Armed Forces Day – Romania

October 25

“Over the centuries you will be remembered and praised, you, the officers and soldiers who have freed Transylvania.”

–General Gheorghe Avramescu, October 29, 1944

On this day in 1944 Romanian troops liberated Carei, the last German-occupied city in Romania. It is also the birthday of Romania’s last king, Michael I. (Pre-emptive answer: No, I don’t know why the there is a “I” if there won’t be a second.)

King Michael, or Mihai, became heir apparent of Romania at age 4 after his father Crown Prince Carol II abandoned his claim to the throne to elope with his mistress. When his grandfather, King Ferdinand died, the 6 year-old boy became king.

However in 1930, Carol II returned to the throne, becoming perhaps the only European king to have succeeded his own son.

In 1940, Carol II refused to go along with pro-Nazi Romanian leaders. He was forced to abdicate the throne for his son, 18 year-old Michael, who was expected to rule as a puppet monarch for a fascist Romanian government allied with Hitler.

There are conflicting stories of Michael’s motivations for turning against Germany in 1944. Some portray him as a hero whose daring fight against fascist leaders hastened the Nazi defeat, thus saving tens of thousands of lives. Others claim he was a pragmatist who had no choice but to switch once it became clear the Soviets were winning.

According to future Soviet leader Nikita Khurshchev…

In 1944, as we approached Bessarabia and fighting broke out on its territory, and then as we approached the borders of Romania itself, it became evident that the pointer on the scale had tipped strongly in the direction of victory for our side…Then a coup occurred in Romania. The young King Michael took part it it…In Romania a situation took shape in which the sympathies of the people moved to the left, the authority of the Communist Party rose, and the king decided the Communists should participate in the new government that was being formed…The question of whether Romania would take the socialist path did not come up at the time.”

–Memoirs of Nikita Khruschchev

The U.S. awarded King Michael the Legion of Merit for his bravery, and the Soviets awarded him the Order of Victory. But proof that no good deed goes unpunished, the Romanian Communist government abolished the monarchy in January 1948 and forced Michael to leave the country. According to Khrushchev, Michael was told, “he could take everything with him that he considered necessary, but he had to leave his kingdom.”

In exile, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma with whom he raised 5 daughters in Switzerland. The former king worked for an aircraft company training European pilots to fly with American instruments.

The former king once said:

“Though many people think that not to be allowed back into your country is easier to bear than not to be allowed out of it, this is not true. The feeling of powerlessness and loss of liberty is associated with both.

Michael of Romania: The King and the Country

King Michael was invited to return briefly to Romania in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He is one of the last surviving heads of state from World War II.

October 25: Romanian Armed Forces Day

A Survivor: Romania’s Lucky Enough King

Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev

Romanian Flag Day

Romanian Flag Day

June 26

Awaken thee, Romanian, shake off the deadly slumber

Today is National Flag Day in Romania.

The three colors of the Romanian flag represent the blood of the people, the golden crops of the land, and the blue sky above…according to the Communists who ruled Romania from 1947 to 1989. But much has changed since the fall of the Iron Curtain, including the country’s national anthem, which was “Three Colors” from 1977 to 1989.

Like the flag itself, the country is an amalgamation of three nations: Dacia, Wallachia, and their all-too-famous cousin Transylvania. Though Transylvania is the most notorious, Romania was actually formed by the merging of the other two, Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859. Transylvania didn’t join the club until 1918.

Peles Castle, Romania © David Watterson
Who put the Roman in Romania?

After decades of clashes between Rome and the land known as Dacia, the Roman Emperor Trajan attacked and conquered the defiant kingdom around 100 AD. The war had tested and refined Roman military ingenuity. Dacia was powerful, wealthy, and no stranger to war. Trajan declared 123 days of celebration in Rome following the victory.

Two full Roman legions were posted in Dacia even in peacetime. The soldiers and Dacians intermarried, as did their native tongues. Dacian fighters repelled the Roman invaders around the 4th century, but even today Romania bears the name of the ancient empire. Romania, meaning Land of the Romans, didn’t become the official name until 1862, three years after the creation of the Moldavia-Wallachia state.

The Romanian flag has survived in one form another for 1500 years. Emperor Justinian issued a decree in 535 describing the region’s coat of arms and banner:

“On the right…a red shield, on which towers can be seen, signifying the other Dacia; in the second section a blue-sky shield, with the ensigns of the Bur tribe…and golden in the middle.”

A thousand years later the colors still coincided with the three major regions: red for Moldavia, gold for Wallachia, and blue for Transylvania. And in 1600, the prince Michael the Brave briefly united the three provinces before his assassination in 1601. The colors were used during this time to symbolize the amalgamated territories.

During the Communist regime a coat of arms was added to the banner, but removed in 1989, sometimes quite literally…