* Moldova’s Democracy is Fading Away, Rights. Is it really so?
The Moldovan lawyer and director of a human rights NGO Ion Manole fears that his country is heading in a wrong direction – away from democracy and towards becoming an autocratic state.
Madalin Necsutu BIRN Chisinau
Ion Manole, head of a prominent human rights organization in Moldova, Promo-LEX, says a country once seen as a European “success story” is seeing its democracy degraded and slipping away.
Manole’s NGO focuses on the development of democracy in the Moldova – including in the breakaway region of Transnistria – promoting and defending human rights, monitoring democratic processes and supporting civil society.
“We are almost 30 years on from independence [in 1991, from the Soviet Union], but this independence does not meet people’s expectations; the vast majority of the population continues to leave the country,” he told BIRN in an interview.
Ion Manole with two of Promo-LEX`s lawyers specialized in human rights. Photo: Promo-LEX
Manole says there is no genuine democracy in Moldova at the moment.
“Any political force controlling the majority at a given moment is tempted to resolve certain problems or advantages in its favour,” he says.
He is not alone in his concerns, either.
Moldova is slipping into authoritarianism, according to the last report of the rights watchdog Freedom House, which listed the country among a number of “hybrid regimes”, along with Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.
The EU has gradually upped pressure on Moldova to show its disapproval, starting with verbal recommendations and warnings and moving towards cuts in EU funds.
- Manole says a “key moment” in this decline of democratic standards was the change made to the electoral system in 2017.
- On July 20, 2017, MPs voted to change the electoral systemfrom a proportional to a mixed one, with 74 of the 101 MPs voting in favour of the change, conceived by pro-Europeans PDM and pro-Russian Socialists – against all the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the European Commission.
- The change will apply from the next electoral cycle after February 2019, not from 2022 as Venice Commission recommended.
- A second big game-changer on democratic standards in Moldova was a court annulment of the result of the mayoral racefor the capital, Chisinau, in June – won by Andrei Nastase, of the Dignity and Truth Platform.
International observers and institutions that monitored the mayoral race all agreed that the election result was a correct and fair one.
There was widespread international concern when the courts abruptly annulled the entire race and prevented Nastase from taking office.
“Unfortunately, confidence in justice in Moldova is decreasing and, most probably, since the invalidation of the elections in Chisinau, the image of justice is now at its lowest level,” Manole said.
From ‘best student’ to semi-pariah:
On June 5, the EU cancelled the first tranche of 100 million euros offered in micro-financial aid for Moldova and the European Parliament adopted a harsh resolution, calling for a halt to all budgetary support for Moldova.
The European diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini, together with Moldovan Prime Minister, Pavel Filip, in Brussels, May 2, 2018. Photo: Moldovan Government website
Some analysts warn that the EU may now scrap the visa-free arrangements it has with Moldova, granted in 2014, when it was deemed the “best student” of the EU’s “Eastern Partnership” scheme.
“The Europeans have every reason to do this [abolish the visa-free regime], because it was clear a gesture of goodwill for Moldova and its citizens, and I am not sure we deserved it so much,” the expert said.
He argued that the benefit was granted to Moldova without obtaining the results that the EU expected.
No longer called a “success story” of the Eastern Partnership scheme, the endemic corruption of Moldova’s political class has turned it into something of an embarrassment for Europe.
- “On a declarative level, our politicians knew very well to promise and initiate certain processes, so our European partners were very well intentioned and believed in the young politicians in Chisinau,” Manole said.
- “Unfortunately, they were not able to live up to the expectations,” he added.
- In past years, while the EU has repeatedly stressed the need for judicial reforms in Moldova, to make justice more independent, the system has in fact become more and more politicized justice, becoming another instrument of the government in its fight with its former coalition allies.
Former Prime Minister Vlad Flat was sentenced to jail for corruption on June 27, 2016, and the ex-mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, was forced to resign and sent to trial for the same reasons, on July 21, 2017.
But both trials started behind closed doors, raising suspicions in Brussels about the transparency of the processes.
“If prosecutors say they do not want ‘broadcasted justice’ on TV, that’s fine, but then I expect some results, to show that whether or not they participate in certain TV shows or not, justice is not selective and equal for all,” Promo-LEX’s director says.
In recent months, the ruling party has meanwhile voted though a fiscal reform package, which critics say will open the door to legalizing laundered money for a 3-per-cent fee to the state.
The changes also allow foreign citizens to buy Moldovan citizenship for a payment of 100,000 euros and 250,000 euros in investments.
Shut out of Transnistria:
A separate problem in Moldova, from the human right point of view, is the situation in the breakaway region of Transnistria.
A Soviet tank in the breakaway region of Transnistria – Tiraspol, August 2018. Photo: BIRN/Madalin Necsutu
For years, Promo-LEX was the only NGO operating across the Dniester River de-facto frontier, handling human right issues.
“The biggest problem [there] is impunity, that no one on the left bank of the Dniester River has any responsibility for the violations of human rights and the abuses that they [the separatist regime] commit there,” Manole said.
Three years ago, the Tiraspol regime said it would no longer allow Promo-LEX to conduct interviews in the region or collect data on those abused by the regime and its secret service and police.
- “Now everyone is happy, because no one knows the extent of human rights violations in this territory – apart from the victims,” Manolesays, with grief.
- “We have always supported the idea that Russia has this influence there, because for the past 27 years it has supported not only the economic and social aspect but also the military and diplomatic side of the Tiraspol regime,” Manole said.
On July 17, the ECHR ordered Russia to pay 90,000 euros in compensation, after five former police officers from the other side of the Dniester were arrested in Transnistria, jailed and beaten.
On July 19, the court further told Russia to pay 2.5 million euros to 1,649 Moldovan farmers from five villages, who lost their livelihoods after Transnistrian forces occupied their lands in 2006.
“Our arguments were very clear, with attached evidence,” Manole says with pride.
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: balkaninsight.com