Antiquity The Romanians of ancient times were called the Geto-Dacians, a population kindred to the Thracians, and their country was called Dacia.
They were for the first time historically attested by Herodotus, surnamed "the father of recorded history" in the 4th century BC, who described the Getae as being ‘‘the most valiant and righteous of the Thracians’’ as they had been the only ones to resist Persian king Darius on his way from the Bosporus to the Danube.
In the 1st century BC, Dacia was a powerful state because, in order to oppose the Roman expansion, king Burebista unified the Geto-Dacian tribes stretching from present-day Slovakia to the Balkans and forced all the Pontic cities (Black Sea in Latin was called Pontus Euxin), from Olbia to Apollonia of Thracia, to submit to his rule. The clash between the armies of Burebista and Julius Caesar was going to take place in 44 BC but just then the Roman Emperor was murdered and after a little while Burebista too fell victim of a plot and was murdered.
Dacia resisted the Roman conquest, both politically and military, for about a century until the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan, who in 106 AD succeeded to break the heroic resistance of king Decebal (87-106 AD), king of legendary bravery who committed suicide to avoid being captured.
The memorial monuments - Trajan’s Column (Rome) and Trophaeum Trojani (Adamclisi, Dobrudja) - attest through their celebrated scenes the bravery of the Dacians in defending their country. There is a monumental scale plaster-cast of Trajan’s Column at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The formation of the Romanian people resulted from the Daco-Roman ethno-cultural symbiosis and, with the Daco-Romans adopting Christianity in the 2nd century, the Romanian people emerged in history as a Latin Christian nation.
In the 4-13th centuries, the Romanians had to face the barbaric waves of migratory peoples who crossed the Romanian territory: Tartars, Hungarians, Slavs, Visigoths, Goths, etc.
The Slavs who spread north of the Danube were assimilated little by little by the Romanian people and their language left slight traces in the Romanian vocabulary. Hungarian (Magyar) tribes started their invasion of Transylvania in the 10th century, and despite heroic efforts to withstand the migration, Transylvania was occupied in the 13th century.
The second half of the 14th century brought about a new threat: the Ottoman Empire. The Romanian principalities fought heavy battles against the Ottoman Turks, thus delaying the Turkish expansion to Central Europe. In Wallachia - Mircea the Old (1386-1418) and Vlad the Impaler (Dracula of the Medieval legends, 1456-1462), in Transylvania - Iancu of Hunedoara (1441-1456). And in Moldavia, Stephen the Great and Holy, protector of arts and Christianity, whose long reign (1457-1504) was marked by a long string of victorious battles and the building of many fortified churches and culture sheltering monasteries, instating peace and prosperity.
After the fall of Constantinople (1453) and Belgrade (1521), Buda was captured by the Turks and the Hungarian kingdom disappeared following the battle of Mohacs (1526). As a result, Transylvania became an autonomous principality (1541) and had to recognise the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, for over three centuries.
Showing great diplomatic skills, the rulers of the Romanian Principalities succeeded to maintain their own political, military and administrative structures by paying tribute to the sultan, as a guarantee for the preservation of domestic autonomy and therefore functioned as distinct entities from the Ottoman Empire.
The end of the 16th century was dominated by the legendary personality of Michael the Brave. He became ruler of Wallachia in 1593, joined the Christian League, an anti-Ottoman coalition initiated by the Papacy and fought heavy battles against the Turkish expansion. In 1599-1600, he united the Romanian Principalities by free will of all inhabitants, gloriously proclaiming himself Prince of Wallachia, Transylvania and the whole of Moldavia, in an attempt to restore the unity of ancient Dacia.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, huge economic and social changes took place, the first capitalist enterprises emerged and Romanian goods were attracted step by step into the European circuit. Romania began an irreversible process of modernisation.
In the early 18th century, the Romanian intellectuals of Transylvania initiated an emancipation movement aiming to establish equal rights with the other ethnic groups, i.e. Hungarian minority elements, as although the Romanians were forming the overwhelming majority, they were considered "tolerated" in their own country.
All Romanian Principalities were throbbing with socio-political unrest and the general national spirit was the union of all Romanian territories into one independent state. The Revolution led by Tudor Vladimirescu in 1821 was shortly followed by another major innovative and emancipating Revolution in 1848, led by Romanian intellectuals and scholars. Later on, despite the hostility of its powerful neighbours, Romania managed to achieve partial national unity in 1859 under Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza.
However, despite armed resistance under the leadership of Avram Iancu, Transylvania was annexed to Hungary and the dualist state of Austro-Hungary was formed in 1867, Transylvania regaining its autonomy only after the fall of the Habsburg dynasty.
World War I and World War II
In August 1914, when World War I broke out, Romania declared neutrality. However, two years later in August 1916, Romania joined the Allies, who promised to help Romania achieve its national unity dream.
After the collapse of the Tsarist system, the autonomy of Bessarabia (Romanian territory which is historical part of Moldavia) was recognised by the Soviet Government and Bessarabia expressed its political desiderate to be united with Romania in March 1918. Bucovina (Romanian province with capital in Cernauti, now part of Ukraine) voted to be united with Romania in November 1918.
After the fall of the Habsburg dynasty, the National Assembly of Transylvania and Banat decided the Union with greater Romania on 1st December 1918, date which is celebrated today as the National Day of Romania. At the end of World War I, the Peace Conference from Paris (January 1919) attested the union of all Romanian Principalities into one single state.
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 seriously damaged Romania’s territorial integrity. The Ribbentrop – Molotov Pact, signed by the Prime Ministers of Germany and Russia, made direct reference to the territorial disintegration of Romania by breaking all international rules and spread the Nazi and Stalinist tyranny in Europe.
