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Re-scaling territories and borders: regional claims and local powers in Romania in the mid-20th century period.


The political evolution of Romania as a part of Europe can be understood from a past perspective (Georgescu, 2014: 135-146; Gherghe, 2013: 19-24). The political parties from the last years have deep roots in what happened in the history in the 20th century (Olimid, 2014: 53-64; Barbieru, 2014: 190-200). The present Romanian territory is a direct consequence of the transformations that took place during the first half of the last century. What we are and what we have today is an evolution of our political past; knowing the past can help us better explain our present.

From the National Renaissance Front to the Party of the Nation

Between the winter of 1938 and the autumn of 1940, the Romanian political life was dominated by a single party, King Carol II's creation, established on December 16th, 1938 (Buzatu, 2009: 25-31), under the name of the National Renaissance Front and transformed, on June 22nd, 1940, in the Party of the Nation (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 2/1939-1940: 30). Emerged from Carol II's desire to require a thorough review of the entire country, but also from the influence of European policy, where most of the states had a single party system, the Front gave the King the opportunity to descend into the political arena and become also a politician.

An interesting presentation of the National Renaissance Front was made by Radu Florian Bruja, a historian that wrote a monograph of the political organization. In his opinion, the party "can be equated to with the end of the Romanian interwar democracy. At the same time, it was contemporaneous with one of the most tragic events in the history of the Romanian people, namely the disintegration of Great Romania. The single political party neither could prevent, nor could maintain the regime it had created). It assisted the undemocratic regime of Carol II's monarchy, the first in a series of undemocratic regimes of the 20th century Romania" (Bruja, 2006: 291).

The King Carol II, who long envied the popularity that Corneliu Zelea Codreanu had among Legionnaires, tried, after the removal of the Iron Guard Captain, to create a new image in the eyes of public opinion. Considering that he remained the supreme leader, after the death of the Capitan (C. Z. Codreanu) and the only one that could guide the Romanians' ideals, the King established the National Renaissance Front, by which he tried to impose his own political rule. Carol II took advantage of the fertile ground, prepared by the Legionnaires who led an intense campaign of discrediting the traditional political parties. The sovereign, wanting to control the Romanian political space and bouncing into the refusal of the major parties to follow his political scenario, decided, only a few weeks after the coup d'etat, to outlaw political parties. Surprising was the fact that the leaders of the Romanian political parties did not have a strong reaction in terms of their interdiction to function within a legal rule. Taking advantage of the newly created position, Carol II initiated the procedures to establish a single political party, thus dominating politics and encompassing most of the old politicians. For King Carol II, "the idyllic" experiences lived at that time by Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini worked like a mirage, amongst the peoples they ruled. However the Romanian sovereign did not take into account that in those states the single parties were imposed over time, both the political parties and their leaders enjoying the confidence of the masses. From this point of view, the sovereign's perspectives to become the supreme leader of the Romanians were wrong and the policy pursued by him failed. By imposing his own will, Carol II irreversibly bound his fate to the achievements or failures of the political construction created on December 16th, 1938.

Perhaps without realizing it, the sovereign, by involving in the political sphere and by playing an active role in the decisions of the executive power, became his own prime minister. By adopting this position, the King made a major mistake, a mistake that cost him very much; the excessive politicization of the Crown, through the loss of impartiality, which was required by his sovereign position, made Carol II lose the throne and also leave the country. Thus, if the sovereign Carol II would have been very difficult to remove, the "Prime Minister" Carol II proved to be an easier prey for his opponents. With the departure of the monarch, the royal political construction disappeared from the Romanian political scene.

