Pro-unification demonstrators crowded the centre of Moldova’s capital Chisinau on March 25, demanding that the government support a bill that would call for the unification of the small, land-locked former Soviet republic with its far larger western neighbour.

Romania’s lawmakers responded to the demonstrations across the border by holding a symbolic vote in the parliament saying they expressed support for unification with Moldova, a move that was not endorsed by Bucharest’s counterparts in Chisinau.

“Romania’s parliament… considers as fully legitimate the desire of those citizens of the Republic of Moldova who supports the unification of the two states,” the resolution backed by lawmakers said.

The speaker of Moldova’s parliament, Andrian Candu, said his country cherished its independence and had no intention of moving towards a political union with Romania.

The move by the Romanian parliament was part of a special session to mark the 100th anniversary of Moldova joining the then-kingdom of Romania after World War I, when it was known by as Bessarabia.

Moldova and Romania share strong ethnic bonds. The overwhelming majority of Moldovans speak Romanian and have close cultural ties with Bucharest, but the small, impoverished country also has a large population of Russian speakers due to its time in the Russian Empire and later as part of the Soviet Union.

A tiny minority of Moldova’s population favour unification with Romania as the country remains sharply divided between those who want the country to become a part of the European Union and NATO and those who want to turn back the clock and place Moldova firmly in Russia’s orbit.

Moldova’s government – including its parliament and prime minister – strongly support closer ties with the EU and the United States. The country’s figurehead president, Igor Dodon, is staunchly pro-Russian and hopes to make the country a part of the Moscow-led Customs Union of Russia-aligned post-Soviet republics.

The question of unification with Romania and Moldovan identity has led to dire consequences in the past. As the Soviet Union began to break apart in 1990-91, a national movement that supported the use of the Romanian language the use of the Latin, rather than the Cyrillic alphabet, came into conflict with the local Russian-speaking population. As the Moldovan national movement became jingoistic and irredentist in its rhetoric, the Russian-speaking population in the republic’s eastern extremities and in the capital Chisinau, then-known as Kishinev, began to agitate for independence from the rest of Moldova.

Aided by mechanised units of the newly disbanded Soviet Army, radical Ukrainian nationalists, and Cossack volunteers, the Russian-speaking population of Moldova’s eastern Transnistria region fought a bloody and ultimately successful separatist war against the poorly-trained Moldovan government forces who had received backing from Romania’s powerful military, fresh off its success in ousting Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

Transnistria remains a frozen conflict to this day and a major source of tension between Moscow and Chisinau.