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Romania’s political icons of the mid 20th century

National Peasant Party president Iuliu Maniu

Romania’s political icons of the mid 20th century
Romania’s political icons of the mid 20th century

, 23.01.2023, 14:00

Politics has always fueled endless discussion
topics, while for their most part, political discussions translate into stark
disagreements. Very few politicians of those whom we today take for figureheads
are squeaky clean, and that because human beings make mistakes. Nonetheless, that
does not mean there were not truly remarkable politicians who became landmarks
for posterity. Their exceptionality was provided by the manner in which they
acted under extremely difficult circumstances, for themselves and for their communities.
One such exceptional politician, here, in Romania, was Iuliu Maniu. We recall
that on January 8th we commemorated 150 years since his birthday.


Iuliu Maniu was born in 1873 in the locality of Șimleul Silvaniei, in
today’s north-western Romania. Iuliu Maniu followed his father’s footsteps and
had a similar career path, that of a lawyer. Iuliu Maniu earned his Doctor’s degree
in Law from the University of Vienna, in 1896. Maniu embraced the political
career, first being an activist with the National Romanian Party. In 1906 he was
elected deputy in the Hungarian parliament. In 1915 he was drafted into the Austrian-Hungarian
army and dispatched on the Italian front. At the end of the war, in 1918 Maniu
participated in the Alba Iulia Assembly which ruled the unification with
Romanian of the then Austrian-Hungarian territories predominantly inhabited by Romanians.
In Greater Romania, jointly with Ion Mihalache, Maniu founded the National
Peasant party in 1926. Between 1918 and 1945 Maniu was three times Prime
Minister of Romania. An out-and-out democrat, Maniu turned down collaborations of
all sorts, with the fascist dictatorship but especially with the communist one.
On February 5, 1953, at the age of 75, Maniu was sentenced to prison. He later died because of the detention conditions
in the Sighet prison.


Iuliu Maniu was one of the strongest and most polarizing personalities
of the Romanian society in the first half of the 20t century. Incorruptible, charismatic,
tenacious, Maniu was, indeed, the figurehead the Romanians needed in the most
trying times of their history. Maniu is unanimously remembered as a role model but
also as a special man. Radio Romania’s Oral History Center Archive has loads of
audio testimonials about Maniu. We
have selected two of them. Ioana Berindei is the daughter of Ioan Hudita, a National
Peasant Party prominent member. In 2000, Ioana recalled Iuliu Maniu, sir,
just like she used to call him. Ioana told us Maniu was a man of great modestly
and kindness.

Maniu had the rare
quality of being modest! A very nice man, with a warm voice. He used to join us
for lunch, I can still remember once I went out to welcome him to our home and
he used to tell us, me and my sister, Good afternoon, my dear young ladies And
he had a spot on his lapel and I asked him would he allow me to clean it. Oh,
I’m so ashamed! says he. And I told him such things happened and would he allow
me to clean it, so he doesn’t pay another visit with the spot uncleaned. And
mister Maniu was ill, back then, whenever he got himself seated his knees ached,
he walked with difficulty, but I never saw him nervous or irritated by
something. His being calm was so very soothing for everybody around. As a politician
he was uncompromising. That’s what my father most loved about him. He never
gave an inch! His detractors used to say Maniu was so very slow in taking a
decision. This is sheer mean malice, all politicians have their enemies, you cannot
be perfect or you cannot possibly work without somebody opposing you. But then
again, it was not because my father loved him or because I met him, but let me
tell you, there wasn’t a single flaw I found about him.


Sergiu Macarie used to be active in the National-Peasant youth. In
2000 he confessed that the Soviets’ arrival in Romania was an alarm signal for
the Romanian society which mobilized against its enemies. Maniu defied his old
age and, fighting his illness, got actively involved in that.


Less than two, maybe three days passed before we
had our clashes with the communist gangs. We staged larger meetings and we knew
straight away they would turn up. Of the party’s prominent members who always
joined us there was Ilie Lazar. In
the Palace Square we all gathered and acclaimed the king and the king would
show up in the balcony, standing ovations followed, and our moments of heaven.
And, as soon as that happened, trucks with workers always turned up, they had
clubs. For instance, on May 15, 1946, we were celebrating 98 years from the
speech Simion Barnutiu delivered on the Freedom Plain in Blaj, and Maniu came
too. On our way out, all around the Romanian Atheneum and on the opposite side we
saw cars teeming with workers with clubs. We really hard a hard time trying to
get the president out of there, there was a door at the far end of the building, which was
never used, we forced it open so we could get him out of there.


Iuliu Maniu was more than an honest politician; he was an icon of democracy
itself. Between 1944 and 1947,
when the implementation of the communist regime in Romania occurred at its fiercest,
Maniu was considered the West’s most important dialogue partner. His sacrifice
in Sighet turned Maniu into one of Romania’s major political landmarks in the
20th century. (EN)

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