Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Citizenship Thing

In his recent speech to the Romanian parliament, the president of Romania, Traian Basescu, stated that procedures for Moldovans to acquire Romanian citizenship. This has led to some criticism by Western European media and politicians, who fear that a 'wave of 1m Moldovans' will sweep over their labour markets.

Let's separate the fact from the fiction.

Fact no. 1: They're already there. Hundreds of thousands of Moldovans work in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and other European countries, sending money back home to their families. They are a hard-working lot and generally keep themselves out of trouble.

Fact no. 2: What Romania is doing is very different to what Russia is doing. Russia has been handing out passports to all and sundry in Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The recipients typically have no ancestral or historic link with Russia, and the purpose of the exercise is simple to make life more difficult for the Moldovan and Georgian governments respectively. Romania, on the other hand, is recognising the citizenship of those ethnic Romanians who lost it by force when Soviet tanks rolled into Chisinau at the end of World War II.

Fact no. 3: What Romania is doing is very similar to what the UK government did in 2003. In this year, the UK for the first time recognised as citizens those born to UK mothers (having always recognised those born to UK fathers). In doing so it righted a historic wrong - sexism - and in the process created millions of new British citizens around the world. Romania is also righting a historic wrong, in this case the loss of citizenship due to occupation by a foreign power.

Fact no. 4: Moldovans who can prove loss of Romanian citizenship already have the right to reaquire it. All that Basescu is doing is speeding up the process so that it takes months instead of years.

Fact no. 5: The world owes a huge debt to the Moldovan people, who during the last Millenium have been overrun by Tatars, Ottoman Turks, Russian imperialists, Romanian fascists, German Nazis and Soviet Communists. EU citizenship is an appropriate humanitarian gesture to this much abused people.

Actually, Basescu's move is a master-stroke both politically and as an instrument of foreign policy. Politically it creates a feel-good factor among Romanians, who see their country acting in the defence of their brothers across the Prut while the rest of the World fiddles. It also creates a whole new section of the electorate likely to vote for Basescu in the upcoming presidential elections.

From a foreign policy standpoint it also makes sense. Without the offer of citizenship, the EU would be inclined to ignore Moldova and hope it goes away. Due to the offer of citizenship, however, the EU now has a direct interest in fixing Moldova's problems, restoring its democracy and improving its economic conditions (so that the Moldovans stay at home...)

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