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Timea Ambrus is on the left and Timea Kerekes on the right.
Photographs in this article are by Zsuzsa Boldizsár Zeyk

The Dance of Time

Cupid Traditions 4-23-10

By Zoltán Boldizsár Zeyk
Tordaszentlászló , Transylvania

Around important Christian holidays such as Easter, the fight for existence of the Hungarians in Transylvania intensifies. Although my village sits in a region belonging to Romania since 1918, it is historically a part of old Hungary. Our traditions and culture reach deep into the soul of the Hungarian people.

The Cultural Struggle Is Woven
Into Language, Folk Music, and Dance.

Well, before frightening anyone with news about a new regional “terrorist” activity in Europe at this time, I quickly assure the gentle reader that the fight I mention refers to the cultural struggle of a small community of about 1,000 ethnic Hungarians in the central part of Romania to maintain their rich traditions, which are woven into their language, folk music, and dance.

The village where I’m living is located in the middle of the Transylvanian region, 13 miles southwest of Cluj-Napoca, the Romanian name of this important urban center, with about 350,000 inhabitants, out of which about 19 per cent are ethnic Hungarians. The city’s name in the Hungarian language is Kolozsvár.

My village has two names: 
Săvădisla in Romanian and Tordaszentlászló in Hungarian.

The name in Romanian doesn’t mean anything — and that goes against the grain of a language’s purpose. Initially, all names, in all languages, including people’s and animals’ names, had a meaning. In Hungarian, Tordaszentlászló has a definite and valuable meaning.

In Honor of Holy Laszlo

Tordaszentlászló preserves the name of Holy Laszlo, an important Hungarian king and a Catholic saint since 1192. King Laszlo reigned from 1040 to 1095. In his honor, 24 settlements on the territory of former Hungary took his name. Our village is called Tordaszentlászló, as it lies close to another, formerly important town, Turda. Thus, my village’s “first name,” Torda, distinguishes it among the 23 other villages with the last name of Szentlászló.

The name Torda (older form: Turda) in old Hungarian meant "(it) remained." Other prefixes of villages named "Szent Laszlo" include Nyarad (the name of the river), Zala (a region in southwestern Hungary), Bükk (a small mountain in Central Hungary), and Puszta (meaning "devastated").

Tordaszentlászló is a Hungarian-Calvinist settlement, very much proud of its Easter tradition, which extends 130 years into the past when the village was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Under the guidance of local priests, schoolteachers, and choirmasters, members of the community since the early 1880s have participated in Easter season choir singing, amateur theatrical activity, and music concerts. In recent years our children have enhanced the tradition with performances of the traditional Hungarian folk dances of the region.

3 dancers

Tamás Enyedi, Szilárd Csáni,
and Gáspár Kovács-Kapsi (left to right)

Traditional Hungarian folk dances follow a so-called order. First, the lads have a separate dance for themselves only. Then they join the ladies for a slow csardas (pair dance). The dances conclude with a fast csardas. As for the significance of different movements in the dances, folk culture experts and psychologists try to explain them, but I believe nice things should not be explained scientifically.

From Generation to Generation 

We preserve these traditions just for ourselves. Thus, on December 25 and on Easter, in the evening, people of Tordaszentlászló and the neighboring villages can enjoy an amateur theatrical show and a folk dance performance. Parents and grandparents, who several years before had performed on the same occasion, watch their children and grandchildren continue the tradition.

go see it

Preserving the Traditions
The 2010 Easter folk dance at Tordaszentlászló
can be seen and heard on a ten-minute YouTube video.
Just click the image above to go there.

The teaching of traditional Hungarian folk dance in our village is tied to an ongoing cultural revival that began in Hungary in the 1970s. Back then a movement was started to film and gather all remaining elements of traditional folk culture, including folk dances.

In those times there were several old persons in life, who in their young days had danced the traditional way, learning from their parents and grandparents. There were also young adults who had drifted away from the villages to find jobs in towns and cities, but who remembered the traditions of their childhood. Both age groups began to look back to their roots — and a movement was born.

In some small Hungarian villages, people still danced in the traditional way, and they were called upon to begin teaching young people the old ways. Thus a fashion came into being, especially among students.

Since then, several generations have grown up, who know enough to teach younger colleagues. The Hungarian government through the Ministry of Culture supports this activity.

