Nicolae Petrescu-Comnen (Romanian pronunciation: [nikoˈla.e peˈtresku komˈnen]; Gallicized as Petrescu-Comnène or Petresco-Comnène, born Nicolae Petrescu; 1881-December 8, 1958) was a Romanian diplomat, politician, and humanitarian, noted for his role in interwar European politics and his support for the League of Nations (to which he was Romania's representative between 1923 and 1927). The author of several books on political history, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs between March 30, 1938 and January 31, 1939 (in the Octavian Goga and Miron Cristea cabinets).
Having studied at the University of Bucharest and the University of Paris, he took a doctorate in Law and Political Science at the latter, and began his career as a lawyer. According to Constantinide, Petrescu authored a volume of poems which he signed as Petrescu-D'Artagnan, and later changed first changed his surname to Petrescu-Comnen to illustrate a claim to lineage from the Komnenos family of Byzantine Emperors (he also claimed to be related to the Bonapartes); Constantinide also reported that Petrescu's views on his family's heritage were a frequent topic of ridicule among foreign diplomats (puns on his name included the French-language Petrescu-Quand même - "Petrescu-All the Same", and the generic "Nicolae Perhaps-Comnen"). His wife was of Hungarian origin, and he allegedly had her adopted by an impoverished count in Trieste, as a means for the family to inherit a formal title.
Petrescu-Comnen soon joined the National Liberal Party (PNL). During World War I, he was delegated to Geneva by the Ion I. C. Brătianu government, and was later one of Romania's envoys to the Paris Peace Conference.
It was at this time that he became the target of criticism from the far left — the communist writer Panait Istrati, who resided in Switzerland, alleged that the pro-National Liberal delegation of Vasile Lucaciu and Petrescu-Comnen, using demagogy, was preparing ground for the annexation of Transylvania to the "satrap yoke" of the Romanian Kingdom. Petrescu himself, aware of the many problems faced by Romanian Hungarians, Romanian Jews and other communities, showed concern with such attitudes, reporting from the League of Nations (in 1924) that "the Budapest government will target us [in complaints], since it is confident that our situation inside the European concert of nations is shakier than that of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, that the situation of minorities is in reality less good than elsewhere, and, finally, that an unfavorable current can be easily determined against us with support from Russia, Jews, Catholics and Protestants the world over", and calling for a negative campaign against the Magyar Party after the latter had appealed to the League.
Elected to Parliament for the PNL in November 1919, he took office in early 1920 (when he returned from Paris) and served until 1923. He was noted for proposing legislation that made striking illegal, pressuring the Alexandru Vaida-Voevod cabinet (formed by the Romanian National Party, the Peasants' Party, and backed by the Democratic Nationalist Party) to look into allegations of Bolshevik influence inside the Socialist Party of Romania. Despite PNL protests and support from the far right National-Christian Defense League, the legislation was not passed.
According to Constantinide, Petrescu-Comnen owed his appointment to diplomatic office to his political connections. In 1923, he was named ambassador to Bern, and later (1927–1937, interrupted by a mandate to the Vatican) served as representative to Germany, where he closely observed the downfall of the Weimar Republic and the establishment of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. His was prudent in his contacts with the new German regime, and his diplomatic notes of the time have been considered ambivalent.
A partisan of Nicolae Titulescu's policies, Petrescu-Comnen was in favor of normalizing relations between the Soviet Union and Romania, attempting to settle the issue of Bessarabia - see Greater Romania). As early as 1927, he approached Maxim Litvinov, a Soviet diplomat who served as Foreign Minister, and, despite harsh criticism at home over speculations that Romania was dropping its guard, helped bring about a period of communication between the government of Romania and Joseph Stalin's leadership.
His term as minister coincided with the major political developments enforced by King Carol II as a means to discourage the rise of the fascist Iron Guard; the Goga cabinet, in power after Gheorghe Tătărescu's fall in the problematic elections of 1937, was replaced, on May 30 of 1938, with Carol's own authoritarian regime, formed around the National Renaissance Front (and first represented by the Cristea cabinet).
Petrescu-Comnen was subject to increasing pressures from the Germans to reorient his country's foreign policy towards the Tripartite Pact. Alfred Rosenberg called on Petrescu-Comnen to abandon Little Entente commitments to Czechoslovakia, as a prerequisite for good economic exchanges with Germany. His ministry attempted to prioritize Romania's commitment to Czechoslovakia (tested by both Nazi demands and Polish policies, as well as by Czechoslovakia's friendship towards the Soviet state; see Polish-Romanian Alliance); it eventually witnessed the Munich Agreement, and, despite official protests, had to seek a new course in European politics.
After being replaced by Grigore Gafencu, he returned as Romania's representative to the Vatican, remaining in office after the outbreak of World War II and under the Iron Guard government (the National Legionary State), and being recalled when the latter was replaced with Ion Antonescu's regime (see Romania during World War II).
He decided to remain in Florence, where he led a Romanian Red Cross Committee in exile. In 1943, after the Allied invasion of Italy, he mediated between the two sides to preserve the city's art and architecture from destruction, and in return was awarded the title of honorary citizen of Florence.
- Rostovsky & Forter, p.317
- Iorgulescu; Petrescu
- Istrati, in Iorgulescu
- Petrescu-Comnen, in Nastasă, p.37
- Nastasă, p.37
- Constantinescu, p.25; Petrescu
- Constantinescu, p.25
- Constantinide; Petrescu; Rostovsky & Forter, p.317
- Constantinide; Neumann
- Ragsdale & Trommer, p.55
- Ragsdale & Trommer, p.57
- Ragsdale & Trommer, p.55-57
- Dreyfus, p.343
- Dreyfus, p.348; Ragsdale & Trommer, p.55, 77-78
- Ion Constantinescu, "«Domnilor, vă stricați sănătatea degeaba...»" ("«Gentlemen, You're Ruining Your Health over Nothing...»"), in Magazin Istoric, July 1971
- (in Romanian) Noti Constantinide, Amintiri ("Recollections"), at Memoria.ro
- François-Georges Dreyfus, Les Relations franco-allemandes: 1933-1939 ("Franco-German Relations: 1933-1939"), Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris, 1976 ISBN 2-222-01956-7
- (in Romanian) Mircea Iorgulescu, "Istrati în Elveția (II)" ("Istrati in Switzerland"), in 22, nr.708, September–October 2003
- (in Romanian) Lucian Nastasă, "Repere istorice" ("Historical Landmarks"), in Lucian Nastasă, Levente Salat (eds.), Maghiarii din România și etica minoritară ("Romanian Magyars and Minority Ethics")
- (in Romanian) Victor Neumann, "Diplomația României față în față cu Reich-ul nazist" ("Romania's Diplomacy in Front of the Nazi Reich"), review of Rebecca Haynes, Romanian Policy Towards Germany, 1936-40, in Observatorul Cultural
- Nicolae Petrescu, Nicolae Petrescu Comnen - a Distinguished Diplomat in Disgraceful Oblivion (abstract), published by the National Museum of Romanian History
- Hugh Ragsdale, Aage Trommer, The Soviets, the Munich Crisis, and the coming of World War II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge ISBN 0-521-83030-3
- Demeter B. Rostovsky, Norman L. Forter, The Roumanian Handbook, Ayer Publishing, Manchester, New Hampshire, 1971 ISBN 0-405-02747-8