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One in three Moldovans hold Romanian citizenship

Updated: Dec 11, 2018

The Future Citizen Institute has written on a number of occasions on the acquisition of a nationality of a Member State of the EU by non-EU Member State nationals. The case of Moldova seems to have stayed under the radar, but has reportedly resulted in the acquisition of Romanian citizenship by almost 1 million Moldovans over the last ten years. In Moldova, as explained by Eleanor Knott, ‘a majority of residents can acquire (or reacquire) Romanian citizenship by virtue of being descended from former Romania citizens’. In her paper which draws on dozens of interviews she conducted with ordinary Moldovans, Knott stresses the significance of the ‘legitimate dimension’ for explaining ‘how individuals might frame Romanian citizenship in Moldova as a right to be recovered, irrespective of the strategic value or identity-bearing role of Romanian citizenship’.

Romania has adopted a contested policy which grants former nationals and their descendants living outside the state’s borders the right to reacquire its nationality. Romania was established in 1859 through the union of Moldova and Wallachia and was subject to Ottoman rule until 1878. After the First World War, Romania almost doubled in size and population through the incorporation of a number of former Austrian-Hungarian territories as well as Bessarabia.

During the Second World War, however, Romania suffered major territorial losses: Northwestern Transylvania had to be ceded to Hungary and Southern Dobrogea to Bulgaria; the provinces of Bessarabia (which would become the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic) and Northern Bukovina (which later became part of the Ukraine) were occupied by the Soviets.

After the Second World War, Romania would be under Communist rule until 1989. It is obvious that the frequent change of Romanian borders created substantial groups of co-ethnics living in neighbouring countries. When the communist regime collapsed, Romania was eager to resume ties with the Romanian diaspora and kin-minorities abroad and it adopted a policy aimed at facilitating the reacquisition of Romanian nationality. Under the reacquisition policy of the early 1990s, requests for reacquisition could be sent by post. It was thus possible for descendants of former nationals to ‘reacquire’ Romanian nationality without ever travelling to the country. What is more, renunciation of the original nationality was not required.

The upshot of this policy, which was at least partly inspired by nationalist motivations aimed at symbolically undoing the loss of territory during the Second World War, was the creation of a group of ‘non-resident dual citizens living in neighbouring countries’. The main beneficiaries of the Romanian reacquisition regime are the inhabitants of Moldova and some provinces in the Ukraine, and to a lesser extent ethnic Romanians in Hungary and Bulgaria. The reacquisition policy led to massive (re)naturalisations of Moldovans in the years 1991-2001. After 2001, the process of restitution considerably slowed down for two reasons. First, there were simply too many applications. Second, the reacquisition policy was criticised by EU agencies because it could become ‘an uncontrollable gate of access to the Schengen Space for non-EU citizens, bypassing restrictive immigration policies’. At the same time, it is worth noting that the European Commission stated in the past that the reacquisition policy is an internal matter for Romania.

While the reacquisition policy became much more restrictive in 2003, the restrictive amendments were subsequently revoked in 2007 and the restoration of Romanian nationality was again facilitated through a simplified procedure. According to a report by Constantin Iordachi from 2009, the process of restitution of Romanian citizenship to former citizens from Moldova and the Ukraine was by then fully resumed and he estimated that 30,000 restorations into Romanian nationality would be granted each year.

In 2018, it appears that actual numbers have been much higher, with almost a third of the Moldovan population having now acquired Romanian nationality. It is unclear how many ‘ethnic Romanians’ from other neighbouring (EU Member State) countries have meanwhile also reacquired Romanian nationality.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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