republic, in south-eastern Europe, bordered on the north by Ukraine; on the east by Moldova; on the south-east by the Black Sea; on the south by Bulgaria; on the south-west by Serbia (part of the federation of Serbia and Montenegro); and on the
west by Hungary. The total
area of Romania is about 237,500 sq km (91,700 sq mi). Bucharest is Romania’s capital and largest city.
Romania is roughly oval in shape, with a maximum
extent east to west of about 740 km (460 mi) and north to south about 475 km
(295 mi). The topography is varied. The Transylvanian Basin, or Plateau, which
occupies central Romania, is very hilly for the most part, but also has wide
valleys and extensive arable slopes. The Transylvania region is almost completely
surrounded by mountains. To the north and east are the Carpathian
Mountains, and along the south are the Transylvanian
Alps, which continue south to the Danube gorge at the Banat Mountains.
Moldoveanul (2,544 m/8,395 ft), the highest peak in the country, is in these
Alps. A smaller group of ranges, the Bihor Mountains, is west of Transylvania.
The remaining areas of Romania are predominantly lowlands. In the west are the
lowlands of the Tisza Plain, which are usually referred to as the Banat, adjacent to the Serbian border, and
Crisana-Maramures, adjacent to Hungary. The most extensive plains are the
lowlands of Walachia, located between the Transylvanian Alps and Bulgaria, and
the region of Moldova (Moldavia), east of the Carpathian Mountains. Bordering
the Black Sea in the extreme east and forming part of Dobruja, or Dobrogea, is a low plateau, which continues south into
The most important river of Romania is the Danube. It demarcates the eastern part of the
boundary with Serbia, and most of the boundary with Bulgaria. The valley of the
lower course of the Danube (east of the Iron Gate gorge near Turnu Severin) and
the Danube delta are very swampy. Other important rivers, all part of the
Danube system, are the Mures, Prut, Olt, and Siret. Romania has many small,
freshwater mountain lakes, but the largest lakes are saline lagoons on the
coast of the Black Sea; the largest of these is Lake Razelm.
The Transylvanian Basin, the Carpathian
Mountains, and the western lowlands have warm summers and cold winters with
recorded temperature extremes ranging between 37.8° C (100° F) and -31.7° C
(-25° F). The Walachian, Moldavian, and Dobrujan lowlands have hotter summers
and occasionally experience periods of severe cold in winter; recorded extremes
in Bucharest and the lowlands are 38.9° C (102° F) and -23.9° C (-11° F).
Rainfall averages 508 mm (20 in) on the plains and from 508 mm to 1,016 mm (20
in to 40 in) on the mountains and is concentrated in the warmer half of the
The principal resources of Romania are
agricultural, but the country also has significant mineral deposits,
particularly oil, natural gas, salt, coal, lignite, iron ore, copper, bauxite,
chromium, manganese, lead, and zinc.
Plants and Animals
Wooded steppe, now largely cleared for
agriculture, predominates in the plains of Walachia and Moldova. Fruit trees
are common in the foothills of the mountains. On the lower slopes are found
forests of such deciduous trees as birch, beech, and oak. The forests of the
higher altitudes are coniferous, consisting largely of pine and spruce trees.
Above the timberline (approximately 1,750 m/5,740 ft), the flora is alpine.
Wild animal life is abundant in most parts of
Romania. The larger animals, found chiefly in the Carpathian Mountains, include
the wild boar, wolf, lynx, fox, bear, chamois, roe deer, and goat. In the
plains, typical animals are the squirrel, hare, badger, and polecat. Many
species of birds are abundant; the Danube delta region, now partly a nature
preserve, is a stopover point for migratory birds. Among species of fish found
in the rivers and offshore are pike, sturgeon, carp, flounder, salmon, perch,
The soils in most parts of the country of
Romania are fertile. In western Romania, the soil consists largely of the
decomposition products of limestone. Chernozem, or black earth, highly suited
for growing grain, predominates in the eastern part of the country.
Romanians, who constitute 89 per cent of the
total population, are descendants of the peoples inhabiting Dacia (modern
Romania) at the time of its conquest (about AD
106) and absorption by the Romans. Important minorities are the Hungarians, who
comprise about 11 per cent of the population and are chiefly settled in
Transylvania; and Germans, who make up less than 1 per cent of the population
and live chiefly in the Banat. Romania also has small numbers of Ukrainians,
Jews, Russians, Serbs, Croats, Turks, Bulgarians, Tatars, and Slovaks. Ethnic
unrest has troubled Romania since the overthrow of the communist regime. In
1991 organized attacks on Romany communities caused a large number to flee to
Germany and Austria, but most of these were forcibly returned to Romania in
1992. Unrest in Transylvania forced the ethnic Hungarians there to flee in
1990, after Romanian tanks had been deployed to quell the uprising.
Anti-Semitism has also been rising.
