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Romania is a territory which was part of the Roman Empire (Province of Dacia). The language is descended from Latin with many influences from the neighbors who speak Slavic languages. The Romanian provinces were subject to the Ottoman Turks (paid them a tribute, while Transylvania was directly ruled) from 1455 until 1856, when the provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia became autonomous. Romanians in other countries are often called Vlachs (linguistically related to the Germanic word Welsh=foreigner). They joined to form roughly the present state in 1861.

There are disputed frontiers. Moldova (formerly Moldavia) in the former Soviet Union is a mainly Romanian speaking area which until 1939 was called Bessarabia and a Romanian province. Transylvania (beyond the forest) includes a large Hungarian population and has been ruled by Hungary at several periods (before the first world war and during the second world war). The main religion of the Romanian speakers is Orthodoxy (which made them of interest to the Tsarist regime in Russia); the Hungarians tend to be Protestant.

There has never been a period of democratic government. Between the wars there was a corrupt regime which alternated between control by a more or less fascist, rather anti-semitic dictator, Antonescu, and the corrupt king.

Just before the second world war Romania was ruled by king Carol (Charles) who was overthrown in 1939 by a fascist group, the Iron Guard, which allied with Germany whose troops then occupied the country. In the German-Soviet pact of 1939 Moldavia (Bessarabia) was ceded to the Soviet Union without consulting the Romanian government. In the final days of the second world war the new king Michael, Carol's son, staged a palace coup and withdrew Romania from the war. The country was then occupied by Soviet forces.

In 1947 the Communist party backed by Soviet troops seized power, made the king abdicate and instituted one of the most oppressive of the communist regimes, which evolved into a personal, and indeed family or dynastic, despotism of Nicolae Ceausescu. The communists had previously been a small minority which could not even claim, as in Yugoslavia, to have led the struggle against the Germans. The Ceausescu regime was perhaps the nastiest of all the Communist regimes (except for Albania and North Korea).

Ceausescu provided little education and the people were uninformed about the outside world. After the 1989 revolution Romania revealed the worst social conditions of any country, except Albania, with derelict orphanages and mental hospitals. Ceausescu had forbidden all forms of birth control in an attempt to increase the population. Families could not support the children they were forced to have. Starvation and illiteracy were common. Ceausescu wanted to destroy all the villages of the country and moved people into badly built concrete apartment blocks where they could not grow vegetables in private plots. The result was a brutalized population. Nothing good at all can be said about the Communist regime.

Ceausescu, however, was supported by the western powers because he refused to allow Soviet troops in the country and had what was called an "independent" foreign policy - he did not follow Soviet instructions. Because of this the outside powers ignored his treatment of his own people and gave him some assistance. Thus, as in Central America and in Iraq, Realpolitik resulted in human misery. In 1989 Gorbachov warned Ceausescu that things would have to change but he refused to listen and regarded Gorbachov as a traitor to Communism.

At Christmas 1989 he was overthrown and shot. The change of the expression of his face, when the crowd in front of his palace stopped fawning at his speech and shouted for his deposition, is one of the great moments of the 20th century.

What actually happened? Was it a popular uprising? Some observers believe it was really a Palace Coup arranged by the Securitate, as the people who gained power were the same as the associates of Ceausescu. Perhaps they had the help of Gorbachov's KGB and the only purpose was to remove him and his wife. The successor regime seemed to be run by the same people who were in Ceausescu's Communist government, with a non-Communist professor as Prime Minister. The president Ion Iliescu is rumored to have returned from Moskva shortly before the rising.

There are speakers of Romanian in Moldova and the Bukovina, now part of the Ukraine. There are also scattered communities throughout the Balkans, including Yugoslavia and Greece. Reunion with Moldova seemed possible if the civil war there does not bring in Russian or Ukrainian forces, but the people of Moldova seem reluctant and have voted against.

(Transylvania - Beyond the Woods) - has nothing in common with the fictional country invented by Bram Stoker the novelist, though a medieval feudal lord known as Vlad the Impaler lived there and behaved with brutality unusual even for his time. But he is a national hero because he delayed the conquest by the Turks. Nasty though he was, he was just an ordinary thug: sorry, hero. However, the country needs the money so the tourist department plays along with the Hollywood myth.)

Real Transylvania's tragedy is that the Hungarian minority may yet experience ethnic cleansing. Already Magyars there are discriminated against and attacked by right wing bully boys. In recent years this danger may be diminishing, and is now subject to EU rules and sanctions.

There are several groups of people speaking non-Romanian languages. These include groups of Turks and Tatars who live in the coastal province, formerly directly ruled by the Ottomans. The largest group is the Magyars.

European Union
Together with Bulgaria Romania became a member of the EU in 2007 - but with transitional arrangements making it difficult for people to work in other member states.



Magyar (in Transylvania)
Carmen Bugan - Burying the Typewriter

Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police







Romania has had elections but the people who won at first were the people who made up the Communist Party, with a few of the leaders removed. They called themselves the National Salvation Front, changing in May 1993 to Democratic Party. Were the elections fair? Many think they were manipulated so that free elections have yet to come.

