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Summary Article: Romania
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Country in southeast Europe, bounded north and east by Ukraine, east by Moldova, southeast by the Black Sea, south by Bulgaria, southwest by Serbia, and northwest by Hungary.

Government Under the 2003 constitution, Romania has a limited presidential political system, with executive power shared between the president and prime minister. There is a two-chamber legislature: the parliament, comprising (following changes made in 2015) a 329-member chamber of deputies (lower chamber), in which 308 seats are elected for four-year terms through a party list proportional representation system, 18 seats are set aside for ethnic minorities, and three are elected by Romanians overseas; and a 136-member senate (upper chamber), elected for four years by proportional representation in multiparty contests, including two senators elected by Romanians living abroad. An executive president is directly elected for a five-year term in a two-round majority contest. The president is responsible for foreign and defence policy and appoints the prime minister – who is normally the head of the party or coalition which holds a majority in the parliament – to have charge of domestic and economic policy. The president can veto legislation, but this can be overturned by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. The prime minister appoints a cabinet, or council of ministers, and the government is subject to a parliamentary vote of approval before taking office. The president is not allowed to be affiliated to a political party when president. There is also a constitutional court, which judges compliance of laws to the constitution.

History The earliest known inhabitants merged with invaders from Thrace. Ancient Rome made it the province of Dacia from AD 106; the poet Ovid was one of the settlers, and the people and language were Romanized. After the withdrawal of the Romans in AD 275, Romania was occupied by Goths, and during the 5th–12th centuries was overrun by Huns, Bulgars, Slavs, and other invaders.

Transylvania was ruled by the kingdom of Hungary from the 10th to 16th centuries and was incorporated into the Austrian Habsburg Empire from the late 18th century. The principalities of Wallachia in the south, and Moldavia in the east, dating from the 14th century, fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1476 and 1514. In the late 16th century the three principalities were briefly united by Michael the Brave.

Turkish rule over Wallachia and Moldavia was exchanged for Russian protection 1829–56. In 1859 Moldavia and Wallachia elected Prince Alexander Cuza, under whom they were united as Romania from 1861. He was deposed in 1866 and Prince Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen elected. After the Russo-Turkish war 1877–78, in which Romania sided with Russia, the great powers recognized Romania's independence, and in 1881 Prince Charles became King Carol I.

After independence Romania fought against Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War in 1913 and annexed southern Dobruja. It entered World War I on the Allied side in 1916, was occupied by the Germans 1917–18, but received Bessarabia from Russia and Bukovina and Transylvania from the dismembered Habsburg empire under the 1918 peace settlement, thus emerging as the largest state in the Balkans. During the late 1930s, to counter the growing popularity of the fascist Iron Guard movement, Carol II abolished the democratic constitution of 1923 and established his own dictatorship.

World War II In 1940 Carol II was forced to surrender Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to the USSR, northern Transylvania to Hungary, and southern Dobruja to Bulgaria, and abdicated when Romania was occupied by Germany in August. Power was assumed by Ion Antonescu (1882–1946, ruling in the name of Carol's son King Michael), who signed the Axis Pact in November 1940 and declared war on the Soviet Union (USSR) in June 1941. During World War II, the Antonescu regime collaborated with the Nazis in the massacre of around 300,000 Jews in eastern Europe and also Romas. In August 1944, with the Red Army on Romania's borders, King Michael supported the ousting of the Antonescu government by a coalition of left and centre parties, including the Communists. Romania subsequently joined the war against Germany and in the Paris peace treaties in 1947 recovered Transylvania but lost Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to the USSR (they were included in Moldavia and the Ukraine) and southern Dobruja to Bulgaria.

Republic In the elections of 1946 a Communist-led coalition, helped by vote manipulation and forced merger of competing parties, achieved a majority. It proceeded to force King Michael to abdicate and leave the country. The new Romanian People's Republic was proclaimed in December 1947 and dominated by the Romanian Communist Party, then termed the Romanian Workers' Party (RWP). Soviet-style constitutions were adopted in 1948 and 1952; Romania joined Comecon in 1949 and co-signed the Warsaw Pact in 1955; and a programme of nationalization and agricultural collectivization was launched. After a rapid purge of opposition leaders, the RWP became firmly established in power, enabling Soviet occupation forces to leave the country in 1958.

