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Petru Groza at Alba Iulia

Petru Groza, the leader of the first Communist government of Romania after World War II, visited Alba Iulia not long after the implementation of the agrarian reform in the year 1945. This measure aimed to attract the support of the rural inhabitants of Alba County. His discourse combined democratic promises with totalitarian practices, as the goal of the leader of the Agricultural Laborers’ Front was that of founding a new society. He came to Alba Iulia twice, in 1946 and 1947, at a time when the Communists still needed the support of the rural population. Two years later the collectivization of agriculture in Romania began and the peasants lost not only the land they were granted in 1945, but also the land given during the agrarian reforms from 1921.

Petru Groza is remembered as the head of the first Communist government in Romania, appointed on 6 March 1945, as well as for his key role in the abdication of King Michael on 30 December 1947. Nevertheless, he was not a member of the Romanian Communist Party, but president of the Agricultural Laborers’ Front, a satellite political formation of the Communists. He was born at Băcia, Hunedoara County, not far from Alba Iulia. His activity in the postwar period contributed to the installation of the Communist regime, which was characterized by numerous abuses and illegalities.

The photos, shot in 1946-1947, display him at a time when Romania was still preserving the appearance of democracy even though the dictatorship had already begun. The photos capture the atmosphere of Romania in that disturbing time, when 1.4 million hectares of land taken from its previous owners was distributed among more than 900,000 poor families. Groza’s government undertook land redistribution in order to appease the ”hunger for land” and to win the peasants over to its side. However, this turned out to be a poisoned gift by the Communist authorities, which four years later started the process of collectivization of agriculture in Romania, taking not only the land distributed in 1945, but also that given to peasants in 1921 and even earlier, in 1864.

Prime Minister Petru Groza’s visit to Alba Iulia took place in September 1946, two months before the stolen elections of November 1946, in which Stalin’s maxim (“it matters not who and whom elects, but the one who counts the ballots”) was applied. The visit was carefully planned by the Alba County Committee of the Democratic Party Block, an alliance which included the Agricultural Laborers’ Front. First, the prime minister was welcomed at the railway station by peasants with flowers and cheers. Then, the city mayor and the county prefect awaited him in the city center. Petru Groza gave a speech from the official tribune. His speech combined totalitarian practice with democratic discourse, promising the creation of a new society that was free from inequalities, oppression, and injustice, as well as the creation of a new man freed from the servitude of the past. In one of the photos, Petru Groza appears in the middle of a group of peasants, whose support was needed in the coming elections. There also appears a priest, which signifies that the Romanian Orthodox Church had accepted the new political order. It was a period of time when the Romanian Communist Party controlled the political power, but was far from controlling the Romanian society. The handing over of property deeds as a result of the agrarian reform implemented at the end of the Second World War, immortalized in these photos, was nothing more than a governmental strategy for winning the support of the peasants. In 1949, the Communist authorities began the collectivization of agriculture at the end of which, the control over land was taken over by the state. Miron Costin, the Moldavian chronicler, would have exclaimed ”Oh, innocent human nature!”

From 1945 to 1952, the period when Petru Groza was prime minister, the annihilation of the multiparty system took place. Private property in the economy was diminished to insignificant levels and the collectivization of agriculture began. This period also saw the foundation of the penitentiary system with many jails and labor camps, and the creation of the Security and Militia as instruments of state repression. (S.A.)