In November 2018, the mandate of the current Parliament of Moldova comes to an end and the legislative elections will most probably be held in December. The political forces that control one or several branches of the state power, the Democrats and the Socialists, adjust their efforts and tactics that were launched in the period of the presidential elections of 2016. These bank, first and foremost, on the geopolitical substance and the mobilization of citizens around fears related to (semi)real internal or external aggression. At the other pole, the extraparliamentary opposition led by Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase capitalize on the image following the confrontation with the government, based on active communication with the foreign partners and, more recently, on their participation in the local mayoral elections in Chisinau. The rest of the political parties have slim electoral chances. These can enter Parliament only if they win in single-member constituencies.
Besides the association with the European Union, which is approved of by most of the citizens (IRI, March 2018), the main political forces of the country gravitate towards the debate on the feasibility or, on the contrary, the threats that can result from the promotion of the idea of reunification with Romania. The intensification of the pro-reunification narrative is determined by the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the reunification of the Romanian territories. Amid such a background, over 140 local public authorities of Moldova (district councils, local councils, etc.) signed symbolic statements on the reunification with Romania. Among the signatories of the reunification statements are the local public authorities from different Romanian communities and from the areas around the Moldovan-Romanian border and not only (Timis, Iasi, Constanta, Prahova, Craiova, Buzau).
Moreover, the approach for an eventual reunion of Moldova and Romania was enshrined in the statement signed by the Parliament of Romania on March 27, 2018, when the unionist forces celebrated the centenary of Bessarabia’s union with Romania. It is for the first time since Moldova declared its independence that the legislature of the neighboring state openly states its interest in the reunification. By this approach, the absolute majority of the political forces represented in the Romanian legislative body tie the possible union with the development and assertion of the Romanian nation. The existence of a sovereign wish among the citizens of the Republic of Moldova is the key argument invoked by the Romanian side. Simultaneously, Romania excludes any interference from outside aimed at influencing the reunification.
The approach of the Romanian political class hasn’t been challenged in Moldova, if only by the pro-Russian forces led by President Igor Dodon, while the government and the extraparliamentary opposition welcomed it tacitly. At the same time, the emancipation of unionism is for now ignored by the EU. Neither Russia shows any open interest in what should generate at least questions, if not concerns (IPN, February 19, 2018).
Multiplying factors of unionist movement
Even if the pro-unionist narrative has always circulated in the Moldovan public sphere, this has never had high density among the political forces on the central political arena from both sides of the Prut River. Until 2009, the political forces with unionist rhetoric acted in closed social interaction systems and this made their impact and attractiveness to remain limited among the citizens.
A series of complex factors contributed to stimulating the unionist movement in Moldova and Romania during the last few years.
Firstly, the increase in Romania’s attractiveness following its entry into the NATO and the EU was a starting point. This resulted in significant reanimation of the economy, access to EU funds and, respectively, an increase in public revenues, which were later accessed by the Romanian citizens and became available to becoming citizens from Romania’s vicinity.
The second critical moment that favored unionism was the worsening of the quality of governance in the Republic of Moldova, accompanied by multiple political crises and more evident dysfunctionality in different social and economic sectors (education, social assistance, etc.), which became especially obvious after 2009. This fragmented the citizens’ devotion to the Moldovan state and accelerated the search for alternatives outside, including by embracing the identity-related affiliation with Romania.
The third aspect that advantaged unionism more expressively resides in the facilitation of the legal process of regaining Romanian nationality for those entitled from outside the Romanian borders. Also, the shortcomings in the Romanian public system and incidence of corruption enabled to develop very ramified informal networks of intermediaries through which the obtaining of Romanian papers, especially in Moldova, was additionally simplified. This way, the Moldovans with dual nationality started to benefit from rights typical for the European citizens, such as free travel in the EU member states and, most important, to easier become legally employed in the EU.
