Gwynne Dyer: Making Moldova disappear

Most people have trouble finding Moldova on a map, and it isn't getting any easier. A growing number of people are dedicated to making the country vanish from the map—and most of them are Moldovans.

It began when about 15,000 people, almost all of them young, came out onto the streets in Chisinau, the capital, a month ago to protest against the outcome of the recent election. They claimed it had been stolen by the Communist party, but that wasn't their only complaint.

When the scene turned ugly on April 7 and the crowd stormed both the parliament and the president's offices, many of them were chanting "We are Romanians" and carrying Romanian flags.

The buildings were looted and partly burned, and President Vladimir Voronin's government arrested several hundred of the rioters (although almost all have now been released). He also accused Romania of backing the protesters, expelled its ambassador and imposed visa requirements for Romanians.

In reply, Romania's President Traian Basescu declared that he would not tolerate a "new Iron Curtain," and changed Romanian law to give Moldovans easy access to Romanian citizenship.

Since Moldova is Europe's poorest country and Romania is a member of the European Union, a Romanian passport that allows visa-free travel to all 27 EU countries is a very attractive asset. Moldova already has one-third of its working-age population working in EU countries (mostly illegally), and depends on their remittances for over a third of its national income.

The Romanian embassy in Chisinau has received 650,000 applications for citizenship, says President Basescu, many of them covering several people. He suggests that up to one million Moldovans (a quarter of the total population) have already decided to seek Romanian citizenship.

Vladimir Turcanu, a member of parliament for Moldova's ruling Communist Party, told the BBC that, "This mass granting of Romanian citizenship is a way to assimilate the Republic of Moldova. We see it a threat to the statehood, a threat to the integrity and sovereignty of our country." He is quite right, but it's likely that a majority of the population in both Romania and Moldova see that as a good idea.

Moldova was part of the old Soviet Union, and Russia has already condemned the Romanian action. There are still Russian troops in a breakaway part of Moldova, the so-called "Transdnistrian Republic," that illegally declared its independence in 1990.

Are we heading for another confrontation like the Russian-Georgian one that exploded into war last year, only this time right on the borders of the European Union instead of on the far side of the Black Sea?

Probably not, although the situation is both tangled and fraught. For one thing, landlocked Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, has no common border with Russia.

For another, the pressure to unite Moldova and Romania comes mainly from within Moldova itself—although most Romanians feel sympathy with it—because, as the rioters succinctly put it, most Moldovans really are Romanians.

Moldova, also known as Moldavia or Bessarabia, was one of many former Balkan principalities that re-emerged from Turkish rule as the Russian empire drove the Ottoman empire south in the course of the 19th century.

Most got their independence, including what is now Romania—but Moscow decided to keep Moldova even though it had always been Romanian-speaking.

After the Russian revolution in 1917 Moldova did manage to unite with Romania for a couple of decades, but the Soviet Union took it back as part of the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939.

There was a good deal of deliberate Russification in the following decades, and the narrow, industrialised, densely populated strip east of the Dniester River ("Transdnistria") wound up with a two-thirds majority of Russian- and Ukrainian-speakers.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 they fought a small civil war and broke away from Moldova, fearing that the Romanian-speaking majority in the rest of the country would unite with Romania.

That didn't happen: the European Union wasn't interested in expanding that far east, and Romania didn't want to sabotage its own chances of joining. But now Romania is safely in the EU, so that is no longer a consideration—and things are getting rough in Moldova.

The Moldovan government is not a tyranny. It is an elected government that is Communist in name only, and the most recent election was certified free and fair by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Older people, nostalgic for the stability of the Soviet past, vote Communist because they think their pensions will be safe—and a high proportion of younger people have left the country in search of work.

The protesters claimed electoral fraud, but the split is really more generational than political, with younger Moldovans believing their future would be brighter as Romanians. In theory, the solution is easy: let Moldova west of the Dniester join Romania, leaving the Slavic majority in "Transdnistria" to become another outlying enclave of Russia.

But this is "post-Soviet space," so nothing is easy and theory doesn't work. This one will run and run.

Gwynne Dyer's new book, Climate Wars, was published recently in Canada by Random House.


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Stan P.

May 5, 2009 at 6:18pm

Adding some clarifications, regarding April 7th:
A photo was widely published in Moldovan media, showing a policeman standing on top of the govt building while another two persons were planting the Romanian flag.
There are also other sources stating the violent turn of the protests was obviously organised. Quote below:

"Flags of Romania and EU over Moldova’s presidential office building were run up by employees of Moldavan secret services
The Flags of Romania and the European Union which have been run up on April 7, over the building of the Moldova’s presidential office during the protest actions against falsifications of parliamentary elections, were raised up at presence of a policeman, a source in the Information and Security Service (SIS) of Moldova told news agency Regnum today. According to the source, the flag of Romania overt the building was raised by an employee of the SIS. AIA already reported on this version of events immediately following the protests at the presidential Office building in Chisinau.
The President of Moldova Vladimir Voronin directly connected occurrence of the flags of Romania and the EU over the building of the presidential office with charging of Romania in "a plot against the Moldavian statehood". He said that the idea about Bucharest standing behind the riots in Chisinau had appeared in his head after holding the protesters had lifted a flag of Romania over the presidential office building."

