COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Csango minority culture in Romania
Doc. 9078 4 May 2001
Committee on Culture, Science and Education
Rapporteur: Mrs Tytti Isohookana-Asunmaa, Finland, Liberal, Democratic
and Reformers Group
The Csangos are a non-homogeneous group of Roman Catholic people of
Hungarian origin. This ethnic group is a relic from the Middle Ages that
has survived in Moldavia, in the eastern part of the Romanian
Carpathians. Csangos are associated with distinct linguistic
peculiarities, ancient traditions, and a great diversity of folk art and
culture. For centuries, the self-identity of the Csangos was based on
the Roman Catholic religion and their own language, a Hungarian dialect,
spoken in the family and the village community.
Today only 60,000 - 70,000 persons speak the Csango language. To try to
preserve this example of Europe's cultural diversity the Assembly
recommends that the Committee of Ministers encourage Romania to support
the Csangos through concrete measures in particular in the field of
1. Further to its report on the endangered Uralic minority cultures in
Russia and the adoption of Resolution 1171 (1998) the Assembly is
concerned about the situation of the Csango minority culture, which has
existed in Romania for centuries.
2. The Csangos (Ceangai in Romanian) are a non-homogeneous group of
Roman Catholic people. This ethnic group is a relic from the Middle Ages
that has survived in Moldavia, in the eastern part of the Romanian
Carpathians. Csangos speak an early form of Hungarian and are associated
with ancient traditions, and a great diversity of folk art and culture,
which is of exceptional value for Europe.
3. For centuries, the self-identity of the Csangos was based on the
Roman Catholic religion and their own language spoken in the family and
the village community. This, as well as their archaic life-style and
world-view, may explain their very strong ties to the Catholic religion
and the survival of their dialect.
4. Those who still speak Csango or consider it their mother tongue have
been declining as a proportion of the population. Although not everybody
agrees on this number it is thought that between 60,000 and 70,000
persons speak the csango language.
5. Today in Moldavia, the language of the school and the church is
Romanian. There is local teaching in Ukrainian and the study of Polish,
Roma and Russian as mother tongues. Despite the provisions of the
Romanian law on education and the repeated requests from parents there
is no teaching of Csango language in the Csango villages. As a
consequence, very few Csangos know how to write their mother tongue.
6. The Csangos make no political demands, but merely want to be
recognised as a distinct culture. They ask for assistance in
safeguarding it and, first and foremost they demand that their children
be taught the Csango language and their church services be held in their
7. The Assembly recalls the texts which it has adopted on related
matters, notably Recommendation 928 (1981) on the educational and
cultural problems of minority languages and dialects in Europe,
Recommendation 1203 (1993) on Gypsies in Europe, Recommendation 1283
(1996) on history and the learning of history in Europe, Recommendation
1291 (1996) on Yiddish culture and Recommendation 1333 (1997) on the
Aromanian culture and language.
8. Diversity of cultures and languages should be seen as a precious
resource that enriches our European heritage and also reinforces the
identity of each nation and individual. Assistance on the European
level, and in particular from the Council of Europe, is justified to
save any particular culture and is needed in the case of the Csangos.
9. The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers
encourage Romania to ratify and implement the European Charter of
Regional or Minority Languages and to support the Csangos, particularly
in the following fields:
I. The possibility of
education in the mother tongue should be ensured in accordance with the
Romanian Constitution and the legislation on education. In the meantime
classrooms should be made available in local schools and teachers
working in the villages teaching Csango language should be paid;
II. Csango parents should be informed of the
Romanian legislation on education and instructions should be issued on
how to apply for its provisions concerning languages;
III. There should be an
option for Roman Catholic services in the Csango language in the
churches in the Csango villages and the possibility for the Csangos to
sing the hymns in their own mother tongue;
IV. All Csango
associations should be officially recognised and supported. Particular
attention should be paid to the correct registration of the Csango
minority at the next official census;
V. Access to modern
mass-media facilities should be promoted. Financial support should be
given to Csango associations in accordance with the availability of
funds, in order to help them to express actively their own identity (in
particular through the issuing of a monthly publication and the
functioning of a local radio station);
VI. Specific programmes
should be set up for the promotion of Csango culture in the context of
raising awareness of and respect for minorities. International
discussions and seminars of experts should be organised to study the
VII. An information
campaign should be launched in Romania concerning the Csango culture and
the advantages of co-operation between the majority and the minorities;
VIII. The unique
linguistic and ethnographical features of the Csangos should be
IX. The economic revival
of the area should be encouraged for example through the establishment
of small and medium enterprises in Csango villages.