Romania has a population of 22,835,000 (1995
official estimate). Population density is about 96 people per sq km (249 per sq
mi). The population is about 56 per cent urban.
Political Divisions and Principal Cities
For administrative purposes, the country is
divided into 40 counties and the municipality of Bucharest. Bucharest has a
population of 2,080,363 (1994), and it is also the prime industrial and
commercial centre of the country. Other major cities are Constanta (348,575), the only Romanian port on the Black Sea; Brasov (324,210),
noted for the manufacture of textiles, chemicals, and metal products; Timisoara
(327,830), an industrial centre; Iasi (339,889), a commercial centre; Cluj-Napoca (326,017), a commercial and industrial centre; Galati (326,728), a
naval and metallurgical centre; Craiova (306,825), a textile, electrical, and chemical centre; and Ploiesti (254,408), hub
of the oil industry.
Religion and Language
The largest religious organization of Romania is
the Romanian Orthodox Church,
to which about 85 per cent of Romanians adhere. In addition, the country has
substantial numbers of Roman Catholics, predominantly the Hungarian, Swabian,
and German minorities of Transylvania and Banat; Protestants of various
denominations; Jews, primarily in Bucharest; and Muslims, mainly among the
Tatar and Turkish minorities in the Dobruja region.
The official language is Romanian, one of the Romance languages, spoken by nearly all the
population. Other languages spoken include Hungarian, German, Turkish,
Serbo-Croatian, Romany, and Yiddish.
Primary education in Romania is free and
compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15, and most students choose
to continue their education beyond the age of 16. The literacy rate is more
than 95 per cent. The educational system heavily emphasizes practical and
Elementary and Secondary Schools
In the mid-1990s some 2.5 million children were
enrolled in Romania’s 14,000 primary schools, and some 758,000 students
attended 1,300 secondary schools. In addition, the country had 761 vocational
secondary schools with about 288,000 students.
Universities and Colleges
Some 255,000 students annually attended
institutions of higher learning in the mid-1990s. Romania has seven general
universities, including the University of Bucharest (1864), the University of
Cluj-Napoca (1919), and the University of Alexandru Ioan Cuza of Iasi
(1860). In addition, Romania has four technological universities.
Romanian culture is largely derived from the
Roman, with strains of Slavic, Magyar (Hungarian), Greek, and Turkish
influence. Poems, folktales, and folk music have always held a central place in
Romanian culture. Romanian literature, art, and music attained maturity in the
19th century. Although Romania has been influenced by divergent Western trends,
the culture remains fundamentally indigenous.
Romanian literature is rich and varied and may
be roughly divided into five periods. The literature from the 15th to 18th
centuries was primarily religious, often in the form of hagiographies of the
saints. The dominant literary form in the late 18th century was preoccupied with
national history, and a number of major works promoted the idea of the Latinity
of the origins and language of the Romanian people. In the century before World
War I, Romanian literature reached maturity and reflected national unity. A
major figure of the period was Vasile Alecsandri, a narrative poet and
dramatist. Others whose work had a profound influence on later writers included
the Romantic poet Mihail Eminescu and Ion Luca Caragiale, a dramatist whose
plays satirized the bourgeois life of the late 19th century. Between World War
I and World War II, Romanian literature largely dealt with national themes, and
the novel first came into the foreground. The most outstanding novelist was
Mihail Sadoveanu. From the late 1940s through the 1980s, the literature was
characterized by Soviet realism except for a brief period in the late 1960s
when cultural controls were relaxed. The Romanian-born playwright Eugčne Ionesco became famous after
World War II while exiled in France.
Art and Music
Romanian art, like Romanian literature, reached
its peak during the 19th century. Among the leading painters were Theodor Aman,
a portraitist, and the landscape painter Nicolae Grigorescu. Romanian art
during the period from 1945 to 1990 period was dominated by Soviet realism. A
notable contribution to modern concepts of 20th century art was the work of the
Romanian-born French sculptor Constantin Brancusi.
A number of Romanian musicians achieved
international recognition in the 20th century. Most notable among them were Georges Enesco, violinist and
composer, who is perhaps best known for his Romanian rhapsodies, and the
pianist Dinu Lipatti.
Libraries and Museums
The principal libraries are the Central State
Library and the Library of the Academy of Romania, both in Bucharest. The Art
Museum of Romania, in Bucharest, contains fine collections of national,
Western, and Oriental art. Many other museums of art are located throughout the
Primarily agricultural before World War II, the
Romanian economy was subsequently transformed through a series of five-year
plans and is now dominated by manufacturing; among the consequences of an
emphasis on heavy industry were chronic shortages of consumer goods and severe
degradation of the environment. In 1994 the gross
national product (GNP) was US$27.9 billion, or about
US$1,230 per capita (World Bank estimate; 1992-1994 prices), and had decreased
at around 6 per cent over the previous seven years. Transition to a market
economy has been gradual.
