Ideas of Unionism in Moldova: Uncertainty on the Cyclical Waves

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Organizations that promote unification of Moldova with Romania hope to collect a million signatures from citizens of both countries in support of the so-called “unirea” until September. The signatures are planned to be presented at a scientific conference in the European Parliament, which the Unionists are going to hold to “inform the world about their will”. These events will continue a series of actions on the 100th anniversary of the “reunification” of “two Romanian states”, as their organizers say. Last year, March 27 was declared a national holiday in Romania, which, according to experts, legitimized the idea of ​​unionism as such in the socio-political space. Already this spring – 100 years after the events of 1918 – the deputies of both chambers of the Romanian parliament adopted a Declaration to celebrate the union of Bessarabia with the Motherland, Romania, expressing readiness to reunite with the Republic of Moldova if its citizens so desire. For two decades already, public and political organizations have been conducting outreach among them, actually promoting the interests of Bucharest in Moldova. Romania has not yet recognized de jure the existence of a border on the Prut, and the local public and experts have been discussing the plan of “annexation of Bessarabia” for many years, appealing to the triumph of historical justice. In their opinion, it was violated in 1940, when the USSR in an ultimatum demanded the return of this territory. More than 20 years before, Romania introduced its troops and administration here, announcing the “reunification of the nation”. At the same time, as Romanian historians note, “unification” took place in a complex international situation: there was the World War I in Europe, most of Romania was occupied, the Russian Empire fell as a result of the revolution, the civil war began there. In such conditions, the Moldovan quasi-parliament Sfatul Țării decided to join Romania in order to protect the population of the region from the encroachments of the Ukrainian Republic and the Bolsheviks, the Romanian history books read. Meanwhile, the unification of the “two Romanian states” provoked resistance from a significant part of the local population, as evidenced by the Bendery, Khotin and Tatarbunary uprising. By this time, the ethnic palette of the region was a fairly diverse conglomeration of nationalities, while mono-ethnic Romania followed the paradigm of its own national idea from the 30s of the 19th century. The present territory of the Republic of Moldova was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1812 after another war with Turkey, long before Romania was established as a state (1860-1870). In the next 100 years, the population of the Bessarabian province grew mainly as a result of the resettlement of different ethnic groups, which by 1918 accounted for one third of the total population in the province. Historically, modern Moldova has developed in a different ethnocultural environment than Romania, and therefore to call it “the second Romanian state” is not really correct from the historical point of view. Nevertheless, unionism became trendy at the end of the 1980s, when the Popular Front boosted its activity in Moldova, promoting frankly nationalistic ideas. The slogans of the movement were the demands to rename the Moldavian language to Romanian and give it the status of the only state language (although other nationalities accounted for 30% of the population), while the existence of the Moldavian Republic was called a historical error that must be remedied through unification with Romania. Even before the USSR’s collapse, the Moldavian president Mircea Snegur declared unification, and in the first years of Moldova’s independence the official anthem of the country was “Awake, Romanian!” together with the flag and the Latin alphabet borrowed from the neighbor over the Prut. The concepts of unionism and Romanianism, however, led only to an actual disappearance of Moldova from the world map within the MSSR’s borders. Counteracting them, the Gagauz created their statehood, and the inhabitants of the left bank of the Dniester (Transnistria) declared independence. The subsequent Transnistrian conflict, which led to significant casualties on both sides, in no small way was the result of these ideas, which were strongly rejected in the left-bank regions of the Dniester, where the share of the non-Moldovan population was about 60%. At the same time, the unification of Moldova and Romania did not happen at that time. In addition, it turned out that unionism did not enjoy broad public support – the 1994 national vote on preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova showed that no more than 2% of the citizens voted against the Moldovan statehood. Later on, unionism turned into a political tool of Romania to strengthen its influence in Moldova. Since the 1990s, Bucharest has been actively financing Moldovan media, which promote the concept of a “common future” and non-existence of a separate Moldovan ethnos. Each year, Romania provides educational scholarships to a large number of Moldovans. Using its membership in the EU, it also carries out “passport expansion” – Moldovans are granted Romanian citizenship in a simplified order, which opens the possibility of employment in the euro area. Unionism is also promoted by the Bessarabian Metropolia of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which is not separated from the state and is financed from the state budget. Its activities in Moldova are conducted in the format of a public organization parallel to the Moldavian Metropolia of the Russian Orthodox Church. The movement for the unification of the “two Romanian states” showed its power already in 2009 during the so-called Twitter Revolution in Chisinau. The protest against the Communists’ victory then reached a critical turn for Moldova: its participants even broke into the building of the Moldovan presidency and publicly burned the declaration of independence of Moldova and hoisted the EU and Romanian flags on the roof. The European Coalition, which came next, strengthened its cooperation with Bucharest, which, in its turn, assumed the role of the Moldova’s guide on the way to its integration in the European Union. Already in 2012, Moldova signed a military agreement with Romania, which in fact means subordinating the Moldovan armed forces to the Romanian General Staff, and through it to the NATO command. The agreement implies control over the airspace, possible