At the turn of the year, Romania took over the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In that capacity, Bucharest risks damaging its credibility if it is seen as falling back on irredentist views to question the independent statehood of Moldova. Such is the implication of the new, left-leaning Romanian government’s refusal to sign the Romanian-Moldovan interstate treaty, the text of which had been fully completed and initialed last year by Romania’s center-right government with that of Moldova.
Although Romania was the first country to recognize Moldova’s independence in 1991, it did so on the assumption that Moldova would soon choose to unite with it. That assumption ignored both the unpopularity of “unionism” among Moldova’s indigenous majority of 65 percent of the population and the resilient sense of a Moldovan ethnolinguistic identity, distinct from the Romanian. That pre-modern, indeed pre-national sense of identity was neither changed by the interlude of Romanian rule (1918-40, 1941-44) nor created afterward by the Soviet occupation authorities.
Opinion surveys in Moldova from 1991 to date consistently show support for unification with Romania at between 5 and 10 percent of the population in right-bank Moldova. Were left-bank Transdniester to be factored in, the pro-Romania vote would be even lower. Pro-Romanian parties have severely been penalized in all elections from 1991 to date.
Literally on the day of the proclamation of Moldova’s independence in August 1991, Romania and Moldova began negotiating the text of an interstate treaty. While Bucharest sought a treaty which would smooth the path to unification, Moldova wanted the text to sanctify her own independent statehood. Successive Romanian cabinets during Ion Iliescu’s presidency (1990-1996) turned down provisions to that effect in Moldovan treaty drafts. Emil Constantinescu’s right-of-center, pro-Western presidency (1996-2000) changed that policy, mainly because the European Union and NATO required Bucharest to sign interstate treaties with Moldova and Ukraine, before Romania’s candidacy could be considered by either organization. The Romanian government signed the treaty with Ukraine and initialed last year the final text of the treaty with Moldova on terms fully acceptable to the latter.
Chisinau did not expect Iliescu and his Party of Social Democracy to repudiate the document after their return to power in Romania last November. Although that government’s prime minister designate, Adrian Nastase, sounded a bold irredentist note on his visit to Chisinau, his rhetoric could be dismissed as electoral posturing. On January 10-11, however, Iliescu, Nastase (by now the prime minister) and the new foreign affairs minister, Mircea Geoana, told the visiting Moldovan Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolae Cernomaz that Romania wishes to reopen the negotiations with a view to changing the treaty’s text.
Geoana’s position is the more significant because he doubles as chairman in office of the OSCE this year. He made four proposals public.
–The treaty should describe Moldova and Romania as “two Romanian states.”
–Their relationship should be defined as “special” and “privileged,” and the treaty itself should be labeled “fraternal.”
–The document’s language should be defined as “Romanian” and the document itself should acknowledge the “common history, identity and culture.”
–The sides should jointly condemn in the treaty the forcible annexation of Bessarabia from Romania under the terms of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.
Chisinau, for its part, does not subscribe the view that Moldova is a “Romanian state,” given that a great majority of the indigenous Moldovans–not to mention the non-Moldovan population of 35 percent–do not classify themselves as Romanian. The Moldovan side insists on the formula “common language”, citing the fact that the Moldovan constitution enshrines the “Moldovan”–not Romanian–as the official language of Moldova. While philologists agree that the language is one and the same, the term “Moldovan language” reflects the choice of most Moldovans as well as serving to underpin Moldovan statehood.
For similar reasons, the Moldovans object to the concept of “special” or “privileged relations” and insist that the treaty should solely be anchored in international law. They also refute the concept of “fraternal treaty”/”fraternal relationship” by citing their experience with the “fraternity” imposed on Chisinau by Moscow. As regards the Bucharest-proposed condemnation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact “with its consequences,” Chisinau objects to language that would implicitly assert a Romanian historic right to Bessarabia.
In Bucharest, the Romanian side informed Cernomaz that it would return the initialed text of the treaty back to the staff level for reconsideration. The Romanian-proposed changes in effect reassert the position of the first Iliescu administration, in which Nastase was foreign affairs minister. Those draft stipulations seem designed to assert the case for unification along the lines of nineteenth century ideas of the national state and historic rights–a view that finds wide acceptance in Romania (Infotag, Flux, Basapress, January 11-13).
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