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Miruna Matei

1 Decembrie 2018
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Key moments in the history of Romania, preceding and following the Great Union of 1918.

The making of United Romania. The greatest Romanian story ever told



100 years ago, at the end of the bloodkest war history had ever known, Romanians fulfilled their most  cherished political ideal: unifiation of all provinces where they were in majority with the Old Kingdom of Romania in one democratic, national state. This moment remains in history as the Great Union of 1918, that has subsequently let to tremendous changes.

Below are some key moments in the history of Romania, preceding and following the Great Union of 1918:

World War I

Romania entered the First World War in August 1916 on the side of the Allies (France, the UK, Russian Empire) with the declared goal of freeing Transylvania.  Romanian army and civil population suffered tremendous shortages and losses during the war. Number of victims is estimated at around 300.000 deaths from the army lines and over 700.000 civilians. On December 1st 1918, over 100,000 people and 1,228 delegates were present in the citadel of Alba Iulia where the National Assembly adopted the Resolution of the long-awaited union of Transylvania (including the regions of Banat, Crișana, Maramureș) with the Romanian Kingdom.

Period between the two World Wars

Period that followed the Great Union, between the two World Wars, was rightly considered one of the best in Romanian history. In the inter-war period, Romanian society underwent an ample process of political, economic and cultural modernization. In spite of many difficulties, economy grew significantly, while Romanian culture and arts, through prominent representatives like Henri Coandă, Nicolae Iorga, Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran or George Enescu, Constantin Brâncuși, came to be admired everywhere in Europe and the world. Greater Romania (1918-1940) is still seen by many as a "paradise lost", often by comparison with the "stunted" Communist Romania that was soon to follow. 

World War II

During World War II, Romania tried again to remain neutral, but on 28 June 1940, it received a Soviet ultimatum with an implied threat of invasion in the event of non-compliance. Under pressure from Moscow and Berlin, Romanian administration and the army were forced to retreat from Bassarabia as well from Northern Bukovina to avoid war. This, in combination with other factors, prompted the government to join the Axis. Thereafter, southern Dobruja was awarded to Bulgaria, while Hungary received Northern Transylvania as result of an Axis arbitration. In 1940, Romania lost territory in both east and west: In June 1940, after receiving an ultimatum from the Soviet Union, Romania ceded Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. Two thirds of Bessarabia were combined with a small part of the USSR to form the Moldavian SSR. Northern Bukovina and Budjak were apportioned to the Ukrainian SSR. In August 1940, Northern Transylvania was awarded to Hungary by Germany and Italy through the Second Vienna Award. Southern Dobruja was also lost to Bulgaria shortly after Carol's abdication. Because Carol II lost so much territory through failed diplomacy, the army supported seizure of power by Marshal Ion Antonescu. For four months (the period of the National Legionary State), he had to share power with the Iron Guard, but the latter overplayed their hand in January 1941 and were suppressed. Romania entered World War II under the command of the German Wehrmacht in June 1941, declaring war to the Soviet Union in order to recover Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. Liberation of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina was done in July 1941, while in October same year, the Romanian Fourth Army conquered Odessa.  Romania-Soviet talks were resumed in Stockholm in April 1944, when the Soviet government presented the minimum terms for a truce, which included going back to the 1940 border, war damages, and the return of most of Transylvania back to Romania. However, Romania rejected the conditions of the truce in mid-May. By August 1944, the Soviet troops broke the German-Romanian front in Moldova, proving that Romania couldn’t hold on for much longer. On August 23, Marshal Ion Antonescu announced King Michael I that he was willing to sign the truce after the front was stabilized and Hitler gave his approval. The King ordered the dismissal and arrest of Antonescu. In a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army later the same day, King Michael issued a cease-fire, proclaimed Romania’s loyalty to the Allies, announced acceptance of an armistice (signed later on September 12) offered by Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR, and declared war on Germany. Under the 1947 Treaty of Paris, Romania had to accept tough political, economic and military conditions, but northern Transylvania was, once again, recognized as an integral part of Romania.

