When he spoke of Moldova, my Romanian friend Andrei said “You cannot turn blood into water.”
I had asked one of my Moldovan friends why why had Moldova, with it’s large ethnic Romanians, been separated from the larger state of Romania. The answer was the same villains through Moldovan history: The Russians and the Ottomans.
In the 1812 Treaty of Bucharest, the Ottomans and Russians agreed to let Russia annex the eastern half of Moldavia, a northeastern province of Romania. This sliver of land was called Basarabia, made up of Moldova and parts of the Ukraine. Thus began the denationalization of Romanians who, from the 1860’s onward, had been forbidden the education and Liturgy in Romania. Thus began the beginning of Romanian history with Russia.
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Basarabia proclaimed it’s own independence. In 1918, Basarabia voted to be reunited with the Kingdom of Romania. The movement failed, as it did not get the international support it needed and the movement was never ratified. 23 years later, in 1940, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union chose to yield the state to the Russians. Russia gave the Romanian military and administration of Bessarabia an ultimatum to evacuate, on pain of invasion. With Berlin to the West and Russia to the East, Romania complied to avoid war and Basarabia fell under Soviet control, but not without almost 50,000 officers and soldiers of the Romanian Army deserting, choosing to stay in Basarabia.
To further create division between the two countries, the Soviets claimed that Romanian and “Moldovan” (realistically, a Romanian language) were two different languages. To further divide Moldova from the rest of Romania, they imposed a cyrillic alphabet, derived from the Russian alphabet – unlike Romanian which was based on the Latin alphabet. Further, Russian was spoken through Chisinau – which is why Moldovans tend to speak both Romanian and Russian and both alphabets can be seen through the streets.
Stefan, a tour guide from the free walking tours in Bucharest, had told me that he once saw a Moldova-Romanian dictionary and “the words were exactly the same!”
When I arrived in Chisinau in 2014, the Romanians had fallen back to the latin alphabet, though cyrillic is still quite common, sometimes in Russian, sometimes in Romanian, which further confused my attempts to learn Russian. The Moldovan “language” was then considered a dialect, not its own language and many young people were beginning to refer to their ethnicity as Romanian.
Walking through Bucharest, I spied a bit of graffiti off a side street of Unirii street, the main boulevard through running between the National Library and the gargantuan Parliament building: Basarabia e Romania.
Basarabia is Romania. Moldova is Romania.
I saw the same graffiti later, in the mountains of Transylvania and in the south Carpathian mountains. I saw it around the old city in Craiova and tagged along the subway system.
I asked Andrei if this was a popular sentiment; he said certainly. You cannot turn blood into water. Not even if you try to make the blood speak a different language.