On June 22nd, 1940 the National Renaissance Front became, by royal decree, the Party of the Nation ("sole and totalitarian party"); this time, the party was directly under the leadership of King Carol II. With this new title, only theoretical changes were made regarding the royal party, because until then the party was also under the sovereign's rule and its character had been a totalitarian one. But that specification was necessary since it was meant to identify the doctrine of the Romanian single party with the European totalitarian parties and especially with the German one. In a time when England and France showed no willingness to guarantee the territorial integrity of Romania, the only one who could stop the annexation trends of the USSR, Hungary and Bulgaria was, unfortunately, Adolf Hitler. Therefore, King Carol II hoped that if he could have managed to convince the German leader that Romania was copying the politics of the Third Reich, our country was to ingratiate itself with the Fuhrer and thus be saved from disaster; this did not happen and, although the King made efforts to legitimize the party as a totalitarian one, the Romanian ruler found himself, from July to September 1940, totally abandoned in terms of external support.

The Territorial Losses from the Summer of 1940

After the transformation of the National Renaissance Front in the Party of the Nation, Romania passed through a disastrous period, in which large territories were lost (Gheorghiu, 2009: 40-46). Scurtu argues that "in less than three month, Romania (...) collapsed, losing (...) one third of its territory and population, roughly 100,000 [km.sup.2] and 7 million inhabitants, most of them Romanians" (Scurtu (coord.), 2003: 565). One after the other, Bessarabia and the north of Bucovina, at the end of June (Buzatu, G., 2003: 353-359), the north-west of Transylvania, at the end of August (Oroianu, 2001: 301-313) and the Cadrilater, at the beginning of September, were taken by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Hungary and Bulgaria (Scurtu (coord.), 2003: 566-589). The two Soviet ultimatum notes, the Vienna Diktat and the treaty from Craiova were the acts from the summer and the autumn of 1940 that brought Romania on the brink of disaster (Lungu, Negreanu: 2003) and determined Carol Il's abdication. At the same time with this last event, the King's single political party--the Party of the Nation left the Romanian political scene.

The context and the consequences of the territorial losses were differently seen by the Romanian historians. Gheorghe Buzatu tried to explain the losses as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact: "the pact was signed and the world war began. Europe was affected, Romania could not avoid this situation and it was cut into pieces during the summer of 1940" (Buzatu, G., 2001: 2). The question "was Romania able to resist an attack of the aggressor states?" received an answer from Alesandru D. Dutu: "it is obvious that the chances of resisting an aggression from the Soviet army were very weak or even null, because Germany put pressure on the Romanian government to surrender and abandon the fight" (Dutu, 2000: 50). A comparison with Poland from September 1939 can complete the image of the possible Romanian disaster from 1940; without being accused of contrafactual history, one can say that a negative answer from the Romanian authorities could have transformed Romania in a new Poland.

It is clear that in this situation the main question was: "who is guilty for the territorial losses?". Regarding Bessarabia and Bukovina, Carol II tried to blame the members of the Crown Council, who voted for the loss of the Romanian territories (Scurtu (coord.), 2003: 572). The King wrote in his diary: "what an awful, full of pain day, what a day of absolute cowardice for some Romanians (...) I cannot accept, as a sovereign of the country, how can I lose territories, which definitely and historically belong to Romania (...) why our Romanians do not have the weakest pride in these very difficult moments?" (Carol II, 1998: 216, 217, 223).

Some contemporaries saw the whole Carol II's regime as being responsible for the Romanian disaster from 1940. Thus, Valeriu Pop wrote: "after accepting the Soviet ultimatum, the change of the government kept up appearances and delayed the conclusion. After the arbitration from Vienna, it was clear that the crown and the King Carol II himself were at stake. When he started the royal dictatorial period in the spring of 1938, King Carol II took in his hand all the administration of Romania, in a personal and opened manner; by assuming the whole responsibility, he did not want, at the beginning, and did not succeed, in the end, to associate any politician to the power. The National Renaissance Front, with its uniforms and millions of adhesions, it was an inconsistent and shallow solution. The adhesions were nothing else but attitudes of opportunity dominated by a lack of conviction" (Pop, 1999: 99).

