It was described as being like a ‘scene from the Gaza strip’ inside the Arena Națională in Bucharest.

UEFA and FIFA do so well to keep apart the likes of Armenia and Azerbaijan or Serbia and Albania come draw time but these two nations – so closely tied by geography – were not kept apart during UEFA qualifying for Euro 2016.

The occasion was Románia–Magyarország; a rivalry that encompasses ethnic tensions, past perceptions of empire and modern national identity.

UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying

Arena Națională, Bucharest

Saturday 11th October 2014

Neither Romania or Hungary are a war with each other either diplomatically or in terms of armed conflict. While ‘conflict’ may be a daily occurrence on the Kosovo border, in the disparate Georgian states or in Nagorno-Karabakh its doubtful whether a shot has even been fired between these two European neighbours.

That is not to say there are not disagreements between them. The differences do manifest themselves in much more subtle ways and of course also on a football pitch.

The Roots of the Nationalistic Tensions

Europe’s borders are continually redrawn, and the post communist order has been established based on the principle of self-determination of individual peoples. Within that context alone you can see why the Hungarian minority in Romania might feel unhappy.

Interconnectivity is inescapable across Europe these days where once an iron curtain separated east and west. However, historical issues have impeded the development of consistent relations between Hungary and Romania for many years. Geographical divergences in Transylvania brought about by the end of WWI has seen the status of the Hungarian minority in the new Romanian state forever questioned.

Romania’s authority over Transylvania came about thanks to the Treaty of Trianon (1920) but further back roots in the fall of the Austro Hungarian Empire. The Kingdom of Romania were one of the main beneficiaries of the Treaty agreement and in effect it meant that a Hungarian minority and Romanians were forced to learn to coexist under the banner of a much larger Romania.

Thanks to the communist era this cohabitation largely worked partly due to a sense of forced belonging to the Soviet sphere of influence and also the Hungarian minority being seen by the Romanian authorities as comrades under the larger communist construction.

However, a landscape of mistrust between Romanians and Hungarians grew from the 1980’s onwards festering further during the Nicolae Ceaușescu era. The events of 1989 meanwhile saw the concept of a right to self determination take root, a sentiment that was always going to come to the fore where long held divergent feelings of nationalism or ethnic differences exist.

Since the year 2000 argument and debate has ensued about the right of the Hungarian minority to an education in the mother tongue; the right to use the Hungarian language in administration and attaining a higher degree of cultural and political autonomy compared to other minorities in Romania of which there are many others. While Hungarians comprise about 7.5% of the population (1.1 million) the Romanians amount to 79%.

The rest is made up of other ethnic minorities including Romani peoples.

As the largest minority (the numbers have wavered between 1.6 million to 1 million in 2021) it has been quite difficult to be the Hungarian minority in the Romanian national state. Consecutive Romanian Governments have not been able to find the right forms of Hungarian integration into the national Romanian community. The lack of political solutions has led to social segregation mainly in the Transylvania and Banat areas. The most prominent of these areas is bundled up into an area known as Szekely Land where the Hungarians are the majority.

Today, on the occasion of a Romania vs Hungary football match, these historical and modern day discomforts spill into a football match.

The Clash

The bulk of Hungary’s fans arrived on football specials from Budapest. It was said the 1000’s of ultras from Ferencvaros and Ujpest were banding together and marching on Bucharest.

In effect they did arrive and made a statement on arrival – charging through the historical heart of the Romanian capital in a military like organised fashion singing abusive chants. Only the non-appearance of Romanian ultras groups in the city kept things generally peaceful. The majority of the clashes happened with the police and thanks to the pyrotechnics being thrown by the Hungarians at innocent Romanians.

Tensions inside the national stadium were high and it nearly boiled over on numerous occasions – and there was a lot of violence between the security staff inside the stadium and home fans. The anthems were booed by either side’s fans and operationally things looked very disorganised with the modus operandi seemingly being to keep all Romanian fans as far away from the Hungarians are possible and allow the Hungarian hoards to do what they wanted inside the stadium.

With Romania looking like winning thanks to a goal from Rusescu a brilliant late free-kick on 83 minutes from captain Dzsudzsak past Ciprian Tatarusanu of Fiorentina earned Hungary a 1-1 draw.

Romania vs Hungary (1-1)

European Championship Qualifying Group F

5:00pm, Saturday 11th October 2014

National Arena

Attendance: 54,000