Bucharest Centennial: Mihail Kogălniceanu, an architect of modern Romania

Romania-Insider.com has started a series of articles about Bucharest landmarks of architecture or history, which have witnessed the last century of what is now the Romanian capital, and noteworthy people who have helped build the Romanian capital as it is today. This project is supported by the Bucharest City Hall through the Public Monuments and Touristic Heritage Administration (AMPT), within the cultural program Bucharest-Centennial.

Check the full series of articles dedicated to the Centennial on Romania-Insider.com here. 

Mihail Kogălniceanu is one of the personalities who played an essential role in the history of the development of modern Romania. A former prime minister, domestic affairs, and foreign affairs minister, his presence in various public roles and positions was tightly connected to some of the most important stages in the unification of the Romanian provinces and in winning the country’s independence at the end of the 19th century.

Born into an old and wealthy family, Kogălniceanu studied first in the country, in Iași, where he was a colleague of writer and politician Vasile Alecsandri and of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the future prince of the united principalities of Moldavia and Țara Românească (Wallachia). In 1834 he left to study at the Lunéville College in Paris, and, a year later, at the Berlin University.

After returning to Iași, in 1837, he was appointed an adjutant-lieutenant, then an adjutant-captain for prince Mihail Sturdza, in 1840. He also worked as an editor, translator and publisher, with The Chronicles of Wallachia and Moldavia among the works he tackled.

In 1840 he founded the magazine Dacia Literară (The Literary Dacia), a landmark moment in Romanian literature. In the first issue of the magazine, Kogălniceanu outlined the ideals of the local Forty-Eighters. Among them were rejecting the imitation of foreign authors and of mediocre translations, the establishment of a national literature, the attention towards language unity and the development of a critical mindset.

Mihail Kogălniceanu also practiced law and taught history at the Academia Mihăileană in Iaşi.

He spent some time in Cernăuți, where he published, in August 1848, the document titled “The Wishes of the National Party in Moldova,” put together with the support of the Moldavian revolutionary committee. Among the demands put forth in the document was the union of Moldavia with Țara Românească, which would happen a few years later, in 1859.

Beginning with 1855, Kogălniceanu intensified the efforts to support the cause of the union of the two principalities. He was among the initiators of the Union Society and was one of the active members of the Central Committee of the Union in Iaşi, established on February 7, 1857, one of the organizations that were actively promoting the unionist cause.

He later became a deputy representing Dorohoi in the ad-hoc divan of Moldova. The ad-hoc divans worked as consultative assemblies reflecting the population’s wishes for the union of the principalities. These were made up of representatives of the boyars, the bourgeoisie, the clergy, and the peasantry. The two ad-hoc divans in Țara Românească and Moldova elected Alexandru Ioan Cuza prince twice, on January 5 and January 24, 1859, thus making possible the Union of the two territories. A new step was thus taken in the unification of the Romanian provinces, later achieved in an extended form through the Great Union of 1918.

A person close to prince Cuza, whose election he supported, Kogălniceanu was appointed prime minister of Romania on October 11, 1863. From this position, he contributed to the modernization of the country in a process that encompassed extensive reforms.

In December 1863 the law of the secularization of the monasteries’ fortunes was passed, thus bringing a quarter of the country’s arable land into the state property.

A year later, laws that targeted administrative organization were passed. The rural communes, made up of villages and hamlets, were established. Several communes made up a plasă (the Romanian word for “net”) and several such plăşi, a county. Councils elected based on a censitary suffrage managed the administration of counties and communes. Kogălniceanu was also a supporter of establishing the capital of the new state in Bucharest.

During that period, county tribunals, appeal courts, and the Court of Cassation, also an appeal body, were established.

The electoral law was introduced. This increased the number of voters, divided into two categories, depending on education and the taxes they paid.

Another important bill adopted was the Agrarian Law of August 1864. This abolished the corvée, and turned the peasants bound by it into owners. The peasants were divided into several categories and received land. These had to pay for the land within 15 years. Some 30% of the country’s cultivated land was transferred to the peasants through this reform.

Kogălniceanu gave up on the prime minister job in January 1865, following misunderstandings he had with prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, who abdicated a year later, in 1866.

He returned to the forefront of political life in the government of Dimitrie Ghica (November 1868 – January 1870), which gathered both conservatives and liberals, and where he held the domestic affairs cabinet. Later, he became a foreign affairs minister in the government of Ion C. Brătianu (July 1876 – November 1878), at a time when Romania was fighting to win its independence.

Kogălniceanu worked together with Brătianu to get the country’s independence recognized internationally throughout the period of the Berlin Peace Congress.

In the Deputies Assembly on May 9, 1877, Mihail Kogălniceanu held the speech proclaiming the independence of Romania. “In a state of war, with broken connections, what are we? We are independent, we are a nation by itself […] Have we ever had the sultan as a sovereign? The foreigners said that, we never said this. So, mister deputies, I don’t have the faintest doubt or fear in declaring in front of the National Representation that we are a free and independent nation,” he explained. One day later, on May 10, the independence was proclaimed in the Senate as well, and the declaration was promulgated by King Carol I and then published in the Official Gazette.

In 1880, Kogălniceanu was named Romania’s first ambassador to Paris. After withdrawing from politics, he continued to be active in the cultural life as the president of the Romanian Academy (1887-1890) and by working on editing several documents on the history of the Romanians. His national vision included the Romanians in Transylvania, a region that used to be part of the territory of Dacia, alongside Țara Românească and Moldova, as he explained in a speech held in the Deputies Assembly in 1886.

By his death in 1891, Romania was declared a kingdom, and an extensive set of reforms across diverse areas helped the country modernize and get closer to the context of the Great Union of 1918.

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Photo: Britchi Mirela on Wikipedia; Mihail Kogalniceanu statue in the Mihail Kogalniceanu square in Bucharest. 

Mihail Kogălniceanu at enciclopediaromaniei.ro
Revoluţia de la 1848, 170 de Ani: ”Dorinţele partidei naţionale în Moldova”, program al revoluţionarilor moldoveni (The 1848 Revolution, 170 Years: “The Wishes of the National Party in Moldova,” a program of the Moldavian Revolutionaries) at agerpres.ro.
În 24 ianuarie 1859, Unirea Principatelor Române, primul pas către statul național unitar român (On January 24 1859, The Union of the Romanian Principalities, the First Step Towards a United National Romanian State) at stiri.tvr.ro.
Georgescu Vlad. The Romanians. A History. Ohio State University Press, 1991.
Berindei Dan. Politică externă și diplomați la începuturile României modern (Foreign Policy and Diplomats at the Beginning of Modern Romania). Mica Valahie Publishing House, 2011.