Monday, June 28, 2010

Ghimpu's Decree

Mihai Ghimpu's decree establishing the 28th of June as a day of commemoration of the Soviet Occupation and of the victims of Communist rule has stirred strong emotions both within and outside of Moldova.  Before I deal with the reactions, let's have a look at the facts of the case.


Under the classic Soviet narrative, the Russian Empire gained possession of Basarabia as the outcome of the 1812 Treaty of Bucharest, and in 1918 Basarabia was occupied by Romanian troops.  On 28/6/40, therefore, Soviet troops liberated Basarabia from occupation by Romanian fascists.

The historical facts, however,  seem to support a different version of events.  In an earlier post I explained how the Treaty of Bucharest was, in fact, ultra vires, as it was entered into by two powers (the Ottoman and Russian Empires) that did not have authority over the territory transferred.  Only the Principality of Moldova had the legal power to cede Basarabia.  Furthermore, in 1918, the elected representatives of the people of Basarabia, the 'Sfatul Tarii', voted for reunification with Romania, and the inclusion of Basarabia within Romania was recognised by all the major powers except the Soviet Union.

There is no doubt in this blogger's mind that, as at 27 June 1940, Basarabia was Romanian territory and the entry of Soviet troops constituted an invasion and subsequent occupation.  Interestingly all of the AIE parties seem to support this - even senior PD figures are on record recognising the occupation


Also with respect to the victims of the occupation, the Soviet narrative is somewhat economical with the truth.  There is a (justified) focus on the atrocities committed by Antonescu's regime during the period 1941-1944, particularly with respect to the Romanian Jewish community and their extermination in Transnistria.

At the same time, however, there is no mention of atrocities committed by the Soviets in 1940-41 and from 1944 onwards.  We now know (from KGB archives!) that over 300,000 Moldovans lost their lives due to execution, forced starvation or deprivation in exile.  That the Moldovan left can be so angry about the Jewish holocaust whilst overlooking the sins committed against their own people is both astonishing and disappointing.

It is right and proper that there exist a day in Moldova's political calendar when the nation should stop and remember the loss of 15% of its people at Stalin's hands.


The last part of Ghimpu's decree states that

"the Russian Federation as the heir of the Soviet Union must withdraw unconditionally, immediately and transparently troops and weapons from Moldova"

This is a position shared (declaratively at least) by almost all political formations in Moldova, including the communists.  What is interesting, however, is that this is, I believe, the first time that an official state document has made the link between the Soviet Union's 1940 occupation of Moldova and the continuing Russian occupation of Transnistria, seeing the latter as a continuation of the former.


In total, therefore, the AIE parties broadly agree on the assertions made in the decree.  The country was occupied, there were victims that should be commemorated and Russia should get its troops out of Transnistria.

There is division, however around the following:
  1. Is a day of commemoration required?
  2. Do we have to do this now or could we put it off for later?
  3. Does Ghimpu have the right to make this move unilaterally?
  4. Don't we have more important things to do?
My answer to (1) is yes of course.  History (of the open, unbiased variety)  needs to return to Moldova.  The country's citizens need to understand the facts of what happened in WWII and be allowed to draw their own conclusions.  The Soviet narrative clearly requires balancing.

On (2), we've been putting it off for 20 years already.  Better to do something now while some of those who lived through the war are still alive and can add their voices.

Regarding (3), I have to ask the question "What would have happened if Ghimpu had sought AIE support?".  The answer, I fear, is that we would have ended up with something so watered down as to be of little use to anyone.  Ghimpu has been a bit of a rascal going behind the back of his comrades, however ultimately history will record this as a courageous and correct move.

On (4), we need to understand that there is a direct link between history and economics.  Only when Moldova has turned its back on its totalitarian past, only when it fully embraces European values (openness, honesty, the rule of law, freedom of expression etc.) will investors begin to have faith in the country's economic future.  To pretend that foreign capitalists will be queuing at the door while the majority of the population still thinks that the Soviet Union was some form of utopia is complete folly.


There have been some interesting reactions to the decree:

The Russian foreign ministry complains that it could undermine the Moldovan-Russian partnership.  Partnership?  What partnership?  I guess they're referring to the partnership that consists of territorial occupation, meddling in internal politics, trade embargoes and gas switch-offs?  If that's the case, then let's undermine the Moldovan-Russian partnership as quickly as we can and replace it with something else.

Dumitru Diacov complains that Ghimpu is chasing the 'ghosts of the past'.  He's right, however the problem is that those ghosts have been haunting Moldova for two decades and keep moving the furniture around.  They need to be busted and Ghimpu is the guy to do it.  Also, Diacov should be more careful in his choice of words - he himself is a 'ghost of the past', having been in politics for many years while doing little that is constructive.

The communists are hurling abuse at 'Ghimpler' spouting off about 'fascism', 'defending statehood' and all of their usual nonsense.  Nothing new or interesting here.

Perhaps the most interesting and intelligent comment came from Vladimir Turcan, ex-communist and leader of the pro-Russia United Moldova Party.  He claimed that what happened in 1940 was not an occupation because the 1947 Treaty of Paris recognised the change in borders.

Indeed the 1947 treaty did transfer Basarabia into Soviet administration, however please note the following:
  1. The Treaty of Paris was signed seven years after the fact and contained a 'punitive' element relating to Romania's participation in the war alongside Nazi Germany in 1941-1944.  In 1940 Romania had not yet entered the war.
  2. The Soviet Union should have been equally punished for entering the Molotov Ribbentrop alliance with Nazi Germany and carving up eastern Europe in 1940.  The fact that it wasn't is an outcome of victor's justice.
  3. As of the date of occupation (28/6/1940), Basarabia was clearly Romanian territory under international law and the Soviet incursion constituted an occupation.
  4. The Paris treaty was signed between the Soviet Union and a puppet Romanian government led by Petru Groza which had been installed in fraudulent elections on 9/11/1946.  Basically the Soviets signed a treaty with themselves.
  5. Basarabia was too deep within Soviet-occupied territory for the Western powers to intervene in defence of the principles of territorial integrity and self-determination that should have regulated the situation.
  6. The Treaty did not contain any justification for the the new borders (there was none), instead basing its provisions on the 'agreement' of 26/6/1940 between Romania and the Soviet Union which followed the latter's ultimatum to the former that it should withdraw or face invasion.

Ghimpu's decree is spot on in respect of its content.  It states the facts of invasion and occupation clearly.  It seeks to redress and balance a history that has been roundly abused over many years.  It recognises for the first time the sacrifice of those who lost their lives and suffered atrocities at Soviet hands.  It implies that the Russian occupation of Transnistria is a continuation of the Soviet occupation of Moldova, which it is.

Where there is (perhaps) room for discussion is the way in which the motion was introduced, but to me that is a relatively minor issue.  In any case, the decree should stand and be observed.

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