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  • Ilinca Stroe

Nicolae Titulescu: the Diplomat Who Fought War

Born in 1882 in the capital city of Oltenia, Nicolae Titulescu is undoubtedly that region’s most internationally influential native. The only twice-elected President of the League of Nations, he was the Romanian diplomat whom famous newspapers like British The Times and French Le Temps reverently commended for his “energy, devotion and skill” as a “brilliant defender of his country’s cause”, served with “unfailing distinction”, as well as for his “new conception of the society of nations” [1].

The great statesman started out as a brilliant student of the “Jules Javet” elementary school and the “Nicolae Bălcescu” high school in Craiova, where his school performance was rewarded with a scholarship in Paris. There he graduated from the Law Faculty, received the “Ernest Beaumont” prize in 1903 and completed his PhD in 1905. It is also in France during his graduate years that he was initiated into the Freemasonry and became a flawless speaker of four languages (French, English, German and Italian), while after he returned to Romania he took up a short academic career, teaching law in Iaşi and Bucharest before he entered politics and was elected a deputy at 30.

Titulescu’s international success as a diplomat preceded his domestic career ascension: in 1918 he co-founded in Paris the Romanian National Council which, recognised officially by the Allies’ governments, promoted the Romanian people’s right to national unity and paved the way, through the 1919 Paris Conference following World War I, for Romania’s unification with Transylvania. The Craiova-born diplomat, an outstanding orator, had previously described, in 1915, the latter region as “the heart of Romania”, “the cradle of its childhood and school which shaped its people” [2], so when the Great Union finally happened after the war, Titulescu was obviously considered one of its masterminds.

In the 1920s and 1930s he became a permanent representative of Romania to the League of Nations in Geneva, an organisation regarded as the precursor of the United Nations Organisation today, and he also served as Romania’s envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to London. In the early ‘30s he was the President of the League two times, and over the two decades he was appointed three times Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania. Ousted, marginalised and exiled by King Carol II of Romania, who could not condone Titulescu’s firm opposition to fascism and the rising powers in Germany and Italy, the diplomat rounded off his career touring Europe to lecture in Cap Martin, London, Oxford or Cannes, with the major Western dailies tracing his steps and covering his speeches in detail.

Nicolae Titulescu’s greatest, career-long concerns were that peace and concord be instituted after WWI, and that another war be avoided at all cost in Europe. To that goal he put forward and promoted a number of clear aspirations, tools and actions: universal condemnation of WWI, the inviolability of frontiers (especially to oppose German revisionism in Hitler’s time), effective collaboration between nations through economic and political agreements, equal rights and equal political standing for large and small states across Europe. One great example of an initiative which summed up Titulescu’s diplomatic convictions was the Little Entente, a tripartite pact of mutual support and cooperation signed by the Romanian statesman with his counterparts from Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in 1933.

While in his lifetime Titulescu was dubbed “the knight of world peace” [3] and “minister of Europe” [4], later on analysts called him a visionary. Take, for instance, his beautiful idea of “spiritualisation of the frontiers” within Europe, or this quote: “Europe is no longer a collection of states. It is a state divided into separate parts through administrative measures embodied by frontiers.” You would say the words come from one of the European Community’s founding fathers, and yet they were uttered about three decades earlier. That, along with Titulescu’s ideas that there should be no differentiation between the West and the East of Europe, or that a vital condition of peace on the continent lies in economic cooperation between European states [5] stand proof that the Romanian diplomat’s vision of Europe was indeed future-inspired.

On 7 February 1934 the Professors’ Council of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in Iaşi adopted a decision to nominate Nicolae Titulescu for the 1935 Peace Nobel Prize. Because of in-country political plotting the proposal came to naught. Should that prize be awarded posthumously, the Craiova-born Romanian diplomat would certainly get it!

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