Romania celebrates, in 2018, the 100 years anniversary of the unification of all its historical provinces. It was an eventful century, marked by the two World Wars, devastating ideologies, the destruction of the interwar elites and democratic institutions, and the dark decades of the communist regime.
Romania gained and lost territories, hundreds of thousands of people died in the wars, and a dramatic number of 2 million is estimated to have suffered as political prisoners during the communist regime. Romania and its people also found freedom and their way back to democracy in the last decade of the 20th century.
If you’re curious to uncover more of Romania’s history, you can read our list of the most important events that marked Romania’s first 100 years as a united national state. We chose crucial events that impacted the course of history and Romanian society..
On May 10, 1881, Prince Carol the 1st became the first king of Romania, and independent Romania became a kingdom. Its national territory included the historical provinces (photo below) of Southern Romania (Muntenia), Eastern Romania (Moldavia), and Dobrogea. At the time, Transylvania was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and Bessarabia was occupied by the Russian Empire.
Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org
Romania entered the First World War in August 1916 on the side of the Allies (France, the UK, the Russian Empire) with the declared goal of freeing Transylvania. The first months of the war were, however, disastrous for the Romanian army.
The capital was occupied in November 1916 by the German and Bulgarian troops under the command of General Mackensen. The government and the royal family were forced to move to Iasi, the biggest city in Moldavia, which became overcrowded with refugees and wounded soldiers.
The Romanian army, with the help of the French Mission, was reorganized and obtained important victories in 1917. It succeeded in freeing Bucharest in the autumn of 1918. Both the army and the civil population suffered tremendous shortages and losses in the war years. The number of victims is estimated at around 300,000 deaths from the army lines and over 700.000 civilians, many from typhoid fever. (Source: historia.ro)
On March 27, 1918, the Country Council of Basarabia voted in favor of the union with Romania. It was one of the few major successes Romania had obtained in the Great War up to that point. Basarabia had declared its independence from Russia a few months before, in January 1918. It was the first of the historical Romanian provinces that united with the Kingdom of Romania.
Celebrated today as Romania’s National Day, the 1st of December remains in the history of the country the Unification Day. On this date, in 1918, more than 100,000 people and 1,228 delegates were present in the citadel of Alba Iulia. The National Assembly adopted the resolution of the long-awaited union of Transylvania, including the regions of Banat, Crisana, Maramures, with the Romanian Kingdom.
Photo source: The Virtual Union Museum
Only a few days before, on November 28, the General Congress of Bucovina had decided as well the unification with Romania.
A new Constitution of Romania was adopted on March 23, 1923. It was considered one of the most liberal and democratic in Europe of the time. Adapted to the post-war realities, the Constitution guaranteed equal rights and freedoms for all citizens no matter their religion, ethnic origin, or language and granted the right to vote for all adult men.
The death of King Ferdinand (1927) who had ruled Romania through the First World War marked an important moment in the history of the royal family of Romania. His six years old grandson, Prince Mihai, became king, and a regency of three persons was nominated to serve until his coming of age.
But this arrangement was short-lived. In 1930, King Ferdinand’s firstborn, Carol II, claimed the throne from his own son, the very young King Mihai, after having abdicated twice before. His comeback to Romania impacted tremendously the political life of Romania in the 1930s.
Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org
Romania suffered important and dramatic territorial losses in the summer of 1940 while it was still a neutral state in the Second World War.
At the end of June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Bessarabia, northern Bucovina, and the Herza region, a total surface of over 50.000 square kilometers. Two months later, Romania lost southern Dobrogea to Bulgaria, 6.921 square kilometers, and was forced to give up 44.492 square kilometers, almost half of Transylvania’s territory to Hungary following a decision imposed by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy in Vienna on August 30.
Photo source: https://ro.wikipedia.org
The dramatic territorial losses forced King Carol II to abdicate in September 1940. His son, Mihai, became King of Romania for the second time. Romania entered the Second World War one year later against the Soviet Union to recover its territorial losses.
