A Century of Democratic Royal Constitution

This year, we celebrate a century since the lawmakers passed the best Constitution Romania has ever had. The 1923 Constitution was imperfect, like any Romanian creation. But the fundamental law of the state created the framework for a genuine democratic life. 

According to Professor Alexandru Muraru, this Constitution was a symbol of traditions and dignity. This is because the fundamental law of the state, adopted a hundred years ago, promoted moderation and the rule of law. 

Professor Ioan Stanomir defined this Constitution as a fragment of the memory of freedom. For those who opposed the authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, of the extreme right and the extreme left, which have succeeded one another in Romania since 1938, this royal Constitution was a foundation on which Romanian democracy could have been rebuilt. 

Basically, this Constitution was adopted to create a new social pact. In 1923, there were several factors that showed that Romanian society needed to renew the social contract that defined the functioning of the state and local communities. The first factor was the trauma of the First World War. For the suffering of those who had endured the war in the trenches or at home to be made meaningful, a change for the better was needed in society. The 1923 Constitution represented that change. 

Politically, too, in 1918 there were three great provinces uniting with Romania. Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania together had a larger area and population than the Old Kingdom of Romania. Moreover, the three new provinces came with different traditions, currencies and legal systems. Bessarabia was part of the Russian Empire, Bukovina was part of the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Transylvania was part of the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In these territories, there were important national communities other than Romanian. Also, in Transylvania there was a church with indisputable merits in the cultural and national revival of the Romanians: the Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic.

The new Constitution had the task of ensuring the integration of the Old Kingdom, Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania into a new state, in which every citizen, regardless of language and religion, would feel at home. The new Constitution also aimed to create the legal framework needed to consolidate the reforms promised by King Ferdinand I during the war. While the Royal Family, Government and Parliament were holed up in Iasi, King Ferdinand I promised those who defended their homeland that they would benefit from an agrarian reform designed to make the peasants more powerful and from a system of universal suffrage that would further democratise the old political system that had been operating in the Kingdom of Romania.

The 1923 Constitution was not a completely new law. It incorporated many good provisions from the Constitution adopted in 1866. Of the 138 articles of the new Constitution, 78 were taken from the old basic law of the state.

This meant ensuring cultural and social continuity in Romania. The Constitution established Romania as a constitutional monarchy, a unitary and indivisible national state with inalienable territory. 

The King was at the centre of public life and acted as an impartial moderator between the other powers of the state. Legislative power was vested in a bicameral Parliament, consisting of the Senate and the Assembly of Deputies. Executive power was vested in the Council of Ministers or the Government. Judicial power was exercised through a pyramidal system of courts, the superior one being the High Court of Cassation and Justice. 

The Constitution also enshrined the role of the two national Churches: the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Church United with Rome, the Greek Catholic Church. It recognised the freedom of worship of all other religions and confessions, both Christian and non-Christian.

Basically, Romania organised by the 1923 Constitution was a parliamentary constitutional monarchy and, at the same time, a democracy built on liberal principles. It provided the legal framework for an unprecedented flourishing of Romanian society, which experienced a remarkable economic, cultural and social boom. The Kingdom of Romania went through stages of rapid development and social modernisation. 

This path was interrupted on the eve of the Second World War. In 1938, King Carol II abrogated this Constitution. He introduced a new, much more restrictive constitution, which established an authoritarian royal regime designed to block the rise of fascist or communist parties. But the new constitution was inadequate. It was repealed two years later, after King Carol II was forced to leave the throne.

But the 1923 constitution was reinstated by King Mihai I of Romania in 1944 after His Majesty succeeded in removing the military dictator Ion Antonescu from power. The best Constitution remained in force until 1947, when King Mihai I was blackmailed into abdicating. Communist or communist-derived constitutions followed. The current basic law of the state is much worse than the 1923 Constitution. That is why more and more voices are calling for the 1923 Constitution to be reinstated, with small changes to adapt this fundamental law to the changes that have taken place in society over the last 100 years. Of course, this would also mean restoring constitutional monarchy in Romania.