Moldovan History Film Angers Champions of Romanian Ties

A new movie about Moldova’s history, produced under Socialists auspices, has angered pro-EU politicians and historians by playing down links to Romania and, they say, taking Russia’s line.

“History of Moldova”, a documentary that premiered last week in Chisinau and produced under the patronage of the country’s pro-Russian President, has upset some historians by promoting the idea that a separate Moldovan nation developed apart from Romania.

According to the first 45-minute episode, which only deals with ancient history, Moldova lies on the crossroads between East and West and Europe and Asia, and the Moldovan nation is a mix of Ruthenes, Serbs, Albanians, Wallachians, Hungarians and others. “We might seem different, but together we are one people, the Moldovans,” the narrator stresses at the start of the episode.

Some historians and political scientists are unimpressed, however, saying that this presentation of national identity, also nicknamed „Moldovianism”, based on the idea that Romanian and Moldovans are different nations, serves a Soviet-era political narrative that is used now by pro-Russian forces.

Moldova’s political scene has long been dominated by two narratives – Soviet-inspired Moldovianism and Unionism, which supports the idea of Moldova’s unity with Romania, based on the fact that people speak the same language and share a common origin and history, Academy of Sciences of Moldova History Professor Octavian Tacu told BIRN.

Tacu also noted a third category of people who consider themselves Moldovans but accept that they are part of a common cultural space with Romanians and that Moldova needs to deal independently with its current geopolitical situation.

However, he accused Moldova’s Socialists and the pro-Russian President, Igor Dodon, of seeking to exploit this sensitive issue and boost divisions ahead of important legislative elections in 2018.

„What they want to do is perpetuate the same Kremlin tactics of breaking up the Romanian-speaking population of the Republic of Moldova,” he told BIRN.

Manipulating history – or presenting facts?

The documentary, experts say, subliminally promotes the idea that the ancient Cucuteni-Tripolie civilization is even older than that of the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians and thus a great source of pride for Moldovans.

The movie passes quickly from pre-history to the Roman conquest of Dacia, more or less today’s Romania, which was a province of the Roman Empire from 106 to 274–275 AD.

According to the movie, the Dacian king Burebista was a „geopolitician who intervened in the Roman Empire’s struggle for power” but was betrayed by the nobles, an assertion never proven by what historians call valid sources.

However, Soviet propaganda also made use of this historical theme to portray Romanians as traitorous, especially during World War II, only disengaging late in the day from an alliance with Nazi Germany and switching camp to the Allied powers in 1944.

The documentary contends also that Roman influence was felt only over about 20 percent of Dacia`s territory, while the Romans never got to the banks of Prut river.

Tacu said the movie has many problems. “There is a big issue about the name because we do not know which Moldova Dodon is referring to. Moldova’s territory is now divided between three countries: Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. The political and historic centre of Moldova lies in Iasi [in Romania] or Suceava, so is it not in Romania?” he asked rhetorically.

Politicized history – or pride in the country?

Pro-European politicians have lined up to slam the movie. The Moldovan Liberal Democrats accused the Socialists of using Russian propaganda narratives and of unleashing a hybrid war.

They even urged the Moldovan secret services, SIS, to look into the source of funding for the documentary and also asked the Ministry of Education and Culture to ban it from schools.

„Dodon has devoted his first year [in office] to a cinematic project, very suspicious and dubious from our point of view, thus transforming the institution ... into a Kremlin annexe that reflects the interests of Russia rather than the citizens of Moldova,” the Social Democrat leader, Viorel Cibotaru, said on November 16.

However, the movie’s scriptwriter, Elena Pahomova, who works for the Moldovan branch of NTV Russian TV channel, told BIRN that the movie was intended only to help Moldovans „take pride in our country”.

Asked about the controversies surrounding this documentary, she replied that it was only being politicized by those who write about it in political terms, not by the authors. „I take no part in politics,” she told BIRN, adding that she only wrote a script for a documentary film.

Pahomova worked until 2013 for Publika TV, a TV station owned by the ruling Democratic Party, led by Vlad Plahotniuc.

She then moved to Tiraspol, in the breakaway Transnistria region, to work for its public TV station under ex-leader Evgheni Shevchuk. She was banned from Transnistria, however, after a new leader, Vadim Krasnoselski, took power in 2016. She is currently in charge of the Civil Society Committee on Media and Communications in the President’s administration.

The movie director, Natalia Anisimova, earlier produced another historical documentary „Unknown Stefan” about Stephen the Great, the ruler of Principality of Moldova from 1457 to 1504, which accused Romania of stealing a flag from a Greek monastery on Mount Athos.

Her documentaries about the history of Moldova have received numerous prizes from Moscow during past years. She could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for Moldova’s Presidency, Ion Ceban, told BIRN that the documentary was designed by historians with a good reputation. „Our intention was a clear one: that is the history of Moldova that we believe this should be studied and taught on the territory of Moldova”, Ceban said.

At the premiere last Monday, Dodon stressed that he would personally ensure that the documentary is shown in schools.

However, the vice-minister of Education, Culture, and Research of Moldova, Gheorghe Postică, told BIRN that he was against debating politicized topics in schools, and it was not the President’s business to interfere with education.

„This is an obviously politicized topic because, in general, we should not have an alternative history of Moldova that challenges the general history of the Romanians,” he said.

„It is incorrect to counter the Moldovan term with the separate Romanian term. It’s simply not right because being Moldovan means being Romanian,” the vice-minister added. He insisted that „Moldovianism” was based on an anti-Romanian feeling and was used to boost pro-Russian ideas.

The head of the International Relations for the Institute of European Integration, Nicolae Enciu, also told BIRN that the documentary followed the same ideological line as a three-volume book sponsored by Dodon.

„They use visual arguments [to influence public opinion] in order for information to be swallowed more easily by the consumers,” he stressed.

The documentary’s three episodes refer to three different periods: ancient history to the sixth-century Slavic tribal invasions in Central and Eastern Europe; the second, up to 1812, when the Treaty of Bucharest was signed that ended the Russo-Turkish War and divided the Principality of Moldovia, with the eastern joining to Tsarist Empire [most of Moldova today]; and from 1812 to 1991, the moment when Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

Romanian NGOs threaten lawsuit:

The movie also had echoes in Romania where several NGOs that organize a history festival in the town of Alba Iulia have threatened to sue the movie producers for using footage without permission from the festival held in April 2017 dedicated to the Dacians and Romans.

„We are upset that we were not told that the Moldovan team would shoot at the festival. They used footage of members and volunteers of our cultural association ... We never knew that it would be used for such an important movie, produced under the patronage of President Dodon himself,” Constantin Lapușneanu, vice-president of the Geto-Dacian Cultural Association of Moldova, told BIRN. He stressed that several children had also appeared without their parents’ consent which is against the law.

The Romanian cultural association Terra Dacica Eterna also told BIRN that they were surprised to find the movie used the festival for its generic footage.

„The filmmakers did not tell us why they were filming and did not ask us to use the frames, also violating the law on the use of footage with minors.

„The historical information presented in the film on the part about the history of the Dacians is partly correct from the scientific point of view, but there are also errors,” the NGO told BIRN in an email.

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