Ceauşescu era The dominant political personality 1945–65 was RWP leader and state president Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej. He was succeeded by Nicolae Ceauşescu, who placed greater emphasis on national autonomy and proclaimed Romania a socialist republic. Under Ceauşescu, Romania adopted a foreign-policy line independent of the USSR, condemned the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and refused to participate directly in Warsaw Pact manoeuvres or allow Russian troops to enter the country. Ceauşescu called for multilateral nuclear disarmament and the creation of a Balkan nuclear-weapons-free zone, and maintained warm relations with China. He was created president in 1974.

Austerity programme At home, the secret police (Securitate) maintained a tight Stalinist rein on dissident activities, while a Ceauşescu personality cult was propagated, with almost 40 members of the president's extended family, including his wife Elena and son Nicu, occupying senior party and state positions. Economic difficulties mounted as Ceauşescu, pledging himself to repay the country's accumulated foreign debt (achieved in 1989), embarked on an austerity programme. This led to food shortages and widespread power cuts in the winters from 1985 onwards; the army occupied power plants and brutally crushed workers' demonstrations in Braşov in 1987.

Relations with neighbours From 1985 Ceauşescu refused to follow the path of political and economic reform laid by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, even calling in the spring of 1989 for Warsaw Pact nations to intervene to prevent the opposition Solidarity movement from assuming power in Poland. Romania's relations with Hungary also reached crisis point 1988–89 as a result of a Ceauşescu ‘systematization plan’ to demolish 7,000 villages and replace them with 500 agro-industrial complexes, in the process forcibly resettling and assimilating Transylvania-based ethnic Hungarians.

Overthrow of Ceauşescu The unexpected overthrow of the Ceauşescu regime began in December 1989. It was sparked off by the government's plans to exile a dissident Protestant pastor, László Tökes (1952– ), to a remote village. Ethnic Hungarians and Romanians joined forces in the city of Timişoara to form an anti-Ceauşescu protest movement. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the state's subsequent crackdown on 17 December. Four days later, an officially sponsored rally in Bucharest backfired when the crowd chanted anti-Ceauşescu slogans. Divisions between the military and Securitate rapidly emerged and on 22 December 1989 the army Chief of Staff, Gen Stefan Gusa, turned against the president and called on his soldiers to ‘defend the uprising’. Ceauşescu attempted to flee, but was caught and he and his wife were summarily tried and executed on Christmas Day.

National Salvation Front Battles between Ceauşescu-loyal Securitate members and the army ensued in Bucharest, with several thousand being killed, but the army seizing the upper hand. A National Salvation Front was established, embracing former dissident intellectuals, reform communists, and military leaders. At its head was Ion Iliescu (1930– ), a Moscow-trained communist; Petre Roman (1947– ), an engineer without political experience, was appointed prime minister. The Front's council proceeded to re-legalize the formation of alternative political parties and draft a new constitution. Faced with grave economic problems, it initiated a ban on the export of foodstuffs, the abandonment of the ‘systematization programme’, the dissolution of the Securitate (a new intelligence service, accountable to parliament, was set up in its place), the abolition of the RCP's leading role, and the re-legalization of small-plot farming and abortion (all contraception had been banned by Ceauşescu). It legalized the Orthodox Church, and the Vatican re-established diplomatic relations.

Market economy In May 1990 Ion Iliescu won the country's first free elections since World War II, but there were sit-in protests in University Square, Bucharest, against the results of this and parliamentary elections, with accusations that they had been undemocratic. The government invited coal miners from the Jiu Valley to Bucharest to restore order, which they did, but with brutality. Moving towards a legal market economy, the government cut subsidies, the leu was devalued, and prices were allowed to float. Industrial exports slumped and strikes and protests increased until the government agreed to postpone its price-liberalization programme. Refugees continued to leave the country and there were demonstrations against the government during December 1990 and January 1991, especially in Timişoara and Bucharest.

The second stage of price liberalization commenced in April 1991, despite trade-union protests against the sharply rising cost of living and level of unemployment (over 1 million). At the same time the leu was devalued by 72% to meet the loan conditions set by the International Monetary Fund. President Iliescu signed a law in August to allow for the privatization of all state enterprises except utilities. In November 1991 the leu was made internally convertible. Prices rose 400% during 1991 and hundreds of thousands were on short-time work. GNP fell during 1991 to 12%. However, the annual inflation rate, which stood at 300% in 1993, was reduced to 28% by 1996 when the growth of the economy was reported to be 7% per annum.

