Romania's president has promised to fast-track citizenship applications from Moldovans with Romanian blood in the wake of unrest last week over Moldova's disputed election. His announcement this week anticipated more controversy over an election recount, results of which were due Friday.
But early word from Moldova's Central Election Commission suggested the recount would only confirm a Communist victory on April 5. "I can say the recount would not considerably change the results of the vote," said commission secretary Yuri Chokan, according to Russia's Itar-Tass news agency. "Such a conclusion comes from preliminary results of the recount."
The original April 5 election kept the ruling Communist Party in power and led to massive peaceful protests as well as riots last week in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. The opposition has refused to participate in the recount, calling it a "trick."
Romania, meanwhile, has upped the stakes. "We are not going to allow a new Iron Curtain on the Prut (River)," said President Traian Basescu on Wednesday, referring to the river that separates the two nations. "We cannot accept that the Romanians across the Prut are isolated from the rest of Europe."
"Reunification" with Romania was a Moldovan election issue. Romania has always been an ethnic big brother to Moldova, and the smaller country even belonged to modern Romania until 1940, when Moldova was annexed by the Soviet Union. Some ethnic Romanians in Moldova now think reunification would be a quick way to join the European Union, since Romania has been a member since 2007.
However, Moldova also has a significant Slavic-speaking population, which leans away from Romania and towards Russia. The current Communist-led government in Moldova enjoys support from Moscow.
'An Example of Revanchism'
Vladimir Voronin, Moldova's incumbent president, accuses Romania of organizing the protesters in Chisinau to overturn a legitimate election. He expelled Romania's ambassador last week, and introduced visa restrictions along the border.
He called Basescu's speech "an example of revanchism on a government level." But he also tried to ease tension with his political opponents, by asking Moldovan courts to grant a general amnesty to all protesters detained in last week's unrest -- except for "criminal elements and repeat offenders."
That move follows a show of international concern over beatings and indiscriminate arrests suffered by protesters at the hands of Moldovan police.
President Basescu's citizenship pledge is not particularly new: He made the same promise in 2007, after Romania's EU accession. But it does escalate tensions. "The Romanians of Moldova will be able to regain their Romanian citizenship in a swift manner," he said Wednesday, "and become members of the big European family, not only morally but also legally."
In recent years some 650,000 citizenship applications have been filed with the Romanian Embassy in Chisinau, he said. Because other family members may be listed on each application, he added, the total number of Molodvans in line for citizenship may be close to 1 million -- or a quarter of Moldova's population.