Soviet occupation

Soviet army, officially a war ally after August 1944, occupied Romania immediately after the arrest of Marshal Ion Antonescu. Invading Romania under the pretext of freeing it, the Soviet army took 100,000 prisoners from the allied Romanian army stationed on the Eastern border. (Source: Final Report of the Presidential Commission for the Study of the Romanian Communist Dictatorship, 2006, uncover-romania).

Communist Romania

Soviet Union occupation following World War II facilitated the rise of the Communist Party in Romania. Abdication of King Michael I and establishment of a single-party people’s republic in 1947 made Romania move towards a centralized economy, while the private enterprises were nationalized. Early years of Communism in Romania were marked by repeated arrests, mainly targeting intellectuals, clerics, teachers, and former politicians. Existing prisons were filled with political prisoners, and a new system of forced labor camps and prisons was created. The prisoners were subjected to forced labor, starved and tortured.  Also, several human rights restrictions came into force, such as the policy that outlawed abortion and contraception, or the invasion of privacy by the secret police. Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s desire to repay all foreign loans made things even worse, as this enacted a harsh austerity policy, including rationing food, gas, heating and electricity.

Ruling of Nicolae Ceaușescu

Nicolae Ceausescu, last leader of Communist Romania, came to power following death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in 1965. He was elected general secretary on March 22, 1965, three days after Gheorghiu-Dej’s death. Although his ultimate goal was to turn Romania into one of the world’s great powers, the oppression and very difficult life of Romanians led to Revolution of 1989, which ended the Communist era in Romania and led to the execution of Ceaușescu and his wife.

1989 Revolution

A series of protests and street demonstrations erupted in Romania in December 1989, the local civil unrest being part of the Revolutions of the same year that occurred in several countries. Revolution in Romania began in Timișoara, spreading fast across the country, and culminating with the short trial and execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, on the Christmas day of 1989. The two were the last people condemned to death and executed in Romania. More than 1,100 people were killed during the Romanian Revolution, with most deaths happening after the protests that led to the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu (December 16–22, 1989). Although many years have passed since then, the prosecutors are still investigating the 1989 Revolution events.

Free elections

After the 1989 Revolution, which ended the Communist era in Romania, Romanians were ready and hoping for a new start. Political vacuum was filled by the National Salvation Front (FSN), formed by second-rank Communist party members opposed to the policies of Ceaușescu and participants in the revolt. Ion Iliescu was acknowledged as leader of the organization, and FSN ran as a party in the 1990 general elections – the first free, multi-party elections held in the country after World War II. FSN won the elections and its leader Ion Iliescu also won the separate presidential elections, becoming Romania’s first democratically elected Head of State. Iliescu was the President of Romania between 1990 and 1996, and between 2000 and 2004. His political career after the Revolution was marked by multiple controversies, however, such as the miners’ riots of 1990 and 1991 and the fact that King Michael I was not allowed in the country for five years, between 1992 and 1997.

A new Constitution

The new Constitution of Romania was adopted in November 1991. It was approved on December 8 of the same year, in a national referendum, and promulgated on the same day. Its text was amended only once so far, in October 2003, also by referendum. The idea of a second revision surfaced in 2010 and has been discussed in the years to follow, but nothing concrete has happened so far.

Romania joins NATO and the European Union

After a rough start in the 1990s and a difficult transition, Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.

Romania - NATO Member State

Romania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in late March 2004. It was a big step for Romania, as this decision had a major influence on the foreign and domestic policy of the country. In early April 2008, Romania hosted the NATO Summit in Bucharest, one of the biggest foreign policy events organized by Romania. As a NATO member, Romania takes part in all Alliance missions and operations, including those out of the Euro-Atlantic area.

Romania - European Union Member State 

Romania is one of the most recent members of the European Union (EU), joining in 2007, same as neighboring Bulgaria. The country signed its Europe Agreement in 1993 and submitted its official application for membership in the EU on June 22, 1995. Both Romania and Bulgaria implemented several reforms to prepare for EU accession, which targeted the democratic system, rule of law, human rights, and a free-market economy.  On January 1st 2019, Romania is to take over the six-months rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Sources: RRA,RRI, historia,romania-insider, romaniancentenary, wikipedia. 


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