The Development of the Laszlo Tokes Case



Laszlo Tokes, a priest of the Hungarian Reformed (Calvinist) Church, was appointed secondary priest of the Timisoara parish in 1986. In 1987, after the main priest had died, he was in charge with the parish.


According to the census in 1992, there are 1.6 million Hungarians in Romania, which represent 7.1% of the whole population. In Timisoara, the Hungarians represent 9% of the population. The Hungarian minority is divided between the Catholic and the Reformed Church.


Laszlo Tokes had had problems with the authorities even before his appointment in Timisoara, while he was a priest in Dej, a town in central Transylvania. He participated in the publishing of the illegal magazine “Ellenpontok” (in Hungarian). In 1983 he was dismissed and remained unemployed for two years. Dej belonged to the diocese of Cluj. Finally Tokes managed to find a job, but only in Timisoara, which belonged to the diocese of Oradea.


The Hungarian Reformed Church of Romania has two dioceses: one in Cluj and one in Oradea.


In October 31st 1988 the Hungarian Reformed Church organised a cultural manifestation without the approval of the communist authorities. Although the manifestation was not openly against the regime, it included the reading of poems by some authors who were on the black list of the authorities. The authorities told the organisers that another similar manifestation would not be tolerated.

Despite the warning of the authorities, a second similar event was organised on December 4th 1988. Its organisers were the Reformed Church of Laszlo Tokes and the members of the amateur theatre troupe “Thalia”.

The authorities dismantled “Thalia”, an amateur student troupe that performed in Hungarian. It had the logistic support of the Students House that was controlled by “The Union of Communists Students” (the only student organisation that existed at that time in Romania). Later, “Thalia” was reorganised, but without the people who had participated in the second cultural manifestation at the Reformed Church.

Laszlo Tokes wrote a letter to the Reformed bishop of Oradea, Laszlo Papp. In it, he asked for support for those members of  “Thalia” who had been excluded from the troupe as a result of their participation in the manifestations organised by the Reformed Church. The letter was read at Radio Budapest in May 1989, making Laszlo Tokes’ name widely known.


Many members of the Hungarian minority and also many Romanians who spoke Hungarian listened to Radio Budapest.


Tokes also protested against the governmental plan of the rural systematisation. This plan, initiated by Ceausescu himself, was based on the idea that it was better for the Romanian people to live in bigger villages than in smaller ones. In order to achieve this goal, many small villages were planned to be destroyed and the population to be moved in new houses in larger settlements. The opinion of the people who were to be moved did not matter to authorities. For them, it was inconceivable that somebody could think differently than “the genius of the Carpathians”, as the propaganda used to call Nicolae Ceausescu.

Soon, Tokes became one of the best-known dissidents in Romania, with the help of the Hungarian TV and Radio Free Europe that transmitted programmes in Romanian. Interviews with Tokes appeared on the Hungarian TV. In Timisoara, which is not far from the Hungarian border, the Hungarian TV was very popular. The number of the people coming to his church service increased; in the autumn of 1989 even people who didn’t belong to the Reformed Church started to attend his sermons.

The reaction of the authorities came soon. Harassment started not only against Tokes, but also against his friends.


Gazda Arpad, a close friend of Laszlo Tokes, confesses: “Starting with the summer of 1989 the pressure of the authorities became more obvious. Policemen identified those who entered Laszlo Tokes’ house. For tens of times my name was written in their notes, as the policemen demanded to see my ID several times. At the beginning, they didn’t ask my ID just in front of the house. I was followed and, half an hour later, in another part of the city, I was identified. This happened to all those visited Tokes.

Several pressures were made. Psychological pressures, not threats. Once I was arrested and taken to the Police headquarters. They kept me half a day, asked me where I had been the day before, and told me that I was suspected of stealing from a store.

From October I was moved with my job in Lugoj (a town 50 km from Timisoara). I was forced to commute such a long distance for work daily. This was difficult, of course. Other friends of Tokes had similar experiences. One was moved in Bucharest and two physicists, Balaton Zoltan and Varga Lajos, were sent 800 km away, at Cernavoda”[1] .


However, the authorities wanted to avoid accusing Tokes openly for political reasons. They chose to apply the method of harassment through profession, as in other similar cases.

Under the pressure of the authorities, the bishop of Oradea, Laszlo Papp, took the decision of moving Tokes to Mineu, a village in Northern Transylvania. In a small village, they thought, Tokes would be isolated and not dangerous. The bishop appointed another priest (Makay Botond) in Timisoara.

Tokes refused to move. The people in his parish supported him.

As a result, the bishop stopped paying his salary. He also started a suit against Tokes, ordering him to evacuate the flat he lived in. The flat was the propriety of the church and it was located in the same building as the church. Meanwhile, unknown people broke its windows.

A judge decision ordered Tokes to evacuate the flat by December 15th 1989, otherwise he would be evacuated by force.

On Sunday December 10th, during the usual church service, Tokes announced that he expected to be evacuated from his flat by force in December 15th.

In December 15th, a small crowd of Tokes’ supporters gathered near the Reformed Church. In the evening it numbered almost 200 people. Two representatives of the authorities - mayor Petru Mot and the chairman of the “Front of Democracy and Socialist Unity”[2], Rotarescu, came to dialogue with the people. They wanted to settle the situation down. They promised to stop harassment against Tokes, on condition that he would tell the people to go home. Indeed, the people were told to go home.

Next day the people gathered near the Reformed Church again. The rumours about the priest’s case spread in the city and many came to see what was happening, some of them out of curiosity. As the crowd was increasing, in the evening slogans against Ceausescu’s regime were shouted. According to Tokes’ testimony, in December 16th mayor Mot was ready to make a written promise that Tokes would not be evacuated, if his supporters went home. Tokes tried to follow the deal he had made with authorities, telling the crowd to go home, but he lost control of the situation. The demonstrators didn’t want only the solving of his case. They also demanded the fall of Ceausescu’s regime. In the evening 80% of the crowd that was near his church was formed of ethnic Romanians[3].


[1] See "Revolutia din Timisoara asa cum a fost" (The Revolution of Timisoara As It Was) by Marius Mioc, Brumar Publishing House, Timisoara 1997 (Romanian), p. 7-13.

[2] A political organisation during Ceausescu's regime which include the Communist Party and the people who were not members of the Communist Party, but supported the politics of the government.

[3] See Tokes' testimony in "Reportaj cu sufletul la gura" (An Out of Breath Reportage) by Titus Suciu, Facla Publishing House, Timisoara 1990 (Romanian), p. 10-17.