In the modern age, as national states were constituted, a specific set of symbols meant to individualise them in the international arena and ensure cohesion of identity for those communities also emerged. Among such elements there are the national anthems, flags, currencies and national days. The latter were established either by the state institutions (parliament, government, monarch, etc) or by consulting the citizens, taking into consideration each nation’s historical background.
Many states have chosen to celebrate their national day at a defining moment for their historical evolution. Greece, for example, celebrates its National Day on March 25, which marks the beginning of the independence war in 1821. Finland’s National Day is on December 6, the date when, back in 1917, it proclaimed its independence from Russia.
The Czech Republic chose October 28 when, in 1918, the Czechoslovak state was set up. The United States of America have their National Day on July 4, a date that signifies the proclamation by 12 American states of their independence from the British Crown in 1777. A suggestive example is Germany, whose National Day is October 3, a date that signifies the reunification of the two German states in 1990. And the examples could well continue.
To Romanians, the subject of setting up a National Day was first brought up after the country had gained its independence between 1877 and 1881. Up until then, the two principalities – Walachia and Moldavia – and afterwards, following the 1859 unification, the Romanian state, had had a double status – under Ottoman suzerainty and Russian protectorate (unofficially since 1774, officially from 1829 to 1856) and then under Ottoman suzerainty, with the seven big European powers as collective trustee (1856-1877).
On May 9, 1877, the Parliament proclaimed the independence of Romania, which was formally approved by ruler Carol I the following day, May 9. The independence was confirmed by the Berlin Peace Treaty (1878) and recognised by European powers in 1878-1880.
May 10 was celebrated as a National Day up until 1947, when the Communist regime removed King Mihai I, the last king of the Hohenzollern dynasty, from his throne (1927-1930; 1940-1947). Meanwhile, the National Day had been celebrated through Te-Deums with the participation of the Royal House, members of parliament, members of the government, army generals and officers and representatives of the state institutions. A total of 21-gun salute was being fired.
One very much appreciated moment in Bucharest was the military parade usually taking place in front of the Royal Palace, and presenting novelties of armament, military techniques and uniforms. Awards, commemorative, anniversary or stamps with a historic meaning were issued, popular celebrations and outdoor feats were organised.
Two of the most glamorous May 10 ceremonies were in 1881, the date of the proclamation of the Kingdom and in 1906, celebrating Carol I’s 40 years of kingship. At Campia Filaretului, where the population fought in the 1848 Revolution, the Carol Park was set up and a big exhibition opened, continuing until the autumn of that year, where Romanians from the provinces left outside the Old Kingdom participated. One notable fact is that, during the reign of Carol II (1930 – 1940), May 10 started to compete with another day – the Restoration Day (June 8). On June 8, 1930, Carol Caraiman, the prince heir disinherited in January 1926 but who arrived incognito to the country on June 6, 1930, was installed on the throne by decision of the Parliament.
After the overthrowing of the monarchy on December 30, 1947, and proclamation of the People’s Republic of Romania, the Communist authorities renounced holding the National Day on May 10. The Council of Ministers adopted decision number 903 of 1949 deciding that the National Day would be celebrated on August 23. On August 23, 1944, the regime led by Marshall Ion Antonescu was removed, Romania exited the alliance with Germany and joined the United Nations coalitions. For four decades, the National Day of Romania continued to be celebrated on August 23, the Communist regime confiscating for its own benefit an event fulfilled by a wide coalition of forces.
After December 1989, everyone thought it would be appropriate to agree on a different date for the National Day, as the existing one was no longer consistent with historical realities. In addition, the excessively ideological and propagandistic manipulation of August 23 contributed to the discrediting of the event as such. For that reason, in the first months of 1990, the debate on identifying a new National Day became really intense.
After the May 20, 1990 elections, the Romanian Parliament set the National Day on December 1, by Law number 10 of July 31, 1990. The decision was an act of justice and gratitude for the exceptional meaning of the event taking place in Alba Iulia 93 years ago. The decision was confirmed by the Constitution adopted by the Constitution Assembly on November 21, 1991 and came into force after being approved by national referendum on December 8, 1991. Article 12, paragraph 2 of the Fundamental Act states: ‘The National Day of Romania is December 1’. The provision was also preserved in the new Constitution, reviewed by Law number 429 of 2003 and approved by national referendum on October 18-19, 2003.
