Europe

Romania in the 1930’s

The dictatorship of King Charles II tried to be founded on the ability of men loyal to the crown and on the Orthodox Church. This is the meaning of the Goga-Cuza cabinet and of the one chaired by the Patriarch of Bucharest, Miron Cristea, with Armand Cǎlinescu in the Interior, as well as the new constitution of totalitarian inspiration, founded on the single party, constituted simultaneously with the name of “Front of the national rebirth”. The constitution was approved on November 24, 1938 through a plebiscite. On March 30, 1939, the dissolution of the political parties occurred. The state was reorganized on a regional basis and the administrative powers concentrated in the hands of officials loyal to the crown. The old Patriarch died in March 1939, Caolinescu assumed the direction of the government as the king’s only trusted man. The first chrism to the dictatorship was given by the elections of June 1939, from which a corporative chamber emerged. But the artificial basis of the system was proven on 2 The September 1939 when Cǎlinescu fell under the vengeful lead of the “Iron Guard”, which he had identified the killer of Codreanu.

Romanian international politics suffered a fracture similar to that produced in the internal situation. The withdrawal of N. Titulescu from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which took place in August 1936, meant the beginning of the crisis in the Romanian orientation towards the Western democracies, and particularly towards France, and in the Romanian accession to the Little Entente. The “Iron Guards” movement had already set up a violent overhaul of Romanian foreign policy, given its links with Nazi Germany. Charles’s dictatorship was initially seen kindly in Paris and London as an anti-guardian bulwark. But fatally, Charles too was dragged into the revision of Romania’s international attitude,

Charles made a trip to Paris and London in November 1938, shortly after the Monaco crisis. In December, the Foreign Ministry was entrusted to Grigore Gafencu. With the new owner, Romanian foreign policy began its collapse towards the Rome-Berlin Axis, under the anti-Russian push and to stem the Hungarian revisionism encouraged by the Axis. In August Romania had obtained a nationalistic satisfaction with the Sinaia agreement, which restored full Romanian sovereignty over the waters of the Danube, near the mouth, under the jurisdiction of the European Danube Commission. A few months later, Germany obtained admission to the European Commission, from which it had been excluded with the Peace of Versailles. The German penetration into the Danube basin had now broken the first breach, which followed, on March 23, 1939, the conclusion of a German-Romanian economic collaboration agreement, which outlined a six-year plan for the total adaptation of the Romanian economy to the Germanic one. The agreement was concluded a few days after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, which produced the disintegration of the Little Entente, and strengthened Hungary, with the re-annexation of Sub-Carpathian Russia.

Shortly thereafter, trade agreements were signed with France and Great Britain. But the Nazi penetration was not stopped with those inadequate commercial tools. After the Italian side occupied Albania, on 13 April the formulation of an Anglo-French guarantee to Romania and Greece was announced by London and Paris, involving direct military assistance in the event of a threat to the independence of the two countries. The Gafencu carried out an intense activity in the months preceding the outbreak of the war: he visited Warsaw, Rome, Ankara, Athens, with the aim of building an international resistance force to the Nazi bloc into which Romania was inevitably entering.

On 18 September, when Poland was collapsing under joint German and Soviet blows, Bucharest made a first declaration of neutrality, while a few days later offered hospitality to the Polish head of state, I. Mościcki. The killing of Cǎlinescu (21 September) was followed by a series of very short-lived governments (G. ArgeŞeanu, C. Argetoianu, G. Tǎtǎrescu), an undoubted sign of internal instability and the foreshadowing of a new dictatorial crackdown, more appropriate to the Nazi directives. He pushed towards that path the thickening of the Soviet threat on Bessarabia and the need to adapt to the Russian-German collusion, which began with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop aggression pact on August 23, 1939.

A revival of the Balkan Entente was attempted in vain at the Belgrade conference of February 1940. Turkey had accentuated its Westernist orientation, with the declaration of non-belligerence. The Danube basin was becoming a monopoly of Germany. And the navigation of the Danube itself was removed from any Anglo-French influence with the security measures taken in April by Romania, following British sabotage attempts. The complete Romanian adaptation to the Nazi war requirements was manifested with the resignation of Gafencu, who was succeeded by Ion Gigurtu, Carlo’s new trusted man (1 June). The last hesitations towards Germany fell completely and even internally the new dictatorial crackdown was imprinted on 21 June with the transformation of the ”

Romania had now become a satellite of the Axis, while the territorial disintegration process, which began with the relegation of Bessarabia, was precipitating as far as Transylvania and Dobruja were concerned. At the end of July, Gigurtu and Manoilescu visited Hitler in Obersalzberg and Mussolini in Rome. The new situation forced Bucharest to start revisionist negotiations with Budapest and Sofia, under pressure from the Axis. The Vienna arbitration (30 August) decided the relegation of Northern Transylvania to Hungary, and the Craiova Agreement of 7 September, the relegation of Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria. Romania obtained in exchange an Italo-German guarantee for its integrity, a guarantee essentially directed against the USSR.

The territorial mutilations had violent repercussions in public opinion, especially against King Charles, who was held responsible for the humiliations he suffered. On 4 September, following insurrectional demonstrations by the “Iron Guards”, old rivals of the king, a cabinet was set up chaired by gen. I. Antonescu, sympathizer of the guard movement and persecuted by the Carlist regime. On 6 September, Carlo was forced by Antonescu to abdicate in favor of his son Michele, after having abrogated the day before the constitution of 1938, dissolved the corporative chambers and entrusted full powers to Antonescu himself. The new government took on a military and guardian appearance, following agreements with the head of the legionary movement, Horia Sima, who assumed the vice-presidency. Extensive purges were carried out to target supporters of the Carlist regime and a guard police was established. But the Antonescu- “Iron Guards” union was short-lived. The extremist guardist elements indulged in unprecedented brutalities, such as the summary execution of 64 political prisoners in the Jilava prisons and the killing of prof. N. Iorga, which took place at the end of November. It was in vain that Antonescu took new police measures. Between 20 and 22 January 1941, a serious guardist uprising threatened the regime, which succeeded in repressing it with great bloodshed in Bucharest and in the province. A new government, made up largely of military personnel, paved the way for a growing series of repressions and persecutions against the Jews, guardians and democratic elements of the country: the confiscation of property hit the Jews; Concentration camps were set up and court martial trials continued relentlessly. A plebiscite sanctioned the general’s actions on 2 March.

Romania in the 1930's