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Commentary

Quo Vadis Moldova?

Ialoveni, Moldova, on election day
Ialoveni, Moldova, on election day
By Ahto Lobjakas
Followers of the Moldovan elections can be forgiven for feeling the results have been something of an anticlimax.

Pronounced acceptable though faulty by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the poll has produced no closure to the country's tectonic political divisions. With 53 seats in the parliament, the anti-communist front of four parties -- the Liberals, Liberal Democrats, the Our Moldova Alliance, and the Democrats -- can form a government, but it falls eight votes short of being able to elect the president. In an overwhelmingly presidential political system, this could prove a fatal shortfall.

There appears to be nothing to prevent President Vladimir Voronin from hanging onto his post and forcing another round of elections next year. With his considerable administrative and media resources, he might think that he could go into new elections from a position of strength after more months of deadlock with an opposition-controlled cabinet.

Although the opposition's darkest fears of a stolen election have not materialized, they may yet find themselves in an out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire situation. The leaders of the anti-Communist front certainly appear aware of this danger. Marian Lupu, the ex-Communist head of the Democratic Party who is now effectively a kingmaker, warned in an interview on July 27 that an inconclusive result and a drawn-out political crisis could eventually lead to a "civil war." Lupu warned the Communists do not have the requisite "political culture" to share power.

In another interview, the leader of the Liberal Party and mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, said Voronin is well capable of staging a coup. Dark rumors abounded on the eve of the elections, most centering on a mysterious plane bearing Russian markings which landed at the disused Masculesti military airport earlier this week (here's a purported photograph of that airplane at the base). Chirtoaca said the Chisinau City Council was asked to provide the police with 10 buses -- an irregular request.

But beneath Moldova's political divisions lurk much graver problems for which elections alone, no matter how free and fair, are no panacea.

All analysts and foreign officials I had the chance to interview in Moldova this week agree the country needs a wholesale makeover. But none had a very clear idea as to how to fix Moldova's politics, economy, or its pervasive social ills.

Closer integration with the European Union is perhaps the most popular prospective remedy. All parties, including the Communists, support EU membership, but all are realistic enough to know the bloc's door will remain closed in the foreseeable future.

All parties also want better relations with Russia. The population at large seems to believe the two aims are not incompatible, with surveys showing 60 percent supporting a strategic partnership with Moscow and 66 percent in favor of EU entry.

What ordinary Moldovans want could perhaps be described as a shot at the pursuit of happiness. They want jobs and the ability to travel freely, preferably in prosperous Europe.

EU Embrace

A close European embrace would arguably be the best guarantee of reforms in Moldova. Free travel and free trade would contribute to prosperity, which in turn would lower the domestic political stakes.

But the EU is unwilling and unable to oblige. The public in most of member states is opposed to further concessions to countries like Moldova, fearing immigration, crime, and the dilution of Europe's own identity.

The EU does provide Moldova with 60 million euros worth of aid annually -- second only to Palestine in per capita terms -- but in an unreformed and unreconstructed political environment this amounts to little more than a lifeline for the status quo.

Apart from the money, all the EU can offer, for the time being, is generalities -- action plans, road maps, partnerships, with all advances conditional on precisely the kind of administrative effort of which the Moldovan state appears increasingly incapable. What the EU is offering is virtual carrots. Effectively, it is asking the Moldovan government and people to take a leap of faith.

In an ideal world, such a leap would perhaps be conceivable, if a little unrealistic, to expect. Russia is keen to contest the spread of EU influence and openly backs Voronin. It possesses a very real stick in the shape of Transdniester, which will continue to provide powerful leverage over any government in Chisinau. Fortunately for Moldova, Russia has pursued its agenda in the country in a ham-fisted way. One well-placed Western official in Chisinau says Russia has been "arrogant."

"If the Russians were serious," he suggested, "it would all be already over."

Romania is another major external force exerting a destabilizing gravitational pull on Moldova. Bucharest has pursued a brazenly polarizing and patronizing agenda in Moldova, one that a senior EU figure describes as "shortsighted." Romania's strongest weapon is its passports -- as an EU member state its citizens can travel (if not yet work) freely in the bloc. The rush of hundreds of thousands of Moldovan citizens to take out Romanian passports -- for which Bucharest says they are eligible as de facto "Romanians" --  further contributes to political instability in Moldova. 

The Communists, in particular, vehemently resent what they see as Romania's drive to erode Moldovan statehood.

This has created an unhappy paradox, notes the EU special representative for Moldova, Kalman Mizsei in an interview: "Access for freedom countervails state cohesion."

