11 November 1918: after four years, three months and two weeks, the World War One (The Great War) ended. It included Europe, the USA, as well as countries from Asia, Pacific, Middle East and Africa. With 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded, WW1 was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the human race. On the East front in Europe, 800,000 Romanian soldiers fought on the Entente side and 335,706 of them have fallen in combat, while 130,000 civilians also lost their lives. Modern Romania was built on their ultimate sacrifice.
Earlier that year, on 11 February, the United States President Woodrow Wilson announced his famous principle of self-determination: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”
Based on this principle, on 27 March the National Council (the Parliament) of Bessarabia, ancient part of the medieval Romanian Principality of Moldova and annexed by Russia in 1812, proclaimed union with the Kingdom of Romania. On 28 November, the General Congress of Bukovina, also separated from medieval Moldova and attached by force in 1774 to the Habsburg Empire, voted for union with Romania. And on 1st December 1918, the representatives of Transylvanian Romanians gathered in the capital city Alba Iulia and voted the Union. The representatives of the Transylvanian Saxons approved the act on 15 December in the city of Medias. On 19 February 1919, Baron Joseph Fay, speaking in the Romanian Parliament on behalf of the Szekelys living in Transylvania, expressed their support for the union with the Kingdom of Romania.
A glimpse on the history of Transylvania shows that the region was part of the Dacian Kingdom (1st – 2nd centuries) and the Roman Dacia (2dn – 3rd centuries). Saxon historian Konrad Gündisch says that findings from the 4th to the 7th centuries – Roman coins, other objects with Latin inscription and early Christian artifacts – prove that Christian Daco-Roman (Proto-Romanian) population remained and flourished in Dacia after the Romans withdrawal in 271. German historian Kurt Horedt dates the entering of the Hungarians in Transylvania in the period between the 10th century and the 13th century. According to Gesta Hungarorum (Latin for The Deeds of the Hungarians), а medieval work written in the 12th century, when Hungarians came into Transylvania, they found well-structured Romanian principalities whose leaders Gelu, Glad and Menumorut they defeated in several battles.
After the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Principality of Transylvania emerged as a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. In 1711 the Habsburg Empire took control of Transylvania, and in 1867 Transylvania was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary as part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, until 1918.
Fényes Elek, a 19th-century Hungarian statistician, estimated in 1842 that in the population of Transylvania for the years 1830-1840 the majority were 62.3% Romanians and 23.3% Hungarians. According to the 2011 Romanian census, the ethnic groups in Transylvania are Romanians – 70.62%, Hungarians (including Szekelys) – 17.92%, Roma – 3.99%, Ukrainians – 0.63%, Germans – 0.49%, other – 0.77%, while 5.58% have not declared their ethnicity.
The Great Union of 1918 represented the accomplishment of Romanians’ dream for national unity, which was first fulfilled in 1600, when Prince Michael the Brave united the three provinces which make up today’s Romania – Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania. Michael, ruler of Wallachia, marched into Transylvania and, with help from the Székelys, defeated a Hungarian army, entered Alba Iulia and in 1599 became ruler of Transylvania. Then he crossed the Carpathian Mountains in Moldova, reached the capital city Iaşi and was declared Prince of Moldova. In a document dated 6 July 1600, he referred to himself as “ruler of Wallachia and of Transylvania and of the whole country of Moldova”. The union lasted for only a short period of time, as Michael was assassinated on 9 August 1601. As historian Constantin C. Giurescu remarked, “Never in Romanian history was a moment of such highness and glory so closely followed by bitter failure.” But Michael the Brave remained in the minds of Romanians as the first legendary unifier, and his vision became the goal for which generations fought and finally achieved in 1918.
Loyal to the principles of the Great Union, on 28 June 1919 Romania was one of the 44 states that signed the Covenant the League of Nations, when the organization was established by the Treaty of Versailles. Since then, Romania developed and consolidated a strong tradition of multilateral diplomacy, with high professional standards set up by Foreign Minister Nicolae Titulescu, who was twice elected President of the League of Nations (1930 and 1931) and also served for ten years as ambassador to the United Kingdom. In 1967, Romanian Foreign Minister Corneliu Manescu repeated Titulescu’s success and was elected President of the UN General Assembly, being the first representative from an Eastern European country to hold such a high dignity.
In the 100 years that have passed since the historical moments of 1918, Romania has undergone a multitude of transformations, ranging from different forms of government to different levels of socio-economic development, and from democracy to dictatorship and back to democracy. Today, it has diplomatic relations with 190 states, is a member of the European Union and NATO, while the United Nations remains a centerpiece of its foreign policy. Furthermore, during the first semester of 2019, Romania will hold the Presidency of the EU Council. Much still remains to be done in Romania, but during all these transformations one thing always remained constant: its long term commitment for peace, justice and development. This is also the motto of Romania’s candidature for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council for the period 2020-2021.
*Ambassador Ion Jinga is Romania’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York