Behind the Iron Curtain – Chapter I (second part)

2. Rumania’s foreign policy between the two World Wars.

In 1916 – 1918 Rumania had to fight against Austria – Hungary, then allied to Germany, in order to achieve her national unity. Consequently, an alliance was concluded with Great Britain, France and Russia. Transylvania and Bukovina, the inhabitants of which hold an important Rumanian majority, were thus freed. During the war, Tsarist Russia had abandoned Rumania to her own resources, exposing her in this manner to German occupation. Later, the Tsarist regime was overthrown by the Revolution and the decline of the Russian Empire allowed Bessarabia, another old Rumanian province, to return to its mother country on the basis of a free vote of its representatives. Bessarabia, the inhabitants of which are mostly Rumanians, had belonged to the Rumanian Principality of Moldavia from 1390 until 1812 when it was annexed by Russia to whom it had never belonged before. Moreover, it was only from 1792 that the Russian Empire became directly adjacent to Bessarabia, from which it was formerly separated by Polish and Turkish territories.

Thus, Greater Rumania was created by the union of Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia to the Old Kingdom.

From the end of the First World War until about 1935, the Rumanian foreign policy was carried on without serious difficulty. Germany was very much weakened and no longer a dangerous factor. Besides, the political and military alliance with France was still in effect against her possible ambitions. Russia was busy with internal changes as a consequence of the Soviet Revolution. The suppression of the former leading classes, the collectivization of agriculture, the incorporation of the peasants with the Communist State and lastly the systematical industrialization by means of the first Five-Year Plans were too intricate problems to let Russia think of a policy of expansion. Besides, after the First World War Great Britain and France had organized on the frontiers of Russia a “cordon sanitaire”, as Clemenceau called it, in order to prevent Communism from spreading over Europe. This sanitary belt consisted of six countries among which Poland and Rumania were the most important. Thus the moral and material support of England and France, both ruling over the Continent without any competition, made Rumania feel safe against all Russian ambitions.

This favourable situation lasted about 15 years, until 1936. At that time, both Germany and Russia suddenly became active and even decisive factors in continental politics. Germany, roused by National – Socialism, reorganized her heavy industry, army, Navy and Air Force, freed herself from the servitudes imposed at Versailles and began to ask for “equal rights”. She soon went further in claiming the widening of the Reich’s borders with a view to include all Germans left outside them, and finally demanded broader “vital space” for the German people too crowded at home. Russia, after having finished socializing her agriculture and building up her heavy industry, started organizing a disciplined and well equipped army. She exterminated by merciless means the ideologists of the World Revolution as well as the generals ready for a compromise with Europe. The old Tsarist imperialism was beginning to be revived and Bessarabia was openly considered in official statements, maps and school – books as a Russian province abusively and temporarily occupied by Rumania.

In this manner, Rumania had once more to face a double danger of invasion. Quite naturally, she sought the support of her former Western allies, i.e. Great Britain, France and the Unites States.

Great Britain still was dealing with the consequences of the previous financial crisis which had nearly ruined the British economic life in 1931. Besides, under the influence of the dominions, the conservative cabinet then in power was carrying on a policy of imperial isolation. Stanley Baldwin had settled the frontiers of British interests on the Rhine and Neville Chamberlain spoke of Czechoslovakia as of “that remote land of which we know so little”. Important purely British events such as the Jubilee at the death of King George V, the abdication and marriage of King Edward VIII and lastly the coronation of King George VI prevented the British from paying any attention to South Eastern Europe.

France, weakened by internal troubles and engrossed by the social reforms of the “Front Populaire”, was no more interested in international politics. The French press asked for a policy of peace at all costs and the French seemed to have no other ambition than to be allowed to live their own life in peace.

The United States were far away and had carried on a strict isolation policy since the First World War. Besides, they were too much interested in the manifold problems of the New Deal to be allowed to think of Europe and still less of South – Eastern Europe.