The quotation from above described the situation from Romania at the end of the 4th decade of the 20th century. By taking over the political power, the King became responsible of all the errors that were done during that period. If the sovereign in his diary, judged the loss of Bessarabia and Bukovina in a narrow context, directly linked to the decisions taken in the Crown Council, Valeriu Pop, who was not as subjective as the King, depicted the period from (ok) 1938 to 1940 and the territorial losses as a King's personal responsibility, when the sovereign tried to take his own decisions for the whole country.

Iuliu Maniu considered, as well as Valeriu Pop, that the King Carol II was guilty for the situation of Romania in 1940 (Stan, 2001: 294-302). Nicolae Dianu, who was the former plenipotentiary minister of Romania in Moscow, wrote about the circumstances of the territorial losses from Bessarabia and Bukovina: "I cannot stop blaming here Davidescu's naivety, who, receiving from Molotov the map on which the frontier was drawn with a red pencil, did not requested any explanation about the villages which were crossed by the border. This is how it was lost Herta and the surroundings" (Preda, Varatic, 2001: 16).

It is useful to mention another opinion which comes from historiography, therefore not from contemporary sources; referring to the events from 1940, Ion Calafeteanu wrote that "the Nazi government played an important role, totally hostile to the national interests of the Romanian people" (Calafeteanu, 1980: 262).

The territorial losses of Romania from the summer and the autumn of 1940 were also presented in the international media. The arbitration from Vienne and the treaty from Craiova were mentioned both by the radio and the written press, nu only in Europe, but also in America. Two files from the Central Historical National Archives of Romania (fund Vasile Stoica) contain press information about the territorial annexations from 1940 (SANIC, Fund Vasile Stoica, file no. I/133/1940, I/163/1940). A part of these documents comes from the Ministry of National Propaganda (SANIC, Fund Vasile Stoica, file no. I/133/1940) and describe the international image of Romania during the mentioned period.

The territorial losses reflected in documents of the Party of the Nation

What were the direct consequences of territorial losses for the Party of the Nation and how it was this party involved in Romanian public life during the territorial anexation? These two questions are the subject of the following pages, as well the collapse of the single party.

Very soon after the loss of territories from the historical province of Moldova, on June 30th, 1940, the General Petre Georgescu, commander of the National Guards, made an appeal to the Guards of Bucharest, provinces, municipalities and counties to support the refugee population from Bessarabia and Bukovina. "The government has taken all possible measures to group the population on regions and to accommodate refugees from Bukovina and Bessarabia. They are located in the counties of Neamt, Bacau, Buzau, Prahova, Dambovita, Arges and Muscel" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 53). While the authorities were involved in accommodating the refugees, the Romanian inhabitants were required to give them clothes and food. "These men were saved themselves only with their clothes and, until they manage to win their own food, they need help. I make an appeal to all our members from all localities in the country to think about them. From the little things they have to break a crumb and send it where there is lack, where is expected and where it will be received with thanksgiving of our poor brothers". (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 53)

On July 3rd, 1940, the central authorities of the National Guard sent a circular to the lands Prut, Suceava, Bucegi, Dunarea de Jos and the counties within those lands, to make "fast actions to build assistance teams in all localities where the refugees are distributed, as well as in the railway stations, where the trains with refugees are passing through" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 56). Those teams were to be organized "with National Guard members only", part of which could be women, relatives of those members of the Guards Nation Party (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 56). These actions were part of the decisions taken by the King's political party, in order to support Romanian refugees from the two provinces occupied in the summer of 1940 by the Soviet troops.

A top secret circular from July 4th, 1940, issued by Petre Georgescu, demanded the territorial authorities to gather information about the conditions of crossing the Prut River by the refugees. The General Commandment of the National Guards wanted "to gather all informational material in order write a comprehensive report on the events that took place from June 26th to July 3rd in the territories of Bessarabia and Bukovina" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 55).

