Sunday, November 30, 2008

News Notes - Body Bags & Parliamentary Privilege

Seraphim Urecheanu stood up in parliament this week and produced a document that appeared to be an instruction from President Voronin to Prime Minister Grecianii. In a bid to defend Moldova's forests, the President had apparently instructed the government to issue an order requiring all citizens to be buried in plastic bags rather than the traditional wooden caskets.

Rather predictably the police have subsequently indicted Mr Urecheanu for falsification of a document. The effect of such an investigation will obviously be to deter Mr Urecheanu and other opposition politicians from holding the Government to account when other incriminating documents come into their possession.

In the Westminster democracies what goes on in Parliament is subject to a different set of rules from what goes on outside. Normal laws on slander, libel etc. are replaced with a system known as Parliamentary Privilege. The basic idea is that, within the walls of parliament, members should have the ability to make claims and declarations without fear, and without having to amass the normal body of proof required by a court of law. Matters raised in Parliament are viewed as being too urgent or too important to be subject to these requirements.

Moldova is a country transitioning to full democracy from the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union. Given the authoritarian backgrounds and instincts of many of her leading politicians, open debate, supported by parliamentary privilege, is even more important than it is in a mature democracy.

Mr Urecheanu must be free to make his declarations (truthful or not) without fear of legal action. What do you say, Messrs. Lupu & Rosca?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Best Interests of Moldova's Russian Speakers

During Soviet times Moldova's Russian speakers formed a ruling class which was based in the major cities of Chisinau, Balti and Tiraspol. Following independence, the number of citizens identifying themselves as 'Russian' has fallen markedly, however this group is still very influential. They form the nucleus of the ruling communist party and have been able to steadily increase the influence of Russia and its culture over the country during the last 8 years.

One would typically expect the Russophiles to support the Communists or one of the other pro-Russia groups such as Tarlev's centrists. I would argue, however, that their best interests would be served by siding with Urecheanu's Moldova Noastra Alliance.

Why? Because AMN promises the best of all possible worlds to this group. On the one hand, Russian speakers will benefit from MNA's economic liberalism and commitment to democratic principles. They will also benefit, as have the Russian speaking communities in the Baltics, should Moldova join the European Union. This is due not just to the economic benefits of being part of the customs union, but also due to the strong minority protections they will enjoy under EU law.

On the other hand, MNA is committed to maintaining a productive relationship with Russia, subject only to the constraint of maintaining Moldova's sovereignty and integrity. As far as I can make out, they do not actively promote reintegration with Romania, preferring instead a sort of 'Modern Moldovenism' which recognises that the Republic has both a Romanian and a Slavonic history.

Contrast this with the path which the Communist Party would take Moldova down, i.e. ever closer relations with Russia. While culturally comfortable for Russian speakers in Moldova, stronger ties would negatively impact even their community. Moldova would regress in its democracy, following the autocratic Russian model. This would express itself in the form of increased abuse of human rights at the individual level. Moldova would also tie its economy to the commodity-fueled Russian one, leading to a cycle of boom and bust, with an absence of real structural development.

I hope and pray that, come March, Moldova's Russian speakers will surprise me and vote for candidates who represent their true interests.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Performance Appraisal - The Verdict

it's time to summarise my scores:

The economy: pass
Foreign policy: fail
Human rights: fail

As well as their historic record, I also need to consider where the Communists would take Moldova should they win another term. in my view they would be unlikely to liberalise the economy or democratise society, and they would furthermore promote a sub-optimal, Russia-centred future.

If I had a vote, I would not give it to the Communists.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Performance Appraisal - Democracy & Human Rights

This is the final post in the series regarding the Communist government's performance over the past 8 years. This time I look at the progress they have made in strengthening Moldova's democracy and protecting the rights of her citizens. Fortunately in this area there is a wealth of statistics available.

Freedom House publishes indicators dealing with the degree of political freedom and civil liberty in countries all over the world. In their view Moldova is a partly free society, just as it was in 2000. FH also publishes a press-freedom index; unfortunately on this measure Moldova has moved from 'partly free' to 'not free', a serious indictment of the government's failure to permit an active, independent press.

Moving to measures of economic freedom, we observe that Moldova's ranking in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index has fallen from 2.6 to 2.9, and her international ranking has fallen from 74 to 109, i.e. the country is perceived as being significantly more corrupt. The Heritage Foundation measures Moldova's economy as being 58.4% free, or a world ranking of 89. In 2000, Moldova enjoyed a similar degree of freedom, but was ranked more highly - economic freedom has increased in many countries over the last eight years.

