Romanian lands: at the crossroads of forgotten Europe

Monastery un Bukovina

          The visits, at the end of its European Presidency, of the President of the French Republic to Romania and Moldova as well as to Ukraine in the company of the German Chancellor, the Italian Prime Minister and the Romanian President for the latter destination, cannot be dissociated, but the different stages also have their specificity. If the Romanian lands have indeed become the western flank of a major conflict, it was also time that they were considered for themselves. 

If not too late, at least why?

The President of the Republic, who has exchanged on the phone in recent months for dozens of hours with his Russian counterpart and is in contact with all the actors of the current war, has data that we are deprived of and, in carrying out a responsibility that he does not share with regard to the prerogatives of his office, we must respect his approach. Nevertheless, the mission to Kiev, the capital where he had made a stopover on his return from Moscow before the conflict to meet with President Zelensky, seems to have been postponed for too long. We cannot say “too late!” but surely “finally!”. Fortunately, the Head of State was preceded in the Ukrainian capital by the visit of Catherine Colonna, minister of Foreign affairs, who also visited Boucha.

The European team, to be singular and quite unusual for a diplomatic démarche by associating a country of the North of Europe, two countries of the South and a State of the East of Europe, clearly expressed a message which is that of the search for a diplomatic way beyond fierce fighting. It should be noted that it was Mrs Colonna, the Minister of Foreign affairs who accompanied the President of the Republic and not the Minister of Defence. France, which has rarely abandoned any dialogue with Russia, is not however in the same position as Germany and Italy, which are seeking by all means to break the deadlock in which they find themselves because of their energy dependence on their eastern supplies.

It was time for the European Presidency to go to Kiev and the fact that France was accompanied does not reduce the scope of the assertion of a European leadership by the Member States. There is an old debate on the respective prerogatives of the Member States and the Commission, and it is clear that Mrs Ursula von der Leyen had already visited Ukraine twice during the conflict.

The late delivery of the troika extended to Romania on Ukrainian soil had the disadvantage of clearly marking a break within Europe in the way of dealing with the ongoing crisis. Warsaw and the capitals of the Baltic States will not fail to consider that possibly « using trickery » is not the right approach against a Russia that has long dominated them and from which they expect nothing anymore. 

The French «at the same time» risks concentrating in itself the criticism after incomprehensible and sometimes even misappropriated declarations. If the French intellectual tradition is that of the « middle ground » in the sense of the seventeenth century, it should in reality mean the search for a synthesis on which we try to elaborate and build and not a permanent pendular movement.

The only way to overcome these difficulties was to make a trip to Kiev that was not symbolic but rather a concrete commitment, in the absence of a real plan to get out of the crisis, even if it was delayed in its implementation. In addition, the Romanian and Moldovan preliminary stages, by marking a clear support to countries concerned about Russia, will have had the merit of giving a more balanced coloration of the diplomatic maneuver. 

This last condition will have finally been fulfilled with the commitment of the Four in favor of an immediate status of candidate to the European Union for Ukraine, on which the Commission and the Member States will have to decide before the end of the month. On the French side, the deliveries of additional mobile Césars howitzers (NB: 6 added to 12), taken from national stocks which are not considerable (72) taking into account France’s external military commitments, constituted a strong gesture.

With the exception of the unfortunate word “humiliation”, which has greatly offended Ukrainians in particular in the face of appalling aggression, the President of the Republic affirmed a consistent line: to stand by Ukraine as long as necessary; promote a negotiation process if Kiev so decides; work immediately, if not to lift out, at least to circumvent the grain blockade of Ukraine and this is where Romania’s role and the presence of its President Klaus Iohannis in Kiev makes sense. 

Latin lands and fierce resistance

We must not reduce the presence of the French Head of State in the capitals of the so-called Danube and Balkan Europe to the sole war in Ukraine. The presence in Romania and Moldova had a value in itself because the history of the Romanian world is a lesson for the very contemporary period.

