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Moldovan President's Soviet Past Casts Spotlight On A 'Divided' Generation

Nicolae Timofti's nascent presidency of Moldova has been rocked by revelations concerning his time as a Soviet-era judge.
Nicolae Timofti's nascent presidency of Moldova has been rocked by revelations concerning his time as a Soviet-era judge.
CHISINAU -- Last year when former acting Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu endorsed Nicolae Timofti for the presidency, he called him a progressive, “a person who was with us when we started reforms in the 1990s.”

Now Ghimpu has called on Timofti to resign in the wake of revelations that, as a Soviet judge in 1987, Timofti ordered the confinement of a prominent Moldovan-nationalist dissident in a psychiatric hospital in the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk.

The symptoms of Gheorghe David’s psychosis, according to documents signed by Timofti and reported in the Moldovan newspaper “Panorama” on April 5, were several anti-Soviet assertions: his statement that Bessarabia -- the eastern Romanian province that now forms the greater part of present-day Moldova -- had been occupied by the Soviet Union, and his opposition to the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

David’s sister, Maria Vulpe, told RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service that David’s time in the hospital had a devastating impact on her brother.

“They destroyed him with their drugs, with beatings, with God knows what he had to endure [in the hospital],” she said.

Ghimpu -- whose Liberal Party was in the pro-Western coalition government that collapsed last month -- indicated that he was outraged by the revelations about Timofti.

"The president sent a young man to a madhouse because that man spoke the truth!" Ghimpu said. "That man was not sick when he spoke the truth. The president should resign.”

Appeal For Forgiveness

Timofti was elected president in March 2012, ending a period of political deadlock in parliament that had left the country without a head of state for more than two years.

At the time, no one asked about his past as a Soviet judge in a country where there has been almost no "lustration" or screening of officials for Communist-era crimes.

For his part, Timofti initially responded to the revelations through a spokesman who said that the president acted according to the laws of the time and had no regrets for what he’d done.

A few days later, however, in the wake of statements like Ghimpu’s, Timofti published an open letter in which he said it had been wrong of him to apply an “inhumane law” against David. “As a judge, I have nothing to reproach myself for. But as a man, I can say I was wrong.”

He asked for forgiveness from David’s family and said, “I am part of a generation whose life was divided in two.” He said he -- like the rest of Moldova -- had broken with the Soviet past and emphasized his current pro-Western policies.

Timofti, who began his career as a Soviet judge in 1976, did not say whether he was involved in other similar cases.

David was arrested on August 1, 1986. He was placed in the psychiatric ward of a prison in Kishinev (now Chisinau). In December 1986, a commission of psychiatrists pronounced him mentally ill.

On January 12, 1987, Timofti signed off on the order that he be institutionalized. Timofti’s ruling said that David had been guilty of propagating “the ideas of nationalism, aiming to provoke national hatred toward people of Russian nationality, and to discredit the nationalities policy of the Leninist Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”

David’s case was taken up by many in the West, including Amnesty International. It was covered extensively by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In mid-1988, after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost had become entrenched, David was released from hospital, but he spent another two years of internal exile in Dnipropetrovsk.

Reluctance To Criticize

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he sued for damages and was sent for 25 days of forced psychiatric evaluation in 2005. When he was released he appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. His case was still pending when he died in 2007. The following year, the Strasbourg court ruled in his favor and ordered Moldova to pay 4,000 euros ($5,000) to David’s family.

Many in Moldova seem to agree that Timofti’s generation lived a “divided” life and are reluctant to criticize him harshly.

Journalist Nicolae Negru, who was David’s friend, accused Ghimpu of politicizing the case.

"Why not forgive [Timofti]?" he asked. "It is only human to make mistakes, and it is human to apologize for them. The president has repented in this case. As for Mr. Ghimpu, he is using this case as a politician.”

The process of exposing Communist-era crimes has never made any progress in Moldova. The country was ruled by former President Vladimir Voronin’s pro-Russian Communist Party for most of its post-Soviet independence and archives have disappeared.

Even Maria Vulpe, David’s sister, seems inclined to forgive.

“What can I say?" she asked. "Those were the laws back then, and [Timofti] wasn't the only one who did such things. We all did them. I can't say anything about him. Let him work in good health, and if he's a God-fearing man, he will take care of the poor. People say he is a good president, so let him be.”

RFE/RL Moldovan Service correspondent Alla Ceapai contributed to this report from Chisinau, and RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed from Prague

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