Choice of Bessarabians... Op-Ed by Victor Pelin

“For the Republic of Moldova and its citizens, it is important to learn at least something from the lessons of history and to distance themselves from Russia and its imperial ambitions. If we cannot learn, we should at least resort to comparisons to understand what the rupture from the Russian empire can mean, no matter what form this takes. For example, Finland, as Bessarabia, was a province of the tsarist empire and it managed to detach itself from this in 1917. The development and living standards in Finland are several times higher than those in Russia. Finland cannot be forgiven for prosperity. That’s why for over 100 years, the regime of Putin has been making plans hostile towards Finland.”

Elections to Constituent Assembly of November 25-27

On November 27, 2023, it has been 106 years of the elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) of Russia, which were to turn the former tsarist empire into a democratic, parliamentary republic. The idea of convoking a constituent assumedly was a compromise reached between the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet immediately after the abdication of Tsar Nicolas II on March 15, 1917. Initially, it was planned that the members of the CA would be elected in several months of the fall of the monarchy, but they failed to set a fixed date. Later, owing to organizational problems, it was decided to put off the elections until September 17-30. But other factors intervened, such as the attempted Bolshevik putsch of July 3, 1917, followed by the coup attempt led by General Kornilov, of August-September, which made the holding of elections impossible. Consequently, after a severe crisis experienced by the Provisional Government, the election date was set for November 25-27, 1917.

Amidst the preparations for holding the elections to the CA, only two weeks before election day, on November 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks made a new attempt to take over by force. The Bolsheviks didn’t aim to put off the elections to the CA. On the contrary, they hoped that the elections could legitimize their government. Respectively, among the first decrees signed by the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was the decree on the press which was signed on November 9. In accordance with the given decree, the press bodies of the rival parties were to be closed immediately, namely those that: 1) called for resistance to the workers’ and peasants’ government; 2) calumniously distorted facts; 3) called for criminal actions. The decree noted that the closure of publications was a temporary measure and this was to be annulled by a special decree on the appearance of normal conditions for public life. It turned out that in fact, normal conditions didn’t appear until the collapse of the Communist regime in 1991 so that the censorship imposed on November 9, 1917 wasn’t lifted and this took different forms.

So, at the height of the campaign prior to the elections to the CA, the press of almost all the political parties involved in the election campaign, evidently except for the Bolshevik press, was banned. The usurpers believed that under the pressure of the armed blackmail and censorship, they could win the elections and could legitimize Sovnarkom – the putschist government of the Bolsheviks.


Results of 1917 Russian Constituent Assembly Election


It wasn’t meant to be. The elections of November 25-27, 1917 were won by the SRs – the Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR), which polled 19.1 million votes (39.5% of the ballot) – 374 seats (48.82%) out of 766. The Bolsheviks obtained only approximately 10.8 million votes (22.4%) – 180 seats (23.5%). In total, the Socialist parties, others than the Bolshevik party, gained more than 60% of the vote and, owing to the proportional representation system, obtained approximately 2/3 of the seats on the CA. So, the attempt to legitimize the Bolshevik government through the elections to the CA failed. Respectively, the Bolsheviks didn’t find another solution than to dissolve by force the CA at the very first inaugural meeting of January 6, 1918. The civil war that claimed approximately 10 million lives was triggered as a result.

How Bessarabians voted in Constituent Assembly election?

For us, it is interesting to see how the inhabitants of Bessarabia province voted, which of the parties they supported in the elections to the CA. It is noteworthy that the proportional representation system was used at those elections, with lists of candidates in 81 regional constituencies (provinces and other regional entities), including seven constituencies intended for soldiers from different fronts of World War I. The electoral law provided that all the citizens were eligible to vote, including the women who turned 20 (for conscripted soldiers – 18 years). There were eliminated any kinds of barriers (censorship) – class affiliation, ownership, ethnic, religious and other kinds of affiliation. The elections were multiparty ones and involved over 20 political parties. In national constituencies that included Bessarabia, the candidates put on so-called national lists could also vote in elections. 

So, the elections in the constituency of Bessarabia province, with a population of approximately 2.5 million inhabitants, involved about 350,000 citizens who could put their names on the registers of voters on election day as well. The election results were as follows:  


How Bessarabia voted in the 1917 Russian Constituent Assembly Election


It is also interesting to see how the citizens in the urban centers of Bessarabia voted. Less than 10% of the population of the province lived in these centers where national minorities were concentrated.


The given statistics show that the Bessarabians, when they were able to take part in free elections, preferred to vote mainly for the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRs), which promised to solve the agrarian problem – appropriation of peasants, and for the National list. The Bolsheviks, despite the propaganda efforts, obtained only 8.2% in Bessarabia. This result is very important to fight the pretentions of the Communist-Socialist parties that derived from the Bolshevik party, which claim that Bessarabia was freed from the Bolshevik troops in 1940.  

Consequences of Bolshevik putsch for Bessarabia

The Bolshevik putsch of November 7, 1917 had immediate consequences. In only two weeks after the putsch, on November 20, 1917, right ahead of the CA election, the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) was proclaimed as a part of an eventual federation with Russia. The People’s Council reacted in an absolutely normal way and on December 2, 1917 proclaimed the Moldavian Democratic Republic (MDR), also as part of an eventual federation. As a legislative body constituted according to the same principles as, for example, the Petrograd Soviet, the People’s Council had the same degree of legitimacy to adopt decisions. Moreover, after the abdication of the Emissary of God – Tsar Nicolas II – the inhabitants of Bessarabia stopped to obey the tsar. In imperial Russia, there was no institute of citizenship as there was no constitution to tie the individual to the state. So, the Bessarabians, who started to obey the tsar after the annexation of Bessarabia in 1812, were free to decide their fate themselves, including through the agency of the CA.  

