Romania - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Romania: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Romania, country in southeastern Europe, occupying the northeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. Romania is a land of historic villages and castles, fertile plains, and majestic mountains. For much of its history, foreign powers, including the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, have controlled Romania or parts of it. Bucharest is Romania’s capital and largest city.

Roughly oval in shape, Romania is nearly as large as the state of Oregon. Romania shares borders with Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the southwest, Hungary to the northwest, Ukraine to the north, and Moldova to the northeast. In the southeast, sandy beaches and seaside resorts line Romania’s short coastline along the Black Sea. The Danube River, which connects central Europe with the Black and Mediterranean seas, forms much of Romania’s southern and southwestern borders with Bulgaria and Serbia.

Romania’s landscape is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains, a great mountain system that cuts through the country in a circular arc and covers about one-third of Romania’s total area. The thickly forested mountains boast large populations of bears, wolves, lynx, deer, and wild boar. The broad, swampy Danube delta, the largest in Europe, is an important wildlife refuge and paradise for birdwatchers.

Agriculture has always been an important part of Romanian life and, despite extensive industrialization since World War II (1939-1945), farming remains a cornerstone of Romania’s economy. Today, nearly half of all Romanians still live in rural areas, where people graze livestock, especially sheep, and grow cereal grains, potatoes, fruits, and many other crops.

Romanian culture reflects the blending of various cultural traditions over many centuries. When the Roman Empire conquered Romania in AD 106 to form the province of Dacia, the native Thracian peoples adopted the Latin language and many other basic features of Roman life. Romanians are the only people of Eastern Europe who trace their language and ancestry back to the ancient Romans. Early Roman influence was later challenged by Slav, Greek, Turkish, and Hungarian influences. During the Middle Ages, Byzantine influence was profound (Byzantine Empire), and it remains visible today in the country’s picturesque castles and churches and in the predominance of the Orthodox Church. The famous painted monasteries of Bukovina, with their brilliant exterior frescoes, are among Europe’s greatest medieval monuments.

The modern country of Romania was created in 1859. It became fully independent in 1878. Romania was a kingdom from 1881 to 1947. In 1948 Communists took control of Romania and modeled the government and economy after those of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, or Soviet Union). In the 1960s Romania’s Communist leaders began to distance themselves from the Soviet Union and develop independent domestic and foreign policies. Romania’s economy grew rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s. However, by the 1980s economic growth had given way to stagnation, food shortages and other economic hardships, and severe political repression.

In 1989 Romanians revolted against the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu, the country’s president and leader of the Romanian Communist Party. Ceauşescu and his wife were executed in December 1989, and a noncommunist government was installed. The first free multiparty elections took place in Romania in 1990. Since that time, Romania’s government has taken steps toward economic and democratic reforms, although the pace of reform has been slow and uneven. In March 2004 Romania formally joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Romania opened membership negotiations with the European Union (EU) in 1999 and formally became a member at the beginning of 2007.


Romania has a total land area of 238,391 sq km (92,043 sq mi). At its greatest distance, Romania measures 720 km (450 mi) from east to west and 515 km (320 mi) from north to south.

Natural Regions in Romania

Transylvania, an extensive elevated plateau region that reaches a maximum height of about 600 m (about 2,000 ft), occupies most of central and northwestern Romania. Transylvania is divided by wide valleys and rivers and is fringed by the Carpathian Mountains. This mountain chain rises in a wide arc that reaches from northeastern Romania to the southwest, and it has several divisions. The Eastern Carpathians extend from the northern border to the center of the country and contain the forested region of Bukovina; the Southern Carpathians, also known as the Transylvanian Alps, stretch westward from the Eastern Carpathian range; and the Western Carpathians traverse the western portion of Romania. The Southern Carpathians contain the country’s highest peak, Moldoveanu, which rises to an elevation of 2,543 m (8,343 ft). Powerful earthquakes centered in the Carpathians are not uncommon.

The areas stretching outward from Romania’s mountainous interior contain hills and tablelands full of orchards and vineyards, and flat lowlands where cereal and vegetable farming takes place. The Tisza Plain dominates western Romania and borders both Hungary and Serbia; the section of the plain that borders Serbia is generally known as the region of Banat, while the section that borders Hungary is commonly referred to as Crişana-Maramureş. To the east of central Romania, stretching from the Carpathians to the Prut River along the Moldovan border, lies the region of Moldavia. Southern Romania contains the region of Walachia, which stretches from the southernmost mountains to the Danube and contains the city of Bucharest. The small region of Dobruja, located in the extreme southeast between the Danube River and the Black Sea, is home to fertile croplands and coastal tourist resorts.

Rivers and Lakes in Romania

The most important river of Romania is the Danube. Its lower course forms a delta that covers much of northeastern Dobruja. All of Romania’s major rivers are part of the Danube system. These include the Mureş, the Someş, the Olt, the Prut, and the Siret. Romania has many small, freshwater mountain lakes, but the largest lakes are saline lagoons on the coast of the Black Sea; the largest of these is Lake Razelm.

Plant and Animal Life in Romania

Wooded steppe, now largely cleared for agriculture, dominates the plains of Walachia and Moldavia. Fruit trees are common in the foothills of the mountains. The lower slopes have forests with deciduous trees such as birch, beech, and oak. The forests of the higher elevations are coniferous, consisting largely of pine and spruce trees. Above the timberline (approximately 1,750 m/5,740 ft), the vegetation is alpine.

Wild animal life is abundant in most parts of Romania. The larger animals, found chiefly in the Carpathian Mountains, include wild boar, wolf, lynx, fox, bear, chamois, roe deer, goat, woodpecker, jay, and gray owl. In the plains, squirrel, hare, badger, and polecat are common. Many species of birds are abundant; the Danube delta region, now partly a nature preserve, provides habitat for many resident and migratory birds. They include the rare pygmy cormorant, white egret, and white-tailed sea eagle. Among species of fish found in the rivers and offshore are pike, sturgeon, carp, flounder, herring, salmon, perch, and eel.

