The current territory of the Republic of Moldova was invaded by the Ottoman Empire in the Middle Ages and by the Russian Empire and Soviet Union from the modern to contemporary eras. This young Eastern European country finally achieved its independence in 1991. Toshio Motoya spoke with His Excellency Dr. Vasile Bumacov, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Republic of Moldova to Japan, about his country’s European integration aspirations, as well as little-known historical episodes from when the Republic of Moldova was part of the former Soviet Union, including the atrocities caused by Joseph Stalin’s man-made famine and Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You have come to two of my Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan events and also attended the Shoheijuku school. I’ve wanted to invite you on Big Talk for some time, and my wish has finally been fulfilled.
(B) I look forward to talking with you today.
(M) The Republic of Moldova is a young country that became independent in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I heard the first Moldovan Tokyo-based embassy was opened in 2016. Are you the first ambassador?
(B) Yes, I am very proud to be the first ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to Japan. In my long career at Moldova State Agrarian University, where I was originally a professor of mechanical engineering, and later in various functions of the Government of the Republic of Moldova, including during my tenure as minister of agriculture and food industry, I continually asserted that we should open an embassy in Japan.
(M) Why did you think a Moldovan embassy in Japan was needed?
(B) The Republic of Moldova is a country where agriculture plays an important role in the economy, particularly our fame for the production of high-quality grapes. Since 2000, I continuously worked in various projects related to the Official Development Assistance provided by the Japanese government, and I was confident that a technologically advanced nation such as Japan would be an extremely valuable partner for the Republic of Moldova. Japan was also one of the first countries to recognize Moldova’s independence in December 1991, and it provided efficient support for Moldova’s growth afterwards totaling 150 million USD. Our joint values of democracy, market economy, and rule of law are a milestone in our bilateral dialogue nowadays. That is another reason why I was arguing in favor of opening the Moldovan embassy in Tokyo.
(M) Many Japanese bureaucrats and politicians graduated from universities and departments in the humanities, mainly the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law. I get the impression there are many politicians and ambassadors with scientific backgrounds in socialist nations or those with socialist histories. I think people who study politics and the economy under a socialist structure cannot help but feel doubts about the system, which is why talented people choose to study the sciences.
(B) Your guess is quite correct. My father reviled socialism and was thrilled that I chose to major in engineering, which is useful in free nations as well as socialist countries. I wouldn’t understand Japan’s fantastic achievements so well if I hadn’t studied the technology field. Having in mind my experience, along with the special personal relationships that I have developed with the Japanese people, I felt honored to accept the proposal to serve as the first ambassador to Japan.
(M) Did some people question the country’s policies even during the Soviet era?
(B) Yes, my family did not buy into the ideologies. However, back then there were fervent adherents of Marxism and Leninism, and today there are still people in Moldova and other former Soviet countries who are convinced that socialism is the best political system.
(M) Japanese people don’t know much about Moldova. Where is it located?
(B) The Republic of Moldova is conveniently located in the Eastern European region, being a landlocked country bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, south, and east. It is slightly smaller than Kyushu and has a population of roughly 3.5 million people, many of whom are Orthodox Christians.
(M) I heard you speak Romanian.
(B) The Republic of Moldova is one of the countries on the European continent where you can hear many languages being spoken by its citizens. We do speak Romanian, which is the official language of the country, and many people speak multiple languages based on their ethnic background, such as Ukrainian, Gagauz, Russian, Bulgarian, and Polish as well as foreign languages that are taught at school: English, French, German, Spanish, and others. It is worth mentioning that in the past few years the popularity of the Japanese language has risen, and it can be learned at the Foundation for Moldovan-Japanese Relations opened at Moldova State University. As far as the Romanian language is concerned, the brief history is similar to other major European languages. When Germany was unified in the 19th century, the various German languages were integrated into a single language. The same thing happened with Spanish, Italian, and Romanian.
(M) I’d like to hear a bit about Moldova’s history. I’ve heard you share a language and ethnic group with Romania, so why are the two countries separate?
