The leu (RON) is the official currency of Romania. The word leu can be translated into English as “lion”, and the plural form is lei. Romania is located in eastern Europe, with a coastline on the Black Sea and land borders with Ukraine, Moldova, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria.
In more modern times, Romania existed at various times under the competing interests of Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro Hungarian Empire. It was not until the late 19th Century that Romania as we currently know it emerged as an independent state. The country was badly affected by the military conflict of the First World War, particularly when the support of Russia was effectively removed by the advent of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The inter-war years saw increasing prosperity until the Great Depression struck in the 1930s, resulting in considerable social upheaval and constant changes in government.
World War Two saw the Romanians suffer again: firstly at the hands of the Soviet Union, who demanded that the Romanians side with them, or face invasion. Then when the Nazis turned on the Russians and invaded the Soviet Union, the Romanians were forced to side with Germany, and formed a major part of the Nazi invasion force. In late 1944 however, a military coup led by the country’s reigning monarch King Michael saw the Romanians switch sides again and join the allied forces. Unfortunately, this late but invaluable switch was not really recognised by the Western forces and has been widely forgotten in the aftermath of the war, when Romania became part of the Soviet Union’s eastern bloc and came under communist rule.
The country was effectively ruled by the Soviet Union until the mid-60s, when the new President Ceausescu came to power, and began to assert at least a degree of independence from his Russian masters. However, his autocratic and authoritarian rule became increasingly unpopular, and he was overthrown as a result of the Romanian Revolution of 1989. The succeeding years have seen Romania gradually increase its ties with the European Union. The country first applied to join in 1993, and by a multi stage process, finally achieved full membership in 2007. Its recent history has been one of impressive economic growth, punctuated only by a brief period of difficulty as a result of the 2008 banking crash.
The current “new” leu is in fact the fourth version of the currency, introduced in 2005 as a result of a revaluation of the old leu, which had been falling in value so badly that it had become the least valued currency unit in the world: 1 million lei and even 5 million lei notes were in use at that time. As a result of its membership agreement with the EU, Romania is committed to joining the euro, but there are no current plans to do so. The value of the leu at the time of writing is around 5.5 RON to the pound.