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History & Background

Romania, located in southeastern Europe, is about the size of Pennsylvania and New York combined. The terrain of Romania mainly consists of rolling, fertile plains with hills in the eastern region of the central Danube River basin and with the Carpathian mountain ranges running north and west in the center of the country. Romania is bordered on the north and northeast by the Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, on the northwest by Hungary, on the south and southwest by Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, and on the east by the Black Sea. The country occupies an area of 237,499 square kilometers (91,699 sq. mi.).

As of the year 2000, the estimated population of Romania was 22.5 million and was decreasing at a rate of 2.7 percent. Its largest city and capital, Bucharest, had an estimated population of 2.02 million. Although much of the population is rural and agricultural, there are six cities with populations of 300,000 or more (Constanta, Iasi, Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Galati, and Brosav).

Its people are overwhelmingly Romanian (89 percent) which, unlike Slavs and Hungarians, are traced to Latin speaking Romans. However, there are a large number of ethnic and minority groups that make up a small portion of Romania's population. Hungarians make up about seven percent of the population and the remainder comprises Germans, Ukranians, Croats, Serbs, Russians, Turks, and gypsies. Hungarians and gypsies are their primary minority groups. The official language is Romanian, but some of its population speaks Hungarian and German. The religious population of Romania is almost entirely Christian. More than 85 percent of its population is Orthodox; about five percent is Roman Catholic; another five percent is Reformed Protestant, Baptist, or Pentecostal; and a very small number are Greek Catholic or Jewish.

Forty-two percent of the Romanian workforce (about 9 million) is in agriculture; 38 percent is in industry and commerce; and the remaining workforce is in tourism and other occupations. Agriculture (e.g., corn, wheat, potatoes, and livestock) is about 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Romania, industry (e.g., textiles, mining, machine building, and chemicals) makes up about 40 percent of the GDP; and services (e.g., tourism) makes up about 43 percent of the GDP. Romania's natural resources include oil, natural gas, timber, coal, salt, and iron ore. Its chief exports are textiles, fuels, metals, wood products, chemicals, and light manufactures. The GDP of the economy of Romania has been growing at rates as high as seven percent in the 1990s (in 1998). Its highly literate workforce (98 percent literacy) and its economic base in agriculture, energy, and tourism gives Romania great economic potential in the future (United States Department of State 2000).

Romania's history and politics has driven the intellectual development of their people. Throughout Romania's history the country has been on what has been called a "path of a series of migrations and conquests" (United States Department of State 2000). In 200 B.C. the area of Romania was settled by the Dacians, who were a Thracian tribe. In the second century A.D., Dacia (early Romania) was incorporated into the Roman Empire, but was abandoned by the Romans almost two centuries later. Remnants of early education, including Latin inscriptions, have been found from this time period. Romania was considered to be lost for a number of years, but reemerged in the middle ages as part of Moldova and Wallachia. There were church related schools beginning in 1000 A.D. The oldest known school in Romania was started in the monastery at Cenadul Vechi in the eleventh century.

Due to the influence of Rome in these early principalities, much of the instruction at this time was in Latin and continued to be so from the eleventh through sixteenth centuries. The first schools to teach in the Romanian language are rooted back to the sixteenth century. Like most schools of the time, these were church-related. In the seventeenth century, more schools were founded in the cities of Sighet, Tirgoviste, Jina, Lancram, Hateg, and Turda. Schools of Greek education were later founded in Bucharest and Tirgoviste. The first university was also founded in Moldavia in 1640 where philosophy and literature were the foundations of its curriculum.

It is important to note that a portion of Romania (e.g., Transylvania, Nasaud, and Tara Birsei) was influenced by other empires such as the Austrio-Hungarian Empire and the Germans. This becomes important in Romanian history as Hungarians and Germans later become national minorities and education in their languages is suppressed by latter day Romanians.