It was the first time in Romania’s history that the National Day was expressly stipulated in the Constitution. All Fundamental Acts so far – 1866, 1923, 1948, 1952, 1965 – had not contained such thing.
The Parliament’s decision setting up the National Day on December 1 was made based on a comprehensive and sometimes contradictory debate. Other dates were proposed, such as December 22, but December 1 was eventually agreed upon by a wide majority. This moment represents a symbol of national unity, ‘Romanians’ astral time’ as it was often called. On that particular day of the year 1918, the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia decided on the reunification of Transylvania, Banat and Romania. It was the coronation of an aspiration broadly shared by the political elite and public, for which the ante-bellum Romania had entered the war.
But the national, unitary Romanian state was the direct result of our country’s participation in WWI, although the war fought by Romania had a replenishment character and the sacrifices in the battlefield had a major moral value. The unification was the achievement of the Romanian political elite on the right and on the left banks of River Prut, on both sides of the Carpathian Mountains, who also benefited from a remarkable popular support. What made a big difference in the equation of unification was the international situation after WWI, when the large absolutist empires – Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and German – had disappeared. If it had not been for those radical changes in the world and European political order, it would have been very difficult for Romanians to fulfil their unification dream.
However, the local political class has the merit of wisely channelling the enthusiastic momentum of the masses and organising the unionist efforts in the best possible conditions. The reunification with Romania of Bessarabia (March 27/April 9 1918), of Bukovina (15/28 November 1918) and of Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures (November18/December 1, 1918) was decided by the representative political bodies of those provinces. An important fact is that those unification declarations were accompanied by programmatic documents setting forth a number of democratic reforms. At the same time, the representatives of the national minorities voiced their opinion on the unification either within the Country’s Assembly in Bessarabia or of the General Congress of Bukovina and, later on, in Transylvania.
As far as Transylvania is concerned, with the way in which it was organised and given its results, the Great National Assembly in Alba Iulia was an example of both national consensus above political interests and of a generous attitude towards minorities. It also enjoyed the massive support of Romanians on the other side of the mountains, over 100,000 of whom going to Alba Iulia and enthusiastically acclaiming the historic decision of unification with the Country.
December 1, 1918 therefore imposed itself as one of the most notable landmarks in the history of Romania, and the celebration of the National Day on that date symbolises an unquestionable aspiration of the Romanian nation.
Military parade in Bucharest, ceremonies in Alba Iulia
National Day festivities will take place this year too in Bucharest at the Arch of Triumph, in the presence of state officials. The military parade will last two hours (from 10 AM) and will be attended by President Traian Basescu, Premier Emil Boc, Speakers of the two Chambers of Parliament Roberta Anastase and Vasile Blaga, former Romanian Presidents Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu, politicians, as well as a series of officials from the Army’s General Staff.
Similar festivities will take place in Alba Iulia and will start with a wreath-laying ceremony at the statues of I.I.C. Bratianu and Iuliu Maniu. The Union March will start at 10 AM and the Hora Unirii (Union Dance) will be performed in the now famous Tricolor Square. Although they were invited by local authorities, neither King Michael nor any Royal Family representatives will attend the event. The only one that confirmed his presence so far is Internal Affairs Minister Traian Igas.
As happens each year, traffic will be restricted on December 1 in Bucharest in the Arch of Triumph area, on the Kiseleff Boulevard and adjacent streets between the Presei Libere Square and Victoriei Square, on Alexandru Constantinescu Street between the Arch of Triumph Square and Marasti Boulevard, on the Alexandru Averescu Boulevard between the Arch of Triumph Square and the Marasti Boulevard and on the Maresal Constantin Prezan Boulevard between the Arch of Triumph Square and the Charles de Gaulle Square. At the same time, traffic on the Architect Ion Mincu Street will be temporarily restricted.
Despite austerity, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) has earmarked approximately EUR 100,000 for receptions that will be organized by Romania’s diplomatic missions in order to mark the National Day.