This article looks at the constitutional label of Romania as a ‘national state’ and the constitutional discourse surrounding it. It argues that this label is unavoidably linked to a project of constitutional nationalism. The article examines the origins of the provision enshrining this state characteristic, as well as the eternity clause declaring it unamendable, so as to reconstruct the genealogy of the idea of the national state in Romania. The article traces the origins of the concept to early-twentieth century nation-building discourse but links its current incarnation to the distinctive type of nationalism promoted in late communist and early post-communist Romania and its fear of the Hungarian ‘other’. This fear seeped into debates in the 1990–1991 constituent assembly debating the new constitution, which proceeded to disregard calls for a more pluralist definition of the state and clearer constitutional protection for national minorities. While some of these choices were revisited during the 2003 revision of the constitution, the fundamental law retains its emphasis on the national state. To this day, Article 1 (1) continues to be contested, especially by representatives of the Hungarian community. At the same time, it is invoked and creates confusion every time administrative territorial reorganisation is entertained. The article argues that greater clarity is required in understanding the concept and operation of the national state provision, as well as openness to an inclusive national dialogue surrounding this constitutional unsettlement. Only by moving the constitutional discourse beyond the highly politicised debates of years past, and the ‘us versus them’ mentality informing them, can Romanian constitutionalism show a maturity in keeping with its recent 25-year anniversary.
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