After the overthrow of the Ceausescu
regime in December 1989, the domestic economy virtually collapsed, and exports
plummeted. Economic reform programmes introduced in 1990 called for devaluation
of the currency, removal of subsidies on most consumer goods, and privatization
of state-owned companies in order to move Romania towards a free-market system.
By 1991 the estimated gross national product had fallen to US$31 billion, or
US$1,620 per capita. In May 1994 the International Monetary Fund granted a
US$700 million loan to Romania on the pledge that the country would decrease
its rate of inflation (at 256 per cent in May 1994) to below 100 per cent. The
budget of 1995 envisaged revenue of US$8.1 billion and expenditure of US$9.1
About 65 per cent of the total area of Romania
is used for pasturage and cultivation, which in the mid-1990s employed about 35
per cent of the labour force. Almost 90 per cent of the land was worked as
collective farms in the mid-1980s. Because of government emphasis on industrial
development, agricultural improvements and investments were neglected, and food
shortages developed in the 1980s. A new government decollectivization programme
had returned 46 per cent of agricultural land to its original owners or their
heirs by 1994, and by the mid-1990s about 80 per cent of agricultural land had
In the mid-1990s the principal crops included
maize, with an annual yield of 9.3 million tonnes; wheat and rye, 6.03 million
tonnes; sugar beet, 3.2 million tonnes; potatoes, 3.9 million tonnes; grapes,
1.3 million tonnes; and a wide range of other fruits. Its extensive vineyards
make Romania a major wine producer. In the mid-1990s Romanian livestock
included some 3.4 million cattle, 7.7 million pigs, 10.8 million sheep, and 70
Forestry and Fishing
Forests, covering approximately 28 per cent of
the total land area, are State property. Production totalled about 11.9 million
cu m (420 million cu ft) annually in the early 1990s. The Black Sea and the
Danube delta regions are known for their sturgeon catch, and the country
undertakes considerable fishing operations in the Atlantic Ocean. In the early
1990s the yearly catch totalled about 34,900 tonnes.
The principal mineral resource of Romania is
oil. In the mid-1990s annual crude-oil production was about 49 million barrels
and that of natural gas, about 19.5 billion cu m (689 billion cu ft). The
leading oil centre is Ploiesti, and important new
deposits were found under the Black Sea in the early 1980s. However, oil reserves
are being depleted and are expected to be exhausted by the year 2000. The
western part of the Transylvanian Alps has deposits of bituminous coal and iron
ore, and the country also has scattered lignite deposits. Annual coal
production in the mid-1990s was about 40.3 million tonnes. Iron-ore production
totalled some 951,000 tonnes. Large salt deposits in the Carpathians yielded
more than 2.2 million tonnes annually.
Romania pursued a policy of rapid
industrialization after World War II, with an emphasis on heavy industry
(especially machinery and chemicals) and, to a much lesser extent, on consumer
goods. Crude steel production reached about 13.9 million tonnes in the late
1980s, but had declined to 7.1 million tonnes by the early 1990s, hampered by
shortages of electricity and raw materials. Other major manufactures were
chemical fertilizers (about 1.1 million tonnes annually); cement (7.4 million
tonnes); radio and television sets; cars; processed food; rubber goods; cotton,
woollen, and silk fabrics; clothing; footwear; and refrigerators.
In the early 1990s Romania annually produced
about 55.4 billion kWh of electricity, up from 35.8 billion kWh in 1970. Most
was produced in thermal installations burning oil, natural gas, and low-grade
coal, and virtually all of the rest was generated by hydroelectric facilities,
of which the largest is the Iron Gates I project (owned jointly with Serbia and
Montenegro) on the Danube. Persistent energy shortages in the mid-1980s led to
the rationing of electricity. Rationing was also imposed on fossil fuels, which
Romania was exporting in order to earn badly needed foreign exchange revenues.
In 1991, Romania had two nuclear research reactors, with five further nuclear
reactors for civil use under construction.
Currency and Banking
The monetary unit of Romania is the leu,
of 100 bani (7,050 leu equal US$1; 1997). Since 1991 its value has been
allowed to be set by the open market. The National Bank (1880) is the bank of
issue and supervises the financial activities of all state enterprises. Romania
also has an agricultural bank, an investment bank, and savings and deposit
From the mid-1940s through to the 1980s, foreign
trade in Romania was a state monopoly. A programme of trade liberalization was
instituted among other reforms in 1993 in an attempt to boost the declining
economy. Exports were about US$4.2 billion per year in the early 1990s; the
principal items included fuels, machinery, furniture, textile products, and
chemicals. Imports, valued at about US$5.2 billion annually, included crude oil
and industrial equipment. The Soviet Union and other Communist nations were
Romania’s leading trade partners, but Romania has also significantly increased
its trade with Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the United States, the United
Kingdom, and Egypt since the early 1970s. In 1992 Romania signed a Black Sea
economic cooperation pact to create a Black Sea economic zone together with ten
other countries. In the same year, it signed a free trade accord with the European Free Trade Association,
and in 1993 it entered into an association agreement with the European
Community (now the European Union).
