Only in Romania: 10 things about Romania that every Romanian knows (but no one else does)
By Tiberiu Dianu
I write so much about politics in the U.S., and then recently someone asked about Romania. No one knows much of anything about Romania. So here are a few tidbits.
1. You can win a war and still lose territories. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, when Romania won its independence and fought on the Russian side, it gained the province of Northern Dobrogea from the Ottoman Empire, but, in a forced exchange, ceded the region of Southern Bessarabia to the Russian Empire. Romanians also know, since then, how much an alliance with Russia is worth. Here is how Romania used to look like before winning its independence
and after2. You don’t have to be Romanian or to be born within the current national borders to rule the country. Since the declaration of its Independence (May 9, 1877), several of the country’s heads of state were born outside the country: the first two of the four kings (Carol I of Romania and Ferdinand I of Romania) were born in Germany, the third of the five presidents (Emil Constantinescu) was born in Republic of Moldova, and the first of the two interim presidents (Nicolae Văcăroiu) was born in Ukraine.
3. One head of state who actually ruled in the 1920s and the 1940s was still around until a short while ago. Michael I ruled the country between 1927-1930 and and 1940-1947.
Born on October 25, 1921, a third cousin of Queen Elisabeth II of England, he was forced by the communists to abdicate before the New Year’s Eve, on December 30, 1947 and to live in exile until the fall of communism in 1989. After the anti-communist Revolution of 1989 he had residences in Romania and Switzerland.
Michael died at his residence in Aubonne, Switzerland on December 5, 2017, at the age of 96, and was buried in the city of Curtea de Argeş, Romania.
4. Romania has an amazing amount of German influence for a Romance country. The Romanian kings were all ethnic Germans, belonging to the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dinasty (from Baden-Württemberg, in Southern Germany). The current President Klaus Werner Iohannis (also spelled Johannis), elected in 2014 for five years, is also an ethnic German.
He is also the first East European leader welcomed by President Donald Trump to the White House, on June 9, 2017.
However, Romania joined the Entente Powers to fight Germany and the Central Powers in World War I, despite of the opposition of King Carol I, and gained sizeable territories from its neighbors as a result. Romania in 1919.
In World War II, though, Romania fought with Germany and the Axis (because the Soviet Union had sided with the Allies), and lost some of the territories it had gained. Romania after 1945.
- You can have so many, and ideologically diverse, dictatorships in a decade. Between 1938 and 1948, Romania had experimented no less than three dictatorships in the space of a single decade:
– royal (authoritarian corporatist), imposed by King Carol II, between February 1938 and September 1940
– military (right-wing), imposed by Marshall Ion Antonescu, between January 1941 and August 1944 and
– communist (radical left), imposed by the communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, and backed by the occupying Soviets, after December 1947.
During these dictatorships the democratic Constitution of 1923 was abolished and replaced with the authoritarian constitutions of 1938 and 1948, the country was ruled by decrees (executive orders), the political parties were dissolved and the society was dominated by the one-party rule.
6. A dictator-president was executed by his own people, without the intervention or the military presence of the Great Powers. During the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Romania was the only country of the communist bloc to execute its president, Nicolae Ceaușescu.
For more than two decades (December 9, 1967 – December 22, 1989), Ceaușescu had ruled the country with an iron fist. On Christmas Day, December 25, 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were summarily tried for genocide, sentenced to death, and executed on the same day.
7. If you remove the coat of arms from the national flag, you may run into troubles with other nations. During the month of December, 1989, the anti-communist protesters cut out the communist coat of arms from the middle of the flag. This version of the flag was called “the flag with the hole”.
Ever since, no coat of arms has replaced the old one. Ion Iliescu, a reformed communist, who served as president of Romania from 1989 until 1996 and from 2000 until 2004, feared a monarchy comeback, and chose not to replace the communist coat of arms on the flag with any other one.
All the previous versions contained a crowned golden aquila holding a cross in its beak, and a mace and a sword in its claws – a design based on the Lesser Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Romania (used between 1922 and 1947).
As a result, the flags of Romania and the African republic of Chad have become identical. In 2004, Chad had called on the United Nations to look into the issue.
In May 2013, Romania surpassed the previous world record of the largest unfurled flag (of Lebanon), with a flag weighing about 5,000 kilograms, a size of 349,425 x 226,917 meters, and an official surface area of 79,290.39 sqm, displayed in the village of Clinceni, near Bucharest.
Much later, on July 11, 2016, the coat of arms was augmented to add a representation of the steel crown of Romania, but the coat of arms still does not appear on the national flag, as before.
8. The capital city was run continuously by conservative parties or independents for nearly three decades. The city of Bucharest had conservative or independent administrations from the post-communist revolution of December 21, 1989 until the last local elections of June 2016.
Only then was the left-wing Social Democratic Party able to win the city, taking advantage of the newly imposed one-round elections (instead of the traditional two rounds), a low turnout, and a lack of unity among the right-wing parties.
9. You can have a president with two consecutive terms in office, twice unsuccessfully impeached, and holding a double citizenship. Traian Băsescu, a conservative, served as the fourth president of the country, elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2009 (currently, in Romania the presidential terms last for 5 years).
During his first mandate, Romania became a European Union member (in 2007). However, the Parliament, dominated by the center-left parties of the social-democrats and liberals, impeached him twice – in 2007 and 2012. Both attempts failed to pass the constitutional requirement of approval by 50% plus one of the total number of registered electors.
In 2016, president Băsescu was granted citizenship of the Republic of Moldova, fueling speculations that he would run for president of that country for a change.
10. You may have a Romanian blouse that inspires a Washington, DC mayor to declare a special day of it. The traditional Romanian blouse, called „ie” [pronounced: ee-ye], is a piece of clothing whose embroidery preserves a language of signs and symbols of sacred geometry, specific to the mythical thinking of the elder days.
It is believed that every stitch is a coded message with deep meaning, generating and directing the energy each symbol represents through the chest and sleeves, and making possible for the peasant woman to attach her soul to her work.Over time, the Romanian blouse has inspired many people with its story’s richness. On June 24, 2015, the mayor of Washington, DC, Muriel Bowser, has declared June 24 as the International Day of the Romanian Blouse.
Currently, there are several initiatives to introduce the „ie” in UNESCO’s patrimony. Romanians consider it their identity, something with a culture of its own, a heritage that must be passed down from generation to generation.
TIBERIU DIANU is a scholar and author of several books and articles of law and post-communist societies. He studied law, human rights, and criminal justice at the universities of Bucharest (Romania), Strasbourg (France), Oxford and Manchester (U.K.), American University (Washington, DC), and University of Maryland at College Park (Maryland). He currently lives in Washington, DC, where he works for various government and private agencies.