After the collapse of the USSR, the Moldovans not only obtained freedom. They found themselves face to face with the harsh reality of a national conscience that had been deformed during almost 200 years of colonial oppression that persevered in the effort to deprive the locals of identity. Of all the nations of the former Soviet republics and then post-Soviet republics, the Moldovans have the vaguest and most contradictory self-conscience. This is due to the historical characteristics of their development during the last two centuries.
Denationalization during 200 years
The tsarist colonial policy almost stopped the national development process in Moldova eastward the Prut by separating the natives in this territory from the natural Romanian space where the national development was on the ascent. Later, the Soviet national policy first in the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic on the left side of the Nistru and then in the Moldavian SSR centered, as in all the republics of the USSR, on the cultural evolution of the affiliated ethnic group based on the Russian culture and language with the aim of building a “socialist nation” as part of the “family” of nations of the USSR. But this objective that was common for all the nations of the union national republics, in Soviet Moldova took a form that was modified by an additional task – the Moldovans were to become a nation as different as possible from the Romanian one and to the lowest level aware of its affiliation to the Romanians.
The national Soviet policy set a rigid ethnic and cultural border between Moldovans and Romanians beyond the Prut, which involved not only the cultivation of the Moldovan particularities, but also the creation of the image of Romanians and Romania (despite the inclusion of this in the socialist camp) as “foreign” and even inimical. The period of Bessarabia’s return to Romania was characterized as a period of “occupation”, “colonization” and “national oppression”, with the image of the Romanian gendarme, Romanian boyar, in the last instance, of the Romanian fascist being cultivated. Contacts with Romania were practically impossible. The Romanian literature wasn’t available in Moldova from the left side of the Prut. As a result of such a national policy in the Romanian space eastward the Prut, the created identity situation allowed English researcher Dennis Deletant to characterize the Soviet Moldovans as the “most artificial nationality of the USSR”.
It is known that the intellectuality is the most reliable and passionate bearer of the national identity. The new Moldovan intellectuality that appeared in the USSR (the old one was either mostly destroyed or found refuge in Romania), especially the humanist and creative one, at the end of the Soviet era already showed more pronounced adherence, even if hidden one sometimes, to the Romanian cultural values. While the official ideology had been eroding away in the whole USSR, an intense process of return, primarily of the intellectuality, to the pre-Soviet cultural values was witnessed in the Soviet national republics. However, for the Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, the Baltic people and others nations, the return to the cultural values of their past increased the national feeling defined through the name of the language, but for the Moldovans the immersion in the world of the high culture created through the Romanian language on the contrary weakened the Moldovenist national feelings imbedded during the colonial period, resuscitating the Romanian national conscience
Alliance between intellectuality and national nomenklature
In general, the anti-Communist and anticolonial movement of the perestroika times in all the republics of the former USSR took the form of a national renaissance and emancipation movement. That national-democratic movement was normally headed by the intellectuals, namely humanists and representatives of creative professions whose activities implied the feeling and interest for national problems. As a rule, these were young people without a strong position in the Soviet hierarchy, for whom the perestroika not only made the free expression of thoughts and feelings possible, but also opened the door of social mobility.
The evolution of the national emancipation Movement concentrated on the firmament of the People’s Front of Moldova had the same stages as the evolution of all such movements in the USSR – from the support for the course of the CPSU for the perestroika to violent anti-Communism and requests to fragment the USSR. In Moldova, this transition took place very swiftly and, as everywhere, the frontist movement whose main force motrice was the intellectuality formed an alliance with the national nomenklature. The Moldovan nomenklature in which kolkhoz heads and sovkhoz directors prevailed owing to the agricultural specialization of the republic was in a state of competition with the Russified nomenklature of the great industrial enterprises that were concentrated primarily in Transnistria.
Euphoria of the Union and virulent reaction
The national nomenklature was much more pragmatic than the humanist intellectuality that lived in the world of ideas, but the logic of the competition struggle that formed during decades inside the party and Soviet apparatus induced to the national nomenclature the wish to free itself from the control of Moscow and to constrain the rival Russian foreigner. In Moldova’s Parliament elected in 1990, the frontist MPs represented less than 30%. But at the first stage, they led the largest part of the legislative majority consisting of the alliance of the intelligentsia and the national nomenklature. That parliamentary majority legalized the fully Romanian national state symbols, with minor changes. The unionist rhetoric became familiar in the Parliament and the Government. In August 1991, M. Snegur, the leader of the national nomenklature, in an interview with Le Figaro noted: “Independence is surely a temporary period. At the beginning, there will be two Romanian states, but this will not last long. I repeat once again, this independence is a stage, not a goal”.
But the unionist euphoria gave birth to a disapproving virulent reaction on the part of the powerful Russian minority from towns and the Russified part of Moldovan society from villages. A chance for the Union appeared amidst the chaos generated by the Moscow putsch of August 1991. But neither in Chisinau nor in Bucharest the political class was able to take that chance. Instead, the unionism became the main justification for the Transnistrian and Gagauz separatism, with the situation degenerating to the Nistru war of 1992.
Elites, separatism and Moldovenism
In time, the anti-unionist position of the Moldovan parties was strengthened by the interest of the Moldovan political elite that feared the unionist perspective would strip them of all the benefits of the declared independence. In the last instance, the union with Romania would have meant their transformation into the provincial elite of a large state, with the loss of the status and the newly gained power and all the perspectives associated with privatization. In the created situation, they even spoke about the “independence trap” that was aimed not only against the former USSR, but also against... Romania.
The paradox of the situation resides in the fact that the “Russo-Soviet” reaction to the Moldovan-Romanian unity that in the Republic of Moldova took the form of anti-Romanian political separatism was supplemented with another reaction – Moldovan and Moldovenist – confronting of the unionism not with the idea of restoring of the USSR through the proliferation of separatism and Russian irredentism, but with the idea of the Moldovan state with non-Romanian identity. As the Moldovan identity is indissolubly related to the USSR, this reaction can be considered a more moderate form of the same perception whose extreme expression is the ideology of Transnistrian separatism.
Today, the independent Moldovan state appears as the weakest of the new independent states of the post-Soviet space. The explanation for this phenomenon resides in the diffuse national identity of the Romanian-Moldovan nationals who, as they do not fully embrace the national Romanian conscience, cannot unit inside to build an integral national community that can mobilize an overwhelming majority to ensure the sustainable development of society. The Moldovan natives from the Republic of Moldova can be saved through their full return to Romanianism and Romania at least at the level of assumed national conscience. The reestablishment, by different possible forms, of the colonial yoke for the natives from the Romanian space eastward the Prut is the only alternative to this rescuing scenario.
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.