However, the worst of Ceausescu's policies seem to have been abandoned. The privatization of land has been promised and the destruction of villages has been stopped. Romania is now open to relief from western Europe and may later be open to investment. There is also the multi-ethnic nature of the population, which a fascist minority would like to deny.

In November 1991 Romania adopted a constitution with the French characteristic of a strong President and a Prime Minister. It remains to be seen whether his strong powers will be beneficial or whether they will allow him to become a dictator.

Like the other East European regimes they have talked about privatization and democracy. However, what seems to be happening is a return to ethnic conflict with Hungarians and Gypsies. The pre-war Iron Guard and other neo-fascist organizations are said to have revived. Most observers believe there will be more disturbances. The condition of the Hungarian minority is watched from Budapest and Brussels. If massacres on a large scale occur no-one knows what Hungary would do. Ethnic Cleansing is threatened, perhaps by encouragement to emigrate to Hungary.

The king deposed in 1947 is still alive. Could he regain his throne?

Romania might be the most likely east European state to restore the monarchy. But democracy will be achieved with difficulty. Fascism looks more likely. Antisemitism is already awake.

Elections in October and November 1996 finally brought a non-communist to power but elections in December 2000 returned Ion Iliescu, a former Communist, to power as president.

Many Romanians consider that the current regime has never shown a clean break from the Communist period. The richest men in the country are nearly all former Communist officials. Gangster Capitalism, as practiced in Russia remains the main economic structure.

In June 2012 there are political disturbances between a very authoritarian (left wing) prime minister and his attempt to impeach or depose the president (right wing). The constitution is based on that of the Fifth Republic in France with ambiguous power boundaries between the prime minister and the president.

European Union supervisors have criticised the political situation and may delay the end of the transition arrangements before full membership of the EU on the grounds of insufficient democracy.

The real political problem may be that at the end of communism the new constitution adopted was based on that of the Fifth Republic in France. The powers of the President (directly elected) and the powers of the Prime Minister, (elected by the Assembly) conflict.

At the end of July 2012 there was a referendum on impeaching the president. 50% of voters were needed but this number was not achieved. If successful there would have been a new election in three months.

Interesting reading

Try a novel: Olivia Manning - The Balkan Trilogy
(Fortunes of War)

The Balkan Trilogy: "Great Fortune", "Spoilt City" and "Friends and Heroes"

Les Balkans (La fortune des armes.)

Lonely Planet - Romania

Romania and Moldova (Lonely Planet Country Guide)

Romania & Moldova







Ceausescu had a policy of repaying all foreign debt and to do this exported food to the extent that people were starving on insufficient rations. There was electricity rationing and people were cold during the winter.

The industrial economy suffered from the same problems of lack of innovation and low efficiency that all other Communist states suffered from. Investment was concentrated on grandiose heavy industry of antique, Stalinist, design. In a market economy almost all the steel mills and chemical factories would be unable to compete with modern plants. The result is threatening mass unemployment.

Agriculture suffered from low investment and the destruction of villages and collectivization. The use of animals for plowing and cartage is still common. Except for Albania, Romania is the furthest from a modern economy, perhaps showing that Communism had very little effect on the techniques used by peasants.

Romania may be the poorest of all the east European states (except for Albania). The oil fields were important at one time but most of them are now said to be worked out (but modern methods might be able to extract oil which Soviet methods could not).

In 1992 the market moved in but how can people buy if they have no money?

For most of the people the market economy is represented more by the crooks and conmen than by prosperity from new businesses. A notorious example was Caritas, a classic Ponzi pyramid con, which sucked in most of the population during 1993 before collapsing. This sort of thing is a result of lack of education into how a non-communist economy works, and a belief in something for nothing. Russian supplies are still vital for the economy, which makes integration into the west difficult.

There are reports of widespread criminal activity in all parts of the economy. Street pickpockets can be found in other European countries.







Industrial plants were designed without any regard for pollution control. Even by Communist standards the pollution of the countryside and rivers is bad.

The only advantage of the closure of the heavy industry is that at least some of the grotesque pollution has improved - but at the cost of mass unemployment.

AIDS spread by dirty hospital needles in Communist times.

Street children.






Human Rights

The fall of Ceausescu brought to an end state controlled oppression but revealed a people not used to freedom. In particular treatment of minorities such as the Hungarians of Transylvania shows signs of being unjust. Hatred of Roma (Gypsies) is common. Violent nationalist organizations of the kind that existed before the second world war show signs of being re-formed. This creates an atmosphere of fear and hostility in the mixed areas. There was no respect for state property or individual rights and the result is an atmosphere of fear and criminality.

The legal system is now subject to the rules of the EU and Council of Europe. Admission to the EU in 2007 was on condition that it improved. Has it? Not much.

Climate effects

Last revised 19/07/12


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