A historic event 200 years ago is both commemorated and condoned in Moldova.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 22/05/12
Parliament rejected the proposal for a national mourning day. [USAID]
An initiative by the Chisinau City Hall to declare May 16th as a mourning day in the Moldovan capital was met with admiration, but also ruffled many feathers in a country still coming to terms with its turbulent history. The debate soon hit nationwide proportions after a proposal to declare it a mourning day across the country was submitted to parliament.
On May 16th 1812, what is now the territory of Moldova was annexed to the Russian Empire following the Russian-Ottoman War in 1806-1812. Moldova was under Russian administration until 1918, when it was returned to Romania. In 1940, following the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty, Moldova was incorporated in then Soviet Union where it stayed until 1991, when it declared independence.
"In 1812, two empires played with the fate of millions of people without any right to do so. It was a bargain -- some sold, some bought -- for us it was an act of being sold into slavery," Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca told SETimes.
"That moment was the start of a massive process of mass deportations, uprooting of local population, imposed administration, the start of national conscience destruction. How can one not commemorate this?" he added.
Public commemorations were organised in Chisinau last week -- including wreath-laying ceremonies in central squares, while the national flag was lowered to half-staff at all public institutions. The events attracted many who viewed City Hall's decision as an act of courage to stand up to national identity.
"We have to know what happened in our past, to know the truth, all the atrocities that came with this sad day," Roman Mihaes, a lawyer in Chisinau, told SETimes.
"Unfortunately, Moldova is still a geopolitical battleground and history is interpreted in two ways due to still persistent Soviet-like propaganda," he added. "We are going through a process of returning to truth, even if it is a slow one."
But the proposal by the Liberal Party, a member of the tripartite ruling pro-European coalition, to commemorate May 16th on a national level did not garner enough support in parliament, although the coalition holds a majority of seats.
"This is regrettable. Society remains divided due to lack of information. The politicians remain divided due to lack of courage," Chirtoaca said.
His commemoration plea met with resistance, especially from the former ruling Communist Party, which said the move lacked "historic and juridical grounds and common sense."
Marches were held in Chisinau to counter the liberals' initiative. Police had to intervene to prevent clashes between the two camps accusing each other of treason.
On March 25th, similar public meetings dedicated to the anniversary of the union between Moldova and Romania in 1918 ended up in scuffles.
"What is the point of this decision? Do they want us to erase two centuries of history just like that? It is our history, whether we like it or not. I do not think only bad things happened to Moldova all this time. If they say they are pro-European, why don't they focus on the future instead of the past?", Vitalie Gherasim, a 64-year-old pensioner in Chisinau, told SETimes.
Beyond the controversy, such a decision carries a lot of symbolism for the Moldovans, Chirtoaca said.
"It is about our dignity as a people. And it is about the manner we want to enter Europe. [The] future cannot be built on lies. He who doesn't know the history risks repeating it," he said.