Natural Resources of Romania

Romania holds a wealth of mineral deposits, particularly petroleum, natural gas, salt, hard coal, lignite (brown coal), iron ore, copper, bauxite, chromium, manganese, lead, and zinc. The nation’s thick forests are another important natural resource, as are its fertile soils, which are planted with crops or orchards. In Banat, Walachia, and Moldavia, soils consist mainly of chernozem, or black earth, highly suited for growing grain. Soils in Transylvania are generally less fertile.

Climate in Romania

Romania has a temperate climate with long, cold winters and hot summers. Temperatures are generally cooler in the mountains, while the hottest areas in summer are the lowlands of Walachia, Moldavia, and Dobruja. During winter, a harsh northeast wind known as the crivat blows from the Russian steppes. During summer, the heat on the lowlands may be accompanied by dry southwest winds and severe drought.

The average daily temperature range in Bucharest is -7° to 1°C (19° to 34°F) in January and 16° to 30°C (61° to 86°F) in July. Rainfall is heaviest during the months of April, May, June, September, and October. Yearly rainfall averages about 650 mm (about 25 in), ranging from about 500 mm (about 20 in) on the plains to about 1,020 mm (about 40 in) in the mountains. The climate of Dobruja is typically very dry.

Environmental Issues in Romania

Air pollution and water pollution caused by industry are serious environmental problems in Romania. The country’s factories, chemical plants, and electric power plants depend heavily on burning coal, a process that emits high levels of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide (see Sulfur)—a key component of acid rain. The industrial centers of Copşa Mică, in central Romania, and Giurgiu, in the south, have severe air pollution problems. Bucharest, the capital, also has serious air pollution. Much of the nation’s industrial runoff ends up in the Danube river system, making water unsafe for drinking and threatening the diverse ecosystems of the Danube delta. The delta, the largest in Europe, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1991 (see World Heritage Committee). Its lakes and marshes are home to hundreds of species of birds and dozens of fish and reptile species, many of which are threatened with extinction.

Poor farming practices, especially infrequent crop rotation, have led to severe soil degradation and erosion in parts of Romania. In the 1980s large tracts of marshland lining the Danube were drained and converted to cropland to aid food production. Deforestation, however, is not a serious problem in Romania.


The 2009 estimated population of Romania was 22,215,421, yielding an average population density of 96 persons per sq km (250 per sq mi). The population was 55 percent urban.

Before World War II (1939-1945), Romania was largely a nation of farmers, with more than three-quarters of the population living in isolated rural villages. Industrialization after the war brought a large influx of people from the countryside into the cities and industrial centers. Although the trend toward urbanization is continuing, 45 percent of Romania’s population remains rural—a high percentage for a European nation.

Principal Cities of Romania

Bucharest, the capital and largest city of Romania, is the commercial and industrial center of the country. Located on the plains in the southeast, Bucharest was famed in the early 20th century for its architecture, planning, and cosmopolitan culture, earning the nickname “Paris of the Balkans.” Bombing during World War II and the disastrous policies of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu—which resulted in the razing of historic sectors in the city to construct massive socialist-inspired buildings, including the grandiose Palace of Parliament—ruined much of Bucharest’s prewar beauty. However, recent economic growth, especially after 2000, has led to modernization of the city’s infrastructure and the restoration of many historic areas.

Other major cities include Constanţa, the principal Romanian port on the Black Sea; Iaşi, a cultural and manufacturing center; Timişoara, a textile, machinery, and chemical manufacturing center; Cluj-Napoca, a commercial and industrial center; Galaţi, a naval and metallurgical center; Braşov, a transportation and industrial center; and Craiova, a center of food processing and locomotive manufacturing.

Ethnic Groups in Romania

Ethnic Romanians constituted about 90 percent of the population in the 2002 Romanian census. Romanians are descendants of the inhabitants of Dacia, an ancient land roughly equivalent to modern Transylvania and Walachia. Dacia was conquered by ancient Romans and incorporated into the Roman Empire in the early 2nd century AD.

The largest minority groups are ethnic Hungarians and Roma (or Gypsies). According to the 2002 Romanian census, ethnic Hungarians, who live chiefly in Transylvania, made up about 7 percent of the population. Roma constituted about 2 percent of the population. Romania also has small communities of Germans, Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Russians, Serbs, Croats, Turks, Bulgarians, Tatars, Slovaks, and Jews. Many Romanian Jews and Roma were exterminated by German Nazis during the Holocaust of World War II. Several hundred thousand Jews subsequently emigrated, mainly to Israel. Romania’s once-sizable German population rapidly declined after the 1980s when many Germans chose to emigrate to Germany.

A longstanding social problem in Romania involves the rights and treatment of Romania’s minority populations. Since the end of Communism, the Roma minority has been a frequent target of harassment and hostility. In the early 1990s a large number of Roma left Romania for Germany, but the German government soon sent many of them back. Conflicts have also occurred between ethnic Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, as demands by Hungarians for greater autonomy and linguistic rights have provoked responses from nationalist Romanian groups.

Languages spoken in Romania

Romania’s official language is Romanian, a Romance language derived mainly from Latin. However, Romanian has absorbed an unusually large number of words from the Slavic languages, the Greek language, the Turkish language, the Hungarian language, and the Albanian language. Until the mid-19th century, Romanian was written using the Cyrillic alphabet. Since that time, Romanians have used a modified Latin alphabet.

The chief minority languages in Romania include Croatian, German, Hungarian, Turkish, and Romani (the language of the Roma). English and French are taught in many schools and are the most common second languages spoken in Romania.

