6. Contemporary Period: Internal Development

In order to obviate internal disturbances or external interference, the leaders of the movement which had dethroned Prince Cuza caused parliament to proclaim, on the day of Cuza's abdication, Count Philip of Flanders - the father of King Albert of Belgium - Prince of Rumania. The offer was, however, not accepted, as neither France nor Russia favoured the proposal. Meanwhile a conference had met again in Paris at the instance of Turkey and vetoed the election of a foreign prince. But events of deeper importance were ripening in Europe, and the Rumanian politicians rightly surmised that the powers would not enforce their protests if a candidate were found who was likely to secure the support of Napoleon III, then 'schoolmaster' of European diplomacy. This candidate was found in the person of Prince Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, second son of the head of the elder branch of the Hohenzollerns (Catholic and non-reigning). Prince Carol was cousin to the King of Prussia, and related through his grandmother to the Bonaparte family. He could consequently count upon the support of France and Prussia, while the political situation fortunately secured him from the opposition of Russia, whose relations with Prussia were at the time friendly, and also from that of Austria, whom Bismarck proposed to 'keep busy for some time to come'. The latter must have viewed with no little satisfaction the prospect of a Hohenzollern occupying the throne of Rumania at this juncture; and Prince Carol, allowing himself to be influenced by the Iron Chancellor's advice, answered the call of the Rumanian nation, which had proclaimed him as 'Carol I, Hereditary Prince of Rumania'. Travelling secretly with a small retinue, the prince second class, his suite first, Prince Carol descended the Danube on an Austrian steamer, and landed on May 8 at Turnu-Severin, the very place where, nearly eighteen centuries before, the Emperor Trajan had alighted and founded the Rumanian nation.

By independent and energetic action, by a conscious neglect of the will of the powers, which only a young constitutional polity would have dared, by an active and unselfish patriotism, Rumania had at last chosen and secured as her ruler the foreign prince who alone had a chance of putting a stop to intrigues from within and from without. And the Rumanians had been extremely fortunate in their hasty and not quite independent choice. A prince of Latin origin would probably have been more warmly welcomed to the hearts of the Rumanian people; but after so many years of political disorder, corrupt administration, and arbitrary rule, a prince possessed of the German spirit of discipline and order was best fitted to command respect and impose obedience and sobriety of principle upon the Rumanian politicians.

Prince Carol's task was no easy one. The journal compiled by the provisional government, which held the reins for the period elapsing between the abdication of Cuza and the accession of Prince Carol, depicts in the darkest colours the economic situation to which the faults, the waste, the negligence, and short-sightedness of the previous regime had reduced the country, 'the government being in the humiliating position of having brought disastrous and intolerable hardship alike upon its creditors, its servants, its pensioners, and its soldiers'.[1] Reforms were badly needed, and the treasury had nothing in hand but debts. To increase the income of the state was difficult, for the country was poor and not economically independent. Under the Paris Convention of 1858, Rumania remained bound, to her detriment, by the commercial treaties of her suzerain, Turkey, the powers not being willing to lose the privileges they enjoyed under the Turkish capitulations. Moreover, she was specially excluded from the arrangement of 1860, which allowed Turkey to increase her import taxes. The inheritance of ultra-liberal measures from the previous regime made it difficult to cope with the unruly spirit of the nation. Any attempt at change in this direction would have savoured of despotism to the people, who, having at last won the right to speak aloud, believed that to clamour against anything that meant 'rule' was the only real and full assertion of liberty. And the dissatisfied were always certain of finding a sympathetic ear and an open purse in the Chancellories of Vienna and St. Petersburg.

[Footnote 1: D.A. Sturdza, Treizeci de ani de Domnie ai Regelui Carol, 1900, i.82.]

Prince Carol, not being sufficiently well acquainted with the conditions of the country nor possessing as yet much influence with the governing class, had not been in a position to influence at their inception the provisions of the extremely liberal constitution passed only a few weeks after his accession to the throne. The new constitution, which resembled that of Belgium more nearly than any other, was framed by a constituent assembly elected on universal suffrage, and, except for slight modifications introduced in 1879 and 1884, is in vigour to-day. It entrusts the executive to the king and his ministers, the latter alone being responsible for the acts of the government.[1] The legislative power is vested in the king and two assemblies - a senate and a chamber - the initiative resting with any one of the three.[2] The budget and the yearly bills fixing the strength of the army, however, must first be passed by the Chamber. The agreement of the two Chambers and the sanction of the king are necessary before any bill becomes law. The king convenes, adjourns, and dissolves parliament. He promulgates the laws and is invested with the right of absolute veto. The constitution proclaims the inviolability of domicile, the liberty of the press and of assembly, and absolute liberty of creed and religion, in so far as its forms of celebration do not come into conflict with public order and decency. It recognizes no distinction of class and privilege; all the citizens share equally rights and duties within the law. Education is free in the state schools, and elementary education compulsory wherever state schools exist. Individual liberty and property are guaranteed; but only Rumanian citizens can acquire rural property. Military service is compulsory, entailing two years in the infantry, three years in the cavalry and artillery, one year in all arms for those having completed their studies as far as the university stage. Capital punishment does not exist, except for military offences in time of war.