Romania has about 11,374 km (7,067 mi) of
railway track and about 72,800 km (45,235 mi) of roads. The principal seaports
are Constanta, on the Black Sea, and Galati
and Bràila, neighbours on the lower Danube; Giurgiu, which has pipeline
connections to the Ploiesti oil fields, is an
important river port. A canal, opened in 1984, links Constanta
with Cernavodà, a Danube River port. The merchant fleet
has a total displacement of about 5.8 million deadweight tonnes. The state
airline TAROM and the independent airline LAR link Bucharest with other
Romanian and foreign cities.
Throughout the period of Communist rule, Romania
suffered the highest degree of censorship in the world. Every means of
communication, including the ownership of a personal typewriter in the home,
had to be officially licensed, and permits were often withheld. Today, postal,
telegraph, and telephone services in Romania remain State owned. In the early
1990s the country had some 2.6 million telephone subscribers. In addition,
about 4.6 million radios and 4.6 million television sets were in use. The
Romanian press is highly regionalized, with newspapers and periodicals
appearing in all administrative districts. Many are published in the languages
of the various nationalities living in the country. Following the fall of the
Ceausescu regime in 1989, the number of daily newspapers increased from
36 to 65, and there were about 95 in the mid-1990s.
In the mid-1990s the Romanian workforce numbered
about 10.01 million people. About 22 per cent of them were members of the seven
principal workers’ organizations.
Romania is governed according to a constitution
drafted in 1991 to replace that of 1965. After the Ceausescu
regime was brutally deposed in December 1989, the Council of National
Salvation, consisting predominantly of former Communists, wielded executive
power. Presidential and legislative elections were held in May 1990. Under
pressure from foreign aid donors a new constitution was approved by popular
referendum in December 1991 and declared Romania to be a multi-party
presidential republic which guarantees human rights and a free-market economy.
Executive and Legislature
Under the 1991 constitution, a president heads
the government of Romania. The president is elected by the voters to a
four-year term and is assisted by a prime minister, whom he or she appoints.
The bicameral National Assembly is the country’s legislature. The lower house,
or Chamber of Deputies, has 341 seats, including 13 guaranteed to ethnic
minorities; the upper house, or Senate, has 143 seats. All members are selected
to four-year terms. Executive power is vested in the President. In the 1992
presidential elections, Ion Ilescu was re-elected for a second term, but in the
November 1996 presidential elections he lost to the centre-right candidate Emil
The Supreme Court is Romania’s highest judicial
authority, and its members supervise the lower courts. Lesser tribunals include
district and local courts.
Until the 1989 uprising, the leading political
organization of Romania was the Romanian Communist Party, which was known from
1948 to 1965 as the Romanian Workers’ Party. The Party’s General Secretary, Nicolae Ceausescu, was the most powerful political figure in the country, and the
Communist Party controlled almost all aspects of the government and pervaded
every aspect of social life.
After Ceausescu’s fall the
Communist Party dissolved, and many former members formed the National
Salvation Front (NSF). In May 1990, in Romania’s first free multi-party
elections since World War II, the NSF scored an overwhelming victory. The
Democratic National Salvation Front (DNSF), which had broken from the NSF, won
the 1992 parliamentary elections. The Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR),
Romanian National Unity Party, and Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania also
won seats in parliament. In July 1993 the DNSF changed its name to the Social
Democracy Party of Romania (SDPR). In November 1996 the SDPR lost the
legislative elections, which were won by the DCR under Emil Constantinescu. The
DCR formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Union (USD).
A reorganization of local government in 1968
divided Romania into 39 (now 40) districts plus the city of Bucharest.
Health and Welfare
Average life expectancy at birth in the
mid-1990s was 66.5 years for men and 73 years for women. The Romanian
government oversees a social insurance system that includes medical care,
holidays at health resorts, family allowances, and retirement pensions.
Although official statistics credited Romania with 40,182 doctors (about 1 per
568 people) and 173,187 hospital beds (about 1 per 132 people) in the
mid-1990s, conditions in hospitals, orphanages, and mental institutions were
condemned worldwide as insanitary and inadequate. Contraception and abortion,
which had been outlawed by the Ceausescu regime in an
effort to increase the nation’s birth rate and had left a legacy of unwanted
and neglected children, were made legal after the December 1989 uprising.
Efforts were made to close down the worst orphanages and mental institutions
and integrate their inmates into a more humanitarian environment.
Military service is compulsory for all men for a
period of 12 months in the army or air force or 18 months in the navy. In the
mid-1990s the armed forces numbered 217,400, of whom 128,800 were in the army,
about 19,000 in the navy, and 54,000 in the air force.