Religion in Romania

The principal religion of Romania is Christianity. The Orthodox Church is the largest religious organization in the country, claiming over 85 percent of the people as adherents, according to the 2002 census. Approximately 5 percent of Romanians, including much of the Hungarian population, are Roman Catholic. Another 5 percent of the population belongs to various Protestant denominations. The country also is home to small communities of people who follow Islam and Judaism.

Education in Romania

Education in Romania is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 14; most children choose to continue their education beyond the compulsory obligation. Before 1989 the educational system heavily emphasized practical and technical studies. In recent years, management, business, and social sciences have become more popular.

Romania’s general universities include the University of Bucharest (founded in 1694; refounded in 1864); the Al. I. Cuza University of Iaşi (founded in 1860); the Babeş-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca (1919); the University of Craiova (1966); the University of Ploieşti (1948); the Dunarea de Jos (Lower Danube) University of Galaţi (founded in 1948; given university status in 1974); the University of Timişoara (founded in 1962); and the Transylvania University of Braşov (1971). The country also has a number of technical universities and other institutions of higher education.

Way of Life in Romania

The political and economic changes that took place in Romania in the 1980s and 1990s made daily life difficult for ordinary citizens. Economic reforms and subsequent economic expansion, especially after 2000, have improved living standards for some, although many rural areas have seen few improvements. Food prices remain high relative to the country’s low minimum wage, and relatively few Romanians can afford luxuries. One-family homes are common in Romania’s villages, while most city dwellers live in one-family apartments. Apartment buildings built during the Communist era tend to be cramped and to provide minimal facilities.

Romanian food reflects a wide number of influences, including French, Greek, Russian, and Turkish. Popular Romanian dishes include mititei (seasoned grilled sausages) and mămăligă (a cornmeal porridge that is especially common in rural areas and can be served in many different ways). Red and white wines and a plum brandy called tuica are popular beverages among Romanians, and plăcintă (turnovers) are a typical dessert.

As in many nations of Europe, soccer is the most popular national sport. Romania, which has participated in the Olympic Games since 1924, is proud of its athletes and maintains special schools to train them. Romanian athletes have won many gold medals in events as varied as boxing, kayaking, and gymnastics. The famed gymnast Nadia Comaneci and the international tennis star Ilie Nastase are Romanian.


Romanian culture is largely derived from Roman influences, with strains of Slavic, Magyar (Hungarian), Greek, and Turkish influences. Poems, folktales, and folk music have always held a central place in Romanian life. Romanian literature, art, and music attained maturity in the 19th century. Although Romania has been influenced by divergent Western trends, it also has a well-developed indigenous folk culture.

Literature in Romania

Romanian literature has a long, rich history. Between the 15th and 18th centuries the national literature was primarily religious, frequently taking the form of hagiography. In the late 18th century historical writing became the dominant literary form. A number of major works from this period consider the origins and history of the Romanian people.

In the century before World War I (1914-1918), Romanian literature reflected a sense of national unity. A major figure of this period was poet Mihai Eminescu, whose work was influenced by German Romanticism. Other authors who distinguished themselves were narrative poet and dramatist Vasile Alecsandri and dramatist Ion Luca Caragiale, whose plays satirized middle-class life of the late 1800s.

From 1921 to 1945 symbolism became important in Romanian poetry. Important poets of that period were Lucian Blaga, who was also a philosopher, and Tudor Arghezi. The novel also grew in importance as a literary form at this time, and Mihail Sadoveanu was widely considered Romania’s most important novelist.

After World War II (1939-1945) through the 1980s, Romania’s literature was dominated by socialist realism—a school of art that was officially sponsored by the Communist government, and through which socialist ideals were promoted and advanced. Romanian-born playwright Eugène Ionesco, an influential proponent of the movement known as the theater of the absurd, became famous while living in post-war France. Romanian-born author Elie Wiesel, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize (see Nobel Prizes) for his work promoting human rights, wrote of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps.

Art and Music in Romania

Romanian art, like Romanian literature, reached a high level of sophistication during the 19th century. Among the leading painters were Theodor Aman, a portraitist, and landscape painter Nicolae Grigorescu. As with literature, socialist realism characterized much Romanian art from 1945 to 1989. The simplified, organic works produced by Romanian-born French sculptor Constantin Brancusi were a notable contribution to 20th-century concepts of art.

Romanians share a rich heritage of folk music and dance. Many traditional Romanian tunes are based on music of the Roma (or Gypsy) people, thousands of whom once wandered through the countryside. Many Romanians enjoy dancing to folk music played at fast tempo, often linking arms and showing off impressive footwork. Folk themes have inspired vibrant pop and rock traditions in modern Romania, notably through the music of the rock band Phoenix and the pop group Spitalul de Urgenþã (Emergency Hospital).

A number of classically trained Romanian musicians achieved international recognition in the 20th century. Most famous among them were Georges Enesco, a violinist and composer who is perhaps best known for his Romanian rhapsodies, and pianist Dinu Lipatti.

Libraries and Museums in Romania

Romania’s principal libraries are the National Library (founded in 1955) and the Library of the Academy of Romania (1867), both in Bucharest. The Romanian National Museum of Art (1950), in Bucharest, contains fine collections of national, Western, and Asian art. Other important museums include the Historical Museum of Bucharest (1984) and the Museum of Romanian Literature (1957), also located in Bucharest.


Romania is richly endowed with fertile agricultural lands, a variety of energy resources, and an educated workforce. Yet Romania’s standard of living remains lower than in most other nations of Europe. Since the fall of Communism in 1989, Romania has taken significant steps toward a market-oriented economy, although the transition has not been easy. Romania faced the enormous task of restructuring an outdated industrial base and an inefficient agricultural sector inherited from the Communist regime. The pace of economic reform, including privatization of industry, the return of collectivized farmland to its original owners, and the removal of government subsidies for consumer goods, has been slower than in many other formerly Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Much of the 1990s in Romania were marked by great economic hardship, including high unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, and shortages of consumer goods.