[Footnote 1: There are at present nine departments: Interior, Foreign Affairs, Finance, War, Education and Religion, Domains and Agriculture, Public Works, Justice, and Industry and Commerce. The President of the Cabinet is Prime Minister, with or without portfolio.]

[Footnote 2: All citizens of full age paying taxes, with various exemptions, are electors, voting according to districts and census. In the case of the illiterate country inhabitants, with an income from land of less than L12 a year, fifty of them choose one delegate having one vote in the parliamentary election. The professorial council of the two universities of Jassy and Bucarest send one member each to the Senate, the heir to the throne and the eight bishops being members by right.]

The state religion is Greek Orthodox. Up to 1864 the Rumanian Church was subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In that year it was proclaimed independent, national, and autocephalous, though this change was not recognized by the Patriarchate till 1885, while the secularization of the property of the monasteries put an end de facto to the influence of the Greek clergy. Religious questions of a dogmatic nature are settled by the Holy Synod of Bucarest, composed of the two metropolitans of Bucarest and Jassy and the eight bishops; the Minister for Education, with whom the administrative part of the Church rests, having only a deliberative vote. The maintenance of the Church and of the clergy is included in the general budget of the country, the ministers being state officials (Law of 1893).

Religion has never played an important part in Rumanian national life, and was generally limited to merely external practices. This may be attributed largely to the fact that as the Slavonic language had been used in the Church since the ninth century and then was superseded by Greek up to the nineteenth century, the clergy was foreign, and was neither in a position nor did it endeavour to acquire a spiritual influence over the Rumanian peasant. There is no record whatever in Rumanian history of any religious feuds or dissensions. The religious passivity remained unstirred even during the domination of the Turks, who contented themselves with treating the unbelievers with contempt, and squeezing as much money as possible out of them. Cuza having made no provision for the clergy when he converted the wealth of the monasteries to the state, they were left for thirty years in complete destitution, and remained as a consequence outside the general intellectual development of the country. Though the situation has much improved since the Law of 1893, which incorporated the priests with the other officials of the Government, the clergy, recruited largely from among the rural population, are still greatly inferior to the Rumanian priests of Bucovina and Transylvania. Most of them take up Holy orders as a profession: 'I have known several country parsons who were thorough atheists.'[1]

[Footnote 1: R. Rosetti, Pentru ce s-au răsculat ţăranii, 1907, p. 600]

However difficult his task, Prince Carol never deviated from the strictly constitutional path: his opponents were free to condemn the prince's opinions; he never gave them the chance of questioning his integrity.

Prince Carol relied upon the position in which his origin and family alliances placed him in his relations with foreign rulers to secure him the respect of his new subjects. Such considerations impressed the Rumanians. Nor could they fail to be aware of 'the differences between the previously elected princes and the present dynasty, and the improved position which the country owed to the latter'.[1]

[Footnote 1: Augenzeuge, Aus dem Leben Koenig Karls von Rumanien, 1894-1900, iii. 177.]

To inculcate the Rumanians with the spirit of discipline the prince took in hand with energy and pursued untiringly, in spite of all obstacles, the organization of the army. A reliable and well-organized armed force was the best security against internal trouble-mongers, and the best argument in international relations, as subsequent events amply proved.

The Rumanian political parties were at the outset personal parties, supporting one or other of the candidates to the throne. When Greek influence, emanating from Constantinople, began to make itself felt, in the seventeenth century, a national party arose for the purpose of opposing it. This party counted upon the support of one of the neighbouring powers, and its various groups were known accordingly as the Austrian, the Russian, &c., parties. With the election of Cuza the external danger diminished, and the politicians divided upon principles of internal reform. Cuza not being in agreement with either party, they united to depose him, keeping truce during the period preceding the accession of Prince Carol, when grave external dangers wore threatening, and presiding in a coalition ministry at the introduction of the new constitution of 1866. But this done, the truce was broken. Political strife again awoke with all the more vigour for having been temporarily suppressed.

The reforms which it became needful to introduce gave opportunity for the development of strong divergence of views between the political parties. The Liberals - the Red Party, as they were called at the time - (led by C.A. Rosetti and Ioan Bratianu, both strong Mazzinists, both having taken an important part in the revolutionary movements of 1848 and in that which led to the deposition of Cuza) were advocating reforms hardly practicable even in an established democracy; the Conservatives (led by Lascar Catargiu) were striving to stem the flood of ideal liberal measures on which all sense of reality was being carried away.[1] In little more than a year there were four different Cabinets, not to mention numerous changes in individual ministers. 'Between the two extreme tendencies Prince Carol had to strive constantly to preserve unity of direction, he himself being the only stable element in that ever unstable country.' It was not without many untoward incidents that he succeeded. His person was the subject of more than one unscrupulous attack by politicians in opposition, who did not hesitate to exploit the German origin and the German sympathies of the prince in order to inflame the masses. These internal conflicts entered upon an acute phase at the time of the Franco-German conflict of 1870. Whilst, to satisfy public opinion, the Foreign Secretary of the time, M.P.P. Carp, had to declare in parliament, that 'wherever the colours of France are waving, there are our interests and sympathies', the prince wrote to the King of Prussia assuring him that 'his sympathies will always be where the black and white banner is waving'. In these so strained circumstances a section of the population of Bucarest allowed itself to be drawn into anti-German street riots. Disheartened and despairing of ever being able to do anything for that 'beautiful country', whose people 'neither know how to govern themselves nor will allow themselves to be governed', the prince decided to abdicate.

