The Very Rev. Justinian, ruling bishop of Transdniestria, comments on the recent referendum in Transdniestria, in which an overwhelming majority in this unrecognized republic voted for independence with subsequent incorporation in Russia, in an interview to Interfax-Religion.
- Your Grace, how would you comment on the results of the Transdniestria referendum in which 97% of the local population voted for incorporation in Russia?
- We have to recognize the people’s self-expression and will revealed in the official referendum. The voting in Transdniestria was monitored by many independent observers not only from Russia but also from the far-abroad countries, such as Belgium and France, of which I was a witness. These observers cannot be suspected of having been engaged in any way by the Transdniestria leaders or any pursuit of personal profit. Therefore, they can be relied upon for objectivity. I myself, having no observers of my own at the polls as a bishop, have to accept that the procedure was normal, and this conclusion is sealed by the authority of international observers.
The Church, naturally, is for making the will of her people known. I do not want to refer here to the slogan ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God’, since the voice and opinion of the people can be often warmed up by unreasonable emotions. However, it is always useful to find out people’s opinion expressed in a peaceful situation.
It is another matter that the results of the referendum have not played, to my mind, any special role this or that way. The referendum cannot be said to be an epoch-making event for us to change something in our life. As citizens of Transdniestria, my clergy and I do not forget that we are at the same time clerics of the Metropolitanate of Kishinev and Moldavia, which is part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
- Can we say that the referendum’s outcome was predictable for you?
- On the whole, yes. Most of our people live in cities, and I am aware of their sentiments. It is natural that Transdniestria should cast its lot with Russia. It also involves relations with relatives and possibility for people to come out to Russia for a search of work, which they have failed to find here. Most of the people still feel drawn to Russia, of course.
It is true not only for people of Russian origin, but also Moldavians, because it is more easy and natural for Moldavians to deal with Russians. For the older generation Moldavians, the word ‘Romanian’ is a common noun, a synonym of certain self-interest, as those who lived here under the Romanians in the period from the 1930s to 1940s remember the attitude the Romanian gendarmes had towards them. It is not at all a funny story when a Romanian gendarme would put his cap on a stick and force Moldavian peasants coming from the field to bow before it. I heard these words from older Moldavians: ‘We know only too well how it is to eat bread from the Romanian hand’. Therefore, the local sentiments here were prepared already in the 1920s-1930s by Romanians’ arrogant attitude to their Bessarabian brothers.
Now Romania will have to show much love and sympathy to demonstrate that it has changed and that Moldova, if it joins Romania, will not be taken for a backward part of their great state. This, to my mind, is a great internal problem.
- It sounds that prospects for incorporation in Romania still remain a relevant issue for the Transdniestrian citizens?
- If Moldova proves that it is a sovereign state which will by no means join any pro-Western bloc and never merge with Romania, then there is a point in speaking about a common state. In this case, I would stress it, I express the stand of an ordinary Transdniestrian.
But unfortunately, I can testify that Kishinev has failed to offer any political guarantees for Transdniestria’s self-determination in case Moldova would suddenly desire to unite with Romania. I believe this is indicative, though I am told: Your Grace, how can you even think we are contemplating union with Romania? But if it really so, why wouldn’t they seal it in an official document then? If the major part of Moldova led by Kishenev is going to Romania, Transdniestria will have to be given the right to self-determination. But as I look at the long-standing negotiations on this matter, I see no guarantees fixed.
- How you think will the situation develop in Transdniestria, considering the results of the referendum?
- In this situation, in my view, the Russian Foreign Ministry has taken a very correct stand. Its leader, as far as could understand from his interview, stated that Russia’s attitude to the referendum is very calm and that this event gives ever more reasons for the both sides to come to the negotiation table. That is to say, Russia’s stand is that negotiations are needed. Talks are needed to make Kishinev look more soberly at the aspirations of the Transdniestrian people and realize that it has to talk with people who have expressed their opinion in this way. But if Kishinev looks only West, then Transdniestria, I am sorry to say so, will look only East.