Three Constitutions

Romania Table of Contents

Since the imposition of full communist control in December 1947, Romania has had three constitutions. The first, designating the country a "people's republic," was adopted by the Grand National Assembly (GNA) in April 1948, just four weeks after the assembly had been reorganized under new communist leadership. The second, adopted in September 1952, was closer to the Soviet model. The third, ostensibly reflecting Romania's social and ideological development, went into effect on August 21, 1965.

In many ways similar to the initial constitutions of the other Soviet-dominated states of Eastern Europe, the 1948 constitution was designed to mark Romania's entry into the first stage of the transition from capitalism to socialism. There was no separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. As a people's democracy, the state was said derive power from the people's will, expressed through the GNA. A nineteen-member Presidium was elected by and from the GNA membership to provide continuity of legislative authority when the assembly itself was not in session. The highest executive and administrative organ was the Council of Ministers, which functioned under the direction of the prime minister. Although not mentioned in the constitution, the PCR, under close Soviet supervision, functioned as the supreme decision-making authority over and above the government. At the ministry level, the most important decisions were taken under the supervision of Soviet advisers.

The right of private property ownership was guaranteed, although the constitution provided that privately held means of production, banks, and insurance companies could be nationalized when the "general interest" so required. Less than two months after the adoption of the constitution, the GNA passed legislation nationalizing the main industrial and financial institutions.

The organs of state power in the regions, counties, districts, and communes were designated "people's councils." Formally established by law in 1949, these bodies were organized into a centralized system in which the lower-level councils were fully subordinated to the next higher council, and all functioned under the direct control of the central government.

Largely patterned after the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union, the 1952 constitution specifically designated the Romanian Workers' Party (Partidul Muncitoresc Romān--PMR)--as the communist party was known between 1948 and 1965--the country's leading political force. The nation's close ties with the Soviet Union were strongly emphasized, and the Soviets were described as great friends of the Romanian people. Whereas the 1948 constitution declared that "the Romanian People's Republic was born amid the struggle conducted by the people, under the leadership of the working class, against fascism, reaction, and imperialism," the 1952 version asserted that the republic "was born and consolidated following the liberation of the country by the armed forces of the Soviet Union."

As had its predecessor, the 1952 constitution guaranteed full equality to national minority groups, and it also established an autonomous administrative unit for the large ethnic Hungarian population--the Hungarian Autonomous Region. The region was given its own council and local authorities, although these bodies were clearly subordinated to the organs of the central government.

Citizens were guaranteed the right to work for remuneration; the right to rest, ensured by the establishment of an eight-hour workday and paid annual vacation; the right to material security when old, ill, or disabled; and the right to education. The constitution stated that full equality in all aspects of economic, political, and cultural life was guaranteed to all working people regardless of nationality, race, or sex.

The constitution also guaranteed freedom of speech, the press, assembly, public demonstration, and worship. Churches, however, were forbidden to operate schools except for the training of religious personnel. Other provisions guaranteed the protection of the person from arbitrary arrest, the inviolability of the home, and the secrecy of the mails. Citizens also had the right to form public and private organizations, although associations having a "fascist or antidemocratic character" were prohibited.

It was the citizens' duty to observe the constitution and the laws of the republic, to preserve and develop socialist property, to practice work discipline, and to strengthen the "regime of people's democracy." Military service and the defense of the nation were described as duties of honor for all citizens.

In March 1961, the GNA established a commission to draft a new constitution. At the same time, the 1952 constitution was revised to transform the Presidium into the State Council. The new body, vested with supreme executive authority, consisted of a president, three vice presidents, and thirteen members. As was the case with the Presidium, the State Council was elected by and from the GNA membership and was, in theory, responsible to it.

The State Council had three kinds of powers--permanent powers, powers to be exercised between assembly sessions, and special powers that could be exercised in exceptional circumstances. The permanent powers were exercised by the president, who as head of state represented the republic in international relations. Between GNA sessions, the State Council was empowered to oversee the activity of the Council of Ministers, appoint and recall members of the Supreme Court and the commander in chief of the armed forces, supervise the functioning of the office of the prosecutor general, or Procuratura, and convene standing commissions of the assembly.

The council could also issue decrees having the force of law, although, technically, these had to be submitted to the next GNA session for ratification. If circumstances prevented the assembly from convening, the council was authorized to appoint the Council of Ministers, declare war, order mobilization, proclaim a state of emergency, approve the budget, and prepare economic plans.

Although the constitution drafted by the 1961 commission was never adopted, it served as the basis for the work of a second commission named in June 1965. Chaired by Ceausescu, the commission prepared a new draft and submitted it to the party congress and the State Council. After approval by these bodies, the Constitution was adopted by the GNA on August 21, 1965, and after important amendments in 1974, it remained in effect in late 1989.

With the promulgation of the 1965 Constitution, the country was officially renamed the Socialist Republic of Romania. In adopting this name, the Romanian leadership was asserting that the country had completed the transition from capitalism and had become a fullfledged socialist state.

The most innovative provision of the 1965 Constitution is the stipulation that the leading political force in the entire country is the Romanian Communist Party--the only legal party. Under its leadership, the working people have the expressed goal of building a socialist system to create "the conditions for transition to communism."

Whereas the 1952 constitution repeatedly stressed the country's close ties to the Soviet Union and the role of the Red Army in the liberation of Romania, the 1965 Constitution omits all references to the Soviet Union. Instead it refers only to the policy of maintaining friendly and fraternal relations with all socialist states and, in addition, expresses the intention of promoting relations with nonsocialist states.

The 1965 Constitution declares that the basis of the economy is socialist ownership of the means of production. Cooperative farmers, however, are permitted to own some livestock and tools, certain craftsmen are guaranteed ownership of their workshops, and peasants not in cooperatives are able to own small parcels of land and some farm implements. In the 1980s, however, these provisions for private ownership of farmland were violated by a controversial plan known as systemization.

In contrast to the 1952 constitution, which provided for representation in the GNA at a ratio of one deputy for every 40,000 persons, the 1965 document fixed the number of deputies at 465 and required the establishment of that number of electoral districts of equal population. A later amendment reduced the number of deputies to 369.

The provision of the 1952 constitution establishing the Hungarian Autonomous Region among the sixteen regional units was deleted in the 1965 Constitution, ostensibly in order to integrate all minority groups into the Romanian political community. PCR spokesmen asserted that while the heritage and political rights of the various nationality groups would be respected, the country would be united under the leadership of the party. A 1968 territorial reorganization eliminated the sixteen regional units and established a system of thirty-nine (subsequently increased to forty) judete or counties.

More about the Government of Romania.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress