January 24 this year marks the 155th anniversary of the Union of the Romanian Principalities, or the ''Little Union.''
The unification desideratum had been expressed as early as in the 1948 Revolution, in the programmatic pledge of the move, titled: "Our Principles for the Reformation of the Motherland' that synthesized the fundamental goal of the Romanians: ''The unification of Moldavia and Wallachia in a single independent Romanian state.''
The double election of Alexandru Ioan Cuza as ruler of both Moldavia and Wallachia on January 24 / February 8, 1859 was the first step towards the accomplishment of the Romanian unitary national state.
The agenda of the 1856 Paris Peace Congress also included the issue of the organization of the Romanian Principalities and the relevant debates acknowledged the international nature of the Romanian case. Yet, because of the irreducible opposition of Austria and the Ottoman Empire, the Paris Congress decided not to establish the final status of the Principalities under the Peace Treaty, but only that Wallachia and Moldavia nationals must be consulted on the union.
In this context, in each Principality, the leaders of the unionist movement organised a political formation called ''the National Party.'' After both Moldavia and Wallachia formed Union Committees, in the early months of 1857, a Central Union Committee was established which broadly popularised the national political program: the autonomy and neutrality of the Principalities, the unification thereof, a foreign prince as a ruler, a representative government with a single general assembly.
Ad hoc assemblies gathering upper-class boyars and peasants were called in Moldova and Wallachia to pronounce on the matter of the tentative unification. The answer was overwhelmingly positive, as set forth in two nearly identical Resolutions passed in both states in 1857, and which requested the following: the unification of the Principalities in one state; the neutrality of the United Principalities; autonomy on ground of the old treaties with the Ottoman Empire; a foreign prince from a European ruling dynasty appointed as ruler, and Throne inheritance; a single, truly representative general assembly, as legislative power.
''The greatest, most general desire all previous generations have been striving for and which is the soul of the current generation, the desire that once fulfilled will make the happiness of future generations, is the Unification of the Principalities into a single state ... ,'' said on this occasion the well-known politician and historian Mihail Kogalniceanu.
A committee of the Guarantor Powers, including Russia, France and England, analysed the decisions of the two Councils. They provided the groundwork for the signing in 1858 of the Paris Convention, which set the constitutional framework in place for the organization of the two principalities.
According to the provisions of the Paris Convention, the ballot for the Elective Assembly was held in Moldavia in December 1858. The works of the Elective Assembly opened on December 28, 1858, with 55 of the 58 elected deputies getting the nod of approval.
The National Party had a comfortable majority in the Assembly but, unfortunately, it had not yet decided on the name of the candidate. After Costache Negri withdrew his candidacy, Mihail Kogalniceanu also gave up and in the night of January 4, in a meeting of National Party members, he proposed Colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza, a spearheading figure of the unionist battle, as sole candidate of this formation. After his election as ruler of Moldavia, Cuza took the oath, pledging to defend "the rights and interests of the homeland" and "provide for the welfare and happiness of the Romanian nation.''
In Wallachia, elections for the Elective Assembly took place between January 8/20 and January 12/24, 1859. The National Party did not succeed in garnering a majority of seats and in this context, party leaders and — in particular — the radical liberals, the most dynamic element of the coalition, realized that the only way to succeed is to call on the masses. The campaigners drummed up the support of the Bucharesters and of the peasants from the capital's surroundings.
The works of the Elective Assembly opened on January 22 / February 3 in an incendiary atmosphere. The building on top of the Metropolitanate Hill was surrounded by crowds of thousands.
In the night of January 23 National Party members gathered at the ''Concordia'' hotel in Bucharest where, for the first time, what so far had been just an aspiration was put into clear words: Cuza's election as ruler of both principalities.
In the morning of January 24, at 11.00, when the Assembly resumed works, deputy and lawyer Vasile Boerescu requested a secret meeting during which he explained: "Getting united over the principle of the Unification is to unite over the person who represents this principle. This one person is Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Prince of Moldavia! Let us unite on this name and posterity will bless us, our fellow-nationals will hold out their hands to us and our conscience will be at peace that we have finally fulfilled ... a holy desire." The deputies swore that they would unanimously vote for the ruler of Moldavia. Back in the meeting hall, they proceeded to vote. All the 64 ballots had Cuza's name on them, some accompanied by well-wishes to the Prince: ''for the growth of the motherland'','' for the happiness of Romanians."
After the ballots were read, Alexandru Ioan Cuza was proclaimed ruler of the United Principalities. The result was immediately announced to the crowds on the Metropolitanate Hill.
The January 27/February 8 edition of the paper ''Romanul" wrote: '' ... The most vivid demonstrations of joy were all one could hear all over the capital ... the only show in all the streets, at every crossroad, in all public places of Bucharest. Our brother-peasants ... now chanted with all the might of their souls: Long live Cuza! Long live our ruler! They flung themselves into each other's arms regardless of condition, as if all as one had shaken off an oppressive yoke.''
On February 8/20 1859 Alexandru Ioan Cuza was touching down in Bucharest after his double election as ruler of Moldavia and Wallachia. The same day, Alexandru Ioan Cuza took the oath in the Bucharest Metropolitan Cathedral, pledging to respect the January 24 union act. Cuza's arrival in Bucharest was celebrated for three days, both in Bucharest and Iasi — the capital of Moldavia.
The situation created in the two principalities was discussed at the international conference opened in Paris between March 26 /April 7 — August 25/Sept.6, 1861. France, Russia, England, Prussia and Sardinia recognized the double election. The Austrian and Ottoman Empires initially showed discontent, with the first being uneasy with the prospect of a strengthening Romanian state, while the other pursued material advantages.
On November 22, 1861, the Ottoman Empire issued the 'Firman (decree) on the administrative organization of Moldavia and Wallachia,'' under which the suzerain and guarantor powers agreed with the change of the Convention and admitted the unification of the legislative and administrative institutions of the two principalities. It was again the Ottoman Empire that voiced reservations over the new state, as it accepted the change only during the lifetime of the ruler.
On December 11, 1861, Cuza addressed the Romanian nation a proclamation which read: ''The union is accomplished, the Romanian nationality is founded."
The next move was the unification of the governments and Chambers of the two Principalities. On January 22, 1862, the first single government of the United Principalities was formed, headed by Barbu Catargiu. The single Parliament opened works on January 24, 1862, the year when Al. I. Cuza proclaimed the definitive union of the Principalities.
As of 1862, the United Principalities officially adopt the name of Romania and Bucharest becomes the capital of the new state.
The Union of the Romanian Principalities on January 24, 1859 is considered to be the first important step towards the accomplishment of the Romanian national state; the pinnacle of the unionist move was attained on December 1, 1918 when Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures joined Romania. AGERPRES