In 1918, Bessarabia’s Union with Romania took place in a fully different international context, when empires collapsed and a new world order appeared. The Romanian state itself, when the union with Bessarabia occurred, consisted of several Moldovan counties. The rest of the territory was occupied by foreign armies and the largest part of the population of Bessarabia wasn’t by far ready for union from identity viewpoint. But the international conjuncture at that moment opened a unique window of opportunity for the Union and the political class from both sides of the Prut didn’t miss the historic chance.
Bessarabia, great absentee and great prisoner
Bessarabia, which was annexed by Russia in 1812, hadn’t been involved in the process of forming and developing the modern national Romanian idea, remaining separated from the most important events of the nation in the 19th century, namely T. Vladimiresc’s uprising, the revolution of 1848 - 1849, the union of the Romanian principalities (1859 - 1862), proclaiming of church autocephaly (1865) and the Independence of the state (1877). Bessarabia had also been detached from the process of Latinizing the Romanian language in the middle of the 19th century, including the replacement of the Cyrillic script with the Latin script in 1862 and the codification of the contemporary Romanian language. In Bessarabia, the regional Moldovan ethnic identity dominated, while on Moldova’s territory beyond the Prut this was replaced by the pan-Romanian ideology that became the spiritual basis for the modern nation-state.
Until the second decade of the 20th century, in Bessarabia, owing to the tsarist policy of Russification and colonization of the territory with foreign ethnic elements, conditions for developing a vigorous national movement hadn’t been created – either in the Romanian version or in the Moldovan version. The national movement towards the end of the 19th century was in embryonic form. Such a situation was due to the inexistence of a target social group in the formula of educated autochthonous urban population. According to the census of 1897, only 4.5% of the Romanian language population of Bessarabia lived in towns, representing 15.2% of the urban population. The general alphabetization rate in the province was of 14.7%, while among the Moldovans was of 5.8%. The level of culturalization of the local population had been minimal until the start of the 20th century. This way, at the beginning of the 1860s, there were no private libraries in Bessarabia and the only public library in Chisinau didn’t have works about Bessarabia. The largest part of the population – Moldovan peasantry – led a patriarchal lifestyle that contributed to keeping the regional ethnic identity.
Only solution that saved Bessarabians from Soviet horrors
The rise in sociopolitical activity in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century was felt in Bessarabia too. In 1906 – 1907, the newspaper “Bessarabia” in Romanian appeared in Chisinau. This represented the Moldovan Bessarabians in the context of the Romanian nation. In parallel, there appeared the paper “the Moldovan”, which presented the state of affairs in the country from pro-governmental positions. But in this cultural-identity controversy, the Moldovan and the Romanian hadn’t been yet directly confronted – the terms “Moldovans”, “Romanian”, “Bessarabians” were still interchangeable.
The Russian revolution of February 1917 was a powerful catalyst to the national movement in Bessarabia, which at the beginning centered on the idea of the autonomy of Moldova eastward the Prut in the composition of federative Russia. In December the same year, the Moldovan Democratic Republic as part of the Russia state was proclaimed and the recently established Bolshevik dictatorship there caused a bloody civil war. In such conditions, the heavyweights of the national movement in Bessarabia weren’t able to rise to the height of the challenges of time and to apply the only political solution that saved the Bessarabians from the horrors of the ongoing civil war in Russia and saved the natives from full denationalization – Union with Romania.
Big and powerful aggressor state in the neighborhood
Bessarabia’s return to the Romanian historic and ethnic-cultural space in 1918 was an act of historical legitimacy in full concordance with the logic of the natural process of constituting and strengthening the European national states. But the Romanian European nation was seriously tested by the existence in its immediate vicinity of a large and powerful aggressor state, the Soviet Union. Soviet Moscow, in order to ideologically substantiate its claims over the Romanian Bessarabia, invented on the left side of the Nistru the so-called Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic through which it put into practice the concept invented in the ideological laboratories of the Kremlin – anti-Romanian Moldovan identity.
The re-annexation of Bessarabia by the Eastern Empire in 1940 turned the concept of anti-Romanian identity Moldovenism into state policy that was applied with tenacity by Moscow in Soviet Moldova and in the interstate relationship with Romania. In the Soviet period, the policy to denationalize the Moldovan-Romanians in Moldova eastward the Prut, through Russification, was supplemented with identity deconstruction state policies that separated the Moldovans from Romanians. These policies had long-term consequences and have dramatically affected the destiny of the Romanians eastward the Prut up to now.
Timid attempts and unachieved goals
The counteracting of the concept and practices of anti-Romanian Moldovenism became the main objective of the national emancipation movement in Moldova eastward the Prut during the perestroika years. Nevertheless, the objective of annihilation of anti-Romanian identity Moldovenism in the national conscience of Moldovan-Romanians from the Republic of Moldova hasn’t been fully achieved even after three decades of the proclaiming of the Independence of the Moldovan state. In such conditions, Moldovan society remains profoundly fragmented according to the identity criteria, being unable for this reason to mobilize at internal level to achieve the common sustainable development goal.
The attempts to unite Moldovan society based on the criteria of the so-called Moldovan civic nation are associated with the ideological inheritance of the Soviet Moldovan concept that during decades has imbedded crass anti-Romanianism in collective mentality. The express recognition of the Romanian identity of the Moldovans from the Republic of Moldova causes intellectual indigestion to the so-called civic statehood supporters through logical generation of the conclusion about the necessity of the union of two Romanian states as the most beneficial solution for their development.
Main impediment to development
From the height of the last three decades of underdevelopment of the Republic of Moldova, it is increasingly evident that the shortage of identity policies of the state is the main impediment to doing away with the label of the poorest state in Europe as Moldovan society cannot be united for achieving sustainable development goals. Without the recognition and support for the Romanian identity of the ethnic majority in the Republic of Moldova through well-directed state policies, the Moldovan state and society are condemned to economic and social underdevelopment, chronic political instability and precarious security.
The official recognition of the Romanian character of the Republic of Moldova will become one of the decisive steps towards overcoming the colonial inheritance in the formula of anti-Romanian Moldovenism that is projected onto the national conscience of a yet considerable part of the Moldovan-Romanians eastward the Prut. If we do not get rid of this colonial ideological inheritance, we cannot become a state eligible for integration into the EU and cannot restore the national unity of our nation that is affected by the imperial policies of Russia. Only the changing of the identity profile of the Republic of Moldova into a Romanian one can ensure progress and prosperity in this part of the national historical space in the formula of definitive territorial reintegration.
Piano keys in four hands
The achievement of the ideal of Romanian national unity is the desideratum of the Romanians from both sides of the Prut, especially in terms of state policies. If Chisinau’s effort should be concentrated primarily on the imbedding of the Romanian identity in Moldovan society from inside, the task of Bucharest is to imbed understanding of the Romanian profile of the Republic of Moldova from outside. Only by the concerted effort of the political class from both of the Romanian states, the achievement of the ideal of national unity within a reunified, democratic and thriving Romania will become a reality.
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.