Memorandum by Mrs Tytti Isohookana-Asunmaa
Who are the Csangos?
The language of the Csangos
Folklore and popular ornamental art
The religious aspect
Practical proposals for the preservation of the Csango culture
2. Dissenting opinion presented by Mr Prisacaru on behalf of the
1. The term Csango (Ceangai in Romanian) is used to identify a
non-homogeneous group of Roman Catholic people of Hungarian origin
living in Romania. This ethnic group is a relic from the Middle Ages
that has survived in the melting potof Moldavia, in the eastern part of
Romania. The Csango is archaic Hungarian, in some respects centuries
behind our times, with a distinct ethnicity, linguistic peculiarities,
ancient traditions, and a great diversity of folk art and culture.
2. In our rapidly changing world the Csangos are helplessly exposed to
the very strong influences of their environment and in particular the
village priests and the Romanian local authorities. By now they have
reached a late stage of assimilation. What can be done to save this
unique Central European heritage, to strengthen this ethnic group and
its individuals in their identity?
WHO ARE THE CSANGOS?
3. The Csangos are one of the most enigmatic minorities in Europe. There
is no consensus on who were their ancestors, where they came from, when
they settled in Moldavia or how many they are today. Even the origin of
the word 'csango' is controversial. The only undisputed feature about
the Csangos is their strong Roman Catholic faith. They live in western
Moldavia (Romania), near the eastern slopes of the Carpathians, in
villages around the cities of Bacau (southern group) and Roman (northern
group), along the rivers Siret, Bistrita, Trotus and Tuzlau, where they
preserve traditional European methods of agriculture, body of beliefs,
and mythology, as well as the most archaic dialect of the Hungarian
4. Their number ranges, depending on the definition, from as many as
260,000 (which corresponds roughly to the Catholic population in the
area), even if more than two thirds of them cannot speak the language,
to as few as a couple of tens of thousands (based on the fact that in
the last official census only less than 3,000 persons declared
themselves as Csangos).
5. The Csangos are one of the best examples of the beneficial effects of
European cultural diversity. The group has for centuries been living
more or less isolated from other areas where Hungarian is spoken, in an
area with a Romanian majority. This resulted in the development of a
pocket with an individual, most specific culture, interacting with
elements of Romanian culture. This is perhaps best illustrated by the
folk songs and ballads, which are living and developing even today. They
show mainly Hungarian but also Romanian elements. It is well known that
many of the European ballads cross the political and ethnic frontiers.
One of the last fortresses of this common European ballad-culture is
that of the Csangos the study, fostering and conservation of which is
therefore a very important task both for Hungary and Romania, as well as
6. The lifestyle of this ethnic group still shows in many respects the
marks of the middle Ages. Its folklore and ornamental art flourish even
today, achieving new products. The same is true for the folk-tradition,
the body of beliefs and mythology.
7. This culture is today on the verge of extinction. Out of the maximum
figure of 260,000 Csangos only 60,000 - 70,000 speak the Csango dialect.
Assistance on the European level is needed to save their culture.
8. For centuries, the self-identity of the Csangos was based on the
Roman Catholic religion and the Hungarian language spoken in the family.
This, as well as their archaic life-style and world-view, may explain
their very strong ties to the Catholic religion. It is not unusual that
the Csango, to the question "What nationality are you?" would answer: "I
am a Catholic". In spite of this, there appear to be influences from the
surrounding Romanians even in the practice of religion. Thus, for
example, the Catholics of Moldavia follow their dead in an open coffin
to the grave - an Orthodox tradition.
9. Their religious life has preserved many elements of the middle Ages.
Even elements of pagan rites may be discerned, such as traces of the
sun-cult. Their body of beliefs is extremely rich, with many archaic
10. The ethnic conscience of the Csangos is much weaker than that of
other Hungarian-speaking ethnic groups. This may have several causes. It
may reflect the weakly developed concept of nation among the settlers of
the Middle Ages or the fact that their settlements are geographically
dispersed, but an important factor has been the self-conscious, policy
of assimilation practised over the centuries by the surrounding society
and in particular the Catholic Church.
