On November 11, 1918, at 11.00 AM, the Compiègne truce between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany came into force. Thus, the World War I, or the “Great War”, as this conflict is also known, exceeding the horrors of everything that the world has ever known before, has been ended.
The war was a large-scale seism, that has deeply disturbed the life of the old continent, the place from where it started and which experienced the most fierce confrontations. The European aristocratic empires that seemed to be unwavering, collapsed (Take Ionescu was speaking about a “cascade of thrones”), important social movements took place in many regions, violence continued to be in the pipeline, millions of people were dislocated from their home places, suffering and disease continued to cause ravages. In a word, the pre-war world, which sometimes was called “la belle époque”, maybe wrongly, has collapsed, and another world was being built on its ruins, and one of its coordinating principles was “the nationalities” principle.
It functioned during the whole 19th century and was strongly revived by the US President Woodrow Wilson, in his famous peace program published on January 8, 1918. Besides reasserting the right to national self-determination, President Wilson also came with a new view on the international relations, according to which the collective co-operation and security could prevent a new cataclysm like the one of the years 1914-1918.
The restructuring of the political and territorial map was materialized in the realization of the national aspirations of the nations from the east, center and south of the continent. One by one, the Finns, Estonians, Georgians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbians, Croatians, Slovenes, gathered, according to their will, in self-governing political bodies, which then had their own life. Among them, there were also the Romanians, who, during the year of 1918, managed to gather, unite under the same state, by the acts of union from Chisinau (March 27/April 9), Cernauti (November 15/28) and Alba Iulia (November 18/December 1).
Remembering them could lead us to the conclusion that everything was relatively easy, without sufferings and sacrifices. This view is far from the truth and does not take into account the very special complexity of the situation of the years 1914-1918.
The start of the war found the Romanian nation fragmented. Many Romanians were enrolled in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the Russian Empire, while the two great states were in opposite, belligerent coalitions. They were forced to fight, under a foreign flag, since the beginning of the war, sometimes being put face to face by the dynamic of the confrontations.
Also, there was the Romanian state or the Old Kingdom, according to the terminology of that era, a well-defined player of the international stage, which was, since 1883, an ally of the Central Powers, which included Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. Of course, the political elite and the public opinion from the south and east of the Carpathians, as well as those in the territories included in the two empires which now were rival, were concerned about the future. The options were different, some of them acting in order to join the Central Powers, thus maintaining the trend of the external orientation that existed until then, while others were strongly advocating for joining the Entente. The two orientations were taking into account the national unity, but the directions, the objectives and the alliances were different. The first was considering that bringing back Bessarabia, which territory was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1812, was a priority. On the contrary, the second orientation, which was for joining the Entente, was considering that the priority objective were the Romanians under the domination of the dualist monarchy, namely Transylvania and Bucovina.
The arguments brought by the two groups were impressing, but the one which outlined the decision, beyond the political calculations that were more or less elaborated, was the will of the overwhelming majority of the population, which firmly stated its desire to reunite the Romanian territories included in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The war waged by Romania had a sinuous course and defeats alternated with victories, and in the end, due to the collapse of the Romanovs’ Empire, the peace with the Central Powers was signed in Bucharest (April 24/May 7, 1918). However, the same event allowed Bessarabia to go through a process of national awakening and institutional organization, and in the end the union with Romania was decided.
The end of the war gave the possibility to the nations that were oppressed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire to have access to their own national life, and Romanians in here decided to reunite under the same state. Thus, 1st of December 1918, when this process ended, became “the astral hour of the Romanian nation”. That’s why the Parliament has rightly decided in 1990, through the Law no.10, that this day will become Romania’s National Day. The decision was confirmed by the Constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 21, 1991, and came into force after it was approved by the national referendum of December 8, 1991. Article 12, par.2 of the fundamental law states: “Romania’s National Day is 1st of December”. This provision was also maintained in the Constitution that was reviewed by the Law no.429/2003 and approved by the referendum of October 18-19, 2003.
It was for the first time in Romania’s history when the National Day was expressly stated in the Constitution. The previous fundamental laws, namely those of 1866, 1923, 1948, 1952, and 1965, didn’t do this.
Romania’s unification was decided by highly representative bodies, democratically appointed from all the social levels and categories: the Country Council in Bessarabia, the General Congress in Bucovina, the Great Assembly in Transylvania and Banat. First of all, those who entered within these bodies and expressed their opinions were the Romanians, as well as the representatives of certain minorities, some of them adhering to the acts of union (the case of the Poles from Bessarabia and Bucovina), others choosing to refrain (the Germans from the Country Council). Later, most of the minorities (the Saxons, the Swabians, the Jewish, etc.) agreed with the acts of union of the year 1918.
Therefore, Romanians’ union was made according to the democratic standards of that time, as it happens with the Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Croatians, Slovenes, etc.
It is worth mentioning that measures underpinning the united Romanian state were discussed and provided in all the structures that decided the union: democratic rights and freedoms; the universal vote for both sexes; a radical agrarian reform; the total national and confessional freedom of the minorities, etc. At the same time, the liberation of the other nations that were subjugated by the former empires was saluted, and the hope of a better world in which freedom and security of all the nations will be guaranteed, was expressed.
We cannot ignore the role of the army, which sometimes was put on the second place in the historical analyzes, or even the idea that the union was made exclusively by means of weapons was accredited. The acts of reunification of 1918 were not a direct result of Romania’s participation in the World War, although in mid-August 1916 the army received the mission to liberate the compatriots over the mountains.
The confrontations in which it participated, ended with defeats and victories, the sacrifices made, the operations of 1918-1919, which had a protective nature, counteracting the actions of those who were dissatisfied by the new course of the history, make the army an important factor of the union process. In fact, the national reconstruction took place everywhere in Europe, with the direct participation of the army or of the ad-hoc paramilitary formations.
We should also mention that the acts of union were confirmed by the Paris Peace Conference that followed after the end of the World War – the peace treaties from Saint Germain (September 10, 1919), Neuilly sur Seine (November 27, 1919), Trianon (June 4, 1920), Paris (October 28, 1920). Some said that this international order was weak, that it largely facilitated the path to a new world conflagration, much more devastating than the first one. There is a certain amount of truth in these assertions, indeed, but in Romania’s case, the Union of Transylvania was reconfirmed by the peace areopagus that took place also in Paris, after the World War II, by the treaty of February 10, 1947. This is one more proof of the durability of the decision made at Alba Iulia one hundred years ago.
Also, we should say that according to an old principle, one must be perseverant in creating and maintaining something. The generation of a century ago believed in the ideal of the union and knew how to materialize it, in a particularly favorable moment. Starting from this great historical achievement, the greatest one in the Romanians’ history, the generation of the centenary, the one of the year 2018, has a big responsibility for the future of the Romanian nation. The work of our predecessors must be maintained, defended and recreated through a continuous effort to preserve the identity, the language, the culture, the heritage, to affirm them at international level. A country and a nation are not made once for good, they must be permanently built and regenerated.