Thus, no serious and efficient Western alliance appeared possible at that time. In fact, the Rumanian foreign policy was reduced to a mere dilemma. Was Rumania to be backed by Russia against Germany or by Germany against Russia?

Nicolae Titulescu, as Foreign Minister, was the first to deal with this problem. He was a clever and capable man, but rather capricious, a well known figure of international congresses and appreciated abroad but considered for this very reason a stranger at home. In 1923, he had overthrown the National – Peasant government of Vaida, because the latter was anxious to come to an agreement with Russia in conditions Titulescu considered as unfavourable. Very soon however, Titulescu became himself a decided supporter of an alliance with Russia against possible German ambitions.

King Carol II, intelligent and active, but wilful, vain and compromised by a “camarilla” of corrupted businessmen, was afraid of communist Russia but did not like national – socialist Germany either.

The historical parties, National – Peasants and Liberals, led by Mr. Iuliu Maniu and the Bratianus who had played a decisive part during the First World War, persisted in their anti – German feelings but were not in the least pro – Russian. They disliked the idea of an alliance with Soviet Russia. However, the National – Peasants were more inclined than the Liberals to come to an agreement of good neighbourliness with the Eastern colossus.

On the other hand, the greatest part of the people, especially the intelligentsia, were anti-Russian to the core as a result of the historical experience of the Rumanian nation. In fact, the latter had experienced the Russian ill faith, brutality and rapacity during ten military occupations. Thus, the idea of an alliance with the powerful eastern neighbour was utterly unpopular. The aversion against Germany, an heritage of the First World War, was fading away and was not to be compared with the mistrust and aversion against Russia. This antipathy was especially apparent in the younger generation, which was greatly under the influence of the nationalist movement of the Iron Guard. In the realistic spheres of the well off bourgeoisie, one might also hear people say: “If we really had to choose between the Germans and the Russians, we would prefer the Germans who at least could teach us their efficiency and their organization power instead of the Russians who could teach us nothing but destruction and deportation”.

King Carol II who did not like Titulescu for his interfering with his private plans, easily got rid of him by the support of Rumanian intelligentsia who decidedly opposed the pro-Russian policy of the Foreign Minister. However, after the fall of Titulescu in September 1936, the Rumanian policy continued to be unsettled. The King’s camarilla and Prime – Minister Tătărescu were not able to oppose the anti-Russian feelings of the people and start new negotiations with Russia without Titulescu. On the other hand, they were too much engaged with the French “haute finance” to be able to think of a treaty of friendship with Germany and were in too close relations with the German “schwerindustrie” to be ready to become an anti-German bulwark of the Western Powers.

After having started his personal dictatorship in February 1938, the King tried to approach Great Britain. However, all his attempts failed, even those made during his personal visit to London, in 1938. The reasons were the lack of confidence in his uncertain character and the lack of perspicacity of certain British economic and financial circles who did not grant Rumania with indispensable concessions which would have allowed her to resist the German economic pressure[1].

In fact, by sacrificing Czechoslovakia at Munich in September 1938, Great Britain and France had clearly demonstrated that they were not willing at that time to be efficiently present beyond the Rhine. It should be pointed out that while Great Britain and France abandoned Czechoslovakia to her own fate, Rumania, in spite of German and Polish insistence refused to take any part in the dismemberment of her former ally, although several purely Rumanian villages had been attributed to Czechoslovakia in 1919 and a slight rectification of the frontier would have greatly improved the railway communications in the northern part of Rumania.

As Germany was becoming more and more threatening, Great Britain and France finally abandoned their policy of giving in and, seeking for allies, gave in April 1939 a rather reluctant declaration of guarantee to Rumania. At the same time, King Carol’s undiplomatic actions and speeches irritated both Germany and Russia.


[1] See for instance Bernard Newman, “Balkan Background”, London, Robert Hale, 1944.

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