Romania Table of Contents
Alexandru Ioan Cuza, prince of the United Principalities of Moldavia and Walachia (1859-66)
THE ROMANIAN PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC, later renamed the Socialist Republic of Romania, came into being in 1948 when the country's communist party, under Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, consolidated its power and promulgated a Soviet-style constitution. Romania, in spite of its fierce prewar anticommunism and long antipathy toward tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, became one of the first East European states to suffer a Soviet-sponsored communist takeover after World War II. For nearly a decade after the war, Romania obediently followed Moscow's lead, but in the late 1950s Gheorghiu-Dej defied a Soviet attempt to make his country a "breadbasket" for the East bloc and insisted on continuing his country's rapid industrial expansion. The Romanian leader also developed an independent foreign policy and launched a campaign promoting Romanian nationalism. Nicolae Ceausescu succeeded Gheorghiu-Dej in 1965 and continued his mentor's policies. Ceausescu, however, appended to them an extravagant cult of personality that once promoted him as Romania's "secular god" and heir to the wisdom of Romanian rulers from ages past.
Romanians descend from the Dacians, an ancient people who fell under Rome's dominance in the first century A.D., intermarried with Roman colonists, and adopted elements of Roman culture, including a Vulgar Latin that evolved into today's Romanian. Barbarian tribes forced the Romans out of Dacia in 271. In the eleventh century the Magyars, the ancestors of today's Hungarians, settled the mountainous heart of ancient Dacia, Transylvania. Hungarian historians claim that Transylvania was almost uninhabited when the Magyars arrived; Romanians, however, assert that their ancestors remained in Transylvania after Rome's exodus and that Romanians constitute the region's aboriginal inhabitants. This disagreement was the germ of a conflict that poisoned relations between Romanians and Hungarians throughout the twentieth century.
For thousands of years, Romania suffered from an unfortunate location astride the invasion routes of migrating hordes and the frontiers of ambitious empires that plundered its wealth and enslaved its people. For centuries Transylvania, with its repressed Romanian majority, was a semi-autonomous part of Hungary. Romanians fleeing Transylvania founded the independent principalities of Walachia and Moldavia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Ottoman Empire dominated all three regions from the sixteenth to the late seventeenth century, when Austria's Habsburgs gained full control of Transylvania. Walachia and Moldavia came under Russian protection soon afterward and remained under Russian influence until the Crimean War (1853-56) ended the protectorate. In 1859 Walachia and Moldavia merged to form Romania, and in 1881 its prince renounced Turkish suzerainty and Romania became a kingdom. Austria reunited Transylvania and Hungary in 1867, but the union lasted only until the end of World War I, when Romania acquired Transylvania. World War II brought dismemberment of Greater Romania, and the country sided with Germany hoping to regain its lost territories. In 1943 the Red Army crushed Romanian forces before Stalingrad, and in 1944 Romania's King Michael overthrew the country's radical right-wing premier and signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. Moscow forced Michael to appoint a communist sympathizer to lead the government in 1945, and three years later Romania found itself under strict communist control.
Data as of July 1989