Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 48

In a series of statements on March 3 through 7, Moldova reacted furiously to Romania’s ongoing attempts to confer Romanian citizenship to Moldova’s residents en masse. With Romania’s accession to the European Union effective January 1, Bucharest believes that a large part of Moldova’s population will be tempted to take up Romanian citizenship in order to travel freely on EU territory. Chisinau, however, believes that Bucharest uses the citizenship issue in order to pave the way for a de facto merger of Moldova, or at least of right-bank Moldova (Bessarabia), with Romania. The issue puts Bucharest at odds with the EU as well.

On March 3 Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin accused Romania of engaging in “impertinent, unvarnished” attempts to undermine Moldova politically, with a view to uniting it with Romania. In his live interview with a Russian-language television channel in Chisinau, Voronin complained of Bucharest’s “mocking attitude toward our country and state,” financing a “fifth column” in Moldova, pursuing “state revanchism,” and treating Moldova’s independence as a transitory stage toward unification with Romania.

Voronin derided Bucharest’s frequently repeated offers to function as a “locomotive” pulling Moldova toward the EU and as an “advocate” of Moldova within the EU. He seemed to have an easy time turning down “those who foist themselves on us,” considering Romania’s difficult accession to the EU and the ongoing spectacle of that country’s political crisis, which saps Bucharest’s credibility in Brussels. “We have advocates in many European countries, thankfully,” Voronin remarked.

On March 6, the Moldovan government followed up with its own declaration. It accused Romania of practicing “duplicity,” “undermining Moldova’s national security and its statehood,” and “pursuing ulterior motives” [code word for absorption into Romania]. It urged Romania to sign the inter-state political treaty with Moldova that was initialed by both countries in 2000 but was then abandoned by Bucharest, as well as the border treaty that was prepared for signing in 2000. The Moldovan government is asking its “European and international partners to exert their influence and bring Romania’s policy onto a normal track of good-neighborly relations [with Moldova] in a European spirit.”

Chisinau regards the fate of those two treaties as a test of Bucharest’s long-term acceptance of a Moldovan state. Both documents have been under negotiation since 1992, and all Moldovan governments since then have urged Bucharest to sign the two treaties. Bucharest insisted all along on introducing historical and philological references unacceptable to Chisinau into the political treaty. More recently, the argument privately adduced to Western officials is that the Romanian parliament could not ratify a document that lacks such references.

On March 7 Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Andrei Stratan announced that Moldova has decided to turn down Romania’s request to open two additional consulates or consular offices (other than the embassy and consulate in Chisinau) in Moldova. The Moldovan government, keenly interested in free travel by its citizens to Romania despite political controversies, had in recent months considered Romania’s request for additional consulates. Once it turned out that the proposed consulates would issue Romanian citizenship, not just visas, Chisinau decided against the proposal.

The drop that seems to have filled the cup of Chisinau’s patience (a cup notoriously of almost inexhaustible capacity) is Romanian President Traian Basescu’s March 2 declaration. In urgent tones, Basescu asked the Romanian government to accelerate procedures for granting Romanian citizenship to applicants from Moldova. Basescu estimated the number of citizenship applications from Moldova at 800,000 — the same number he cited publicly during his January 16 visit to Chisinau, when the two leaderships were still on speaking, though far from cordial, terms.

That estimate may well be exaggerated. But whatever the actual number, those applicants are (under the existing procedure) requesting a preliminary appointment with Romanian consular officials, whether for passports or just visas. Basescu’s statement calls for shortening that procedure and handing out citizenship papers rapidly to applicants. In several speeches during recent months, the Romanian president called both in open and veiled terms for Moldova’s (or “Bessarabia’s”) unification with Romania.

Bucharest’s decision to “come to the aid” of Moldovans with the offer of Romanian citizenship may well, however, stem from a selfless motive. Until January 1 Moldovans were able to enter Romania in great numbers visa-free in order to work, study, or visit relatives. But as a new member of the EU, Romania had to introduce entry visas for Moldovans at the EU’s insistence. Granting citizenship to Moldovans would circumvent the EU-imposed visa requirement and enable Moldovans not only to enter Romania freely as before, but also in some cases to travel within the EU as newly minted EU citizens.

Bucharest’s policy on this issue irritates the EU on several counts. Anxious to avoid a migratory flow of Moldovan holders of Romanian citizenship to the EU, Brussels is offering Moldova a visa-facilitation agreement in the short term (with the next step, visa-liberalization, a possibility) and wants to consolidate Moldova’s statehood for the long term. At this stage, irredentist rhetoric from Bucharest raises the possibility of partitioning Moldova along the Nistru River and consolidating Russia’s hold on Transnistria as a second Kaliningrad, instead of loosening that hold.

The EU has decided to set up a joint visa application and issuing center in Chisinau for entry and transit visas to certain EU member countries. Hungary is designated to administer the center in its embassy there, with participation by Austria, Slovenia, Denmark, Estonia, and Latvia. The Romanian government recently sought to reverse or amend that decision after the EU had already made it. The Center is due to open in April of this year, although Bucharest is said to persist with objections in Brussels.

While continuing to complain that Bucharest “insists on defining us as [ethnic] Romanians” (see EDM, February 27), Chisinau’s latest reactions to Bucharest’s initiatives on citizenship make clear that the dispute has escalated beyond issues of history and national identity, now seemingly revolving around Moldova’s continuation as a state. However, on one count at least, Bucharest demonstrates statesmanship by refraining from direct polemical responses to Chisinau’s recent statements.

(Moldpres, Basapres, Rompress, March 3-8)