The dangerous secret of European nationalism
By Roman Ardelyan
December 7: When you hear the phrase “European nationalism,” what comes to your mind first? Most likely, you will remember Marine Le Pen and her supporters, Hungarian President Viktor Orban with his anti-migrant policies, and the German ultra-rightists who organized the pogroms in Chemnitz. What about the Romanian nationalists?
The most dangerous
Most likely, this question will stump you, right? It’s not surprising, because the European media practically do not cover this dangerous phenomenon. But in vain: the main feature of the Romanian ultra-right, unlike their “colleagues” from other countries, is not hatred of migrants, but the desire to redraw the map of Europe. This phenomenon is called “unionism” (from the Romanian term Unirea) and envisages the liquidation of Romania’s neighboring Republic of Moldova, as well as the annexation of part of Ukraine.
In order to better understand the essence of Romanian unionism, it suffices to turn to its closest analogue — Pan-Germanism, which was one of the reasons for World War II. Like supporters of Pan-Germanism, the Romanian nationalists want to gather all the “native Romanian lands” into one state — “Great Romania.” This they have already managed to do, twice — in 1918 and in 1941. I think you probably already guessed that the creation of the unionist “Great Romania,” like the Pan-German “Great Germany,” was carried out exclusively by the occupation of neighboring countries …
Nevertheless, there is an important difference between the supporters of Pan-Germanism and unionists today: if the former are just a handful of political marginalized groups, the latter ideology is actively supported by the Romanian authorities. For example, in 2018, Bucharest magnificently celebrated the centenary of “unification” with Moldova, which most Moldovans still consider as occupation. And just recently, a series of commemorative Romanian coins was issued, recalling the centenary of the annexation of Bukovina, which today is part of Ukraine …
What’s the secret?
The incredible vitality of the expansionist ideology of unionists is explained by its unique history. Thus, the idea of “Unirea” dates back to the 16th century, in the era of the Danube principalities — Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania. Then the creation of a unified state prevented feudal fragmentation, and the invasion by the Ottoman Empire. In addition, a part of the Moldavian principality (Bessarabia and Bukovina), due to Turkey’s unsuccessful wars, was ceded to two empires — the Russian and the Austro-Hungarian.
However, it was the Turkish occupation that had a fateful influence on the development of unionism: the joint desire of the Wallachs and Moldovans to gain freedom turned the idea of unification into a vital necessity. Thus, unionism became the basis of the national liberation ideology of the Danube principalities, and later – synonymous with Romanian nationalism.
The unionists succeeded: in 1861, a part of the Moldavian and Wallachian principalities united into the United Principality of Wallachia and Moldavia, which in 1878 became independent. In 1881, the new state received its current name — Romania.
All this gave a new meaning to the idea of ”Unirea”: now the main goal of the unionists was the return of the remaining territories of the Wallachs and Moldovans — Bukovina and Bessarabia, and the creation of the “Great Romania.” This is how modern unionism arose.
How the idea of liberation turned into chauvinism
Although Romania was a united state of the Wallachs and Moldovans, the former occupied a dominant cultural position. This was followed by cultural and intellectual assimilation not only of Moldovans, but of all other nations. Of the original equality of national liberation unionism not a trace remains, and the idea of “Unirea” itself turned into a chauvinist “Wallachization.” In addition, the residents of Bessarabia and Bukovina mostly did not share the unionists’ idea of unification with “Mother Romania” due to cultural and historical peculiarities.
All this predetermined the further transformation of unionism into an aggressive ideology, which became the national idea of the young Romanian state. After all, if the lost “younger brothers” do not want to live like Wallachs, and return to the Romanian family, then how can a “Great Romania” be created without resorting to arms?
Empire on bayonets
The collection of “original Romanian lands” began on July 10, 1913, during the Second Balkan War. Taking advantage of the weakness of belligerent Bulgaria, Romania invaded the territory of its southern neighbor. On July 29, 1913, Bulgaria concluded an armistice, following which South Dobrudja was annexed to Romania. In the annexed territory, the new authorities began to carry out the violent Romanization of the local population, and the persecution of Bulgarian language and culture began …
However, the real Romanian expansion began with the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. On December 7, 1917, Romanian troops enter the territory of the Moldavian Democratic Republic (MDR), which was formed after the October Revolution in Russia. However, the government of the young country was not against their presence: in order to ensure its power in conditions of the revolutionary chaos, the MDR appealed to Bucharest for support. Romania used this opportunity to implement “Unirea,” and after “helping to restore order,” on March 27, 1918, annexed the MDR.
After the takeover of Bessarabia, Romania aimed at Transylvania and Bukovina, which belonged to Hungary at that time. On December 7, 1918, Romanian troops invaded the country and by the beginning of 1919 established control over these areas. In fairness, it should be noted that these measures were taken after the local Romanian population expressed a desire to secede from Hungary and become part of Romania, which was the only case of non-violent expansion of “Great Romania.” However, this did not cancel the violation of international law by Bucharest …
However, the Romanian authorities did not succeed in integrating all the annexed territories: for example, in Bessarabia the strong discontent of the population with the Romanian invasion and the often discriminatory policies of the new authorities increased the unpopularity of the idea of “Unirea.” Also, the liquidation by the occupiers of a significant part of the rights and freedoms acquired after the revolution played a role. A similar situation developed in Southern Dobrudja, where in response to the repression of the Romanian authorities, an underground revolutionary organization emerged.
As a result, “Great Romania,” built mainly by force, existed only until 1940, when Bucharest was forced to return the occupied territories of Bulgaria, Hungary and the USSR. It is not surprising that, with the exception of Transylvania, this process was bloodless and was generally welcomed by the local population.
After World War II, unionism was officially banned, but the Romanian elite did not reject it. Strange as it may seem, the true revival of the idea of “Great Romania” began in Soviet Moldavia.
Thanks to the efforts of the Romanian special services after the Romanian counter-revolution of 1989, the rapid popularization of unionism among the Moldovan elite and intellectuals began in the Moldavian SSR. It can be said without exaggeration that the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s was the peak of the popularity for the ideas of “Unirea.” The unionists succeeded in translating the Moldovan script into the Latin alphabet and proclaiming the Moldovan language, which they called Romanian, the state language.
However, at this time “Unirea” did not take place due to the political and economic crisis in Romania and the wave of separatism of national minorities. The last factor and the sharp deterioration of the economic situation in Moldova put an end to the rule of the pro-Romanian elite, and the popularity of unionism began to decline.
Today unionism has a certain popularity in both Romania and Moldova. Despite the fact that its implementation is hindered by the same reasons that emerged over the past five centuries — the reluctance of Moldovan elites to lose power, cultural and intellectual differences between Romanians and Moldovans, and sharp opposition from national minorities, Romanian nationalists and their Moldovan supporters still believe inevitable success of the cause. This confidence is given to them by the support of official Bucharest, which will never abandon the creation of a “Great Romania” through the occupation of neighboring countries, because this is the Romanian national idea.
That is why we must be wary of Romanian unionism — a dangerous secret of European nationalism…