Russia, nationalism in Europe and Moldova, OP-ED



Though the sustainability of Moldova’s European course depends, first of all, on the integrity of the political forces of the country, the existence of the course can be brought into question if the Euro-skeptical nationalism unstoppably spreads in the EU...


Dionis Cenuşa

After 60 years of peace and prosperity, Europe returns to an old problem – secessionist nationalism. Even if this could not be treated till the end owing to the cohesion and regional development projects and the promotion of diversity and multicultural coexistence, its level was maintained at tolerable proportions for the European democracies inside the European Union to function normally. Russia sees geopolitical and economic benefits in the rebirth of nationalism in Europe. It aims to weaken the EU by populist and/or anti-European methods. Any form of destabilization in the EU will be a major challenge for Moldova, with unpredictable effects on development and even for the country’s security.

Currently, both the European project and the member states face existentialist problems related to state or more local nationalism. The political emancipation of the extremist forces in Germany (Alternative for Germany), Austria (Freedom Party), the Czech Republic (Freedom and Direct Democracy) or the regional separatism in the Spanish Catalonia are symptoms of this problem. That’s why most of the member states that are still governed by moderate and pro-European parties look in the EU for a political force that justifies and promotes the implementation and unconditional respect for the European values, such as the rule of law, democracy, freedom and human rights.  Namely this harmonious interdependence between Brussels and most of the European states explains the animosities between the EU and several member states, Hungary and Poland, which challenge many of the European values, including the principle of solidarity. The same interdependence is the target for political diversions initiated by Russia by supporting nationalist forces, especially the Euro-skeptical ones.

The EU turned into a too powerful neighboring political player that can, even if with difficulty, diminish the multiple geopolitical and economic interests of Moscow that is attractive and more principled in promoting its values in the European neighborhood and even in Russia. These arguments are sufficient for Vladimir Putin’s regime to take considerable measures to convert the EU from a supranational organization into a purely intergovernmental platform where the search for compromises would be dominatingly replaced by the competition between national interests and the imposition of the most powerful of these. Thus, if the EU had been so insignificant, Russia wouldn’t have been preoccupied with its destabilization in such a visible way.

Separatism in Europe and double standards invoked by Russia

Spain continues to gather political support in favor of its constitutional unity and territorial integrity from the European leaders, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, while the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani even signaled the dangerous abundance of the “nationalist egoism” and reiterated the role of the rule of law. The Catalan nationalism expressed through the separatist approach of the unconstitutional independence referendum of October 1, 2017 requires special vigilance from the EU. It is about a country that joined the European project 30 years ago and represents the fourth largest economy of the EU (in the context of the Brexit). Besides reminding that any region that separates itself from the member states automatically leaves the EU, Brussels also invokes the immutability of the rule of law that the Catalan separatism flagrantly violates. Arguing in favor of the rule of law principle, the EU transmitted a powerful political message to Spain and the other member states (Poland), where the rule of law is subject to enormous pressure at the central and local levels.

For Russia, the European values, in particular the rule of law, have a different significance. This thing was noted by President Vladimir Putin in the 14th meeting of the Valdai International Club (, 19 October 2017). By a series of incoherent and decontextualized arguments, Putin associated the anti-constitutional events in Catalonia with an independence movement, bypassing the word “separatism”. Immediately after this, the Russian leader recognized the sovereign right of the Spanish state to solve the crisis in Catalonia based on the legal Spanish order. This way, Putin deliberately expressed confusing ideas. Thus, if Russia declares that is supports Spanish sovereignty, it should admit that Spain faces a separatism movement in Catalonia.

The argument provided later by Putin represented veiled criticism that was evidently leveled at the West, including Europe, about the fact that this knew about the existence of internal conflicts in the European states. The West is also accused of contributing to the wanted dismemberment of a number of states in Europe. Ignoring any historical congruency and the European project’s role in keeping peace, the Russian President actually suggested that the national states are in danger. This is a new advance of Russia that favors nationalism in Europe, which can terminate the European project when the nationalist parties take over the political power in the main European capitals. 

Following the example of Catalan separatism, the authors of Putin’s speech underlined the pretended double standards used by the West. Thus, the Russian leader said that Europe pleads against the independence of Catalonia, even if he until now unconditionally supported the independence of Kosovo from Serbia to satisfy the wishes of the “elder brother” – the U.S.

