A state with precarious historical memory has an uncertain future. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



If a state is not able to finance the writing of the own national history, this state will live in accordance with the history written by foreigners and will be unable to guarantee a prosperous present and future to its citizens...


Anatol Țăranu

The evolutions of the policy of modeling the historical memory can be the earliest indicator of contradictions preceding state building. The differences in the assessment of the past with imminence cause differences in the basic values of society, especially given the overproduction of history in the young states built on the ruins of the USSR. Ultimately, the different interpretation of the history of the subjugated nations of the empire became one of the first schemes that signaled the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union.

European states were built on historical foundations
In the 19th century, during the formation of European nations and national states, the collective memory and historical narrative played a crucial role in the state building process,   both in the formation of the modern collective identity and in the political mobilization in the process of building national states. As a rule, this was the history of the indigenous ethnic group, ethnonational narrative that affirmed not only the particularity and uniqueness of the biography of the community, but also its special role in history, first of all against its neighbors.

Among the main characteristics of the state building process was the increased attention devoted to the problems of the past, which are reproduced through their visible and tangible presence today. The ignoring of historical policies that are materialized in the interpretation of the past through the angle of the national interests costs a lot. Speaking about the Balkans at the start of the 20th century, Churchill said “the Balkans produces more history than it can consume”. This characteristic applies also to particular territories from the post-Soviet space, which remained dependent on the historical perceptions of the colonial period in contradiction with the national state building interests.

History as an argument of affiliation to European space

In times of communism, the narrative about the ethnocultural uniqueness of nations didn’t suit the authorities. The policy of forming an extranational community – the Soviet nation – was given priority. But after 1989–1991, national history in the form of ethnonational narrative and as an element that accompanies collective memory returned to life. This historical policy legalized the newly gained national sovereignty of the young post-Soviet states. Moreover, history was used as an argument against affiliation to the empire, the former union republics from Western USSR pleading for affiliation to Europe, namely that Europe whose margins coincided with the borders of the European Union.

In post-Soviet national historical narratives, alongside the promotion of the idea of identity and uniqueness of the own history, there was a tangible presence of the thesis about the unity of national history with the European history in contraposition to the Eurasian space of the Eastern Empire. Furthermore, the restoration of the classical national narrative was a method of abandoning the communist past as inheritance that appeared as foreign, atypical, imposed from outside.

Baltics and Ukrainians without Moldovans

The return to the past for the purpose of self-assertion at present was a fully legitimate and normal strategy for moving towards a united Europe. The own sovereign history became a necessary element of subjectivity. In the Baltic republics, the sovereign history became a basic argument in the separation from the Soviet past and building of national states with their subsequent integration into the EU. The same path was assumed by Ukraine in whose society the ethnonational speech meant detachment not only from the Soviet past, but also from the space and philosophy of the so-called Russian world. Nevertheless, this appeal to the past for the sake of a better present and a brighter future hid the germs of future conflicts.

In Ukraine, the ethnonational historical policy caused the Russian military aggression against the sovereign Ukrainian state, while in the Republic of Moldova, the ethnonational narrative in the state building process met with the identity trap set by the tsarist and Soviet colonialism during 200 years of foreign rule. The formal logic imposed the “foremen” of the contemporary Moldovan state to use the Moldovenist historical narrative for strengthening the sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova with definitive detachment from the Eastern Empire. But in this case, Moldovenism as historical narrative indignantly coincided with the anti-Romanian colonial identity policies that were applied to Moldova eastward the Prut in the Soviet period. The paradox of the situation in the case of the Republic of Moldova resided in the attempt to build the state independently from the colonizing empire, making use of the Moldovenist historical narrative that was conceived and developed according to the ideological perceptions and interests of the former colonial metropolis.

Moldovenism, imperial concept

The concept of imperial Moldovenism was fueled and inflated based on the crass anti-Romanianism that legitimizes the absurd of the existence of two different languages – the Moldovan one and the Romanian one. To substantiate the absurd, they applied the trick of relatedness of these two imaginary languages in the mother and daughter formula. Moreover, the Moldovans themselves were divided according to the principle of ethnic identity into two different nations – Moldovans from the left bank of the Prut and Moldovan-Romanians from the other bank of the river. Even after the empire collapsed, this false historical narrative continued to exist in the minds of many citizens of the Republic of Moldova who, in the absence of well-planned identity state policies, remained hostage to the historical conception about them, which was planned and decided in the ideological laboratories of the colonists.

For three decades, attempts have been made to build the state Republic of Moldova on the false historical foundation of anti-Romanian Moldovenism that in the current formula is presented as a spoiled can inherited from the late empire, with a society that is chronically divided according to the identity principle and with a state system that can produce only underdevelopment. And this state of affairs has been reproduced with irrational tenacity by all the political governments that ruled in the Republic of Moldova after the proclaiming of Independence.

Steps that lead down

The decadence of historical policy in the Republic of Moldova expanded through the decisions of the uninspired congress “Our House – Republic of Moldova” of 1994. Then, the policy of the second Romanian state for the Republic of Moldova, which took shape on the wave of the National Emancipation Movement and the proclaiming of Independence, was diverted towards the building of the state of the Moldovan people different from Romanians. In time, the primitive anti-Romanian approach typical of the agrarian government that was semiliterate in historical policy evolved in an elevated, but not less anti-national form of the “civic nation” theory that was embraced by the governments that succeeded the agrarians who were profoundly contaminated with the imperial historical narratives.

The supporters of the “Stalinist” theory of civic nation for the Republic of Moldova draw inspiration from the theory and practices of current European civic nations. Leaving for now aside the argument of the multiculturalism crisis experienced currently by Western societies, we should note the formation and affirmation of the civic nations in the Western historical space based on the language and culture of the autochthonous ethnic group. Jewish Sarcozi, Arabian Zidan, Armenian Aznavur became part of the French civic nation as they accepted the French language and culture as their own. The presupposed Moldovan civic nation, if it intends to cover the itinerary of the European nations from which it draws its inspiration, it cannot avoid the question about the national culture and language of the majority native population. Which ones will it take as basis on which to build the national state – the Moldovan ones with false pretensions of originality or the authentic Romanian ones?

Without past like without present and future

For now, all the teams of the so-called demiurges of Moldovan statehood didn’t endeavor at all to find a coherent response to this question that is fundamental for the purpose of the existence of the state Republic of Moldova. Moreover, instead of formulating a state order on the investigation of historical processes that led to the current ethnocultural configuration in Moldovan society eastward the Prut, the previous Socialist government liquidated the institutional financing for the study of the contemporary historical period with the most prominent problems of history – year 1918, the interwar period, year 1940, the Soviet period – at the main national history research institution – the Institute of History.  

The current pro-European government maintained this state of ignoring the institutionalized historical memory, showing this way its nihilist attitude to the study of problems of national history, lack of vision for working out a well-founded concept, based on the historical experience, of the present and future of the state Republic of Moldova. The lesson for any pro-European government in the Republic of Moldova is to not only declare the European integration imperative, but to also profoundly understand the dialectics of the Europeanization of Moldovan society and the concrete algorithm of actions that need to be taken on this dimension, which must surely be in concordance with the particularities of the national historical course. If a state is not able to finance the writing of the own national history, this state will live in accordance with the history written by foreigners and will be unable to guarantee a prosperous present and future to its citizens.

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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