From about 200 B.C., when it was settled by the Dacians, a Thracian
tribe, Romania has been in the path of a series of migrations and conquests.
Under the emperor Trajan early in the second century A.D., Dacia was incorporated
into the Roman Empire, but was abandoned by a declining Rome less than
two centuries later. Romania disappeared from recorded history for hundreds
of years, to reemerge in the medieval period as the Principalities of Moldavia
and Wallachia. Heavily taxed and badly administered under the Ottoman Empire,
the two Principalities were unified under a single native prince in 1859,
and had their full independence ratified in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin.
A German prince, Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, was crowned first King
of Romania in 1881.
The new state, squeezed between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian
empires, looked to the West, particularly France, for its cultural, educational,
and administrative models. Romania was an ally of the Entente and the U.S.
in World War I, and was granted substantial territories with Romanian populations,
notably Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina, after the war.
Most of Romania's pre-World War II governments maintained the forms,
but not always the substance, of a liberal constitutional monarchy. The
quasi-mystical fascist Iron Guard movement, exploiting nationalism, fear
of communism, and resentment of alleged foreign and Jewish domination of
the economy, was a key destabilizing factor, which led to the creation
of a royal dictatorship in 1938 under King Carol II. In 1940, the authoritarian
General Antonescu took control. Romania entered World War II on the side
of the Axis Powers in June 1941, invading the Soviet Union to recover Bessarabia
and Bukovina, which had been annexed in 1940.
In August 1944, a coup led by King Michael, with support from opposition
politicians and the army, deposed the Antonescu dictatorship and put Romania's
battered armies on the side of the Allies. Romania incurred additional
heavy casualties fighting alongside the Soviet Union against the Germans
in Transylvania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
The peace treaty, signed at Paris on February 10, 1947, confirmed the
Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, but restored the
part of northern Transylvania granted to Hungary in 1940 by Hitler. The
treaty required massive war reparations by Romania to the Soviet Union,
whose occupying forces left in 1958.
The Soviets pressed for inclusion of Romania's heretofore negligible
Communist Party in the post-war government, while non-communist political
leaders were steadily eliminated from political life. King Michael abdicated
under pressure in December 1947, when the Romanian People's Republic was
declared, and went into exile.
By the late 1950s, Romania's communist government began to assert some
independence from the Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceausescu became head of the
Communist Party in 1965 and head of state in 1967. Ceausescu's denunciation
of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and a brief relaxation in
internal repression helped give him a positive image both at home and in
the West. Seduced by Ceausescu's "independent" foreign policy, Western
leaders were slow to turn against a regime that, by the late 1970s, had
become increasingly harsh, arbitrary, and capricious. Rapid economic growth
fueled by foreign credits gradually gave way to economic autarchy accompanied
by wrenching austerity and severe political repression.
After the collapse of communism in the rest of Eastern Europe in the
late summer and fall of 1989, a mid-December protest in Timisoara against
the forced relocation of an ethnic Hungarian pastor grew into a country-wide
protest against the Ceausescu regime, sweeping the dictator from power.
Ceausescu and his wife were executed on December 25, 1989, after a cursory
military trial. About 1,500 people were killed in confused street fighting.
An impromptu governing coalition, the National Salvation Front (FSN), installed
itself and proclaimed the restoration of democracy and freedom. The Communist
Party was outlawed, and Ceausescu's most unpopular measures, such as bans
on private commercial entities, independent political activity, and contraception,
Ion Iliescu, a former Communist Party official demoted by Ceausescu
in the 1970s, emerged as the leader of the NSF. Presidential and parliamentary
elections were held on May 20, 1990. Running against representatives of
the pre-war National Peasants' Party and National Liberal Party, Iliescu
won 85% of the vote. The NSF captured two-thirds of the seats in Parliament,
and named a university professor, Petre Roman, as Prime Minister. The new
government began cautious free market reforms such as opening the economy
to consumer imports and establishing the independence of the National Bank.
The new government made a crucial early misstep. Unhappy at the continued
political and economic influence of members of the Ceausescu-era elite,
anti-communist protesters camped in University Square in April 1990. When
miners from the Jiu Valley descended on Bucharest two months later and
brutally dispersed the remaining "hooligans," President Iliescu expressed
public thanks, thus convincing many that the government had sponsored the
miners' actions. The miners also attacked the headquarters and houses of
opposition leaders. The Roman government fell in late September 1991, when
the miners returned to Bucharest to demand higher salaries and better living
conditions. A technocrat, Theodor Stolojan, was appointed to head an interim
government until new elections could be held.
Parliament drafted a new democratic constitution, approved by popular
referendum in December 1991. The FSN split into two groups, led by Ion
Iliescu (FDSN) and Petre Roman (FSN) in March 1992; Roman's party subsequently
adopted the name Democratic Party (PD). National elections in September
1992 returned President Iliescu by a clear majority, and gave his party,
the FDSN, a plurality. With parliamentary support from the nationalist
PUNR and PRM parties, and the ex-communist PSM party, a technocratic government
was formed in November 1992 under Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu, an economist.
The FDSN became the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PDSR) in July
1993. The Vacaroiu government ruled in coalition with three smaller parties,
all of which abandoned the coalition by the time of the November 1996 elections.
Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention (CDR) electoral coalition
defeated President Iliescu in the second round of voting by 9% and replaced
him as chief of state. The PDSR won the largest number of seats in Parliament,
but the constituent parties of the CDR joined the Democratic Party, the
National Liberal Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR)
to form a centrist coalition government, holding 60% of the seats in Parliament.
Victor Ciorbea was named Prime Minister. Ciorbea remained in office until
March 1998, when he was replaced by Radu Vasile (PNTCD), followed by Mugur
Isarescu in 2000.
The 2000 general elections brought back both the PDSR with Adrian Nastase
as prime minister and Ion Iliescu as president.