Controversy Over Linguistic and Ethnic Identity in Moldova - Bessarabia Within Greater Romania (1918–1940)

Bessarabia Within Greater Romania (1918–1940)

In 1918, Sfatul Ţării voted for the union of Bessarabia with the Kingdom of Romania. At the time, the Romanian army was already present in Bessarabia. US historian Charles Upson Clark notes that several Bessarabian ministers, Codreanu, Pelivan and Secara, and the Russian commander-in-chief Shcherbachev had asked for its intervention to maintain order. He also mentions that after the arrival of Romanian army "all classes in Bessarabia, except the Russian revolutionaries, breathed a sigh of relief". However, he adds that, at the beginning, the intervention had "roused great resentment among those who still clung to the hope of a Bessarabian state within the Russian Federated Republic" such as Ion Inculet, president of Sfatul Tarii and prime-minister Pantelimon Erhan who initially demanded the prompt withdrawal of the Romanian troops to avoid a civil war. However, Inculet later welcomed Romanian general Brosteanu, who was in charge with the intervention, to a formal reception at Sfatul Tarii.

Given the complex circumstances, some scholars such as Cristina Petrescu and US historian Charles King considered controversial the Bessarabian vote in favor of the union with Romania. On the contrary, historian Sorin Alexandrescu thinks that the presence of the Romanian army "did not cause the unification, but only consolidated it". . Similarly, Bernard Newman, who traveled by bike in the whole of Greater Romania, claimed there is little doubt that the vote represented the prevailing wish in Bessarabia and that the events leading to the unification indicate there was no question of a "seizure", but a voluntary act on the part of its people.

Quoting Emmanuel de Martonne, historian Irina Livezeanu mentions that, around the time of the union, Bessarabian peasants "still called thesemlves Moldovans". She adds Ion Nistor's explanation from 1915 of a similar earlier phenomenon in the Austrian-ruled Bukovina, where peasants had called themselves Moldovans but "under the influence of the literary language, the term 'Moldovan' was then replaced by 'Romanian'", while "in Bessarabia this influence has not penetrated yet"

After the unification, a few French and Romanian military reports from the period mentioned the reticence or hostility of the Bessarabian ethnic minorities, at times together with Moldovans, towards the new Romanian administration. Livezeanu also notes that, at the beginning, the Moldovan urban elite educated under Russian rule spoke predominantly Russian, and despised Romania as "uncivilized" and the culture of its elite, of which it knew very little.

Owing partly to its relative underdevelopment compared to other regions of Greater Romania, as well as to the low competence and corruption of some of the new Romanian administration in this province, the process of "turning Bessarabian peasants into Romanians" was less successful than in other regions and was soon to be disrupted by the Soviet occupation. Cristina Petrescu thinks that the transition between the Tsarist-type of local administration to the centralized Romanian administration alienated many Moldovans, and many of them felt they were rather occupied than united with "their alleged brothers". Based on the stories told by a group of Bessarabians from the villages of the Balti county, who, notably, chose to move to Romania rather than live under the Soviet regime, Cristina Petrescu suggests that Bessarabia seems to be only region of the Greater Romania where the central authorities did not succeed "in integrating their own coethnics", most of whom "did not even begin to consider themselves part of the Romanian nation, going beyond their allegiance to regional and local ties" .

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