In a sense, Moldova seems caught in a time warp. Time stopped when the Soviet Union collapsed and has yet to restart. In the intermission, a feral capitalism has taken root in the country, which, together with the country's isolation, has gradually degraded its political system. (Opposition politicians claim Voronin's clan virtually owns all profitable sectors of the economy). That system is now on its last legs.

A Western official earlier this week enthused about Moldova's unique "social fabric," where political conflicts largely lack an ethnic dimension . A multiethnic, multilingual society at peace with itself is an enormous achievement in a European setting. But in Moldova's case, it now needs outside sustenance. Left to its own devices, Moldova's makeshift post-Soviet institutional settlement is liable to fail. Someone needs to step in and provide new values, ideals, and norms -- and that someone can only be the EU.

Ahto Lobjakas is RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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by: V
July 30, 2009 19:04
I am happy about the election results. In either case there might be some change.<br /><br />We want to be in the EU so that Moldova was stable, free. Not for work in the EU.<br /><br />Most of Moldovans have 2-3 citizenships or various EU residences by now. Within my family we have British, Portugal, Russian, US citizenships or residencies besides Moldovan. The same in every family. Include friends and I have somebody in 20 countries. Some started illegally 20 years ago. By now we are doing much better. EU should not worry, most of us already legal in EU. If in EU many Moldovans would start going back home. <br /><br />Anecdotal, some have Moldovan, Russian, Romanian citizenships and, for example, Italian residency. In my family one has Moldovan, British citizenships and applied for Romanian. Another has Moldovan, just got Russian and is trying to get Portuguese residency. I would want to get Russian, Ukrainian and Romanian. I feel belonging to all of those. That is our mixed origins and culture.<br /><br />It was good experience for us to go abroad. I left 8 years ago and at that time I voted communist. Now I am for democracy, free-market capitalism and freedom for Moldova. We know the difference.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
July 31, 2009 07:33
Moldova is not quite as the article labeled it...<br />&quot;Communists&quot;? <br />&quot;Multy-ethnics? <br />...maybe...<br /><br />But there is also a totalitarian secret controll by ethnic Russian agencies and their Russian-Speaking allies, palying sort of &quot;Communist&quot; - &quot;Unti-communist&quot; bluff,<br />softened my benevolent Moldovians in the west of Moldova, &quot;country of Besso&quot; in the middle (controlled by Russian locust during Russian occupation that is at present looks less bloody than Russians elswhere, maybe because they drink local vine and intermingled vith many other national groups).<br /><br />1). What would the first group like?<br />Unite with Romanian Moldova, or to become a &quot;small Switzerland&quot;, united with &quot;country of Besso&quot; (Bessorabia) and returning from Ukraine exit to Black Sea in exchange for grabbed by Rushkies Tiraspol zone, if Moldovians would be able to rebuild their people's future and dignity.<br /><br />2). What would the second group like?<br />About the same, starting with &quot;Little Switczerland&quot;, but securing their rights (often priviledged since Russian occupation) also.<br /><br />3). Why neither is quite clear yet in Moldova, but masked by shaddow of &quot;communists&quot; -&quot;unti-communists&quot;?<br />Because Russia wants neither!<br />It devides and rules, even if most of their own descandents of ethnic Russians in Moldova are not too eager to be again Russian occupiers...<br />Same felt Norther Osetians too, thought, before Russia murdered children in Beslan and replaced their government by &quot;Gauliters&quot; from Russia, not long before they invaded Georgian &quot;Osetia&quot;...<br /><br />Konstantin.

