Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube LinkedIn

Analyses

How the people of Chernivtsi saw the Romanian Revolution and the national rebirth movement in Bessarabia

How the people of Chernivtsi saw the Romanian Revolution and the national rebirth movement in Bessarabia
©EPA/ROBERT GHEMENT  |   A Romanian man lays a wreath of flowers, as seen through the hole of the national flag, at heroes memorial during a religious commemoration at Heros of the Revolution cemetery, in Timisoara, 550 km north-west from Bucharest, Romania, 17 December 2009.

The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, as well as the national rebirth movement in the Republic of Moldova, wrought up the Romanians in Bukovina, which was an integral part of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. Many of the hopes that came with the demise of communisms were however shattered in the face of the new geopolitical realities.

The 1989 Revolution, seen from the “democracy-lit” Chernivtsi

“I was attending a meeting of the regional Komosol organization, and at one point a young man stepped on the podium, telling everyone the Ceaușescu regime had been toppled in Romania. The perestroika had been in force over here, and we had started to get a little glimpse of democracy, so we considered the Ceaușescu dictatorship a strand of Stalinist autocracy. Everyone was ecstatic upon hearing the news”, political scientist and historian Sergey Hakman recounts.

The Soviet media wrote little about the events of 1989 in Romania. Information scarcity was great. Rumor and hearsay circulated to the extent they were treated as “facts”. For this reason, several representatives of the local authorities tried to get in contact with members of the branches of the National Salvation Front, in particular with those in counties bordering the USSR, in order to get information about what had truly happened and what would happen to Romania after the fall of communism.

“In 1989, Romania was seen in Ukraine and the USSR as a very poor country. In Chernivtsi, there was a lot of talk about people being robbed of their rights. There was a great deal of social and economic unrest. Light was very dim, including in hotels, which made reading very difficult. The TV was on only for a few hours a day, and half the shows spoke about Nicolae Ceaușescu. People would talk to us, those who came from Chernivtsi, always in a low voice, whenever they shared their problems. They were afraid. No one from Romania would talk to me if there was another person standing a few feet away. And whenever it was impossible to talk one-to-one, we would only make small talk, debating whether it was going to rain or snow the next day”, historian Sergey Hakman recalls.

Humanitarian aid from Northern Bukovina for the Romanian people

“In 1989 I was 40. Imagine that, up to that point in my life, I never had the possibility of seeing my homeland. I couldn’t visit Siret, Suceava, let alone Bucharest”, Ilie Tudor Zegrea, the president of the Romanian Writers Society in Chernivtsi told us. “I can’t say it was unexpected, because Romania was different from the other socialist republics since it had an authoritarian leader and a highly centralized communist government. In Chernivtsi, we had zero access to information, we were barely able to tune in to a Romanian radio station. In rural areas, however, particularly in those inhabited by Romanians and closer to the border, people witnessed the events live on the Romanian television. The Romanians on our side of the border were shocked by what they had seen”, Ilie Tudor Zegrea says.

Nicolae Mintencu teaches Romanian language and literature at the local school in Voloca village, northern Bukovina. He learned about the 1989 Revolution on TV. The whole village was closely following the broadcasts of the Romanian Television Station (TVR). “Some said Nicolae Ceaușescu should have been executed, others claimed he was a man with a certain vision who should have been left at the helm of the Ministry for Infrastructure, so that he could complete the large-scale infrastructure projects he had kicked off”, Nicolae Mintencu describes what people in Romanian and Ukrainian villages would say about the Revolution.

“In December, 1989, I couldn’t sleep for three days. The whole village was buzzing back then. Everyone talked about people’s hardships in Romania. We were shocked by the large number of people who sacrificed their lives in the Revolution. There were some who argued the dictator should have been executed, while others said Ceaușescu was a hero nonetheless, a great leader who had erased the country’s debt”, Ion Bojescu, a Romanian teacher in the Chernivtsi area also told us.

