Schism along the Dniester: Transdniestrian Conflict May Become a Religious One

Home / Analytics / Schism along the Dniester: Transdniestrian Conflict May Become a Religious One

Autocephaly of Ukraine and Church Schism are the most popular search queries of recent months. The historic decisions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on Ukraine launched a revision of the centuries-old “status quo” in the Orthodox world. Now it has become the object of church reshaping, which will affect the positions of the Russian Orthodox Church. The case can result in far-reaching consequences in regional geopolitics, and the conflict itself ceases to have exclusively religious nature.

Church Reshaping

The Moscow Patriarchate possessed indisputable authority among local churches, and had numerous flocks and parishes. This allowed it to compete with Constantinople with little effort. Though Constantinople had among the Orthodox churches the status of the “first among equals”, it had been for a long time in different “weight category” than the Russian Orthodox Church. Now the situation is changing rapidly. The Ecumenical Patriarchate saw in time how the balance of forces in the world is changing and seeks to take revenge using clever and thorough moves. The goal of Constantinople is to undermine the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, to take away key territories from it and to destroy ultimately the unity of the church. According to the architects of this process, the collapse of the Moscow Patriarchate will not be limited to a peaceful parade of “sovereign autocephalies.” On the contrary, it will provoke another round of dramatic social and political events in the whole post-Soviet area. The autocephaly of the Ukrainian church is a pilot project, a trigger, and an important precedent for the newest history of the Orthodox world. The loss of Ukraine is a crushing blow to the power and ambitions of the Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time, the Moscow Patriarchate has enough other sore spots, which Moscow’s opponents will try to “push” soon. Russia showed vulnerability and, in the face of new challenges, chose the simplest but losing tactic of self-isolation, breaking off relations with Constantinople, which only accelerates the spiritual decolonization of its former “imperial” territories. Ukraine for Moscow is probably a lost asset, and now the struggle of the patriarchies threatens to break into the church life of its closest neighbour, Moldova.

And what about Moldova?

The Russian and Romanian Orthodox patriarchies have a long-standing dispute over the canonical identity of the territory of Moldova. For more than twenty years, the conflict of jurisdictions was sluggish and remained under control, but all this time, the Bessarabian metropolis of the Romanian Orthodox Church strengthened in Moldova. After Ukraine, a new round of expansion of the Romanian Orthodox Church looks inevitable, and its appeal to Phanar with a request to restore legal rights to the territory of Moldova seems to be a matter of time. Despite a rather confused reaction to the Ukrainian autocephaly, it seemed to the last that Moscow at least feels the dynamics of the situation. Patriarch Kirill went on a tour to the vulnerable areas of the canonical territory and made a large-scale visit to Belarus, and he was going to visit Moldova this week. It is unclear to what extent the position of the Romanian Orthodox Church can be strengthened by such visits, but the patriarch’s trip to Moldova failed at the end. If the Moscow Patriarchate is really disoriented by the events, as some experts report, the matter will not be limited to one religious conflict, and Moldova, after Ukraine, will leave the bosom of the Moscow Patriarchate faster than expected. The restructuring of the Moldavian religious field and its reassignment to the Romanian Orthodox Church will significantly affect the social and political processes in the country – even those that have never been associated with a religious issue. For example, the Transdniestrian conflict.

Schism along the Dniester

The Bessarabian Metropolis of the Romanian Orthodox Church, for canonical reasons, claims the whole territory of Moldova, including the unrecognized Transdniestria. The left bank of the Dniester has at least wary attitude towards Romania. Anti-Romanian phobias of the local population have a long-standing character and go back to the period of the Second World War, when the territory of Transdniestria was occupied by Romania as part of the “Governorship of Transdniestria”. Transdniestrians ambiguously assess the role of Bucharest in the 1992 armed conflict and claim that Romanian mercenaries and weapons have been seen in the clashes. Among other things, the authorities of the unrecognized Transdniestria invariably position it as an “integral part of the Russian world.” The Tiraspol-Dubossary Diocese, which unites the canonical structures of the Moldavian Metropolitanate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the territory of the “PMR”, is a “showcase” of spiritual affinity with Russia and demonstrates its complete loyalty to this end. It is easy to guess that attempts to oust the Russian Orthodox Church from Moldova will meet the resistance of the rebel Transdniestria. The Romanian protectorate over local religious structures is a scenario fundamentally unacceptable for the authorities of the self-proclaimed republic for ideological and political reasons. In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church will certainly welcome the opportunity to use Transdniestria as a shield against the Romanian religious expansion in the Republic of Moldova, and this prospectively threatens with an intra-Moldovan Orthodox schism and rupture of relations between the Tiraspol-Dubossary eparchy and the Moldovan Metropolitanate. The absence of a religious and ethnic component is what has always distinguished the Transdniestrian conflict from other hotbeds of tension in the post-Soviet space. That is why politicians and diplomats for many years believe that the Transdniestrian issue has the easiest resolution way. Recently, negotiations between Moldova and Transdniestria have even demonstrated good dynamics, and the parties have been able to agree on several long-standing problems. Experts talked about a possible “success story” and even a potential compromise between Brussels and Moscow on the basis of the Transdniestrian dossier. The split on religious grounds will bring the confrontation between Chisinau and Tiraspol to a fundamentally new, ideological level and can confuse international players, as well as seriously complicate the conflict. If the Transdniestrian conflict becomes religious, the development of its final settlement model will be postponed for decades. In this case, it is all the more unclear how the geopolitical situation around the Black Sea will be changed in the next few years and what moves will be taken by Moscow, Brussels and Washington in this direction.