The territory that is modern Romania first
appeared in history as the greater part of the Roman province of Dacia, conquered by Emperor Trajan in around AD 106. Most of its inhabitants,
known as the Daci, had originally emigrated from Thrace in northern Greece. Roman colonists were sent into the province, and Rome developed
the area considerably, building roads, bridges, and a great wall, its ruins
still visible, from the present Black Sea port of Constanta
across the Dobruja (Dobrogea) region to the River Danube. During the 3rd
century AD, raids by the Goths became so grave a menace that the Roman
legions were withdrawn across the Danube. While successive waves of invaders,
including Goths, Huns,
Slavs, and Bulgars,
made Dacia a battleground, the Romanized population preserved a Latin speech
and identity. Gradually, through intermarriage and assimilation with Slavonic
tribes, these people developed into a distinct ethnic group, called Walachians
or, in Slavonic, Vlachs, whose nomadic and warlike customs became a constant
threat to the neighbouring Byzantine Empire. Under Bulgarian rule, in the 9th century, the Orthodox form of
Christianity was introduced.
About the end of the 13th century Hungarian
expansion by Magyars drove many of the people from the western provinces to
settle south and east of the Carpathians. Here they established the
principalities of Walachia and later that of Moldavia, each ruled by native
princes, or voivodes (Russian, voevoda, “leader of an army”), many of
whom acknowledged the suzerainty of the kings of Hungary or Poland. With the
defeat of the Hungarians by the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Mohács
in 1526, Moldavia and Walachia came under Turkish rule, which lasted for three
centuries. At the close of the 16th century Moldavia, Transylvania, and
Walachia were temporarily united by Prince Michael of Walachia, who made
continual war on the Turkish sultan in an attempt to gain and maintain
independence. For a time Michael successfully opposed the Ottomans; he
conquered Transylvania in 1599 and Moldavia in 1600, but he was assassinated
the following year, and the spirit of independence waned.
The Ottomans restored their control of the
principalities after Michael’s death, imposing severe political restrictions.
Finally the Romanians turned to Russia, which had offered to protect fellow
Orthodox Christians, for help. In an effort to fend off the growing influence
of Russia in the early 18th century, the Ottoman government established the
so-called Phanariot system. Moldavia and Walachia were ruled through
Turkish-appointed hospodars (Old Slav gospodi, “lord”), usually members of Greek
families from the Phanar district of Constantinople. Many Romanian boyars, or
nobles, allied themselves with ruling Greek families, and Greek became the
Russian influence became pre-eminent after 1750
and remained so for a century. In 1774 Russia defeated Turkey, which was then
forced to promise lenient treatment of Moldavia and Walachia. In 1802 Russia
obtained a voice in the appointment of hospodars, and in 1812, having again
defeated Turkey in the Russo-Turkish War
of 1806-1812, obtained Bessarabia,
which had previously been part of the principality of Moldavia. The weakening
of Turkish influence became more evident after the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. By
the Treaty of Adrianople, which ended the Greek war in 1829, Moldavia and
Walachia, although remaining nominally under Turkish control, became more
autonomous. The Phanariot system was ended, and Russia became the
unacknowledged suzerain of the two states, a situation disapproved of by the
great European powers, which had begun to intervene in Balkan affairs during
the Greek war.
Unification and Independence
After the Russian defeat in the Crimean War, the powers ended the
Russian protectorate and returned part of Bessarabia to Moldavia. Under the
joint control of France, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Turkey, the question of union became a major
concern. It was resolved by Walachia and Moldavia themselves when, in 1859,
Colonel Alexandru Ion Cuza was elected as the common prince. In 1861 the two
states were united and recognized by the Turkish sultan as the autonomous
principality of Romania. A single ministry and legislature were established at
Prince Alexandru Ion I was deposed by a
conspiracy in 1866. A provisional government then elected Prince Karl Eitel
Friedrich of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, who took office as Carol
I and was invested as hereditary prince by the
sultan. A constitution based on the Belgian charter of 1831 was adopted on his
arrival. Carol entered the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 as a Russian ally and proclaimed the complete
independence of Romania. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 recognized Romanian independence, but Romania was forced
to restore its part of Bessarabia to Russia.
In 1881 Carol was proclaimed King and Romania
proclaimed itself a kingdom. Neutral during the First Balkan
War against Turkey in 1912, Romania joined Serbia
and Greece in the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria in 1913. By the Treaty of
Bucharest on August 10, 1913, Romania obtained the southern Dobruja region,
which its army had occupied, and thus became the largest Balkan power.
