The origins of Székely people are disputed. Debates rage as to whether they are descendants of the Huns, who arrived in Transylvania in the 5th century and adopted the Hungarian language, or whether they are Magyars who accompanied Attila the Hun on his campaigns in the Carpathian basin and later settled there. Three ‘nations’ were recognised in medieval Transylvania: the Székelys, the Saxons and the Romanian nobles.
During the 18th century, thousands of young Székely men were conscripted into the Austrian army. Local resistance in Székely Land led to the massacre of Madéfalva in 1764, after which thousands of Székelys fled into Romanian Moldavia. Following the union of Transylvania with Romania in 1918, some 200,000 Hungarians – a quarter of whom were Székelys – fled to Hungary.
A level of tension still exists between Romanians and Hungarians, who battled each other during WWI and WWII. Mention of Székely Land (in particular ethnic Hungarians not learning the Romanian language in some parts of Romania) can bring out verbal editorials, as can Romania’s treatment of Hungarians in the 20th century.
Today, many Hungarian tourists flock to the area to experience pastoral customs that are fading in their motherland. Meanwhile, protests for Székely autonomy (rather than full independence from Romania) have gathered pace. In 2013, an estimated 100,000 demonstrators formed a human chain across Transylvania, with a protest of thousands in Budapest declaring solidarity. Demonstrations are often timed for 10 March, dubbed Székely Freedom Day.