Evidently, Putin contradicts the real succession of events, namely that five EU states, including Spain, didn’t recognize the independence of Kosovo and the right to self-determination for Kosovo was justified by the massive violation of human rights by the Serbian authorities.

Accusing the EU and the West of double standards, Putin is actually trying to justify the own double standards because, even if he continues to promote the integrity of Serbia, he illegally annexed Crimea and has supported separatism in Ukraine’s Donbas region by military ways during two years.

By such a combination of illogical arguments that are yet effective in the era of false news, Putin discredited the West, in particular the EU, in order to undermine its moral authority and to ostracize the narrative about the respect for world order based on the observance of the international law.

Last but not least, the Russian leader raised again the right of integrationist processes to cultural, geographical and historical particularities in each nation and region. The given allusion refers to the European values (freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law), which the EU promotes within its borders and outside them. To counteract these, Russia during the last few years built a set of conservative-religious values that represent the ideological interface of the Eurasian integrationist processes that are popularized in Moldova by the pro-Russian forces.

Moldova, nationalism in Europe and the country’s federalization

The numerous small victories scored by the Euro-skeptical parties in the European states are negative signals for Moldova’s pro-European approach. The larger is the number of EU states that become dominated by nationalist feelings, the lesser will be the already small extension appetite of the EU. Also, the multiplication of the Euro-skeptics in the European governments can influence the volume of external assistance in the medium-term, which is inevitably decreasing for the countries from the European neighborhood owing to the Brexit.

The advancing of nationalists in Europe opens up new opportunities for the Russian propaganda, which will actively promote the views of Euro-skeptics in Europe. As a result, the anti-European feelings existing in Moldovan society will be fueled.

The self-destruction that nationalism can cause in Europe will undermine the yet harmonious coexistence between the member states. When the national interests prevail over the collective compromise, the European economic growth that is dependent on peace and stability will brake. The political nationalism and economic decline will strengthen the arguments of the Euro-skeptics in other countries of the neighborhood, where the Eurasian projects of Russia will gain more ground.

With the visible emergence of anti-European nationalists, the pro-reform parties in Moldova could lose important allies in the West. Moreover, if the EU becomes too weak, the conditionality elements imposed by it on Moldova will lose any effect.

The nationalist narratives in Europe can dynamite the nationalist confrontations in Moldova, where the pro-Russian forces attribute a crucial role to the partnership with Russia in guaranteeing the Moldovan statehood and identity, while the unionists become more influential political players that are more tolerated by the people. In such conditions, the attempt to federalize the country could be rerun so as to create hardly surmountable additional obstacles to the political extension of the unionists and the restoration of the popularity of the pro-European forces.

Instead of conclusion...

The rebirth of the nationalist rhetoric inside the EU shows that both the member states and the European project go through a profound and long-lasting crisis that needs to be urgently diagnosed and treated. The causes hide in the relaxation of national democracies and indulgence of the traditional parties and Eurocrats, encouraged by the perception of the EU as an eternal project.

The wish to prevent wars and conflicts on the European continent seems to be sufficient for convincing any generation that the European project is a vital necessity for the current prosperity and future progress of Europe. The European citizens want to feel permanent and fast positive changes to which they want to contribute by action or inaction. Both the European institutions and the traditional parties of the EU member states should become digitized and, respectively, dynamic and also safe for co-opting more citizens into the decision-making process.

The extension of transparency, participation and consultancy of citizens are elementary instruments that can destroy the myth that the European project is an elitist one. The re-democratization of the member states and implementation of the European values inside the EU are a mandatory and achievable objective.

The victory of nationalism over the European project is detrimental to the plan to democratize and modernize Moldova. The Euro-skepticism at European level is a source of regression in doing reforms in the neighboring states because it reduces vigilance and the power of conditionality. The mimicking of a pro-European dedication for reforms that is fully or partially used to monopolize the political power is as negative. Though the sustainability of Moldova’s European course depends, first of all, on the integrity of the political forces of the country, the existence of the course can be brought into question if the Euro-skeptical nationalism unstoppably spreads in the EU. 

Dionis Cenuşa


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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