In fact, both Romanian and Ukrainian ethnics in the region of Chernivtsi perceived the events of 1989 in Romania as something that was to be expected in the context of Gorbachev’s overarching liberalizations and the street protests in Baltic States against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In Ukraine, Stalinism started being publicly condemned as a negative element of socialism. The communist regime also faced a challenge in Ukrainian nationalism, which was a minority movement despite the country being a socialist Soviet republic. All of these groups said the events in Romania foreshadowed a change in Ukraine as well, as people expected the state to be reorganized according to national principles and thus proclaim its independence.

The Romanian community in the region of Chernivtsi did not remain indifferent to the events in Romania. In January, 1990, the “Mihai Eminescu” Romanian Cultural Society in the area of Chernivtsi, founded under Gorbachev’s perestroika policy, dispatched a few vehicles transporting humanitarian aid, mainly flour, to Suceava and Iași counties, in order to support the Romanian people. After the Revolution, a group of Romanian intellectuals from Chernivtsi visited Romania for the first time and noticed their native homeland was bustling with enthusiasm. “My heart went with the Romanian people that had broken free from its shackles and started to breathe in the free air. It was hope things would be different from that point onwards”, the Chernivtsi-based writer Ilie Tudor Zegrea argues.

The year of national rebirth for Bessarabia

The events of 1989 in Romania were monitored in Ukraine also in the context of the national rebirth movements that had surfaced in Bessarabia and the Baltics. Meanwhile, turmoil had been brewing in Chișinău during the period of perestroika, much like in most other capitals of Soviet republics. Nationalist claims were a common feature of all the peoples had been under the USSR’s central authority in the last 70 years. Therefore, the nationalist movement in Bessarabia was perceived by adepts of the Ukrainian question as a natural development, although absolutely separate from Romania. Many were influenced by Soviet propaganda, according to which Moldovan and Romanian were two separate languages, or that Moldova was different from Romania. As a result, the events of 1989 were seen by many Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine as an isolated process from a cultural, identity and political perspective. Whereas the Romanian ethnics in Ukraine saw the events in Bessarabia in 1989 as a step towards restoring the historical truth, in the context of the 1940 annexation of Romanian territories by the USSR, the Ukrainian community analyzed the developments in Chișinău from the lens of political processes that were underway in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia and other members of the Soviet Union.

To an equal extent, many of the supporters of the communist regime, which was now in free fall, regarded these movements as a threat to the USSR’s very existence. For a certain period of time, the representatives of national minorities joined hands united by a common purpose: the removal of communism. The national ambitions of various ethnic groups were aligned as long as communism posed a threat to their collective existence. They each blamed communism for the crimes of its past and for oppressing the various nationalities of the USSR.

Historian Sergey Hakman was among the people who argued against celebrating 50 years since the “union” of Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia with the Soviet Union, since this had been an effect of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. The “union” had proved to be quite a challenge to the communist authorities that tried to subordinate traditional ideological narratives at all costs. The “Taras Shevchenko” Ukrainian Scientific Society supported Sergey Hakman’s endeavor at the time by publishing a memorandum in the Ukrainian-language media in 1990. Also worth mentioning is that historical developments sank in more quickly in Chișinău compared to Ukraine and Chernivtsi.

The Great National Assembly of August 27, 1989 in Chișinău was the trigger that ushered in true change for Bessarabia. “What’s interesting is that the first claims of the people of Chișinău were not economic or social in nature, but rather had to do with language and the alphabet. Of course, “freedom” was the most important word. If we look carefully at the pictures taken back then, we will notice people carrying banners with the word “freedom”. This is what they wanted the most. People wanted to talk freely, to call things for what they truly were. What was most offensive for Moldovans back then was that they couldn’t speak or write freely in their mother tongue”, says Bessarabian historian Sergiu Musteaţă, a Professor with the State University of Chişinău. In 1989, people started brandishing the tricolor flag in various public rallies in Bessarabia, and these ideas were taken over by Romanians in Ukraine as well, who had close ties with the Romanian communities in the Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic. There was an ongoing exchange of ideas between opinion leaders from the future independent states, considering that many members of the Romanian intellectual elites in the regions of Chişinău, Transcarpathian Ukraine and Odessa had furthered their academic studies in the Moldovan SSR.