World War I
When World War I began, Carol, despite his friendship with Germany and Austria,
declared Romania neutral. The king’s death, in October 1914, placed his nephew Ferdinand I on the throne. The
kingdom remained officially neutral until 1916, when Romanian forces invaded
Hungarian Transylvania, but Austro-German and Bulgarian armies shattered
Romanian power in less than six months and by the end of January 1917
controlled most of the country. With the triumph of the Allies in November
1918, however, Romania re-entered the war on November 10 and reoccupied
Transylvania and other territories. By the Treaty of St Germain (with Austria)
and Trianon (with
Hungary), Romania was awarded sovereignty over most of Bukovina, all of
Transylvania, a strip of the Hungarian plain west of the Transylvanian uplands
(Crisana-Maramures), and the eastern portion of the Banat, a total of
133,765 sq km (51,647 sq mi). Romania also occupied Bessarabia and was
confirmed in its position there by the Allies, although Russia refused to
acknowledge Romanian sovereignty of the area. As a result of the post-war
settlements, Romania more than doubled its area.
After World War I the Romanian government
struggled with domestic problems of constitutional reform, agrarian reform, and
lagging economic reconstruction. The Liberal Party was in power, led by Ion Bràtianu,
who from 1922 to 1926, and again in 1927, was virtually dictator. A new
constitution was adopted in 1923; one of its provisions was the political
emancipation of the Jews. Peasant opposition to the Liberal government and the
regime’s dictatorial policies caused almost constant political discord,
however. In foreign relations, dissension continued with the Soviet Union
concerning the ownership of Bessarabia. In 1925 the crown prince renounced his
right to the throne, preferring to live in exile with his mistress, Magda
Lupescu; his son Michael was declared heir-apparent and succeeded to the throne
in 1927, with his uncle as regent.
In 1928 opposition to the policies of Bràtianu
resulted in the rise to power of the National Peasants’ Party, under the
leadership of Iuliu Maniue. Maniue became Premier in 1928 and supported the
exiled Crown prince, who returned to Bucharest in 1930 as King Carol II, despite bitter opposition by the
Liberals. The new king imposed a fascist regime, and economic conditions within
Romania became increasingly grave. Political dissension was heightened by the
growth of the Romanian Fascist Party, the so-called Iron Guard, under Corneliu
Zelea-Codreanu. A growing tendency towards fascism in government was evidenced
by severe anti-Jewish laws, rigid censorship, and attempts by King Carol to
make himself dictator, in which he ultimately succeeded (1938).
World War II
Although Romania was initially neutral in World War II, its internal
policies aligned it with the Axis powers and led to a policy of friendship towards Germany. In June 1940,
without opposition from Germany, with which it had signed a non-aggression pact
in August 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. On
August 20, at the demand of Germany and Italy, Romania ceded 44,988 sq km
(17,370 sq mi) of northern Transylvania to Hungary, and on September 7,
southern Dobruja was ceded to Bulgaria. The German army occupied Romania, whose
oil pipelines were crucial to the Reich’s energy supplies. In the ensuing
unrest Carol named General Ion Antonescu, a sympathizer with the Iron Guard, as dictator. The king was
forced to abdicate on September 6, 1940, and left the country. Carol’s
successor, Michael, was king only in name, the real power being held by General
Antonescu and the Iron Guard. Popular riots were met with massacres.
Romania, led by Antonescu, entered World War II
in June 1941 by attacking the Soviet Union at the same time as Germany did.
Romanian troops reoccupied Bessarabia and Bukovina and by October 1941 had
penetrated as far as Odesa. In December the kingdom declared war on the United
States. Opposition to Antonescu and political unrest continued, led on one hand
by the anti-German Iron Guard and on the other by the National Peasants’ Party.
The swift Soviet advance in the spring of 1944 brought the Red Army back to
Bessarabia and Bukovina and deep into Romanian territory. Aided by the imminent
arrival of Soviet troops, King Michael and several loyal generals led a coup on
the night of August 23, arrested Antonescu and his cabinet, and announced the
surrender of Romania. On September 12, the Soviet Union signed an armistice
with Romania in Moscow.
The Democratic Front, approved by the USSR, took
over Romanian administration as a coalition of Communist, Liberal, and National
Peasants’ parties. Gradually the Communist Party acquired supreme control. In
March 1945 a coalition cabinet was formed under Petru Groza, leader of the
Ploughmen’s Party (a splinter group of the National Peasants), with the key
positions held by Communists. In January 1946, at the request of the Council of
Foreign Ministers (Great Britain, United States, USSR), two opposition members
were added, but they had little voice. On official pledges by the Romanian
government that free elections would be held, the United States and Great
Britain recognized the government on February 5.
The results of the election on November 19,
1946, were declared fraudulent by the various opposition parties, who received
a total of 66 out of 414 seats. On December 30, 1947, King Michael abdicated
under Communist pressure, and the government at once proclaimed Romania a
people’s republic and vested supreme authority in a five-member state council.
A new constitution was adopted on April 13, 1948, based on that of the USSR.