We all too often forget that Romania has been a member of the European Union since 2007, as it has also been in NATO since 2004. It is in this context that France has just given it military support by positioning some of its soldiers on the forward base Mihail Kogālniceanu, named after a great statesman. Moldova, whose remarkable President Maia Sandu has been received in Paris on several occasions, is also destined to be part of Europe, in parallel with the accession process, As the President of the Republic sees it, he outlined in his speech in Strasbourg on 9 May. 

Romanian lands are primarily Latin lands. Romania was born in History as a border march, as the Dacia of the Emperor Trajan whose story appears on the colonnade located near the Forum of Rome and its replica commemorating Austerlitz on the Place Vendôme in Paris. She thus embodied at the outset the human rampart of Latinity against the assaults of the peoples of the steppe. The Slavic invasions of the 6th-9th centuries had the strength of numbers but lacked a political organization as Rome had established. It will be, after a century in the Pax romana, submerged for ten centuries by hordes coming from Asia, occupied, shared or distributed for five centuries between the powers and Great Empires (Magyars sometimes served by monastic orders such as the knights of the Teutonic Order; Ottomans between the 15th and 17th centuries; Austro-Hungarian after the lifting of the siege of Vienna in 1683) whose interests opposed the Danube. Romania straddles the Carpathian Arch and is bordered to the South by the Danube, which flourishes in a majestic delta, today beyond a port of Galati that has become eminently strategic.

Historians have estimated that it was thanks to the « immolation of the Balkans and the Eastern Slavs » that Western civilization was able to continue in Western Europe. But the country will have found in this heroic journey the consciousness of its national unity whose most emblematic figure will have been Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) in the fifteenth century who, from submission to the Hungarians and Poles, made an exceptional cultural Renaissance in Moldova whose monasteries with exterior painted facades bear witness. 

This blossoming of the nation was also forged thanks to France in respect of its Christian tradition (NB: part of its so-called “Uniate” Church, in a country dominated by orthodoxy, will even be linked to Rome), its language and the development of its culture. The message of the «Greater Romania», the country’s largest territorial extension at the end of the First World War, was that of Western civilization, on the Black Sea, at the Crossroads of the Dead Empires, to use the title of a work by Lucien Romier written almost a century ago. 

Falling to the East, like Dacia trajane, in the clash of the two irreconcilable ideologies of the Cold War, she was able to resist again – under eastern influence being administered under the Ottomans by the Greeks of Constantinople and western by the Magyars and Germans of Transylvania – and to be a trublion of the European socialist camp under the leadership of Nicolae Ceausescu, whose audacity must not be forgotten. It even relied on China by playing on the strong Sino-Soviet tensions, from the end of the 1960s. Romania knows what unity and independence mean, which has been fully asserted today in a European Union which is not a hindrance for it but a necessary framework and support for its development and progress.

A message from the Romanian lands

The message of the Romanian lands brings us back to our own identity, that of the Latinity inherited from Rome and that of Europe that remains that of the Enlightenment. A similar message rises from the neighbouring Slavic world, in Ukraine, where Kiev is, if not a new Rome, at least a Constantinople struggling foot by foot against invasions and striving to push back a fatal outcome in favour of a whole that surpasses it. 

If it were Midnight Doctor Schweitzer to recognize and honor this part of Europe, it was good to address directly to these lands of civilization a message of recognition and solidarity. But Kiev, Bucharest and Chisinau ask us fundamental questions: is the message of the Romanian lands really ours? Is Kiev compatible with Romania and Moldova?

Europe’s relationship with the Russian world is a centuries-old process. But the resistance was also in the Danube region, and beyond in the Dnieper and Dniester. area. The true message or DNA that has never been lost in these Romanian lands, which we have neglected for too long, is that of a great Roman country, which was contemporary in particular of the Emperor Hadrian, successor of Trajan in the 1st century. Marguerite Yourcenar gave us the Memoirs of a scholar, a philosopher, determined to put an end to an expansionist policy, to pacify and build, even if it is within borders that remain porous. 

  (Published on 19 June 2022 on 

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