1 December 1990. The first celebration of the national day in December

Period: approx. 1990 | Previous story

After the anti-Communist revolution at the end of 1989, the government decided to celebrate as national day the Unification of Transylvania with Romania, enacted in Alba Iulia on 1 December 1918. Thus, on 1 December 1990, a great national assembly was organized in this city, with the participation of the entire political class. Unfortunately, it was not a great feast, but a political confrontation between political parties.

Unlike the other countries of East-Central Europe, Romania was the only one where the Communist regime collapsed at the end of a violent revolution which saw more than 1,100 fatalities and more than 3,300 wounded. However, it is very apparent that after December 1989 revolution, Romanians had difficulty parting with Communism; there was continuity of institutions and almost all the Communist-era politicians survived in their roles, especially those holding key positions. Although the official discourse claimed a total separation with the former regime, the power was kept by Communists, namely those in the second echelon or those marginalized for whatever reason by Nicolae Ceauşescu.

After the events of December 1989, significant changes occurred in Romania, at least on the discourse level, with the adoption of multiparty system and the market economy. For more than forty years, the national day was celebrated on 23 August, but in July 1990, this day was replaced with 1 December, to celebrate the unification of Transylvania with Romania, enacted in 1918, in Alba Iulia.

Learning about this decision, the authorities of Alba Iulia began the preparation in the summer of 1990. Roads and streets were repaired, facades of buildings were repainted, while the specialists at the National Museum of Unification rearranged the Hall of Unification, replacing the marble plates comprising the essential documents of 1918. The final week of preparations was devoted to the construction of a huge tribune in front of the Cathedral of Coronation and a few other smaller ones placed in various locations on the Romans’ Plateau. As on 1 December 1918, a crowd of over 100,000 was expected at the first celebration of the national day after the fall of Communism, in the “historical fortress of the Romanian nation”, as a local newspaper referred to Alba Iulia. Dozens of special trains were provided for the transportation of those willing to come to Alba Iulia, while hundreds of buses were to transport participants from Alba County.

“Come to Alba Iulia!” sounded the call of the Romanian Central National Council several days before 1 December 1918. After 72 years, the same words were again used for the celebration of the national day, after 45 years of “Communist serfdom”. On 29 and 30 November, various cultural and sports events took place. On 1 December, at 9 a.m., the national festivities were officially launched.

The entire political elite of Romania was present, with President Ion Iliescu; Prime Minister Petre Roman; Corneliu Coposu, President of the National Peasant Christian and Democrat Party (NPCDP); Radu Câmpeanu, President of National Liberal Party (NLP); numerous members of Parliament; representatives of the Army; and a group of priests led by Teoctist, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Wreaths were laid at the statue of Michael the Brave and a Te Deum was officiated in the Cathedral of Coronation. Numerous discourses were given by the official tribune and, for the first time in Romanian political life, a solemn session of Parliament was held on Roman’s Plateau. In several parts of the city shows were concomitantly organized, and in the afternoon, in Cetate Stadium an extraordinary music performance was organized. In the evening, fireworks marked the official end of the first Romanian National Day festivities since the collapse of the Communist regime.

It was meant to be a grandiose national feast, but this was not to be. The festivities in Alba Iulia, the most significant public meeting since the presidential elections held on 20 May, were dominated by political competition between parties, and the mood was more like that of electoral meetings; some speakers were applauded while others were tooted and even booed. The crowd were appreciative of speeches by the leaders of the National Salvation Front, but those held by the members of the historical parties the NPCDP and the NLP were met with noisy censure. It was an irony of fate that Corneliu Coposu’s speech was met with the greatest hostility and disapproval, despite the fact that his party, the NPCDP, was the continuation of the Romanian National Party of Transylvania, which had taken a decisive role in the unification act of 1 December 1918. Contrary to the principles adopted 72 years earlier by the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia, anti-Hungarian slogans were shouted, and a speech by the representative of the Democrat Union of Magyars of Romania was booed by some audience members.

Besides the participants, who in the end numbered only 30,000, there were numerous law enforcement personnel brought in from all over Romania, the sea of uniforms creating the impression of a city under siege. There were even more gendarmes, policemen and military than when Nicolae Ceaușescu visited Alba Iulia, a detail which probably intimidated many local people. For this reason, few locals attended the festivities on the Romans’ Plateau. It ended up being more of an electoral campaign than a national holiday, with far too many speeches given from the microphone of the official tribune, and, alas, no local figures invited to speak during the festivities.

In December 1990, recently freed from the totalitarian regime, the Romanian society was at the beginning of learning the values of western democracy, still showing intolerance to the respect for the political options of the other. (S.A.)

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