Monday, July 18, 2016
The Crown and Modern Romania Speech of Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Margareta of Romania London, Romanian Cultural Institute, 13 July 2016
The Crown and Modern Romania Speech of Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Margareta of Romania London, Romanian Cultural Institute, 13 July 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you in one of the most vibrant and influential cities in the world.
The vast majority of the speeches one hears, in public meetings, are highly political. This is perfectly normal in a profoundly democratic society. Therefore, it will probably not go amiss if we now turn to a completely different topic, even though it is still related to politics, namely the extraordinary one-hundred-and-fifty-year story of the Royal House of Romania.
The Crown of Romania is not an institution of democratic essence, despite the fact that it was founded as a result of a vote by Parliament and a plebiscite. But our history demonstrates how, in the evolution of our country, the Crown was beneficial to its consolidation, in the past as much as in the present and, I believe, in the future.
Being here allows me to talk about Romania in a way you have probably rarely heard before, since what I am about to tell you is somewhat different from the things you are doubtless used to hearing about my country.
For a number of reasons, in today’s Romania the Crown holds a rather different position than it does in other European countries.
The main reason may be that the Royal House of Romania is - by historical standards - a very young institution. It is made up of just five generations, including our own, which means that it is linked only to the democratic part of our history. Romanian society sees the Crown as having been a catalyst in the process of the country’s democratisation and emancipation.
King Carol the Ist, a German born prince, was but twenty-seven years old in 1866 when he arrived in Romania and was unanimously elected head of state by the Romanian Parliament and confirmed by a plebiscite.
Because of the political conflict between his native Prussia and the Austrian Empire, the young Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen had to travel incognito to Romania. He was more or less disguised as a Swiss businessman and used the name of Karl Hettingen. It was an adventurous and tortuous journey that took him from Dusseldorf through Bonn-Freiburg-Zurich-Vienna then Budapest by rail, then by boat to Turnu-Severin, on the Danube, then to Bucharest by carriage. His route through the Romanian countryside is still known today as „Carol’s Way”.
Once he stepped onto Romanian soil he swore that he was from now on a Romanian, and he used the Romanian name of Carol, never again using the german form of his name. This endeared him to Romanians from the start.
I find this a moving story, as King Carol the first was known to be a rather cold, severe, austere, humourless and dutiful man, without much fun in his life.
He had to be tough. He built a Nation.
Carol did not share the religious denomination of his new country and nor did he speak the Romanian language. But, forty-seven years later, this man had managed to put Romania on the European map. His reign is an inspirational story of almost five decades of inexhaustible vision, impeccable professionalism, ethics, selfless dedication, and untiring work. He patiently set about creating every single institution that now makes it possible for Romania to be an integral part of the European and Euro Atlantic structures.
This man was a visionary: He is the founder of the modern Romanian state. He promulgated the first constitution of the country, in 1866. He fought in the first line of fire and led the Independence War in 1877, obtaining Romania’s sovereignty in 1881.
His 48-year reign (1866 to 1914), was a time of prosperity, of reforms, of patiently constructing a sovereign state. During his reign Romania adopted one of the most advanced and liberal constitutions. He founded the modern Romanian Armed Forces, modern Diplomacy, the Romanian Academy, the National Bank of Romania as well as the Savings Bank, built a modern educational system, modern agriculture, and an endless number of edifices accommodating local administration, theatres, libraries, museums, as well as churches, mosques and synagogues. At the end of his reign Romania had almost 4,000 km of railway track and modern equipment.
He put in place a health network: Hundred of hospitals were built during those 48 years. In 1906, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his accession, 40 rural hospitals were built in 40 villages around the country.
In the educational field, tens of universities received new headquarters and hundreds of colleges and high schools were founded. So perseverant was the King’s preoccupation for education, that nowadays there is no town in Romania that does not possess a school founded by our King.
