Romania

Background

Romanian history at a glance

Present day Romania originates from the unification of the three principalities of Moldovia, Wallachia and Transylvania. Transylvania formed part of the Habsburg Empire from the 17th century while the other two remained under Ottoman control well into the 19th century. The nation state of Romania was created in 1859 (formally named so three years later) and consisted of Moldovia and Wallachia. In 1881 Romania was declared a kingdom with Carol I as a king.

After WWI Romania took important steps towards strengthening national state life by enacting major reforms: the universal ballot (1918), the land reform (1921) and the Constitution of 1923. The period also witnessed the emergence of numerous political parties in Romania. Following the depression of 1929 a fascist movement grew in strength. The movement, later known as the 'Iron Guard', dominated the political scene by 1935. Carol II, who had succeed his father Ferdinand I, declared a royal dictatorship in 1938 and all political parties were dissolved. With the Ribentropp-Molotov Pact of 1939, USSR and Germany established its spheres of influence in Central and Eastern Europe and Romania underwent severe territorial losses. The USSR occupied Bessarabia in 1940 and Germany and Italy forced Romania to cede northern Transylvania to Hungary and southern Dobruja to Bulgaria. These setbacks forced mass demonstrations, and General Antonescu, who was in charge of quelling the demonstrations, forced Carol II to abdicate in favour of his son, Michael. Antonescu then imposed a fascist dictatorship with himself as leader. In 1941 he joined Hitler’s anti-Soviet war. In 1944, however, with the Soviet approaching Romania’s border, Romania switched sides.

The Soviet-engineered return of Transylvania to Romania helped Moscow-backed communists win the 1946-elections. A year later King Michael was forced to abdicate, and a Romanian People’s Republic was proclaimed. A period of state terror then ensued, in which all pre-war leaders, prominent intellectuals and suspected dissidents were rounded up and imprisoned in labour camps.

In the 1960s, under the leadership of Gheorghiu-Dej and his successor Nikolae Ceausescu, the Communist Party of Romania began to implement a foreign policy independent of Soviet goals. Ceausescu condemned the Soviet intervention of Czechoslovakia in 1968, earning him praise and economic aid from the West. The advent of Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s meant that Romania lost importance in the West and Ceausescu decided to export Romania’s food to pay off the country’s mounting debt. The standards of living plunged while the populace was controlled by the secret police (Securitate). Ceausescu and his wife and government lived in luxury, while people struggled to feed them themselves as basic food commodities were rationed. When communist regimes across Europe fell in 1989, Ceausescu resisted the trend and reassessed his unpopular policies. In December 1989 antigovernment demonstrations erupted in the country’s cities, and when the Romanian army joined the uprising against him, the Ceausescus fled. The couple was tried by an anonymous court, and executed by a firing squad on Christmas day 1989.

Politics in the new era

After 1990 the democratic system was reformed, and the parliamentary system as well as the free press were reinstated in Romania. In 1991 the new constitution was adopted and Romania was thus reshaped as a semi-presidential democratic republic, whereby the prime minister is the head of government. Executive functions are shared between the president and the prime minister. The former traditional parties – the Peasants’ Christian and Democratic National Party, the Liberal National Party and the Democratic Social Party reappeared on the Romanian political stage along with the Front of National salvation (FSN), formed after December 1989. In 1992 FSN split into two factions: the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and the Democratic Party (PD). Although the 1990 elections were definitely won by the FSN, the 1992 election results indicated a rising popularity of the opposition. In 1996 the PDSR lost political power, and the opposition as represented by the Romanian Democratic Convention (CDR) and the PD won the elections. In 1990 and 1992 Ion Iliescu was elected president of Romania, while Emil Constantinescu, the candidate of CDR, won the 1996 elections. Throughout the 1990s and into the next decade the country's economy lagged as it struggled to make the transition to a market-based economy. Price increases and food shortages led to civil unrest, and the closing of mines set off large-scale strikes and demonstrations by miners. In the legislative and presidential elections which took place in November 2000 the PSDR secured the majority of the seats in the Camera Deputatilor and in the Senatul.

The rate of voter participation was the lowest recorded since the collapse of communism. The two-round presidential elections led former president Iliescu to regain power. In October 2003 the electorate approved 79 proposed amendments to the constitution, which aimed to bring it into conformity with EU requirements. Romania joined NATO the year after.  

In the November 2004 concurrent presidential and legislative elections, the National Union emerged as the largest bloc in both chambers. In the run-off elections round the centre-right opposition candidate Traian Basescu (DP) achieved a narrow victory over his contester Adrian Nastase (SDP).

In April 2005, Romania finally signed an accession treaty with the European Union, and Romania became a member of the EU as of 2007. EU membership did, however, not prove a guarantee for political stability. In 2006, Nastase, who had become parliament speaker, was charged with corruption; he accused the government of mounting a politically inspired prosecution. Furthermore, on April 19 2007, the Romanian Parliament voted in favour of the suspension of president Basescu on the grounds of accusations of the president repeatedly having abused his powers and breached the constitution. TIn a joint referendum over election rules and EP election held in November 2007, the EP-election produced a turnout below 50 percent and the electoral bureau declared the results invalid.

Sources

Romania. 2009. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 3, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9110568

Recent History (Romania), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Bergen. Retrieved 03 February 2009 from http://www.europaworld.com/entry/ro.is.4