joint participation in peacekeeping operations, exchange of military information, organization of joint exercises. In fact, this is the legal basis for the indefinite stay of the Romanian military contingent on the territory of Moldavia. In the conditions of corruption in the RM’s governmental system, a weak economy and a consistently high poverty level, Unionist organizations actively and skillfully advertise the benefits that Moldovans can get from unification with Romania. Citizens of the country are promised to equalize salaries and pensions with Romanian ones (and they are incomparably higher on the right bank of the Prut), integration into the European Union by default, investments in agriculture and a general increase in the standard of living. At the same time, politicians, public figures and experts, acting from the standpoint of unionism, promote the idea of ​​Chisinau’s inability to solve the accumulated problems independently. Such ideas, according to sociological data, find a breeding ground. The poll Barometer of Public Opinion shows that the number of supporters of unionism in 2017 exceeded 20%, whereas two decades ago this indicator was at the level of statistical error. Today, many representatives of the Moldovan government (both central and local) are also citizens of Romania and make no secret of their pro-Romanian convictions. Only in the Moldovan parliament, 64 deputies out of 101 are Romanian citizens. People’s representatives of 145 settlements spoke out in support of the “unirea” during the Declaration Parade this spring. Moreover, unionism is even more popular in Romania itself. The survey by INSCOP Research conducted in March this year for the Romanian newspaper Adevărul showed that almost 70% of the Romanians support unification with the Republic of Moldova. Meanwhile, its practical side is not as rosy as politicians try to present. According to expert estimates published by Cotidianul, the unirea will cost at least 30-35 billion Euros for the first 5 years, and Bucharest will have to spend at least 5% of GDP annually on the project. A study by the Black Sea University Foundation, the Romanian Academy, showed that the budget will need to allocate at least 1 billion Euros only to equal pensions for 670,000 Moldovan pensioners. Plus 550 million more to equalize the salaries of Romanian and Moldovan government employees. According to other studies, if unified with Moldova, Romania will have to annually allocate at least 9 billion dollars for the economical harmonization during 20 years. However, the Romanian economy itself is experiencing problems that the authorities cannot solve without external financing. The IMF, the World Bank, the EU and the EBRD still criticize Bucharest for the discrepancy in the growth rates of consumption and growth in labor productivity. By the way, this is one of the reasons why the country is still not admitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. So Bucharest cannot repeat the historical experience of Germany yet, at least alone. The EU’s assistance in this matter can be decisive, as is the opinion of Brussels on the “unirea” in general. At the same time, officially the EU is skeptical about the unification of the two states, seeing in this a dangerous precedent for the emergence of multilateral territorial claims. The Republic of Moldova occupies only part of Bessarabia, which Romania considers its historical territory. Northern Bukovina and Southern Bessarabia are now part of Ukraine, and changing borders can provoke a territorial conflict between Kyiv and Bucharest. Moreover, there is an unsettled Transnistrian conflict, which in the case of “unirea” is very likely to cause either an open clash of Russian troops in Transnistria, or the Chisinau’s loss of any prospects for the country’s reintegration within the current legal borders. The fact that the direct unification of the “two Romanian states” is impossible at the moment is also spoken by the representatives of the current Moldovan authorities, not only President Igor Dodon, but also the democrats. Thus, Parliament Speaker Adrian Candu in a recent interview with the Ukrainian media said that direct “unirea” could provoke a civil war and disintegration of the country. The head of the Moldovan government Pavel Filip made a blunter statement, noting in an interview with The Guardian that the unification of the two countries is out of the question, despite the fact that relations between Moldova and Romania are at a historic high. Allowing for the social and political realities, Bucharest also reformed its approach, moving from the idea of uniting “right now” (according to ex-President Traian Băsescu) to the concept of “uniting within the European Union” (the brainchild of the current head of state Klaus Iohannis). This switch from “firm unionism” to “soft power”, however, is supplemented by the active efforts of pro-Romanian political parties, which intend to strengthen their positions in the Moldovan parliament. The National Unity Party, created by Traian Basescu, who moved to Moldova, and ex-Defense Minister Anatol Șalaru, is trying to win support of the Romanian-oriented electorate, disappointed in the Liberal Party of Mihai Ghimpu. Romanian political scientists predict that Basescu’s charisma, coupled with active electoral work, will allow the Unionists to win about 10% of parliamentary mandates in the next elections. Despite the fact that unionism still does not enjoy the support of most of the Moldovan population, the “unirea” project can strengthen its positions in the future. According to the cumulative opinion of political scientists, the country is experiencing an identity crisis, which only intensifies the problems of society and accumulates on the progressive poverty of the population, continuing to corrode the state from within. The experience of Moldova shows that in the context of political instability and a decline in the standard of living of the population, the unionism concept is one of the traditional markers of electoral preferences. Such an instrumental approach has its own reasons. On the one hand, most of the diverse elite groups throughout the recent history of Moldova actively use this discourse, claiming to support the appropriate category of electorate. On the other hand, the population tired of the turmoil is inclined to see the union of the two fraternal states at least as some concrete option to get out of the impasse, a sort of panacea from the annoying Moldovan ills. The next electoral cycle is unfolding before our eyes, which guarantees resurgence of the Moldova-Romania unification topic.