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Memorial to Jews massacred at Sarmas in 1944
Courtesy Scott Edelman

Two postwar agreements that Romania signed, the Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria and the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary, more than doubled Romania's size, adding Transylvania, Dobruja, Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and part of the Banat to the Old Kingdom. The treaties also fulfilled the centuries-long Romanian dream of uniting all Romanians in a single country. Although the newly acquired regions brought added wealth and doubled the country's population to 16 million, they also introduced foreign nationalities, cultures, and social and political institutions that proved difficult to integrate with those of the Old Kingdom. These differences aroused chauvinism, exacerbated anti-Semitism, and fueled discrimination against Hungarians and other minorities. In the foreign arena, Romania faced Hungarian, Soviet, and Bulgarian demands for restoration of territories lost under the treaties; Romania geared its interwar network of alliances toward maintaining its territorial integrity.

King Ferdinand's fear of revolution and wartime promises of land reform prompted the enactment of agrarian reform laws between 1917 and 1921 that provided for the expropriation and distribution of large estates in the Old Kingdom and new territories. The reform radically altered the country's land-distribution profile as the government redistributed arable land belonging to the crown, boyars, church institutions, and foreign and domestic absentee landlords. When the reform measures were completed, the government had distributed 5.8 million hectares to about 1.4 million peasants; and peasants with ten hectares or less controlled 60 percent of Romania's tilled land. Former owners of the expropriated lands received reimbursement in long-term bonds; peasants were to repay the government 65 percent of the expropriation costs over twenty years. The land reforms suffered from corruption and protracted lawsuits and did not give rise to a modern, productive agricultural sector. Rather, ignorance, overpopulation, lack of farm implements and draft animals, too few rural credit institutions, and excessive division of land kept many of the rural areas mired in poverty. Expropriation of Hungarian-owned property in Transylvania and the Banat created social tensions and further embittered relations with Hungary.

In October 1922, Ferdinand became king of Greater Romania, and in 1923 Romania adopted a new constitution providing for a highly centralized state. A chamber of deputies and a senate made up the national legislature, and the king held the power to appoint prime ministers. The constitution granted males suffrage and equal political rights, eliminated the Romanian Orthodox Church's legal supremacy, gave Jews citizenship rights, prohibited foreigners from owning rural land, and provided for expropriation of rural property and nationalization of the country's oil and mineral wealth. The constitution's liberal civil rights guarantees carried dubious force, however, and election laws allowed political bosses to manipulate vote tallies easily. The constitution enabled Bucharest to dominate Transylvania's affairs, which further fueled resentment in the region.

The war and the land reform obliterated Romania's pro-German, boyar-dominated Conservative Party. Bratianu's Liberal Party, which represented the country's industrial, financial, and commercial interests, controlled the government through rigged elections from 1922 to 1928. The Liberal government's corruption and Bratianu's hard-handed measures eroded the party's popularity. In 1926 Maniu's National Party and the Peasant Party, one of the political remnants of the Old Kingdom, merged to form the National Peasant Party. Taking full advantage of a broadened franchise, the new party soon rivaled the Liberals. The Social Democratic Party was Romania's strongest working-class party, but the country's labor movement was weak and Social Democratic candidates never collected enough votes to win the party more than a few seats in parliament. Despite this meager showing, a faction of Social Democrats in 1921 founded the Communist Party. Communist agitators worked among Romania's industrial workers, especially ethnic minorities in the newly acquired territories, before the government banned the party in 1924. Communism was unpopular in Romania between the wars, partly because Romanians feared the Soviet Union's threat to reclaim Bessarabia; Moscow even directed Romania's communists to advocate detachment of Romania's newly won territories.

Complicating an already unstable situation, the royal family in the mid-1920s suffered a scandal when Crown Prince Carol, exhibiting a Phanariot's love of pleasure, married a Greek princess but continued a long-term liaison with a stenographer. Rather than obey Ferdinand's command to break off his love affair, in 1927 Carol abdicated his right to the throne in favor of his six-year-old son Michael and went to Paris in exile. Ferdinand died within several months, and a regency ruled for Michael. The Liberal Party lost control of the government to the National Peasant Party in fair elections after Bratianu's death in 1927, and Maniu soon invited Prince Carol to return to his homeland. In 1930 Carol returned, and Romania's parliament proclaimed him king. King Carol (1930-40) proved an ambitious leader, but he surrounded himself with corrupt favorites and, to Maniu's dismay, continued his extramarital affair. Maniu soon lost faith in the monarch he had brought out of exile and resigned the premiership. In 1931 Carol ousted the National Peasant Party and named a coalition government under Nicolae Iorga, a noted historian. The National Peasant Party regained power in 1932, only to lose it again to the Liberals a year later.

Data as of July 1989

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