Altin Iliriani
European Research and Information Center
Eastern Mediterranean University
Famagusta - Northern Cyprus

Romanian Unity and Moldavian Integration from the 19th Century until WW II.

The history of Moldova has often been shaped by foreigners, them being Ottoman Turks, the Russian Empire, Austro-Hungary or the Soviet Union. All of them have had their own influences on the struggle of the Moldavian people for independence and integration in a unified Romanian state. In this essay the author tries to explain in a historical perspective the efforts for integration of the Moldavian people with their ethnic kin in Romania, from the early 19th century when the Ottoman Empire's control on the provinces of Bessarabia and Wallachia became only nominal, till the end of WW II, when Soviet Russia established the Moldavian Socialist Soviet Republic, which emerged in 1992 as the independent state of the Republic of Moldova. Although nowadays, the nationalist movements for the union of Moldova with Romania are very weak, the study of the these efforts in the 19th and first half of 20th century is important to understand many aspects of the history of the modern independent Republic of Moldova.

The Ottoman Empire had lost the control of the provinces of Moldova and Walachia as early as 1812, when at the end of the Russo-Turkish war of 1806-12, it handed over the control of these territories to Tsarist Russia. The period starting with this year is known in the Moldavian history as the period of Russian Administration, although the contest for the control of these lands between Ottomans and Russians was fierce during all the 19th century, and often passed from one power at the end of wars or international treaties. So, they were occupied by Russia in 1825, reoccupied in 1848, evacuated in 1851, reoccupied in 1853 and re-evacuated at the end of Crimean War in 1856 only to come soon again under Russian control. This contest over the control of Moldavian lands, as well as the rise of the Austrian claims on the territories, made the independence and integration of these provinces in a unified Romanian state very difficult. The nationalist and integrative movements had to face the chauvinistic claims of all these three Great Powers. However, the Moldavian and Romanian history of the 19th and early 20th centuries speaks also for the struggle of the population of Moldavia and Wallachia for independence and integration. The rise of the nationalistic and revolutionary movements in Europe in the first part of the 19th and early 20th centuries had also a great influence on these territories. As it was the case in many other countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe the nationalist and integrative movements in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania where inspired by ideas from the revolutionary movements in France, Germany or Italy. This was the situation in 1848, and again in the 1870s or in the first part of the 20th century.

1848 was the year of revolutions and unrest throughout Europe. Especially the revolutionary movements and the unrest in the neighboring Habsburg territories inspired revolutionary movements in the provinces of Moldavia and Walachia, as well as Transylvania. As we mentioned above, Russia had formally annexed these provinces in 1829 by the Treaty of Adrianople, and before that had got control over them by the Treaty of Bucharest of 1812. During her rule, Russia had established representative assemblies of Boyars, and during the 1840s she introduced some economic and social reforms. Thus schools were set up, and customs between the two provinces were abolished. As it was the case with other countries, starting with the 1830s, a strong desire grew in both provinces for unification, not only between themselves, but also with Transylvania, then under the Habsburg rule. This movement, whose strength was not drawn from the largely Russified Boyars but from the school teachers and parish priest, marks also the birth of the organized Romanian nationalist movement. What happened in Moldavia and other Romanian lands in 1848 is also considered a repetition en miniature of the 1848 revolutions in other parts of Europe.

At the beginning, resistance against Hungarians in Transylvania inspired insurrection in Moldavia and Walachia. A common provisional government was set up, only to be dissolved very soon by the Russian and Turkish troops which reoccupied the provinces. Russian and Turkish policies, and those of Austria, in the aftermath of this event succeeded in cooling off the Romanian nationalist hopes in both provinces. However, it is interesting for our subject of discussion to mention that in March 1848 the Society of Romanian Students in Paris sent a delegation to the French Provisional Government, which voiced the claim that inspired the revival of Romanian nationalist movement in Moldavia and Walachia in 1848. The delegation declared that "the Wallachians, the Moldavians and the Transylvanians all declare that they are Romanians, and that their land, which has so long been witness of their distress is called Romania”. Perhaps we can not find a better expression of the ideal of nationalist movements of that time. The beginning of the Crimean War gave another serious blow to the Romanian nationalist movements and the lands of Bessarabia and Wallachia became again subject of the deals and confrontations between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. They were occupied and re-occupied several times by the warring sides. It was only in 1859 that these provinces were united again under a single government. Until 1866 the united Kingdom was ruled by Alexander Ioan Cuza, a Romanian noble. King Alexander carried out several reforms, characteristic for those years, like abolishing the serfdom, dissolving monasteries and promoting education. In 1869 Prince Alexander Cuza was deposed, and the territories of Bessarabia were once again under the control of Russia, which in 1869 introduced the system of the zemstvo, which provided for some degree of local autonomy for these provinces.