In late September 1991 Prime Minister Petre Roman resigned after three days of riots in Bucharest by thousands of striking miners, protesting against soaring prices and a fall in living standards. Theodor Stolojan, the finance minister and a proponent of accelerated price liberalization, was appointed prime minister. He formed a new, cross-party coalition government in October 1991.

New constitution A national referendum in December 1991 overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution which guaranteed pluralism, human rights, and a free market. Ethnic Hungarians, however, opposed the new constitution on the grounds that it failed to grant minority or language rights. Iliescu was re-elected in the September–October 1992 presidential election on a second ballot, promising more gradual market reforms; concurrent legislative elections resulted in a no majority parliament. A minority administration, formed under Nicolai Vacaroiu, only narrowly survived a series of no-confidence motions by the more reformist-minded opposition, and in March 1994 two far-right nationalist parties, Romania Mare and the Romanian National Unity Party, were brought into the coalition in an attempt to strengthen its position. In January 1995 a governing pact was signed with the anti-Semitic Romania Mare and the ex-communist Socialist Labour Party. These moves increased concern among ethnic Hungarians and raised doubts in the West over the future development of democracy in Romania.

Membership of international organizations Romania was formally invited to apply for European Community (now European Union) membership in June 1993 and became an Associated State in 1995. In 1994 a pact was signed with Bulgaria agreeing to joint military activities.

New regime The former communists who had held power since the overthrow of Ceauşescu in 1989 were defeated in the November 1996 elections. Emil Constantinescu, leader of the centre-right Democratic Convention (CDR) won the presidential election against Iliescu, heralding the advent of a new era of genuine democracy. The CDR also won parliamentary elections held in the same month. Former trade unionist Victor Ciorbea was appointed prime minister.

Economic reform The new government was dominated by the CDR but also included representatives from the Social Democratic Union and the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania. In February 1997 the government announced a radical ‘economic shock therapy’ reform programme, which included accelerated privatization and spending cuts, which would reduce average incomes in the short term, and reiterated the country's aim to enter NATO and the European Union. As part of the economic reform programme, the currency was freed and price controls ended, leading to a sharp increase in the inflation rate to an annualized 700%. In addition, a drive against official corruption was launched, with a quarter of county police chiefs being sacked and investigations launched into public–private mafias.

In February 1997 the former king, Michael, aged 75, returned to the country from exile in Switzerland, 50 years after having been forced to abdicate by the Communists. He promised to abide by the 1991 republican constitution.

In October 1997 the government announced that the files of the Securitate, the former secret police who had been much feared during the communist era, would be opened. In November the Romanian Workers' Party (RMR) was renamed the Romanian Communist Party (RCR). In December the finance minister was dismissed by the reforming right-wing prime minister, Victor Ciorbea, leader of the Christian Democrat National Peasants Party (CDNPP), as part of a broader shake-up of the economic ministries.

Ciorbea loses backing of coalition In February 1998 the Social Democratic Union (USD), the second-largest group in the ruling coalition, and which included the Democratic Party, led by former premier Petre Roman, and many former communist bureaucrats-turned-entrepreneurs, criticized the government's slow pace of economic reform and withdrew its support. This forced Prime Minister Ciorbea to form a new coalition, which included the three-member parties of the centre-right Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR) and members of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (HDUR). The economy was experiencing difficulties, with the currency falling in value and inflation soaring. However, a privatization law was passed in February 1998.

Ciorbea resigned in March 1998 after the Social Democrats blocked his budget. He was replaced in April by Radu Vasile of the CDNPP, and the Social Democrats resumed their support of the coalition, which pledged faster economic reform. Romania commenced full EU membership negotiations in 1998.

Civil unrest In January 1999 the government imposed road-blocks north of Bucharest to prevent 10,000 miners, who were striking for a 35% pay increase, entering the capital. The miners' leader, Miron Cozma, was an ally of Vadim Tudor, the populist leader of the xenophobic and protectionist Greater Romania Party, which called for a general strike and overthrow of the increasingly unpopular government of Prime Minister Radu Vasile.

