Great Union of 1918: lessons for past, present and future. IPN debate

On December 1, 2023 it has been 105 years of the Great Union as a result of which the modern state Romania appeared. The Great Union of 1918 is the highpoint that crowned the historical process as a result of which all the historical provinces inhabited by Romanians united in 1918 within the same national state Romania. Experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Great Union of 1918: lessons for past, present and future” discussed how and why that event or process occurred at that historical stage and what teachings it delivers to the contemporary people.

The permanent expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan said the Great Union of 1918 was preceded by the Union of the Romanian Principalities of 1859 and the gaining of independence as a result of the war of 1877-1878, against the national renaissance of all the Romanians throughout the 19th century, when owing to the technical-scientific progress and socioeconomic development, the modern nations appeared.

“Chronologically, in 1918 Bessarabia united with Romania, on March 27/April 9. The Union of Bucovina and Romania followed as a result of a series of political events that culminated with the unanimous vote, at the General Congress of Bucovina on November 15, 1918, for the union of the former Duchy of Bucovina and the Kingdom of Romania. The climax was the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia of December 1, which proclaimed the Union of Transylvania with Romania,” explained the expert.

Igor Boțan said the Great Union was the highpoint, while the Small Union was the starting point. The union process based on the considerable cultural and economic rapprochement between Moldavia and Walachia witnessed a decisive stage as a result of the election of Moldovan colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza as the ruler of the two principalities, on January 5, 1859 in Moldavia, and on January 24, 1859 in Walachia.

“As to the status of Romania during the Great Union, it was a very active and intelligent player in World War I. It became involved in political, diplomatic and military actions alone or together with its allies, between July 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918. The goal was to ensure the unification of all the Romanian territories within a national Romanian state,” said the expert.

Doctor of history Ion Varta said that what happened on December 1, 1918 is the crowning of all the efforts and sacrifices made during many centuries by the Romanians who were separated in virtue of their cruel destinies. “It happened so because we had too strong neighbors. This absolutely miraculous result was ultimately achieved by the concerted effort of all the Romanians, from all the separated provinces and primarily of the Romanians from the old kingdom,” stated Ion Varta.

According to the historian, each event that occurred before the Great Union had an epochal connotation, being a miracle as the Romanians wanted that return home, but were unable to due to the harsh times and due to the neighbors, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire and later the Russians Empire that fully became involved in the destines of the Romanian people.

Bucovina became part of a foreign state before Bessarabia. Bessarabia was the last Romanian province that was separated as a result of the Peace Treaty of May 16-28, 1812. It had been under the Russian imperial occupation for a much shorter period than the other two provinces, especially Transylvania. But the conditions of occupation for Bessarabia were much harsher given the absolutist ferocious regime imposed on it. Alexander I, who obtained this territorial acquisition, disappeared enigmatically in 1825. He was followed by Nicholas I, who was an adherent of harsh and tough policies against the captive people.

“Beyond that absolutely distressing state, the denationalization and Russification policy reached unimaginable proportions. We didn’t make any cultural, educational progress. In 1897, that census taken at the level of empire established that the majority Romanian population was almost analphabetic,” stated Ion Varta, noting that this was the most serious impact left by the Russian Empire as the Russian absolutist regime was much more noxious and harmful to the national cause of the Bessarabian Romanians at a time that the Romanians from Bucovina and Transylvania enjoyed favorable moments and struggled for their cause.

The chairman of the National Union Council Alexandru Arsene, university lecturer, doctor habilitate of constitutional law, said December 1, 1918 signifies the national unity and territorial integration of the Romanians into their homeland Romania. “We cannot speak about interests. We can speak only about the experienced pain. It is the national interest that positively affects even the newborn as this is born in a healthy, united family blessed by God,” stated Alexandru Arsene.

According to him, the Small Union of 1859 is called so because it was the unification of Wallachia and half of Moldavia as the other half was barbarously occupied by the Tsarist Empire, while Transylvania was under the clear jurisdiction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had a force. The Union process that started in 1917, including against the background of World War I, represented awakening. Each action awakens the nation and naturally selects the representatives who have character, view and take concrete and necessary steps.

“It happened so in Bessarabia. The distinguished Constantin Stere, Ion Inculeț and other national figures saw in that declaration of the government in Moscow, about the national self-determination, the chance that they took, inching by forming the Moldavian Democratic Republic and so on, step by step, to full integration. The work done by the People’s Council is outside any doubt as it acted fully legally and legitimately,” stated the doctor habilitate of constitutional law, noting that they realized at that moment that the unification was the only way to save the nation.

“All these acts and the unification decision of the People’s Council, the Diete of Chernovtsy and the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia served as a legal reason for recognizing the national unity at the Paris Peace Conference of 1920 and, respectively, for including it in Article 1 of the Constitution of Greater Romania of March 29, 1923” stated Alexandru Arsene.

The public debate entitled “Great Union of 1918: lessons for past, present and future” was the24th installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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