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Moldova: What's Behind Harsh Criticism Of Romania?

By Ryan Kennedy Some say Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov has a key role in determining Moldova's foreign policy (ITAR-TASS) March 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Statements about Romania by Moldovan officials have recently become increasingly harsh. Officials accuse Romania of trying to undermine Moldova's statehood and security. What underlies this negative turn in Moldovan-Romanian relations?

Recent statements by Moldova's government have made headlines for their caustic tone toward neighboring Romania. President Vladimir Voronin in early March attacked Romania for "financing a fifth column" in Moldova and not respecting Moldovan independence.

The Moldovan government has also criticized the Romanian leadership for "concocting and artificially aggravating" the issue of Moldovan application for Romanian citizenship. Romanian President Traian Basescu recently estimated that the total number of Moldovans seeking to obtain Romanian citizenship could exceed 800,000.

The statement also argued that Romania's refusal to sign a basic political treaty and a border treaty "cannot but be interpreted as a proof of the neighbor state's true intentions."

About the same time, Andrei Stratan, Moldova's minister of foreign affairs and European integration, reversed an earlier decision to open new Romanian consulates in Balti and Cahul.

The additional facilities were meant to ease workload on visa applications for Moldovans looking for work in Romania. Stratan, announcing his decision, said the new buildings were no longer necessary.

For its part, the Romanian government has refused to respond to these accusations, defending their policies as an attempt to re-establish free trade and movement that existed between the states before Romania's accession into the European Union on January 1, 2007.

To some extent, the harsh tone of Moldova's rhetoric toward Romania is an extension of Moldova's general foreign policy. However, the timing of these statements suggests that this is also part of an effort to improve relations with Moscow and the breakaway region of Transdniester.

Ups and Downs

Moldova and Romania have experienced many ups and downs in their relationship since Moldova's independence in 1991. While pan-Romanianism has been a consistent part of Moldovan politics, and was adopted in the Popular Front of Moldova's platform in 1992, it has played only a minor role in Moldovan policy.

The Front's term in office under Prime Minister Mircea Druc was brief, and its successor, the Christian-Democratic People's Party, has only entered government in coalition with the Communist Party.

After calls for unification failed to gain widespread support, relations with Romania cooled considerably. In 1992, Moldova and Romania started negotiations on inter-state political and border treaties. Both treaties were prepared for signing in 2000, but they have yet to be approved by the Romanian government.

One of the low points in bilateral relations came during the 1994 parliamentary elections, when several Moldovan political parties denounced Romania's interference and its assertion that the Moldovan language and culture were Romanian. Romania, in turn, accused the Moldovan government of using the identity question to stifle dissent.

The 2004 elections in Romania began a period of improved relations. The newly elected Romanian president made Moldova his first official trip abroad, and the states found common ground as Moldova set EU integration as the country's main strategic foreign policy goal.

Two States, One Nation?

Romania's official policy toward Moldova is "one nation, two states," based on shared history, language, culture and traditions.

In contrast, Charles King, a professor at Georgetown University, describes Moldovan foreign policy as "Bessarabism."

This policy orientation defines Moldova as "a distinct cultural and political space, a region whose traditions and interests derive both from its position as a small region surrounded by large neighbors and from the overlapping identities of its multiethnic population."

From this perspective, recent statements from Romania about citizenship rules may seem hostile, and the magnitude of citizenship applications claimed by Romanian officials are somewhat embarrassing to the Moldovan government.

In addition, the government has already expressed its concern about the size of its population working abroad -- as many as 1 million Moldovans -- and has encouraged its citizens to stay home. It is understandable that they would be concerned about the easing of citizenship requirements, which would allow easier exit to EU labor markets.

The current government has an incentive to reassert its commitment to an independent Moldova with local elections approaching. Many Moldovans do not support unification, and this is especially salient among Moldova's linguistic minority groups.

The Price of Transdniester

Yet, the harsher tone of Moldovan officials toward Romania started well before these most recent statements. A month before Romania's formal accession to the EU, President Voronin slammed Romania's offer of help in Moldova's EU integration, saying "Romania is trying to impose certain rules of the game and principles of Moldova...this should be qualified as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state."

It is interesting that the December 1 statements from Voronin came only a couple of days after Russia announced that it would end its ban on Moldovan wine. It also fell between the September referendum on independence and the December presidential election in the breakaway region of Transdniester.

In his New Year's address, President Voronin expressed his belief that 2007 will be "the year when the genuine and final reintegration of our motherland will start."

It makes sense that, as part of this strategy, Moldova would increase its efforts to resurrect the inter-state political treaty and border treaty with Romania as a method for allaying the concerns of Eurasianists in Transdniester and the regime's sponsors in Moscow.

As Nicu Popescu, a research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies, puts it, "[T]he true architect of the foreign policy of Moldova since the declaration of its independence has been neither Mircea Snegur, nor Petru Lucinschi, nor Vladimir Voronin, but [Transdniester President] Igor Smirnov."

The Shorter Long Shot

With EU enlargement put on hold indefinitely, and territorial integrity an important part of Moldova's EU integration strategy, Moldova's cooling of relations with Romania can be interpreted as an attempt to reassure leaders in Tiraspol and Moscow that this administration is not moving closer to Romania.

Reintegration with Transdniester is a long shot, and Russia continues to delay the restoration of economic ties that are essential to Moldova's economy. But criticism of Romanian policy still presents a low-cost method for Moldova to further a number of its political goals.

(Ryan Kennedy is a Ph.D candidate and a Fulbright researcher from Ohio State University who recently returned to the United States after living in Moldova.)

How Much Do The Neighbors Pay?

How Much Do The Neighbors Pay?

SETTING THE RATES: With Gazprom negotiating new contracts, many states will be paying more for Russian natural gas in 2007.

  • Belarus, following tense negotiations with Gazprom, will pay $100 per 1,000 cubic meters in -- up from $47 in 2006. Ukraine, which depends on Russia to supply it with about 77 percent of its gas, will pay $130 per 1,000 cubic meters of a Turkmen-Russian gas mix. Moldova, which depends on Russia for 100 percent of its gas, will pay $170 per 1,000 cubic meters, with the price rising to European-level market price by 2011. Georgia has agreed to pay Gazprom $235 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas.


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