In summary, it appears that some freedoms have been maintained while others have been eroded. The situtation with respect to press freedom is particularly worrying, as this is an essential pillar of freedom in any democracy.

This one is a clear fail.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Performance Appraisal - Foreign Policy

I now move on to foreign policy, which in my broad definition includes the situation in Transnistria. Unfortunately there are few, if any objective measures that can be used to assess the success of the communist government's foreign policy. We don't even have a firm definition of what constitutes success - for the purposes of this post we will use "the use of diplomacy and military force to promote Moldova's interests". We then need to define "Moldova's interests' as 'peaceful economic and political development' to exclude narrow, nationalistic views which could lead to unwarranted aggression.

Let's start with Romania. The communist's policy towards this neighbour has been totally perverse. Commitments from Romania to fight Moldova's corner at the EU have been met with coolness and petty disputes. The PCRM still clings to the old Soviet myth that the victory of Soviet communists over Romanian fascists was a 'liberation', and this view colours their views of Romania to this day. They continue to twist Moldova's history to exclude at all costs any mention of the two countries having a common past.

The stupid thing about all of this is that Romania has a lot to offer Moldova. it could be a big help in the process of EU integration. It could provide energy diversification and security. It could provide security guarantees. We could see easier travel facilities and improved transport links.

The relationship with the Ukraine is another disappointment. The interests of the two countries are aligned and linked in so many ways. Odessa is de facto Moldova's port, so a customs union between the two countries would do wonders for Moldova's foreign trade. As the other country having a border with Transnistria, Ukraine is pivotal to the resolution of the conflict over that territory. Finally, Moldova and the Ukraine are both wishing to adhere to the EU, and it would make a lot of sense if the two countries were to work together to this end.

Looking at these three potential areas of pooperation, the only one that has seen positive movement has been the second. The EUBAM mission controlling the eastern border has been a tremendous success. Other aspects of the relationship have been overlooked, however.

Relationships with the major western powers, the EU and the US continue to develop. Moldova has a formal agreement with the EU under which it obtained certain trade privileges in return for promises of democratic reform (some of which have been kept). One senses that the bloc would be prepared to go a lot further were the government committed to accession in deed as well as in word. The relationship with the US seems to centre on Moldova's military contributions to American-led actions in places like Iraq.

Russia presents the biggest foreign policy headache for Moldova. As the most powerful country in the region it cannot be ignored, yet it is also a highly immature polity which maintains primitive attitudes and instincts.

The communist government's initial stance regarding Russia was to try to make Russian an official language and take Moldova into a political union with Russia. Such a move would have had catastrophic consequences for Moldova, but thankfully the government changed course under intense pressure from the EU and the western powers. For a couple of years, relations with Russia were very cool, although they are warming up again now.

A quick mention should also be made of the Transnistrean conflict. On coming to power in 2000, the communist government promised that the conflict would be swiftly resolved. Eight years later they are still saying it, however it is difficult to see how any resolution in the best interests of Moldova could be achieved at the current time.

Overall, the communists' handling of foreign policy has been a failure; all of the key relationships are problematic, and, with the exception of EUBAM, there have been no substantive improvements in Moldova's external position.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Performance Appraisal - The Economy

Over the next few posts I want to have a look at the performance of the communist government during its eight years in office. The idea is to determine whether or not it merits another 4 years in office. As far as possible I will try to eliminate my own personal bias by using objective measures.

So here goes. Let's start by looking at the economy. On the face of it, 2000-2008 have been good years for the economy. According to the CIA world factbook, on a purchasing power parity basis, GDP per capita rose from $1,967 in 2000 to $2,300 in 2007, a respectable average growth rate of 2.3% per annum.

We need to remember, however, that the dollar itself has weakened over the period, so the result above is a little distorted. Perhaps a truer guide to Moldova's economic progress is its world ranking. Unfortunately, this has fallen from 164 in 2000 to 176 in 2007.

What about the structure of the economy? Is Moldova earning its way in the world? Figures from the National Bureau of statistics show that export receipts covered 32.8% of the cost of imports during the first nine months of 2008, the remainder needing to be covered by credit an inward remittances. This figure is down from 60.7% in 2000. To be fair, the dollar value of exports has more than tripled, a tremendous achievement. The problem is that imports are running at five times the level of 2000.

According to the CIA world factbook, Moldova's external debt in 2007 stood at a moderate 23.7% of GDP. The National Bank's website shows that general government debt has been stable at around $800m since 2000 (and hence reducing as a% of GDP). The Government's 2008 budget is balanced.

