Bismarck lesson and unity of Romanians. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



The Romanian political class on both sides of the Prut River has at hand these two ways of principled approach to the interest of Romanian national unity. Which of these two approaches will prevail in the actions of Romanian politicians in the near future in view of national reunification? The Bismarck lesson says that nothing can prevail over the interest of national unity, for which a people with a future fights till its last breath and overcomes any conditionality that opposes the realization of this ideal...


Anatol Țăranu

Every year in January, the Romanians celebrate the Little Union, which rightfully should be called the First Great Union. On January 24, 1859, the Romanians in Moldavia and Wallachia left without reply the great powers of the world at that time, electing Alexandru Ioan Cuza ruler in Bucharest, after he had been already elected ruler in Iasi, on January 5. Two Romanian principalities united under the scepter of a single earthly ruler, thus starting the process of building the modern Romanian state.

Romania, Germania and Italy were formed in same historical period

The year 1859 meant only the beginning of a longer process full of multiple risks on the way to the affirmation of Romania and the modern Romanian nation. Being a Latin island located in Eastern Europe, Romania was formed in full accordance with the historical law of affirmation of modern European nation-states. In the same years, alongside Romania, the unified European states of Germany and Italy were formed. Today, the followers of vulgar Moldovenism say that the state of Romania, in terms of historical seniority, loses to the state of Moldova, trying by this argument to distinguish historical Moldova and, first of all, Bessarabia from Romania. In reality, such a logic distorted by the imperialist interests of the foreign invader would also deprive Germans and Italians of the right to their modern nation-states, which did not exist under the names Germany and Italy until the unification, in the nineteenth century, of a number of small medieval states into centralized states, within whose borders the modern German and Italian nations asserted themselves. The Romanian state and nation had the same historical trajectory of European development as Germany and Italy.

The difference between Romania’s case and the German and Italian cases was determined by the external factor. The unification of Germany and Italy was consumed mainly in the confrontation with the Habsburg Empire, while the constitution of modern Romania was influenced by its location at the confluence of interests of three great empires of the time – Russian, Osman and Habsburg. And the Eastern question, focused on the interests related to the dissolution of the Osman Empire, in Romania’s area involved the interests of other major geopolitical players of the time. This difference determined the temporal continuity of unification of Romanian lands into a single centralized national state, which experienced the influx of national unification until 1918 through the establishment of Greater Romania, but also the outflow of national unity in 1940 through the occupation of Bessarabia by the Soviet Empire.

Romania was formed in a well-defined international context. The European powers looked at the Romanian principalities through the angle of the confrontation of the Russian Empire with the Ottoman Empire. The Crimean War ended in 1856, after three years of fierce fighting. The Russians lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, the UK and Sardinia-Piedmont, a precursor to united Italy. The moment brought to the consciousness of the great powers the importance of the Black Sea, as a major geopolitical point in Europe, which the Pashoptist generation in the Principalities used perfectly in the interest of achieving national unity.

Major change in European political balance

In the same period, the process of German unification around Prussia took place, a special role in it having been played by “Iron Chancellor” Bismarck. The unification resulted from the Austro-Prussian “fratricide” war of 1866, as well as the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. The removal of the Habsburg Empire from the process of German unification and the surrender of France at Sedan on September 2, 1870, the proclamation of Wilhelm I as Emperor of Germany (Reich II) on January 18, 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, signified a major change in the European political balance. Henceforth, Germany played a dominant role in the history of the old continent, creating an international system based on the Realpolitik principles implemented by Bismarck. In other words, the power and authority of force-based states was to determine their place in the hierarchy of powers of Europe.

The political coordinates imposed with particular dexterity by Bismarck - Chancellor of Prussia, and later also of united Germany - in European relations were recognized first by his contemporaries as pursuing the ultimate goal of extending Germany, even if the means he used were far from being always moral. Bismarck himself confessed, with rare sincerity and brutal frankness, that in order to achieve his goals in the name of German glory, he “ruthlessly crushed anyone who opposed him”.

Closer to zone of Romanian Principalities

For some time, Bismarck avoided full political involvement in the area of the Romanian principalities, suspecting that this could harm the cause of German unification around Prussia. But his attitude changed in 1866, when a German prince named Carol I became King of the United Principalities. Otto von Bismarck rightly believed that by bringing a Hohenzollern to the throne of the Romanian principalities, he would obtain a favorable position in competition with the Habsburgs for Prussia’s supremacy in the unification of Germany. Analyzing the balance of forces in this part of Europe, Nicolae Iorga considered that Bismarck was clearly in a position to counter Austrian interests, declaring himself “against the role of helper of the Austrian ambition to take possession of the Lower Danube, with the permanent occupation of the Romanian Principalities”. To support this assertion, Iorga invoked Bismarck’s own expression: “In the Eastern question, I also fear not to give Austria our full and loyal support, without deciding for us the slightest reward”.

Bismarck’s Realpolitik was particularly striking during the Congress of Berlin (June 13-July 13, 1878), which was convened on the initiative of the German Chancellor.

The Congress of Berlin reconfigured the borders of the Balkan states, establishing a new balance in the area following the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), which resulted in the Peace Treaty of San Stefano whose provisions were dictated by Russia. The Treaty of Berlin was designed to revise the provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano and thus reduce the influence gained by the Russian Empire in the Balkans. At the Congress of Berlin, Bismarck gave a lesson in diplomatic mastery and great political tenacity in promoting the interests of Germany - a newly unified state that was quickly transformed into a great European power.

Conditional recognition of Romania’s independence

For Romania, which was an active participant in the last Russo-Turkish war, the treaty concluded in Berlin meant the conditional recognition of its independence. More precisely, in exchange for the recognition of independence, Romania was required to grant Romanian citizenship to the Jewish population living in the country, but also to cede to Russia three counties in southern Bessarabia (Cahul, Ismail and Bolgrad), which had been returned to Romania in 1856, by the Treaty of Paris. This territorial loss was compensated by the annexation to Romania of Dobrogea, the Danube Delta and the Snake Island. However, the Congress of Berlin enshrined the international diplomatic recognition of state independence, which Romania had proclaimed a year earlier.

The re-annexation of the three counties in southern Bessarabia by Russia not only damaged Romania’s territorial integrity, representing a gross historical injustice, but also meant the brutal violation of the Romanian-Russian Convention of April 1877, which annihilated any confidence in Russia’s commitment stipulated in an international treaty. From this moment on, any rapprochement of Romania with Russia was compromised by the chronic distrust of the Romanians in the word given by the Eastern neighbor, determining along the way Bucharest’s discreet rapprochement with the German-Italian Triple Alliance.

Two ways

It is known that Prince Carol I of Romania, despite external pressures, did not put his signature on the act of ceding southern Bessarabia, informing the Romanian Government that he did not want his signature to appear on any document when handing over Bessarabia. They acted differently in 1996, when the then President and Prime Minister of Romania, Emil Constantinescu and Victor Ciorbea, signed the treaty by which Bessarabia and Bukovina were renounced for the sake of conditions imposed from outside. Romania in that year was not lucky to have a Bismarck or Carol I, an Ion C. Brătianu or Mihail Kogălniceanu at the helm of the country, remaining until today an unfulfilled state as a national territorial unit.

The Romanian political class on both sides of the Prut River has at hand these two ways of principled approach to the interest of Romanian national unity. Which of these two approaches will prevail in the actions of Romanian politicians in the near future in view of national reunification? The Bismarck lesson says that nothing can prevail over the interest of national unity, for which a people with a future fights till its last breath and overcomes any conditionality that opposes the realization of this ideal.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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