RO, MO, cultural heritage, minority rights, biographic information SUBJECT: MAYOR BOC MENDS FENCES IN MULTICULTURAL CLUJ

1. Summary: An archeological dig in Cluj's central square has been a source of ethnic division in this multicultural city for more than a decade. Reform-minded Cluj Mayor Emil Boc has forged a democratic solution to address the concerns of both ethnic Hungarians and archeologists -- filling the hole half way. Separately, three years after the Cluj city council voted to change the name of a street named for wartime dictator Antonescu, Boc has taken down the old street signs and reverted the street to its previous name, an important step for Romania's Jewish community. End Summary.

2. The casual tourist visiting Cluj is bound to visit the Piata Unirii with its impressive St. Michael's church and equestrian statue of Hungarian king and local son Matei Corvin. In front of the statue lies a neglected archeological excavation site, exposing the remnants of third century a.d. Roman houses. Local opinion holds that what the "hole" actually reveals is a twelve year embarrassment.

3. The excavation site is both a medium and a message. First, it demonstrates physically the claim that Romans were present in Cluj and Transylvania many centuries before the area was settled by Hungarians. Second, segments of the archeological and historical communities hold that although what is currently revealed is not very significant, something "spectacular" might be revealed by extending the excavation. The Hungarian minority at one time feared that this argument might lead to the destruction of the statue of Corvin adjoining the hole. Finally, it stands as a constant reminder to passersby of tensions in local politics.

4. The initial excavation occurred in 1994, the same year in which the Piata was renamed "Unification" square by extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) mayor Gheorge Funar. (The new name is itself a reminder of the Hungarian loss of Transylvania to Romania under the Trianon agreement.) Although the National Archeological Commission decided to fill in the diggings in 1997, nothing was done. In 2000 the county prefect also decided to fill in the area, but Funar thwarted the decision by moving the soil needed for the procedure in the dead of night. An architectural competition several years ago selected a design for a viewing station and catwalks for the site, but nothing was built. It is locally regarded as little more than a garbage pit, maintained by neither the city nor archeologists.

5. The Cluj-Napoca city government organized a public debate on the fate of the archeological site in early February. In what may have been the first such event of its kind in Cluj, architects, archeologists, politicians and members of civil society debated possible solutions for over two hours on February 9. Mayor Boc was quoted as saying, "Cluj deserves a different center. The time when the city was a bastion of outmoded nationalism is over. There needs to be a democratic debate in order to reach a decent solution, because the city cannot be allowed to have a center like it is now."

6. After hearing arguments on both sides, it was decided to pursue a middle option: filling in the excavation on the eastern side of the square, and continuing work for the moment on the west. The local council sent this plan to the Ministry of Culture and the National Archeology Commission for review and approval, with the final decision to be taken by the local council in March.

7. It is a measure of the surprising public interest in this issue that it has been the subject of guerilla art exhibits. This includes actions by "Mind Bomb," a group of artists, architects, graphic artists and writers -- whose goal is to "sensitize citizens with respect to different daily problems and their determination to participation in taking decisions that concern them." The group placed a sign on the square prior to the public meeting on February 8. When the local council had not announced a decision after a month, they snuck a new sign onto the square over the night of Sunday, March 13. The sign featured an orange pen with "D.A. for change" written on it signing a decision, and the slogan "Fill in the Hole." The group warned that if the mayor and city council avoided taking a decision, they could lose the vote of confidence the citizens of Cluj gave them.

8. Whether influenced by guerilla art or not, the local council announced its plan on March 28. The excavation on the east of the square should be covered in sand and grass by the end of May 2005. The National History Museum of Transylvania has until the end of September 2005 to finish research in the second excavation site. A second public debate will then be organized at which the research results will be presented, and a decision made regarding the future of this area. Unfortunately, there is no money allocated in the local budget for the work, and the local council is in negotiation with some local firms to find one that will do the work pro bono.

9. In a separate move, three years after a city council decision calling for the change, Boc has replaced the signs for "Marshal Ion Antonescu" street with new signs restoring the name to Spring Street. Boc promised the Embassy and the local Jewish Community he would make this change shortly after his election in June 2003. The Jewish Community had spent six years petitioning former mayor Funar to remove street signs erected in 1999 honoring Antonescu on the main street of Manestur, the largest district within the city of Cluj-Napoca. Although an emergency ordinance was passed by the Romanian Parliament forbidding the cult of war criminals, and the City Council decision in August 2002 called for the name to be changed, Funar refused.

10. Cluj Jewish Community president Gavrila Goldner expressed delight to EmbOff that the street name had finally been changed. One local newspaper (Monitorul de Cluj) featured a front page story on the change March 29, proclaiming it a "Purim gift for the Jewish Community." The Jewish community in Cluj, in the tens of thousands before World War II, now numbers between 300-500. Goldner said the Jewish community is now pressing Boc and the central government to aid in the repair and maintenance of four local Jewish cemeteries.

11. Comment. Boc came to office in Cluj with high expectations from residents who had experienced 12 years of economic stagnation, bureaucratic blockage, and persistent ethnic division under extreme nationalist Funar. In the early months after Boc's victory, many residents complained privately and in the media that Boc was moving slowly in implementing the reform platform he had campaigned on. A number of local analysts note he now appears to have turned a corner. Economic signs are improving, due in large part to the now more open environment Boc has brought to the city (septel). Moreover, the resolution of key issues of great symbolic concern to the ethnic Hungarian and Jewish communities demonstrates Boc's commitment to healing wounds which festered under Funar. End Comment.

12. Amembassy Bucharest's reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website:


Category: Breaking News
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