In case you’re wondering how Klaus Iohannis spent July 4, 2017, it was on stage with the American ambassador and a squad of US Marines, saying things like this.
In terms of the military nature relationship, which is excellent, as well as our relationship with NATO, the United States is the primary guarantor of Romania’s security.
Meanwhile, more than 25,000 foreign soldiers were on Romanian soil as he spoke. To give you an idea of the scale of these exercises, the Romanian army has around 43,000 soldiers total, and that’s only if you count all the cooks, receptionists, and drivers.
1 Million Troops… and Growing
World War 2 was a tough time for everybody in Europe. At one point in 1940, when Romania was proudly allied with Nazi Germany, Romania had voluntarily ceded a vast swathe of its territory to Hungary AND the Soviet Union, all without a fight.
Fast forward to 1945 and the end of the war, and the Romanian government, including King Mihai, had embraced Communism and become an ally of the of the Soviet Union. King Mihai was awarded the Soviet Union’s highest honor, and Soviet troops were used to brutally repress a protest in front of King Mihai’s palace on his name day.
Thanks to the Armistice Agreement of 1944, Soviet troops had free and unrestricted of Romanian territory, and all Soviet bases were off-limits to Romanian citizens. An estimated 1 million troops, along with thousands of planes, tanks, and other heavy weaponry, were stationed on Romanian soil.
And yet, suddenly and without any new treaties, Romania expelled all Soviet troops from its territory in 1956, never to return.
I think most people are aware that 1956 was a key year in Communist Europe. A spontaneous protest by university students in Budapest began to grow and nearly toppled Hungary’s Communist government. Only with the intervention of Soviet troops, many of them responding from their military bases in Romania, was the revolution crushed.
Despite this, Romanian Communist leader Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej demanded all Soviet troops leave Romania just a few months later… and they did.
To understand how extraordinary this was, you have to remember that every single other member of the Warsaw Pact had Soviet troops on its territory right up until when the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s.
So why was Romania different? How “dare” they break both the armistice agreements and the “fraternal bond” between Communist nations by refusing to continue to host Soviet troops on its territory?
For years, I’ve been curious about this. Every document I’ve ever seen presents it as a thing that just happened. Romanians asked the Soviets to leave in 1956, and they just did. But why?
It was only when I was researching something else that I came across a document that details an extraordinary conversation between two key Romanian Communists and Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union that split off Cernauti and Northern Bucovina from (Soviet) Moldova, irrevocably making it part of Ukrainian territory forever.
From Khrushchev’s memoirs (volume 3), describing a conversation he had with Emil Bodnaras:
On one occasion, we were having a discussion [about Kruschev’s travel plans] and suddenly Comrade Bodnaras brought up a question that I was not ready for and had never thought about.
Bodnaras asked: “What is your opinion, Comrade Kruschev? Don’t you think that Soviet troops should be withdrawn from Romania?”
I was taken aback. None of us had thought about that in those days. On the contrary, we assumed that as long as the Cold War was continuing and as long as we had no assurance of non-aggression from the imperialist [capitalist] powers, we thought it inappropriate to weaken the borders that the socialist [Communist] camp had in common or allow any breaches to appear in those lines.
Far from thinking anything along the lines of what Bodnaras was expressing, we were thinking about strengthening the common defense.
Bodnaras replied, “What enemies do we have? All our borders are with socialist [Communist] countries.”
Khrushchev then goes on to say that the threat level was too high to warrant the Soviet Union abandoning its bases on Romanian soil. Yet somehow, for some reason, all Soviet troops were pulled out in 1956.
Years later, Kruschev was talking to Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (GGD) when GGD spontaneously revealed why Romania had insisted on Soviet troops leaving Romanian territory back in 1956.
Dej once asked me, “Do you know why we brought up the subject of withdrawing Soviet troops back then?
I answered, “No. I don’t know why.”
“Well,” said Dej, “One time when we were in Moscow for talks, [Soviet politician Vyacheslav] Molotov started attacking us, cursing us up one side and down the other, using foul language and insults. He said the only reason we [Romanian Communists] remained in power was because of the help given to us by the Russian people and the presence of Soviet troops.
Molotov told us, ‘If those [Soviet] troops weren’t there, you wouldn’t remain in power for another f–king week.’
We were offended and insulted by this… We wanted to convince you of that, and that’s why we proposed that your troops be withdrawn.
We were absolutely certain that, even after your troops were withdrawn, our position would remain just as solid because we held power as a result of the confidence of the people and not because of the presence of your tanks.”
Surprisingly, Kruschev spent a lot of time ruminating over Dej’s surprise revelation.
I don’t remember how much time went by, but that conversation with the Romanians stuck in my mind, especially after talking to Dej another time about the same subject.
I was concerned about how Molotov had insulted them, and I continued to reflect on the problem. Gradually, we strengthened our position in the world and began to feel surer of ourselves.
The contrast between 1950’s Romania under GGD and 2017 Romania under Iohannis is startling.
Despite Ceasuesecu-era propaganda that the Soviet Union bullied Romania, utter bullshit that many people continue to believe even today, Romania demanded that Soviet troops leave, and they did. Romania also refused to let foreign troops transit its territory during joint Warsaw Pact military exercises.
In 2017, Romania shares a border with five countries, two of which are fellow members of the EU, one is the Republic of Moldova, and the other two are Serbia and Ukraine, neither of which has ever attacked Romania in all of recorded history. On the contrary, it is Romania which has sent troops to attack Ukraine, overrun Budapest, and coordinated with the United States to bomb Serbia.
Yet President Klaus, just like his predecessor Basescu, is utterly convinced that the reason why Romania is “safe” today is because of the United States.
The United States has a permanent military base on Romanian soil which is off-limits to the Romanian people, use of an airbase (Mihail Kolganiceanu near Constanta) which Romanians can neither enter nor photograph from a public road, commandeered a Romanian government office in the capital to run a torture center for 6 years, and a fortified embassy compound in Bucharest.
Happy “Independence Day”, indeed.