Evidently, a new plan to facilitate study abroad and Euro-tripping for Moldovan youths could eventually ruffle feathers in the Kremlin and raise eyebrows in Beijing. Weird, right? Preposterous, even?
Well, given the diplomatically purposeful yet rather muted forms of applause that concluded summits held between the European Union and Chinese and Russian leaders last week – and given a curious new loophole in Romanian citizenship rights – something along such improbable lines could, in fact, in the coming months, be the case.
And in rather large part, it could all hinge on gas. Seriously. Somewhat less seriously, though, is that after a bit of politico-geographical zigzagging, there may be reason to find this all quite unsettlingly funny.
Let’s begin in Eastern Europe.
The EU and Moldova par the French
According to an article in Le Monde, “Les jeunes Moldaves rêvent d’Europe et se rouent sur les passeports roumains,” relations between Romania, an EU Member State since 2007, and Moldova, an independent republic that was once part of Romania before becoming Soviet territory throughout the Cold War, are currently strained on two fronts – one of them democratico-electoral, and the other, in a sense, generational – both of which have been very recently roiled:
Romano-Moldovan relations were severely degraded by the communist victory to the Moldovan legislature on 5 April, a victory that the opposition contested violently in the streets. Authorities in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, have accused Romania of being behind these anticommunist demonstrations…. On 19 May, in hopes of encouraging EU mediation, Moldova accused Romania of wanting to ‘annex’ it.
In the meantime, Moldova had already given the Romanian ambassador the proverbial boot and imposed visa restrictions on Romanians in Moldova. Yet the Romanian president, Traian Basescu, while accusing Moldova of “ethnic discrimination, suppression of the opposition and censure,” seems to believe that this would be a fitting time to invite Moldovans – well, certain Moldovans – over for dinner, and that a Romanian passport would make for a lovely dessert. As such, waving his formidable EU flag and all its emblazoned bling, Basescu “decided to grant Romanian passports to Romanophone Moldovans, opening for them the doors to the EU,” a measure that the sociologist Dan Dungaciu sees as an opportunity for Moldovan youths to “integrate themselves individually” into the EU, “the key being Romanian nationality.” In the words of Corina, a Moldovan student at the University of Bucharest, “this is an unexpected gift. Our place is in Europe, and a Romanian passport is our only chance of traveling to the west.”
What an interesting gesture. A generous one, even. Many young Moldovans, one might assume, would be happy to get EU passports and envision their futures anew. What’s more, they’d get to alter their Facebook profiles accordingly, change their network preferences and update their status to, perhaps, ‘Romanian now lol!’
Note, however, that this opportunity has been granted to Romanophone Moldovans, who make up two-thirds of the population. The other third, the group that apparently has not been granted the same privilege, is Russophone, so their imaginable FB status in the wake of all this, ‘like WTF?☹,’ would likely resonate with authorities in Chisinau, and maybe Moscow, as well.
Now let’s go all the way east just to come back west.
The EU and China durch the Germans
As reported in “Peking verwahrt sich gegen ‘Einmischung’” (sic. – indeed, the ‘Beijing’ memo has yet to reach all desks in Germany), from the Frankfurter Allgemeine, “Peking and the European Union remain distant. At a summit meeting in Prague, China and the EU were unable to settle a number of important political questions.” Although José Manuel Barroso, the current president of the European Commission, and Wen Jiabao, the Chinese leader, both made references to things like ‘deep connections,’ ‘common interests,’ ‘working with one another’ and ‘mutual trust,’ it remained abundantly clear that their “essential practical differences” regarding matters such as “human rights, minority rights, the crises in Burma and Sri Lanka, investment regulations and pirated products” would not be easily resolved. And for various, perhaps more tangible reasons, the Chinese side proved itself relatively more obdurate, demanding not only that a “weapons embargo against China be lifted” but also that “restrictions on exports of advanced technological products to China be loosened.” Additionally, Wen, “at the conclusion of the summit … and in sharp tones, forbade the EU from getting mixed up in the ‘internal matters’ of his country.” Thus ultimately, despite other concluding claims to “improve coordination and working together on international questions,” it was hardly a healthy happy ending that wrapped things up.