Up until the 1700s, churches still dominated schools, but there began to be some schools under the administration of local communities. In the 1700s and 1800s, the majority of schools were tied to localities and varied in organization and curriculum. But starting in the late 1700s and into the 1800s, some of the schools were budgeted by communities, and local laws began to form and administer education systems. Teachers and professors became a profession separate from the clergy. Schools of music, medicine, and engineering were founded and there began to be some sense of equality in education where women and men were treated equally. Private schools also began to open that were not related to churches.

The Moldovian and Wallachian principalities, however, were badly managed under the Ottoman Empire and were eventually unified under a native prince, Alexander Ioan Cuza, in 1859. In 1864, the new Legislative Assembly provided Romania with a compulsory education system that included free primary education for the first four years, a system of secondary education for seven years, and three years of higher education. Romania is considered to be one of the first countries to provide compulsory education.

Romania became independent under the 1878 Treaty of Berlin after the War of 1877. Romania later crowned its first king in 1881. In this early period of Romania, numerous educational laws and regulations were handed down that set out the education system of Romania. Some of these laws provided for the selection and training of teachers, the extension of compulsory education, the exclusion of peasant children from secondary schools, and extensions in the curricula of secondary and higher education. Graduates of Romanian higher education before 1990 had to go through a period of compulsory employment after their studies (Reisz 1994). Through a propaganda program, higher education in Romania was considered elitist and came to be associated with institutions that produced doctors, teachers, engineers, economists, and lawyers.

Although Romania was located between the Hungarian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires, it garnered much of its educational, cultural, and administrative models from its complex history and from the west. In particular, influence came from trade relations with the French (United States Department of State 2000). Romania was an ally of the west in World War I and was granted more territory after the war in such areas as Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Buckovina. In 1918, the addition of Transylvania established the national state of Romania. Because Transylvania was a portion of the Austrio-Hungarian empire, Transylvania's education and culture were heavily influenced by the Hungarians. Schools in Transylvania, before its annexation by Romania, only permitted instruction in Hungarian. As a result, there were far more Hungarians than Romanians who were enrolled in secondary schools. This became an important foundation in Romanian educational history, because Romanians under communism required Hungarians to be taught in the Romanian language. The University of Cluj, for instance, began to offer instruction in Romanian for the first time.

Pre-World War II, Romania exhibited many of the qualities of a dictatorship although it had a constitutional monarchy. Much of the political thought pre-World War II was anticommunist, pronationalist, and held anti-foreign and anti-Jewish influence on its economy. Educational laws primarily sought to unify the new nation into a single education system. The education system became more egalitarian by the provision of free compulsory primary education and free books for those who could not afford them. Like Romanian politics, education was nationalist in its ideology.

During World War II, Romania, under the direction of General Antonescu, sided with the Axis powers and invaded the Soviet Union to retain some of its territories. In 1944, a coup was staged by King Michael that deposed the Antonescu dictatorship and placed the armies of Romania on the side of the Allied powers. Romanian armies, then, fought the Germans, the Transylvanians, the Hungarians, and the Czechs (United States Department of State 2000). As socialism began in Romania, so did the establishment of Marxist and Leninist thought into its education system.

After the Peace Treaty signings in Paris in 1947, Romania came under the influence of the Soviet Union and communism. The Romanian educational curriculum became socialist as well with the teachings of materialism, scientific socialism, and Marxist historical philosophy. The Bessarabian and the Northern Buckovian territories came under soviet annexation whereas the northern portion of Transylvania was returned from Hungary to Romania. The Soviets pressed for inclusion of Romania's Communist Party into the government and political opponents were eliminated. King Michael went into exile in 1947. This early phase of communist rule was dominated by the Soviet Union and the Hungarian minority in Romania (Gallagher 1995).

Under communism, the education system became state-controlled and intimately influenced by the communist revolution in Eastern Europe. Religious and private schools immediately came under state control. For example, the first constitution of the Romanian Peoples Republic (April 1948) had attempted to abolish confessional general schools and the Educational Reform of 1948 abolished all private schools as well as religious teachings in the curriculum (Shafir 1985). This new education law transferred all private schools to state control and all church school property was taken by the state without compensation.

