Population: Nearly 23 million.
President: Traian Basescu (since 2004)
Currency: The Leu.
Languages: Romanian (official) Hungarian, Romany.
International Organizations: The European Union (since January, 2007), United Nations, CSCE, North Atlantic Co-operation Council.
Romania’s east coast lies on the Black Sea; it is bounded by the Ukraine and Moldova on the north and east, Hungary and Serbia to the west, and Bulgaria to the south. Almost a full half of Romania is mountainous. The Carpathians meet the Transylvanian Alps roughly in the middle, where there are big forests. The rest of the country is plain land, much of which is covered by the richest soil in Europe. The southern border is provided by the river Danube.
The regions known as Moldavia and Walachia were part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century onwards, but Turkish domination was increasingly challenged by Russia and Austria. In 1812 Russia took over north-east Moldavia (now Moldova). During the next 40 years Romanian nationalism provoked many insurrections against the Turks. After the Crimean War, during which the region was occupied by Russia, Walachia and Moldavia declared themselves independent principalities, and in 1861 they united to form Romania, ruled by a suitable local prince.
This man (Alexander Cuza) was deposed in 1866 and Prince Carol Hohenzollen-Sigmaringen was elected. Independence was recognised at the Congress of Berlin, and the prince was crowned as King Carol I of Rumania (1881-1914). Carol was pro-German and his policies led to Romania’s joining The Triple Alliance of 1882 (Germany, Austria and Italy). But in the First World War (1914 – 18) Romania remained neutral, until it decided to join the Allies in 1916. This was an intelligent and well-planned move, which resulted in the country’s doubling its territories at the Versailles Peace Settlement – mainly by the grabbing of Transylvania from Hungary.
Carol I was succeeded by Ferdinand I from 1914 – 27, and then by Carol II from 1930-40, but Carol II enforced a Fascist regime. Nevertheless he was forced to concede much territory to the Axis Powers in 1940. Romanian forces co-operated with the Wermacht in their offensives in 1941 and 1942, but following the siege of Stalingrad the Soviets advanced and Romania lost territory to the Soviet and Bulgaria. A communist regime was established in 1948.
For the following twenty years Romania would be a Soviet satellite. A greater degree of independence was at first achieved during the presidency of Nicolae Ceauçescu (ruled 1967 – 80) but he became increasingly totalitarian and autocratic. In 1989 a sidle towards democracy resulted in a violent revolution and the summary execution (by firing squad) of the President and his wife on Christmas Day.
A National Salvation Front was established, led by Ion Iliescu as the new President. Iliescu and most of his fellow politicans had ‘been’ communists, and the people’s protests and demonstrations were brutally repressed, as was to be expected. Ethnic violence started against Hungarians in Transylvania and the gypsy population, fomented by extreme-right nationalist parties. Despite determined opposition, Iliescu retained power in the 1992 presidential election, after having secured the loan of $748 million from the International Monetary Fund (what strange crimes have been committed in that name!). But in November 1996, the former communists lost power for the first time since the killing of Ceauçescu, with a centre-right candidate becoming President.