Romania delayed in entering the World War, but ultimately declared war on the Central Powers in 1916. The Romanian military campaign ended in disaster when the Central Powers quickly crushed the country's armed forces (despite fierce Romanian resistance, especially at Mărăşeşti) and occupied most of the country, including Bucharest and the strategically important oil fields. King Ferdinand refused to ratify the Treaty of Bucharest but was over ruled by the parliament and Army, resulting in his abdication and flight from Romania.
Union with BessarabiaEdit
After the World War, during 1918-1920, Bessarabia (Eastern Moldavia between Prut and Dniester rivers) united with Romania. Except for some territories across the Dniester river, all these territories were united in a single state. Thus, Romania in 1920 was roughly larger than it had been in 1914. Although the country still had further territorial claims in Austria, it aroused the enmity of the Soviet Union.
Lesser minorities were not as well treated because of their small numbers and because they had no outside power to support them. Jews in particular were highly unpopular. Despite being less than 10% of the Romanian population, they held a disproportionate control of small businesses, banks, shops, factories, and the skilled trades and crafts. Most had emigrated from Russia to escape the pogroms and as such, they invariably spoke Ukrainian or Yiddish and rarely more than a few words of Romanian. For the most part, they were there simply for business and had no interest at all in Romanian history or culture.
Romanian education was a mixed bag. While the nobility had a long tradition of sending their sons to Europe's finest schools, the educated were a tiny minority. Bessarabia and other ex-Russian areas fared the worst. While all Romanian children were required to attend at least four years of school, few actually went and the system was designed to separate those who would go on to higher education from those who would not. While this was partially necessary due to limited resources, it also ensured that peasants had almost no chance of becoming educated.
High school and college education in Romania was modeled after French schools. Students undertook a rigid curriculum based around the liberal arts and anyone who could pass was very well-educated. However, Romania suffered from the same problem as the rest of Eastern Europe, which was that most students preferred abstract subjects like theology, philosophy, literature, the fine arts, and law (in the philosophical rather than the applied sense) to practical ones like science, business, and engineering.
The peasant population was among the poorest in the region, a situation aggravated by one of Europe's highest birth rates. As elsewhere, peasants everywhere were convinced that land reform would solve their problems, and after the war they began to clamor loudly for such action, which led to the 1921 land reform. But it did precious little to improve productivity, especially since the richness of Romania's soil was negated by a lack of modern farming techniques. Agricultural exports could not compete with those of Western Europe and North America, and the onset of the Great Depression caused the market for them to completely dry up.
In 1919, a staggering 72% of Romanians were engaged in agriculture. And due to one of Europe's highest birth rates, as much as a quarter of the rural population was unnecessary surplus. Farming was primitive and machinery and chemical fertilizers almost unheard of. The Regat (prewar Romania) was traditionally a land of large estates worked by peasants who either had no land of their own or else dwarf plots. The situation in Bessarabia was as bad or worse. After peasant calls for land reform snowballed into an avalanche, King Carol II had to oblige, especially once communist groups started taking advantage of the situation. In the end, it did nothing to remedy the basic problems of rural overpopulation and technological backwardness. The redistributed plots were invariably too small to feed their owners and peasants also could not overcome their tradition of growing grain over cash crops. Since draft animals were rare, to say nothing of machinery, actual agricultural productivity was worse than before.
Despite the land reforms, landowners still controlled up to 30% of Romania's soil, also including the forests that peasants needed for fuel. Romania also had little opportunity to export agricultural products since the biggest ones like grain couldn't possibly compete with producers in the United States or elsewhere.
Romanian industry was quite well-developed due to an abundance of natural resources, especially oil. Lumber and various minerals were produced mainly for export, but most industry was owned by foreign companies, over 70% during the interwar period. By 1920 a part of the Western powers recognized Romanian rule over Bessarabia by the Treaty of Paris.
The interbellum yearsEdit
Until 1938, Romania's governments maintained the form, if not always the substance, of a liberal constitutional monarchy. The National Liberal Party, dominant in the years immediately after the World War, became increasingly clientelist and nationalist, and in 1927 was supplanted in power by the National Peasant Party. Between 1930 and 1940 there were over 25 separate governments; on several occasions in the last few years before the European War, conflict between the Iron Guard and other political groupings approached the level of a civil war.
The 1929 economic crisis greatly affected Romania and the early 1930s were marked by social unrest, high unemployment, and strikes. In several instances, the Romanian government violently repressed strikes and riots, notably the strike in the Griviţa railroad workshops. In the mid-1930s, the Romanian economy recovered and the industry grew significantly, although about 80% of Romanians were still employed in agriculture.
As the 1930s progressed, Romania's already shaky democracy slowly deteriorated toward fascist dictatorship. The constitution of 1923 gave the king free rein to dissolve parliament and call elections at will; as a result, Romania was to experience over 25 governments in a decade.
Increasingly, these governments were dominated by any of a number of anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist, and mostly at least quasi-fascist parties. The National Liberal Party steadily became more nationalistic than liberal, but nonetheless lost its dominance over Romanian politics. It was eclipsed by parties like the (relatively moderate) National Peasant Party and its more radical Romanian Front offshoot, the League of National-Christian Defense (LANC) and the Iron Guard. In 1935, LANC merged with the National Agrarian Party to form the National Christian Party (NCP). The quasi-mystical fascist Iron Guard was an earlier LANC offshoot that, even more than these other parties, exploited nationalism, fear of communism, and resentment of alleged foreign and Jewish domination of the economy.
