On February 23, 1917, an order issued by the Romanian Ministry of War in Iași provided for the establishment of the Russian and Transylvanian Volunteer Corps in Russia, made up of Romanians from the Austro-Hungarian army, who had been captured by the Russians. On the same day, the recruitment of Romanian volunteers from Russian camps started, centred around the camp in Darnița, a locality near Kiev, now becoming an administrative district of the Ukrainian capital.
On March 16, the creation of the Romanian Volunteers Corps was officially announced, and two days later, in the presence of General Constantin Coandă, the honorary commander of the Corps, and Colonel Constantin Pietraru, the officer charged by the Romanian authorities to handle the recruitment and organization, the volunteers signed a pledge to “put their bodies and their souls into the service of the true homeland”.
In this context, on April 24, 1917, a meeting of the Romanian officers from Russia was organized, during which it was decided to send a report to the provisional government of Russia, the Romanian government, the governments of the Allied western states, as well as to the representatives of the other national minorities in Austria-Hungary. A committee consisting of Lieutenant Pompiliu Nistor (doctor), Simion Gocan (priest), Emanoil Isopescu (teacher), Victor Deleu, Octavian Vasu, Nicolae Nedelcu, Gavrilă Iuga, Vasile Chiroiu, Trifon Ghilezan (lawyers) was formed to draft this report.
On April 26, there was a meeting of all the Romanian volunteers concentrated in the Darnița camp, which unanimously adopted the manifesto, known as the “Darnița Declaration”. This document expressed the wish of the Romanian people in Austria-Hungary to decide their own fate, anticipating with a year and a half the declaration of self-determination from Oradea (October 12, 1918). The document underlines from the first paragraph the unique purpose of the creation of the Russian Volunteer Corps in Russia:
“We, the body of volunteers for the Romanian army, officers, sergeants and soldiers of Romanian stock from the territory of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, former prisoners of war in Russia; we, who with the sacrifice of our lives are ready to enter into the struggle for the fulfilment of our ideal; to unite all the people, all the Romanian territories from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy into one and indivisible Romania, sovereign and free…”.
The authors of the “Darnița Declaration” show why they cannot be satisfied by autonomy within Austria-Hungary and argue that their objective is to form a “single Romanian national state”:
“[…] Today, when we Romanians- like the other subjugated nations- have definitively convinced ourselves, that we as Romanians are no longer able to exist within the framework of the Austro-Hungarian state, we, who are in language, in culture, in social structure, and in all our ethnic and political being, a unique and indivisible body with all the other constituent parts of the Romanian nation, we urge our incorporation into independent Romania, to form together with it a single Romanian national state, built on the basis of democracy. For this ideal, we put in the balance everything we have, our life and wealth, our women and children, the life and happiness of our descendants. And we will not stop until we are victorious or we perish.
There was a time, when we would have been satisfied, forced by difficult circumstances, only with a “national autonomy”, although autonomy should be reserved only for minorities, while in Austria-Hungary we are the majority: the non-German and non-Hungarian nations.
But we are convinced that in the framework of the Austro-Hungarian state, any concessions or laws, no matter how fair, no matter the guarantees, or how serious they may seem, will always be lies, and will be broken on the first ocassion.[…]
We therefore demand our incorporation to Romania, in the name of the right of each nation capable of existence and able to decide its own fate, to choose its own state and the form by which it wants to govern itself ”.
The “Darnita Declaration” was translated into Russian and French and signed by 500 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, on behalf of all Romanian volunteers. The document was sent to the provisional government of Russia, the government of Romania, the Soviets of Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev and other important cities of Russia, to the Allied diplomatic and military representations in Russia, as well as to the press in the Allied countries.
A copy of the document was handed over to the “Romanian Patriotic Mission”, made up of priests Vasile Lucaciu, Ioan Moța and Lieutenant Vasile Stoica, who stopped in Darnița on their way to the United States of America. Through this unofficial delegation sent by the Romanian government to the US, the “Darnița Declaration” was also published in the newspapers of the Romanian community in America.
Ioan I. Şerban, Semnificația Memoriului Manifest al soldaților români de la Darnița Kievului (13/26 aprilie 1917) [The significance of the Manifest Memorandum of the Romanian soldiers from Kievan Darnița (13/26 April, 1917)], in Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Historica, No. 4-5, 2000-2001.
Gheorghe Romanescu (colonel); Tudor Gheorghe (colonel); Mihai Cucu (colonel); Ioan Popescu (colonel), Istoria infanteriei române [The history of Romanian infantry], vol. II, The Scientific and Encyclopaedic Publishing House, București, 1985.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa