* The deep and structural reforms that would finalise a transition to democracy are hampered by a corrupt political class, economic troubles and geopolitics.
What instruments and policies could be successful in halting Moldova’s roller coaster ride through stagnation and false hope?
The Moldovan Democratic Republic was established in 1917, but was incorporated by the Kingdom of Romania in 1918. After the Second World War, the country was part of the Soviet Union. In 1990, the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic proclaimed its independence from Moldova, because they wanted to remain in the Soviet Union and feared a reunification with Romania.
It was neither recognised by Moscow or Chişinău. Moldova became itself independent in 1991. Since then, and until 2009, Moldova was under a more or less disguised communist government. On the 5th of April 2009, the Communist Party won the parliamentary elections with 60 seats out of a possible 101.
It became contested after people claimed that there had been some manipulation with the votes and their counting. The electoral campaign was marked by numerous accusations against the Communists (harassment of opposition political parties, misuse of administrative funds, and interference in the editorial policy of public mass media).
- Consequently, two days after the election, thousands of anti-communist demonstrators and students took the streets of Chişinău and set fire to the parliament and the presidential palace.
- “Moldova has awakened”, “We want to enter Europe”, “We want to unite with Romania” – were some of the slogans displayed by the protestors. Vlad Filat, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, insisted on demanding the annulment of the vote and setting a date for new elections.
- However, international observers determined that the elections were “compliant with the rules”.
President Vladimir Voronin, leader of the Communist Party, accused the leaders of the opposition parties and Romania of being involved in provoking the clashes. He expelled the Romanian ambassador while the Moldovan one was recalled from Romania. The Romanian Foreign Ministry saw it as a provocation.
“It is not acceptable that the communist power in Chişinău transfers responsibility for internal problems in Moldova onto Romania and its citizens”. Bucharest considered “aberrant” any unilateral measures aimed at imposing visas on Romanians and did not take similar measures on the personnel of the embassy of Moldova in Bucharest.
Russia was immediately involved in the events that had unfolded in Moldova. Russian media was allowed to enter Moldovan territory during the political turmoil and spoke openly about a coup d’état organized by Romania.
Then, with the attenuation of the facts, Russia distanced itself. In this climate, the opposition (formed by the three liberal-oriented parties) blocked the election of the President and none of the candidate named by the Communists got the required majority of 61 votes to become elected. The Parliament was dissolved and new parliamentary elections were set for July 2009.
Because of people’s distrust in the communist government, the Communist Party lost a majority of the votes they had won in the April elections, gaining only 48 seats out of a possible 101.
The Alliance for European Integration came into power with much fanfare. It claimed to reform the Moldovan government and breathe new life into the economy. After years of negotiations, an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union was signed in 2014. The signing of the AA is deemed a historic day for the Republic of Moldova and the whole of Europe.
Moldova has firmly committed itself to democratic reforms and European cooperation. Europeans showed confidence in the desire of Moldovan’s to respect their commitments.
Taking the last train to the European Union, Moldova aimed at succeeding in becoming a leader of the Eastern Partnership, obtaining a Liberalisation Agreement of Visas. While these objectives (important in the electoral agenda of the ruling parties) have been fulfilled, the leaders of the Republic of Moldova also chose a path of abuse and intimidation, destroying any hope of democracy.
Igor Dodon is classified as “pro-Russian” by Western media. He removed the European flag from his residence and signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union (observer status).
He is a “friend” of Putin. Moldova’s external debt amounts to 80 per cent of its GDP. The economic stagnation impedes the development of the country, as the corruption among elites (“The great Moldovan bank robbery”, “The Russian Laundromat”).
The perpetuation of undemocratic politics and capitalism run by oligarchy does not help. In fact, the institutions and the bureaucracy are under strict political control of the parties governing the country. Besides that, media and television channels are also under the control of the ruling political party, as the leader of the Democratic Party owns the majority of TV channels in the country.
The population is highly divided, from the Russophile separatist entity of Transnistria to the autonomous region of Gagauzia. Some want to be part of Europe while others are disappointed by it. The majority wants more autonomy from Russia but Transnistria still deeply relies on its support, as Russia finances 80 per cent of its budget and treats its gas debt as a subsidy.
This is because Russian national security strategy is dependent on Belarus and Ukraine, and Ukraine’s security depends on Moldova. If Moldova was part of the NATO or the EU, it could threaten Russia and Ukraine from the point of view of the Kremlin. Having a dynamic civil society is an integral part of every functioning democracy. Some barriers to community participation are apathy, a lack of interest, distrust in collective action, no real confidence, disappointment in the results of protests.
People tend to be suspicious and distrustful towards the activities of civic initiatives and NGOs, as they are often accused of being paid or linked to politicians. All in all, this hinders Moldova from becoming an independent and economically stable country.
Untangling the Transnistrian debacle
There are three ways to deal with the Transnistrian conflict.
- Firstly, retain Moldova’s status quo. It is not a solution as the core issue would still exist.
- Secondly, joining the European Union without Transnistria, following Cyprus’s example. However, the conflict, even if frozen, would still not be solved.
- Thirdly, reintegrate Transnistria within a federated Moldova and join the EU together. This is the best solution. A federation model might be the best compromise if it is well negotiated. This was not the case of the Kozak Memorandum (2003), a Russian plan proposing a disproportionate representation to the Senate. To achieve this, Russia and Transnistria should join the EU-Moldova negotiations and work towards compromises.
The Meseberg process (2010) is a positive attempt to engage with a Russia that is not against reintegration, but simultaneously does not want to lose its influence out of fear for its own security. An idea would be to establish a bilateral agreement of non-aggression between Moldova, Ukraine and Russia respectively.
A de facto reintegration should be set up through confidence-building, joint economic projects, a greater European presence in Transnistria. To continue what has already been done (removing visas, DCFTA, AA, etc.), the actions taken should be visible and relevant to the public, so it might affect their opinion, improve their lives, modernise buildings, demilitarise the borders and Transnistria itself…
Even if the conflict is frozen, Transnistria and Russia do not want to remove their military forces from the region. An alternative might be to have fewer peacekeepers and to add a group of international civilian monitors. Besides, Transnistria’s financial dependency on Russia should be phased out (i.e. access to European and Eurasian markets, subsidies from other countries).
The biggest problem is the gas debt: Russia claims that if Transnistria is part of Moldova, then Moldova should pay it, but it is not able to. To halt the rise of their debt, Moldova could import gas from other countries (Norway, Germany). Moreover, the obstacles created by Russia could be used as propaganda to stop the “russification of the country”.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: neweasterneurope.eu