(B) Romania and the modern Republic of Moldova have a close common heritage of political, economic, cultural, and social cohesion. The principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were formed in the 14th century where these two countries exist today. Resolute fights were waged against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century by Vlad III (“Vlad the Impaler,” who inspired the story of Count Dracula) of Wallachia and Stephen III of Moldavia. These two men are regarded as heroes in Romania and the Republic of Moldova. However, both principalities came under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. Afterwards the Ottoman Empire declined and the Russo-Turkish War was fought, which brought Bessarabia in eastern Moldavia under Russian imperial rule in 1812. The historic province of Bessarabia, part of which is currently in Ukraine, resembles more or less the territory of the Republic of Moldova. At that time, the Russian Empire had two great ambitions in its policy of moving south. The first was to pass through the Bosphorus to the Mediterranean Sea. The second was to move into the Indian Ocean. Bessarabia was an important base for the first of these goals. The remaining principalities of Moldovia and Wallachia were integrated in 1859, creating the principality of Romania. After, the Kingdom of Romania – then a monarchy – at one point integrated Bessarabia in 1918, which had become independent, but later Bessarabia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. Bessarabia was temporarily returned to Romania and then annexed again by the Soviet Union in 1944 and renamed the “Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.” On August 27, 1991, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova adopted the Declaration of Independence. It recalled how in recent years the democratic national liberation movement of the population of the Republic of Moldova reaffirmed its aspirations for freedom, independence, and national unity, expressed in the final documents of the Great National Reunion of Chişinău on August 27, 1989, December 16, 1990, and August 27, 1991, as well as laws and decisions of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova concerning the laws reintroducing Romanian as the state language and the Latin alphabet on August 31, 1989, the state flag on April 27, 1990, the state emblem on November 3, 1990. and the change of the official name of the republic on May 23, 1991.
(M) That’s quite a complex history.
(B) Yes, the territory of the Republic of Moldova was always in turmoil due to its closeness to many empires, such as the Ottoman Empire in the Middle Ages, Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union in the modern era.
(M) Moldova was a Soviet territory during World War II. Did Moldovans fight as Soviet soldiers against Nazi Germany?
(B) The Soviet Union invaded Bessarabia in 1940 according to a secret deal concluded along with the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed by Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov and German Minister for Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop.
(M) Is Romania a former United Nations (UN) enemy state like Japan?
(B) Romania fought as an Axis power to regain Bessarabia and other territories from the Soviet Union. However, the Soviet Union stepped up its invasions and over two million people were killed by the Soviet Army in Romania and Bessarabia. Michael I of Romania, who ascended the throne in 1944, brought about the Romanian Revolution, broke Romania away from the Axis powers, and changed sides to the Allies. That was the only way to protect the country.
(M) I see. So Romania was an allied nation, and Moldova was a Soviet territory, at the end of World War II.
(B) Yes, but the atrocities continued. In 1933, a man-made, systematic famine occurred in Ukraine (then a Soviet territory), and eight million people died of starvation. In the same way, the Red Army confiscated all grain in Moldova from 1946 to 1947, and 300,000 people – roughly 10% of the population – starved to death.
(M) I didn’t know that happened after the war. What was the purpose of this famine?
(B) Joseph Stalin wanted to make Moldova and other countries obey in order to build a homogenous Soviet Union. Honest patriots turned in all of their food and starved to death. People who resisted were sent to concentration camps in Siberia. Only the dishonest people who concealed food were able to survive.
(M) I knew of the man-made famine in Ukraine, but I hadn’t heard of the one in Moldova. At one point, China temporarily exported huge quantities of agricultural produce harvested by its farmers to Hungary and other Eastern European countries. Mao Zedong was imitating Stalin and trying to become the leader of a socialist country. However, this exploitation resulted in a vast number of Chinese people starving to death.
(B) I am currently writing a book about the experiences that I have had along with my family, and one of the chapters touches upon the organized famine in Moldova.
(M) China is rapidly sending Han Chinese to Inner Mongolia, East Turkestan, Tibet, and other autonomous regions to assimilate them. Did something similar happen in the Soviet Union? Were people forced to speak Russian, and was Christianity forbidden because it cannot exist with socialism?
(B) No matter which country it was ruled by, people living in the territory of the Republic of Moldova constantly strove for independence and maintained its unique culture. Moldovans were forced to learn Russian, including the written language, but we did not lose our Romanian language. As for religion, many churches were closed or put under KGB surveillance during the Soviet era. There was one church in every village, but these were turned into agricultural chemical or chemical storehouses. However, my mother and many other people maintained their faith during that time. The importance of these churches was re-examined at the end of the Soviet era.
(M) Now that Romania and Moldova are independent, is there a movement to unite the two countries again?
(B) Of course, this is always under discussion. I feel the number of people in favor of unification is increasing each year.
(M) Romania is already a member of the European Union (EU), but Moldova isn’t. Perhaps if Moldova joined the EU, there would be no need to integrate the two countries.
(B) Some people feel that way. The Moldovan government is firmly determined to realize the reforms and the Association Agreement with the EU. The political messages are important for our society, as it strengthens the trust within the European sector. It is enough for Moldova to oscillate between East and West. The main target of this government is to make the European route of Moldova irreversible, and we try to do this through reforms.