A Miracle!  The Old Order Is Found.

In Tordaszentlászló we weren’t able to begin teaching folk dances until the late nineties because we couldn't find a proper teacher. Also, no one in our village knew the traditional dance order. But a miracle! We found in Budapest an archive film, photographed in 1968, on which old people from our village performed the local dance order!

The film was a high-speed teaching program taken by the Romanian National Folklore Institute, which is excellent because it makes it possible to learn more easily. But the film had disappeared in the 1980s, and wasn’t found until 1997!  So, the YouTube performance linked in this essay shows the authentic local dance order of Tordaszentlászló. The only change is that originally the lad's dance was first.

We also have managed to introduce folk dance into the school curriculum as an optional subject for students in grades 2, 3, and 4. But older children have also shown an interest to join the dances outside the official program at school. As a result the youngsters who enjoy dancing today have studied for 10 to 15 years.

a circle of dancers

Erika Kerekes, Etelka Csáni,
and Timea Ambrus (from left to right)

Tradition and culture assume a special purpose in the life of a people who are living in a political entity that is severed from historical roots. As Hungarians in Romania, we are aware of our sometimes precarious place in the dominant Romanian society and government.

Don't Speak It.  Don't Write It.

After Transylvania was annexed into Romania at the end of the First World War in 1919, the Hungarians living in the region faced an intolerant nationalistic policy. They were forbidden to speak or write the Hungarian language in teaching and in official communication. The no-Hungarian policy lasted until the end of the Second World War. A post-war period of “democratic” openness allowed some toleration of the language until the mid-1970s, when a new phase of language suppression took hold in Romania. The Hungarian minority in Transylvania had poor chances of maintaining or developing their cultural heritage.

Then, in 1989, the “revolution” led to the abolition of the Ceausescu regime. Gradually, Hungarian emerged into the light of day.

Although still under “control” and watched with suspicion by authorities, the Hungarians of Transylvania in 2010 can speak and write in their native language with some freedom. With Romania now a member of the European Union, and with an ethnic political party in the Romanian Parliament, and with Hungarian speakers serving actively in government, today no ethnic Hungarian is in danger if he chooses to speak or write in the Hungarian language. Those of us activists are not even in danger if we choose to act for the preservation of Hungarian language and culture — with all that our actions can mean to the viable status of a minority in Europe.

Romania has signed the Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but government officials have postponed its ratification. The periodical report pertaining to progress in implementing the charter is nearly a year past due. (This fact can be checked on the Council of Europe website).

The Mix and Blend of Peoples

About 1.5 million Hungarians live within the borders of Romania, which has a total population of 22 million. In Transylvania, the Hungarian minority is estimated at 12 per colors cent of the whole, although they are spread over a large area, mainly as a consequence of the Ceausescu regime’s forced resettlement of ethnic Romanians from historical parts of old Romania into regions previously held by Hungary. Several smaller villages still maintain the multi-secular, multi-ethnic structure.

According to most authentic historical evidence — evidence which is often called into doubt by adherents to Romanian national historiography — Romanians became present in Transylvania during the thirteenth century. Initially, they were not allowed to mix with the Hungarian and German population because of religious and cultural differences. The Romanian principalities joined the Orthodox Church. Many others in Transylvania embraced Catholicism. And in the eastern reaches of the area, Protestantism began to take hold in small villages.

However, as time passed, mixed settlements came into being in the central parts of Transylvania. But even so, the population formed separate ethnic groups within the settlements. The eastern and western parts of Transylvania remained ethnically compact until the Ceausescu regime’s nationalist policy began to undermine long-established social foundations through its policy of “socialist industrialization.” The regime built lots of blocks of flats and factories throughout the whole of Transylvania, creating the pretext for moving large masses of ethnic Romanians into Transylvania.

Today, only the far eastern part of Transylvania remains mostly Hungarian. It is called the Szekler region. My village is part of another Hungarian-inhabited ethnographical region, Kalotaszeg, in the central part of Transylvania.

Kalotaszeg is an informal and very compact grouping of 22 predominantly Hungarian villages around Cluj-Napoca and the small town of Huedin. The people of these villages make the Hungarian language their language of choice and work to preserve folk traditions. They also maintain a strong resistance to the forces of globalization.

