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Unification Celebrations, Alba Iulia – 1929

The countries that rose from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not celebrate their first decade of existence counting from the signing of the international treaties that conferred their international legitimacy. The year of reference was instead 1918, when the political will to encompass the new nation states within certain borders was expressed. Romanians were no exception in planning impressive 10th Anniversary celebrations for 1928, to demonstrate to themselves and the world that the decade since Unification had confirmed the viability and prosperity of Greater Romania. Major ceremonies were also organised in Bucharest and several other cities, but in Romania all eyes turned towards Alba Iulia, the symbolic city of the Unification. Limited preparation time and political disputes prevented celebrations on the scale of the coronation of King Ferdinand, but nevertheless, during the 1928 celebrations Alba Iulia became the theatre of the most grandiose assembly ever known in Romania.

The events of 1928-1929 were fatally characterised by party politics. In 1927, Vintilă Brătianu had inherited the leadership of the National Liberal Party and the Romanian government from Ion I. C. Brătianu. He lacked the charisma of his brother, who could attract hundreds of thousands of Romanians to great national celebrations. For this reason, and due to the erosion of his own party after almost a decade in government, he chose to subsidise the Transylvanian cultural society Astra (which enjoyed high prestige for its activities extending across almost seven decades) to organise the 10th Anniversary of Unification celebrations. However, Transylvanian politicians nourished national feelings redoubled by blatant political ambition. The official newspaper of the National Peasant Party proclaimed, in the name of Iuliu Maniu, that “The celebration of Transylvania’s freedom will be organised by those who achieved the Unification”. Iuliu Maniu was appointed prime minister on 10 November 1928, which left too little time to organise the celebrations, given that Unification took place on 1 December 1918. For this reason, the great celebrations were postponed, instead planning an official stage at Bucharest on 10 May 1929, and a grandiose principal stage in Alba Iulia on 20 May 1929.

Some permanent monuments were built to commemorate the occasion, initiated and carried out by the Astra Society and supported financially by the government. One of these was an inscription on Carrara marble reproducing the Resolution of the Great National Assembly and documents regarding Romania’s participation in the First World War. Another important legacy was the Museum of Unification, located in the northern wing of the Coronation Cathedral, which remained in the custody of Astra until 1938.

There were also temporary constructions relating to the celebrations, including two stands with a length of 200 meters to shelter all the officials, and two fake triumphal arches: one on Platoul Romanilor and the other in the lower city, at the ends of the main and secondary places of the military parade.

Among the officials attending the ceremonies were members of the royal family: King Michael (who was almost eight years old), Queen Mary and dowager Queen Helen, followed by members of the Regency: Patriarch Miron Cristea, Prince Nicholas and Gheorghe Buzdugan. For Prime Minister Iuliu Maniu it was a second moment of glory, after 1 December 1918. He was accompanied by his party and government colleagues Alexandru Vaida Voevod, Ștefan Cicio Pop, Aurel Vlad, Ion Mihalache and others. Among the civilian and military dignitaries were Nicolae Iorga, and Generals Constantin Prezan and Traian Moșoiu. The most surprising presence was that of delegates from Romanian societies in the USA, who had brought 150 flags of their organisations across the ocean to wave at the celebrations.

Between 17 and 19 May, fifty trains brought groups from all over the country. The most moderate newspaper estimates were of 300,000 participants, but other publications estimated 400,000 or even 500,000 participants. Official assemblies took place in the Unification Hall and in the Coronation Cathedral. A technical novelty was the use of megaphones on the bell tower of the cathedral which speeches to be heard from distance a couple of kilometres away. Military parades, processions illustrating national history from the Dacian to the Unification age, and processions of villagers from all Romanian provinces, such as the bowmen of Bucovina, were organised for the public’s enjoyment.

Like the jubilee celebrations in Bucharest in 1906 and the coronation of King Ferdinand in 1922, the Unification Celebrations aimed to give the public the perception of a linguistic and cultural unity, and also to induce the idea, cultivated not long before, of the existence of a historical evolution which necessarily had as its denouement the unification of all Romanians. The authority, democracy and even the integrity of the new state were all being tested by hostile European and Euro-Asian powers, by economic crisis, and by another looming world war which soon came to darken the horizons. On that day, however, the 3-400,000 Romanians in Alba Iulia were still happy to have a Greater Romania and leaders in whom they placed all their trust. (V.M.)