Transylvania’s and Bukovina’s Legal Professionals and the Debate on the New Romanian Justice System (1919-1926)
The Romanian victory in World War I and Transylvania, Bukovina, and Bessarabia’s consequent unification with the “Old Kingdom” (Vechiul Regat) spurred a vivid debate about the country’s political and institutional future. Romania had doubled its territorial surface, incorporating within its borders not just an ethnically diverse population but also ethnic Romanians with a different historical and cultural background. In Bucharest, many politicians agreed that the Romanian institutional structure needed comprehensive reform to respond more effectively to the new setting.
The justice system was one of the first sectors to be targeted. The Romanian public opinion often blamed the judiciary for being corrupt and excessively subjugated to political power, whereas jurists deemed the system slow and cumbersome.
In the early 1920s, the liberal government led by Ion I. C. Brătianu undertook the reform process intending to endow Romania with a new fundamental law on the organization of the judiciary. Transylvania’s and Bukovina’s legal professionals actively took part in the debate. Not only they regularly discussed the reform on the local and national press, but they were also members of the technical commissions responsible for drafting the new law.
Even though historiography usually emphasizes regional rivalries and confrontations during Greater Romania’s state-building process, the situation was much more ambiguous and complex. The history of the new law on the justice system overturns long-established historiographical interpretations and sheds new light on Greater Romania’s institutional dynamics. Firstly, it shows that the glorification of the imperial legal legacy was mostly situational and contingent, as it emerged only to legitimize professional grievances. Transylvanian and Bukovinian legal professionals did not hesitate to praise even Romanian regulations if they were professionally convenient. Surprisingly, Old Kingdom politicians were often more willing to retain parts of the Habsburg organization than former Habsburg citizens. Consequently, the legislative process and the political debate that goes along with it downplay the importance of regionalism in the Romanian political scene.
My presentation aims to shed light on this relatively unknown page of Romanian interwar history. I aim to show how discursive strategies based on the glorification of imperial legacies often concealed deeper motivations, in this case, corporate and personal advantages. Simultaneously, I will analyze how Old Kingdom Romanians looked at the Habsburg legal inheritance. Far from being a mere set of foreign laws and regulations, in Bucharest, the Habsburg legal legacy could also be seen as a chance of institutional modernization.