Thus in 1940, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Stalin’s Russia forced Romania to cede Bessarabia, Northern Bucovina and Hertza Region to Soviet Russia, North of Transylvania to fascist Hungary led by Horthy, and the Kadrilater (South of Dobrudja) to Bulgaria.
In the Soviet occupied Bessarabia and Bucovina a totalitarian regime was enforced and Romanians suffered from brutal denationalisation and deportation. Hundreds of thousands of Romanians were massacred, sent to gulags or deported to Siberia in an attempt by the Soviets to reverse the demographic ratio.
In Transylvania, the Hungarian Horthy authorities inflicted extreme reprisals on the Romanian population leaving 22,700 casualties, of which 920 individual and collective executions at Ipu, Trasnea, Nusfalau, Hida and Huedin.
In the hope of liberating Bessarabia and Bucovina, General Ion Antonescu (later to become Marshal Antonescu) led Romania into the war on Germany’s side, against the Soviet Union, in June 1941. General Antonescu came to power after the abdication of King Carol II in favour of his son Mihai in September 1940 and introduced military dictatorship by eliminating the Iron Guard Legionnaire movement in January 1941. His political option to fight the war against the Soviet Union was driven by his distrust in Communism and the hope to bring Bessarabia and Bucovina back within Romanian frontiers.
Following a coup d’etat on 23rd August 1944 and the execution of General Antonescu by order of King Mihai, Romania withdrew from the alliance with Germany and joined the Allies. This move stirred a lot of interest at the time.
But although the Romanian Army paid a heavy toll of blood in the war against Germany and fought on the Western Front till May 1945, contributing to the liberation of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria, Romania was denied the status of a cobelligerent nation during the Peace Conference from Paris (1946-1947) and was treated as a defeated state. However, Transylvania was recognised as integral part of post-war Romania.
Winston Churchill & Romania
In the wake of World War II, the key players – the United States, Soviet Russia and Great Britain decided to establish the spheres of influence in Europe and the world, and reshaped the map according to their interests.
As a consequence, Romania and other Central & Eastern European countries fell into the Soviet sphere as the Yalta Conference set the borders between the free world and the Soviet empire in February 1945. The unofficial side-deals and understandings between Roosevelt and Churchill gave Stalin free hand in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).
At the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin not only endorsed the dismemberment, demilitarisation and deindustrialisation of Germany, but also agreed on the sovietisation of Eastern Europe.
However, the Yalta Conference was preceded by an Allied Conference held in Moscow in October 1944, specifically discussing a timetable for Russia to join the Pacific War against Japan and a post-war division of the world map.
It was meant to be a historical mission of the winning powers to adopt a long range policy to direct the future development of both their countries and the defeated states on a world-wide scale.
The participants were Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and their advisors (Sir Anthony Eden and Russian Premier V. Molotov), US ambassador Averell Harriman and General John Dean, head of US military officials in Moscow.
Churchill wrote details on a piece of paper dividing Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Bulgaria between the Allied powers. Stalin simply put a tick against Churchill's suggestions.
Behind the Iron Curtain
Romania stepped into the communist age after King Mihai abdicated in December 1947 and the People’s Republic was proclaimed. Political pluralism was no longer an option as the Communist Party grabbed the entire power by force.
In the 1960's, Romania started to distance itself politically from USSR under the leadership of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and thereon, after the coming to power of Nicolae Ceausescu.
The building of socialism meant the centralisation of infrastructure, the nationalisation of industrial companies, ownership fund, transport network and banking system (there was just the national savings bank), the collectivisation of agriculture and the implementation of massive industrialisation plans with rigid planned rates of output. The cultural elite, the intellectuals who resented the Communist regime, suffered from political persecution, imprisonment or isolation from the civil society.
By promoting its own domestic and foreign policy regardless of Soviet directives, Romania succeeded to establish diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Germany, maintained relations with Israel even after the Arab-Israeli war and firmly condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by the Warsaw Treaty countries. The large-scale industrialisation process was commenced against the will of the Politburo and during the Russian-Chinese conflict, Romania ostentatiously encouraged Chinese imports.
Ceausescu condemned political imperialism and believed in the principle of non-interference into another state’s domestic business, whilst declaring himself firmly against the arms race, especially against nuclear weapons.
Romania was a member of the Warsaw Treaty between 1955 -1991, became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and a member of the International Monetary Fund and of the World Bank in 1958.
Ceausescu’s defiance singled Romania outside the Soviet hegemony (Khrushchev having withdrawn the occupation troops in 1958) but also kept Romania isolated from the rest of Europe. While the other communist European states were timidly trying to restructure their economy, Romania under the leadership of Ceausescu was following a different course.
The gradual consolidation of Ceausescu’s cult of personality and power grab within the state, the exaggerate promotion of exports, the excessive centralisation, and cutbacks in supplies with a view to paying off the country's foreign debt, (Romania repaid more than 21 billion dollars between 1975 and 1989) caused an acute internal crisis.
All this plus the excessive repression of personal liberties accumulated over the years may explain the violence of the collapse of communism in Romania.
A general state of euphoria followed after an amplified revolt of the people was turned into a coup in December 1989. The Romanians were eager to embrace a democratic multiparty system with a free market economy and Romania's reintegration into the European political and cultural space from which it had been kept off for decades on end by the Iron Curtain.
The next stage meant fast privatisation, economic & judicial restructuring and the encouragement of foreign investments. Romania's foreign policy has been dominated by the goals of achieving European and Euro-Atlantic integration and Romania joined NATO in 1997. And despite the weaknesses inherent to any newly-established democracy, Romania, which is the largest state in Central and South-East Europe, has always been a factor of stability and balance in Europe.