Vol. XI No.9
September 2006


Muddled Amity
Improving the Moldovan-Romanian Relationship

Muddled Amity...

It is said that Moldova and Romania are two states divided by a common language. The divide is seen in the occasional outbursts of unfortunate rhetoric that erupt on both sides of the Prut River, often when someone waxes poetic over the unity of all Romanians. Such oratorical outbursts and the inevitable reaction they generate reveal a mystifying lack of understanding on both sides that feeds the antagonistic goals of other parties. Bound together by ethnicity, united by the past, reshaped by history, but divided by current realities, the two nations ought to be each others best friends. Actually, they are, but in practice they sometimes behave in peculiar ways that not even they understand. Take, for example, the way in which the recent statements of Romanian President Traian Basescu regarding the future of Romania and Moldova within the EU were completely twisted around by some in Moldova to create an impression that Romania had reached an understanding with Russia to divide Moldova with Romania taking Bessarabia and Russia taking Transdniestria. Or the lack of sense exhibited by one Romanian political leader who should know better who proposed a referendum for Transdniestria after ten years of a projected UN protectorate, giving the false impression that any referendum in Transdniestria can be legitimate without Moldova’s sovereign consent – a proposal that is particularly untimely at a moment when Russia is behind a sham referendum regarding Transdniestria’s future relationship with Moscow scheduled for September 17th. Neither the Moldovans nor the Romanians are to blame for their misunderstandings; yet both are at fault. The unbridled manner in which some activists make or react to various pronouncements unwittingly supports Russia's strategy to disembowel Moldova. Moldova and Romania should instead expend their energies in tandem to thwart the threatened establishment of a Russian Transnistria.

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Brief History Lesson
Moldova consists of Bessarabia on the west bank of the Dniestr River and Transdniestria on the east bank. Bessarabia was once part of an independent Moldovan state in the 15th century under Stefan the Great, but subsequently fell under Ottoman rule in the 16th century. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-12, Bessarabia was ceded to Russia. Transnistria was part of Russia, but was in the districts of Podolia and Kherson. Following World War I and in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Bessarabia, with its overwhelming ethnic Romanian population, voted in a plebiscite to become part of Romania. In 1940, the USSR and Germany signed the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which, among other things, provided for the USSR’s annexation of Bessarabia, by then a part of Romania for more than twenty years. Stalin merged Bessarabia with Transdniestria into the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic which became the fifteenth republic within the USSR. On August 27, 1991, the Moldovan parliament declared Moldova an independent republic. Meanwhile, in Transdniestria, a group of Russian factory managers, with the support of the Russian 14th Army, declared Transdniestria to be independent of Moldova, arguing that independence was necessary to protect the Russian minority in Transdniestria from the possible reunification of Moldova with Romania. Civil war broke out, and on July 21, 1992, the fighting ended with Moldova signing a cease-fire agreement with Russia. The result of the Russian intervention was that Transdniestria became effectively partitioned from the rest of Moldova and is today, in the words of The Economist, “a racketeering scheme with a territorial pendent.” No nation in the world recognizes the independence of Transdniestria, but the Russians provide it with succor.

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Moldovan Nationhood
Although there had been talk of the reestablishment of the union of Moldova with Romania following Moldova’s declaration of independence, it quickly became apparent that this was, more or less, a pipe dream. Although Moldova is two-thirds ethnically Romanian, few people want it to be a part of Romania – not the EU, not Ukraine, Hungary, Russia or, for that matter, most Romanians who understand that the economic burden entailed by Moldova’s absorption would be overwhelming – and particularly not now when it would disrupt Romania’s imminent entry into the European Union. Moldovans do not want reunification either. The pro-Romanian Popular Front was soundly defeated in the February 1994 Moldovan elections and over 90 percent of the population rejected unification with Romania. Because its people want a national identity of their own, Moldova has strived to create a sense of nationhood. It emphasizes its own history – separate from that of Romania – as well as its modern record of laudable inter-ethnic relations. It must do this if it is ever to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict, one elemental aspect of which is the fear of eventual unification with Romania.

Reunification is so fraught with difficulties for Romania that astute observers dismiss it. Moldovans might be ethnically Romanian, but most of them have been raised in the Soviet Union speaking Russian and have characteristics that are as much Russian as they are Romanian. Of greater concern is that much of Moldovan industry is now Russian-owned, which is problematic for Romanians. This is coupled with the economic difficulties of supporting Moldova, creating little support for unification in Romania, at least for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, some Romanian political leaders simply cannot prevent themselves from making grand references to their shared history with Moldova and the unity of all Romanians – even when they know that it’s pure rhetoric no different than Hungary’s propensity to proclaim its ties to its Diaspora in neighboring countries (expressions that drive Romanians to distraction). These comments set off a chain reaction in Chisinau where pundits and politicians tend to twist Romanian pronouncements into things that were never meant or even said in order to demonstrate a disassociation with Romania that is, in reality, fanciful too.

