Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Unionişti: Dilettante Speaks to the Romanian Ambassador

With the Student Union elections over (I was handily defeated by the incumbent, alas) I can now get back into the normal swing of university life, writing and cracking my dissertation. Although I have already written an article on why students should oppose lecturer strikes, it is appearing in the student paper and so won't be on here until next week. However, yesterday evening (14/3/11) the Manchester Debating Union played host to the Romanian ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Dr Ion Jinga, on the subject of "Romania and the UK: Strategic Partners in the European Union". I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions, including one on the little-commented upon phenomenon of Romanian unionism.

Romanian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Ion Jinga, meets NI leaders
Dr Jinga meeting McGuinness and Robinson, from here.

Before continuing, some brief background into what unionism in Romania actually is. During the interbellum period between 1918-1939, Romania was substantially larger than it is today - scroll down this article for a map of the territories held by the Kingdom of Romania during this period. After the Second World War, much of what had previously been Russian Bessarabia was carved off by the Soviet Union into the Moldavian SSR, within which the Soviet Union promoted a 'Moldovenist' policy, emphasising the supposed ethnic and cultural difference between Moldovans and Romanians.

Since the advent of glasnost in 1988, there has been a movement for the reunification of the two countries. Unionişti - and this is one of the few places I've found where 'unionist' is actually a term of identification outside the UK - argue that Romanians and Moldovans are one people, and speak one language. Some of the successor parties to Moldova's democratic movement hold this view, as do a minority of the general population. True to their heritage, the Moldovan Communists also adopt the Moldovenist position. In Romania unionism is much more mainstream, with nearly half of the population supporting union and just over a quarter opposed. Other questions, as to whether or not Transdniestr should be included in any union are also debated.

Potential union of Romania, Moldova and Transdniestr.

With this in mind, when the time came for questions from the floor, following the ambassador's address, mine was this: "Do you think that Romania has a special role to play in guiding Moldova into the European Union, and do you think that Romania and Moldova have a future as two member states, or one?"

Some of the Romanian students I spoke to afterwards considered this the best question of the night, which I found a little flattering. Dr Jinga's answer was illuminating. He outlined the help given by Romania to Moldova's accession efforts, and the continuing support that Romania will offer those efforts. One aspect he highlighted was "the translation of acquis chapters", which led on to his analysis of the differences between Romanian and Moldovan - "They made a Romanian-Moldovan dictionary, but all the words were the same".

Despite what I judged (although being a diplomat, he obviously avoided confirming anything) to be personal unionist beliefs, Dr Jinga appeared pessimistic about the prospect of union in the short term, although he did say that he couldn't speak for what might happen in "Eighty, one hundred years time".

At the informal reception and buffet held after the main speech, I had the opportunity to accompany somebody from the student paper who was conducting an interview with Dr Jinga, and ask a few more questions. The first of which was: "What is Romania's attitude to the expansion of the European Union, particularly with regards to the accession of your near neighbours, Turkey and the Ukraine?"

A subject dear to my heart, particularly with regards to Turkey. Happily, Romania's stance is very much in accordance with the UK's, and firmly in favour of Turkish accession to the European Union. This surprised me rather, as I had always assumed that it was countries close to Turkey that would most object to her joining the union.

The Ukraine was more interesting, with Dr Jinga emphasising Romania's role in the Eastern Partnership. From what I could make out, Romania's position is that if the Ukraine chooses the path of EU membership, Romania would support its entry, but there appeared to be doubt on his part as to whether or not Ukraine would take that course. However, the ambassador emphasised that even if this weren't the case, it was important to support open and democratic government in one of the EU's largest near-neighbours.

The Eastern Partnership and the European Union.

Mention of the Eastern Partnership led me to my final questions, the first being: "Do you think that Romania has an active role to play in NATO, and that in the wake of the conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, NATO has a muscular role to play in the Caucuses?"

As regards Romania's future with NATO, Dr Jinga emphasised Romania's current active commitment to NATO endeavours, including sending troops to Afghanistan. For the caucuses, he indicated that NATO did have a role to play but was at pains to point out that NATO was more than a military organisation, and that it could be active in offering development help and assistance to the caucus nations without war.

As I was nearly out of time and I hadn't pinned him down on Romania's position on Georgia as much as I'd like, I put in one last parting question: "Would Romania support Georgian membership of NATO?"



Hopefully I'll be able to flesh out the answers when I get hold of the dictaphone recording of the interview, so expect this post to be edited at some point in the near future.

One thing that is worth commenting on separately is now wonderful it is, as a unionist, to go to a talk such as this about the European Union. A large section of Dr Jinga's main speech was entitled "What can Romania give to the European Union?", and consisted of a long list of cultural and commercial products, heritage and strategic advantages that justified Romania's position within the union. Given that in my line as a unionist blogger I often talk to nationalists of the "its Scotland's oil" variety, hearing somebody talking proudly of all the things their country can offer a union is a refreshing change.

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