As a matter fact, the same "good old soviet school" desperate procedures were applied in Romania in the summer of 1990, when finally miners were called and organised by the temporary govt at that time, to strike the protesting mob against comunism in Bucharest and "bring peace". Mission was accomplished with similar "successful" results.

7 3Rating: +4

Al Dolghi

May 5, 2009 at 10:11pm

Gwynne Dyer delivers here an article that appears to be taking a stance, and a poorly documented one, more than providing an overview of the situation.

5 5Rating: 0


May 6, 2009 at 2:11am

Do not confuse the Republic of Moldova (aka Basarabia) with the Moldova Principality ( The latter is still part of Romania, and Basarabia was chunked away by Russia. So in 1918, the national assembly of Basarabia decided to reunite with the main Moldova, part of Romania. You really should do your homework. Republic of Moldova is to Romania what Northern Ireland is to Ireland.

And regarding the free elections, I believe there are enough reports from high ranking European institutions about numerous violations of election law and about the violations of human rights after the protests. The only nationwide TV station is controlled by the communist party and on the day of violent protests they were showing dances and music. And the constitutional court ignores the fraud evidence presented by the opposition without even considering any. Tell us about democracy...

The generational split would actually narrow in four years, not widen (old people die and those who grow older do not automatically become communist fans). But communists claimed almost 50% of all votes, more than in previous elections, which were in turn below the penultimate elections.

7 4Rating: +3

Random Moldovan

May 6, 2009 at 9:05am

"The protesters claimed electoral fraud, but the split is really more generational than political, with younger Moldovans believing their future would be brighter as Romanians." Elections WAS frauded, the opposition have brought many proofs, NOBODY have listen ! And it have nothing to do with Romania, it's plain simple, ELECTIONS WAS FRAUDED !
The russian KGB communists did not really left the power when we got the independence in 1991, and the new democracy people were too weak to hold the power. These elections was the first time we got real democrats parties, 3 of them ! Unfortunately the elections was stolen, and as the Voronin (the formal minister of interior of Soviet Moldova) have the support of Russia, nobody will say anything. The INNOCENT students were beaten to the death AFTER the protests, 3 of them died, human rights ? What a joke.. There still are zone of influences like the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, thats why none beside Romanian (which I'm very thankful) said anything. And yes we are romanians, russian just tryed very hard during the Ssviet regime to assimilate us..
Again, the revolts was NOT to join Romania (as they make you to believe by putting those flags witch doesn't change anything), the revolts was BECAUSE a lot of people did not vote for communists and we felt tricked ! was one of the sites witch gave the image of the events correctly, if you wanna know the details (more the best one with a lot of videos but only in Romanian unfortunately).. It's amazing how nobody asked themselves why the access of the foreign journalists was denied, and how can you know the truth without your journalists ?

6 4Rating: +2

Lorenzo Zucchi

May 7, 2009 at 12:42am

you don't know the situation very well. Many people in moldova are not Romanian, and mixed marriages are the norm, with people speaking both Russian and Romanian. So the solution is not easy. Romanian government is acting like a terrorist one, more than the Russian counterpart.

5 7Rating: -2


May 11, 2009 at 4:48pm

The world is not black and white anymore, and there is more to the matter then being pro-russian (communist) or pro-EU (opposition). Neither current communist party nor their opposition that ruled before did what the government is suppose to do for its country. Essentially, Moldova had been through rough history constantly udnder oppression of different empires, it didn't have much time and opportunity for independent growth and developement. For a fact, Moldovan people are not Romanians, they are hard-working, hospitable people and if they had chance they would take care of their own country. Another thing is the youth, that dreams of being financially stable without putting any effort in it, and of course the quickest way is through Romania, so why not let them go without ruinining (already suffering btw) Moldova's reputation. And let's do not forget who helped Moldova with its natural resources, and who is the biggesst consumer of Moldovan goods (wine, vegetables, etc),...It's not neighbor Romania or Ukraine, but Russia. So let Moldovan traitor kiss more Romanian a** and get all the prices according to EU standards and see what will happen then...My point is Moldova has to work hard for many years now to be in position to choose the allies. BEGGARS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS!!!

6 6Rating: 0