[Footnote 1: A few years ago a group of politicians, mainly of the old Conservative party, detached themselves and became the Conservative-Democratic party under the leadership of M. Take Ionescu.]

So strong was the feeling in parliament roused by the prince's decision that one of his most inveterate opponents now declared that it would be an act of high treason for the prince to desert the country at such a crisis. We have an inkling of what might have resulted in the letter written by the Emperor of Austria to Prince Carol at the time, assuring him that 'my Government will eagerly seize any opportunity which presents itself to prove by deeds the interest it takes in a country connected by so many bonds to my empire'. Nothing but the efforts of Lascar Catargiu and the sound patriotism of a few statesmen saved the country from what would have been a real misfortune. The people were well aware of this, and cheers lasting several minutes greeted that portion of the message from the throne which conveyed to the new parliament the decision of the prince to continue reigning.

The situation was considerably strengthened during a period of five years' Conservative rule. Prince Carol's high principles and the dignified example of his private life secured for him the increasing respect of politicians of all colours; while his statesmanlike qualities, his patience and perseverance, soon procured him an unlimited influence in the affairs of the state. This was made the more possible from the fact that, on account of the political ignorance of the masses, and of the varied influence exercised on the electorate by the highly centralized administration, no Rumanian Government ever fails to obtain a majority at an election. Any statesman can undertake to form a Cabinet if the king assents to a dissolution of parliament. Between the German system, where the emperor chooses the ministers independently of parliament, and the English system, where the members of the executive are indicated by the electorate through the medium of parliament, independently of the Crown, the Rumanian system takes a middle path. Neither the crown, nor the electorate, nor parliament possesses exclusive power in this direction. The Government is not, generally speaking, defeated either by the electorate or by parliament. It is the Crown which has the final decision in the changes of regime, and upon the king falls the delicate task of interpreting the significance of political or popular movements. The system - which comes nearest to that of Spain - undoubtedly has its advantages in a young and turbulent polity, by enabling its most stable element, the king, to ensure a continuous and harmonious policy. But it also makes the results dangerously dependent on the quality of that same element. Under the leadership of King Carol it was an undoubted success; the progress made by the country from an economic, financial, and military point of view during the last half-century is really enormous. Its position was furthermore strengthened by the proclamation of its independence, by the final settlement of the dynastic question,[1] and by its elevation on May 10, 1881, to the rank of kingdom, when upon the head of the first King of Rumania was placed a crown of steel made from one of the guns captured before Plevna from an enemy centuries old.

[Footnote 1: In the absence of direct descendants and according to the constitution, Prince Ferdinand (born 1865), second son of King Carol's elder brother, was named Heir Apparent to the Rumanian throne. He married in 1892 Princess Marie of Coburg, and following the death of King Carol in 1914, he acceded to the throne as Ferdinand I.]

From the point of view of internal politics progress has been less satisfactory. The various reforms once achieved, the differences of principle between the political parties degenerated into mere opportunism, the Opposition opposing, the Government disposing. The parties, and especially the various groups within the parties, are generally known by the names of their leaders, these denominations not implying any definite political principle or Government programme. It is, moreover, far from edifying that the personal element should so frequently distort political discussion. 'The introduction of modern forms of state organization has not been followed by the democratization of all social institutions.... The masses of the people have remained all but completely outside political life. Not only are we yet far from government of the people by the people, but our liberties, though deeply graven on the facade of our constitution, have not permeated everyday life nor even stirred in the consciousness of the people.'[1]

[Footnote 1: C. Stere, Social-democratizm sau Poporanizm, Jassy.]

It is strange that King Carol, who had the welfare of the people sincerely at heart, should not have used his influence to bring about a solution of the rural question; but this may perhaps be explained by the fact that, from Cuza's experience, he anticipated opposition from all political factions. It would almost seem as if, by a tacit understanding, and anxious to establish Rumania's international position, King Carol gave his ministers a free hand in the rural question, reserving for himself an equally free hand in foreign affairs. This seems borne out by the fact that, in the four volumes in which an 'eyewitness', making use of the king's private correspondence and personal notes, has minutely described the first fifteen years of the reign, the peasant question is entirely ignored.[1]

[Footnote 1: The 'eyewitness' was Dr. Schaeffer, formerly tutor to Prince Carol.]

Addressing himself, in 1871, to the Rumanian representative at the Porte, the Austrian ambassador, von Prokesch-Osten, remarked: 'If Prince Carol manages to pull through without outside help, and make Rumania governable, it will be the greatest tour de force I have ever witnessed in my diplomatic career of more than half a century. It will be nothing less than a conjuring trick.' King Carol succeeded; and only those acquainted with Rumanian affairs can appreciate the truth of the ambassador's words.