Moldova in danger of repeating Ukraine’s mistakes

by James George Jatras*, Deputy Director of the “American Institute in Ukraine” AIU, Washington D.C.

Moldova’s November 30 parliamentary elections produced a qualified, at best, endorsement of the pro-western coalition’s course toward integration with the European Union (EU). Having secured a plurality of the vote (about 44%), the outgoing three-party alliance looks likely to reconstitute itself with a majority of seats (55 out of 101). This is short of the 61 votes needed to elect a new president, pointing to a possible repeat of the protracted political stalemate Moldova experienced between 2009 and 2012, when a divided parliament was unable even to agree on filling that office. Such a deadlock could result in early elections.
Still, the pro-EU forces have indicated their determination to move forward energetically on a “reform” agenda to implement the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU that Kishinev hastily ratified earlier this year. “We have already begun consultations on creating a pro-European coalition,” said former prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Vlad Filat soon after the vote. “We should immediately create a coalition and move forward.” The main holdup seems to be not the direction in which the coalition wants to take Moldova but figuring out how to deal with issues of chronic corruption and conflicting ambitions:
“On 4 December, the leaders of the new governmental coalition announced that their main objective would be the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. However, pro-EU voters are very concerned that the self-proclaimed pro-European leaders will fail them once again and that the new government will continue to serve the interests of the oligarchs rather than of society. Initial signs are not encouraging. Unofficial reports suggest that the main stumbling block in the negotiations is, again, political control over law enforcement and judicial institutions. Some pro-European parties (and the oligarchs behind them) want to have full control over the coming fight against high-level corruption.”1
Meanwhile, Moldovans are deeply divided over the options available to their country. A rough balance exists between those who favor EU integration in the form of “association” (Brussels refuses to offer Moldova membership even as a distant prospect, just as it refuses to countenance membership for Ukraine) and the Russia-led Customs Union, with a slight edge in favor of the latter. This does not even take into account sentiment in Pridnestrovie, which did not participate in the election, and which Kishinev still claims.
With the last-minute and suspicious elimination of the “Patria” party from the vote, the big winner in the opposition camp are the pro-Moscow Socialists, who promise vigorous resistance to the pro-EU agenda. The Communists, whose position on the AA [Association Agreement] has been ambiguous, are also likely to find themselves taking a harder line against the AA than they have in the past. Both the Socialists and Communists have criticized the vote – including insufficient polling stations for Moldovan workers in Russia, absent which the opposition parties might have secured a majority – and court actions are being filed.
Seen in context, one would hope that the pro-EU coalition would tread carefully. Taking a lesson from the chaos that ensued in Ukraine from the either/or choice of “Europe” vs. Russia forced on that country, one would think even the most ardent Europhile Moldovan politicians would see the need for balance and compromise among their no-less-divided countrymen. This lesson is even more urgent, in that Moldova already has its potential “Crimea” or “Novorossiya” in the form of Pridnestrovie, with the danger of further splintering in Gagauzia and other regions in the north and south of the country.
Likewise, those in the West (the United States and Europe) who present themselves as Moldova’s friends would do well to urge caution. But if past rhetoric is any indication, rather than respect legitimate differences of opinion among Moldovans, pro-EU politicians – egged on by American and European governments and media – will likely continue to regard any objections only as evidence of Russian “blackmail” and a “fifth column” of an insufficiently conscientious, “civilizationally” challenged lumpen. From this perspective, Moldova (as with Ukraine before it) can be seen only as an us-versus-them “battleground” with Russia. It’s not hard to see how this Manichean approach could tear the country apart. Bulldozing over the objections of roughly half of the population as a mere obstacle on the exorable path to the radiant future in the EuSSR (“You’re on the right road, Comrades!”) risks plunging Moldova into a repeat of Ukraine’s sorry experience.
Instead, assuming they are able to form a new government, the pro-Europe forces should take a time-out on “moving forward” on the AA and instead open a national dialogue on a genuinely balanced approach between the EU and Russia. A good first step would be to heed calls from the American Institute in Ukraine and others for a national referendum on the AA. Instead of viewing citizens who disagree as presumptive enemies who must be forced to submit to their point of view, in holding a referendum on Moldova’s choice the government would be demonstrating respect for all Moldovans, irrespective of their ethnic identification, the language they speak, the region in which they reside, or the alphabet they use.    •

Source: http://www.aminuk.org 

1    Victor Chirila: “Moldova’s last chance for reform”, European Council on Foreign Relations from 9 December 2014, www.ecfr.eu

“Vladimir Putin regards Donbas as an integral part of Ukraine, and does not aim at transforming this region into a new Transnistria. The Russian President made this clear at the ASEM1 -Forum in Milan, EU Council President Herman van Rompuy said.“

(Source: de.sputniknews.com from 17 October 2014)

1     Asia-Europe Meeting

Moldova

mw. Moldova has a square measure of 33,851 km2 and 3,583,288 inhabitants (July 2014). The capital is Kishinev. The country is bordered by Romania to the west. In the north, east and south, it is completely surrounded by Ukraine. Moldova is considered the “poor house of Europe”: The average income is 160 euro, pensions are at 40 euro. No country on the edge of Europe has gone through such hardships as Moldova since the end of the Soviet Union.
11 % of its population is undernourished, according to FAO. Five years after the government takeover by pro-European forces it is said to be a stronghold of corruption and organized crime in Europe.
Moldova’s population is of different ethnic origins: the largest group with 71.49 % are the Romanian-speaking Moldovans, followed by Ukrainians (11.23 %) and Russians (9.39 %), many of whom live in Transnistria. In addition, there are 3.85 % Gagauz, 2.02 % Bulgarians and some Germans, Polish people, White Russians, Tatars, etc. The official language is Romanian and it is mainly spoken by about of the population. The Russian language is present in everyday life, especially in the larger cities and in the economy (around 15 % of the population). It has a status as official language in the areas of Gagauzia (additionally to the Gaugaz language spoken there) and in Transnistria (additional to the Ukrainian language). There is also a Ukrainian, a Bulgarian and a Christian-Turkish (Gagauz) minority.
Between World War I and World War II, Moldova was part of Romania; after the war, it was incorporated into the Soviet Union. In 1991, the country declared its independence. Nevertheless, Russian troops remained on Moldovan territory east of the river Dniestr, where they supported the Transnistria region. Transnistria is mostly inhabited by Ukrainians and Russians, but also by a Moldovan minority. In 1992, after a short war, Transnistria declared its independence, but Moldova does not acknowledge.
In 2001, the Communist Moldovan Vladimir Voronin was elected president and remained in office until 2009. Subsequently, four opposition parties formed a new coalition, the “Alliance for European Integration (AEI)”, but won only a narrow majority in parliament, so that no new president could be elected. (The Constitution requires a three-fifths majority.) After politically turbulent times, a new president was elected in March 2012. Since May 2013, the ruling coalition has called itself “Pro-European Coalition” and aims at integration into the EU. In November 2013, the Moldovan government started negotiations with the EU on an association agreement and ratified it on 24 June 2014. The government of Transnistria subsequently demanded to join the Russian Federation; Mikhail Formusal, member of the government and head of the Gagauz autonomy movement also threatened Moldova with a secession.