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Last updated : Nov 2009
Romania History
Romania History - TravelPuppy.com
Ethnic Romanians are descendants of the Dacians, one of the Romanised Thracian tribes that inhabited the Balkan Peninsula during the first millennium BC. The region was part of the Roman Empire until AD 275 at which point it was colonised by the Goths. Between the 6th and 12th centuries, Romania was repeatedly overrun by the Huns, Bulgars and Slavs. In the 15th century, the majority of the territory (specifically the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia) was annexed by the Turkish Ottomans. As the Ottoman Empire entered its long period of decline during the early 19th century, Romania came under the Russian sphere of influence. Wallachia and Moldavia (not to be confused with the modern state of Moldova, then known as Bessarabia) formally united as Romania in 1861 under the rule of Prince Alexander Cuza. Romania subsequently backed the Russians in their war against the Turks in 1877. After the end of the war the next year, Romania was finally recognised by the major European powers as an independent state ruled by King Carol I (formerly known as Prince Charles of Hohenzollern, and who had overthrown Alexander Cuza in 1866).

Romania was at war yet again in 1913, this time against Bulgaria in the year-long Second Balkan War, and in 1916 joined the allied cause in World War I. The post-war re-organisation of Europe saw Romania gain a number of territories from the dismembered Habsburg empire. During the 1930s, in common with other European countries, Romania experienced the swift growth of an indigenous fascist movement, the Iron Guard. It was not allowed from taking power by King Carol II, who suspended the constitution and established an absolute monarchy. In 1940, the Germans occupied Romania and forced Carol to resign. The country was placed in the hands of General Ion Antonescu who without delay joined the Nazis in their war against the Soviet Union. In 1944, with Soviet forces about to occupy the country, the Antonescu regime was removed from power and replaced by a coalition government of communists, liberals and social democrats, under the titular leadership of Carol II’s son, King Michael.

The Communists slowly established their political control within the Government; in 1947 the monarchy was overthrown and the Government declared the Romanian People’s Republic. Nicolae Ceausescu assumed the post of First Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) in 1965 and held power in the country until the dramatic, bloody and highly unexpected revolution during Christmas 1989. Despite being a member of the Warsaw Pact and the COMECON trading bloc, Romania was inclined to pursue independent policies, particularly with regard to military and foreign policy matters: Ceausescu refused to allow other Warsaw Pact military forces to maintain bases in the country, and in 1968 he vigorously denounced the Soviet-led invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia. The reformist policies of glasnost and perestroika, introduced by the new Soviet leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev from 1985, were sarcastically rejected by Ceausescu. Consequently Romania lost its unique advantage as the maverick of the Soviet bloc. Also, domestic and international opposition increased as the true nature of the regime’s draconian domestic policies – including forced assimilation of minorities, tight rationing of basic items and severe cultural and political suppression – became apparent. In mid-December 1989, protests in the city of Timisoara triggered a nationwide revolt. A large part of the army defected from the regime to join the revolutionaries – under the loose umbrella of the National Salvation Front (NSF) – and for quite a few days the country was in a state of open civil war as the pro-Ceausescu Securitate (secret police) mounted a desperate bid to prevent the collapse of the regime, during which thousands were killed.

The President and his wife were taken into custody, quickly tried and executed. The new government, under the provisional leadership of Ion Iliescu (the former Communist Central Committee Secretary) was faced with numerous acute problems: the pacification of the country; the disbanding of the Securitate; the restoration of the economy; and the need to prepare Romania for peaceful multi-party elections. Iliescu has since become the dominant figure in Romanian politics and went on to serve three terms as president. The next three years were a period of serious instability – sporadically breaking out into violence – as Romania made a painful transition from communist dictatorship to pluralist democracy.

The ruling National Salvation Front finally split into two factions led by Petre Roman, Prime Minister for 18 months in 1990 and 1991, and President Iliescu, who formed his own breakaway party, the Democratic National Salvation Front (later renamed the Social Democratic Party of Romania). Over the next decade, it was the Social Democrats who succeeded while the Roman faction dwindled away. However, at the November 1996 elections, the Social Democrats lost control of both the presidency and the national assembly, to a five-party centre-right alliance entitled the Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR).

The new Government was wracked by internal bickering from the start. In April 1998, Prime Minister Viktor Ciorbea resigned from office. Two transitional governments, lasting 20 and nine months respectively, held office until the next round of elections scheduled for November 2000. The Social Democrats were returned to office – the DCR was all but wiped out – and Ion Iliescu took over once again as president. The gloomiest feature of the election was the performance of the far-right nationalist Partidul Romania Mare (PDR, Party of Great Romania). The Social Democrats relied on a handful of smaller parties to guarantee a parliamentary majority, and the centre-right party led by Traian Basescu won the most recent presidential elections in December 2004.

Although the constant changes of government have confirmed that Romania is now a fully-fledged and organized democratic state, they have made it very hard to pursue and execute major policy initiatives and this has undoubtedly held back the country’s development since 1990. Economic progress has been inconsistent (see Economy section) while Romania has not advanced as far as its east European counterparts towards its twin principal goals: membership of NATO and of the European Union. Nevertheless, it is definitely in both queues. In 2004 Romania was officially welcomed as a new member of NATO. Membership of the EU will take a bit longer. A national referendum in October 2003 secured popular support for the policies needed to make Romania eligible to join the EU. This will be a complicated process, involving radical and painful reform of parts of the Romanian economy, but the country is on track to join the EU in 2007/8.

Romania’s other foreign policy concerns relate to ethnicity. So-called discrimination against Romania’s large Hungarian population has caused hostility in the past, but this has eased following a series of co-operation agreements between Budapest and Bucharest. The situation in Moldova, the former Soviet republic which has a mainly ethnic Romanian population, has caused occasional problems with Moscow. There is a strong lobby for the unification of Moldova and Romania, but this is ferociously resisted by the mainly Slav population of the eastern Moldovan province of Transnistria. A permanent settlement of the problem, which will also require the endorsement of the Ukrainian Government, has so far proved elusive.