Fixing a U.S. Diplomatic Gaffe: Protests in Romania and the Republic of Moldova

Historically, Moldovans are Romanians and their aspiration is to reunite with Romania. From a Romanian point of view, reunification is natural and imminent, although its timing may require some patience. It is feared, however, if they do not reunite with Romania, they will be occupied by Russia the same way Crimea was occupied.

By Nicholas Dima l September 20, 2016

Protest rally in Bucharest- University Plaza. People collect books about Moldova to be sent to the U.S. Ambassador in Chisinau to help him learn the truth.

No international subject is more sensitive for Romania than the problem of Bessarabia, the eastern half of the old Principality of Moldova, and the fate of those circa four million Romanians living there. The province was first annexed by Tsarist Russia in 1812, reunited with Romania in 1918, invaded by Soviet troops following the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact in 1940, but retaken by Romania in 1941, only to be re-annexed by the USSR in 1944. Based upon its territory, Moscow organized the Soviet Republic of Moldova, which became independent after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. The international conditions of the time, the Soviet-American agreements signed at Malta and the lack of vision of the post-1989 Romanian governments left the Republic of Moldova in limbo.

While Romania joined the European Union and NATO, becoming a loyal ally of the United States, Moldova remained under Russian control. Nevertheless, every specialist knows that Moldovans are Romanians and their aspiration is reunification. From a Romanian point of view, reunification is natural and imminent, although its timing may require some patience. Yet, the recent statement of the U.S. Ambassador in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, triggered dismay and indignation at almost every level in both Moldova and Romania.

On August 26th on the occasion of Moldova’s ‘independence,’ America’s Ambassador to Chisinau, James Pettit, gave a televised interview. He stated that Moldovans are a distinct nation with their own history and traits and have their independent country. He also said that Moldova must remain a sovereign state and therefore, it is not good for the people to think of joining Romania because “union is not a practical solution.” By making this statement, Ambassador Pettit reiterated the old Soviet point of view. His pronouncements raised questions about America’s policy and reliability upsetting some of the highest institutions of Moldova and Romania.

Speaking at Moldova’s Academy of Sciences on August 31st the very President of Moldova, Nicolae Timofte, responded, “I am of Romanian origin as were my parents, my grandparents and all those who live on this land. We are ethnic Romanians, although we call ourselves Moldovans. This truth should be accepted once and for all,” he concluded. At the same time, The Writers’ Union of Moldova issued a statement underlying its moral obligation to take a stand and denounce the U.S. ambassador “for distorting the truth and for offending the ‘holy of holies’ of the Romanian national identity – the unity of language, history and culture.”

Similar reactions were reported virtually at every social level in Moldova and Romania and were published by the press and aired by mass media. A few titles from the press read: Stop Abusing our National Ideals, Defend us God from our Friends, What 25 years of Independence? Why do Americans claim that Moldovans are not Romanians?

Some of the articles asked clear and pertinent questions: Is it possible that America does not know the truth about Bessarabia? Is it possible that it does not know about the people of this province, mostly Romanians, arrested, killed or deported to Siberia? Is it possible that the State Department does not know about the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact? Ribbentrop was hanged after the Nurnberg trial, but apparently his infamous pact has remained. Does the U.S. ambassador to Chisinau want to perpetuate the consequences of this pact and alienate Romanians in the process? Is this the official position of the State Department?

The diplomatic uproar also upset the Senate of Romania, which sent Washington a letter of protest. The letter stresses that the Senate is the supreme representative body of the Romanian people and it mentions clearly, “The Romanian Senate rejects without equivocation the declarations of the U.S. ambassador to Chisinau regardless if they represent his personal opinion or the official position of the American Government.” And the Senate asked for clarifications.

The clarification came immediately from the American Embassy in Bucharest, and it was not very pleasing for most people stating, “The U‎.S. has long supported the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. The United States applauds Romania for its continued leadership and collaborative approach to support Moldova’s democratic development, reform efforts, and further integration into the EU according to the desires of the people. … Drawing broader interpretations of our policy goes beyond the scope of our policy.”

Most Romanian and Moldovan newspapers reacted with various interpretations and began to doubt America’s commitment to Romania. Some editors even suggested that in the grand scheme of international events, the U.S. might even trade Romania to Russia for stability in Europe. A pertinent analysis in this vein was authored by Dan Dungaciu, head or Romania’s Institute for South-East European Studies. He concludes that the State Department is under the influence of specialists that embrace the old Soviet view point which, in his opinion, is damaging America’s diplomacy. The analyst stressed that if the ambassador’s statement represented the official views of the State Department, “then we could see the huge difference between the position of a great American president, Ronald Reagan, and the administration of President Obama.”

Meanwhile, in Chisinau somebody wrote on the car of the American ambassador by scratching it hard with a nail: ‘Bessarabia is Romania.’ And in Bucharest, at a public rally in the University Plaza, young people collected thousands of books about Moldova to be sent to Ambassador Pettit to educate himself on the topic.

Yet, the uproar had a positive outcome. Ambassador James Pettit had a meeting with Mihai Ghimpu, leader of the Moldovan Liberal party and most likely candidate for next month’s presidential elections in Moldova. According to of 5 September, Ghimpu explained to the ambassador in very clear terms that Moldovans are Romanians and that the aspiration of most of them is to reunite with Romania. He also said that in 1991 he personally voted for the independence of Moldova because union was not possible then, but people like him saw in the independence just a step toward union. “If we do not reunite with Romania,” Mihai Ghimpu added, “we will be occupied by Russia the same way Crimea was occupied.” The ambassador listened and then said that by making the statement of August 26, he did not want to offend the aspirations of the people. “If the Moldovans want to unite with Romania, he would respect the decision and the ideal of the unionist movement.”

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. (Refer to updated editions). He is currently a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.