Romania gets along well with Turkey and is trying to fight the spread of Russian propaganda in Moldova.
Traian Băsescu is a Romanian MEP. He has been the Mayor of Bucharest and served as President of Romania for two terms (2004–14). In politics, Băsescu started out as a social democrat but has now moved to the centre-right. Băsescu supports the reunification of Romania and Moldova and is highly critical of current Russian policies.
Diplomaatia: What do you think about the current security situation around the Black Sea?
Băsescu: After the events of 2008 in Georgia and 2014 in Ukraine, which culminated in the annexation of the Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine, we understood that Russia poses a real danger—an actual security threat, not a theoretical one. That is why we applied appropriate measures, for example buying military equipment. Naturally, no one believes we could defend ourselves on our own. Romania takes its responsibility in NATO, to strengthen its defence capability, very seriously. Russia has a very capable Black Sea fleet. Besides that, there is the Crimea, which is like a great big cruiser in the northern part of the Black Sea. It is clear Russia is a threat to all Black Sea states.
Turkey is also a highly controversial Black Sea state. How do you see Turkey’s current position?
Turkey is a NATO member state with the second-biggest army in the Alliance after the US. It is a regional power and I do not believe it is hostile towards Romania. We see Turkey as the friendly lion of the Black Sea.
Can you describe Turkish-Romanian relations in a few words?
[Laughs.] Romania is a country that used to exist between three empires: the Russian Empire in the east, the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the west and the Ottoman Empire in the south. We fought Turkey for autonomy for 500 years. And even if the Turks have conquered Romania multiple times throughout history, they have treated our Orthodox faith with respect. They have never destroyed any Orthodox churches. Historically, Turkey dominated in the Balkans, but Romania gained independence 143 years ago, when it defeated the Turkish army. In spite of this, Romanians are hostile not towards the Turkish people, but Russia.
It is thought that Moldova is gradually turning into a pro-Russian state. What do you think?
There were attempts to Russianise the population of Moldova for almost the entire 80 years of the Soviet period. The Latin alphabet was replaced with Cyrillic script, the official language was changed, many Moldovans were sent to Kazakhstan and Siberia, and Russians were brought to the country in their stead. This was part of the Soviet Union’s official policy of Russification. As a result, Moldovans find it hard to believe in reunification with Romania, since a large part of the population sees Russia as Moldova’s natural partner. I think the Baltic states do not have this problem since you preserved your culture in the Soviet Union. You were not impacted by the Soviet period like the Romanians in Moldova.
You know both Romania and Moldova well. If they were to be reunified, what would be the biggest challenges?
Today’s greatest issue is that only 30% of Moldovans are interested in reunification. It would be a long process and it should have the support of at least 50% of the population to proceed.
How much support is there for reunification in Romania?
To be honest, Romanians are not that interested in it. About 30–40% of the population considers the issue important, although official polls show that up to 80% of residents support it. This is because reunification seems unrealistic at the moment. Romanians are beginning to understand that the price of the process is increasing with each year, as the gap between Romania’s and Moldova’s GDP is growing by the year. Right now, there is a sevenfold difference. The reason behind this is EU and NATO membership, which have brought foreign investment to Romania. The ideal scenario would have been to reunite the countries a day after Moldova gained independence, because the economic indicators were nearly equal at that point.
Because both states were equally poor?
Exactly! The gap is too big today. Notwithstanding all of this, I believe reunification will occur one day, and we are trying to support the idea in every way. In 2005, when I became president for the first time, only 4% of Moldovans supported reunification. By the end of my term [in 2014], support had risen to 29–30%. We drastically changed Romania’s citizenship legislation and it became easier for Moldovans to apply for Romanian nationality. For example, people whose ancestors lost Romanian citizenship against their will could restore it using a simplified procedure. We increased the number of stipends available for Moldovan students to study in Romania. Five thousand Moldovans have come to study in Romania every year since 2004. After graduation, they have the opportunity to gain Romanian citizenship. We use every opportunity to Romanianise Moldova, but we have to fight Russian propaganda every step of the way and remind the Moldovans they are actually Romanians.
How do you see NATO’s future?
I support NATO without reservation. Today everyone can imagine what would happen on the eastern borders if NATO and the EU didn’t exist. Without them we would be waiting for Putin’s tanks to arrive any day. That’s why I try to support maintaining NATO’s capabilities and credibility. If anyone wants to create a European army, the money must be found elsewhere, as any reduction of resources will also reduce NATO’s capabilities.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.