I write so much about politics in the US, and then recently someone asked about Romania. No one knows much of anything about Romania. So here are a few tidbits.
1. You can win a war and still lose territory. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, when Romania won its independence and fought on the Russian side, it gained the province of Northern Dobruja from the Ottoman Empire, but, in a forced exchange, ceded the region of Southern Bessarabia to the Russian Empire. Romanians also know, since then, how much an alliance with Russia is worth.
2. You don't have to be Romanian or to be born within the current national borders to rule the country. Since the declaration of its Independence (May 9, 1877), several of the country’s heads of state were born outside the country: the first two of the four kings (Carol I of Romania and Ferdinand I of Romania) were born in Germany, the third of the five presidents (Emil Constantinescu) was born in the Republic of Moldova, and the first of the two interim presidents (Nicolae Văcăroiu) was born in Ukraine.
3. One head of state who actually ruled in the 1920s is still around. Michael I ruled the country between 1927-1930 and 1940-1947. Born on October 25, 1921, a third cousin of Queen Elisabeth II of England, he was forced by the Communists to abdicate before New Year’s Eve, on December 30, 1947 and to live in exile until the fall of Communism in 1989. Now he is 94-year old and has residences in Romania and Switzerland.
4. It has an amazing amount of German influence for a Romance country. The Romanian kings were all ethnic Germans, belonging to the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty (from Baden-Württemberg, in Southern Germany). The current President Klaus Iohannis, elected in 2014 for five years, is also an ethnic German. However, Romania joined the Entente Powers to fight against Germany and the Central Powers in WWI, despite of the opposition of King Carol I, and gained sizeable territories from its neighbors as a result. In World War II, though, Romania fought with Germany and the Axis (because the Soviet Union had sided with the Allies), and lost some of the territories it had gained.
5. Between 1938 and 1948, Romania experimented with no less than three ideologically diverse dictatorships in the space of a single decade: royal, imposed by King Carol II, between February 1938 and September 1940; military, imposed by Marshall Ion Antonescu, between January 1941 and August 1944; and Communist, imposed by the Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and backed by the occupying Soviets, after December 1947.
6. During the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Romania was the only country of the Communist bloc to execute its president, Nicolae Ceaușescu. For more than two decades (December 9, 1967 – December 22, 1989), Ceaușescu had ruled the country with an iron fist. On Christmas Day, December 25, 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were summarily tried for genocide, sentenced to death, and executed on the same day.
7. The capital city of Bucharest was run continuously by conservative parties or independents since the post-Communist revolution of December 21, 1989 until the last local elections of June 2016. Only then was the left-wing Social Democratic Party able to win the city, taking advantage of the newly imposed one-round elections (instead of the traditional two rounds), a low turnout, and a lack of unity among the right-wing parties.
8. You can have a president with two consecutive terms in office, twice unsuccessfully impeached, and holding a double citizenship. Traian Băsescu, a conservative, served as the fourth president of the country, elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2009 (in Romania the presidential terms last for 5 years). During his first mandate, Romania became a European Union member (in 2007). However, the Parliament, dominated by the center-left parties of the social-democrats and liberals, impeached him twice -- in 2007 and 2012. Both attempts failed to pass the constitutional requirement of approval by 50% plus one of the total number of registered electors. In 2016, president Băsescu was granted citizenship of the Republic of Moldova, fueling speculations that he would run for president of that country for a change.
TIBERIU DIANU is a scholar and author of several books and articles in law and post-communist societies. He currently lives in Washington, DC, where he works for various government and private agencies.