From about 200 B.C., when it was settled by the Dacians, a Thracian tribe, Romania has been on the path of a series of migrations and conquests. Under the emperor Trajan early in the second century A.D., Dacia was incorporated into the Roman empire, but was abandoned by a declining Rome less than two centuries later. Romania disappeared from recorded history for hundreds of years, to reemerge in the medieval period as the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. Heavily taxed and badly administered under the Ottoman empire, the two Principalities were unified under a single native prince in 1859, and had their full independence ratified in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin. A German prince, Carol of Hohenzollern, was crowned first King of Romania in 1881.
The new state, squeezed between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, with Slav neighbors on three sides, looked to the West, particularly France, for its cultural, educational, and administrative models. Romania was an ally of the Entente and theU.S.in World War I, and was granted substantial territories with Romanian populations, notably Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina, after the war.
Most of Romania's pre-World War II governments maintained the forms but not the substance of a liberal constitutional monarchy. The quasi-mystical, fascist Iron Guard movement, exploiting nationalism, fear of communism, and resentment of alleged foreign and Jewish domination of the economy, was a key factor in the creation of a dictatorship in 1938. In 1940-41, the authoritarian General Antonescu took control. Romania entered World War II on the side of the Axis Powers in June 1941, invading the Soviet Union to recover Bessarabia and Bukovina, which had been annexed in 1940.
In August 1944, a coup led by King Michael, with support from opposition politicians and the army, deposed the Antonescu dictatorship and put Romania's battered armies on the side of the Allies. Romania incurred additional heavy casualties fighting the Germans in Transylvania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
The peace treaty, signed at Paris on February 10, 1947, confirmed the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, but restored the part of northern Transylvania granted to Hungary in 1940 by Hitler. The treaty required massive war reparations by Romania to the Soviet Union, whose occupying forces left in 1958.
The Soviets pressed for inclusion of Romania's heretofore negligible Communist Party in the post-war government, while non-communist political leaders were steadily eliminated from political life. King Michael abdicated under pressure in December 1947, when the Romanian People's Republic was declared, and went into exile.
In the early 1960s, Romania's communist government began to assert some independence from the Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceausescu became head of the Communist Party in 1965 and head of state in 1967. Ceausescu's denunciation of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and a brief relaxation in internal repression, helped give him a positive image both at home and in the West. Seduced by Ceausescu's "independent" foreign policy, Western leaders were slow to turn against a regime that by the late 1970s had become increasingly harsh, arbitrary, and capricious. Rapid economic growth fueled by foreign credits gradually gave way to wrenching austerity and severe political repression.
After the collapse of communism in the rest of Eastern Europe in the late summer and fall of 1989, a mid-December protest in Timisoara against the forced relocation of a Hungarian minister grew into a country-wide protest against the Ceausescu regime, sweeping the dictator from power. Ceausescu and his wife were executed on December 25, 1989, after a cursory military trial. Approximately 1500 people were killed in confused street fighting. An impromptu governing coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), installed itself and proclaimed the restoration of democracy and freedom. The Communist Party was outlawed, and Ceausescu's most unpopular measures, such as bans on abortion and contraception, were repealed.
Ion Iliescu, a former Communist Party official demoted by Ceausescu in the 1970s, emerged as the leader of the NSF. Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on May 20, 1990. Running against representatives of the pre-war National Peasants' Party and National Liberal Party, Iliescu won 85% of the vote. The NSF captured two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, named a university professor, Petre Roman, as Prime Minister, and began cautious free market reforms.
The new government made a crucial early misstep. Unhappy at the continued political and economic influence of members of the Ceausescu-era elite, anti-communist protesters had camped in University Square in April 1990. When miners from the Jiu Valley descended on Bucharest two months later and brutally dispersed the remaining "hooligans," President Iliescu, by expressing public thanks, convinced many that the government had sponsored the miners. The miners also attacked the headquarters and houses of opposition leaders. The Roman Government fell in late September 1991, when the miners returned to Bucharest to demand higher salaries and better living conditions. A technocrat, Theodor Stolojan, was appointed to head an interim government until new elections could be held.
Parliament drafted a new democratic constitution, approved by popular referendum in December 1991. National elections in September 1992 returned President Iliescu by a clear majority, and gave his party, the NSF, a plurality. With parliamentary support from the nationalist PUNR and PRM parties, and the ex-communist PSM party, an NSF/technocratic government was formed in November 1992 under Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu, an economist. The NSF became the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PDSR) in July 1993. The Vacaroiu government ruled in coalition with three smaller parties, all of which abandoned the coalition by the time of the November 1996, elections. Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention electoral coalition defeated President Iliescu in the second round of voting by 6% and replaced him as chief of state. The PDSR won the largest number of seats in parliament, but the constituent parties of the CDR joined the Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania to form a centrist coalition government holding 60% of the seats in parliament. Victor Ciorbea, a former labor lawyer and government prosecutor, was named Prime Minister. The new government outlined as top priorities shock economic reform (including privatization/closure of state enterprises and monetary and fiscal reform), decentralization, and a campaign against corruption.