Loans provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the mid-1990s helped Romania lower its high rate of inflation, which averaged more than 75 percent annually from 1992 to 2001, and the nation’s service sector rapidly expanded. But Romania’s slow implementation of privatization and other reforms hindered foreign investment and led the IMF on several occasions to withhold loan disbursements.

By the early 2000s, however, Romania’s fragile economy had stabilized, with strong foreign investment, solid economic growth, and substantially lower rates of inflation and unemployment. Construction of new shopping malls, homes, and infrastructure—including new highways and water and sewage systems—have driven much of this growth. An upgraded infrastructure is an essential part of Romania’s effort to meet minimum standards set by the European Union (EU) and to expand the underdeveloped tourism industry. In 2007 Romania’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $166 billion.

Romania is a member of the IMF, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Each of these organizations continues to provide Romania with financial and technical assistance. A free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) went into effect in May 1993. Romania became an associate member of the European Union in 1993 and a full member of the organization in 2007. To attain EU membership, Romania made commitments to rein in corruption at all levels of society, improve treatment of ethnic minorities, expand press freedoms, strengthen law enforcement, and improve its environmental record.

Agriculture of Romania

Agriculture remains an important part of Romania’s economy. Romania’s principal crops include cereal grains, such as corn, wheat, barley, and rye; potatoes; grapes; and sugar beets. Cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry are the most important types of livestock. Wine production plays a significant role in Romanian agriculture.

In the mid-1980s more than 80 percent of farms in Romania were either owned by the state or organized as collectives (Collectivism). In collective farms, workers received wages, farm products, and a portion of the farm’s profits. Because of the Communist government’s emphasis on industrial development, agricultural improvements and investments were neglected and the agricultural sector grew notoriously inefficient; food shortages developed in the 1980s.

After the Communist regime was overthrown, Romania’s new government began the process of dissolving collective farms and distributing land to individual farm workers. Although state farms were not broken up, farm workers whose land had been incorporated into state farms were compensated. Today, most of Romania’s farmland has been returned to private hands.

Forestry and Fishing in Romania

Forests in Romania are state property. The country’s timber provides the basis for important lumber, paper, and furniture industries. The Black Sea and the Danube delta regions are known for their sturgeon catch. Romania’s fishing operations in the Atlantic Ocean are significant.

Mining in Romania

Petroleum is Romania’s principal mineral resource, and the city of Ploieşti is the center of the nation’s petroleum-refining industry. However, petroleum production is declining due to the gradual depletion of reserves. Natural gas is also produced in significant quantities. Other mineral products include hard coal, lignite (brown coal), iron ore, bauxite, copper, lead, and zinc.

Manufacturing in Romania

During the Communist period, Romania’s leaders pursued a policy of rapid industrialization with an emphasis on heavy industry, particularly the production of iron and steel, machinery and transportation equipment, and chemicals. Less emphasis was placed on production of consumer goods (goods manufactured for use by people). Today, Romania’s chief manufactured goods include electric machinery and equipment, chemicals, metal products, cement and other construction materials, wood products, processed foods, and textiles and clothing.

Tourism and Foreign Trade in Romania

Romania’s tourism industry has expanded significantly since the end of the Communist period, although there is considerable room for further growth. Popular attractions include skiing and hiking in the Carpathian Mountains; the Danube delta region, which draws fishing enthusiasts and birdwatchers from around the world; the medieval castles of Transylvania and the painted monasteries of Bukovina; and the seaside resorts and beaches of the Black Sea.

During the early part of the Communist period, Romania’s foreign trade was conducted almost exclusively with the Soviet Union and other Communist countries. However, in the 1960s trade restrictions were eased somewhat and Romania began expanding its contacts with Western nations. Integration into the EU has led to increased trade with western Europe. Principal Romanian exports include metals and metal products, minerals and fuels, textiles and footwear, chemicals, and electrical machines and equipment. Imports include minerals, machinery and equipment, textiles, and agriculture goods.

Currency and Banking of Romania

The basic monetary unit of Romania is the leu (plural, lei), divided into 100 bani. The leu was devalued in October 1990, but since 1991 its value has been determined by the open market. The National Bank of Romania (founded in 1880) is the country’s bank of issue; it is also responsible for managing monetary policy and supervising the financial activities of all state enterprises. A number of private banks have opened since 1990, and a Romanian stock exchange opened in Bucharest in June 1995.

Transportation in Romania

Romania’s railroad system is owned by the government. Buses and trolleys provide a popular means of transportation within cities, and Bucharest has a subway system with several major lines.

Romania’s principal seaports are Constanţa, on the Black Sea, and Galaţi and Brăila, neighboring cities on the lower Danube; Giurgiu, which has pipeline connections to the oil fields of Ploieşti, is an important river port. A canal that opened in 1984 links Constanţa with Cernavodă, a Danube River port. Another canal, completed in 1992, connects the Main and Danube rivers and allows transport from the Black Sea to the North Sea via the Rhine River.


From 1948 to 1989 the Romanian Communist Party controlled all levels of government in Romania, and the head of the Communist Party was the country’s most powerful leader. In 1989 the Romanian army joined in a popular uprising against the Communist regime. President Nicolae Ceauşescu was deposed and executed, and a provisional government was established. In May 1990 multiparty elections were held to elect a president and national legislature.

Romanian voters approved a new constitution by popular referendum in December 1991. The constitution declares Romania to be a parliamentary republic and provides for competing political parties, a separation of powers between branches of government, a market economy, and respect for human rights. Voters amended the constitution in October 2003, changing many articles of the original document. Among the most important changes were provisions protecting private property, permitting Romanian minorities to use their native languages in courts and in other official settings, and extending the term of Romania’s presidency from four to five years.

Executive of Romania

The president of Romania is elected by direct, popular vote for a maximum of two five-year terms. The president is head of state, representing the country in matters of foreign affairs, and serves as the commander in chief of the armed forces.