God's Gift of Language

This is, after all, our struggle for the Lord’s mercy in a world where all bona fide people, both individually and as part of any community, hope that the knowledge they inherit is authentic. God has created us biologically and given each of us a language, in which we can learn to say His Name, a language in which we heard and learned our first rhymes, songs and prayers.

My hope is by that preserving the language and culture in which I was created, God will remember me, my loved ones, and my community as faithful to Him. As redemption spreads over all nations and individuals, my hope is that people will learn to appreciate their neighbors, irrespective of whether they call God Jahve, Allah or Isten.

And the double standard, which has been in fashion in politics and the economy since man was created, will be unified once and forever.

with love to all Americans,
Zoltán Boldizsár Zeyk,
Europe, Romania, Hungarian
from Transylvania,
in the small village of Tordaszentlászló
(N46° 40’ 26.4’’ , E23° 27’ 14.4’’) blank


Zoltán Boldizsár Zeyk

My name is Zoltán Boldizsár Zeyk. I was born on 8 December 1958. I was a special child. My parents prayed for my being born for six years, and as I was born, a rough childhood began for me.

I caught cerebritis at the age of three months. The Calvinist priest, who lived in the neighboring house, was a good friend of my father. In a moment of unattentiveness of people being present that night, the priest told my father: “Well…. We should baptize your son. You know, he shouldn’t die unbaptized.”

The family story says that the ambulance from Kolozsvár could not come out in wintry December to the village of Kolozs (Romanian name: Cojocna) that night in 1958. But the next day I began to recover. And here I am!

In 1962 my parents moved to my father’s village, Tordaszentlászló. So my real childhood binds me to this settlement. I remember hearing the first Romanian words from about 1963. But I could not communicate in any other language than my mother tongue of Hungarian until 1970.

I grew up in a rich culture. My grandparents, my neighbors, and co-citizens generally spoke Hungarian, but the village was naturally “exposed” to Romanians and Gypsies, who lived in the neighboring villages. It was the first lesson for me about the world:   There isn’t any language or tradition or “culture” promoted by God. There are several.

My parents were teachers. I soon was forced to read and write. Of course, it all began in Hungarian. But Romanian soon followed.

I am now a teacher of Hungarian as the mother tongue and English as a foreign language (TEFL). I understand, reaching the manly age of 52, that Creation cannot be understood in one language. All languages, all those that have ever existed, and all those that are in use today, including languages that will cease to exist in the nearer or farther future, together could only approach a description of Creation. So, as a teacher of languages, it means for me a humble attempt to help the Creator make the world work.

After graduating from the local elementary school in Tordaszentlászló, I studied in Kolozsvár for four years. Then I had to “do my duty towards my homeland” — Romania — as a Romanian soldier. Between 1978 and 1982 I studied at the Babes-Bolyai University in Kolozsvár. Since 1982, I am a schoolteacher teaching Hungarian as a mother tongue and English as a foreign language to children ages 9 to 15.

I am also a frenetic lover of my homeland and the world. I try to help people, all with whom I can come in touch, regardless of age, religion, nationality and race, to realize there is a place and role for each of us. One of our great Hungarian writers, Áron Tamási, who was the same age as my grandfather, stated in one of his novels: “ We have been born into the world in order to be at home somewhere.”

Since 1984 I have raised a family with my wife Ibolya. Her name means “Violet” in Hungarian. We have two children. Zsuzsa is our daughter. A close translation for her name would be “Susan.” Zsombor is our son. His is a wild old Hungarian name, but I try to translate it as “Bison.”

We have chosen their names in order that they could not be translated into Romanian, as in the 1980s all Hungarian names had to be translated into Romanian in Transylvania. However, names that did not have an equivalent in Romanian could remain as given in the native language. We did this not because of any aversion to Romania, which presently happens to be our homeland, but only for the silence of our forefathers and foremothers, who happened to be identifying themselves as ethnic Hungarians. And thus, for our welfare!

I have also worked for 12 years as a volunteer in the Amateur Theatrical Group of Tordaszentlászló. I am the president of the “Thamó Gyula Cultural Association” in Tordaszentlászló (a nonprofit association), a member of the Local Council (as a matter of fact, it is not a real local government), and a member of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania.

And, at the moment, I am an author to an article in English on — with the help of my American friends, with whom we share very similar views on people’s roles in the world.

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