Last but not least, the political-electoral agitation in Moldova plays a specific role in expanding the unionist current and the elections of 2018 here will be decisive for the Democrats and the Socialists. The keeping of political power and, respectively, the extension of immunity in relation to justice are the key motivations of the Democrats. On the other hand, the Socialists headed by President Igor Dodon want to borrow the political power and to build a vertical of the power, where the pro-Russian party would be able to control all the branches of the power. For both of the political parties, the unionist political activism plays a considerable electoral role. The Socialists use the unionist element to mobilize the pro-Moldovan and pro-Russian voters before the risk of an eventual disintegration of Moldovan statehood. In the case of Democrats, on the one hand, the inciting of unionism distracts public attention from more important public files. On the other hand, by not acting against the unionist, the Democrats try to diminish the electoral impact area of the extra-parliamentary opposition (Maia Sandu and PAS), which openly sympathizes with and associates itself with the unionist idea that is supported by about 20% of the population. Furthermore, the presence of unionists in the public sphere generates an artificial situation of panic. This makes the public to be more susceptible to internal propaganda disseminated by the media outlets associated with the Democratic Party and the Party of Socialists.
Euro-unionism and European (re)integration
Unionism is perceived differently in Moldovan society. There are at least three approaches to the unionist idea. The first approach is the historical-reparatory one which centers on the restoration of historical justice as regards the unity of the Romanian territories that was destroyed by more powerful geopolitical players in the 20th century. In this regard, Moldova’s statehood is a temporary variable that will lose its relevance after the reunification with Romania.
Through the angle of the second, pragmatic approach, the union with Romania is an objective and urgent necessity determined by the inherent incapacity of the Moldovan political class to rule the country efficiently and for the benefit of public interest. This viewpoint is poorly connected to the historical arguments and focuses on practical calculations as regards the tangible benefits that the reunification project can provide.
The third approach to unionism is the precautious one. This does not deny the essence of unionism and recognizes the historical arguments, but is reticent to the idea because it anticipates a series of risks that are ignored by the first two approaches. The key preoccupation is related to the explosiveness that the unionist project can generate for the internal stability in Moldova and the region. At internal level, the relations of Chisinau with the regions populated by Russian-speaking minorities will be seriously affected and new separatism movements will become inevitable. At foreign level, the bilateral relations between Romania and Ukraine will worsen. This will additionally fuel the nationalist narrative in the Ukrainian state and will extend the animosities between Kyiv and the Eastern member states of the EU. At the same time, the attempt to reunify Romania can be used by Russia to justify an eventual thawing of the Transnistrian conflict.
Even if the political forces associated with the EU that can enter Parliament after the elections (Democratic Party, Party “Action and Solidarity” and Party “Platform Dignity and Truth”) flirt with the unionist idea, they refuse to assume it fully for electoral reasons. Maia Sandu is practically the only popular political leader who, even if she regularly pleads for unionism, prefers to keep this separately on the political agenda of her party (PAS). Other political parties with clear unionist views, but with an inferior electoral basis, tend to compare unionism with the European re-integration of Moldova and the return to the European system of values. The equaling of the European (re)integration with the unionist project risks fuelling dissatisfaction and distrust in the supporters of the European course in Moldova. Indirectly, this can contribute to the demonization of the European agenda, which already became a goal for the pro-Russian forces led by President Dodon.
Instead of conclusion...
The unionism expressed by the Moldovans is non-homogenous. Its share increased during the last few years, mainly owing to the Moldovan political class’ recurrent failure to improve the daily life of the citizens. Poverty, corruption, economic deficiencies and loss of confidence in the Moldovan state encourage the more pragmatic Moldovans to orient themselves to Romania. A part of these aim to maximize or secure their welfare, while others use the affiliation with Romania to enter other Western societies.
The pro-European political forces that are able to enter Parliament actively interact with the unionist idea, but without borrowing it fully for various electoral fears. Even if unionism has growth potential, the pro-Russian and statehood views are yet dominant in society.
Wishing to become more acceptable, the unionist forces expand the association with the European integration. Such a tactic, even if it can have positive effects for the unionist idea, risks fueling distrust in the European course and the EU. In the context of the parliamentary elections, this can advantage first of all, but not only, the pro-Russian forces.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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