After the outbreak of the February Revolution in Petrograd in 1917 and the collapse of the Russian Empire, the Romanians in Bessarabia sought their way to self-determination by creating local bodies that would provide them with autonomy at the very least, if not independence.
One after the other, local political parties were established, and nationwide congresses were held by teachers, priests, peasants and soldiers. Moreover, on November 21st / December 4th, the Council of the Country, where all the nationalities, religious confessions and political parties in Bessarabia were represented, also held its first session. On December 2nd/15th, the Country Council adopts a Declaration proclaiming the Moldavian Democratic Republic, which will join the Russian Federative Republic, “as a shareholder with the same rights”.
However, the autonomy of Bessarabia, was under increasing threat. Retreating Russian soldiers provoked serious disturbances, the Bolsheviks were trying to seize power, and the Ukrainian Rada (the Parliament in Kiev) also had territorial claims on Bessarabia. Faced with these dangers, the Council of the Country had to act as quickly as possible. At the beginning of January 1918, the Bolsheviks intensified their activities, causing great destruction and committed a number of killings, launching a series of open attacks on the authorities of the newly proclaimed Moldavian Democratic Republic. Under these conditions, the members of the Council of the Country requested the intervention of the Romanian Armed Forces.
The Romanian Army crosses the Prut
Romania’s decision to intervene for the restoration of order, to defend communication routes and most importantly to protect the population of Bessarabia was approved by representatives of the Allied Powers, including Russian General Sherbaev, commander of the Russian troops in Romania. On the evening of January 13th/26th, 1918, the Romanian troops commanded by General Broşteanu made their entry into the city of Chișinău, with the Bolsheviks leaving in a panic. On the 15th of January, the Commander of the 11th Infantry Division and his General Staff attended one of the Councils meetings, marking the official reception of the Romanian Army by the authorities in Chișinău, during which General Broşteanu declared: “Shape your life as you see fit and no one will meddle in it. In ordering it, we will not stop you.”
Until the beginning of March, the Romanian Army established order in almost all of the Bessarabia. The entry of the Romanian troops into the Moldavian Democratic Republic was done at the repeated requests of the Moldavian authorities and it was not unique in this part of Europe in early 1918. There have been other interventions in the fight against the Bolsheviks, several newly constituted states from the former Russian Empire, including the Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine, requesting military assistance to the German troops.
The Bolshevik Government of Petrograd had quickly “forgotten” the principle and slogan it promoted with a lot of energy on the right of the nations of the former Russian Empire to “self-determination, going in so far as to the state’s separation” and broke relations with Romania and with the authorities of the Moldavian Democratic Republic and also confiscated Romania’s treasury which was sent to Moscow for safekeeping a couple of years earlier.
The events that followed greatly threatened the Moldavian Democratic Republic. The former Russian Empire breaking apart, the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence and the breakdown of relations with the new Russian government forced the authorities in Chisinau to take a stance if they did not want to be annexed by another state. After extensive debates involving various circles and political figures from the Republic, the Council of the Country proclaimed independence on the 24th of January 1918 with an unanimity of votes (on this date, but in 1859, the Moldavian Principality of which Bessarabia was a part of until its annexation by the Russian Empire, united with Wallachia, creating Romania).
The Parliament of the Moldavian Democratic Republic drew attention to the following: “The declaration of independence is conditioned by the political moment, because at present the Moldavian Republic has no place from where to wait for the arrangement of its life, and the peoples of the Republic must know that their future destiny depends only on them and that it can only be decided by the Supreme Body of the Country, the Council of the Country, and the government it appoints, the Council of Ministers.”
The Declaration highlights four fundamental tasks of the internal and external policy of the new independent state: “In its outward policy, the independent Republic of Moldavia will pursue the restoration of public, democratic peace as soon as possible, in agreement with all those accompanying. In its internal policy, the independent Republic of Moldavia, guarantying full rights to all nations, will continue with the strengthening of all the liberties gained through the revolution and proclaimed by the Declaration of the Council of the Country on the 2nd of December 1917. In particular, the Council of the Country and the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Moldavia will call the People’s Assembly for the Founding of the Moldavian Republic on the basis of its collective voice that will fully decide on the Constitution of the country and its ties of union with other countries if the good of the people will demand it. Until the Union with Romania there was only one step left!
Henri Prost, Destinul României: (1918-1954), Compania Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006.
Paul Cernovodeanu, Basarabia: drama unei provincii istorice românești în context politic internațional : (1806-1920), Albatros Publishing Company, Bucharest, 1993.
Ștefan Ciobanu, Unirea Basarabiei: studiu și documente cu privire la mișcarea națională din Basarabia în anii 1917-1918, Alfa Publishing House, Iași, 2001.
Nicolae Ciachir, Basarabia sub stapînire ţaristă: (1812-1917), Editura Didactică și Pedagogică, Bucharest, 1992.