July 16, 2009
Romanian President Traian Basescu has said that April's post-electoral clashes in Chisinau were a sign that Moldova’s young generation wants real political and economic change. In an interview at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters with correspondent Eugen Tomiuc, Basescu strongly rejected Moldova’s accusations that Romania was behind the violence, and said that Romania's stance toward Moldova will always be “one people, two countries.” The president also spoke about the EU’s eastward expansion plans and about relations with Russia and the United States.
RFE/RL: Romania’s relationship with the Communist leadership of Moldova has gone from bad to worse over the past couple of months, particularly after President Vladimir Voronin accused Romania of being behind the post-election violence in early April. Chisinau introduced visas for Romanians, expelled the ambassador, and restricted Romanian media access to the republic.
The day-to-day economic and social ties between the two states have all but come to a standstill. What can EU member Romania do to help Moldova out of its current political crisis without being blamed for undue “interference in Moldova’s internal affairs?”
Basescu: We will always reject such accusations -- that Romania was involved in the post-election uprising, or that it would get involved in the domestic affairs of the Republic of Moldova. What I can tell you with certainty is that we have seen such events before. We saw them in December 1989, when another Communist leader [Nicolae Ceausescu] failed to understand his own people, and furthermore failed to understand the younger generation.
Mr. Voronin might want to take a look at the footage taken in December 1989 in Bucharest. He will see that there were young people on those streets who wanted liberty, young people who were looking toward Europe, not those voting for Ceausescu.
RFE/RL: This year we mark 70 years since the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed. You have stated that you will not sign a bilateral treaty with Moldova which would enshrine the pact. There is actually a region called Moldova in eastern Romania, which sometimes adds to an outsider's confusion regarding what exactly a Moldovan identity represents.
Millions of Romanians consider themselves Moldovan -- but only as a regional identity subsumed to their Romanian national identity. Moldova’s leadership, however, has promoted the notion of a separate Moldovan identity, language, and history -- reminiscent of Stalin’s concept of a Moldovan “people.” How can a modern, European Romania hold on to its ethnic and language ties with Moldova without risking being accused of revisionism, chauvinism, and other evils?
Basescu: We will not fall into the trap of timidity when it comes to accusations or political games played by Chisinau toward Romania. We have a policy of explaining to all our European and NATO allies the history of these places and the history of these people. Our concept is clear: one people, two countries. Therefore, in this respect the propaganda coming from Chisinau will not fool anybody.
Furthermore, Romania will not watch events passively. We have increased the number of vacancies in Romanian universities and high schools for Moldovan youths; we will try and support Romanian-language democratic media [in Moldova]; and we will not hesitate to fight within the European Union to convince our friends and allies that Moldova shouldn't be left in the integration package with Ukraine, but packaged together with the Western Balkan countries as far as integration objectives are concerned.
These are but a few examples to show that we are not being intimidated by Chisinau's brutal behavior. With regard to trade, we have given instructions that no exports from Moldova to Romania be hampered in any way. You may remember that when Mr. Voronin was in big trouble because Moscow had blocked Moldova's wine exports to the Russian market, I brought Mr. Voronin to Bucharest and organized a big Moldovan wine exhibition, and since then, the Romanian market has absorbed a large part of Moldovan wine production.
Currently, Moldova is exporting more wine to Romania than to Russia, which has eventually reopened its market to Moldovan wines. Therefore, we will not do anything that could resemble hostility toward Moldova. Furthermore, we are ready to offer any kind of assistance that Moldova might need, in every economic area.
RFE/RL: Who should ask for such assistance?
Basescu: The [Moldovan] government. But we are also trying to stimulate a different way to keep in touch with the Romanians from the Republic of Moldova by stepping up ties at the local community level, and with intellectuals from Moldova.
I had a meeting recently in Bucharest with civil society representatives from Moldova. We have increased the number of places in summer camps for Moldovan youths. Therefore, we are doing our job both as good neighbors and brothers to the Moldovans, although for the moment we do not communicate with Moldova's leadership.
RFE/RL: Romania’s usually cool relations with Russia seem to have become even cooler since the beginning of the Moldovan crisis. Some analysts argue that Moscow is promoting the idea of a “Romanian threat” to Moldova’s feeble statehood to gain even more influence over Chisinau. Can Romania improve its ties with Moscow and hold on to its interests in the region at the same time?
Basescu: I do not believe that those who say Romania has bad relations with Moscow are right. Our commercial exchanges are on the rise, political contacts are very frequent -- this year alone there were five or six visits by Romanian ministers to Moscow to improve cooperation.
And I will tell you one other thing: I don't think Moscow is so engaged in backing Voronin that it's going to become hostile to Romania because of Moldova's relations with Romania. And I know all the details when I am saying this. On the other hand, Moscow definitely has interests in Moldova, and of course Romania has an interest in Moldova's citizens.
We want the citizens of Moldova -- our brothers from the Republic of Moldova -- to have the chance to strive for prosperity. This cannot happen unless Moldova vigorously and steadily chooses the path toward integration into the European Union.
And I would like to clarify this -- you spoke about the confusion between Moldova and the Republic of Moldova. This is a valid issue for those who do not understand that Romania has several historical regions: Moldova, which, if we are to talk about Romanian regions, stretches to the Dniester River -- Banat, Oltenia, Bucovina, Transylvania -- all these are regions inhabited by Romanians, regions where the same people have lived -- and will live -- for many millennia.
RFE/RL: Ever since you became president, you have been a strong proponent of a strategic partnership with the United States. Romania has contributed troops to Afghanistan -- and until recently, to Iraq -- and has offered Black Sea air bases to the United States. Can Romania do more to consolidate its strategic partnership with Washington under the new U.S. administration?
Basescu: It definitely can, and I can tell you that the new U.S. administration gave us all the signals that its policy toward Romania remains unchanged. The objective of both countries is the consolidation of the strategic partnership in two directions -- [military and economic].
Under the security or military dimension, we have offered facilities to the U.S. military at Romanian military bases such as Kogalniceanu, Babadag, and others. Furthermore, we are participating together with troops in missions outside our borders.
But there are [also] U.S. investments in Romania such as those of [automaker] Ford, or investments in the food industry or in agriculture, and many others. This partnership is developing well, in all its dimensions, including the political dimension, where Romania has enjoyed U.S. support and has been a partner of the United States on foreign policy issues.
And, I can tell you that we are developing an equally strong partnership with France within the European Union. It is a partnership that is rapidly gaining ground. And for us, the two strategic partnerships -- with the United States and France -- are two extremely important pillars of our foreign policy.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, thank you.
Basescu: I thank you too, and I wish all the best to the Moldovans!