On 23 September 2021, around 2:40 p.m., a man in a suit walked across the stage of the Royal Garden Pavilion in Budapest. He arranged his papers, glanced around the room where politicians and activists from all over the world had gathered for the fourth edition of the Demographic Summit, and talked about the problem of underpopulation in Romania. After lamenting the decline in birth rates in general terms, the man turned to the notes on the paper for a few examples:
“In Romania, 528,000 children were born in 1967. I chose 1967 because it was the year in which abortion was legally banned. We had about 314,000 births in 1990, and in 2020 – 178,509 births. (…) These numbers are food for thought. The demographic pyramid has been reversed. We have lost when it comes to population.”
The man in the suit is the President of the leading party of the Hungarian minority in Romania, UDMR (The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania) and Deputy Prime Minister in the Romanian Government. His name is Hunor Kelemen, and he was instrumental, in the autumn of 2021, in the creation of a new ministerial office in Romania – the Ministry of the Family.
What did Hunor Kelemen want to convey when he presented Romanian birth statistics from 1967 before a gathering of influential world figures?
Is the choice of a politician to use the demographic consequences of a criminal, repressive policy that produced countless negative effects in Romanian as a positive term of comparison indicative of something?
But his presence at the event, and the subsequent development of the new Ministry in Romania indicates a link between Budapest and Bucharest when it comes to pronatalist policies. Kelemen’s comments also raise fears that this could lead to medical and legal restrictions on a woman’s access to an abortion.
These issues are central to understanding why and how the Ministry of Family – a structure with deep social ambitions – suddenly appeared in Romania.
2021 saw the collapse in Romania of a coalition between the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL), the progressive centrist Save Romania Union (USR), and the Hungarian Party UDMR, and the reconfiguration of the PNL with the conservative populist Social Democratic Party (PSD), alongside the UDMR.
This diluted the progressive identity of the Government, pushing it into a more traditionalist direction, and paving the way to implement a similar pro-natalist policy to that of Hungary’s conservative Government of Viktor Orban.
The UDMR took advantage of this opportunity, and, after a series of backstage political moves, introduced ideas formulated in Budapest into Bucharest.
Why do we believe it important to understand these things? Because when politicians want to take the country back to 1967, even for a comparative example, journalism must remind people that it was a place of demographic tragedy, even if masked by rising birth rates. That place is our recent past.
The Decree Chronicles has gathered a team of journalists that have published, over the last three months, articles on topics in the field of reproductive and sexual rights. We wrote about the tragic consequences of a society that bans abortions. Romania still senses the trauma of such a measure. Between 1967 and 1989, more than 10,000 women died after the communist regime banned on-demand abortions.
Romania’s example shows how a ban on abortions not only affects the women who want to terminate their own pregnancies, but also damages the system of maternal care, the child protection system, family planning and people’s sex lives.
All these topics have been investigated by journalists at The Decree Chronicles.
Nevertheless, pro-life messages are also frequently encountered in the speeches of those who advocate for policies aimed at strengthening family and nation by increasing birth rates.
There is a link that is more or less visible between those who propose pronatalist policies and those who argue that abortion is not a right, but a crime, and those who oppose the introduction of sex education in schools.
This is the story of how the Ministry of the Family came to exist – and why we should be interested in its genesis.