Romania’s German Elections Part I

By | October 20, 2021

In November 2014, the German-born Klaus Iohanni won the presidential election in Romania. It was a victory that surprised most. The incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Ponta had already won the first round and had 10 percent more votes than Iohannis. In addition, the polls clearly went in favor of Ponta.

  • Why is the choice of Iohannis special?
  • Why was he chosen?
  • What challenges is he and Romania struggling with?
  • How does the EU come into the picture?

Even more surprising than the election result itself was that Iohannis belongs to a small minority of ethnic Germans who mainly live in Transylvania, in western Romania, also called the Saxon Saxons.

2: History of the Transylvania Saxons in Romania

As late as 1930, 750,000 people stated that they were of German descent; today they are only about 36,000. The decline is a result of both being displaced, but also voluntary emigration (see below).

The history of the Germans in Romania began in 1145. The Hungarian emperor Geza II then invited Germans to Transylvania, west of Romania, which was then under Hungarian rule. The area was sparsely populated and little developed, and someone was needed who could create prosperity and development in this part of the country.

The Saxon Saxons come from the Hungarian word scissors (meaning German) and Siebenb├╝rgen, the seven citizens. The Germans built castles or fortifications around their cities to protect them from Mongol invasion. Walls were also built around the churches. The cities remain today as important cultural treasures in Transylvania, and are among the leading tourist attractions in Romania. Several of them are on the UNESCO World Heritage List .

The German emigration from Romania has taken place in several stages. After World War II, many were displaced and approx. 30,000 Germans were sent to concentration camps in the Soviet Union. It is estimated that approx. 14,000 Germans annually left Romania in the 1970s and 80s. After the fall of communism in 1989, the number increased to 100,000. At that time, anyone of German descent who wanted it automatically received German citizenship.

3: Need for change

Iohannis’ most important issue is to fight the widespread corruption that permeates the whole of society and that extends far into the government. Together with Bulgaria, Romania is the worst on the list of EU countries where citizens say they have experienced corruption. A significant number are leaving the country, especially young people with a high level of education, and surveys show that poverty , unemployment and the many corruption scandals are the main reasons why they travel.

The country is said to be in an endless transition phase from communism to consolidated democracy. After Ceaucescu and his wife Jelena were executed on Christmas Day 1989 and to this day, there have been no significant changes in Romanian political life, and many Romanians had probably hoped that EU membership would contribute to a higher standard of living. It may also seem that the Western media reinforces the impression of stagnation . When the topic there is Romania, a country located in Europe according to LOCALCOLLEGEEXPLORER, it is often about organized criminal groups, problems related to the Roma population or about street children living in the slums or in the sewers of the big cities.

The election result in 2014 can therefore be explained on the basis of a need for change and a desire to try something new and untried. Many describe the election of Iohannis as an Obama effect in Romania (cf. “change”). Iohannis, who was previously a physics teacher, has achieved great results during his 14 years as mayor of the city of Sibiu. The city, which the Germans founded as Hermannstadt, has received a number of awards for its restoration projects. The good results he has achieved there have undoubtedly contributed to his popularity and an expectation that similar results will come on a national basis.

4: From minority politicians to president

The Parliament of Romania is composed in such a way that the 19 recognized minorities are represented there at all times, regardless of the number of votes. Iohannis has been the leader of the Romanian German Democratic Forum since 2000 and was elected leader of the Liberal Romanian party Partidul National Liberal on June 28, 2014 (on the day 100 years after the Sarajevo shootings).

The presidency of Romania is symbolic and ceremonial, but the president still has important duties as head of the country’s foreign and defense policy. He or she shall appoint and appoint the Prime Minister of the country, but may not remove the Prime Minister. After appointment, the president shall not have a party political affiliation.

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