By the peace treaty signed in Paris on February
10, 1947, between Romania and the Allies, northern Transylvania was returned to
Romania, and the other land transfers of 1940 were validated. Reparations to
the Soviet Union of US$300 million in raw materials, machinery, sea and river
craft, and other commodities were designed to be paid within eight years but
were reduced by half in 1948. The peace treaty also limited the strength of the
Romanian armed forces and stipulated that the Romanian people should be granted
The reorganization of Romanian cultural
institutions to conform with Soviet models was the chief domestic development
during 1948 and 1949. The process of sovietization included frequent purges of
dissidents, and twice in 1949 the United States and Great Britain accused
Romania of systematic violation of human rights guarantees in the peace treaty.
In November 1950 the charge was upheld by the United Nations General Assembly.
New constitutions were adopted in 1952 and 1965,
but the Soviet pattern of government was followed in each change. Throughout
the post-war period Romanian leadership remained stable. Gheorghe
Gheorghiu-Dej, Secretary of the Communist Party since 1945, became Premier in
1952. He turned the latter office over to Chivu Stoica in 1955. Petru Groza,
who had assumed the largely ceremonial office of President in 1952, died in
1958 and was succeeded by Ion Gheorghe Maurer, who in turn became Premier in
1961, Gheorghiu-Dej assuming the presidency. At the latter’s death in 1965,
Stoica assumed the presidency, and Nicolae Ceausescu became Party Secretary. Ceausescu,
Maurer, and Stoica functioned as a collective leadership, but Ceausescu
was the dominant figure, becoming President in 1967.
Throughout the 1950s the government emphasized
the nationalization and development of industry. This effort proved successful
in the short term, and in the 1960s the official estimates of the national
industrial growth rate averaged about 12 per cent annually—among the highest in
Eastern Europe. Agricultural collectivization was begun in July 1949, and in
1962 the government announced that all arable land had been absorbed into the
socialized sector. Farmers were permitted, however, to retain half-acre plots
for private use.
In the early post-war years, under Soviet
domination, Romania cooperated fully in the Cominform, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance,
known as COMECON, or CMEA, and, after 1955, the Warsaw Pact. From the early
1960s on, however, Romania began to exercise a considerable degree of
independence. In 1963 the government rejected COMECON plans for the integration
of the economies of the Communist states, chiefly because the plans restricted
Romania to a role as supplier of oil, grains, and primary materials. Romanians
thought these plans would hinder their rate of industrial growth, which had
been higher in the past several years than that of any other satellite country.
Romanian protests gained some concessions in the form of Soviet aid for the
development of a major steel plant at Galati.
The government nevertheless issued a so-called declaration of independence from
COMECON proposals in 1964.
While the USSR and the Eastern European states
were the primary Romanian trade partners in the 1960s, trade and diplomatic
relations with the non-Communist world improved steadily. In January 1967
Romania became the only Communist nation other than the USSR to establish full
diplomatic relations with West Germany, and at about the same time the first
Communist nation to open consular relations with Spain. Trade with the Soviet
Union, which had accounted for more than 50 per cent of Romanian foreign trade
in the late 1950s, was reduced to an estimated 30 per cent in 1967.
In 1964 Premier Maurer visited Beijing and
Moscow in an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the two Communist powers.
Thereafter, Romanian foreign policy indicated continuing independence. Ceausescu
urged the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany, Poland, and Hungary.
Also, in the face of Soviet attempts to strengthen the Warsaw
Pact, Ceausescu suggested the
abolition of the Warsaw Pact and of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization. He refused to participate in the pact
manoeuvres. In mid-1967 Romania boycotted a conference of Communist countries
called by the USSR, chiefly to criticize US activity in Vietnam. When the
Warsaw Pact nations, led by the Soviet Union, invaded Czechoslovakia in August
1968, Romania took a strongly anti-Soviet stand.
The 1970s and 1980s
Romania continued to pursue a foreign policy of
non-alignment, despite the disapproval of the Soviet bloc. It actively
increased its contacts with the West. After a visit from the US President Richard Nixon in 1969, it sent
President Ceausescu several times to the United States;
his missions resulted in the United States granting Romania
“most-favoured-nation” status in 1975 and a ten-year economic pact in 1976.
Romania joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1972 and
in 1976 signed the first formal pact (on textiles) between the European
Economic Community and an East European state. As head of the only East
European nation to recognize both Israel and Egypt, Ceausescu
helped arrange the Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat’s historic peacemaking
visit to Israel in 1977.
Romania signed a friendship treaty with the USSR
(1970). Taking an unprecedented step outside the Soviet bloc, Ceausescu
visited the People’s Republic of China in 1971, subsequently signing economic
and air transport agreements. In 1980, he refused to endorse the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan.
Pragmatic in foreign policy, Ceausescu
was opposed to Gorbachev’s concepts of glasnost and perestroika, and enforced
Communist orthodoxy, often brutally, in domestic affairs. In 1971 he used every
means to destroy all deviation in party, government, and cultural leadership.
