chapter  5
34 Pages

Interwar Romania

Enshrining ethnic privilege
WithRoland Clark

The story of Greater Romania is that of the failure of the ruling elites to establish cultural and political hegemony over the heterogeneous populations living within their borders. While technocrats from the Old Kingdom exploited educational, scientific, and cultural institutions as ways to dominate the newly acquired territories, successive governments also attempted to resolve long-standing rural dissatisfaction with land reform, credit institutions, and cultural associations. Rapid industrialization and urbanization transformed the countryside during these years, however, and the “peasantry” that the elites thought they were engaging with were far less ignorant and malleable than they had hoped. Nationalist prejudices also meant that these reforms targeted ethnic Romanians in the first place, leaving Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and other minorities to develop their own institutions, support networks, and identities. Attempts by the Romanian Orthodox Church to achieve hegemony within the nation-state also failed, with the Concordat of 1927 clarifying the rights of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches and the rise of neo-Protestantism threatening the dominance of Orthodoxy in the villages. Universal male suffrage meant that Bucharest’s failure to establish cultural hegemony over the rest of the country broke the hold of prewar parties over the political system, facilitating the rise of far-right groups and populist, radical political forms. Romania’s economic and foreign policy shifted from French to German spheres of influence as the interwar period progressed, eventually allying the country firmly with Nazi Germany at the outbreak of World War Two.