Romania Table of Contents

On October 9, 1944, British prime minister Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met in Moscow. Without President Franklin D. Roosevelt's knowledge, Churchill offered Stalin a list of Balkan and Central European countries with percentages expressing the "interest" the Soviet Union and other Allies would share in each--including a 90 percent Soviet preponderance in Romania. Stalin, ticking the list with a blue pencil, accepted the deal. In early February 1945, however, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed at Yalta to a declaration condemning "spheres of influence" and calling for free elections as soon as possible in Europe's liberated countries. The Soviet leader considered the percentage agreement key to the region's postwar order and gave greater weight to it than to the Yalta declarations; the United States and Britain considered the Yalta accord paramount. The rapid communist takeover in Romania provided one of the earliest examples of the significance of this disagreement and contributed to the postwar enmity between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union.

In late 1944, the political parties belonging to the BND organized openly for the first time since King Carol had banned political activity in 1938. The key political forces were: Maniu's National Peasants, who enjoyed strong support in the villages and had the backing of democratic members of the middle class, rightists, nationalists, and intellectuals; the Social Democrats, who were backed by workers and leftist intellectuals; and the Communists, who had reemerged after two decades underground. The National Liberals still campaigned, but their leaders' close association with King Carol and quiet support for Antonescu compromised the party and it never recovered its prewar influence.

Romania's Communist Party at first attracted scant popular support, and its rolls listed fewer than 1,000 members at the war's end. Recruitment campaigns soon began netting large numbers of workers, intellectuals, and others disillusioned by the breakdown of the country's democratic experiment and hungry for radical reforms; many opportunists, including former Iron Guards, also crowded the ranks. Two rival factions competed for party leadership: the Romanian faction, which had operated underground during the war years; and the "Muscovites," primarily intellectuals and nonethnic Romanians who had lived out the war in Moscow and arrived in Romania on the Red Army's heels. The leaders of the Romanian faction were Patrascanu, the intellectual prewar defense lawyer who became the minister of justice, and Gheorghe Gheorghiu, an activist railway worker who added Dej to his surname in memory of the Transylvanian town where he had been long imprisoned. The Muscovite leaders included Ana Pauker, the daughter of a Moldavian rabbi, who reportedly had denounced her own husband as a Trotskyite, and Vasile Luca, a Transylvanian Szekler who had become a Red Army major. Neither faction was a disciplined, coherent organization; in fact, immediately after the war the Romanian Communist Party resembled more a confederation of fiefdoms run by individual leaders than the tempered, well-sharpened political weapon Lenin had envisioned. The party probably would not have survived without Soviet backing.

Soviet control handicapped the Romanian government's efforts to administer the country. The National Peasants called for immediate elections, but the Communists and Soviet administrators, fearful of embarrassment at the polls, checked the effort. In October 1944, the Communists, Social Democrats, and the Plowmen's Front and other Communist front organizations formed the Frontul National Democrat (National Democratic Front--FND) and launched a campaign to overthrow Sanatescu's government and gain power. The Communists demanded that the government appoint more pro-Communist officials, and the left-wing press inveighed against Sanatescu, charging that hidden reactionary forces supported him. Sanatescu succumbed to the pressure and resigned in November 1944; King Michael persuaded him to form a second government, but it too collapsed in a matter of weeks. After Sanatescu's fall, the king summoned General Nicolae Radescu to form a new government. Radescu appointed a Communist, Teohari Georgescu, undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior; Georgescu in turn began introducing Communists into the police and security forces.

Chaos erupted in Romania and civil war seemed imminent just days after the Yalta conference had adjourned. Communist leaders, with Soviet backing, launched a vehement anti-Radescu campaign that included halting publication of National Peasant and National Liberal newspapers. On February 13, 1945, Communists demonstrated outside the royal palace. Six days later Communist Party and National Peasant loyalists battled in Bucharest, and demonstrations degenerated to street brawls. The Soviet authorities demanded that Radescu restore calm but barred him from using force. On February 24, Communist thugs shot and killed several pro-FND demonstrators; Communist leaders, branding Radescu a murderer, charged that government troops carried out the shootings. On February 26 Radescu, citing the Yalta declarations, retaliated by scheduling elections. The next day, the Soviet deputy foreign minister, Andrei Vyshinsky, rushed to Bucharest to engineer a final FND takeover. After a heated exchange, Vyshinsky presented King Michael an ultimatum--either to appoint Petru Groza, a Communist sympathizer, to Radescu's post or to risk Romania's continued existence as an independent nation. Vyshinsky sugared the medicine by offering Romania sovereignty over Transylvania if the king agreed. Portents of a takeover appeared in Bucharest: Red Army tanks surrounded Michael's palace, and Soviet soldiers disarmed Romanian troops and occupied telephone and broadcasting centers. The king, lacking Western support, yielded. Radescu, who lashed out at Communist leaders as "hyenas" and "foreigners without God or country," fled to the British mission. Meanwhile, Western diplomats feared that the Soviet Union would annex Romania outright.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress