The story of the "Romanian gold from Russia"; and Basarabia, Moldova's bleeding wound

March 17, 2024 by Lucian Mogosanu

Recently, Russian statesman Dmitry Medvedev slammed Romania's restitution claims regarding the latter's treasury deposit in 1916 Russia. Also, much to the distress of my fellow citizens, he claimed that Romania is not really a nation, but a... anyway, let's hear it from the source (archived):

По словам политика, "румын, как известно, не нация, а образ жизни".


Политик заявил, что золото было национализировано в 1918 году советскими властями " за плохое поведение" Румынии. СССР, заявил Медведев, отказался платить по долгам Российской империи, а "Румыния это приняла". По итогам Второй мировой войны Москва в свою очередь не стала требовать репарации за действия Бухареста во время его "нацистского периода".

I'll leave the detailed translation to the voracious reader. He says many other things besides these two quotes, but frankly speaking I don't really care what Medvedev thinks about, say, the EU, so I'll move past that. In the first quote, he says that Romanians, "as we all know", aren't a nation, but "a lifestyle", paraphrasing Hruschev's quote from the early 1960s that "the мамалыжник1 aren't a nation, but a whore". For what it's worth I think he's right for the most part, it's not like Romania has had any external policy of its own in the last decade. Otherwise sure, the lack of sympathy is entirely mutual and I'm sure the Romanian propaganda is addressing this issue as I'm writing these very words, even if it won't amount to much.

The second quote however constitutes the meat of this article: he claims that the USSR confiscated Romania's treasure as "punishment" for its "bad behaviour", which is a direct allusion to what they saw -- and to what Russians still see -- as the Romanian annexation of Basarabia in early 1918. I thought this was clearly addressed in 2012 by the Romanian president at the time2, but it seems that our Russian not-quite-neighbours-yet view things differently. So let us try to clear this up.

Before we begin talking about this entity called "Basarabia", or "Bessarabia", in all honesty we need to discuss the historical region of Moldova, which was founded in the fourteenth century by a voivode from Maramureș3, whose primary aim was establishing an outpost across the Eastern Carpathians to defend Hungary against Tatar incursions. As it grew, this region extended (say, during Petru Rareș' time) from the Eastern Carpathians in the west to the Dniester and the Black Sea in the east; as well as from the same Dniester in the north to the towns of Focșani, Galați and the Danube in the south. These borders varied in time, especially due to the fact that Moldova neighbored the Ottoman Empire in the southeast, but also due to Polish interference in the north. Note that at no point during this medieval history did Russia have any say in the matters of this region.

"Bessarabia", the region between the Prut and the Dniester -- in fact a misnomer of Basarabia, named after the Romanian Basarab dynasty, the same region known today as Bugeac -- is a Russian creation from the nineteenth century, following the 1812 peace at Manuc's Inn, to be more precise. In any case, that region was Romanian in its majority, despite continuous efforts of russification, a russification not so different from today's ukrainization of Donbass.

Anyway, the point is that by 1917, Bessarabia was still hosting Romanians as a majority of its population. If I recall correctly, 1917 was a pretty bad year for Russia, and in short, Nikolai II's abdication would force a reorganisation which would make Bessarabia's territory a target for both Russian and Ukrainian interests4, with the Ukrainians fighting their war of independence at the time. So in this pretty bleak context, our fellow Romanians from across the Prut asked the (younger) Romania at the time for help and... what could we do? We had a historical duty towards our Romanians in Bessarabia and we followed up on it, since we had serious doubts that the dissolved Russian Empire and the USSR that folllowed it were able to ensure the security of that territory. Does this sound in any way familiar?

In all this discussion about Moldova, there remains the delicate issue of Transnistria, which, as the name clearly delineates, lies across the Dniester. This is area also the consequence of Soviet policy and I'm not sure how Romanians could make any claims there -- and thus it would be in the best interests of the Moldovan state to actually let them go if they wish any "EU integration", as they call it. This is a pretty sad situation indeed, as some Western EU countries would definitely like to stir some shit there, so in a certain sense, a great burden lies on Romania's shoulders today, one which it has not deemed to correct during its short window of opportunity since 1989.

As to the treasure, we should at least recognize that the Russians restituted parts of it in the twentieth century and in 2008, as a sign of good will towards Romanians, or at the very least as much good will as Russia can muster. Since Romanians haven't showed much good will themselves since then, I'll take this "Romanian" move as a pretext to put more Russian wealth into EU coffers.

And now at least we understand what Russian statesman Medvedev dislikes so much about Romanians... not that anyone around these parts cares.

  1. "Mămăligari", in Romanian. Not sure how this translates to English. 

  2. Băsescu. 

  3. Yes, that one

  4. I suppose a more detalied account of Basarabia's story can be found in this article (archived) on the interwebs. 

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4 Responses to “The story of the "Romanian gold from Russia"; and Basarabia, Moldova's bleeding wound”

  1. #1:
    spyked says:

    And just as a coda: after WW2 Romania provided war restitutions to all the parties involved -- yes, including Germany. The Soviets only sat in Romania until 1958, a time during which they extracted everything they could through SovRoms. So let's not even go there.

  2. #2:
    Cel Mihanie says:

    > our Russian not-quite-neighbours-yet

    Haha, brilliant! :D

    > "Mămăligari", in Romanian. Not sure how this translates to English

    Polenta-eaters? Polentists?

    > after WW2 Romania provided war restitutions to all the parties involved

    If I were to be mean, and I am, I'd say Romania provided the ultimate in war restitutions. The whole freakin' country was unofficially sold off to foreign interests, which is why, as you say, we haven't had any policy of our own for quite some time, neither external nor internal.

  3. #3:
    spyked says:

    Well it might sound like a truism, but that's what nationalism is all about in the end, isn't it? practically speaking "it's about" whose interests prevail at the end of the day.

    Let's leave our little country aside for a moment and move our mind's eye towards the core of the empire, the US and A: is it in their national interest to leave their southern border open to allcomers? and is it state policy to keep things as they are? well... I mean, each of these things definitely serves *some* interests, but I don't believe these have anything to do with anything as abstract as a "nation". American nowadays aren't a nation anymore, they're a population. Just like just about every Western peoples in existence. While the East, well, that's a whole other story.

    The times of nations have now gone from the West and while the sad remains struggle to remain relevant, the world is being restructured into a feudal conglomerate which actually never went away. The modern state as an entity just came and went, as they say, or rather, it's just a tool nowadays.

  4. #4:
    spyked says:

    And with ^ this, I suppose that the pantsuits finally got what they wanted: a world devoid of non-determinism, where each and every single human activity has a recipe available at your local ChatGPT store.

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