Survivors

The Romanians: A History

by Vlad Georgescu, edited by Matei Calinescu, translated by Alexandra Bley-Vroman, epilogue by Matei Calinescu, by Vladimir Tismaneanu
Ohio State University Press, 356 pp., $49.50

Jagendorf’s Foundry: Memoir of the Romanian Holocaust, 1941–-1944

by Siegfried Jagendorf, introduction and commentaries by Aron Hirt-Manheimer
HarperCollins, 209 pp., $22.95

Kiss the Hand You Cannot Bite’: The Rise and Fall of the Ceausescus

by Edward Behr, foreword by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Hamish Hamilton, 255 pp., £15.99

National Ideology Under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu’s Romania

by Katherine Verdery
University of California Press, 406 pp., $39.95

The Fall of Tyrants: The Incredible Story of One Pastor’s Witness, the People of Romania, and the Overthrow of Ceausescu

by Laszlo Tokes, with David Porter
Crossway Books, 226 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Romania: The Entangled Revolution International Studies, Praeger

by Nestor Ratesh, foreword by Edward N. Luttwak
The Washington Papers/152, published with the Center for Strategic and, 179 pp., $39.95; $12.95 (paper)

If the art of survival is—as it probably must be—central to the politics of small nations, then the Romanians may be counted among the greatest practitioners of that art. At the cost of much suffering and a good deal of social corruption, they have, over several centuries, managed to preserve both their national pride and their rich culture in a difficult and often hostile environment.

Surrounded by Slavic and Hungarian speakers, Romanians have persisted in speaking a Romance language akin to Latin, French, and Italian. Invaded by Tatars, Poles, Hungarians, Ottoman Turks, Austrians, Russians, Germans, and, finally, the Soviet Red Army, they have succeeded in absorbing or at least pacifying every occupier.

From the fifteenth century until, at least formally, 1878, the two original Romanian principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia, were subjected to Ottoman rule. Required to pay tribute to the Ottoman emperor’s Sublime Porte, they were also forced to suffer the presence of viceroys who, especially in the eighteenth century, were often no better than bandits. Yet despite Ottoman domination, the Romanians gave up neither their Eastern Christian religion nor their social and cultural institutions. During the first half of the nineteenth century (and again between 1944 and 1958), Russian soldiers occupied the country, yet in few places have the departing Russians left behind less of a tangible legacy than in Romania.

In 1859 the two Romanian principalities were united, by their own efforts as well as by those of Napoleon III. Yet because they sensed the growing importance of Bismarck’s Germany in the region, the Romanian political leaders invited a Prussian prince, Karl (or Carol I, as he came to be known) to be their ruler. The new prince, who became king in 1878, then concluded a secret alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, but when World War I came, the Romanians reneged on his commitment. Two years later, having squeezed a maximum of concessions and promises from the Entente Powers, they declared war on their former allies.

Romania was quickly defeated and largely occupied by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies, and, after Bolshevik Russia left the war in the spring of 1918, it, too, was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty with the Central Powers. Still, nearly two weeks after the collapse of Austria-Hungary and just one day before Germany’s surrender, Romania managed officially to re-enter the war, thereby securing a place for itself on the side of the victors.

Romania’s territorial gains at the Paris peace conferences were proportionally greater than those of any other power. By acquiring Bukovina from Austria, Bessarabia from Soviet Russia, southern Dobrudja from Bulgaria, and Transylvania as well as other provinces from Hungary, the country more than doubled in size. Indeed the territory it seized from Hungary was greater than all that remained of the latter state after the peace treaty.

It is difficult, however, to see in just what way the Romanian people profited from these territorial gains, unless one counts an inflated national pride …

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Letters

Democracy in Romania? July 16, 1992

Survival in Romania May 28, 1992