Head of the National Liberal Party and Prime Minister and Minister of Romania several times, Ion I. C. Brătianu visited Alba Iulia only after 1918, the year of Transylvania’s unification with Romania. He had a fundamental role in the creation of Greater Romania, and also coordinated King Ferdinand’s and Queen Mary’s coronation ceremony and festivities, which were held in Alba Iulia on 15 October 1922. On 16 September 1995, in the square which today bears his name, a statue of Ion I. C. Brătianu was unveiled.
Ion I. C. Brătianu was born on 20 August 1864, on the Florica estate, the property of his family located approximately 40 km from Piteşti, Argeş County. His father, Ion C. Brătianu, was a prominent liberal politician. He was elected Prime Minister several times and made an important contribution to Romania’s attainment of state independence (1877-1878), the proclamation of the kingdom (1881) and the creation of economic policies which encouraged the development of Romanian industries.
As child, Ion I. C. Brătianu learned writing and reading from his mother and was further educated by two foreign schoolmasters, both Swiss, who could teach several European languages, including French, the language of diplomacy and of the educated of that age. As his father wished his son to avoid politics, after graduating “Sfântul Sava” College in Bucharest, the young Brătianu was sent to the Polytechnic School in Paris, where he graduated in 1889, with a specialization in the construction of roads and bridges. After returning to Romania, he worked as a civil engineer, and was one of the collaborators of the respected engineer Anghel Saligny, known today for his important contributions to the foundation of Romanian engineering. But despite his professional achievements, Brătianu was inevitably attracted to political life.
After the death of his father in 1891, the relative disorganisation of the National Liberal Party (NLP) contributed to the young engineer’s decision to stand as candidate in the parliamentary elections of 1895, in which he was elected member of Romanian Parliament. In 1897, at the age of 33, he was made Minister of Public Works in the Liberal government led by D. A. Sturdza. Over the following years, he was in charge of the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Inner Affairs, Finances, Defence, and again of Public Works. Brătianu became the head of NLP in 1909, and was subsequently elected prime minister several times over.
He dominated the political scene of Romania for more than twenty years, exercising a decisive influence over King Ferdinand I, which made some of his contemporaries mutter that Brătianu governed not only when he was prime minister, but also when he was in opposition. The most significant periods when he held the position of prime minister were 1914-1918 and 1922-1926. He led Romania into the First World War in alliance with the Entente, which after 1918, resulted in the doubling of the country’s size and population. The constitution of 1923, the 1924 law of mines, the 1925 administrative law, and the 1926 electoral law were all achieved by Liberal governments led by Ion I. C. Brătianu, and his contribution to these achievements was decisive.
The “Sphynx”, as he was known because nobody could foretell his political plans, made mistakes as well, some of them quite substantial. As Minister of Inner Affairs, he made detailed plans for the repression of the 1907 uprising, in which thousands of peasants were killed and several thousands were imprisoned. In 1916, he engaged Romania in hostilities with an unprepared army, although the state had two years of neutrality. His government between 1914 and 1918 is to blame for the quasi-general corruption that was prevalent at this time. Moreover, on 13 December 1918, while he was prime minister, the army fatally shot 13 typographers from Bucharest demanding better life and work conditions. Later, the Liberal leader justified this action by asserting that that was the price for saving the country from Bolshevism.
He died on 24 November 1927, as prime minister of Romania, while he was at the peak of his power in Romania. As the historian Nicolae Iorga puts it, “he remained the master, the only and absolute master of a country of endless patience.”
The dictatorial regimes installed in Romania from 1938 to 1989 generally challenged or denied that the politicians of the democratic regime, Ion I. C. Brătianu among them, had any positive role. Since the collapse of the Communist regime, however, the legacy of public figures from this period has been revived.
Located in front of the Prefecture of Alba County, the square which bears his name itself reflects the centralizing and authoritarian leanings the influential politician Ion I. C. Brătianu displayed during his time in office. His statue was unveiled on 16 September 1995. The ceremony was attended by Mayor Ioan Timiş Prefect Ioan Rus and other local political figures, as well as guests from Bucharest. The statue was made by Paul Vasilescu, a sculptor who has contributed significantly to the development of Romanian sculpture in the twentieth century. The base of the sculpture was conceived by architect Marius Barbieri. (S.A.)