Fate of peripheries of empires. Quo vadis, Moldova? IPN debate

The eventual spilling of Russia’s war of aggression against neighboring Ukraine over its current borders, including to the Republic of Moldova, generates serious concern. History shows, by the conclusions of chroniclers, that Moldova had almost always been on the path of “evil things”. Moreover, chronicler Grigore Ureche said that “the evil things” are not something abstract and general, but are something very concrete and real. According to him, the “the evil things” are the wars waged by foreign forces on this territory. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate ”Fate of peripheries of empires. Quo vadis, Moldova?” discussed the impact the imperial wars that took place on our territory had on historical and current Moldova and the reasons why Moldova had almost always been on the path of these evil wars.

The standing expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan said the empires are state constructs led by emperors or are colonial powers with international importance, which are based on the domination of a military caste in their internal and external politics and act in the interests of the military caste. “As a rule, an empire unites different nations and territories into a single state with one political center that plays a prominent role in the region and even in the whole world,” stated the expert.

Igor Boțan noted that the imperial wars represent a modus vivendi for empires and are based on what is called imperial conscience that represents a holistic or integral complex. It includes different ideas, concepts, feelings that form part of the public conscience, ideas about the place of the given state in the world and in history. The imperial conscience is formed historically, while the image of the empire in the eyes of its people is built during centuries. This includes elements of the foreign policy doctrines for substantiating the imperial policy. It also goes to the adjustment of the conscience to the updated ideological concepts and to the traditional values of the lifestyle in metropolises, which were transferred to the whole empire, etc.

“The imperial conscience has always been changing in time and dynamics and contradictory in content. It changes when the empire changes itself. However, unlike this, the imperial conscience does not die immediately and during a long period of time influences the politics and public opinion in the former metropolis and in colonies. It goes to stable principles, serotypes, arguments about imperial domination that supported the idea of millions of people about the empire,” stated the expert.

“Quo vadis is a Latin expression that means “where are you going?”. In the modern use of the expression, the best definition refers to the Christian tradition of Saint Peter. This appears for several times in the Vulgate version of the Bible. Peter asked: “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward,” said Igor Boțan.

Historian Ion Negrei, ex-Deputy Prime Minister, said that antique, medieval and modern empires and also contemporary empires are known. This form of organization of the state with multinational structure persisted in time. The greatest empires existed in the antique period, but also in the medieval period. “Sometimes, these medieval empires turned into modern empires. And we also see that the empires can dissolve. At a particular stage, they disappear, sometimes for being replaced with others. Or national states can be formed based on empires, as it happened after World War II. A part of these continue to exist on the political map of the world,” explained the historian.

According to him, the Romanian space has seen empires since the antique period, but these regrettably didn’t develop into a national construct. It goes to the Roman Empire that expanded over the Bessarabian space, over the whole Romanian space and over a part of Europe. “The Roman Empire was a very large empire with great influence that left an imprint of the development of European civilization. Later, the Roman Empire disappeared and our territory in the medieval period became part of another large empire, the Ottoman Empire,” noted Ion Negrei.

He said that during a long period of time, of over 500 years, the Ottoman Empire’s influence witnessed ups and downs. The impact was both positive and negative. “The interests of two empires collided and the declining Ottoman Empire crashed with the Russian Empire in full offensive in our Romanian space. What was their goal? An empire tended to keep the occupied and exploited territories, while the other one tended

 to conquer these. The success in the 18th-19th centuries belonged to the Russian Empire that was growing and developing, while the sick Ottoman Empire was fading away,” said Ion Negrei.

According to the historian, each empire tended to extend its territory. For the Russian Empire, the Romanian principalities became a passage corridor for the Russian armies towards new territories. The Russian foreign policy stipulated the goal of reaching the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. This way, the Romanian territory was the closest for being used to cover this path and to conquer that key entrance to Asia and Europe. In the 18th-19th centuries, the Romanian space became the theater of war between two empires.

Doctor of History Anatol Țăranu, Moldova’s ex-ambassador to the Russian Federation, said that the Romanian principalities in time developed according to the same stages as all the European states did. “During the feudal period, the Romanian space was politically fragmented. A number of entities existed here – the Principality of Moldavia, the Principality of Muntenia or Wallachia. Transylvania was formed under the wing of the Austrian Empire,” explained the historian.

According to him, the problem of these principalities was that they were in a place that from geographical viewpoint can be named the curse of this territory. Since the earliest times of history, this territory has always been struck by a lot of tempests. “Imagine the migration flows that came from the steppes of Asia and were heading for the Balkans, for Europe and ran into the Carpathians, and the only possibility of going further was to enter this narrow corridor between the Black Sea and the Carpathians,” said Anatol Țăranu.

He noted that this was the reason why a material culture comparable with that of Western Europe, in which towns and large constructions were erected in the epoch of feudalism, wasn’t built on this territory in time. Everything was wiped out by those migration flows. In time, when the Romanian principalities started to unite, attempts to build an original culture here, typical of this space and this people, were made, but also amidst the absence of a large state that could defend itself from the external tempests.

According to Anatol Țăranu, when the large empires, including the Ottoman Empire, started to expand, the Romanian principalities found themselves on the border between those big confrontations. “The fact that the Romanians survived in this territory and could keep their cultural entity that later gave birth to a state called Romania is actually a miracle,” noted the Doctor of History.

The public debate entitled “Fate of peripheries of empires. Quo vadis, Moldova?” was the seventh 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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