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24 January 2014: 155 Years Since the Creation of the Modern Romanian State - Remembering Lord Palmerston

Every year on 24 January Romanians celebrate one of the most important - and probably most affectionate - moments in the history of their country, the Union of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldova.

Every year on 24 January Romanians celebrate one of the most important - and probably most affectionate - moments in the history of their country, the Union of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldova. If Romanians have always been so proud of the Union achieved on 24 January 1859, it is undoubtedly due to the sense of responsibility (or "ownership", as we would say nowadays) that they assumed in its making, and to the great spirit of solidarity that made it possible 155 years ago.

In 1848 revolutions spread like a conflagration through Europe. In England, Lord Henry John Temple Palmerston, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (he also was twice Prime Minister and Home Secretary), sympathised openly with the revolutionary party abroad. In particular, he was a strong advocate of national self-determination, and stood firmly for constitutional liberties on the Continent.

The Romanian ex-revolutionaries of 1848, exiled after the defeat of the movements they had initiated, became "diplomats of the Union". They fiercely defended the national aspirations of their people, in the complex geopolitical calculations and diplomatic compromises of the Great Powers.

In May 1853, the Russians threatened to invade the Romanian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldova, both at that time under the Ottoman Empire's suzerainty (but not part of the empire). Lord Palmerston argued that the Royal Navy should be sent to the Dardanelles strait, in order to assist the Turkish navy. In March 1854 Britain, along with France, declared war on Russia for refusing to withdraw from the principalities.

At the end of the Crimean War with the defeat of Russia, in March 1856 the Paris Congress found a compromise among the seven Great Powers concerning the Danube Principalities (France, Sardinia, Russia and Prussia supported the cause of the Unification; Austria and the Ottoman Empire stood against; Great Britain remained neutral). According to this compromise, the two principalities were allowed to take the name of "The United Principalities of Moldova and Wallachia", but were to maintain separate rulers, governments and legislative assemblies.

But this solution did not really match the determination of the Romanian Unionists. After the Elective Assembly of Moldova unanimously chose on 5th January 1859 Colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the candidate of the National Party, as Ruling Prince, on January 24th the Elective Assembly of Wallachia voted, again unanimously, for the same person, thus creating de facto the United Romanian Principalities. In January 1862, the first single Government and the first single Parliament of Romania became operational in Bucharest. In his inaugural speech to Parliament, Prince Cuza solemnly declared: "A new day is starting today for Romania, as it is finally entering the path that will lead to the fulfilment of its destiny".

The Union of 1859 has been the beginning of an extraordinary process of modernisation and reforms; it has paved the way to the Great Union of 1st December 1918 when, based on the principle of people's right to self-determination proclaimed by the US President Woodrow Wilson, the third Romanian principality, Transylvania, also decided to unite with Romania.

It is not by chance that I made a reference to Lord Palmerston, as he has woven closely together the strands of idealism and realism in foreign policy. He said: "We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow".

And then again: "I hold that the real policy of England is to be the champion of justice and right: pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Don Quixote of the world, but giving her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks justice is, and whenever she thinks that wrong has been done".

The point of interest in these quotations is that they were spoken by the same man in the same speech without any sense of contradiction. They were the words of Lord Palmerston in the House of Commons on 1st March 1848. And I believe that both quotations could be matched by any British Foreign Secretary between that time and now.

Lord Palmerston is famous for his patriotism. Speaking about him, Lord John Russell (himself Prime Minister twice in the mid-19th century) said: "his heart always beat for the honour of England". But probably the best epitaph comes from the Marquis of Lorne, who said of Palmerston in 1866: "He loved his country and his country loved him. He lived for her honour, and she will cherish his memory." I believe this is the supreme recognition. No one could ask for more.

By following the British model of weaving together patriotism, idealism and realism, Romanian Unionists of 1859 and 1918 succeeded. This is one of the reasons why Romanians admire and respect so much the United Kingdom.

Romanian and British people share today the same values and are part of the same European culture and civilization, united in its diversity. The constant support that the United Kingdom has given to Romania on its path towards the European Union and NATO memberships, and the Strategic Partnership that exists between our countries, are solid ground for mutually beneficial bilateral relations.

At the turn of the last century, Rudyard Kipling said about Britons: "We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse". Today Great Britain has 60 million people and Romania 20 million. Our countries are close friends, allies and partners. Paraphrasing Kipling, I would say that we have 80 million reasons for an ever closer partnership. The presence of a hard working Romanian community in the UK and of an increasing number of Britons in Romania is part of the recipe for a common success.

Post Scriptum: The common success may have many forms. The protection of the national patrimony is one of them. Last November, thanks to the excellent cooperation we have developed with the FCO, the New Scotland Yard and the Home Office, Romania recovered 145 Kosons (gold coins issued by the ancient Kingdom of Dacia, on the current territory of Romania), which represent invaluable artefacts and witness 2000 years of rich and fascinating history.

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