I have always been fascinated by history because I believe that if we know the past, then we can better understand the present and master the future. For a diplomat, understanding history is a key prerequisite for any professional judgement.
76 years ago, on 25 October 1944, the Romanian Army liberated the town of Carei in the North-West of the country. This was the final step in the complete liberation of North-West Transylvania from the foreign occupation imposed on Romania through the outrageous Vienna Diktat in 1940, arbitrated by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
In the autumn of 1940, Romania was completely isolated on the international arena. Its main allies in the inter-war period were France, the United Kingdom and the United States, but in June 1940 France capitulated, Britain was under siege and the United States would not get involved the Second World War in Europe until 11 December 1941, following Germany’s and Italy’s declarations of war. On 26-27 June 1940, the Romanian government had also been forced to accept Soviet ultimatums which resulted in Moscow taking over Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, two historical Romanian provinces which had rejoined the Kingdom of Romania after the First World War by the free will of their inhabitants, in application of the principle of self-determination proclaimed and promoted by US President Woodrow Wilson.
In Budapest, Regent Miklós Horthy, who had established close relations with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, saw the opportunity and asked his “friends” to pressure on Romania into giving up Transylvania. The alliance with Nazi Germany had already made possible Hungary’s gaining of Southern Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Subcarpathia in 1939.
Foreign Ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and Galeazzo Ciano of Italy met on 30 August 1940 at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna and simply produced a map detailing what the settlement was to be: North-West Transylvania, a land of 43,492 km² with a population of 2.4 million, was given to Hungary.
According to Romanian census of 1930, the population in North-West Transylvania was 2,393,300: Romanians – 1,176,900 (50%); Hungarians – 912,500 (38%); Germans – 68,300; Jewish – 138,800 (one year after the Vienna Diktat, the Jewish population was only 47,400); other ethnic groups – 96,800. These figures are entirely confirmed by the Hungarian historian Árpád E. Varga, who studied the population patterns in Transylvania: “The census conducted in 1930 met international statistical requirements in every respect. In order to establish nationality, the compilers devised a complex criterion system, unique at the time, which covered citizenship, nationality, native language and religion”.
The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in the Balkans wrote on 8 October 1940 in an article entitled Hungary wants more. Vienna Diktat was not a settlement at all: “When the time comes for peace-making, a country like Hungary, therefore, will have a natural tendency to cash in as much as possible on the grounds that “if the Axis wins, we keep what we have; if the Axis is defeated or weakened, then the more we have, the less we are likely to lose in proportion””.
In order to retake Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, on 22 June 1941 Romania entered the war against the Soviet Union. On 23 August 1944, King Michael led a successful coup, with support from the Army, and removed the government of Marshall Ion Antonescu. According to Western historians, the coup shortened WW2 by about six months, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
Romania then deployed its military capabilities on the Allied side. The Romanian Army liberated North-West Transylvania and greatly contributed to the liberation of Hungary, Yugoslavia, Austria and Czechoslovakia, from August 1944 until the end of WW2 in Europe. Of the 538,500 Romanian soldiers who fought against the Axis in 1944 – 1945, some 167,000 were killed, wounded or missing, a contribution ranking Romania fourth behind the USSR, United States and Great Britain in the victory against fascism. 25 October therefore became the Romanian Army’s Day.
In 1940 Romania was isolated and surrounded by enemies. The greatest Romanian historian of all times, Nicolae Iorga, once said that Romanians are “a nation abandoned at the crossroad of storms that blow here forever and ever and will always blow in these places of tempting abundance and of armies’ passage. Suitable for the highest civilization and forced to fight so many times for our land. Every other nation would have scattered in the world. We remained. With the sword in hand, guarding all the horizons, and when the steel of sword broke for a moment, only to be reborn again out of the blue, we opposed to brutality the thin weapon of our intelligence. And behold, we are still at home”.
In the current international context, history may once again help understand the present. Today we are no longer a nation isolated at the crossroad of storms. Romania is a member of the European Union and NATO, and has a Strategic Partnership and an ever closer friendship with the United States of America. Today, Romania is a security provider in the region and its armed forces operate at the highest NATO professional standards, protecting our European democratic community of values. It is widely recognized that Romania has strengthened the Alliance immeasurably since it joined in 2004.
The proximity to the Eastern border of the Euro-Atlantic space makes my country both a gate-guardian and a strategic opener of roads. Romania is now repositioned on the world chessboard in accordance with both its geo-strategic location and its system of values.
Therefore, while celebrating the Romanian Army’s Day and paying a tribute of respect and gratitude to all those who gave their lives for the Country, we are prepared to master our future.
*Ambassador Jinga is the Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations New York.
** Opinions expressed in this article do not bind the official position of the author.