Now let’s head back east, almost all the way. To talk about the west, of course.
The EU and Russia por the Spanish, per the Italians
Reminiscent of Russian reactions to NATO influence in former Soviet territories, the Kremlin has recently responded with understandable concern to the European Union’s Eastern Partnership Initiative, a plan to tighten political and economic ties between the EU and a number of erstwhile Soviet nations including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. According to La Stampa, in “Niente disgelo tra Bruxelles e Mosca,” this “thorny theme” added to the backdrop of discord that characterized the recent summit held, with suggestive symbolism, in Khabarovsk, and although the EU hopes for Russia to somehow “participate in” the Partnership – where ‘participate in’ could only mean something along the lines of ‘not get too pissed off about’ – Moscow doesn’t seem convinced:
The Kremlin continues to see this as an ‘anti-Russian’ alliance and not as an attempt by the EU to accelerate democratic and economic reforms… encourage regional cooperation and foster closer ties to the European block. To Moscow, all these things stink of new spheres of influence.
Yet as stated, that’s just part of the backdrop. The goal of the summit was not to wrangle with catch-all diplomatic differences, rather simply to agree to new terms regarding energy provisions. As quoted in El Mundo, Sergei Prijodko, a Kremlin advisor for international affairs, said, speaking of their common goal of signing a new contract, “Our optimistic prognosis is to have the document ready by the end of the year.” The article goes on:
[Prijodko] indicated that Moscow would like to edit ‘as soon as possible’ the new agreement to take the place of the current one, which will come to term by year’s end, but he also admitted that differences yet persist between Moscow and Brussels regarding the document’s format and content.
Nonetheless, the ‘persistent differences’ between Moscow and Brussels that make ‘simply agreeing’ on a mutually beneficial energy pact problematic stem from a prodigious tinderbox of related factors: Europe imports 42% of its gas supplies from Russia; the pipelines that supply it run through Ukraine; some of Europe’s flow was cut off in January thanks to alleged Ukrainian delinquency; Ukraine denies its delinquency, citing instead a deep reluctance to pay higher prices; Europe knows it’s risky to take sides too decisively but can’t risk losing those supplies; Moscow knows it’s risky to react too menacingly but can’t risk not showing its mettle.
The laundry list could go on and on. And on and on. And on and on. On the Orient Express, no less.
All the way to Khabarovsk, that is, located in essentially the easternmost area of Russia. All the way at the Chinese border. All the way over there.
Over there, to wit, where another enormous market lives. One that, like Russia, has its own quibbles with the EU. One that, like Russia, is keeping close tabs.
So as Romanophone Moldovans carrying Romanian passports flock to Europe to study at different universities and frequent different techno clubs, and as Moldova feels increasingly ‘annexed’ while Russophone Moldovans feel increasingly left out, might not Russia begin to see this, too, like the Eastern Partnership Initiative, as ‘anti-Russian’? Might not Russia wield its might by once more stemming, or at least threatening to stem, its pipes?
Maybe not in so many words, but developments along such lines might have China looking over and glimpsing all kinds of oily happy endings on the horizon.
And if you don’t find that amusing, perhaps this Gazprom propaganda film will be good for a laugh. Particularly at 00:45, when the singer himself laughs. Or at 1:09–1:14, when the oil company reminds us that sometimes huge, beautiful fires blaze in the middle of endlessly snowy, wooded plains. Or at 2:35, when the Gazprom dramatic ending kicks in with ‘regulatory’ raised hands, followed by many scenes of scheming old men and awkward handshakes before transitioning into yet another blazing fire that merges into a Tarkovsky-worthy setting, or perhaps rising, sun.
And if all that still leaves you bored, how about a summer program in Chisinau?