In the 1950s, the Romanian Communist Party was considered by a majority of Romanians to be a gang taking orders from the Russians, which were in turn directed by the Hungarians (Gallagher 1995). Thus, a very important part of Romanian education was a suppression of the Hungarian minority in Romania. This was done in part by an educational philosophy that "Romanianized" all minorities through the educational process. Because of the past Romanian encounters with Hungary, reforms in education after the 1960s made it very difficult, if not impossible, to learn or teach in the Hungarian language. Hungarian schools were merged with Romanian schools and beginning in 1956 this effort was stepped up (Gallagher 1995). One of the most important events in this regard was when, in 1959, the Hungarian Bolyai University was merged with its Romanian counterpart, the Babes University. Technical classes that were formerly taught in Hungarian were now taught in Romanian. In fact, it was nearly impossible to study applied sciences or engineering in the Hungarian language. Those courses that were taught in Hungarian were generally of an ideological nature. The ultimate result of this merger was a real blow to Hungarian language education. The number of Hungarian undergraduates dropped from 10.75 percent in 1957 to 5.7 percent in 1974 (Romania: Language, Education, and Cultural Heritage, 2001).

In the 1950s and into the 1960s, Romania began a nationalist communist regime that distanced itself from the Soviet Union both economically and socially. This new regime was influenced by the leadership of Gheorghiu-Dej and emphasized Romanian national values, history, and patriotism. As to education, this meant the building of a Romanian intelligentsia that promoted state-controlled education and communist thought. In addition, the vision of totalitarian Romania was an educational emphasis on preparing young people for industrial tasks (Gallagher 1995). Higher education in Romania was still elitist, but it did increase in the 1950s (Reisz 1994). Another important part of this movement in Romanian history was an abandonment of Russian and Soviet interpretations of Romanian history in the 1960s (Gallagher 1995).

After the death of Gheorghiu-Dej, the Romanian Communist Party was controlled by Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu became head of state in 1967. Education under Ceausescu became much more communist and nationalist. Romania under Ceausescu from 1967 until the revolution in 1989, was a time of foreign policy that was independent from Russia. In 2000 the U.S. Department of State said that Romania's independence from Russia led to some respect by Western democracies that allowed Ceausescu's rule to become increasingly tyrannical in the 1970s. As the anticommunist revolution increased political inertia in the late 1980s, Ceausescu's policies, including education, became more and more nationalist and more and more geared toward the needs of the economy. There were severe cuts in the diversity of higher educational programs in the mid-1970s that led to 74 percent of students being enrolled in engineering and agricultural schools by 1988 (Reisz 1994). In addition, numerous reforms were undertaken to continue the domination of the Romanian language in education.

In 1989, the Ceausescu regime fell along with other communist dominated governments in Eastern Europe. Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day in 1989 and the government was taken over by the National Salvation Front (NSF), which claimed that it had restored freedom and democracy. Elections were held in 1990 and Ion Iliescu, the NSF leader, won the vote and two-thirds of the seats in parliament. The NSF then began what was termed as "cautious free market reforms" (U.S. Department of State 2000). However, much of the country was impatient with the slow reform and blamed it on the intelligentsia and other communist devotees. As a result, protesters and miners who were angry with the progress led to an angry and brutal treatment of these Ceausescu-era intellectuals. The miners returned to Bucharest in 1991 and demanded higher wages. As a result of this unsettling political environment, the FSN split into two parties shortly after the parliament drafted a new democratic constitution in 1991 and after that constitution was approved by referendum in December of that same year.

Along with the fall of came a slow, but progressive set of reforms in Romanian society. The reforms in education included the slow decentralization of the education system, the increase in number of private schools in Romania, and the increased pressure by Hungarians to restore education in the Hungarian language. Progress has been hampered by the lack of resources, the slow progress of changing textbooks from communist to reform, and the remaining communist intelligentsia in Romania that dominated education and political life under communism (Gallagher 1995).

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