The president appoints a prime minister to head the government. The prime minister is generally the leader of the party or coalition of parties with the majority of seats in parliament. The prime minister is responsible for selecting a cabinet to help carry out the operations of government.

Legislature of Romania

Romania has a bicameral (two-chamber) parliament called the National Assembly. It is composed of a lower house, called the Chamber of Deputies, and an upper house, called the Senate. Members of both houses of parliament are elected for four-year terms according to a system of proportional representation, apart from a small number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies that are reserved for ethnic minorities. All citizens aged 18 and over are eligible to vote.

Judiciary in Romania

The Romanian legal system is based on the Code Napoléon (Napoleonic Code). The Supreme Court is Romania’s highest judicial authority. Its members are appointed by the president at the proposal of the Superior Council of Magistrates. In each of Romania’s 41 counties and in the special municipality of Bucharest there is a county court and several lower courts, or courts of first instance. Appeals against sentences passed by local courts are heard in appellate courts; there is a right of appeal from the appellate courts to the Supreme Court.

Romania has a Constitutional Court, charged with ensuring a balance of power among the branches of government. The procurator-general is the highest judicial official in Romania, and is responsible to the National Assembly, which appoints him or her for a four-year term. The death penalty was abolished in December 1989 and is forbidden by the constitution.

Political Parties of Romania

From 1948 to 1989 the only political organization in Romania was the Romanian Communist Party. Led by Nicolae Ceauşescu after 1965, it controlled all aspects of government. After Ceauşescu was deposed in 1989, the Communist Party dissolved and a number of former party members formed the National Salvation Front (NSF). Many other new parties also emerged at this time. The Romanian Communist Party was reestablished in May 1994.

Since the dissolution of Communism, many other political parties in Romania have formed, and mergers and coalitions of parties and political groupings have been common. Among the most important parties are the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L); the Social Democrat Party (PSD), formerly known as the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PSDR); the National Liberal Party (PNL); and the anti-immigration Greater Romania Party (PRM). The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) represents Romania’s Hungarian minority.

International Organizations in Romania

Romania is a member of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe (CE), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). In January 1994 Romania joined the Partnership for Peace program, and the following year it sent peacekeeping troops to Angola, thereby participating in its first military operation under UN auspices. Romania’s chief foreign policy goal after the fall of Communism, membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was achieved in March 2004, when Romania formally joined the defensive alliance. Romania became a full member of the European Union (EU) in 2007.


The territory that is now Romania first appeared in history as Dacia. Most of its inhabitants were originally from the region of Thrace, in Greece; they were called Getae by the Greeks, and later, by the Romans, they were known as Dacians. Between AD 101 and 106 Dacia was conquered by Roman emperor Trajan and incorporated into the Roman Empire as a province. Roman colonists were sent into Dacia, and Rome developed the region considerably. The Romans built roads, bridges, and a great wall that stretched from what is today the Black Sea port of Constanţa across the region of Dobruja to the Danube River.

In the middle part of the 3rd century a Germanic people known as Goths drove the Romans out of much of Dacia. In about 270 Roman Emperor Lucius Domitius Aurelian decided to withdraw the Roman legions and colonies to an area south of the Danube; some Roman civilians chose to stay, however. Under the influence of the Romans, the people of Dacia adopted the Latin language.

For the next thousand years, the Daco-Roman people were subjected to successive invasions by the Huns, Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars. Slavs brought Christianity to the region in the 4th century, and through intermarriage and assimilation, changed the ethnic balance in Romania. Its inhabitants developed into a distinct ethnic group, known as the Vlachs, a name designating Latin-speakers of the Balkan Peninsula. In the 9th century the Eastern Orthodox form of Christianity was introduced by the Bulgars (see Orthodox Church).

In 1003 King Stephen I of Hungary established control over most of the region of Transylvania in what is now central and northwestern Romania. In the 13th century King Béla IV of Hungary brought Saxons and other Germanic tribes into Transylvania to strengthen Hungary’s position there. In the middle of the 13th century Hungarian expansion drove many Vlachs to settle south and east of the Carpathian Mountains. There they established the principality of Walachia, and later that of Moldavia. Each was ruled by a succession of voivodes (native princes), who were generally under the authority of either Hungary or Poland. Until the 19th century the history of Romania was that of the separate principalities of Walachia and Moldavia.


During the 13th and 14th centuries, Walachia was involved in frequent struggles against Hungary. In the 15th century the rulers of the Ottoman Empire began to extend their conquests northward. Walachia was forced to capitulate to the Ottomans, although its leadership, territory, and religion were not changed. Direct Ottoman rule was not felt in Walachia until after the Ottomans defeated the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohács in 1526.

At the end of the 16th century, a Walachian voivode, Michael the Brave, led a revolt against the Ottomans and succeeded in bringing Walachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania under his rule for a very brief period. Michael is the national hero of Romania for his part in this uprising and for being the first to combine the three territories that were to form Romania.

After Michael’s defeat and death in 1601, the Hungarians ruled over Transylvania and the Ottomans regained control of Moldavia and Walachia. Until 1821 the ruling families were often of Greek origin. Known as hospodars, they were chosen from the Phanar district of Constantinople (now İstanbul, Turkey) by the Ottoman sultan. The period of Phanariot rule was one of the most oppressive and corrupt in Romanian history. Exploitation of the peasants caused mass starvation and emigration.


The history of Moldavia followed a course similar to that of Walachia. The Moldavians were subjected first to Hungarian and then to Polish rule before the Ottomans established a firm hold over the region shortly after their conquest of Walachia. The reign of Moldavia’s national hero Stephen the Great, which lasted from 1457 until 1504, was marked by futile attempts to gain united support from Poland, Hungary, and Venice against the Ottomans. As in Walachia, the Ottomans introduced Phanariot rule, with the same disastrous results.

