A Century of Unification

1Romanians have lived in different States throughout most of their history. The first Romanian States were set up in the Balkans in medieval times. The Aromanians, one of the branches of the Romanian people, established States such as the Great Wallachia or the Wallachia Minor. Other Romanians in the south of the Danube founded the Romanian-Bulgarian Empire thereafter. A Romanian king was the one who took prisoner of the first emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, Baldwin I, during the Battle of Adrianople in 1205. Baldwin I spent his last days as a prisoner of the Romanian King Ioniță Kaloyan. The south of the Danube was the place where Romanians established the Despotate of Dobruja under the Byzantine suzerainty. These States all ceased to exist in the Middle Ages. Their territory was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. Romanian medieval States built by the Romanians in the north of the Danube succeeded, however, to maintain their autonomy. They are mainly the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Moreover, the Romanians represented the majority population in the Transylvania Voivodship, included as an autonomous entity within the Kingdom of Hungary until 1526, and afterwards turned into the Principality of Transylvania, under Ottoman suzerainty.

Some of the Transylvanian Romanians became either voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia, or voivodes of Transylvania. This is the case of John Hunyadi, leader of the last crusade in Varna and the defeater of the Muhammad Sultan, the Conqueror of Constantinople, in the battle of Belgrade in 1456. John Hunyadi became governor of Hungary and his son, Mathias Corvinus, became King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and Archduke of Austria. The Romanian Roman Catholic Archbishop, Nicholaus Olahus, became Chancellor of Hungary, and Baron Ștefan Iojica became Chancellor of the Principality of Transylvania. There were several attempts to unite Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia under the same crown throughout the Middle Ages, but the endeavours of Sigismund Bathory or Michael the Brave remained ephemeral. Nevertheless, Moldova and Wallachia managed to unite, in 1859, under the reign of Prince Alexandru Ioan I Cuza, with the support of the French emperor Napoleon III, a historical figure enjoying great sympathy in Romania. It was Napoleon III who supported the next prince of Romania, Carol I, who had German and French origins and originated from the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen family.

Carol I gained independence for Romania after the war against the Ottoman Empire in 1877-1878. He managed to unite Dobrogea to Romania in 1878, and annexed the Quadrilateral or South Dobrogea after the Second Balkan War, nowadays in Bulgaria. Carol I ruled Romania for 48 years. During his reign, Romania was transformed from a small, poor and backward country to a medium-sized State, a real arbiter of the Balkans. But the most important national achievements were to be obtained by his nephew and successor to the throne, King Ferdinand I, who would achieve the Unification of Transylvania, Crișana, Maramureș, Banat, Bukovina and Bessarabia with the Kingdom of Romania at the end of World War I. These were all made possible with the support of Romania’s allies: France, Britain, Italy and Belgium. But the alliance with France was the foundation on which Romania built its foreign policy during the World War I and the interwar period. At the beginning of the World War I, Romania was bound by a treaty of alliance with Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The old King Carol I would have wanted to enter the war on the side of his native Germany. But the vast majority of public opinion took France’s side. Under these conditions, the Crown Council, convened by the king in August 1914, decided that Romania was to remain neutral. Neutrality lasted two years, during which time the public opinion was divided amongst those who wanted to fight against Austria-Hungary to free Transylvania, and those who wanted to fight against Russia to release Bessarabia. In the summer of 1916, King Ferdinand I decided to fight against his native Germany.

Romania signed a treaty of alliance with France, Britain, Russia and Italy, and then went on the offensive against Austria-Hungary in Transylvania. But Germany and Bulgaria joined the war against Romania. Their armies occupied two thirds of Romania, including the capital-city, Bucharest. The king, government, parliament and army took refuge in Moldova, the only Romanian province still free, and continued to fight. The Romanian army was reorganized and rearmed with French support. The head of the French military mission, General Henri Matthias Berthelot has been a Romanian hero ever since. Due to the army’s resistance, Romania was in the victor’s camp at the end of the war, and the Romanian provinces in Austria-Hungary and those occupied by Russia joined the Kingdom in 1918. Even if Bessarabia was occupied again by Russia in the Second World War and is currently a second Romanian State, the Republic of Moldova, Romanians are preparing to celebrate the 1918 Unification, hoping that Romania and the Republic of Moldova will reunite soon, following the example of Germany.



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