The collapse of the USSR: new borders, new (and old) problems, new conflicts

On August 27, 1989, the Assembly in Chişinău spoke extensively about the need to condemn the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a point also raised by representatives of the Baltic States. Such initiatives existed in Ukraine as well, starting 1990 and up until the proclamation of independence. Yet after 1991, the new Ukrainian leadership realized that several effects of this Pact had not been corrected in court, and it was no longer in their interest to denounce the Pact. Under the pressure of street protests, the USSR’s Congress of the People’s Deputies invalidated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, although it did not factor in its specific consequences – the annexation of the Baltic States, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, Western Ukraine and Belarus, the war with Finland, the Katyn tragedy, the deportations in Poland, the Republic of Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland, etc.

Romanians in the Chernivtsi area were eagerly watching the events unfolding in Bessarabia, holding out hope for their own their national movements to bring them more liberties. The people of Bukovina rejoiced at the news they could travel freely to Romania after 1989, but got scared when they learned in the wake of the “parade” of states proclaiming their sovereignty and independence on the ruins of the Soviet Union, that a new border had emerged between Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.

A case in point is the speech of the president of the “Mihai Eminescu” Romanian Cultural Society in Chernivtsi at the time, Alexandrina Cernov, held on the sidelines of the Great National Assembly of August 27, 1991, the very day that marked two years since the first Great Assembly had adopted the Declaration of Independence. “Our greatest sorrow would be to have another border between Mămăliga [Chernivtsi area, present-day Ukraine] and Criva [in Briceni District, present-day Moldova]. Romanians in Northern Bukovina strongly oppose this border, which is why we have come here. I’m addressing the Great National Assembly in Chișinău and the Moldovan Parliament: Romanians in Bukovina want the issue of Romanians beyond the border to be settled, so that we too may stop being Romanians beyond the border and become citizens of the Republic of Moldova soon”. The fragmentation of the Romanian linguistic community determined by the emergence of two independent states from the ruins of the Soviet Union soon became a challenge for the new leaders of the Romanian community in Ukraine.

The unity of vision of several anti-communist groups in Ukraine was gradually stretched thin by irreversible geopolitical developments: instead of the border between the USSR and Romania, a new one had appeared separating Ukraine from the Republic of Moldova. Despite this turn of events, over 90% of Ukrainians voted ‘yes’ at the December 1, 1991 referendum on Ukraine’s independence. The Romanian ethnics also supported this process whereby Ukrainian society expressed its political will.

The enthusiasm of the late 1980s and early 1990s, people’s aspirations towards freedom and democracy and their opposition to communism were toned down progressively by the countless social, economic and political crises that marked all states in the region during the period of transition. Part of the problems, mentalities and policies of the USSR were inherited by the newly created states, and other problems emerged, such as the conflicts in Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Chechnya, etc. Countries started to differ in their options as well. Whereas the Baltic States and those in Eastern Europe opted for closer relations with the EU and NATO, the rest remained caught between their aspirations towards Western-like societies and Moscow, which was ever obsessed with its sphere of influence.

Over 30 years since Romanians in Bukovina watched the developments in Romania with compassion and concern, present-day Ukraine is a war-torn country undergoing a number of transformations. And this is what the world is now watching.  


Other articles
The USA is again withdrawing from Iraq. What the Americans leave in their wake

The USA is again withdrawing from Iraq. What the Americans leave in their wake

The United States is pulling out from Iraq in December. This is the second time the Americans are withdrawing from this country. In their wake remains a fragile state, where Washington’s enemies have a big say.

Toată ura din lume: Armenia vs. Azerbaidjan*

Toată ura din lume: Armenia vs. Azerbaidjan*

Când două state se urăsc și planifică răzbunări și atacuri, ceea ce rămâne în urmă sunt orașe și sate distruse, sute, dacă nu mii de oameni morți și răniți și foarte, foarte mulți refugiați care trebuie să își ia viața de la zero.

Dodon's decline and a few scenarios before Moldova's political storm

Dodon's decline and a few scenarios before Moldova's political storm

The political stage in Chișinău is once again in crisis. The incompatibility between the pro-European president Maia Sandu and her governing opponents, from the camp of the corrupt pro-Russia “establishment” in Chișinău, has led to new confrontations and situations hard to anticipate.

