State policy and national identity in Republic of Moldova. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



Practically all the major problems of the Moldovan citizens today are due to the mistaken views of the Moldovan political elite about the identity policy of the last 30 years, owing to which Moldovan society has been condemned to political and social division and demobilization...


Anatol Țăranu

The Republic of Moldova appeared as an independent state as a result of the implosion of the Soviet empire. Historically, the territory and population of the Republic of Moldova, torn away by the force of arms from its national, ethnic, cultural and political space, had been under the occupation of the tsarist empire and the Soviet empire during almost two centuries and in the period the native population had been subject to a long and massive process of denationalization and Russification. The process of detaching itself from the colonial empire and of building the new independent state was marked by the cultural and spiritual renaissance of the native population and knowledge of the authentic national history. But in post-imperial Moldovan society, the élan of the national renaissance process, reassessment of the past and attempts to project a future for the new state were continuously accompanied by contradictory debates on the national identity of the majority population  and, finally, on the choice of the civilizational development objective.

Essential difference of state Moldovan model

On the 30th anniversary of its existence, the Republic of Moldova is in the posture of an unaccomplished state in terms of territorial integrity, with a frozen secessionist conflict, with an economic development level below the indexes existing when the independence was proclaimed, with the most precarious social sphere in Europe and, consequently, with a population that hasn’t yet developed into a distinct nation. The excessive fragmentation of society with unfavorable consequences for the union of the society’ energies towards sustainable development derives from here.

In the theory about society, there is broad consensus about the nature of system changes that occurred in the peripheral Soviet republics after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, which regained independence by annihilating the Soviet communist political system that was replaced with the system based on the principles of building of the national state. The new independent states laid the foundations of their legitimacy by building political bodies corresponding to the national identity distinct from the Soviet one, to a nation. The idea of nation and national state crated modern Europe, being simultaneously the catalyst for the appearance of mobilizing forms of social aggregation and a way of imposing community behavioral norms, on which the supreme sacrifice in the name of the interests of the community of citizens of the state is imposed. This way, the idea of national patriotism, which became the driving force of the development of these societies, became legitimate in the new independent states of the post-Soviet space. For the Republic of Moldova, the example of the neighboring Ukraine, in which the idea of Ukrainian nation became the essence of the unity of the state in the war for defending the homeland against the Russian aggression, is the most edifying one.

Two major components

The Republic of Moldova, after it declared its independence, experienced a similar war, but the effects of the national unity in Moldova were different from those of the current Ukrainians. Why? An answer to this question resides in the basic terms that constitute the process of building national identity and the nation based on this foundation. Any nation has two major components as basic elements. The first component is the historical origins owing to which the ethnic groups become distinct, first of all by the “cultural model” of the group life that defines such national values as language, customs, traditions, symbols, etc. The second component is political in origin and is based on state policies regarding the constitution and strengthening of national identity. The conclusion about the necessity of harmonious combination of these two components for obtaining vigorous national identity derives from here. It is enough for one of these components to be imperiled and the result will be contrary to the expected one.

From the cultural retrospective of the Romanian state, the lack of distinct features of the people’s culture of the so-called “Moldovan nation” different from the model of Romanian culture on the whole is more than evident. In the last instance, it goes to the same Romanian round dance (hora) on both sides of the Prut and up to Tisa, to the same Romanian folk dance (sârbă). All over the Romanian space, the people eat hominy with cheese, minced meat cabbage rolls or traditional soup and sing carols on Christmas. Surely, the most important elements of people’s culture, language and religion, are the same all over the Romanian space. The preferred argument of the anti-Romanian Moldovans is the non-participation by the Moldovans eastwards the Prut in the process of building the Romanian national identity within the Romanian state after the Union of Moldavia and Walachia in 1859. But this approach is combated by the example of the Romanians from Transylvania, who also weren’t present at the Romanian Union of the 19th century, but whose Romanian national identity cannot be shaken. The explanation for the diffuse state of the national identity in the Republic of Moldova centers on the tsarist and Soviet denationalization policies that were harsh and long-lasting in this area and on the inefficiency of the identity policies of the Moldovan state after the obtaining of independence.

Declaration of Independence and Constitution

In the Republic of Moldova, the state policy to strengthen the national identity started from the text of the Declaration of Independence that stipulated the “millenary history” and “uninterrupted statehood” of the Romanians eastwards the Prut, in the historical and ethnic space of their ethnogenesis, and confirmed, for the space between the East of the Prut, the official name of the majority population – the Romanian language. In fact, the Declaration of Independence underscored the existence of two Romanian states – Romania and the Republic of Moldova. But the identity dispute in the Republic of Moldova swiftly led to the renouncing by the government led by President Mircea Snegur of the doctrine “One nation, two states”. In 1994, together with the adoption of the new Constitution, the Romanian ethnic character of the native population and its language was denied, this being replaced by the name and characteristic feature “Moldovan”, which was understood as “different from Romanian”. This way, the identity stipulations in the Constitution came in conflict with the text and spirit of the Declaration of Independence, causing evident dysfunctionality in the promotion of state policies in this field.