His wife, Queen Elisabeth, a German-born princess, was an extraordinary example of the values of the Continent’s culture. She spoke seven languages fluently and wrote more than fifty books in these languages, uniting Eastern and Western Europe in spirit. She wrote poetry and operas, she founded art galleries and art schools. Her book of aphorisms, "The Thoughts of a Queen," was accorded a medal of honor by the French Academy.
Such diversified literary talent is rarely found.
In the social sphere, she was an astounding trailblazer, nurturing children, the disabled and the disadvantaged. She championed the cause of women's rights, fostering the higher education of women, creating schools for the teaching of different crafts. She fought for the respect of sanitary laws, she founded institutions for the poor, hospitals, soup-kitchens, convalescent homes and crèches, demonstrating to mid-nineteenth-century society through the power of personal example the virtues of compassion, love, trust, a sense of duty, and unswerving loyalty.
Such values could certainly not be instilled merely through elections or the exercise of political power.
She was a formidable example of “soft power”, as we could call it today. As a consort of the Sovereign, for more than 4 decades, she exercised a major influence over a society at the beginning of modernization. She was the first Royal Patron of the Romanian Red Cross, founded by King Carol I in 1876.
King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, the second generation of the Romanian Royal Family, achieved for Romania the Great Union in 1918 — the unification of all the historical Romanian provinces. Romanians today view them as the parents of the country. And Romanians from the Republic of Moldova feel the same way. Romania and the Republic of Moldova may quarrel over presidents, prime ministers, parliaments, and language, but nobody in the Republic of Moldova questions the parents of the nation: Stephen the Great, Ferdinand the Loyal, and Marie the Mother of the Wounded.
Though born a Hohenzollern, Ferdinand sided with the Allied Powers against the Central Powers in the first World War. For this he became known as „Ferdinand the Loyal”. During the war, the King and Queen travelled extensively to support the troops and boost morale amongst the Romanian people.
The outcome of Romania's war effort, through Ferdinand’s leadership, was that the Kingdom of Romania obtained the regions of Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania, more than doubling in size and population. Ferdinand thus became the head of a greatly enlarged Romanian State.
In the early 1920s, the King courgeously undertook the complicated task of introducing a sweeping Agricultural Reform, on which our modern rural economy is based today. He was also the first Romanian Sovereign with a complex external agenda.
Marie, his wife, a British born princess who became Queen of Romania steps boldly off the pages of history.
She was a multi-faceted and courageous woman.
The daughter of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and the former Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Marie was gifted with extraordinary beauty, a strong personality and great talent as an artist and a writer.
Her humanitarian and diplomatic efforts for our country during World War I and subsequently during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference won her worldwide acclaim and affection. She overcame the political inflexibility of two, let’s say, “male chauvinist”, republican French statesmen: President Raymond Poincaré and Prime Minister René Clemenceau. She was the first woman to be elected a member of the Academie des Beaux Arts and she astonished the world by travelling with her children to two Muslim countries in the late 1920s: the Republic of Turkey and the Sultanate of Morocco.
In 1926, she also “conquered” the United States of America with her charm, intelligence and political skills. Three hundred thousand New Yorkers thronged the streets of Manhattan to greet her, the ticker tapes raining down on her procession. And she addressed to the economic leaders of the States the following unusual plea: “Businessmen of the United States, come and invest in my country”.
She was a consummate ambassador and a role model for women of all social backgrounds. Queen Marie was the Patron of the Romanian Red Cross, and gained much respect for her work as a nurse during the First World War. We find her in the trenches, or visiting the Front – she knew no fear of bullets or bombs. We find her in the hospitals among the wounded and the sick; she knew no fear of dirt or disease; and she was also the one who, at the Peace Conference at Versailles, used her wits and her charm to gain Romania its most cherished wish - national unity. Her presence at the Versailles conference only reinforced the report sent out of Bucharest in 1917 by a French correspondent: “There is only one man in Romania, and that is the Queen.”
