On March 13, Romania’s military attache in Chisinau, Colonel Ion Ungureanu, was declared persona non grata and expelled by the Moldovan government. The Moldovan Foreign Affairs Ministry’s announcement cited “incontrovertible evidence” that the attache had engaged in covert activities. Other Moldovan officials have since declared that the military attache had been videotaped while in contact with pro-Romanian, antigovernment demonstrators in Chisinau’s central square. The authorities have so far declined to produce any evidence.
Within hours of Chisinau’s official announcement, the Romanian government in a tit-for-tat gesture declared the Moldovan minister counselor and deputy chief of mission in Bucharest, Iacob Popovici, persona non grata and expelled him from the country. The move is purely retaliatory, with no accusations against Popovici or the Moldovan embassy. Romanian officials, from President Ion Iliescu on down, are stating that the military attache may possibly have been videotaped as a mere bystander in Chisinau’s central square during the demonstrations, and that the colonel had not been involved in any covert moves to support the anti-Communist protests.
This unnecessary, mutually damaging exchange of blows has brought Moldovan-Romanian relations to their lowest point in more than a decade of Moldovan statehood. Always marked by ups and downs, the relationship deteriorated after the Communists regained power in Chisinau last year, and it nose-dived against the backdrop of political confrontation in Chisinau. The Communists, desperate to find scapegoats for their failure to improve the economic situation, are accusing Romania of subverting Moldova as part of a strategy to regain it.
President Vladimir Voronin began by scapegoating Transdniester, then Western financial interests and local Moldovan economic mafias for orchestrating the protests. Ultimately he settled on accusing Romania. In a March 13 interview, timed precisely to the move against the Romanian military attache, Voronin charged that “Romania is behind the demonstrations in Chisinau.” He accused official Bucharest of “promoting nationalist and unionist interests [‘unionism’ denotes merging Moldova with Romania], supplying the supporters of unionism with literature, financing mass-circulation newspapers in Moldova, teaching Moldovan students [on scholarships in Romania] Romanian ideas rather than knowledge”–in sum, conducting a “Romanian ideological intervention in Moldova.” Voronin went on to describe the “unionist” leaders in Chisinau as “unreconciled to the majority’s choice” of Moldovan statehood,” and therefore “bent on destroying statehood.” Portraying the parliamentary deputies of the Christian-Democrat People’s Party (CDPP, the renamed Popular Front) as “national-fascists,” Voronin charged that “all of them are citizens of Romania and aiming to unite Moldova with Romania.”
Meanwhile, CDPP leaders are playing into the Communists’ and Moscow’s hands by using mainly Romanian national rhetoric in the course of the demonstrations. Although socioeconomic demands in this poorest of European countries could broaden the popular base of the protests, CDPP leaders seem–as always in the past–unable or unwilling to formulate an alternative to Communist policies. The protest movement is petering out.
The Romanian government is careful to avoid becoming involved in a dispute–with either Moldova or Russia–that could be made to appear irredentist. Such an appearance could compromise Bucharest’s top priority goal of obtaining, in November this year, an invitation to join NATO. Unresolved territorial issues, or confrontational relations with neighbors, would disqualify any candidate country from consideration by the alliance. Suppositions are rife in Chisinau’s pro-European circles, in Bucharest, and in third countries that some elements in Moscow are encouraging Moldova’s Communist government to stoke tensions with Romania, as a tactic to undermine Romania’s bid for admission to NATO. Romanian President Ion Iliescu, under questioning by the media, admitted to this possibility and called for a restrained Romanian response, one that would avoid any further escalation of tension. The CDPP’s tactics, however, complicate the Romanian government’s situation, without seriously hurting the Communist regime in Chisinau (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, Rompres, Mediafax, March 13-17; see the Monitor, February 1, 7, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, March 6, 11).
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