Already, the Iron Guard had embraced the politics of assassination and various governments had reacted more or less in kind. On 10 December 1933, Liberal prime minister Ion Duca "dissolved" the Iron Guard, arresting thousands; 19 days later he was assassinated by Iron Guard legionnaires.
Throughout the 1930s, these nationalist parties had a mutually distrustful relationship with King Carol II. Nonetheless, in December 1937, the king appointed LANC leader (and poet) Octavian Goga as prime minister. Around this time, Carol met with Adolf Hitler, who expressed his wish to see a Romanian government headed by the Iron Guard. Instead, on 10 February 1938 King Carol II used the occasion of a public insult by Goga toward Lupescu as a reason to dismiss the government and institute a short-lived royal dictatorship, sanctioned seventeen days later by a new constitution under which the king named not only the prime minister but all ministers.
In April 1938, Carol had Iron Guard leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu arrested and imprisoned. On the night of 29–30 November 1938 Codreanu and several other legionnaires were killed while purportedly attempting to escape from prison. It is generally agreed that there was no such escape attempt, but that they were murdered in retaliation for a series of assassinations by Iron Guard commandos.
The royal dictatorship was brief. On 7 March 1939 a new government was formed with Armand Călinescu as prime minister; on 21 September 1939 a month after the start of the European War, Călinescu, in turn, was assassinated by legionnaires avenging Codreanu.
European War Edit
In March 1940, with the decisive Soviet offensive in Ukraine, it was growing clear that the Austrians would lose Ukraine and put the Red Army on the Romanian border. Due to events in Finland Romanian's had no reason to trust the Soviets would not advance into Bessarabia, a lost imperial territory.
In April–May 1940, the Romanian forces led by General Mihai Racovițǎ was responsible for defending northern Romania during the initial Soviet attempt to invade Romania, and took part in the Battles of Târgu Frumos. This first Soviet attacks were held back by pre-planned defensive lines in northern Romania. The Jassy–Kishinev Offensive, launched on 20 August 1940, resulted in a quick and decisive Soviet breakthrough, collapsing the Austro-Romanian front in the region. Soviet forces captured Târgu Frumos and Iași on 21 August and Chișinău on 24 August 1940. On 25 August Ion Gigurtu was order by the king to sue for peace with the Soviets. However, in the absence of an actual signed armistice the Soviet troops continued to treat the Romanians as a hostile force. The armistice was signed three weeks later, on 12 September 1940, "on terms Moscow virtually dictated." The coup effectively amounted to a "capitulation", an "unconditional" "surrender" to the Soviets. In the wake of the cease fire order given by King Carol II, between 114,000 and 160,000 Romanian soldiers were taken prisoners of war by the Soviets without resisting, and they were forced to march to remote detention camps, located in the Soviet Union; about a third of the prisoners perished on the way.
After the conclusion of the Armistice Agreement in 1940, Soviet troops occupied the entire territory of Romania. The Soviet Union annexed Bessarabia as the Moldavian SSR. Andrei Y. Vishinsky, the Soviet vice commissar of foreign affairs, traveled to Bucharest and gave Carol an ultimatum—unless he sacked Gigurtu and replaced him with Dr. Petru Groza, leading member of the Ploughmen's Front, Romania's independence would be at risk. With no other choice, Carol complied. On 30 December that year, Groza presented Carol with a pretyped instrument of abdication and demanded that he sign it. Claiming Groza holding a gun on him, pro-Communist troops surrounding his palace and his telephone lines cut, Carol was forced to sign the document. Hours later, Parliament abolished the monarchy and proclaimed Romania a People's Republic. This government was not recognized by any other nation, other than the Soviet Union.
The royal coupEdit
On 23 May 1941 just as the Axis forces were penetrating the Soviet front in Poland and Hungary, Crown Prince Michael led a successful coup with support from opposition politicians and the army. Michael, who was kept in the country as a hostage by the government, was able to successfully depose the Groza pro-Soviet government . The Crown Prince then offered a non-confrontational retreat to new Soviet ambassador. But the Soviets considered the coup "reversible" and attempted to turn the situation around by military force. The Romanian First, Second (forming), and what little was left of the Third and the Fourth Armies (one corps) were under orders from the King to defend Romania against any Soviet attacks. Crown Prince Michael offered to put the Romanian Army, which at that point had a strength of nearly 1,000,000 men, back on the side of the Axis.
In a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army on the night of 23 May Michael issued a cease-fire, proclaimed Romania's loyalty to the Axis, and declared war on USSR. The coup accelerated the German Army's advance into Eastern Europe. Romania joined in the Axis offensive , with Romanian troops crossing the River Prut. After recovering Bessarabia and capturing Bukovina (Operation München), Romanian units fought side by side with the Germans onward to Odessa, Sevastopol, Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The Romanian contribution of troops was enormous. The total number of troops involved in the Romanian Third Army and the Romanian Fourth Army was second only to Germany itself.
During the Paris Peace Conference in 1946 Ion Antonescu, now Prime Minister of Romania, made agreements with members of the conference that gained Romania the now defunct Austrian territories of Banat, Crișana, and a large portion of Transylvania.