11. To my knowledge the Csangos or their associations do not express any
claim for political autonomy or for the status of an ethnic minority. On
the contrary they consider themselves Romanian citizens and are loyal to
their country. The fact that many speak a Hungarian dialect does not
mean that they feel they are Hungarians. Those who leave Moldavia and
settle on the other side of the Carpathians or in Hungary do so more for
economic than for nationalistic reasons.
12. Historical, linguistic, as well as ethnographical research and the
study of place names have resulted in different interpretations as to
the origin of the Csangos. Some researchers believe that they descend
from a group of Hungarians who split from the main group before it
arrived in the Carpathian basin around the year 900 and others suggest
that they descend directly from the Cumans, the Pechenegs or other
tribes that settled in Moldavia at the turn of the Century. All these
theories are improbable as it is unlikely that any people living there
survived the 1241?42 Mongol invasion led by Batu Khan, which swept the
13. Some Romanian authors claim that the Csangos are in fact
'magyarised' (or 'szeklerised') Romanians from Transylvania. This theory
has also to be dismissed: it is not conceivable that these 'Romanians'
could persist in using a 'foreign' language after centuries of living in
Romania surrounded by Romanian speaking Romanians.
14. It is therefore generally accepted by serious scholars (Hungarian
but also Romanian) that the Csangos have a Hungarian origin and that
they arrived in Moldavia from the west. The first groups may have
settled there as early as the 13th century, when the Hungarian king B?la
IV christianised the people of Cumania and founded a bishopric in Milko
but, as we have seen, these are unlikely to have survived the Mongols.
It is not before the mid-fourteenth century that evidence is found again
of Magyar, Romanian and Saxon settlements in Moldavia.
15. It is also generally accepted that the first waves of the Csangos
were settled east of the Carpathian Mountains, along the strategically
important mountain passes, in order to control and defend Hungary from
eastern intruders and this could only have been done when the Mongols
had lost much of their power. These settlers were later joined by other
groups of Hungarians from across the Carpathians, the Szeklers, who
either mixed with them or settled in different villages.
16. Some of the forebears of the Csangos held important posts in the
state apparatus of the Moldavian voivodship. The relative freedom of the
Moldavian Principality and the fertility of its soil attracted
Hungarians seeking their fortunes beyond the borders of the Kingdom of
Hungary. For many reasons the connections between the Hungarians of
Moldavia and their original homeland were weak. Over time the
intelligentsia died out and their status as privileged free peasants was
abolished. After the Hungarian Franciscan Order ceased being active all
institutionalised forms of Hungarian culture came to an end in Moldavia.
Contacts with the Szeklers in Transylvania continued, however sporadic,
and some families, for several reasons, continued to cross the
Carpathian Mountains to settle in Moldavia until the 19th century. A
significant number of settlers came after the massacre of Szeklers in
Madefalva in 1764 (the so-called 'siculucidium').
THE LANGUAGE OF THE CSANGOS
17. Whatever can be argued about the language of the Csangos there is no
doubt that this is a form of Hungarian which belongs to the Finno-Ugrian
family. This ethnic group has been isolated from the Hungarian cultural
development. The Hungarian language went through a renewal in the 18th -
19th centuries, but this did not affect the language of the Csangos.
Their oldest sub-dialect, northern Csango, preserves numerous elements
of the Hungarian language of the late middle Ages. It also contains new
elements, specific to this language area. The geographical dispersion of
the Csango settlements and their relative isolation contributed for a
non-homogeneous language although experience shows that the different
dialects are mutually intelligible and that those Csangos that still
speak their language understand modern Hungarian. The wide proliferation
of television aerials for TV Duna, a Hungarian language channel, in
Csango villages is an indication that they understand Hungarian.
18. The Csango dialects offer unusual possibilities for linguistic
research regarding the conserving effects of isolation and at the same
time, the development of innovations under such circumstances. They also
provide a series of informative examples of mutual influence between two
languages, belonging to entirely different language families. This
Moldavian dialect of the Finno-Ugrian language was enriched by numerous
lexical elements of the Indo-European Romanian language. Similarly,
there are many Hungarian loanwords in the Romanian dialect of Moldavia,
often pertaining to agriculture, handicraft and state administration.
19. Today in Moldavia, the language of the school and the Church is
Romanian. Our former colleague, Senator Dumitrescu, informed me that the
Minister of Education also organises teaching in Ukrainian and the study
of the mother tongue for Polish, Roma and Russian children in Moldavia.