The brutal dissolution on January 6, 1918, of the Constituent Assembly by the Bolsheviks had as an immediate effect the declaring of the independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in only two weeks, on January 22, 1918. In two days, on January 24, the People’s Council did the same, declaring the independence of the Moldavian Democratic Republic. But the independence was to be protected from the yoke of the Bolsheviks who aspired to the world revolution even if the voters showed that they had fully different aspirations.   

Given that the Bolsheviks opened separate peace talks with the Central Powers back on December 22, 1917, the authorities of the Ukrainian People’s Republic joined the negotiations so as to ensure the protection of the status of independent state. In this regard, on February 9, 1918, the UPR and the Central Powers concluded a peace agreement by which the latter recognized the independence of the first. Instead, the UPR undertook not to join alliances hostile to the Central Powers that were drained by the war, committing itself to deliver food products and raw material in exchange for protection.

Ironic as it may be, in less than a month, the Bolshevik regime, in order to save its skin, had to sign, on March 3, 1918, the Peace Treaty of Brest with the same Central Powers of World War I, conceding 4% of the territory of Russia (26% of the European part), where ¼ of the population lived and where the industrial and agrifood potential of the country was concentrated. In such circumstances, the Moldavian Democratic Republic practically didn’t have another way out than the natural one – to return to the motherland from which it was separated in 1812 by the Russian Empire. This happened on April 9, (March 27) 1918, when the People’s Council voted for Bessarabia’s Union with Romania.

Myth about liberation of Bessarabia in 1940  

The joining by the United States of America (U.S.) of World War I on the part of the Entente Powers and the so-called revolution in Germany, inspired by the Bolshevik propaganda, caused the defeat of Germany and its allies. In only two days of the end of World War I, on November 13, 1918, the Bolshevik regime annulled the Treaty of Brest and, respectively, the assumed commitments: giving up claiming the territories of the Baltic States; withdrawal of the troops from Finland and Ukraine; recognition of the Ukrainian People’s Republic as an independent state; demobilization of the army and disarmament of the marine force; stopping the revolutionary propaganda on the territory of the Central Powers, etc.   

Bessarabia, after uniting with Romania, for about two decades had been far from the horrors of the Bolshevik regime that extended the civil war caused together with the dissolution of the CA to Ukraine, annulling its independence. The Holodomor and the GULAG were later applied as instruments to industrialize the Soviet empire on account of the peasantry and workers who were exploited mercilessly. A proof was the fact that the peasants in the USSR started to receive passports only in 1974, having actually the status of serfs.

After the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and the Secret Protocol, the Bolshevik regime claimed exactly what it undertook not to do by the Treaty of Brest. A propos, the similitude between the Nazi and Bolshevik regimes was noted by the beloved philosopher of Vladimir Putin – Ivan Ilyin, who stated that the fascism was a consequence of Bolshevism. So, it is not surprising that the two satraps – Stalin and Hitler – could reach a compromise in the process of dividing Europe so as to later become involved in the struggle for the partition of the world. For us, it matters that Bessarabia became a victim of the agreements between the two dictators, being occupied by the Bolsheviks on June 28, 1940. 

On the occasion of the anniversary of the events referring to the Constituent Assembly election, which could have turned Russia into a democratic state, it is opportune to refer to the speculative rhetoric of the Communist-Socialist political forces in the Republic of Moldova, which do not stop to annually celebrate the day of Bessarabia’s liberation from the Bolshevik USSR and the constitution, on August 2, of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. This aberration could have been overlooked, but, for the sake of logical exercises, it deserves to be examined. First of all, the inhabitants of Bessarabia rejected the bolshevism in a categorical way at the CA election of November 25-27, voting for these in the proportion of approximately 8%. So, the Bolshevik liberators couldn’t have been waited by the Bessarabians in 1940. Secondly, the Bessarabians were informed about what happened to Tsar Nicolas II and his family, who were killed in the most barbarous way by the Bolsheviks on the night of July 17, 1918. For the population of an agrarian province, which was therefore patriarchal, the barbarous killing of the Emissary of God by the Bolsheviks meant the rupture of any spiritual tie of Bessarabia with the former empire. The Bessarabian peasants couldn’t have waited for the Bolshevik liberators, who were declared antichrist militants.


The century-old imperial reflexes of Russia make it impossible to democratize this country. After the revolution of February 1917, the Bolshevik putsch and the civil war followed. Later, there was reconstituted the expansionist Soviet empire, which dreamt of the world revolution.

After the dissolution of the Soviet empire, in 1991, under the pressure of the own inefficiency and crimes, the restoration of the empire by creating a separatist enclave and then, through the agency of the direct aggression against Ukraine, restarted. No one can know how this imperial adventure of Putin’s Russian can end.

For the Republic of Moldova and its citizens, it is important to learn at least something from the lessons of history and to distance themselves from Russia and its imperial ambitions. If we cannot learn, we should at least resort to comparisons to understand what the rupture from the Russian empire can mean, no matter what form this can take. For example, Finland, as Bessarabia, was a province of the tsarist empire and it managed to detach itself from this in 1917. The development and living standards in Finland are several times higher than those in Russia. Finland cannot be forgiven for prosperity. That’s why for over 100 years, the regime of Putin has been making plans hostile towards Finland, hatching all kinds of provocations with migrants brought from Asia and Africa, as the regime of Lukashenko acted about two years ago against Poland and Lithuania. The Russian empire, in any form, is aggressive and incorrigible!  

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