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How Communists Forced Romania’s Last King to Abdicate

The Romanian Communist Party officially came to power in 1946, after being invited to join a broad coalition of various political parties aimed at overthrowing the Romanian Fascist government. Although weak and insignificant on the political spectrum, the Communist Party managed to systematically penetrate and hijack political institutions one by one, culminating with the falsification of election results in November 1946, and forcing the last king of Romania, Michael I, to abdicate.

The former king (who lived in exile throughout the Communist regime, only to return to Romania recently) told the story of those events in an interview by Mircea Ciobanu (“Conversations with King Michael I of Romania”, 1992):

So, on December 29th, Negel called in to inform us that Groza (a.n. the interim prime-minister of Romania) urgently summoned us in Bucharest, to discuss an important family matter. We arrived at the house on Kiselleff Street. We didn’t wait too long before Groza showed up, together with Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (a.n. the general secretary of the Communist Party). We entered the reception room, we seated ourselves, and after not too long, Groza said with a joking smile: “We came here to discuss about an amiable divorce”. We didn’t really understand what he wanted. “Which divorce are you talking about?”, I asked. Then, Groza engaged in an endless and convoluted explanation, telling us that we live a very critical political moment, that the Great Powers are waiting, that the monarchy is no longer needed, and it’s a barrier to the true democratization and modernization of the country, and so on — I don’t even remember all the details. Then he stopped his convoluted explanation, and handed me a piece of paper. I took it and skimmed through it. When I finally understood what this was about, I protested, especially since they required my immediate compliance. I told Groza and his companion that I cannot give an answer on the spot, and that the whole Romanian people should be consulted on such an important matter as the abdication of the king, since only the people can decide if the Constitution should be modified or not. They retorted that there is no such time for subtleties. “The people have become used to loving you. Now, they need to learn how to love us.” I asked them to give me the document, so I can read it in a quiet place, and I retreated to my office.

I called up Negel and Ioanitiu, who were in the house, waiting in the hallway to speak to me. They told me in an alarmed voice that the phone lines have been cut, that the palace guards have been replaced with soldiers from other regiments, and that we are the target of some heavy artillery troops, which are ready to fire at any given moment. That was the moment when I understood that there wasn’t much that could be done. I read the document and returned to the reception room. I tried to deal with the two on a rational basis, but there was no way to reach a common agreement. In fact, the Constitution that I’ve just mentioned seized to have any sort of influence on them a long time ago. They soon turned to blackmailing. They told me that any delay in signing the paper meant that members of the government, Communists included, would need to order the execution of more than a 1,000 students that have been arrested recently, in order to counteract any potential opposition. After I finally signed the document, Groza approached me with a very large and good-humored smile, and — thinking this would be a great joke — asked me to touch the pocket of his vest. He told me: “Touch it!”. He had a gun in the pocket. Then he turned to my mother, and explained to her: “It’s just so that I don’t have the same fate as Antonescu” (n.a. Ion Antonescu, the former Fascist leader of Romania during World War I, was arrested, tried, and executed after the new coalition government was set up and Romania switched sides to fight against Nazi Germany).

The king soon fled the country to Switzerland, where he lived most of his life.

Find out more about this story, as well as others from Romania's history on one of our upcoming Bucharest Historical Tours.


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