The Congress of Berlin (1878) is considered as the third episode in the Eastern Question. The concern of the Great European Powers of the time, Germany , Russia, Austro-Hungary and France was the distribution of the Ottoman territories in such a way that it would preserve the balance of power in Europe, not the fulfillment of idealistic aspirations for independence and unification of the nations under the Ottoman rule. At the end, the Congress of Berlin did not satisfy any of the Great Powers, and its decisions would lead to other conflicts and confrontations in the years to follow. The Treaty of Berlin, though, reaffirmed the independence of Romania, along with that of Serbia and Montenegro, and rendered Bessarabia to Russia. Romania was given the Dobrudja as a compensation. This was another blow for the nationalist aspirations in Moldavia. The founding of the Kingdom of Romania (1881) formed a center of attraction for Moldavian nationalism, but no lively movement developed until the early 20th century. With the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and with the beginning of WW I a new period starts in the Moldavian history and the efforts for integration with Romania.

During WW I, Romania despite the treaty of 1883 with the Triple Alliance, sided with Russia, which promised to restore Bessarabia. Thus by 1916, Romania was fighting on the side of Russia. The rise of nationalist and revolutionary sentiments in Russia were also spread to Bessarabia. In April 1917, Bessarabia was declared the Democratic Moldavian Republic federated with Russia. The National Committee of Moldova demanded land reforms and the use of the Romanian language. The movement for independence was strengthened further by the proclamation of Bessarabia as republic of the Federation of Russian Republics by the Moldavian National Council (established in 1917 and known as Sfatul Tarii). Following the military intervention of Romania in January 1918, the Sfat, following the example of Kiev, proclaimed Bessarabia an independent Moldavian Republic and renounced all the ties with Russia. Recognizing the economic impossibility of isolation and alarmed by the pretensions of the Ukrainian Government, the Sfat voted for union with Romania in April, 1918. The Paris Peace Treaty of October 1920 formally recognized the union of Bessarabia with Romania. Only the Soviet Union and Japan never recognized this Union. The period to follow after WW I until the beginning of WW II (1918-1940) is known in the Moldavian history as the period of Romanian Administration.

With the proposal of the Sfatul Tarii, the Romanian government introduced a land reform. However, because of the blockade from the Soviet Union, this measure and other ones introduced in those years could not achieve many positive results or develop the agricultural economy of Bessarabia which was tied to that of Russia. The same was the case with the transportation system which was designed to take the agricultural products of Bessarabia to the Russian market, and not to Romania, which had little need for these goods from Bessarabia. The deterioration of the economic situation encouraged the disintegration forces which by the end of 1930s were attempting to break up the historical union of Moldavia with the rest of the Romanian lands. This was the situation at the start of WW II which significantly changed the course of the history of Moldavia.

In August 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the German-Soviet Pact of Non-Aggression. Together with the Pact a secret agreement was reached between them which recognized Soviet claims on Bessarabia. In June 1940, the Soviet Union through an ultimatum to Romania demanded the cession of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. In those conditions Romanian government surrendered. In July of that year the Moldavian Socialist Soviet Republic with its capital in Chisinau was established. Population exchanges, so common for the Stalinist policies of those year, changed significantly the demographic composition of the region. The Romanian government, having entered the war as Germany's ally, re-occupied Bessarabia in the year 1941, but the Soviet Union reclaimed it in 1944, and the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was re-proclaimed at the end of WW II. That marks also the end of the efforts for integration of these lands into a Greater Romanian state. The independent Republic of Moldova, which emerged in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR, is determined to continue as an independent state. The establishment of autonomous republics of Gagauz and Dniester have further cooled off the Romanian nationalist feeling in Moldavia. The membership of the Republic of Moldova in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has had a similar effect


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Chronology of Important Events in Moldavia's History until WW II

ca. 105 - 270Rome occupies territory of future Romanian lands
1349Prince Bogdan establishes Bogdania, later to be renamed Moldavia, stretching from Carpathian Mountains to Nistru river.
1512Moldova becomes tributary province of the Osman Empire despite the significant victories of Stephen the Great (1457-1504).
1600-1650 (?)First Moldavian books are published.
1792Osman Empire cedes all its holdings in Transnistria to Russian Empire under the Treaty of Iasi.
1812Bessarabia is incorporated into Russian Empire under the Treaty of Bucharest after the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-12.
1848Insurrection in Moldavia. Efforts to create a unified Romanian state are crushed by Russia and Ottoman Empire.
1858Moldavian territory west of Prut river is united with Wallachia. Alexandru Ioan Cuza is elected prince of the two regions in 1859.
1917Bolshevik Revolution brings down the Russian Empire. Bessarabia is declared the independent Democratic Moldavian Republic, federated with Russia.
1918Bessarabia declares complete independence from Russia and decides to unite with Romania.
1924Soviet Russia creates Moldavian Autonomous Oblast on the east bank of Nistru river. Seven months later the Oblast becomes the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldavian ASSR).
June 1940Bessarabia is occupied by Soviet forces as a result of a secret protocol attached to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact of Non-aggression.
August 1940USSR creates Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic from most of Bessarabia and a portion of the Moldavian ASSR.
1941Germany and Romania attack Moldavian SSR and Ukrainian SSR. Germany gives Bessarabia, northern Bukovina and Transnistria to Romania.
1944Soviet forces retake Bessarabia and Transnistria.
1947Bessarabia, northern Bukovina and Transnistria are formally returned to USSR by treaty.


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