I haven't commented on inflation, interest rates and the currency, as these are largely the responsibility of the National Bank rather than the government.

On balance the communists get a passing grade for their management of the economy. They have largely resisted their totalitarian instincts to intervene, control and nationalise. They have kept the budget in balance and presided over a period of rising living standards. They do not, however, receive top marks as they have left the economy overexposed to the vagaries of remittance flows. They have also failed to eliminate bureaucratic impediments to doing business, and to break the monopolies that control some sectors.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

News Notes - 6/11/08

Moldova's anti-corruption prosecutor has initiated a case against Vlad Filat for smuggling cigarettes ten years ago.  Noticing the amount of attention Mr Filat subsequently received in the communist-dominated media, Democrat Party president Dumitru Diacov responded by requesting that a criminal investigation or two be initiated against himself....

On a more serious note, the National Liberal Party and the European Action Movement have announced a merger ahead of the upcoming election.  This will create a fourth party on the centre-right of Moldovan politics with the potential to get over the 6% hurdle.

Moldova's General Election

Next spring, Moldova will hold what is probably its most important general election since independence.

As ever, there are two competing visions for the country.  The first is that held by the ruling Communist Party.  This vision recognises Moldova's recent past as part of the Soviet Union and seeks economic and cultural reintegration with Russia.  The benefits of such an approach would be a lessening of Russian pressure on the republic (e.g. in the form of lower gas prices), and potentially the reintegration (in some form) of Transnistria.

The other vision is held by the major liberal parties - Urecheanu's Moldova Noastra, Ghimpu's Liberal Party and Filat's Liberal Democrat Party.  These parties are oriented towards the other former motherland, Romania, and see Moldova's future as part of Europe.  The benefits of entering the EU would include both the economic (e.g. subsidies, free trade) and the democratic (e.g. the EU's independent legal system and its protection of human and civil rights)

I'm with the liberals.  Why?  Because the costs of moving into Russia's orbit are too high:
  • Use of the Moldovan language would collapse as Moldova would be overwhelmed  by Russian cultural influences.  We are already seeing this happen as Moldovan-language media outlets are gradually eliminated and repleced by those operating in Russian.
  • Moldova would import Russia's autocratic, undemocratic political system.  The little pluralism and freedom that we have today would cease to exist
  • The economic benefits would be uncertain, and could easily be withdrawn at Russia's whim.
  • The likely form of Transnistrian integration would result in a further deterioration of human and civil rights as Tiraspol gained greater influence over the remainder of the republic.
Pushing towards the EU will also have costs.  Gas prices are likely to be higher.  Russia will rattle its sabres, and Transnistria is unlikely to reintegrate in the near term.  But at least Moldova gets to keep its soul.  More than that, it will get a chance to restore its culture, build its economy and place  its democratic institutions on firm foundations.  Best of all, Moldovans will be free to pursue whatever course they want in life, having access to more  and better opportunities.

While the Communist Party pays lip-service to EU accession, it is clear that nothing serious is likely to happen while they are in power.  By contrast, following a liberal victory next spring, events could move surprisingly quickly.  Eurocrats from Brussels would be far more amenable to admitting the Republic, and Moldova could finally take up Romania's offer to help in the integration process.

The choice is clear; let's hope the electorate has the sense to make it.

Welcome to my blog!

I've finally taken to the blogosphere in a bid to promote a subject which is close to my heart - the future of the Republic of Moldova.  I'm not a Moldovan myself, but have significant interests in the republic and a good knowledge of its political scene.

I plan to publish mainly in English, as I think that communicating to an international audience is where I can make my greatest contribution.  From time to time I may post in Romanian, however, if my comments are meant primarily for a Moldovan audience.

You will note that I haven't revealed my identity.  I figure this will give me more freedom to explore controversial issues and material, rather than having to tip-toe around for fear of repercussions.

I've titled my blog "Morning in Moldova".  This is intentionally reminscent of Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" presidential campaign, which presaged the economic and political renaissance in 1980s America.  I am optimistic about the future of Moldova.  I believe that it can become, in an Eastern European context at least, the equivalent of Reagan's "city on a hill", an example to its neighbours of a democratic and open society and a vibrant economy.

Of course the existing reality is very different.  Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, apparently unloved and unwanted.  It has a dysfunctional democracy and respect for human rights is erratic.  I will explore why that is in my blog.  I'll also look for solutions, for a path from Moldova's situation as it is today towards a far better future.

I hope you'll join me.