The document recognized that, during the withdrawal, there were made "acts of banditry, looting, murders, attacks, tortures, etc." (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 55). The information gathering had to be made directly by the from the refugees by the commanders of the county Guards, the refugees having to confirm the information provided, "thus eliminating the rumours or the imagination and being a proof of their testimony for us" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 55). The verification and the selection of the raw material were done by the central authorities of the Party of the Nation (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 55). This document contributes to a better understanding of the National Guard involvement in the disaster from the summer of 1940; additional to the material support, the auxiliary units of the royal political party were interested in the atrocities and the physical suffering that Romanians refugees passed through in their painful way from Bessarabia and Bucovina, toward the Romanian territories that were not occupied by the Soviet troops.

On July 5th, 1940, the Party of the Nation, using the General Commandment of the National Guards and the new government of Romania gave a circular and a statement on the situation of the country (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 59). If the government joined the Berlin-Rome axis, regarding the internal politics, it was underlined that the territorial annexation "raised a new issue, one of the most painful for our heart, that of refugees from Bessarabia and Bukovina" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 59, 60). One can see the collaboration between the members of the Government, "faithful soldiers of the Party of the Nation" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 468/1940: 59) and King Carol II's single political party.

A special situation was mentioned on August 7th, 1940 by the National Guard from the county of Iasi (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 141/1940: 323). The commander of this Guard showed that not only in the city but also in the county of Iasi, "there are numerous abandoned properties and industrial platforms, left by their owners, who have left the country for USSR (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 141/1940: 323). Since the remaining properties were managed by people without legal quality in this regard and "since abandoned possessions cannot be considered as vacant succession (as their owners are not dead or without heirs)", it was proposed that these possessions should pass to the state administration (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 141/1940: 323). So, one can see that the territorial losses from the of summer 1940 not only affected Romania by the refugees from Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, but also recorded the reverse phenomenon, some Romanian citizens fleeing from Romania to the Soviet Union.

On August 24th, 1940 the National Guard from Durostor county made a report describing the evacuation of the Romanians from that county (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 17). The document underlined the attacks that took place at the Caracuzi forest and in the villages Frasari, Rahman, Asiclar, Sarsanlar, Alfatar and Ciler. The situation was brought under control by the authorities by bringing other troops in the region, thus allowing the villagers to raise the crops from the field, before the definitive evacuation. As an emergency measure it was proposed "to give weapons to the trusted members of the Guards and to remain permanently on them to prevent possible surprises" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 17).

A confusing situation dominated Botosani county. A note of this county Guard , from August 1940, arrived at General Headquarters of the National Guard, reported that since August 24th, it was a rumour in Botosani that the city was to be occupied by the Soviets (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 20). The officers, together with their families, left the city, taking with them the "shifting wealth", while the manager of the National Romanian Bank from Botosani, received money only banknotes to be transported more easily in case of a precipitate departure, while the Prefecture gave orders to pack valuable articles in order to be sent to Gheorgheni (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 20). The image of a city on the verge of siege was completed by the lack of food and other goods. "The Jews--concludes the same report--are the only ones who seeks quietly about their business, without apparently giving any attention to everything that is happening" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 20).

In the same month, August 1940, loan Mihaescu, the commander of the National Guard from Ramnicu Valcea, demanded by an official address that the General Commandment of the National Guards should intervene to "allow the mayor of the city Ramnicu Valcea to raise the fund that the city has at the National Bank and to store flour, com and wood, so as to ensure the peace of the population that is under threat" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 26).