However, the attempt to promote by state policies the so-called “Moldovan national identity” different from the Romanian one met with insurmountable difficulties. None of the governments so far managed to do this. Such an attempt failed even in the totalitarian USSR due to the absence of national culture around which to build the Moldovan national identity distinct from the Romanian one. The reasons of the Moldovan rulers, who in time represented different political parties, to insist on the promotion of the separate Moldovan national identity are clear as this offered reasons for the existence of the Republic of Moldova in which they hold state posts, privileges and economic leverage, including corrupting ones.

Strengthening of colonial state

The political and pecuniary group interests made the governments in Chisinau ignore the fact that in time, the anti-Romanian Moldovenism was used to explain and justify the occupation by force of Bessarabia by the Russian empire and later by the Soviet Union, similar to the way in which the Moldovan identity ideologeme contributes objectively to the conservation of the neocolonial statute for the Republic of Moldova, favoring its maintaining in the space of geopolitical influence of the old metropolis and this way hampering the European integration processes. Not accidentally, the pro-Russian parties in the Republic of Moldova propagate militantly the vulgar anti-Romanian Moldovenism, up to the aberration to declare the Moldovan language distant from the Romanian one.

Along with the anti-Romanian Moldovenism in Moldovan society eastward the Prut, it is maintained the idea about the multiethnic character of the Republic of Moldova. The multi-ethnicity concept comes to somehow veil the lack of consistence of the anti-Romanian Moldovenism, trying this way to give weight to the false distinction of the Moldovans from Romanians. Even if the last census show that the Moldovan Romanians represented 80% of the republic’s population, which makes the Republic of Moldova one of the most mono-ethnic European states, the call to the multiethnic character of the state has the mission to conserve the domination of the Russian language and culture in the daily life of Moldovan society. The ascertaining of such a situation does not mean at all a call for the marginalization of the Russian language or culture in Moldovan society. It is rather a warning about the continuation of the colonial practices of the past, when the Russian language and literature were dominant in the former union republics at the expense of the language and culture of the natives. Not at all accidentally, now one of the main components of the Kremlin’s geopolitics in the post-Soviet space focuses on the idea of the so-called protection of the Russian language in the former colonies, keeping this way the influence of the Russian imperialist propaganda in this area.

Society condemned to fragmentation and diffusion

During 30 years of existence of the independent state Republic of Moldova, the governments that managed it didn’t have a well-defined program to educate and implement the authentic national identity of the majority ethnic group, allowing ambiguous policies in this field that is of vital importance for the state. The phenomenon is due to the domination, at the upper administrative level of the state, by political teams with Moldovenist identity views hostile to Romanianism, which were inherited and not overcome at collective and individual mentality levels since the colonial past. This way, in Moldovan political practices, it was confirmed the truth about the distance between formal declaration of the freedom and achievement of the quality of person free to think and act.

In the Republic of Moldova, unlike, for example, in the Baltic republics, the identity policies of the state failed because they were built on the false foundation of the anti-Rumanian Moldovenism. The historical aberration about the division into non-Romanian Moldovans on the left side of the Prut and Romanian Moldovans on the right side of the Prut wrecked the identity policy in the Republic of Moldova, condemning Moldovan society to internal fragmentation and social diffusion. In all the countries of Europe where national states were created, the national identity was strengthened owing to the state policies focused on this desideratum. We can make a judgment about the importance of the identity policy of the state by analyzing the famous saying of one of the founding fathers of modern Italy Camilio Cavur, who, immediately after the proclaiming of the unity of the Italian state in a visionary way said: “We have made Italynow we have to make Italians”.

Root of all problems

Regrettably, the Moldovan political class in the identity sphere promoted mainly policies inspired by the old imperial dogmas in the formula of anti-Romanian Moldovenism, in contrast to the realities of the national history. The attempt to use the potential of the state institutions to imbed in people’s minds perceptions that do not correspond to the normal course of history, as the concept of anti-Romanian Moldovenism is presented, is equal to stagnation of progress. Practically all the major problems of the Moldovan citizens today are due to the mistaken views of the Moldovan political elite about the identity policy of the last 30 years, owing to which Moldovan society has been condemned to political and social division and demobilization. The Romanian Moldovans, who form the largest ethnic group in the Republic of Moldova, are divided in terms of identity and do not represent an attractive whole for the national minorities that, for this reason, do not hurry to integrate into Moldovan society. The failure of the identity policies of the Republic of Moldova intubates Moldovan society with post-Soviet nostalgia, keeps the dependence of a considerable part of society on the empire that is being rebuilt. The identity flaws are a permanent obstacle to the path of European integration of the Moldovan state. The Republic of Moldova is waiting for the coming to power of a visionary political team that can imprint a Romanian identity construct on Moldovan society through the agency of the state authorities as such a construct is the only one that can ensure the unity of the people and civilization progress.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

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.

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