From about 200 B.C., 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. Heavily taxed
and badly administered under the Ottoman Empire, the two principalities were
unified under a single native prince in 1859, and had their full independence
ratified in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin. A German prince, Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen,
was crowned first King of Romania in 1881.
The new state, squeezed between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian
Empires, with Slav neighbors on three sides, looked to the West, particularly
France, for its cultural, educational, and administrative models. Romania
was an ally of the Entente and the United States 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 quasi-mystical
fascist Iron Guard movement, exploiting 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. In 1940, the authoritarian General Antonescu
took control. Romania entered World War II on the side of the Axis Powers
in June 1941, invading the Soviet Union to recover Bessarabia and Bukovina,
which had been annexed in 1940.
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 the Germans in Transylvania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
The peace treaty, signed at 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
required massive war reparations by Romania to the Soviet Union, whose occupying
forces left in 1958.
The Soviets pressed for inclusion of Romania's heretofore negligible Communist
Party in the post-war government, while noncommunist 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
In the early 1960s, 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 wrenching austerity and severe political repression.
After the collapse of communism in the rest of eastern Europe in the late
summer and fall of 1989, a mid-December protest in Timisoara against the
forced relocation of an ethnic Hungarian pastor grew into a countrywide protest
against the Ceausescu regime, sweeping the dictator from power. Ceausescu
and his wife were executed on December 25, 1989, after a cursory military
trial. About 1,500 people were killed in confused street fighting. An impromptu
governing coalition, the National
Salvation Front (FSN), installed itself and proclaimed the restoration
of democracy and freedom. The Communist Party was outlawed, and Ceausescu's
most unpopular measures, such as bans on abortion and contraception, were
Ion Iliescu, a former Communist Party official demoted by Ceausescu in
the 1970s, emerged as the leader of the NSF. Presidential and parliamentary
elections were held on May 20, 1990. Running against representatives of the
pre-war National Peasants' Party and National Liberal Party, Iliescu won
85% of the vote. The NSF captured two-thirds of the seats in Parliament,
named a university professor, Petre Roman, as Prime Minister, and began cautious
free market reforms.
The new government made a crucial early misstep. Unhappy at the continued
political and economic influence of members of the Ceausescu-era elite, anti-communist
protesters camped in University Square in April 1990. When miners from the
Jiu Valley descended on Bucharest 2 months later and brutally dispersed
the remaining "hooligans," President Iliescu expressed public thanks, thus
convincing many that the government had sponsored the miners' actions. The
miners also attacked the headquarters and houses of opposition leaders.
The Roman government fell in late September 1991, when the miners returned
to Bucharest to demand higher salaries and better living conditions. A technocrat,
Theodor Stolojan, was appointed to head an interim government until new
elections could be held.
Parliament drafted a new democratic constitution, approved by popular referendum
in December 1991. The FSN split into two groups, led by Ion Iliescu (FDSN)
and Petre Roman (FSN) in March 1992; Roman's party subsequently adopted
the name Democratic Party (PD). National elections in September 1992 returned
President Iliescu by a clear majority, and gave his party, the FDSN, a plurality.
With parliamentary support from the nationalist PUNR and PRM parties, and
the ex-communist PSM Party, a technocratic government was formed in November
1992 under Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu, an economist. The FDSN became
the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PDSR) in July 1993. The Vacaroiu
government ruled in coalition with three smaller parties,
all of which abandoned the coalition by the
time of the November 1996 elections. Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic
Convention (CDR) electoral coalition defeated President Iliescu in the second
round of voting by 9% and replaced him as chief of state. The PDSR won the
largest number of seats in Parliament, but the constituent parties of the
CDR joined the Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, and the Hungarian
Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) to form a centrist coalition government,
holding 60% of the seats in Parliament. Victor Ciorbea was named prime minister.
Ciorba remained in office until March 1998, when he was replaced by Radu
Vasile (PNTCD), followed by Mugur Isarescu in 2000. The 2000 general elections
brought back both the PDSR with Adrian Nastase as prime minister and Ion
Iliescu as president.
Photos from Alexandria