Marin Gherman

17 Dec 2021
Marin Gherman

9 minutes read
  • The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, as well as the national rebirth movement in the Republic of Moldova, wrought up the Romanians in Bukovina, which was an integral part of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. Many of the hopes that came with the demise of communisms were however shattered in the face of the new geopolitical realities.
  • In fact, both Romanian and Ukrainian ethnics in the region of Chernivtsi perceived the events of 1989 in Romania as something that was to be expected in the context of Gorbachev’s overarching liberalizations and the street protests in Baltic States against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In Ukraine, Stalinism started being publicly condemned as a negative element of socialism. The communist regime also faced a challenge in Ukrainian nationalism, which was a minority movement despite the country being a socialist Soviet republic. All of these groups said the events in Romania foreshadowed a change in Ukraine as well, as people expected the state to be reorganized according to national principles and thus proclaim its independence.
  • The events of 1989 in Romania were monitored in Ukraine also in the context of the national rebirth movements that had surfaced in Bessarabia and the Baltics. Meanwhile, turmoil had been brewing in Chișinău during the period of perestroika, much like in most other capitals of Soviet republics. Nationalist claims were a common feature of all the peoples had been under the USSR’s central authority in the last 70 years. Therefore, the nationalist movement in Bessarabia was perceived by adepts of the Ukrainian question as a natural development, although absolutely separate from Romania. Many were influenced by Soviet propaganda, according to which Moldovan and Romanian were two separate languages, or that Moldova was different from Romania. As a result, the events of 1989 were seen by many Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine as an isolated process from a cultural, identity and political perspective. Whereas the Romanian ethnics in Ukraine saw the events in Bessarabia in 1989 as a step towards restoring the historical truth, in the context of the 1940 annexation of Romanian territories by the USSR, the Ukrainian community analyzed the developments in Chișinău from the lens of political processes that were underway in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia and other members of the Soviet Union.
„Laboratoarele secrete” în spațiul ex-sovietic - una din principalele teme de dezinformări și falsuri
„Laboratoarele secrete” în spațiul ex-sovietic - una din principalele teme de dezinformări și falsuri

Georgia, Armenia și Republica Moldova sunt trei foste state sovietice care au moștenit multe asemănări de la fosta URSS - de la probleme economice, la cele teritoriale care au provocat și conflicte militare. O altă caracteristică comună este valul de fake-uri și știri false care apar periodic în legătură cu activitățile laboratoarelor biologice sau presupusa existență a laboratoarelor biologice finanțate de SUA.

Cornel Ciobanu
Cornel Ciobanu
24 Dec 2021
Moldova-Romania relations and the issue of the “gentle calf sucking from two cows”
Moldova-Romania relations and the issue of the “gentle calf sucking from two cows”

Relations between the Republic of Moldova and Romania have often been described as privileged, and there is even talk of a strategic partnership. However, on numerous occasions during the last few decades, Bucharest’s efforts and openness have stood out more, even when it was met with hostility by a country that has ever strived to strike a balance between its “Eastern” and Western orientation.

Mădălin Necșuțu
Mădălin Necșuțu
21 Dec 2021
Cum devin prietenii dușmani: Georgia vs. Abhazia și Osetia de Sud*
Cum devin prietenii dușmani: Georgia vs. Abhazia și Osetia de Sud*

În capătul celălalt al Mării Negre se află Georgia. Pentru oamenii de acolo, „preocupări” înseamnă o nouă invazie rusească, granițe care se schimbă de la o săptămână la alta sau familii care au fost expulzate din casele lor.

Horia Sârghi
Horia Sârghi
17 Dec 2021
The USA is again withdrawing from Iraq. What the Americans leave in their wake
The USA is again withdrawing from Iraq. What the Americans leave in their wake

The United States is pulling out from Iraq in December. This is the second time the Americans are withdrawing from this country. In their wake remains a fragile state, where Washington’s enemies have a big say.

Cătălin Gomboș
Cătălin Gomboș
10 Dec 2021