King Mihai arrested General Ion Antonescu who was the de facto ruler of Romania after 1940 and announced that Romania was turning the weapons against its ally, Nazi Germany.
Historians believe that his brave and high-risk decision, considering the presence of German troops in Bucharest, shortened the duration of the Second World War by six months and saved numerous lives. For his courage, King Michael was awarded the Legion of Merit by American President Harry Truman.
The Soviet army, officially a war ally after August 1944, occupied Romania immediately after the arrest of General 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).
Moscow withdrew its army from Romania in 1958.
King Mihai was forced to abdicate on December 31, 1947, one year after the communists had falsified the results of the parliamentary elections from November 1946. Blackmailed by the communist Prime-Minister Petru Groza with the lives of one thousand students and threatened at gunpoint, King Mihai had no option but to sign the abdication act prepared by the communist government.
Photo source: https://en.wikipedia.org
That moment marked the destruction of democracy in Romania and the complete takeover of power by the communists for the following 42 years.
The Romanian Communist Party, illegal for most of the interwar period, had less than 1,000 members in 1944. Backed by the omnipresent Soviet counselors and the Soviet army, the leaders of the party started a brutal campaign of extermination of Romania’s elites. Army officers, politicians, professors, doctors, priests, students, peasants, everyone and anyone was a likely enemy of the new socialist order.
The numbers advanced in the report from 2006 of the Presidential Commission for the Study of the Romanian Communist Dictatorship present the somber reality of genocide. Approximately 2 million people suffered as political prisoners in the extermination prisons, forced labor camps, and psychiatric asylums. The peak of the terror was between 1948 and 1964.
Violently implemented by the communist regime in its first decade in Romania, these two measures had an unprecedented impact on Romania’s economy and society.
The nationalization process was the first to begin. In June 1948, the communist National Assembly – an institution with limited powers that replaced the Parliament – voted the law that allowed the confiscation of private property, including of major private companies, without compensating the owners.
The collectivization of agricultural land took over one decade. The process was finalized in 1962 with the price of peasant uprisings, executions, tens of thousands of jailed peasants, and deportations.
Nicolae Ceausescu was the unlikely heir of Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej, the first communist dictator of Romania, who died in March 1965. Perceived as less experienced and easier to control by more preeminent party members, Ceausescu became, however, the absolute leader of communist Romania.
From Secretary-General of the Communist Party to President of the Social Republic of Romania, Ceausescu proved to be one of the most detested and cold-blooded communist dictators in the world. The cult of personality that glorified him and his wife as the country’s saviors was one of the most absurd in the entire communist world.
Photo source: www.comunismulinromania.ro
Despite Soviet and American interventions, Nicolae Ceausescu was unwilling to step down or allow for liberalization. The Romanian Revolution of December in 1989 started in Timisoara, spread to the largest cities in Romania, and lived its most dramatic moments in Bucharest where the highest number of victims was registered. Ceausescu tried to escape but was betrayed, arrested, and executed a few days later, on Christmas, December 25.
Photo source: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com
The Romanian Revolution was followed by a coup that allowed members of the former Communist Party to seize political control after Ceausescu’s execution. Posing in opponents of the former regime, they were contested by the civil society who wanted a fresh start in the first free elections from May 1990. Their peaceful 52 days long protest became the longest anti-communist protest in the world. Sadly, it ended tragically after 10,000 workers and miners violently crushed it between 13 and 15 of June. The number of victims remains is still unknown.
In 2017, Ion Iliescu, the ex-President of Romania, was officially accused of crimes against humanity for his role in the repression of the protest.
After a rough start in the 1990s and a difficult transition, Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.
We hope you enjoyed uncovering a bit more of Romania’s history. If you’re thinking about other historical events that marked its last century of existence, add your opinion in the comments section below.