Union of 1918: what was it, why was it and for what? IPN debate

In several days, it will be the 105th anniversary of the Union of the Moldavian Democratic Republic (Bessarabia) with the Kingdom of Romania that took place on March 27, 1918. Even if many years passed since then, that extremely important event remains mainly unknown and a big controversy for a large part of current society in Moldova. The past regime that ruled before the declaring of the independence of the Republic of Moldova and some of the political forces from our country and from elsewhere took care for things to develop namely this way. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Union of 1918: what was it, why was it and for what?” discussed the importance of this event for those historical conditions and its effects on the course of history.

Igor Boțan, the permanent expert of IPN’s project, said the Union of the Romanian Principalities took place in 1859 by Moldova’s union with Walachia under the name of the United Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The union was a natural event based on the common culture and the very close economic ties of the two principalities. “The Union of Principalities was a preliminary stage that was followed by the regaining of independence of a result of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, which involved Romania too. The national Romanian state was constituted following the national renaissance of the Romanians in the course of the 19th century,” stated the expert.

According to him, the Great Union of 1918 resulted in the union of all the historical provinces inhabited by Romanians within the national state Romania. The event was favored by World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution that led to the dissolution of four empires and to the formation of a series of national states. “Respectively, the Union of Bessarabia, Bucovina and, ultimately, Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania led to the creation of Greater Romania,” noted Igor Boțan.  

As to emperies, he said that there are states that are led by an emperor or a colonial power or by a military cast or army that acts in the interests of the military elites. As a rule, an empire brings together different nations and territories into a state with one political center that plays a prominent role in the region or the whole world.
According to the expert, the nations’ right to self-determination is based on the principle of self-determination of nations or peoples. It is an international law principle that envisions the right of peoples or nations to decide by themselves the own political, economic, social and cultural development course without direct or indirect interference from outside. It is enshrined in the UN Charter that stipulates “the purpose of developing friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

Doctor of History Ludmila Kichuk, pro-rector of the Cahul State University “Bogdan Petriceicu Hașdeu”, said the empires have their own functioning law due to the essence of empires, their permanent tendency to conquer new territories. “The Russian Empire reached the junction of the 18th and 19th centuries while on the ascent and normally tried to take particular historical opportunities that enabled it to extend a lot its territory. This southwestern direction, towards Southeastern Europe, was one of the directions of the extension of the Tsarist Empire. It appeared in the context of the oriental problem, when the interests of the great empires of the time in Southeastern Europe intersected and the intentions to conquer particular parts of the Ottoman Empire that entered a crisis period started to be manifested,” explained the historian.

“Evidently, we cannot stop at 1812 and should speak about the way in which the Tsarist Empire manifested its pretentions for the Moldovan space as tsarist Russia managed to conquer a part of this eastward territory that was inhabited by Moldovans during one of the last wars of the 17th century. This is the territory between the Nistru and the Bug – great Transnistria.”

According to Ludmila Kichuk, this action by the Tsarist Empire was followed by the signing of the Treaty of Iasi that enabled to incorporate the territory between the Nistru and the Bug even if this territory wasn’t permanently, but sporadically under the political authority of Moldavia. It could be yet proven by scientific studies and realities that this territory was populated mainly by Moldovans “Respectively, the territory of Transnistria was simply joined to Novorossiya that was also created by acts to conquer new territories and to extend the Russian Empire. It wasn’t this way possible to maintain the national element in the territory of Transnistria,” noted the doctor of history.

As regards Bessarabia, Ludmila Kichuk reminded that another war followed in 1806-1812 and this was rather harsh for the Romanian principalities given the interest shown by all the empires in Southeastern Europe, related to the oriental problem somehow. This way the Romanian principalities suffered the consequences after becoming a theater of war or being crossed by the troops of the given empires.

A member of the First Parliament of the Republic of Moldova Alecu Reniță, a member of the National Union Council said that as poet Mihai Eminescu said “Bessarabia in 1812 was taken by fraud”. “During the 19th century, Russia advanced towers Constantinople, towards the Balkans based on orthodoxy and on the pretext of freeing Christianity from the Turkish yoke. The Moldovans became victims. “They later saw how Christian were those who claimed to be bringing Christianity. The famous sentence of Kutuzov “we will allow only the eyes to cry” is representative for the 19th century,” he noted.

According to Alecu Reniță, initially Russia wanted to turn Bessarabia into a shop window for Europe. It wanted to show that it is not simply a grabbing, greedy, merciless and barbarous empire, but also brought civilization. Therefore, from 1812 until 1925 it tried to offer particular autonomy to this part of Moldova by keeping particular traditions, customs, laws. But nothing of what was promised was done. Throughout the 9th century, they had a barbarous attitude towards the native population. That area began to be colonized. The percentage of Moldovans in that territory was considerably diminished by mixing the natives with different groups that were brought there when Bessarabia was only occupied.

The member of the National Union Council said that this affected all the other segments of what Bessarabia meant under tsarism. “After the union of the Principalities, Russia for the first time became more aggressive treads this population, realizing that it was dangerous for the Moldovans, who yet had pronounced national conscience, to discover their own identity, their state, fearing tendencies towards separation from the empire, towards what was being shaped as the modern Romanian state,” noted Alecu Reniță.

The public debate entitled “Union of 1918: what was it, why was it and for what?” was the sixth installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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