In 1812, Bessarabia was annexed to the empire of Russian tsars. The historical drama of the Moldovan-Romanians eastward the Prut, who have been separated from their natural ethnic, cultural and historic land for more than two centuries, starts from here. Unlike other invading empires, the Russian one had its particularities that consisted in the strengthening of territorial enlargement by forced policies of Russifying assimilation of the population from the conquered territories, first of all of the nobility and cultural elites. At the first stage of occupation of the recently conquered territories, so as to obtain the loyalty of the population from the new provinces, the tsarist administration often resorted to the tactic of providing economic concessions to the new vassals of the tsar. By these economic policies, Russian tsarist government attenuated in the immediate term the shock of subjugation of the people from the territories that were freshly annexed to the empire. But in a longer term, the people cheated with initial economic benefits, paid suffocating tribute for their denationalization by Russification policies.
In times when d’Artagnan was Gasconian
Bessarabia was disjoined from the Principality of Moldavia at the beginning of the 19th century, which is also called the century of nations or the age of nationalism in Europe. In the Middle Ages, the people’s perception of their affiliation to nationality was different than at present, the local national identity prevailing over the general ethnic and culturally identity. For example, in Alexandru Dumas’ famous novel “The Three Musketeers”, the main character d’Artagnan, the future captain of the musketeers of the king of France, presented himself as Gasconian in terms of primary ethnic affiliation and only then as a French man. The same rule until the 19th century applied to the ethnic Romanian space in which the local ethnic identity – Moldovan, Oltean, Ardelean and others – prevailed over the general pan-Romanian one.
The 19th century that was dominated by the “principle of nationalities” excelled in Europe by national movements inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution about the nations’ right to decide their fate themselves. These ideas ran counter to the principle of the Old Regime, which considered that the nations that started to coexist out of the wish of one of the sovereigns, had to remain integrated into the given monarchic state construct. Against that wave of European societal modernization, modern national states appeared, such as Germany, Italy and Romania. The appearance and building of national states weren’t a linear process and this was often extended in time depending on the size of the national movements in those areas.
Bessarabia separated from European and Romanian processes
The national state of Romanians appeared in perfect synchronization with the European modernization trends, covering successively the historical stages of the “Ardeal school”, Tudor Vladimirescu’s revolution, the movement of 1848, the Union of Principalities, the Independence war, ending with the formation of Greater Romania. But the national state of Romanians, owing to the vicinity and hegemonic policies of the last empire in Europe, the Soviet one, lost a part of the national territory, Bessarabia being annexed by the Soviets in 1940. Under the Soviet regime, the Romanians from Bessarabia were brought back to the school of denationalization by Russification that was established during the tsarist empire and was amplified by the practices of the Soviet regime. To justify the absorption of Bessarabia, the Soviets needed to undermine the identity genetic code of the Romanians eastward the Prut, imbedding the idea of having Moldovan identity distinct from the Romanian one into their conscience.
This imperialist diversion of the Soviets was facilitated by the historical particularities of Bessarabia, which was disjoined from the Principality of Moldova before the national movement of 1848 expanded in the Romanian space, with all the modernizing processes of educating and re-socializing the population. In the times when it became more important to consider oneself firstly Romanian and then Moldovan, Oltean or Ardelean, the population of Bessarabia was separated from the Motherland and didn’t take part in the same process of national formation as the Romanian principalities. The Moldovans of Bessarabia until 1918 didn’t have access to the Romanian national renaissance movement, while the cultured class and the peasantry still identified themselves with the local Moldovan identity. Above them, there was the Tsarist Empire that took steps to Russify the population and isolate it from the processes beyond the Prut.
Processes started in 1918 were resumed in 1991
Bessarabia’s return home in 1918 connected the Bessarabian Moldovans to the processes of building and assuming the Romanian national identity. The ensemble of policies of the Romanian state, combined with the edifying efforts of the national school and church, produced an effect during two decades, turning Bessarabia into Romanian land at the level of the national conscience of the population of this region. But this national modernization process in Bessarabia was brutally ended by the Soviet occupation of 1940, with the occupants immediacy launching the process of identity deconstruction of the Bessarabian Romanians by fixing perception of anti-Romanian vulgar Moldovenism in their national conscience. To discredit the Romanian identity of Moldova eastward the Prut, the Soviet regime during five decades had proliferated ferocious denationalization policies and policies to build the Moldovan and anti-Romanian identity. These policies manifested themselves through the exchange of population or the cultural Russification of the local population, accompanied by camouflaged Romanophobia. The Soviet school and Russian church made a decisive contribution to the work to denationalize Soviet Moldova.
After obtaining Independence in 1991, Moldovan society in the Republic of Moldova found itself at an identity crossroads. The national intellectual elite, with rare and insignificant exceptions, swiftly became Romanian through national conscience. But the rural population preserved the Moldovan identity perception imbedded during the Soviet period by methods of imperial social engineering, in the post-Soviet period being seasoned with Soviet nostalgias and anti-Romanian fits. The Soviet identity construct prevails inside the national minorities in the Republic of Moldova, being accompanied by anti-Romanian feelings of different intensity, Nevertheless, the Romanian identity has gained more space inside Moldovan society, with sociological surveys showing 40% of the Moldovans have an assumed Romanian conscience.
The continuous expansion of the Romanian identity in the Republic of Moldova generates virulent Romanophobic reactions among the supporters of the Russian world and vulgar Moldovenism. The old narrative of Soviet propaganda about the “slap of the Romanian gendarme”, about Romania’s complicity in the war waged by Hitler’s Germany against the Soviet Union and, more recently, about the Romanian political class’ so-called opposition to the Union idea is being revived in the public sphere. The last thesis is spread at a time when the number of Moldovans with Romanian identity in the Republic of Moldova rises constantly. This fact seriously bothers the supporters of the Russian world and of the restoration of the empire of historical Russia in the version of Putin. Driven to despair by the continuous expansion of the Romanian identity in the Republic of Moldova, the supporters of the Russian world try to accredit the false idea about the unwillingness of the Romanians beyond the Prut to support the national reintegration. Anticipating the failure of their Romanophobic efforts, they resort to the most exalted solutions and methods.
This way, agents of the Russian imperialism recently staged in Comrat a campaign for the “recognition of the collapse of the USSR as illegal” and for the “restoration of the borders of the USSR in accordance with the results of World War II”. This campaign was supported by representatives of a right-wing political association called the National Liberation Movement (NOM), who pitched a tent for propaganda purposes in central Comrat and told passersby that “Moldova is a colony of the U.S.” and that Russia “as a lawful successor of the USSR” can determine the borders of all the countries that formed part of the Soviet Union. It is not at all accidental that this provocative event was held namely in the center of the region populated by Gagauz people as these people are tmost predisposed to Soviet nostalgia and, by extension, to Romanophobic reactions in the Republic of Moldova.
Only chance against imperial ambitions
These pro-imperial messages of the Russian nationalists disseminated in Comrat perfectly match the anti-American, anti-West and anti-Romanian calls that were often heard at the so-called protest staged by the Shor Party in central Chisinau. In its essence, this campaign to resuscitate the Soviet nostalgia in Moldovan society, which became a major element of the hybrid war waged against the Republic of Moldova by the revanchist imperial forces is aimed against the process of assuming by the Moldovan-Romanians of the real national identity – the Romanian one, which is the only one capable to fundamentally prevent the bringing of Moldova eastward the Prut into the zone of Russian imperial influence, being also the safest guarantee against the resuscitation of the ambitions of the Russian imperialism in our national space.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.