Russian Domination

By the early 1700s the power of the Ottoman Empire was declining. In the later 18th century Catherine the Great of Russia, who had sought Romanian support against the Ottomans, declared Russia the protector of all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire and brought Moldavia and Walachia under Russia’s sphere of influence. In 1821 Tudor Vladimirescu, a Romanian officer in the Russian army, led a nationalist revolt resulting in the replacement of Phanariot rule with that of native Romanian princes in Moldavia and Walachia. However, Russia obtained concessions in Romania as a result of the Russo-Turkish wars.

By the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest (1812), Russia annexed the region of Bessarabia (Bessarabiya) from Moldavia. The Treaty of Adrianople (1829) gave Russia a virtual protectorate over Moldavia and Walachia. A Russian-sponsored constitution gave power to the native princes and landowners of Moldavia and Walachia. Creation of the same governmental structure for both principalities facilitated their later union.

Romania’s Struggle for Independence

By the mid-1800s a unification movement had gathered strength in Moldavia and Walachia. The movement produced local uprisings that were suppressed by the combined action of Ottoman and Russian troops. The Treaty of Paris of 1856, which ended the Crimean War between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, established Moldavia and Walachia as principalities that would continue to pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire. Russia was obliged to return southern Bessarabia to Moldavia. In 1857 the councils of Moldavia and Walachia voted for union under the name Romania, with a hereditary prince, autonomy, and neutrality. Alexandru Ion Cuza was elected prince in January 1859.

In May 1864 a new constitution of Romania was adopted, establishing a bicameral (two-chambered) national legislature. In the same year, Prince Alexandru Ion I freed the peasants from their feudal burdens. His attempts at reform led to his removal by local landowners in 1866. A German prince, under the name of Carol I, was elected to replace him, and a new constitution gave Carol veto power over all legislation. The long period of Carol’s reign (prince, 1866-1881; king, 1881-1914) saw great economic expansion but few political rights for the Romanian people. The last traces of Ottoman rule, which had lasted for nearly 500 years, finally disappeared as a result of a Russian-Romanian victory over the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and 1878 (see Russo-Turkish Wars).

The Kingdom of Romania

The full independence of Romania was recognized in 1878 by the Congress of Berlin, which also restored southern Bessarabia to Russia. As compensation, Romania accepted northern Dobruja from Bulgaria. Carol I was crowned king in 1881 and won the recognition of the major European powers.

Political corruption, continual foreign intervention, and the need for land reform continued. Two Balkan Wars, arising from the collapse of Ottoman power in Europe, were fought in 1912 and 1913. Romania entered the second Balkan War and annexed the southern part of Dobruja from Bulgaria. King Carol died in 1914 and was succeeded by his nephew, Ferdinand I.

Greater Romania

When World War I broke out in 1914, Romania declared a policy of armed neutrality. However, in August 1916, Romania joined the Allied Powers in their fight against the Central Powers, chiefly Austria-Hungary and Germany. Romania hoped to gain several provinces of Austria-Hungary that had large Romanian populations. The Allies won the war in 1918, and as part of the peace settlement, Romania acquired Transylvania, part of the Banat, and the Crişana-Maramureş region from Hungary, Bukovina from Austria, and Bessarabia from Russia. Romania emerged from the war having almost doubled its area and population.

During the 1920s, Romania had a parliamentary regime and a prosperous economy. Land reform broke up many large estates. However, friction between ethnic minorities, many of them living in territories ceded to Romania after World War I, caused instability. King Ferdinand’s reign ended with his death in 1927, but his son, Crown Prince Carol, renounced the throne in favor of his own son Michael.

The Rise of Fascism and World War II

After 1929, Romania was engulfed in the worldwide economic crisis. Large-scale unemployment and political unrest led to the rapid growth of fascist (see Fascism) organizations, the most powerful of which was the violently anti-Semitic Iron Guard. Prince Carol returned in 1930 and was proclaimed King Carol II. Romania moved slowly into the sphere of influence of Nazi Germany (see National Socialism). Rigid censorship was introduced, and the administration began to govern by decree.

In 1938 Carol assumed dictatorial powers, but the new regime was not supported by the government. After the signing of the German-Soviet pact in 1939, Romania was forced to cede part of Transylvania to Hungary and to give Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to the USSR. Southern Dobruja was returned to Bulgaria soon afterwards. Faced with the beginning of rebellion led by the Iron Guard, the king suspended Romania’s constitution and appointed General Ion Antonescu prime minister. Antonescu, backed by the Guard, demanded that King Carol abdicate in favor of the king’s son Michael, and leave the country. Antonescu then assumed dictatorial powers and became chief of state as well as president of the council of ministers.

As an ally of Germany, Romania declared war on the Soviet Union in 1941 during World War II. The Romanian army reclaimed Bessarabia and Bukovina and advanced as far as southern Ukraine, but suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 and 1943. When Soviet troops entered Romania in 1944, King Michael dismissed Antonescu, surrendered to the Soviet Union, and declared war on Germany. Soviet pressure led to the creation of a left-wing government under Petru Groza in March 1945.

Romania Under Communism

By the terms of the armistice agreement, Romania lost northern Bukovina and Bessarabia to the Soviet Union and recovered northern Transylvania from Hungary. The agreement also limited the strength of the Romanian armed forces and stipulated that the Romanian people should enjoy all personal liberties. On December 30, 1947, the monarchy was abolished, and King Michael was forced to abdicate. The People’s Republic of Romania was then proclaimed, with a constitution similar to that of the USSR, and power passed to the Romanian Communist Party (see Communism).

In 1948 and 1949 Romanian cultural and political institutions were reorganized to conform with Soviet models. This process, known as Sovietization, also included frequent purges of dissidents (political protestors). In 1949 the United States and the United Kingdom twice accused Romania of systematically violating the human rights provisions in the post-World War II peace treaty. In November 1950 this charge was upheld by the United Nations General Assembly. New constitutions adopted in 1952 and 1965 were both patterned after the Soviet Communist government. Throughout the postwar period Romania’s leadership remained stable. Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej, head of the Romanian Communist Party since 1945, replaced Groza as premier.