There is however no teaching of Hungarian in the Csango villages. As a
consequence, almost all Csangos are illiterate as regards the writing of
their mother tongue. The Hungarian language survived for centuries as
the language of the family and the village community. The epic culture ?
of tales and legends ? still rich among the aged people and spread by
oral tradition, contributed significantly to the preservation of the
20. At present, however, the Csango dialects face extinction and may be
wiped out within one or two generations. The disruption of the village
community, which in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has
occurred through the 19th and 20th centuries, unsurprisingly affects the
villages of the Csangos. The authority of the Romanian language, learned
in school, is much higher among young people than that of the
impoverished Hungarian, used in the family. Romanian is in a monopoly
situation ensured by the official culture and mass media so that young
people use the family language less and less in communicating with each
21. Without powerful, official support for the Csango mother tongue, a
European legacy will doubtlessly disappear, a legacy, which has
preserved the cultural development, the elements of the reciprocal
influence and of the ethnic symbiosis between Hungarians and Romanians.
It should be noted that in the North Csango communities, which are the
most interesting from a linguistic and ethnographic point of view, no
one under the age of 40 speaks Csango.
FOLKLORE AND POPULAR ORNAMENTAL ART
22. The majority of Csangos are peasants. This fact, along with the
strong persistence in the tradition of isolated cultures explains the
highly traditional forms of their national costume (embroidery and
weaving) and of their ceramics. In recent years, however, the
replacement of traditional costumes by factory products is proceeding on
a large scale.
23. The folk songs and ballads of the Csangos comprise a rich source of
the most archaic strata of Hungarian folk music. Their instrumental
music as well as their rich system of dance show many elements shared
with those of the neighbouring Romanian villages. The couple?s dance and
the individual male dance that spread during the Renaissance from
Western Europe towards the East did not cross the East Carpathian
Mountains. At the same time as the most developed and sophisticated
forms of folk dance were created in the Romanian and Hungarian villages
of Transylvania east and south of the Carpathians the medieval ring
dance and circle dance reached perfection. The Csangos preserve the
special varieties of the folk dance of the neighbouring Romanians. There
are villages in which one may find more than thirty different folk
24. Among their musical instruments there are such ancient pieces as the
bagpipe, lute, trump and the peasant flute with six holes, but they also
use the violin, piano accordion and drum. In some villages Balkan-type
bagpipes are used, in other villages an ancient type of Hungarian
bagpipes to be found only in Moldavia.
25. The use of Hungarian vocal folk music, as the tradition of the folk
costumes, is associated with poverty. Until recent times, folk songs and
ballads of the Moldavian Csangos was the most living dialect of
Hungarian folk music. It also preserved some archaic elements of the
Romanian folk songs and ballads. The folklore was alive and flourishing,
it was developing. There existed a specific repertoire of folk songs for
weddings and other significant events, which were not performed on other
occasions. New ballads were created to commemorate great events. At
present, however, folklore is also on the decline.
THE RELIGIOUS ASPECT
26. The strong Roman Catholic faith of the Csangos has already been
mentioned. It is not by chance that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of
Bucharest, the Inspector for religious education and representative of
the Bishop of Iasi (the capital of Moldavia) and the great majority of
the catholic priests in Moldavia are all of Csango origin.
27. Until the end of the 16th century there were two Hungarian
episcopates in Moldavia. Their function was gradually taken over by a
new episcopate in Bacau, while a Franciscan monastery was founded there
as an affiliate of the Franciscan province of Transylvania. Due to wars
and poverty in the 16th and 17th centuries many Catholic communities in
Moldavia lost their priests, some of who were replaced by Italian and
Polish monks and priests. In 1884 the episcopate of Bacau was dissolved
and an archbishopric was created in Bucharest and a bishopric in Iasi.
In 1895 a law prohibited the use of bilingual catechism.
28. Today the Csangos seek the possibility to sing their ancient
religious hymns (in their Hungarian dialect) in the church, as they used
to until the 1950s, as well as for mass in Hungarian, which they have
never enjoyed. The representatives of the Catholic Church, both in Iasi
and in Bucharest, while agreeing on the need to preserve the Csango
language, dismiss these requests as having been 'invented' by 'non
religious people' under the influence of Hungarian nationalistic
propaganda. We are told by the Bishop of Iasi that those who so wish
have the possibility of saying confession in their mother tongue.
