Romania’s Union Day: The Centuries-Old Dream of a Nation

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer, focusing on sustainable tourism practices and destinations. You can find Diana Condrea on Twitter and Google+

The Great Union of the 1st of December 1918 remains the most important moment in Romania’s history. The longed-for unification of all Romanian provinces was a centuries-old ideal that was, at last, lived at the end of the First World War when many European nations created their own independent states after the greatest empires of the continent collapsed.

For Romania, back then a Kingdom, the cause of the union was the much-acclaimed goal of its participation in the Great War, fought for with immense sacrifices and the loss of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians.

Romania Union Day

Bishop Iulian Hossu reads the Union Resolution on the 1st of December 1918, Alba Iulia

Photo source: Virtual Union Museum

Fighting the Great War for the union

Romania entered the First World War, on the side of the Allies, in August 1916, after two years of neutrality. The cause of the Romanians living across the Carpathians – around 2,8 million – that had, however, few civil rights and were facing a forced Magyarization process weighted tremendously in choosing the war partners. It was a challenging call for King Ferdinand, a member of the Hohenzollern dynasty, who decided to fight his native country in order to fulfill his duty as a Romanian King.

Despite a promising start, the Romanian army – poorly equipped, untrained and with a weak leadership – lost major battles and territories in the first few months of conflict. The length of the front it had to cover was double the size of the French one and nearly as long as the Russian one, a tremendous task that needed more than patriotic aspirations.

Queen Maria

The royal family of Romania on the war front

Photo source: https://centenarromania.ro

Bucharest was occupied rapidly, in November 1916, and the Royal House, the Government and the Parliament were forced to move to Iasi, the capital of a much smaller Romania for the following two years. During the first months of exile, the army was reorganized with the help of the French mission under the command of General Berthelot.

Better equipped and with an improved morale, the Romanian army obtained three immense victories at Marasti, Marasesti and Oituz in the summer of 1917, among the few successes of the Allied forces that year.

Video by Acum 100 Ani

Despite this, the separate peace concluded by Russia in March 1918 cut-off Romania from its allies. It was an impossible survival situation that forced the Government to accept a humiliating peace deal from the Central Powers a few months later. Fortunately, King Ferdinand – strongly supported by the energetic and charismatic Queen Maria – never ratified the treaty.

This crucial decision allowed Romania to reenter the war on the Allies side in November 1918. The Romanian army occupied the territories promised as part of the treaty of 1916, including Transylvania, organized the evacuation of German troops and helped keep under control the Bolshevik manifestations that appeared all over the disintegrating Austrian-Hungarian Empire, from Budapest to Vienna.

At last Romania’s Union Day

The fall of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was an undeniable fact by the autumn of 1918 when the Republic of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia proclaimed their existence and independence. The Romanian inhabitants of the crumbling empire, represented by the Romanian National Council, were following the same goal of independence.

After failed negotiations with the Hungarian authorities unwilling to accept the desideratum of the Romanian representatives, on November 15, the National Council convoked the Great National Assembly at Alba Iulia for the 1st of December 1918.

Romania Union Day

1st of December 1918, Alba Iulia

Photo source: Virtual Union Museum

A small town with a great history, Alba Iulia hosted the gathering of over 100,000 Romanians on the first day of December, an event that was planned to the smallest details of security, the organizers worrying about potential attacks. 1,228 delegates voted for the unconditional union of Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures with Romania, in an exceptional state of joy and enthusiasm.

On the same day, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria returned to a free and cheerful Bucharest. They were crowned as king and queen of Greater Romania in October 1922, in Alba Iulia.Coronation 1922

The coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria, Alba Iulia, 1922

Photo source: Virtual Union Museum

Bessarabia and Bucovina opened the way

Romania’s Union Day was empowered and preceded by two major events, the union of Bessarabia and Bucovina with Romania.

The revolutions of 1917 that led to the dissolution of the Russian Empire and the seizing of the power by the Bolsheviks created a window of opportunity for Bessarabia, the first estranged Romanian territory that realized the union. An old Romanian province, placed between the rivers Prut and Dniester, the territory was a part of the Russian Empire since the 19th century.

Amid the chaos that followed the collapse of the Empire, the autonomy of the province was declared in October 1917, and the National Assembly was organized shortly. This body declared with a unanimity of votes the independence of Bessarabia in January 1918, and two months later, its union with Romania on March 27, 1918.

Romania Union Day

Iancu Flondor and General Zadik announce the Union of Bucovina with Romania, 1918

Photo source: Virtual Union Museum

The Romanians of Bucovina – a Romanian province occupied by the Austrian-Hungarian – took advantage of the crash of the empire and organized their own political structures. The General Congress of Bucovina, with the participation of Ukrainian, Polish and German minorities, voted in unanimity for the union with Romania on November 28, 2018.

All three unification treaties of 1918 stated their everlasting character, but sadly their hopes for an eternal union were shattered just two decades later.

Forever lasted until 1940

The Romanians who lived the end of First World War witnessed the creation of Great Romania, a national construction few thought possible at the time. Unfortunately, this dream of generations, made possible with incredible efforts and sacrifices, lasted only until 1940 when large parts of the country were occupied by its discontent neighbors during the Second World War.

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