Monday, January 15, 2007

Short History of Romania

The following is something I wrote for a small project in the works. Feel free to comment on it, though constructive criticism is preferred. I anticipate being lambasted for mentioning Mattius Corvin, since he was a Hungarian King. But lets not forget he was born within the current confines of Romania. Talking about the history of Romania, and especially that of Transylvania is difficult because people are still very much in conflict as to the context of events. The sensitive nature of this subject is that of gun control or abortion in the United States. For this reason I tried to keep it as factual as possible. Let me know if you think it needs alterations.

The history of Romania is a history of the fusion of people and culture which dates back to before antiquity. Most historians consider the birth of the Romanian civilization to be made up the ethnic amalgamation between the Geto-Dacians and Romans. In 106 A.D. the Dacian kingdom, ruled by the powerful King Decebal lost a second war against Roman legions led by Emperor Trajan. Decebal was forced to capitulate, and thus the Dacian kingdom of the lower Danube fell victim to the relentless expansion of the Roman empire. Afterwards, Dacia was quickly incorporated into the empire and colonists invited to "civilize" the region. The Romans stayed for another 200 years before abandoning the province. Although official administrative and government bodies left, much of the language, people, and culture remained.

Many of Romania's most infamous rulers all lived within a 200 year span in the middle ages beginning in the 1300s. Among them were Mircea the Old, Vlad Tepes (also called Vlad Dracula), Stephen the Great, and Matius Corvin (one of Hungary's greatest kings). What these great leaders all held in common was their opposition to the Turkish expansion and domination, and their desire to consolidate the monarchy. That being said, the medieval history of Romania remained tumultuous, and difficult for the common people. Throughout the years Romania's efforts to develop were thwarted by it's geographic location sandwiched between the two great powers of Hungary and Turkey, and later Russia.

The modern Romanian state was recognized in 1881 after Carol I united the principalities of Walachia and Moldavia. But it wasn't until 1919 that the region of Transylvania was added to the kingdom as a spoil from the First World War. This caused the size of Romania to virtually double overnight and significantly changed the religious and ethnic composition of the country.

During World War II Romania was again forced to choose between the lesser of two evils when it ultimately aligned itself with the Russians. It was the influence of the Soviets, and a backlash against the Antonescu's fascist regime which lead to Romania's adoption of communism after the war. Although communism setback societal advancements by decades, it was one dictator in particular who accelerated this process. Nicolae Ceausescu came to power in 1965 and ruled until shortly before his death in 1989. His legacy was one of massive industrial development, the Diaspora of various ethnic groups within Romania, the creation of one of Eastern Europe's harshest police states, and the cult of the personality. His erroneous economic policies and system of government based on cronyism bankrupted the state and led to his forcible removal from power and subsequent execution.

The early 1990s were marked with confusion, the acquisition of state resources by the Old Guard, and democratic governance carried out by those with little or no experience in democratic practices. However, as the new society matured so did its status. In 2002 Romania was invited to join NATO, and began negotiations with the European Union in the same year. As of January 2007 Romania, along with Bulgaria, has obtained membership in the European Union. New investors are continually arriving in Romania with the emergence of a growing airline industry and the expansion of national infrastructure. Today you are just as likely to see a shepherd tending his flock with a cell phone in one hand as you are someone driving the latest BMW. Although access to modernity is growing all the time, the history and culture of the people's difficult past can still be seen everywhere you look.