by: Al
July 31, 2009 08:51
What is this guy talking about? It looks like he's got no idea whatsoever about Moldova. <br />To say that Romania is a &quot;destabilising factor&quot; in Moldova and that Bucharest has pursued a &quot;brazenly patronizing and polarizing agenda&quot; is an insult. It is as if someone would say that Finland and Sweden have had a destabilising influence on Mr. Lobjakas' native Estonia. <br />Quoting anonymous Western officials endlessly, he is talking about some aberration which exists only in his mind, a &quot;multiethnic, multilingual society at peace with itself&quot;. Mr Lobjakas needs a reality check: the multiethnic society in Moldova is a result of a forced Soviet occupation of a sovereign country's territory, followed by a forced implant of Russian-speaking populations to dominate the locals. The &quot;peace&quot; exists only in the minds of those western bureaucrats who glide above Chisinau in air-conditioned cars but never stop to talk to people. This &quot;peace&quot; led to a war in 1992 which the Russian empire won using tanks against civilians and lightly armed police. In Mr. Lobjakas' native Estonia, Russians are treated as second-class citizens, while in Moldova, Russians treat the local population as second-class servants. Maybe the author of this preposterous piece should concentrate more on his own home country and stop embarassing himself by uttering cliches and fantasmagoric ideas about places which are totally unknown to him.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
July 31, 2009 20:04
Al is right, thought I would live some benefit of the hope to &quot;Switczerland&quot; version, before go all the way &quot;Only Moldova&quot; way... <br />...if only not the Russsia...<br /><br />I lived in Moldova since 1947 spring,<br />Being sentenced to death at age of four.<br />I refused be plagio-slave of Moscow ring.<br />I left in 1980, braking the Moscow door.<br /><br />I was setup by a company administration,<br />At end of 1970-th with papers for bank,<br />I put on best close for presentation.<br />Russian KGB blocked me in a full bus.<br /><br />Showing to a group of Cuban students<br />Moldovian women, dressed like slaves,<br />Covered in costruction dusty rackage, <br />And with aged faces and cracked hands:<br /><br />&quot;It is how our pure Russian women are,<br />Threated by non-Russians like slaves!<br />Look at Moldavian Feudal, what a Wau!<br />A glossy Count, emitting bossy waves!&quot;<br /><br />He pointed at me when bus door opened<br />And they ran away, I tried catch them.<br />They vanished in group building, lads,<br />Along with Cuban students. What a Ham!<br /><br />I am not a Moldavian... <br />Couldn't find Rushkis a free and a good dressed Moldovian in all Moldova?<br /><br />Konstantin.<br /><br /> <br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <br /> <br /><br />

by: Lucian from: Bucharest
August 11, 2009 10:15
<br /> You say Romania is a destabilizing force for Moldova...<br />First - Romania war very patient with the communist govern of Moldova. President Basescu ( although many times undiplomatic in the last 3 or 4 years) tried and for a time succeeded in having a good relation with Voronin. But..when the Moldavian president calls Romania ,,the last empire in Europe'' , when he reintroduces visas for Romanians defying an agreement with the EU, or when he accuses Romania of all sort of bad things...when he insults us in so many ways ...and we don't respond him the same...can you call us the bad guys ?<br />He even said they are 6 million ,,moldavians'' in Romania and that the Romanian Moldova should be their province?<br /><br />Destabilizing Moldova with the passports ?<br />Just compare the number of passports per capita Russia issued for Transnistria.<br /> Just think...people who have them just need them for working in the West. They send money, they help the state and they bring a new mentality. Bad, is it ?<br />Just tell me...what kind of bad things happened because of this passports. Any pollitical problems ? What makes it so bad ?<br />Just look at the behaviour of the Romanian leadership towards Moldova. Have it ever been as agressive as Voronin was towards us or Russia was towards them ? No way...<br />I think Romania was quite restrained and just reacted, not attacked...<br />An example you could find hard to challenge - our televisions do not make nationalistic propaganda.Although Romania supports some groups, mostly in a pollitical manner, we do it non-agressively.<br /> Of course, we could have done it. Just think that 80 percent of the Moldavian population and they speak the Romanian language and mostly share a Romanian culture ( although mixed with elements of the Russian and Soviet culture ). Of course, I don't think every one of them considers himself Romanian, but many of them think they are the closest thing you can find.<br /><br />How do we create problems to Moldova, just tell me ? Except some hasty, but not insulting declarations from our president, mostly in response to Voronin's absurd declarations ?<br />Patronizing ? Come on ! I wish that would have happen. If you would analyze Modlova's history since 1991, you would realize Romania was not at all patronizing. First, we were rather weak and we didn't wanted international complications to affect our country , who was going through a very difficult transitions.<br />Then, as we got stronger, with a fast-growing economy and we became well-connected with the west, our behavior was quite ,,european''. Postmodern, if you wish. And, no matter what Voronin says, we respected Moldova;s sovereignity.Unlike Russia. And we don;t want to annex it...come on, that's not realistic. But we do want a free, democratic Moldova. One that respects its neighbors, especially those who speak the same language. And we also want a Moldovan government who respects common sense.<br />Of course, we have our emotions and we know what Moldova ( Basarabia, if you want) means for our history. But we behave rather well and in a logical manner.<br /><br />So, our dear mister from Estonia...don't give us that text about ,,bad Romania''. Just appreciate us...you won't find a better behavior towards Moldova in this region.