The popular, democratic decision to unite all Romanian provinces in one state was confirmed at the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920). Acknowledging Romanians’ rights by virtue of the Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the victorious Allied Powers considered Romanian claims absolutely justified and, through the peace treaties, gave the unification a legal reality. The political support of Britain, France, the United States and Italy, which was based on rigorous field research and a vision about the future of Europe, was echoed by the endorsement of leading intellectuals, journalists and artists in these countries, who spoke enthusiastically in favour of Greater Romania.
THE WORLD SUPPORTS UNITED ROMANIA
The break-up of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires led to the drawing of new frontiers in East-Central Europe. The Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) had the task of confirming the new political and territorial situation by granting international legal reality to several newly established or re-constituted states.
The decision-makers of the conference were the representatives of the three most powerful European victors – France, Britain, Italy – together with the representatives of the United States and of Japan. To anchor their resolutions on firm ground, the Great Powers created expert committees that analysed the complex situation in these parts of Europe and came up with the best solutions according to the principle of national self-determination, which stated that people should be free to choose the state in which they wanted to live.
The starting point in the discussion of the Romanian case was the Treaty signed previously with The Allied Powers, which recognised Romania’s right to provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In this respect, the Commission of Inquiry, led by American expert Clive Day, recommended, as early as October 1918, that Romania should be given regions of Austria-Hungary inhabited by a majority Romanian population. American historian Charles Seymour, who noted that in these territories the Romanian population far exceeded the Hungarian one, also supported this position. Previously, Professor and diplomat Jacob Gould Schurman had listed, in a memorandum drawn up in 1917, the territories of Austria-Hungary that could be incorporated by Romania on the basis of the nationalities principle. These were Transylvania, the Banat and Bukovina.
Representatives of the British Foreign Office, including David Mitrany, G.W. Prothero, R.W. Seton-Watson, Harold W.V. Temperley and Arnold Toynbee, held a similar position to their American counterparts, claiming that Transylvania should be given to Romania.
The French Commission, which included André Tardieu and Emmanuel de Martonne, also had a very favourable attitude towards Romania. Martonne was a knowledgeable expert of the geographic situation in Central and South-Eastern Europe, and his studies of topography and ethnography in the Carpathian Region were highly appreciated in the scientific world. In fact, as Secretary of these committees, he produced a set of recommendations regarding the territories to be recognised as pertaining to Romania. His proposals were essential in shaping the point of view of the French government.
Emmanuel de Martonne
The most important decisions at the Paris Peace Conference were taken by the so-called Fourth Council, made up of the leaders of the victorious Great Powers: U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and the representative of Italy, Vittorio E. Orlando. Their attitude towards Romania was very important for the fulfilment of the unification.
Initially, David Lloyd George was reluctant to consider the democratic decisions taken by the Romanians at the end of 1918. The British Prime Minister proposed the composition of a committee to examine the issue of Romanian territories. Clive Day and Charles Seymour of the United States, Eyre Crowe and A.W.A. Lepper (United Kingdom), A. Tardieu and Jules Laroche (France), G. de Martino and Luigi Vannutelli-Rey (Italy), took part in this committee. The British Prime Minister’s attitude towards Romania changed gradually. On the occasion of the signing of the Peace Treaty with Germany (Versailles, June 28, 1919), Lloyd George proposed the annulment of the peace treaties of Brest Litovsk (March 1918) and Bucharest (May 7, 1918), thus removing one of the most important points unfavourable to Romania, the forced peace concluded with the Central Powers at the beginning of 1918 when, after the collapse of Tsarist Russia, Romania found herself alone on the Eastern Front.
David Lloyd George
Georges Clemenceau supported Romania’s position and demonstrated understanding for the arguments presented by members of the Romanian delegation in Paris. During the crisis generated by the Hungarian military interventions in Transylvania in the summer of 1919, Clemenceau managed to convince both Wilson and Lloyd George that the Romanians’ decision to occupy Budapest and remove the Bolshevik government of Béla Kun from power was perfectly justified in light of the Soviet threat to Europe.
Thus, it is not surprising that the Treaty with Austria (December 1919) explicitly acknowledged the union of Bukovina with Romania. Then, through the Treaty with Bulgaria (November 1919), Romania’s southern frontier, in existence since August 1, 1914, was recognised.
The conclusion of the Treaty of Trianon was of major importance for Romania as it established the border with its western neighbour, Hungary. This border was a matter of intense debate during the proceedings of the conference. Representatives of the Great Powers generally had a favourable attitude to Romania, although there were several diplomats who held diverging views. Among those who strongly supported the cause of Romania was the French diplomat Jules Cambon, who highlighted the fairness of the border established by the commissions of experts in accordance with the ethnic structure of Transylvania. Ultimately, through Article 45 of this Treaty, the Union of Transylvania, the Banat, Crişana and Maramureş with Romania was internationally sanctioned.
The question of Bessarabia was intensely debated within the ‘Romanian and Yugoslav Affairs Commission’. The main impediment in this case was the fact that at that time Russia did not have a legitimate government and consequently was not represented at the peace talks. At the meeting of March 5, 1919, French expert Jules Laroche proposed a formula that recognised the unification of Bessarabia with Romania. The Central Territorial Commission did not approve this decision because American diplomats hesitated to participate in drawing the borders of the former Russian Empire. Finally, the unification of Bessarabia with Romania was ratified due to the insistence of British Prime Minister Lloyd George.
Overall, international recognition of the union of the historical provinces with Romania at the Paris Peace Conference was nothing more than a confirmation of factual reality. The comment made by English historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, according to whom the successor states of Austria-Hungary had come to existence through the desire of their respective peoples, supported the idea. Moreover, J.A.S. Grenville considered that in Paris the Allies only had to confirm the new successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The international recognition of Greater Romania thus settled a social and political reality, which had been created through a long and sinuous historical process.
This website has been set up as part of the programme celebrating the Centenary of United Romania (1918-2018).
This website is created and financed by the Romanian Cultural Institute (RCI) through the Romanian Cultural Institute in London and the RCI’s Department of Promotion and Communication.