Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 49

When the Soviet Union fell apart, Moldovans–confounding outsiders’ expectations–chose independent statehood, rather than uniting with the related nation of Romania, which had ruled most of present-day Moldova earlier in this century. Since 1991, Moldovan-Romanian political relations have been tranquil but uneasy, and the officially registered economic relations meager. By contrast, the human dimension of that relationship has been vibrant. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Moldovans work, trade, study and visit relatives in Romania. Under bilateral arrangements, Moldovan citizens travel to Romania freely, without passports or visas. Although Romania considers all Moldovans born under Romanian rule and their descendants–in effect, most of Moldova’s population–as eligible for Romanian citizenship, few Moldovans have availed themselves of it thus far. All this is now about to change, threatening the integrity of Moldovan citizenship and thus potentially the foundation of Moldovan statehood.

Large numbers of Moldovans are now seeking Romanian citizenship, and are prepared to surrender their Moldovan passports to do so. Crowds of applicants besieged the Romanian consulate in Chisinau and the Internal Affairs Ministry in Bucharest last month, but Moldovan authorities may soon lose their control over that process altogether. On March 15, Romania is due to open a number of offices near the Moldovan border where visiting Moldovan applicants can apply for and gain Romanian citizenship.

The Moldovan panic followed the news that Romania has been invited by the European Union to accession negotiations and that Romanian citizens consequently may, as early as the middle of this year, be able freely to enter those West European countries covered by the Schengen agreement on visa-free travel. This news created two powerful incentives–one negative, one positive–for Moldovans to acquire Romanian citizenship. The negative incentive stems from the EU’s requirement that Romania introduce strict controls on the border with Moldova, including passport and visa regulations for Moldovan citizens. The positive incentive comes with the prospect that Romanian passport holders will freely travel to the West. These two factors have triggered the Moldovan mass run for Romanian passports [citizenship] and the apparent inclination on the part of many to surrender their Moldovan ones.

The Moldovan constitution bars dual citizenship, unless specifically regulated in bilateral agreements with individual foreign countries. Moldova has, as a matter of policy and indeed of survival as a state, avoided entering into such agreements. Were Chisinau to take that plunge, most of its citizens would probably become citizens of either Romania or Russia, both of which countries offer dual citizenship to former Romanian and former Soviet citizens, respectively. The Russian government indeed attempted to pressure Moldova into such an arrangement during the initial post-Soviet years, as a means of “protecting” Moldova’s “Russian-speaking population.” Moldova is also home to compact Ukrainian, Gagauz and Bulgarian ethnic communities, some members of which may well be interested in obtaining Ukrainian, Turkish or Bulgarian citizenship, respectively. In sum, dual citizenship arrangements could turn Moldova into a country of citizens of foreign countries. The resulting legal chaos could not only destroy the state but also open it up to interference by and competition among outside countries.

Romania’s decision actively to facilitate the acquisition of its citizenship by Moldovans has infuriated the Moldovan government. President Petru Lucinschi and the Foreign Affairs Ministry have publicly decried Bucharest’s move and its failure to consult with Chisinau. Should Romania go ahead with the measure, it would place Moldova before the dilemma of either losing a part of its citizenry outright, or negotiating a dual-citizenship treaty with Romania. In the latter case, Russia and Russian-oriented groups in Moldova would almost certainly demand a similar Russian-Moldovan agreement. The Pandora’s box will open in Moldova and before a number of actively or potentially interested countries.

Moldovan officials want Bucharest to depoliticize the issue of dual versus Moldovan citizenship and to cooperate in containing the dynamics of that issue. Chisinau and Bucharest need jointly to devise ways to ensure continued transparency of the Moldovan-Romanian border for legitimate traffic, consistent with the European Union’s requirements on Romania, and taking into account Moldova’s own aspiration to move toward a closer relationship with the European Union (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, February 15-28, March 6-7).