After the fall of the Communist regime, at the end of December 1989, discussions started on establishing a new National Day, as the one that existed so far, August 23, was both historically and symbolically irrelevant. Moreover, the event of August 23, 1944, when the change of alliance occurred and Romania joined the United Nations, was highly politicized. The Communist Party assumed the entire paternity of this gesture, although it was completed in partnership with other actors who had much greater roles: King Michael I, the traditional political parties (the National Peasants’ Party, the National Liberal Party, the Social Democrat Party), the army.
Choosing a new day caused intense discussions in the Romanian society that has just overcome a dictatorial regime that lasted almost half of a century. Several proposals were made and the final choice was December 1, a proposal that gathered a wide majority. The Parliament consecrated it legally by Law No. 10 of July 31, 1990, and it was reconfirmed by the Constitution of December 1991. Article No. 12, paragraph 2 in the fundamental law stipulates: “The National Day of Romania is December 1”.
The stipulation was also kept in the Constitution reviewed through Law No. 429/2003 and approved through the national referendum of October 18-19, 2003.
The day of December 1 was not chosen accidentally as it is a symbol for the Romanian nation. At that date, in the year 1918, the Grand National Union reunited in Alba Iulia decided in unanimity of the 1,228 delegates designated democratically, the union of Transylvania and Banat with the Romanian Kingdom. It was the final act that consecrated the union of all Romanians in one and the same state. Previously, two other provinces had done the same gesture – Bessarabia (March 27 / April 9, 1918) and Bukovine (November 15 / 28, 1918).
Considering the highly sinuous evolution of the war, this immense achievement appeared to many people, contemporaries or successors, as a miracle. This idea was expressed by Petre P. Carp, a political personality that constantly and firmly struggled to grant Romania’s entrance in the war besides the Central Powers. In the year 1919, in a discussion in the Parliament Foyer with the great historian Nicolae Iorga, a great supporter of the Triple Entente, Iorga told Carp he had been right in his option, and Petre P. Carp replied that, on the contrary, Iorga was right, yet, “Romania was lucky”.
The expression used by Carp was widely discussed in historiography, as it referred to the favourable international context at the end of the major world conflagration. At its beginning, nobody could imagine the huge changes the war was about to produce on the old continent. The disappearance of the four aristocratic and multinational empires – Russian, Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman – deeply changed the European political and territorial configuration. New states have appeared, others have reunited and others had decreased, reflecting their ethnic reality.
The coordinates of this new “world” that gave a more balanced expression to the principle of nationality, dominating in the nineteenth century, were joined by Romanians as well, who completed their most important objective, that of living together inside of only one political and state organization. Obviously, it was a historical chance, a unique moment and, without it, such plan could not have been materialized. Romania did not represent a major actor of international relations, so, therefore, on its own, it could not unite all Romanians living in neigbour empires. Italy and even Germany realized their national union by using, on their turn, favourable historical moments, temporary circumstances and alliances, weaknesses of older or newer adversaries.
It must also be mentioned that the “luck”, to use Petre P. Carp’s expression, favoured in those years not just Romanians, but also Italians, Czechs, Slovaks, Finns, Croats, Slovenians, Serbians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians and Turks. Therefore, Romanians did not represent the exception of that special historical moment.
Yet, it would be highly simplistic if such process of great amplitude would be treated as a result of sheer luck. It is based on a long and tormented history, the conscience of being Latin descendants, the conscience of being Romanians and of being united, that survived throughout the centuries, despite of the numerous issues of the times and people, and we may say this without any nationalistic excesses or mythologies.