Nevertheless, he was re-elected Head of State in 1975, and the party and
government were reorganized in 1977. Despite enormous damage caused by severe
floods in 1970 and 1975 and an earthquake in 1977, and in the face of severe
domestic deprivation, the economy grew, especially heavy industry and foreign
trade. Real wages rose slowly, and Romania was beset with shortages of food,
fuel, and electricity in the 1980s, as Ceausescu
used virtually all of Romania’s hard currency reserves to pay off the nation’s
US$11-billion foreign debt. Popular resentment of the Communist leadership was
aggravated by a forced resettlement programme, announced in 1988, that called
for the bulldozing of up to 8,000 villages, the rehousing of agricultural
workers and their families in high-rise concrete blocks, and the erection of
grandiose, impractical monuments to the regime. Domestically, Romania remained
one of the most backward and repressive countries in the Eastern bloc.
The Regime Changes
During the rapid collapse of Communist
governments in Eastern Europe in 1989, Ceausescu
brutally suppressed anti-government demonstrations in Timisoara:
the Romanian army turned against him, and he was forced to flee Bucharest with
his wife, Elena, on December 22, 1989. They were captured and tried secretly,
and executed on Christmas Day, 1989. An interim ruling body, the Council of
National Salvation, led by Ion Iliescu, revoked a number of Ceausescu’s repressive
policies and imprisoned some of the leaders of his regime. In May 1990 the
National Salvation Front, consisting mostly of former Communists, won
multi-party elections for parliament and the presidency, and Iliescu became
Romania’s President. In June thousands of miners were brought to Bucharest to
suppress anti-government demonstrations with a brutality that shocked the
world. An economic austerity programme was introduced in October and a new
constitution took effect at the end of 1991. President Iliescu won re-election
in October 1992, and in November a new government was formed by independents
and members of the Democratic National Salvation Front (DNSF), one of two
parties formed by the split of the NSF. In February 1993 thousands of people
demonstrated in Bucharest against inflation, unemployment, and low wages.
Labour unrest continued throughout the spring after the government removed
subsidies for goods and services, and public sector and steel workers demanded
higher wages. In February 1994 as many as 2 million workers staged a general
strike protesting at the lack of economic reform. A motion of impeachment of
President Iliescu was rejected in July 1994.
Romania experienced significant ethnic turmoil
in the early 1990s. Violent attacks in 1991 on the indigenous Gypsy population
resulted in an exodus of the latter to Germany, Austria, and the Czech
Republic. Most were returned by the host countries to Romania, but the problem
of illegal Romanian immigrants, many of them young and unskilled, continues to
cause friction and hostility with Romania’s neighbours. Relations with Hungary
continue to be strained because of clashes in Transylvania between ethnic
Hungarians and Romanian nationalists. Under pressure from Western aid-giving
organizations, Romania began to grant, in 1993, some educational, political,
and linguistic rights to the ethnic Germans and Hungarians within its borders.
In foreign affairs, Romania signed a treaty of
cooperation with Germany in 1992; strengthened relations with France, Israel,
Greece, Turkey, Moldova, and the Holy See; signed a cooperative defence
agreement with Bulgaria; and signed an association agreement with the European
Community (now the European Union). In June 1993 Romania received a formal
invitation for European Union membership, although full membership is not
expected before the year 2000 at the earliest.
The pace of privatization was accelerated in
March 1995, when a law to privatize some 3,000 state-owned enterprises was
approved by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. Distribution of vouchers
to enable citizens to participate in the sale of state enterprises began in
August; it was envisaged that 60 per cent of share capital would be placed
using the vouchers and the remainder sold to Romanian and foreign investors. A
bill to restore property confiscated by the Communist regime or to pay
compensation to former owners, became law in November. A treaty of friendship
and co-operation between Hungary and Romania signed in September 1996, was
criticized by both Hungarian and Romanian nationalists, and the Hungarian
ethnic minority. In presidential elections in November, which went to a
run-off, the incumbent former Communist Ion Iliescu of the Social Democracy
Party of Romania (SDPR) was defeated by Emil Constantinescu heading the
centre-right coalition Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR). The DCR was
similarly successful in the elections to the Chamber of Deputies and the
Senate, winning the majority of seats in both chambers. Victor Ciorbea was
sworn in as Prime Minister of the new government in December. In January 1997,
Miron Cosma, a miners’ trade union leader, was arrested on a number of charges,
including “undermining state authority”; Cosma had led violent demonstrations
in Bucharest in 1990 and 1991 in support of Iliescu's government. It was reported
in February that an agreement had been reached with Hungary that allowed for
closer military cooperation and the formation of a joint Hungarian-Romanian
peace-keeping force. Also in February 1997, King Michael, who had abdicated as
monarch in 1947 and gone into exile, returned officially to Romania to a hero's
welcome; Constantinescu's government discussed a possible return to a
constitutional monarchy. Romania emerged as a strong candidate for inclusion in
expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Russia gave its
official approval to expansion in May 1997.