Her eldest son, King Carol II, my grandfather, was an erudite and intelligent Sovereign who had the ill fortune to hold power at precisely the same time as Hitler and Stalin, in the tragic 1930s, but still managed, against many odds, to build a robust industrial sector, to preside over an unparalleled upsurge in the cultural, scientific and diplomatic spheres, and to oversee some notable architectural achievements. It was during his dramatic reign that Romania produced writers and philosophers of world renown, such as Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran and Eugen Ionescu, scholars such as George Emil Palade, and artists such as Ionel Perlea, Sergiu Celibidache and Constantin Brancusi.
Apart from all the important architectural constructions which were built during his reign, King Carol ll’s pet project was the Village Museum. I think some of you here may have visited it? It was founded by Royal decree in 1936. The Royal Cultural Foundation “King Carol” supported this project financially, the King was on site many times during the Village’s construction and was there at the opening
Another uncommon woman was Queen Helen of Romania, my grandmother, who played a luminous, if discreet, role in the dark history of Romania in the twentieth century. She was twice to endure exile. A beautiful, quietly courageous woman, she was thrown into the midst of history's brutal machinations, while as Queen Mother in the 1940s she single-handedly educated her son, King Michael, in the skills of leadership. She stood by him during one of the most atrocious decades in the continent’s history. Her role in the Second World War will not be forgotten by the thousands whose lives she saved and who she cared for. She was a constant support of the democratic forces of Romania during the years between 1940 and 1947. In the face of the tyranny of Nazism, she displayed a resolutely strong character, and determination, standing up for what she knew to be right and good. Although she did not hold any constitutional power, this woman managed to save the lives of over one hundred thousand Romanians of Jewish origin during the dictatorship of Marshal Antonescu. This was formally recognised as the Yad Vashem institute posthumously named her a “Righteous Among the Nations.”
And, last but certainly not least, how extraordinary is the destiny and work of King Michael, my father. Think of it! This man was crowned King of Romania at the age of six, in 1927. Aged twenty-three, the King stood against fascism and communism in his country, and he tried to salvage as much as he could, when all seemed lost.
During the four decades of the Cold War he was for Romanians a beacon of democracy; he was the only hope for freedom we had. I still remember the Christmas messages he broadcast to his fellow countrymen over Radio Free Europe and the BBC.
After 1997 – and by the way, remember: he was crowned in 1927 - every Romanian government, whether Socialist, Christian Democrat or Liberal, has asked him to serve in the front line of his country’s efforts to achieve NATO and EU membership. What an astonishing thing! Here is a man older than both NATO and the European Union, the only acting head of state during the Second World War still alive today.
In 1945, the King led his soldiers, when they braved death to liberate large swathes of Europe. Sixty years later, in 2005, he drove his own car through Europe, from Timisoara to Prague, stopping at every cemetery where his soldiers were buried, so that he could lay flowers and light candles in their memory.
With determination and faith, I strive to continue the legacy of my ancestors. For twenty-six years, I have worked with my family to restore the Crown to usefulness and relevance in a post-communist society that lacked pride, knowledge of its own identity, and self-respect. I engaged in charitable work and established cultural and social programmes, and I am continuously working on advancing the royal agenda in the Romanian community both at home and abroad.
It is therefore understandable that today, in the year 2016, Romanians look to the Crown with respect, admiration and hope. The Royal Family tops the opinion polls in terms of trust, admiration, and national affection. People probably need this complementary leadership, one that is based on the power of personal example, on historical legitimacy, on continuity and loyalty.
Today, the fifth generation of the Royal Family holds an extraordinary and somewhat contradictory position in a country that, constitutionally, remains a republic, but which has been building something that could well be defined as a “Functional Monarchy”.
Every incoming government has been willing to keep, and often to deepen, this institutional co-operation with the Royal Family. Wherever a royal event takes place, to encourage the economy, education, bilateral diplomacy, sport, the arts, or science, the Royal Family is welcomed with respect and pride and the deep conviction that it belongs to the national interest.
So, when I started this talk by declaring that I am fortunate and privileged to be here, it was not merely a compliment. The fact that for twenty minutes I have been able to share such a topic with you, one that is more than just a couple of ideas, but rather a major part of my life, is a considerable privilege, for which I thank you.