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June 24, 2021

A historical landmark moment

From the very beginning in the process of state construction, January 24, 1859 gained symbolic meanings for the entire Romanian nation. On that date, the Elective Assembly of Tara Romaneasca elected Col. Alexandru Ioan Cuza ruler of the country after being unanimously elected ruler of Moldavia on January 5, the same year. It was a triumph of all Romanians, as well as the end of a process of national awakening that had started a while before, but which found in the 1848 revolution the fostering conditions for synthesis and acceleration that it needed. In line with the European revolutionary trend, a handful of Romanian young men educated in Western European countries, becoming aware of the state of backwardness of the Romanian society, developed a comprehensive reform programme designed to put in on the orbit of modernisation and international affirmation.

But something like that could not be done without having a strong state, including Romanians living in the south and east of the Carpathian Mountains. For that reason, revolutionary programmes worked out in Iasi, Cernauti, Izlaz, Bucharest or Blaj explicitly or implicitly highlighted the need for the unification of all Romanians. One example is the paper called ‘The Wishes of the National Party in Moldavia’, written by Mihail Kogalniceanu in the capital city of Bucovina, in August 1848, which defined the union of Moldavia and Tara Romaneasca ‘as the key stone without which the entire national edifice would collapse’. It is but obvious that, under those international circumstances, the idea of the unification of all Romanians looked like a utopian aim. It was understood by both Romanian and foreign politicians. Prince Bibescu was as skeptical as one could be about the Dacian-Romanian project, telling a Transylvanian visitor to Bucharest the following: ‘The sovereignty of the Ottoman Porte was imposed by weapons, therefore it can only be removed by weapons. The Russian protectorate is based on treaties recognised by the other European powers; Bessarabia was also lost by treaties; how can you imagine that Russia would give it back? As for Transylvania and Banat, I will let you be the judge of the strength you should oppose to the desperate resistance of those three nations used to treat Romanians as subjects and not as owners of the country, for centuries. Be careful not to let yourselves seduced by deluding aspirations and fantasies’. This is why the union of Moldavia and Tara Romaneasca seemed like a more achievable project. But that, too, was to encounter major obstacles, as the two principalities were under Ottoman sovereignty and under the protectorate of the Russian Empire, with the latter claiming true ‘ownership’. One major international event nonetheless occurred, which fundamentally changed the situation – the Crimean War. The pretext of that European conflict – the first one after the Napoleonic adventure – was over the holy places of Christianity disputed by Catholics and Orthodox. However, its real causes were geopolitical, part of the so-called ‘Eastern issue’ that had been a concern for the big European powers for over two centuries. In the first half of the 19th century, the Russian Empire made significant headway, ending up dominating the South-East of the continent, including the East Mediterranean Sea. Great Britain and France were deeply worried about the situation and, like in the past, decided to support the Ottoman Empire, with ‘Europe’s sick man’ turning into an essential piece in the European balance of powers.   Russia was defeated and its expansion stopped, a fact that was enshrined by the Treaty of Paris signed on March 30, 1856. Its protectorate in the two principalities instituted in 1829 ceased and was replaced by the guarantee of the seven major European powers. In addition, the Russian Empire was being removed from the mouths of the Danube, with South Bessarabia with three counties (Cahul, Bograd and Ismail) – actually the historical Bessarabia, going back to Moldavia. At the same time, the treaty proclaimed the freedom of the Danube and set up the European Commission of the Danube, tasked with overseeing the international regime instituted at the mouths of the river. By that, the fate of the future Romanian state was being united with the European idea establishing the freedom of the Danube. During the Crimean War, the unification of the two Romanian principalities lying outside the Carpathian arch was one of the issues that dominated the continental stage. The unimaginable result ten years before was possible not only thanks to big powers’ rivalry and interests, but also because of the relentless work of Romanian migrants. The defeat of the revolution following the intervention of the Russian Empire, helped by the Ottoman one, sent its heads into the exile. Spread to various European cities (Paris, Istanbul, Bursa, London, Brussels, Palermo, etc.), helped by personal ties established during their studies, as well as by their membership of various Free Masonry lodges, the revolutionists justified their action back home and defended the cause of the Romanian unity by letters, interventions, publications, and so forth. In that way, with wisdom and commitment, despite of differences of opinion and even contradictions among themselves, they managed to drive a favourable current in the international public opinion and influence the decisions of various European chancelleries. The matter of Romanian unity was thus doubled by a general European interest. The congress in the French capital had to take note of the reality and give it a legal form. Among other things, it decided to consult the population of the two principalities via ad-hoc assemblies. The battle moved in the country, where the conservative forces were being backed by anti-unionist powers such as Austria and the Ottoman Empire. They eventually adopted a programme providing for: autonomy, union, a foreign prince to end the traditional discord between ruling families in principality, a representative government and neutrality. However, the rivalry among major parties prevented it from being implemented. The 1858 Paris Convention was offering a distorted union with two rulers, two assemblies, and two governments – solution that was far from what the ad-hoc popular assemblies had demanded. But, just as the Italians were not eager to remain ‘a geographic expression’, Romanians did not understand to leave their country at the stage of a ‘diplomatic expression’. Subtlety helped by France, the decision was to elect the same person on the throne of both principalities. The double election of Cuza – a true outsider in the race for the throne – was the Romanian solution to a European issue. It took another two years of intense efforts for the big powers to accept the full unification. On December 11, 1861, in a proclamation to the country, Alexandru Ioan Cuza was solemnly announcing: ‘The unification has been fulfilled. The Romanian nation is established (Ö) On January 5 and 24, you put your entire trust in the Chosen of the Nation, you put all your hopes into a single ruler. The ruler you have chosen is now giving you a single Romanians’. In conclusion, the event 152 years ago was possible thanks to both a fostering international situation and the painstaking, intelligent and country-loving efforts of hundreds of leaders coming from the ranks of the former 1848 revolution fighters for the materialisation of the national project of unification and establishment of the state. In my opinion, this is also the main message sent by the ‘Small Union’ generation – to use the very telling phrase patented by B. P. Hasdeu, to us, living today – a major project upheld by general solidarity.

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