In December 1989, long-time Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ordered the arrest and exile of a young Hungarian Calvinist Minister, Laszlo Tokes, for sermons “offensive to the regime.” When the Securitate (the hated and feared secret police agency of communist Romania) arrived in Temesvar (Timisoara), they were met by villagers – Romanian and Hungarian alike – boldly defying the law by holding hands around the church as a sign of peaceful protest. When they eventually arrested Bishop Tokes, it led to major riots and 5 days of unrest that spread across the country, the first show of widespread dissent against Ceausescu for most of the quarter century of his rule. The Securitate did not hesitate to use brutal force and more than 1,100 protesters were killed in the battle.
Ceusescu tried to calm his countrymen with a televised speech denouncing the anti-communist revolutions in the region and heralding the accomplishments of the socialist revolution in Romania. But the massive crowd assembled started jeering, booing and chanting “Timisoara,” a reaction that was simply unthinkable just days before. Ceusescu and his wife were soon arrested and Tokes and his wife escaped. On Christmas Day, Romanian TV – now in the hands of new politicians – aired the trial and execution of the communist dictator and his wife. Bishop Tokes was largely credited with sparking the Romanian Revolution and was heralded as a hero.
A native of Kolozsvar (Cluj), Romania, Laszlo Tokes was raised with seven brothers and sisters. He followed in the footsteps of his father by becoming a bishop in the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania.
As a persistent critic of the Ceausescu communist regime and defender of the 2.5 million strong ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania, Tokes was the target of intimidation campaigns. Throughout his posts as a minister across Transylvania, he preached against the Romanian governments programs of systemization, destruction of historic churches and monasteries, and human rights abuses.
“The education I had in my family was to resist Satan and stand up to injustice. Our church has an ancient revolutionary tradition: We think to protest is the very essence of the word Protestant.”
The Revolutions that swept across Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 sounded the death knell of communism in the region. Life changed for Tokes but there was still much work to be done.
In early 1990, Laszlo Tokes was elected Bishop of the Kiralyhagomelleki Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania. His tasks were enormous: to heal the wounds inflicted on Hungarians by systematic discrimination and forced assimilation, and to rebuild the extensive network of confiscated Hungarian religious and cultural institutions.
When it became obvious that local officials would prevent church restitution, Bishop Tokes realized he must establish new institutions: churches, schools, orphanages and homes for the elderly. In 1999, he founded the Christian University of Partium in Nagyvarad (Oradea), which became an important part of the larger Hungarian Sapientia University system.
In 2009, Laszlo Tokes was elected to the European Parliament and has since become a Vice President. Later that same year, he was awarded the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for his life-long commitment to promoting freedom and democracy and opposing communism and tyranny.