What Are the Prospects for Moldova’s National Project?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Since independence, our elites have failed to offer society a comprehensible unifying project of national development. Despite the fact that the concept of Romanian identity is gradually pushing Moldovenism to the margins of history, there is still no feeling that the overwhelming majority of our country’s citizens is ready to follow the ideals of unionism
Today, neighboring Romania celebrates the 165th anniversary of an important historical event - the Little Union, which may well be called the first unirea of Romanians within a single state. On 5 January 1859, Alexandru Ioan Cuza became Prince of Moldavia, and a few weeks later he was elected Prince of Wallachia. After becoming the head of the united state, he gained political and diplomatic recognition from Europe. As a result of constitutional and administrative reforms, which were completed in 1862, Wallachia and Moldavia officially became a single entity in the form of a unitary state with one political center, one constitution and one capital in Bucharest. If the neighboring country has found its own national-historical content more than a century and a half ago, Moldova continues to seek for its place and model of development, waiting for the next historical opportunity and favorable international environment. Some will say that the North Black Sea region is in a state of increased turbulence and any drastic actions are irrelevant. Others, on the contrary, will push to the idea that now, in the midst of the looming geopolitical uncertainty, it is reasonable to make a clear choice and offer citizens something definite in terms of a national project that cannot be replaced by ephemeral European integration. At the same time, over the last few years, the national-identity policy of our state has changed considerably and accelerated the historical step towards the final definition of who lives in the geographical contours of the present Republic of Moldova. Disputes about the belonging of our country to one or another geopolitical areal have not subsided since we became independent three decades ago. The likelihood that the final point will be reached within the next few years is quite low. Yet, a number of indicators point that the state is trying to formulate its mid-term vision of building the nation. As known, during the last decades around the “national question” in Moldova the main rivalry has unfolded between the two main ideological camps: “Moldovanists” and “Unionists”. We cannot say that the former have been very successful both in building up and preserving the basics of the Moldovan state. At the same time, the latter, with the systematic growth of supporters of the two Romanian states’ integration, cannot boast that the overwhelming number of Moldovans share their concept of nation-building. Since the first day of independence, the contradictions between the two concepts have seriously affected the internal political configuration in the country and the foreign policy course. One group, of course, sees Moldova’s future exclusively in close cooperation with Bucharest and the European Union. The second group adheres to the national-self-existence of the republic, which professes a balanced foreign policy that allows maneuvering between global and regional centers of power and keeping away from direct confrontation with any influential state. The political history of present-day Moldova clearly demonstrates how the ideological pendulum has shifted towards one or the other camp. After the wave of national awakening of the late 80s and early 90s, the first crisis of the unionism ideas arose as a result of the parliamentary elections in 1994, when the supporters of the Moldovenism came to power. The main adherent of this concept was the Agrarian-Democratic Party, which favored an independent policy and rejection of integration processes with Romania. The referendum initiated by President Mircea Snegur in March 1994, when 95% of the country’s citizens supported the idea that Moldova should develop as an independent subject of international law, became another major blow to the Unionists. Meanwhile, the revolution of 7 April 2009 marks the end for the 15-year rule of the supporters of the Moldovenist model of state and society development. Disregarding Igor Dodon’s timid attempts to revive the Moldovenist discourse during his presidency, the representatives of the Unionist wing of the Moldovan elites have been in power for 15 years fulfilling their national project. However, the society has not made a final decision as to any of the concepts and is still divided by politicians. One election campaign succeeds another, but political players are exploiting the same symbols and images and doing the same thing for decades. One camp under the bright banners of Stefan the Great urges to vote for the history of Moldova and the Moldovan language, but when they get power they forget about their national-ideological patterns. All this looks extremely vile and contrived amidst the existing de facto Romanian symbols used in the coat of arms and flag of Moldova, as well as the Romanian history, Romanian language and literature studied by the children of these politicians at schools. Another camp at election rallies under Romanian flags zealously advocates the need for an accelerated unification with Romania, realizing perfectly well that they do not really want any unification. None of them, being sane, will agree to voluntarily give up their privileged power and the possibility to manage state resources. In fact, the integration of Moldova and Romania can happen only if the main managers of international processes decide it. If they consider that such a merger is in their long-term interests, everything will happen again, as it already happened once 165 years ago. As to the prospects of the Moldovenist and Unionist doctrines, the former is, of course, gradually fading, and the area of its spread is rapidly shrinking, conditionally speaking, to left bank of the Dniester. An end to the question of language, and, consequently, literature, history and culture, was recently put by Kyiv. Local schools that taught in Moldovan officially switched to Romanian: “From now on, officially all schools in Odesa oblast, which previously taught in Moldovan, will switch to the Romanian language of education, the state language of the Republic of Moldova, officially recognized in the European Union,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science announced on its Facebook page. This case was preceded by a principled decision of our authorities. Last year, Maia Sandu became the president who finally consigned the Moldovan language to the dustbin of history by signing a decree renaming the state language to “Romanian” after the approval of relevant bill by the parliament. Such a decision indicates that in the coming decades, and possibly over the longer run, the pro-Romanian Unionist concept will be the dominant factor in the national-cultural development of present-day Moldova. Moreover, it is obvious that since independence our politicians and the ideologists behind them have failed to offer society a comprehensible unifying concept, as well as the possibility of fulfilling this idea of national development. Despite the fact that the concept of Romanian identity is gradually pushing Moldovenism to the margins of history, there is still no feeling that the overwhelming majority of our country’s citizens is ready to follow the ideals of unionism. Inevitably, the questions arise whether there could have been a third way or whether reunification with a neighboring state remains, alas, the only viable option at this point in our history.