An Independent Regime

After the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, Romania gradually drew away from close dependence on the Soviet Union. Gheorgiu-Dej asserted the country’s right to develop its own variety of socialism. Throughout the 1950s the government emphasized the nationalization and development of industry. This effort proved highly successful, and in the 1960s official estimates of the national industrial growth rate averaged about 12 percent annually, ranking among the highest in Eastern Europe. The collectivization of agriculture began in July 1949, and in 1962 the government announced that all arable land had been absorbed into the socialized sector (see Collectivism). Farmers were permitted, however, to keep small plots for private use.

In the early postwar years, under Soviet domination, Romania cooperated fully in such Communist organizations as Cominform, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), and after 1955, the Warsaw Pact. From the early 1960s on, however, Romania began to exercise a considerable degree of independence. In 1963 the government rejected COMECON plans for the integration of the economies of the Communist states, chiefly because the plans restricted Romania to a role as supplier of oil, grains, and primary materials. Romanians believed these plans would hinder their country’s rate of industrial growth, which had been higher in the several years prior than that of any other Soviet-bloc country. Romanian protests gained some concessions in the form of Soviet aid for the development of a major steel plant at Galaţi. The rift between the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s gave Romania new opportunities to reduce Soviet influence. A party statement in 1964 confirmed Romania’s independent policies, including closer ties with the West.

Ceauşescu in Power

In 1965 Gheorgiu-Dej, party chief for most of 20 years, died and was succeeded by Nicolae Ceauşescu. In 1967 Ceauşescu also became president of the state council. He advanced Romania’s nationalist policies and renamed the country the Socialist Republic of Romania. A new constitution in 1965 downgraded the Soviet Union’s role in Romanian history. The country did not follow the Soviet bloc in breaking diplomatic ties with Israel after the Arab-Israeli War in 1967 (see Six Day War), and Ceauşescu openly denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

At home, the Communist government held sole power, censored the press, and restricted personal liberties. Ceauşescu promoted a personality cult around himself and his family. Improved relations with China and Western Europe brought aid and new technology, and the economy grew substantially in the 1960s and 1970s.

Romania continued to pursue an independent foreign policy, despite the disapproval of the Soviet bloc. In addition, the Romanian government actively increased its contacts with the West. After a visit from United States president Richard Nixon in 1969, Ceauşescu paid several visits to the United States. In 1975 the United States granted Romania most-favored-nation trade status, and in 1976 a ten-year economic pact was signed by the two countries. Romania joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) in 1972 and in 1976 signed the first formal pact (on textiles) between the European Economic Community (EEC, a predecessor of the European Union) and an Eastern European nation.

As the leader of the only Eastern European country to recognize both Israel and Egypt, Ceauşescu helped arrange Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat’s historic peacemaking visit to Israel in 1977. Romania signed a friendship treaty with the USSR in 1970, received Soviet Communist Party chief Leonid Brezhnev in 1976, and sent Ceauşescu to the Soviet Union and East Germany. Romania also signed a treaty of friendship with Hungary in 1972 and agreements on hydroelectricity with Yugoslavia in 1976 and Bulgaria in 1977. Taking an unprecedented step outside the Soviet bloc, Ceauşescu visited China in 1971, subsequently signing economic and air transport agreements. In 1980 he refused to endorse the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Although diplomatic in matters of foreign policy, Ceauşescu strictly enforced Communist orthodoxy in domestic affairs. In 1971 Ceauşescu cracked down on all deviation in party, government, and cultural leadership. He was reelected head of state in 1975, and the party and government were reorganized in 1977. Despite enormous damage caused by severe floods and an earthquake, the economy grew during the 1970s, especially heavy industry and foreign trade. However, repression, pollution, and mismanagement of agriculture gradually discredited the government. In the 1980s Ceauşescu used virtually all of Romania’s foreign currency reserves to pay off the foreign debt, producing major food and fuel shortages in a country whose standard of living was already among the lowest in Europe. A forced resettlement program announced in 1988, which called for the destruction of up to 8,000 villages, was also widely unpopular.

Romania After Ceauşescu

In 1989 Ceauşescu’s brutal suppression of antigovernment demonstrations in Timişoara turned the army against him. He fled Bucharest with his wife, Elena, on December 22, 1989, but the two were soon captured. Ceauşescu and his wife were charged with murder and embezzlement of government funds, and a secret trial took place. Both were found guilty and were executed on December 25. An interim body made up chiefly of former Communist officials took control of the government, and Ion Iliescu became the country’s acting president. The new government revoked many of Ceauşescu’s repressive policies and imprisoned some of the leaders of his regime.

In May 1990 multiparty elections for the legislature and the presidency were held. Iliescu was elected president, and his party, the National Salvation Front (NSF), won control of the legislature. Peter Roman became Romania’s prime minister. The elections did not put a stop to the antigovernment demonstrations, which continued throughout the year, often in protest of economic conditions. Riots by miners led to the resignation of Roman’s government in September. In October former finance minister Theodor Stolojan succeeded Roman as prime minister and formed a new cabinet. An economic austerity program was introduced that month.

In December 1991 a new democratic constitution was adopted by popular referendum (later amended in October 2003). Presidential and legislative elections were held in September 1992 with a runoff presidential contest in October. Iliescu was reelected president, while the Democratic National Salvation Front (DNSF), a party that emerged from the breakup of the NSF, won the largest representation in the legislature and formed a coalition government. Iliescu appointed economist Nicolae Vacaroiu to head the government as prime minister. In 1993 the DNSF merged with several smaller parties and changed its name to the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PSDR). During 1994 nationalist parties gained increasing influence in the Romanian government.