In December 1999 Vasile was forced to resign, and was replaced by Mugur Isarescu, the head of Romania's central bank, and member of the Partidul National Liberal (PNL, National Liberal Party). The new government had the task of accelerating privatization (around 80% of the economy was still state-run), and of tackling corruption and the black market. This was a first step in preparing the country for entrance into the EU, having been invited to commence negotiations in February 2000.

Iliescu wins the presidential elections The November–December 2000 presidential elections were won by the former communist president Ion Iliescu, who defeated the extreme nationalist candidate Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Iliescu's Social Democrats also won the largest share of the vote in parliamentary elections and Adrian Nastase became prime minister.

In February 2001 the government announced plans to privatize 63 large state-owned enterprises. Since 1996 the previous government had privatized 4,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, so that the private sector accounted for 60% of GDP. However, GDP and average living standards had fallen by a fifth since 1996.

In 2004 Romania joined NATO and became an Acceding Country to the EU.

Basescu becomes president The December 2004 presidential elections were won by the outspoken Traian Basescu, a former captain in the merchant navy and ally of Petre Roman in the 1990s who had been an energetic mayor of Bucharest since 2000. He headed the centre-right Justice and Truth Alliance coalition, which included his Democratic Party and the PNL. He narrowly defeated Adrian Nastase, with 51% of the run-off vote to 49%.

In December 2004 President Basescu appointed the PNL leader and former economy minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, as prime minister. Both the president and prime minister stood on a platform of fast implementation of reforms for entry into the EU and a crackdown against corruption. The government maintained strong relations with the USA, signing an agreement in December 2005 to allow US troops to train and use certain Romanian military facilities. But it also worked to improve relations with Russia.

Romania joins the EU In January 2007 Romania joined the EU as its 26th member. However, relations between the president and prime minister deteriorated in early 2007 and the ruling Justice and Truth Alliance collapsed in April 2007, when the prime minister dismissed members of the pro-Basescu Democratic Party from the government. Instead he formed a minority government, comprising the PNL and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. In April 2007 he also secured a parliamentary vote to suspend Basescu for alleged infringements of the constitution. Nicolai Vacaroiu, who had been prime minister 1992–96 and who was president of the senate, briefly took over as interim president. But on 23 May 2007, Basescu was re-instated as president, after his leadership was supported by 75% of voters in an impeachment referendum.

In December 2007 the president demanded the dismissal of the justice minister because of corruption allegations and in February 2008 the EU threatened sanctions against Romania if it did not deal further with high level corruption.

Economic challenges The parliamentary elections of November 2008 produced an inconclusive result, but a new government was formed in December 2008, with Emil Boc, the centre-right leader of the Democratic Liberal Party (PLD), as prime minister, heading a coalition. The PLD had been formed in 2007 through a merger of the Democratic Party with the Liberal Democrats, led by Theodor Stolojan. The new government was faced with the challenge of dealing with an economic recession caused by the global economic crisis. Following growth of 6% a year since 2001, there was an 8% contraction of GDP in 2009, rising unemployment, a weak currency, and mounting government debt, forcing the government to seek a 20 billion euro ($26 billion) rescue loan from the IMF, EU, and World Bank.

In October 2009 Prime Minister Boc lost a no-confidence vote in parliament, but he remained as interim prime minister, pending the outcome of the December 2009 presidential election. This was contested by Basescu, who stood on a platform of cuts in public spending to deal with the economic crisis and won 32% of the first round vote. He finished 1% ahead of former foreign minister Mircea Geoana, a Social Democrat, who advocated investment in affordable flats and cheap credit to enterprises. The run-off second round, on 6 December 2009, was closely fought and although exit polls had suggested that Geoana had narrowly won, the official result was a wafer-thin victory for Basescu, with 50.3% of the voter to 49.7%. Supporters of Geoana alleged electoral fraud, but OSCE observers viewed the election as fair.

Social democrats back in power In February 2010 Geoana was replaced as leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) by the 37-year-old Victor Ponta. Under Ponta, the PSD moved to the centre, forming a left-of-centre Social Liberal Union (USL) electoral alliance with the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Conservative Party.

