Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dan Dungaciu on Inter-ethnic Tensions

I translated the following from Vocea Basarabiei.  There's some useful background here on the resentments felt by both sides of Moldova's ethnic divide:

Beyond the choice of future president, which appears to draining all public debate, there is a quiet tension looming which will shock the society in Moldova. The ethnic tension. From time to time, it vibrates visibly & dangerously. An unstable political and vengeful environment do nothing to discourage a development which could prove harmful for the region.

2004 census data indicates that national minorities in the republic make up 23.9% of the population, of which 8.4% are Ukrainians (2.9% less than in 1989), 5.8% Russians (4% fewer) 1.9% 4.4% Gagauz and Bulgarians. The ethnic Russian population is 366 461, of which one third are recent immigrants born in other parts of the former USSR. Historically, most Russians came after the Second World War. In 1940, there were only 6%, in 1959 the figure reached 10.2 percent and peaked at 13% in 1989. The largest Russian minority flow occurred in the interval 1950-1980.

But each time when the subject comes into question, objective statistics are not sufficient. Although the population is in decline, Russians in Moldova fall into the category which literature calls an "imperial minority", indicating a different attitude pattern. Characteristic of these populations is a specific substrate of political consciousness, based on their supremacy in all points of view : political, cultural, economic. Although they live in a society where they were not the majority, they have never seen the natives as equals. Today, the "empire" has fallen apart and, while the minorities have lost their explicit political dominance , their "imperial" self-consciousness remains and normalization is difficult. The phenomenon is not specific only to Moldova, but, after recent political changes, becomes increasingly acute on the left bank of the Prut.

The second element that generates a special status in the "imperial minority" is the relationship to the former empire. The reaction of the latter is frequent, steady and timely, fueling the self-consciousness of the remaining minority in a territory of that empire from which it has withdrawn, at least formally. Beyond economic, cultural, and media links, there are (geo)politically explicit gestures and initiatives. They are many laws through which the Kremlin has warned that Russian citizens in former USSR countries enter into its power, from culture to  Also important are the statements from the field, part of the whole package dedicated to the minorities. Russian Ambassador to Moldova, Valeri Kuzmin has formally asked for the Russian language to be official in Moldova, which is necessary, he said, especially in context of post-election in Moldova. A similar official statement was made on the "history of Romanians", which he does not want in Moldova's (a statement greeted with conspicuous silence by the Moldovan officials present at the event). But beyond the issues of conscience or connection with the former empire, the supremacy of "imperial minority" in Moldova is also based on geography ....

Put another way, a minority in the city may be more influential than in most of the country. There is a disturbing problem in sociological analysis, namely the relationship between demography, ethnicity and politics in a modern society. The conclusion is that simple statistics prove inadequate, because what matters maybe first, is the distribution of these ethnic groups in a society. An ethnic group that has a population mass of, for example, 10%, but is fully distributed in major urban centers of that territory, acquires on a geopolitical map a much higher effective weight, because, in the modern world, the urban space is creator of history and public discourse, while the rural space is an "object" of history. The influence of ethnic minorities in society increases, therefore, in direct proportion to its location. Who dominates the city can influence society, especially when the degree of of rurality is high. An eloquent illustration of this situation is found on the left side of the Prut, where the population of Russian origin is overwhelmingly found in urban centers. This is reflected in both the economic, but also the education level of that population. Within a pyramidal power structure, as in Moldova, where decentralization is still to be achieved, the influence of the city will remain significant.

Activating "imperial minority" became urgent after the change of power in Chisinau. What seemed yesterday to be an accident, the election in Chisinau of Dorin Chirtoaca, today turns, for some, into a nightmare. The AIE team (and some of its members in particular), are confirming an ethno-political reality, an evolution which everybody expected and understood, but with which not everyone is willing to live peacefully.

Recent protest movements are not in any way without ethnic colour or identity and disguising them under the banner of "social" is just a naive and dangerous political ploy. The aggressive protests of pensioners in Chisinau is a perfect example. That there are social problems in Capital nobody denies, but that the motive of those in the street was 'social' is difficult to sustain. And that, because pensioners in Chisinau - "Pensioners from Botanica!" have a specific sociological profile. We can call them "ethno-imperial pensioners"! They are, on the one hand, the expression of Russian emigration in MSSR, populations moved directly from the cold corners of the empire into apartments in Chisinau, Tiraspol or Balti, which local village families aspire to, while spending lifetimes crammed into dirty hostel rooms. On the other hand, there are some pensioners in Chisinau who, directly or indirectly, relate to the category of retired heads of power in the USSR (military, intelligence, police ) who, after 25 years of work "to serve the country" withdrew to a quiet retirement on the banks of the Prut and Dniester, where the climate was good, food and wine were in abundance and importantly, there were kind people speaking good Russian. Beyond the social aspect, these Chisinau retirees are part of the "imperial minority" - proud, disdainful, who never learned Romanian and have no plans to do so. They always lived better than the natives whom they have never considered equals. The Voronin regime more than tolerated this and preserved their supremacy, at least symbolically (by according a status to the Russian language, by supporting Russian-language media, etc.). Now things are changing, they see their status being affected and react accordingly, being led out into the streets by leaders with suspect and possibly extreme political genealogies.


  1. WOW! Its could be big trouble now. That author want? Cut gaz, or visum to Russia, or some ethnical cleaning? After all, even if people moved to Moldova, they really bilt Chisinau, other cities. Dont want to say, JUST russians, but without educated personal from outside of Bessarabia, was not possible to bild Chisinau. Before war, it was 5 time smaller.
    Even more, look to ethnic map of Moldova, or better Chisinau. About 40% were jews, moldovans never were more then 50% of population in capital. They even today live better, even in Romania they ( russians ) live better. Jews even better. so what_ In America jews lived better then most americans, as well :)))

  2. Nikolai,

    1. You make an important point about the contribution made by the Russian empire and Soviet Union in the development of Moldova and Chisinau in particular. I have to concede that in a sense Chisinau is a 'Russian' city, given that at the time of the takeover in 1812 it was a muddy village of 9,000 people with only a few stone houses.

    2. Nonetheless, I also note that a lot of the infrastructure built in Moldova by the empire and the union respectively was designed to serve the needs of Moscow rather than of the people of Moldova (e.g. railways and roads that run from east to west across Moldova rather than radially out from Chisinau)

    3. I sure hope it doesn't come to ethnic cleansing, gas cuts, Russian visas etc.. To avoid this, all sides need to understand that the rights of minorities are neither more nor less than those set out in the Copenhagen convention.

  3. Agree. But we have to avoid even to mention inter-etnic tention. First of all, they do not exist. Dont create problems, mister Dan. Russians have much in common with moldovans, they are not enemies. Even newer were. Apropo, according statistic data, this is more russians, then romanians(who said they are romanians, not moldovans) in Bessarabia. And most live in towns.....

  4. Guys the focus on the historical part of this issue in my view is quite wrong ...and it'll never give us any solutions that would have positive repercussions.

  5. To Anonymous: Interesting thought - could you expound on it? Say we could pursuade everyone to forgive and foget past transgressions, then what would your future look like?

    Would we try hard to develop a 'Moldovan' identity that everyone (or a very large majority) could adopt? What would that identity look like, and on what would it be based?

    Would we try to maintain multiple ethnic identities into the future? How would we manage and balance their interests?