29. The main argument for the use of Romanian in church services is the
fact that all the 260,000 Catholics of Moldavia understand it and not
all understand the Csango dialect or Hungarian. Or the other hand the
bishopric of Iasi set up a committee, chaired by Professor Despinescu,
to study the possibility of making the Csango dialect into a written
language and to organise a referendum among the catholic population to
find out where there is a demand for religious services in Csango.
30. There seems to be no justification however for the fact that last
year the Bishopric of Iasi forbade a Hungarian-speaking priest from
Csikszereda (Miercurea Ciuc) to hold a mass in Hungarian in the church
of a Moldavian village inhabited by Csangos, at their request. The mass
in question was held in a sort of pub and was followed by almost the
entire population of the village.
31. Romanian education legislation provides that parents can choose the
language of education for their children (art 180 of the 1995 Education
law). There are three possibilities: education in Romanian; education in
the mother tongue with history and geography in Romanian; and education
in Romanian with the mother tongue as an optional subject (the latter is
the one chosen by most Csango parents). The Csangos (and their
Associations) ask for their right to education in their mother tongue to
be respected. It should be noted that this is much less than what
Hungarians get in Romania, be it in the departments of Hargita and
Covasna, where they are the majority, or in other regions of
32. The local authorities in Bacau state that they are willing to
observe European standards and to implement their own law. They claim
however that the Csango dialect (which does not exist in written form
anymore) is not a language. They claim also that it is not by
introducing 'literary Hungarian' that they will help the Csangos who, so
they say, do not even understand it. They also claim that they do not
have the financial means to provide Hungarian and that anyway the
children whose parents had asked for Hungarian were among the lowest
performers and would not be able to take up another subject. All these
arguments however should not be accepted as excuses for not implementing
33. Some Csango parents have been asking for Hungarian classes for their
children since 1977 and it is beyond any doubt that there is a demand
for Hungarian as a subject in some villages inhabited by the Csangos.
The fact that some families send their children to Hungarian speaking
schools in Transylvania illustrates this. I visited one of such schools
in the village of Guimes and observed that roughly one third of the
(around 100) pupils were from Moldavia. Despite a clear provision in the
Romanian law and the requests from parents in the last four or five
years, there is no such subject in any of the schools concerned. Some
parents who had asked for Hungarian classes for their children
complained of pressure from the School Director and/or the priest.
34. It would appear that there is a lack of will (at local level) and
incapacity (at central level) from the Romanian authorities to implement
their own education law.
PRACTICAL PROPOSALS FOR THE PRESERVATION OF THE CSANGO CULTURE
35. In order to encourage the Csangos to want actively to preserve those
singular and, even on European terms, important cultural values, which
they possess, the present situation must be changed. These values should
not be associated with poverty or isolation and they should not be
despised. This can only be achieved by strengthening this population
culturally and economically.
I. Parents living in Csango settlements should be
informed of the Romanian legislation on education and instructions
should be issued on how to apply for its provisions concerning
II. The possibility of education in the mother
tongue should be ensured in accordance with the Romanian Constitution
and the legislation on education. In the meantime classrooms should be
made available in local schools and teachers working in the villages
teaching Csango language should be paid;
III. There should be an option for Roman Catholic
services in Hungarian in the churches in the Csango villages and the
possibility for the Csangos to sing the hymns in their own mother
IV. Csango associations, such as the Association
of Csango-Hungarians in Moldavia (ACHM), should be officially recognised
and included in the list of the Council for National Minorities.
Particular attention should be paid to the correct registration of the
Csango minority at the next official census;
V. Access to modern mass-media facilities should
be promoted. Financial support should be given to Csango associations to
enable the issuing of a monthly publication and the functioning of a
local radio station;
VI. A local institute should be set up for the
promotion of Csango culture with in the context of raising awareness of
and respect for minorities;
VII. An information campaign should be launched
in Romania concerning the Csango culture and the advantages of peaceful
co-operation between the majority and the minorities;
VIII. An international committee of experts
should be established to study the Csangos;
IX. The unique linguistic and ethnographical
features of the Csangos should be appropriately recorded;
X. The economic revival of the area should be
encouraged for the example through the establishment of small and medium
enterprises in Csango villages.