Emil Boc's PLD government fell in February 2012, after weeks of street protests against austerity cuts demanded by the IMF. Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, a former foreign minister 2004–07 and intelligence service director, took over as prime minister. But he was forced to resign in May 2012 when his government lost a no-confidence motion called by the USL. Reluctantly, President Basescu turned to the USL, appointing Ponta as prime minister, ahead of November 2012 parliamentary elections.

Ponta agreed to reduce public spending as required by Romania's IMF and EU creditors, but to make sure this was done in a fair way. He sought to benefit from the USL's high standing in opinion polls by changing the electoral law for the lower house from proportional representation to first-past-the-post. However, this was blocked by the constitutional court. Controversially, he also sought to oust President Basescu, whom he accused of using the national intelligence services against political enemies. In July 2012 parliament voted to impeach Basescu, and, in a national referendum, 86% supported his dismissal. However, the constitutional court ruled this vote invalid because turnout (at 46%) was below the required minimum level of 50%.

USL landslide victory Ponta and the USL alliance went on to win a crushing victory in the December 2012 parliamentary elections, securing 59% of the vote and 273 of the 412 lower house seats.

However, during 2013–14, while the government achieved some progress in reducing public debt, the USL and Ponta faced a series of setbacks. In October 2013 Deputy Prime Minister Liviu Dragnea was charged, among others, with attempting to rig the 2012 presidential impeachment referendum. In March 2014 the PNL withdrew from the USL alliance after Ponta refused to appoint its vice-president, Klaus Iohannis, as deputy prime minister. Ponta formed a new government coalition comprising the PSD, the National Union for the Progress of Romania (a 2010 breakaway from the PNL and PSD), and (until December 2014) the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), which represented ethnic Hungarians.

In November 2014 Ponta stood for the presidency and was defeated in the second round run-off by Iohannis, now PNL leader. Iohannis was from the country's ethnic German minority and, as mayor of the thriving city of Sibiu in Transylvania since 2000, had gained a reputation for effectiveness and fighting corruption. This meant that Ponta, while continuing to control domestic and economic policy, would need to govern jointly with Iohannis, who oversaw foreign and defence policy.

Ponta resigns and is replaced by Ciolos In June 2015 Ponta came under pressure from President Iohannis to resign as prime minister after he was questioned by prosecutors from the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) as part of a corruption investigation. Ponta resisted until November 2015. The trigger was three days of mass street protests which followed the death of 63 young people in a fire at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest blamed on lax safety regulations. Dacian Ciolos, an independent who had been a European Commissioner for agriculture in 2009–14, replaced Ponta as prime minister and appointed a technocratic cabinet filled with independents.

In May 2016 the USA activated a land-based missile-defence system in Romania to protect NATO countries from short- and medium-range missiles, particularly from the Middle East. This was criticized by Russia.

Grindeanu becomes prime minister after PSD election victory The parliamentary elections of December 2016 were held using the proportional representation system last used in 2004. The centre-left PSD finished first with 46% of the vote and 154 of the 329 lower house seats. The key to their success was promises to raise the minimum wage and pensions. The centre-right PNL was second with 20% of the vote and 69 seats, while third, with 30 seats and 9% support, was the Save Romania Union (USR), an anti-corruption party formed in 2015.

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea was unable to become prime minister because he had been convicted in 2015 of electoral fraud. Instead, in January 2017 his colleague Sorin Grindeanu, a former communications minister, became prime minister. However, within three weeks Grindeanu faced huge street protests, involving over 200,000 people. These followed an attempt by the government to decriminalize swathes of official corruption to sabotage what had become an increasingly effective anti-corruption drive by the DNA. The protests forced the government to abandon its plans.

PSD continue in power but with changes of prime minister In June 2017 Grindeanu was forced to resign as prime minister after defeat in a parliamentary vote of confidence caused by leading Social Democrats not supporting his leadership. He was replaced as prime minister by Mihai Tudose, a PSD economy minister who was closely allied to Liviu Dragnea.

In January 2018 Prime Minister Tudose lost the support of party colleagues and resigned. He was replaced by Viorica Dancila, a little known PSD member of the European Parliament, who became Romania's third prime minister in seven months and first female prime minister. Two months earlier, in November 2017, the DNA charged PSD leader Dragnea with forming an organized criminal group with the aim of stealing EU funds.


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