Moldova is often presented as geopolitically rifted between the Russian east and west Europe west, and ethnically divided between Moldovan and Romanian. As a recent article in the Monkey Cage suggests, these rifts even map onto each other: with Moldovans more likely to identify as pro-Russian, while Romanians—including many of the new administration—are more like to identify as pro-European. But what are these binary categories of ethnic identification and geopolitical affiliation missing?
(Here I am discussing only how the majority is divided, but Moldova is home to many minority groups too of ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Gagauz and Roma.)
As I argue here and in an ongoing book project, we need to view debates of identification beyond mutually exclusive categories of Moldovan and Romanian. And we also need to understand the meaning and the content of these ethnic identification categories.
First, is the fact that Moldovan censuses since the post-Soviet period continue to show a substantial majority identifying as Moldovan (75% in 2004, 76% in 2014) and a sizeable minority identifying as Romanian (7% in 2014, 2% in 2004). Of course, Moldovan censuses themselves have been an aspect of nationalizing politics with incumbent regimes, most notably by the Communist (PCRM) regime in 2004. PCRM used the 2004 census to boost their Moldovanist national project: that Moldova is not only an independent state but a separate nation to Romanian, with Moldovan language being separate from (if not linguistically different to) Romanian language (as many nationalizing regimes do).
Second, however, is the fact that this Moldovanist interpretation of identification is not how many people identify as Moldovan. Based on fieldwork that I conducted in Chisinau 2012 and 2013, I found that many young people identify as Moldovan as a civic, political statement, not an ethnic judgment. These Moldovans identified with Moldova as their home, the place to which they know as their state and the legitimate entity of their political affiliation and loyalty. Meanwhile, to be Moldovan, for them, was compatible with identifying in a pro-European way. In other words, to be Moldovan was not to be pro-Russian, as Marius Ghincea has argued.
Third, there were those who identified as Moldovan and pro-Russian, albeit a small minority (beyond those I interviewed there are probably many more). But among participants I spoke with, what differentiated discourses of identification were their relation to politics and language. In my research, I distinguish between those who identify as Moldovan and those who identify as Linguistic Moldovans, a minority who were aligned with pro-leftist parties like the Communists and Socialists (PSRM). Linguistic Moldovans viewed their language not only as Moldovan but Slavic, in sharp contrast to Moldovans who identified their language staunchly as Romanian. But Linguistic Moldovans were a minority, as well as a politicized minority of participants.
And Linguistic Moldovans viewed Romania, as well as pro-European projects, as a threat to Moldova’s territorial integrity, seeing Romania as a competitive and colonizing state vis-à-vis Moldova. But, Moldovans did not. Moreover, Moldovans identified as such because they wanted to move beyond ethnic understandings of identification. Moldovans did not identify as Romanian, or with Romania, because they noted different social and political experiences, such as histories and legacies of Tsarism and the Soviet Union, that differentiated them from Romanians in Romania that had different experiences of Communism. And they identified with Moldova because it was a political expression of legitimacy and citizenship, even if many also held Romanian citizenship.
Finally, is the fact that many participants—beyond Moldovans and Linguistic Moldovans—identified in cross-cutting ways as ethnic/cultural Romanians in Moldova and with Romania as a kin-state. Some did not view Romanian and Moldovan as necessarily separable categories of identification: for them, to be Moldovan was to be Romanian. While others viewed themselves as partly Romanian and partly Moldovan because, like those I categorized as Moldovan, they did not consider themselves as totally alike with Romanians in Romania due to different political experiences and legacies.
Moldova might be divided along the lines of politics and identity. Shying away from the complexity of the fact that categories of Moldovan and Romanian do not represent how many categorize and understand their own identification might suggest Moldova is even more divided along these lines. After all, what this points to is how the category of Moldovan, and its relation to Romanian and Romania, is disputed. But, Moldova is also not separated into two divided camps of Romanian and Moldovan that translate into preferences towards west and east. That binary division is more like a simplistic cliché that ignores the real complexity, as well as the belief in a Moldovan state that transcends such divisions.