Paying due respect to the “profession of historian”, to quote an expression by Marc Bloch, we may point out that the idea of unity may be found in numerous and varied sources, belonging both to Romanian ethnics and to the foreigners that had contact with Romanians, a majority population in the Carpathian areal, at the shores of the Black Sea (called Pontus Euxinus at that time) and at the final part of the route of River Danube. By the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, it matured, in other words, it ripened. From countless examples, I will only quote one, illustrating this aspect: Romanian soldiers that crossed the Danube, in the summer of the year 1913, during the Second Balkan War, kept asking General Alexandru Averescu, the Army Chief of Staff at that time, while returning to their home country: ‘Mr. General, when do you intend to lead us across the Carpathians?’
By the half of August 1916, after two years of neutrality, after a tragic neutrality, we might add, considering the complexity of the situation faced by the Romanian nation, our country entered the war by the side of the Triple Entente, with the purpose to reunite with Romanian territories included in Austro-Hungary. They chose a military path to complete their established objective. It is precisely what other countries did in a similar situation, such as Italy, Bulgaria and Greece.
The military effort of the almost two years of war was impressive; it amounted to a total of 1,600,000 persons who joined the army as soldiers, approximately 300,000 deaths, 85,000 of which were registered on the front, 155,000 in hospitals and 60,000 while the respective soldiers were held prisoners. Further casualties include 310,703 officers who were injured or went missing, as well as over 250,000 dead civilians, as a result of military confrontations, injuries, illnesses and epidemics, especially the raging spotted fever.
Yet, political-military evolutions on the vast East Front, determined by the fact that Bolshevik Russia exited the war, had led to Romania’s complete isolation, which forced our country to sign a separate treaty of peace in Bucharest, on April 26 / May 7, 1918. Thus, one of the stipulations of the alliance treaty with the Triple Entente, signed on August 4 / 17, 1916, was violated, a fact that was actually held against us by the powers of the Triple Entente at the Peace Conference in Paris (1919). Yet, the state was saved and it was capable to coordinate, at the end of the war, the unionist process in the provinces across the mountains or located East to River Prut.
Moreover, in the terribly troubled initial years that followed the war, Romania and its army were able to protect the unions at Kishinev, Chernivtsi and Alba Iulia against attempts to keep the old imperial order, invalidated by the evolution of history up to this point.
In the complex equation of creation of the Romanian national united state, there is another highly important element that must be introduced: the intelligence and patriotism of the majority of the Romanian intellectual and political class, supported by a strong popular movement, expressed in the wish to live together. Obviously, there was plenty of controversy concerning various matters, different visions on internal and international aspects, as well as personal or group rivalries, yet, above all, in crucial moments, the one thing that prevailed was cooperation between politicians, on one hand, and intellectuals, on the other, on both sides of Carpathians, as well as on both shores of the Prut. They contributed, by various means and paths, to the creation of the Romanian national united state. It was a moment of solidarity that allowed the completion of a historical act of outstanding importance.
Yet, the effort of the generation of politicians and intellectuals that achieved the Grand Union risked gaining no echo in the absence of a massive support from behalf of most Romanians. Or, this aspect presented itself in all its potential, in various forms, in the Old Kingdom, in Bessarabia, in Bukovine, in Banat, in Maramures and in Transylvania. The Union achieved 97 years ago was a direct result of the attendance of the Romanian state to WWI, although, as we pointed out above, the initial choice went for the military path. Examined in the light of the years gone by, it appears as a combination of a highly favourable international context, that of the intelligence and efforts of a generation of politicians and intellectuals who benefited of the wide support of Romanians of all provinces and, not least, of a remarkable military effort for the potential of the nation.
King Ferdinand I (1913-1927) was revealing an undoubted historical truth in his speech in front of the delegation of Transylvanian Romanians, who have come to Bucharest to hand over the document of the union in Alba Iulia (on December 14, 1918): Today, you have brought us this final stone of the building that crowns the great masterpiece of the Union, the sovereign pointed out. We may look forward to the future confidently, because our bases are strong. They are cemented by the unalterable faith of an entire line of generations of apostles of national ideals; they are also sanctified by the blood of my brave soldiers who have fought and died for the Union…・.