Ethnic Turmoil

Romania experienced significant ethnic turmoil in the early 1990s. Attacks against Roma (Gypsies) in 1991 resulted in an exodus of Roma, mostly to Germany, but also to Austria and the Czech Republic. However, in September 1992 the German government returned 43,000 refugees to Romania, more than half of them Roma. Relations with Hungary were strained as a result of clashes between ethnic Hungarians and Romanian nationalists in Transylvania. In 1993 the Romanian government expanded the educational and linguistic rights of ethnic Germans and Hungarians within its borders.

In 1994 Romania hosted an international conference on the status of ethnic minorities in Central Europe. However, disagreements over the rights of ethnic minorities in Romania continued to be a problem. In 1995 the Romanian parliament enacted a law denying ethnic minorities the right to higher education in their native language in many subjects. Thousands of ethnic Hungarians protested against the legislation. In 1996 the leaders of Romania and Hungary signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation intended to guarantee the rights of ethnic minority groups.

Peaceful Transfer of Power

Presidential and legislative elections held in November 1996 marked Romania’s first peaceful transfer of power in the post-Communist era. The ruling coalition headed by the PSDR lost its majority in parliament to opposition parties. The Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR), a coalition of six opposition parties, joined with another opposition grouping, the Social Democratic Union (SDU), in a governing coalition, forming Romania’s first staunchly anticommunist majority in the legislature. The DCR’s presidential candidate, reform-minded academic Emil Constantinescu, defeated Iliescu in the runoff presidential elections held November 17. Constantinescu named a popular DCR politician, Bucharest mayor Victor Ciorbea, as the new prime minister.

The new government pledged to implement a comprehensive plan of economic reform, including painful austerity measures, in an attempt to counter Romania’s seven years of lackluster progress toward a free-market economy. Also during this time, the government pursued a highly publicized and rigorous campaign against crime and corruption. Constantinescu symbolically broke with former policy by lifting a ban on visits into the country by Romania’s former monarch, King Michael, who was deposed during the Communist takeover.

Foreign Policy Initiatives

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Romania’s foreign affairs were focused primarily on building better relations with Western Europe and the United States. Romania began accession talks with the European Union (EU) in 1999, with the expectation of becoming a full member in 2007. Romania also joined the Partnership for Peace program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1994. In 2004 Romania was formally admitted as a NATO member, after the country contributed to allied military efforts and restructured its military. Romania also signed agreements on closer cooperation with several neighboring countries with which it had long had disputes or difficult relations, including Hungary, Ukraine, and Russia.

Domestic Difficulties

For all of its success in international affairs, Romania’s government struggled domestically to continue the process of economic reform. Privatization and other efforts to meet EU requirements proceeded slowly. This included shutting down inefficient, unprofitable state-owned companies and utilities with bloated payrolls. In 1999, 10,000 striking coal miners marched on Bucharest to protest mine closures and to demand a major wage increase. The strikers dispersed only after the government deployed army and special police forces. Rising prices and reduced buying power also led to increased public discontent, as did widespread, ongoing corruption. Few of the corruption cases that came to trial resulted in convictions, and a 2008 EU report criticized Romania’s anticorruption efforts. Government services, including education and healthcare, needed modernizing, especially in rural areas. Frequent government shake-ups did nothing to speed domestic reforms.

Changes of Leadership

Ion Iliescu, Romania’s president from 1990 to 1996, returned to the presidency after elections in 2000. His party chose to form a minority government, rather than assemble a coalition with a parliamentary majority. Adrian Nǎstase, a protégé of Iliescu’s, was named prime minister.

The new government undertook several steps intended to ease the way for attaining membership in the European Union (EU). In an effort to comply with EU directives concerning minority rights, the National Assembly abolished a law making homosexuality a crime; Romania had been the last country in Europe where homosexuality was a criminal offense. In 2003, the government backed a referendum to amend the constitution to protect the rights of ethnic minorities and extend the rights of property owners. These measures aimed to bring Romania further into line with EU standards.

Traian Basescu, the popular mayor of Bucharest and a member of the center-right Justice and Truth Alliance, which consisted of the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democrat Party (PD), won the 2004 presidential elections. Bǎsescu had made the fight against corruption and poverty key campaign planks, and he pledged to form a government that would work to ensure Romania’s entry in the EU. He named businessman Cǎlin Popescu Tǎriceanu as prime minister. Tǎriceanu formed a coalition government of several reformist parties. The National Assembly sought to impeach Bǎsescu for abuse of power, but Romanian voters backed him in a 2007 referendum and he remained in power. In the meantime a splinter group from the PNL formed its own party, which later merged with the PD to form the Liberal Democrat Party (PDL), a center-right party.

EU Membership

By December 2004 Romania had concluded membership talks with the European Union over the terms of its entry. The agreement called for continued reforms to modernize the economy (including privatization and the reduction of state subsidies to industries), border protection reforms, and measures to rein in corruption and build a more independent judiciary. The agreement also established measures to monitor Romania’s progress in achieving its reform agenda.

Romania’s progress in implementing these reforms led the EU to accept the country as a full member in early 2007. Romania’s southern neighbor, Bulgaria, also attained full membership. The two countries ranked as the poorest in the EU, with per-capita income in each only about a third of that in other member nations. Their inclusion in the EU brought the organization’s membership to 27 countries and expanded its borders to the Black Sea.

Center-Left Government Forms

Infighting between the PNL and the Liberal Democrat Party wrecked the coalition government in 2007. The PNL formed a minority government, which cooperated with the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania and other parties. New parliamentary elections were scheduled for December 2008. The elections resulted in victories for the ex-Communist Social Democrat Party (PSD) and the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L). Each of these parties captured about a third of the vote for a total of 70 percent, while the PNL won about 19 percent of the vote. The PD-L and the PSD formed a center-left coalition government with Emil Boc, the head of the PD-L, as prime minister. He was sworn in by President Basescu in late December.

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