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Letter from Budapest - Nick Thorpe on the right to say 'yes'. (Tuesday, 05 March, 2002, 14:03 GMT)

A court in Romania has ruled that a couple belonging to the country's large Hungarian minority did have the right to say the magic word 'Igen' meaning 'yes' to each other, in Hungarian, at a wedding ceremony in Cluj last year. The ruling is unprecedented, but appears to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Both sides intend to appeal - the couple claiming damages for their spoilt wedding, and the city authorities hoping to get the verdict overturned. And in any case, the law has now changed to make life difficult again for the minority.

31-year-old Zsolt Heredi and his 29-year-old bride Katalin Fusy did not set out to make legal history. They just wanted to get married, quietly, in the presence of a few friends and relatives. But they had not counted on the nationalist mayor of Cluj, Georghe Funar, and on his employees.

The wedding went badly from the start. The registrar mispronounced the bride's name. The groom corrected him. The ceremony was being conducted in Romanian, despite the fact that Romania's new law on public administration, which entered into force 7 days before the wedding in May last year, allows for minority languages to be used in public affairs wherever the minority comprises at least 20% of the population. According to the 1992 census, 22.7% of the population of Cluj are Hungarians.

Then came the 'Yes' moment. Zsolt Heredi takes up the story.

"I turned my face to my wife and I saw that it's an intimate moment, and I can say in my language to my wife, "Igen", and to the official person "Da" in the official language. Because it was a moment between me and my wife."

But the moment Zsolt said "yes" in Hungarian, the registrar immediately walked out of the room, abandoning the wedding ceremony.

"We ran after the registrar. I asked. I implored him two times, my wife also humiliated herself asking many times, we will say only in Romanian. But he didn't want to do this."

Now the regional court in Cluj has ruled that the registrar was wrong to abandon the ceremony, a ruling the couple and their lawyer interpret as a moral victory at least.
But there's a catch. The government has passed a new decree since Zsolt and Katalin's first attempt to get married. The 20% rule stands, but the registrar can refuse to accept the minority language if he does not speak it.

And in this most nationalist of city authorities, the Romanians proudly claim they do not understand a single word of Hungarian. Not even the magic word, "Igen", despite centuries of a shared cultural heritage, of Romanians, Hungarians, and Germans.

Zsolt and Katalin may yet have to do what Hungarians normally do in Cluj - get married in another town.

For Europe Today this is Nick Thorpe in Budapest.

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