Another note from August 27th, 1940 described the population of Transylvania as "generally confused and oscillatory", the Romanians from this region claiming that "beyond the outcome of negotiations between Romania and Hungary, they are determined to defend Transylvania with scythes and axes" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 245). One can see that before the Vienna Diktat, the Romanians wanted to keep Transylvania and were willing to defend it. Some good news came from the same note on the Party of the Nation, which "is better seen than the National Renaissance Front", while "the Romanians' adhesions to the party abounds with enthusiasm" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 246); on the other hand, there was a reluctance of Hungarians, Germans and Szekelys to join the single party (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 246-247). However, some problems were noted: "the activity of the party is not very present and the people wonder which the real cause is. The public clerks are unhappy because their contributions are withheld for the party" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 247). At the same time, the disinformation practiced by the Soviet Union worked very well; the Romanians in Bessarabia, who asked to come back, were told that "it is a revolution in Romania and the King left" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1940-1941, f. 264).

A secret note from the same month August 1940, issued by the National Guard from Braila, was kept in the archives. A first comment is that "the adhesions to the Party of the Nation were more numerous than in the old party" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. II/1939-1940, f. 2). Regarding the territorial losses, the author of the document underlined that: "the hatred knows no borders for Italy and Hungary, while the arbitrage from Vienna was seen as an Italian action made to satisfy Hungary and threw mourning over the souls of all Romanians" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. II/1939-1940, f. 2). At Constanta, the adherence to the new political party was not satisfactory: "the adhesions to the Party of the Nation were not enthusiastic. Because of the drafting, the registrations went slowly" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. II/1939-1940, f. 7). The dissatisfactions in the same city were manifested because of the loss of Bessarabia, as well as for the decisions taken in Vienna. "We know that there are Transylvanian shepherds in Constanta, who still have relatives across the mountains; all of them are deeply sad" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. II/1939-1940, f. 7).

In Sibiu, on September 1st, 1940, there were organized major demonstrations against the Vienna Dictate. The participants were "the local school youth, as representatives of the younger generation, who wanted to have a full inheritance of the country, as it was left by the 800,000 dead heroes in battles from Oituz, Maraseseti and Marasesti" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. II/1939-1940, f. 42).' Other demonstrators went to the residence of the Metropolitan of Transylvania, Nicolae Balan, and other groups, consisting of young people, shouted "we want war", "we want weapons", "we want the whole Transylvania", "long live Iuliu Maniu", "no furrow", "down with the Axis" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. II/1939-1940, f. 43). One can note a general dissatisfaction towards the arbitration from Vienna and public opposition to the ideas of the Axis. Regarding the internal politics, there was, at the same time, an opposition to the King and to his political party, some people often invoked Iuliu Maniu's name, a politician that did not support the ideas brought by Carol II's regime.

A very important document was issued in Bucharest, on September 2nd, 1940, by Petre Georgescu, the general commander of the National Guards (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1939-1940, f. 11). The motivation for the act in question was related to the latest political events--"the decision of the arbitrage from Vienna, from August 30th, 1940, by which Romania is bound to evacuate within 15 days a part of the national territory", as well as "the fact that it was decided to cede a part of the territory of Dobrogea to Bulgaria" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1939-1940, f. 11). As a result it was decided that "it will be suspended, following this decision, the activity of the National Guards from the counties: Salaj, Satu Mare, Maramures, Somes, Nasaud, Cluj, Mures, Odorhei, Ciuc, Trei Scaune, Caliacra si Durostor" (art. 1) and "will be suspended the activity of the Guard in the county of Bihor, until finding a county residence" (art. 2) (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1939-1940, f. 11). Created as auxiliary units for the National Renaissance Front and maintained after its transformation in the Party of the Nation, the National Guards restricted their activity on Romanian territory, as a result of the territorial losses from the summer of 1940. Ten counties from Transylvania and the two counties from the South of the Danube could not be a part of the activities for the royal party Guards, while in Bihor it was expected to establish a new county residence. Thus, it can be said that the political power of the single political party decreased with the territories lost to Hungary and Bulgaria.