(M) Russia once again believes in chauvinism, and it stole away and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Even now, skirmishes are continuing in Ukraine between the government and pro-Russian faction. I don’t think this would have happened if Ukraine were in the EU. Russia would not move on countries that are clear EU members, but it may advance into countries for which this membership is vague. Is the Russian threat felt in Moldova, which is next to Ukraine and was also a Soviet territory?
(B) As you are aware, the Republic of Moldova is dealing with its breakaway region called Transnistria, whose unconstitutional authorities are receiving a great deal of support from Russian politicians. As for the Transnistrian conflict settlement, the Government of the Republic of Moldova has reconfirmed the importance of the process of five-plus-two negotiations (Moldova, Transnistria, OSCE, Ukraine, Russia + EU, and the United States), in which the Moldovan side is determined to continue sustained efforts in order to identify a comprehensive and lasting solution through providing a special status to the Transnistrian region, by observing Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. At the same time, Moldova remains deeply concerned about the illegal, continuous presence of foreign military troops in its territory. We firmly reiterate our demand for the full withdrawal of the Russian military forces from Moldova, in line with the international commitments and provisions of Moldova’s Constitution. Also, we reiterated the request to start pertinent discussions on transforming the present peacekeeping operation into a civilian mission with an international mandate. Despite these circumstances, Moldova is constantly working to build a positive relationship with Russia. Today the world does not permit territorial expansion through military force like in the past, and more than protecting territory it is increasingly important to safeguard one’s society, language, and culture.
(M) Moldova must quickly join the EU to protect its culture. I think Japan would support Moldova’s membership in the EU.
(B) I am very happy to hear that from you, as well as from various Japanese officials in Tokyo and Chişinău. The support from the Japanese side for the European integration of the Republic of Moldova is an investment in joint values that both of our democracies share.
(M) Demonstrating clear intentions is essential for diplomacy. China has engaged in various provocative acts in the East China Sea exactly because the U.S. declared that the Senkaku Islands are within the range of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, but China has not exercised military force.
(B) I agree that clear intentions and decisions are important in diplomacy. Wars were been unceasing in Europe since ancient times, but no major wars have occurred in the last 72 years since World War II ended, a clear intention was set forth to make aggressive wars illegal, and the borders were clearly stipulated. Ukraine had a fair number of nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union collapsed. Negotiations took place to return these to Russia and clearly stipulate Ukraine’s borders, but those commitments were not respected. Moldova will continue to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and assist in the settlement of the conflict in Donbas and return of the illegally annexed Crimea.
(M) I think this was also greatly impacted by the intentions of the U.S., which did not want to permit Ukraine to possess nuclear weapons and desired to prevent nuclear proliferation.
(B) Yes, I think the U.S. has put economic sanctions on Russia regarding the conflict in Ukraine to prove that international commitments shall be respected.
(M) I said that Moldova should join the EU in light of its national security. On the other hand, the main EU support is faltering due to Brexit and other reasons.
(B) In some ways, this adversity is leading to greater strength. I want to cautiously keep an eye on what happens.
(M) Let’s change the topic a bit. What can one look forward to when visiting Moldova?
(B) Moldovans place great importance on hospitality, just like Japanese people. On the map it looks like a bunch of ripe grapes, and it is no coincidence that Moldova has the highest percentage of land dedicated to vineyards in the world. As one of the least-visited countries in the world, Moldova will surprise and intrigue you at every turn, leaving you with unforgettable memories and unique stories to tell your friends. Agriculture is prosperous thanks to the good climate and soil, so you can enjoy delicious food and wine in Moldova. It was referred to as a treasury of grain during the Soviet era, and we also produced huge amounts of vegetables and fruits. Because of this, Moldova participated in the Soviet space program by creating meals for the astronauts.
(M) I’ve heard that winery tours are popular recently.
(B) Yes, and the state-run Cricova is a particularly popular winery. It has underground wine cellars 60 to 80 meters below ground with a total length of 120 kilometers. These cellars were originally a stone quarry where fine-quality limestone was mined. Demand increased to help rebuild the country after the devastation of World War II, and at first the stone was mined by hand by prisoners. After, enormous machines were introduced to quarry the stone. The cellars have a temperature of 13°C all year round and a high level of humidity, so they are perfect for storing wine. Moldova is especially renowned for its sparkling wine, and Moldova’s sparkling and other wines accounted for roughly 60% of the Soviet Union’s wine. These wines were sent in barrels to Russia and Ukraine, where they were bottled. Every October we celebrate National Wine Day in our capital’s central square. Our best winemakers welcome thousands of guests and surprise them with the incredible variety and quality of their wines. The sheer scale of National Wine Day is hard to imagine – with 150,000 visitors and more than 1,000 types of wine to try, it’s easy to lose count!