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The Basescu Brouhaha
An excellent example is the rather innocuous remarks on July 1 of President Basescu regarding Romania’s future relationship with Moldova. The President was speaking to a group of Moldovan High School students visiting Bucharest and, quite innocently, commented on the bonds that unite them. President Basescu said: “I was always one of those politicians who spoke in favor of the need to maintain a good, open relationship with the Republic of Moldova that will accelerate the motion of the Republic of Moldova so that, not in the most distant future, we could reunite, this time inside the EU. . . . We are confident that the cultural links between educational systems of both countries contribute to the preservation of links between Romania and the Republic of Moldova, which used to be once upon a time a single country. We are the only country, the only people, which remain still divided. Germany reunited its nation; Romania remains still divided into two countries. But, I will repeat, our reunification will occur inside of the European Union and in no other way.

President Basescu thus said the same thing that just about every Romanian political leader has been saying for fifteen years -- Moldova is a separate nation whose sovereignty and territorial integrity Romania fully respects; and the only way that the two peoples will ever be united again will be under the umbrella of the European Union. However, almost at once, some Moldovans claimed that President Basescu had urged the reunification of Moldova and Romania as part of Romania’s accession process with the European Union. It was asserted that President Basescu had suggested that Romania and Moldova join the EU together as a unified nation. It was claimed that because he had also condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which only dealt with Bessarabia, Basescu meant to restore the right bank of Dniestr River to Romania leaving the left-bank to the Russians. How could serious people believe that the President of Romania would suggest to Brussels on the eve of Romania’s entry into the EU, a scenario that would clearly jeopardize its accession? The EU negotiated accession with Romania and not with some hybrid union of Romania and Moldova. Moldova is far from meeting the criteria and conditions to even commence the EU accession process and joining it to Romania would delay Romanian accession for years. Moreover, the EU would never consider taking half of Moldova and reducing Transnistria to a sort of "Kaliningrad-on-the-Dniestr", as the noted columnist, Vladimir Socor, has called Russia’s latest Transnistrian misadventure.

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The Consequences of Innocent Expressions
Immediately on the heels of the mischaracterization of President Basescu’s July 1st remarks, a committee was formed in Chisinau to support the "Basescu initiative" and it called upon citizens of Moldova to "collect signatures to support the "Basescu declarations". The Committee was created by the leaders of various pro-Romanian unification groups to support their misguided view of the declarations of the Romanian President.  In response, the Chairman of the Russian Congress of Communities of Moldova called for a referendum on the independence of Transdniestria, so that "the people of Transdniestria will have the full right to self-determination.” The influential Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, wrote that “in Transdniestria, Basescu’s ‘declaration’ is almost applauded”. Transdniestria’s sinister minister of security, Vladimir Antiufeev, declared that “as shown in Traian Basescu’s ‘declaration’, the historic plans of Romania concerning Moldova remain the same. And we will take that into consideration in our negotiations with Chisinau. Also, we will insist on increasing the numbers of Russian peacekeepers in the conflict region.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta said that Basescu’s ‘declaration’ will consolidate Russia’s position in Transdniestria.

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The Transnistrian Referendum
A former Romanian Foreign Minister, whose intellect is widely admired, in an article published by the Bucharest newspaper "Ziua", wrote that "Moldova should not be a hostage of the Transdniester crisis; a crisis that prevents currently both its democratic internal development and European integration. . . . Transdniester should become a protectorate under the UN or OSCE flag for a period of five to ten years, a period of time when it would be assisted with the implementation of a program of democratization, eradication of crime and demilitarization. Russia could have in this context a leading role, similar to US’ role in Kosovo.  . . .  At the end of the protectorate period, and after the accession of the Dniestr West bank Moldova to the EU, the population from Transdniestria would be able to decide through a referendum if they want to be part of Moldova (and thus of the EU) with an extensive autonomy established on the basis of the Moldovan laws or to become an independent state based on certain international guarantees".

It was quickly pointed out in Moldova that a similar disintegration plan was proposed in 2004 by the director of the Moscow-based Institute of National Strategy, Stanislav Belkovski. According to the "Belkovski Plan", a union between Bessarabia and Romania and a concomitant recognition of Transdniester's right to self-determination would satisfy the interests of all the peoples in the region. The annexation of Bessarabia according to the reunification model of West and East Germany would give a powerful impetus to the national development and would practically allow Romania to escape today's state of national depression," noted Mr. Belkovski.

 The suggestion that a referendum on secession is an appropriate way to settle the Transdniestrian conflict – even one run ten years from now by the UN or the OSCE – disregards entirely Moldova’s sovereignty. The right of self-determination does not encompass a general right of secession. While self-determination is an internationally recognized principle, secession is considered a domestic issue that each state must assess itself. Respect for the territorial integrity of existing states is paramount except under limited circumstances none of which exist in Transdniestria (see the New York City Bar Association report on the subject at: http://www.nycbar.org/pdf/report/NYCity%20BarTransnistriaReport.pdf . There is no legal basis for a claim of secession under external self-determination for Transnistria, and referendums that seek to produce such a result violate international law without the approval Moldova. Nevertheless, the Russians are advocating Transnistria’s accession to the Russian Federation through a referendum – one that will be devoid of any indicia of free-will. Their contrived result will undoubtedly be used by Russia to endow its control over Transnistria with a feigned “democratic” façade in an attempt to legitimize permanent Russian control of the region.  For a Romanian politician to suggest that any referendum is an appropriate and legal method to resolve the conflict is imprudence bordering upon folly.