On September 3rd, 1940, in a newsletter issued by the National Guard from Tarnava Mare county it was underlined that "the Romanian element is very indignant regarding the arbitration from Vienna; following the general opinion, a great injustice was made by the fact that a compact mass of Romanians will enter under the Hungarian domination. For this reason a terrible hatred rose against the Hungarians and there were made vehement critics of Germany and Italy" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1939-1940, f. 266). It can be seen that the international events were reflected in their true sense at a local level and the decision of the Great Powers deteriorated the already tense situation between Romanians and Hungarians in Transylvania. In the same official act, the central authorities from Romania were accused for the existent situation: "the majority of the Romanian population, both urban and rural does not understand the state policy, which accepted the arbitration of the Axis and says that if the exchange of population had not been accepted, nothing should have been ceded, because this is a slap in the face of the national dignity and the sacrifices of the past" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1939-1940, f. 266).

A day later, on September 4th, the National Guard from Timis county sent a document to the central organs of the single political party. The situation presented was characterized by tension between the Romanians and the local German community (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1939-1940, f. 283-285) and by public discontent in Caras regarding the central authorities, due to territorial cessions acceptance. "The farmers over there say: how is it possible? ... Don't we have a King? ... We have no army able to fight to defend our country?" (SANIC, Fund FRN, file no. 253, vol. I/1939-1940, f. 285). Once again, it must be said that, assuming a large extent on the leadership of the state and the single political party, the King was seen as the main culprit to Romanian disaster in the summer-fall of 1940. From these latter documents one can observe that not only Romanian elite, represented by politicians such as Iuliu Maniu or Valeriu Pop, found Carol II in a responsible position for territorial losses, but also the ordinary people in Romania had the same idea. Unable to keep his "promise" made repeatedly, that he would protect the country in every situation occurred, the sovereign, without any kind of support, was approaching the end of his political career, an end that finally led to the disappearance of the royal party.

On September 4th, 1940, the King Carol II assigned the general Ion Antonescu to form the new government (Scurtu (coord.), 2003: 595), the next day, he invested Ion Antonescu, by a royal decree, with full powers to lead the Romanian state (Midan, 2008: 367). During the same day, the general suspended the Constitution and dissolved the legislative bodies. In the evening of September 5th, Ion Antonescu requested Carol II to abdicate (Scurtu (coord.), 2003: 596). On September 6th, 1940, Romania's sovereign signed the abdication act in favour of his son, Mihai (Scurtu (coord.), 2003: 596).

The carousel of these political events was surprised by Petre Andrei in his diary: "the King abdicated. Leaving from Iasi to Bucharest (...) we saw the resignation of the Government Gigurtu and the Antonescu's duty to make the new government. It was not a usual change. The general Antonescu obtained entire powers, the cancellation of the Constitution from 1938, the decrease of the Crown powers and a leading position over the state. It seems that no one wanted to enter a new government proposed by King Charles II. There were demonstrations and shootings at the Palace. On Friday morning, September 6th, the King abdicated and Mihai was proclaimed as King of Romania" (Andrei, 1993: 102-103).


When Carol II left the throne of Romania, the period known in history as the Carlist regime or Carol II's authoritarian monarchy ended. The most important creation of the monarchy was the royal political party, the National Renaissance Front, which later became the Party of the Nation. As Carol II was the initiator of this party, which he strongly supported throughout its existence, the end of the King's political career meant also the dissolution of his political party. The general Ion Antonescu, who, by King Carol II's abdication, became the ruler of Romania, gave the decisive blow to the royal political construction, by signing on September 9th, 1940, the decree that abolished the Party of the Nation.


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Received: November 15 2014 Accepted: November 28 2014

Mihaela Camelia Ilie *

(*) Assistant Professor, PhD, University of Craiova, Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, Political Sciences Specialization, Center of Post-Communist Political Sciences, Phone: 0040766355005, E-mail: mihabuzatu@gmail. com.
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Title Annotation:Original Paper
Author:Ilie, Mihaela Camelia
Publication:Revista de Stiinte Politice
Article Type:Report
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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