(M) Besides wineries, what are the best spots to visit?
(B) The beautiful scenery. Moldova is very hilly, which enhances its beauty. We have a full calendar of concerts, festivals, races, and even a marathon. Every year, thousands of Moldovans participate in these events. In the autumn, come to the Ethno Jazz festival to hear folk and jazz musicians from around the world. In the summer, visit DescOpera, a three-day opera festival, to hear spine-tingling performances in an open-air amphitheater. In the depths of winter, head to our underground wine cellars for music at Underland Fest or exercise with the 10-kilometer Wine Run.
(M) Is that so? I’d like to visit!
(B) I believe Japan is a special country because it maintains the world’s highest level of peace.
(M) Japan is blessed in a geopolitical sense. It is separated from the continent so it cannot be easily invaded, and self-sufficiency is possible. Conversely, continental countries may be invaded by their neighbors, which may be why they have tragic histories of constant warfare. Looking back at history, I think fewer people died in combat than those killed by famines and plagues caused by do-nothing governments. When the Japanese Army fought the Battle of Imphal during World War II, the supply lines were too long and many soldiers died of starvation and infectious diseases.
(B) Yes, do-nothing governments have caused needless deaths. In the last stage of the Soviet Union, President Mikhail Gorbachev started a campaign to combat alcoholism and placed restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages. As a result, more people died because they turned to methyl alcohol and other drinks. I think that’s a good example. Back then when friends got together to share a meal, they secretly obtained alcohol and pretended they were drinking something else by putting wine in teapots or Cognac in coffee pots (laughs).
(M) Socialist governments like those led by Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot have killed more than 100 million people in total. Yet if the U.S. hadn’t dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of the adjoining countries might have been communized from Eurasia to Europe, which might have led to the deaths of many more people. I think we can say that Japan’s sacrifice transformed World War III from a “hot” to a “cold” war. The U.S. had to humble Japan to justify its atomic bomb attack, which is why it did not deny that 300,000 people were massacred in Nanjing or that 200,000 Korean comfort women were forcibly transported into sex slavery. I recently visited the Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii and saw a display saying the Japanese Army had killed 250,000 Chinese citizens after the Doolittle Raid. In these and other ways, a story has been spread across the world saying the American atomic bombs turned Japan from a bad country into a good one. However, the time has come to reveal this truth. I think Japan should first recognize the significance of the atomic bombs so the U.S. will stop showing contempt for Japan.
(B) In my capacity as ambassador, I have visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki twice. This year I also traveled to Hawaii, where I saw the exhibition you mentioned at the Pacific Aviation Museum. Paying respect to the victims of the war enables us to cherish the memory of those who suffered.
(M) Japan did not immediately refute the Nanjing Massacre, comfort women, or Doolittle Raid stories, which is why people believe they are true. What is your opinion of this historically inaccurate display?
(B) As a researcher as well as a diplomat, I can surely say that there are distorted depictions in the world of academia. I would like to evaluate the Doolittle issue after devoting more research and thought to what really happened and what the museum bases its information on.
(M) I think that’s a correct attitude. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(B) I have worked in the U.S., Colombia, Thailand, and other countries, but no other nation is as fantastic as Japan. I hope young people will be aware of this and think about protecting their own country. I also think your attempts to discover historical truths are wonderful, and I respect you for these efforts.
(M) Thank you for sharing such an interesting conversation with me today.
Dr. Vasile Bumacov
Dr. Vasile Bumacov was born on January 1, 1957 in Mereşeuca village, Ocniţa district of the Republic of Moldova. He graduated from Moldovan Agrarian State University (1979), where he served as professor (1982 – 2001) and received his PhD in agricultural engineering (1997). He holds doctor honorius causa degrees from Timişoara Agriculture University (2014) and Technical University Gheorghe Asachi, Iaşi (2017), Romania and is a member of the Assembly of the Moldovan Academy of Sciences (2004). Bumacov is a recipient of the Order of Honor of the Republic of Moldova (2014). During his career, Bumacov has been invited for international postings such as engineer designer of agricultural machinery for Johnson Farm Machinery (United States), professor at the National University of Colombia (1993), Transitional Administration in East Timor Government (UNTAET) head of the Agriculture Department of the Transitional Government (2000), and FAO expert in Tajikistan recruited to implement farm mechanization systems (2015). From 1998 to 2016, Bumacov has worked in various capacities of the Government of the Republic of Moldova, including as minister of agriculture and food industry (2011 – 2015). In April 2016, Bumacov was appointed as first ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to Japan.