Dissident minister and catalyst for the Romanian revolution, 1952-
Laszlo Tokes became a target for Romania’s communist regime for his dedication to his flock and played a crucial role in catalyzing the unrest that led to the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime. Years later, free to practice both his spiritual and political vocation, he remains a bete noire to Bucharest over his loud calls for greater autonomy for the country’s Hungarian minority.
A Protestant minister and a prominent voice of Transylvania’s Hungarian community, Tokes became a target of the Securitate, the Romanian secret police, in 1982, after he detailed human-rights abuses in a Hungarian-language samizdat magazine. He fell afoul of the authorities again with his sermons against the government policy of relocating villagers to cities, which threatened to disperse the Hungarian population. As a consequence, in March 1989 religious authorities ordered his transfer from the city of Timisoara to the isolated parish of Mineu.
Tokes refused to leave. On 15 December, the date he was to be evicted from his Timisoara flat, members of his congregation gathered to protest the eviction in front of his flat. They were soon joined by passersby; within days several thousand were gathered, protesting the Ceausescu regime. The demonstrations spread to Bucharest, leading to the bloodiest regime change in Central and Eastern Europe’s revolutionary year.
After the overthrow of the dictatorship, Tokes became one of Romania’s two Reformed bishops. He won a seat in the European Parliament as an independent candidate in 2007 and was re-elected this past June, when he ran on the list of the newly formed Hungarian Solidarity party. Central to Tokes’ political agenda is increased cultural and territorial autonomy for Romanian Hungarians. President Trajan Basescu has rejected Tokes’ demands, saying that Romania is a unitary state which guarantees the rights of minorities.
Since the revolution Tokes has been dogged by claims that he was a spy for Hungary, as the communist-era apparatchiks believed, and a Securitate informant. He has acknowledged that he was approached by the secret police and forced to sign some documents but maintains he never actively collaborated. (He sued the Associated Press for reporting the allegation in 1998 but lost.) In 2001 the National Commission for the Study of the Security Archives granted Tokes a certificate attesting that he never collaborated with the secret police.
In June 2009, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awarded Tokes the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom for his role in the Romanian revolution. In his acceptance speech [http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/news_Victims_of_Communism_LaszloTokes.htm], he railed against privileged members of the old regime he said had maintained control by transferring their political power into the economic arena, and he blasted the Romanian government for a “Euro-conformist politics of window-dressing” that kept it from going beyond rhetoric in condemning communist crimes. “It is painful to observe,” he said, “that the final victory of the freedom fighters over communism has not yet arrived.”