You might think the photo must be from Paris, where the Arc de Triomphe is located. But the tricolors are the wrong colour, and right now on the streets of Paris the popular expressions are of a different sort.
That’s right, in Bucharest there is the Arcul de Triomf, first built in 1878 to mark Romanian independence, and rebuilt in 1936 in stone, to more closely resemble the Parisian version.
And the picture is from today’s parade to mark Romania’s centenary. (Photo credit: http://www.gandul.info )
But those who are quick with math might wonder what happened 100 years ago that is being celebrated.
Especially for European countries which have been around in some form or another for centuries, there is often something arbitrary about what date is celebrated each year on their ‘national day’.
In the Romanian case, the southern and eastern principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia gained their independence from the Ottoman empire, as a state called Romania, after joining on the Russian side of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78.
But the northern province of Transylvania remained under the rule of the Hapsburg empire, by this time a dual monarchy in which these lands were effectively administered by Hungary. While the majority of the population here were Romanians, there was also a substantial Hungarian settler community making up as much as 35% of the population, and a significant German-speaking group, (just under ten percent), ancestors of the original Saxons who arrived in waves from the 12th to the 18th centuries and built the beautiful fortified towns of Transylvania.
This situation continued for almost 40 years until World War I, when Romania unexpectedly joined the Allied side explicitly in return for sovereignty over Transylvania after winning the war, which is what happened just after the November armistice of 1918.
It is this “Great Union” which is celebrated every December 1 in Romania. And throughout Romania, often the most prominent public place in cities is named the ‘Piaţa Unirii’, meaning Union or Unification Square.
(Beyond Transylvania, there were other territorial gains made at this time. The eastern province of Bessarabia, now the Republic of Moldova, was also added to Romania, but this region which has always been mixed Russian- and Romanian-speaking, became part of the USSR after World War II.) Multiple choice test to follow.
As they say in Romania, “La mulți ani România.” (translated: Happy birthday, Romania – in the sense of wishing someone, or a country, a long life)