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Romania - History

Since about 200 BC, when it was settled by the Dacians, a Thracian tribe, Romania has been in the path of a series of migrations and conquests. Under the emperor Trajan early in the second century A.D., Dacia was incorporated into the Roman Empire, but was abandoned by a declining Rome less than two centuries later. Romania disappeared from recorded history for hundreds of years, to reemerge in the medieval period as the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia.

Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the Romanian lands from earliest history were vulnerable to marauding tribes. Over the centuries, the region was dominated by powerful neighbors, including the Roman, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires. These and other foreign powers plundered the natural wealth of the Romanian lands and held the native population in abject poverty.

The province of Wallachia in 1396, and Moldavia in 1511, were conquered by the Ottoman rulers, thus extinguishing the Romanian Independence. The Walachian prince, Michael the Brave, fought a war of national liberation against the Ottoman Empire in the late sixteenth century and, for a short time, united the three Romanian states of Walachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania. Russia, by the treaty of Kainardji, in 1774, and by subsequent conventions with Turkey, secured right of intervention in those provinces; and in 1812, at the Peace of Bucharest, she acquired Moldavia, the province of Bessarabia, and later Wallachia. This was partly superseded, however, by the treaty of Paris, and the provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia were declared to be tributary to Turkey, under a Christian governor, to which the Sultan acquiesced quite readily.

In 1861 the two provinces united under the name of "The United Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia," which the powers and the Porte recognized in the same year, and Prince Couzo was elected governor for life. He abdicated, however, in 1866, and Prince Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was elected in April, and invested as hereditary Prince, by the Sultan at Constantinople. Henceforth, they designated the country as " Roumania," which did not receive diplomatic recognition. In 1877, Roumania consented to the passage of the Russian army for the invasion of Turkey, and co-operated in the reduction of Plevna. On May 22, 1877, the Assembly declared Independence, which was ratified by the treaties of San-Stefano and Berlin. On March 26, 1881, the country assumed the sovereign title of " Kingdom." Heavily taxed and badly administered under the Ottoman Empire, the two Principalities had their full independence ratified in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin. A German prince, Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, was crowned the first King of Romania in 1881.

It was not until the late nineteenth century that an independent, unified Romania finally emerged. But for decades after gaining independence, Romanians remained second-class citizens in their own country. Outside interests continued to control much of the nation's industry and agriculture, and non-Romanian ethnic groups dominated commerce. The new state, squeezed between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, looked to the West, particularly France, for its cultural, educational, and administrative models. Romania was an ally of the Entente and the U.S. in World War I, and was granted substantial territories with Romanian populations, notably Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina, after the war.

Most of Romania's pre-World War II governments maintained the forms, but not always the substance, of a liberal constitutional monarchy. The fascist Iron Guard movement, exploiting a quasi-mystical nationalism, fear of communism, and resentment of alleged foreign and Jewish domination of the economy, was a key destabilizing factor, which led to the creation of a royal dictatorship in 1938 under King Carol II. Throughout the twentieth century, Romania's leaders repeatedly exploited the nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments that the long history of foreign domination had instilled in their countrymen. During the 1930s, these sentiments gave rise to the violently anti- Semitic and anticommunist Iron Guard, the largest fascist movement in the Balkans.

In 1940, the authoritarian General Antonescu took control. The Iron Guard promoted the establishment of a pro-German military dictatorship led by General Ion Antonescu, who brought Romania into World War II on the side of the Axis Powers in June 1941. But his dream of regaining the territories of Bukovina and Bessarabia, annexed by the Soviet Union in the first year of the war, was not to be realized. Indeed, by joining Hitler's forces and attacking the Soviet Union, Antonescu sealed Romania's tragic postwar fate.

In August 1944, a coup led by King Michael, with support from opposition politicians and the army, deposed the Antonescu dictatorship and put Romania's battered armies on the side of the Allies. Romania incurred additional heavy casualties fighting alongside the Soviet Union against the Germans in Transylvania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.

According to the officially recognized 2004 Wiesel Commission report, Romanian authorities were responsible for the death of between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews in the territories under Romanian jurisdiction (including Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Transnistria) out of a population of approximately 760,000. In addition, 132,000 Romanian Jews were killed by the pro-Nazi Hungarian authorities in Transylvania.

A peace treaty, signed in Paris on February 10, 1947, confirmed the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, but restored the part of northern Transylvania granted to Hungary in 1940 by Hitler. The treaty also required massive war reparations by Romania to the Soviet Union, whose occupying forces left in 1958.

Occupied by the victorious Red Army, Romania in 1948 suffered a communist takeover and was forced to pay heavy reparations to the Soviet Union. The Soviets pressed for inclusion of Romania's heretofore negligible Communist Party in the post-war government, while non-communist political leaders were steadily eliminated from political life. King Michael abdicated under pressure in December 1947, when the Romanian People's Republic was declared, and went into exile.

By the late 1950s, Romania's communist government began to assert some independence from the Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceausescu became head of the Communist Party in 1965 and head of state in 1967. Ceausescu's denunciation of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and a brief relaxation in internal repression helped give him a positive image both at home and in the West. Seduced by Ceausescu's "independent" foreign policy, Western leaders were slow to turn against a regime that, by the late 1970s, had become increasingly harsh, arbitrary, and capricious. Rapid economic growth fueled by foreign credits gradually gave way to economic autarchy accompanied by wrenching austerity and severe political repression.

There are no universally accepted figures, but a 2006 presidential commission established to study the communist dictatorship said more than 600,000 Romanians were sentenced for political crimes between 1945 and 1989. Thousands died from beatings, illness, exhaustion, cold, or lack of food or medicine.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:47 ZULU