Fortunately, the United States and the OSCE have both stated that neither will recognize the results of the planned independence referendum in Transdniestria. Speaking in Vienna at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Permanent Council, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley said that the referendum could not be seen as a legitimate expression of the will of the province's people and that no country would recognize Transdniestria as a state with a lawful government. Finley also called on Russia to demand that Transdniestrian officials cancel the planned referendum and help find a negotiated settlement to the conflict. On July 26, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer said in a meeting with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin that the international community will not recognize the referendum's results.  US President George Bush told reporters at the White House on July 27th that: "We [President Basescu and I] talked about the neighboring region of Moldova, and I assured the Romanian President that the position of the US on Moldova is based on the fact that we support its territorial integrity." President Basescu added that "[President Bush and I] analyzed the situation in Moldova and the necessity to have its territory free of any foreign influence."

As Vlad Socor aptly noted: “It is inopportune to emphasize historical and national identity problems, and to resume discussions that render political the "Moldovan or Romanian" issue. Moldova has long ago found out the counterproductive effects of such approaches: social disunion, distracting attention from real problems, mutual attacks in media, lack of confidence between the two banks of the Prut, and drawing water to Tiraspol's mill. It is also inopportune to formulate the problem in territorial terms, being nostalgic about the "lost territories" - this vision is misplaced nowadays. The consistent return to the historical problems and the national identity issue does not represent Romania's political strategy on Moldova. They rather point to a deficit of strategy. Last year, President Basescu proceeded to repair this deficit, repeatedly stating that the time is ripe to move from discussions about history and philology to measures in the gas and electricity sectors. The Romanian president was right to incriminate Russia's "energy blackmail" and promised to help Moldova cope with it. A European partnership with Moldova will bring regional and international credibility and prestige to Romania. On the contrary, a policy based on historical and identity criteria is no longer understood in the contemporary Europe, especially if such a policy is officially presented in this old-fashioned way.”What Moldova needs from Romania are more voices trumpeting the territorial integrity of the country like those of Presidents Bush and Basescu (and Romanian Foreign Minister Ungureanu). What Moldova especially needs from Romania and other nations is concrete assistance in thwarting Russia’s illegal plans for Transdniestria. This is what Romanians should be discussing – not fanciful visions of the future based upon imprudent and irrational notions.

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The Moldovan Language
Odd things also originate in Moldova. For example, one of the reasons that no treaty has been signed between Romania and Moldova has been the issue of language. As part of the USSR’s Russification program in Moldova, the Cyrillic script was required for written Romanian and the Soviets called the Romanian language written in Cyrillic “Moldavian.” Rather than call the language what it is – Romanian --Moldova’s constitution makes Russian and “Moldovan” the nation’s official languages. The Austrians don’t mind using German and the American’s speak English despite the Revolutionary War. Although this may be akin to Serbo-Croatian being called Serbian on one side of the border and Croatian on the other, it is without any ethnic justification. Of course, the Moldovans can call their language anything they like, but insisting that the yet-to-be concluded base treaty with Romania be executed in duplicate in both languages has a sort of an Alice in Wonderland aspect to it. Would it not be far better if the parties agreed to sign one document and each call the language whatever it pleases? Presumably, Ştefan the Great, the fifteenth century ruler of Moldavia, did not have these issues when he accepted the help of the Walachian prince Vlad Tepes to secure his throne in 1457 and both of them spoke in Romanian. Moldova needs to exercise a bit more confidence in its own identity, and Romania should recognize that despite the fact that it was the first country in the world to recognize the Moldovan state, the failure to execute a basic treaty recognizing Moldova’s territorial integrity is seen by others as an assertion of Romanian hegemony even though that does not exist.

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The polemics of historical and national identity issues are counterproductive to the interests of both Romania and Moldova. They play into the hands of the Russians in Transnistria at the very moment when Moldova has to face a Russian economic and political siege. Mistrust and miscommunication between Bucharest and Chisinau favor Russia's strategy. Both nations should by now know that reopening these matters always leads to misunderstandings and disunion. Romania should instead provide Moldova with the assistance that it needs to develop its state institutions and internationalize the Transdniestrian conflict – and the Moldovans should be confident enough to warmly accept such assistance.

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Editors Note: It is our policy not to mention our clients by name in The Romanian Digest™ or discuss their business unless it is a matter of public record and our clients approve. The information herein is correct to the best of our knowledge and belief at press time. Specific advice should be sought from us, however, before investment or other decisions are made.

Copyright 2006 Rubin Meyer Doru & Trandafir, societate civila de avocati. All rights reserved. No part of The Romanian Digest™ may be reproduced, reused or redistributed in any form without prior written permission from the publisher.

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