Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mordor Falls

In J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece, 'The Lord of the Rings', Middle Earth was controlled by demonic forces centred on two towers, that of Isengard and that of Mordor.  Isengard was home to the treacherous wizard Saruman, who set about building an army of trolls to do all sorts of evil.   Mordor was the base of Lord Sauron, who used magical powers to control the minds of his subjects.

The good wizard Gandalf assembled a rag-tag band of hobbits, elves, dwarves and humans to take on the evil forces of Saruman and Sauron.  Bringing down Isengard required a touch of magic (trees coming to life), but was otherwise relatively straightforward.  Bringing down Mordor was a whole different story, requiring a perilous journey by the hobbits into the heart of enemy territory.

Moldova's Isengard (Communist political power) fell on July 29th.  It required the sacrifice of the protesters, the miracle of the golden vote and the hard work of opposition supporters to achieve.

Moldova's Mordor (Communist control of the media) has proved more difficult to overcome.  As a public broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova (TRM) is not supposed to be under political control (although it has been for the last eight years).

The AIE majority in Parliament has had to go through a tortuous process to effect the necessary change.  First of all, the Audiovisual Council was made functional through the appointment of new members.  Subsequently, new members have been appointed to TRM's Council of Observers (CO) to provide it with the necessary quorum to take action.

Then, finally, yesterday, as a Christmas gift to the nation, the CO went through the process of laying evidence at the feet of the TRM leadership's feet, proving both their failure to operate the company in the public interest and their role as a propaganda / brainwashing vehicle for the Communist Party.  Under the calm, confident leadership of their new president, Eugen Rabca, the council then voted to fire Valentin Todercan (CEO) and Adela Railean (Director of Television).  The Director of Radio (V Gheroghisenko) walked out of yesterday's meeting and was fired earlier this morning.

Adela Railean gave the game away when she protested that she always insisted on pluralism in M1's reporting, always having both a 'statalist' viewpoint and a 'pro-Romanian' viewpoint.  In using such slanted communist terminology, I believe Mrs Railean betrayed her prejudices and actually strengthened the case of the new members of the CO.

The battle is over and the war appears won.  Mordor has collapsed and with it goes the last major bastion of the communist control apparatus.  Let us hope that TRM is never again used as a tool to 'idiotise' the Moldovan population or promote the interests of a single political party.  Let us hope that Moldova's rural population will now have access to a range of undistorted viewpoints and factual truth about what is going on in the country.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Gongs

It's almost new year and everybody seems to be handing out awards and writing top tens.  As 2009 has been a truly incredible year, I thought I would join in.  Here are my awards:


The first recipient has to be the youth of Moldova, who, belying the stereotypes normally attached to their generation, changed the course of a nation through their protests and sacrifice on April 6th and 7th, and through their work to bring about a liberal-democratic victory on July 29th.  Moldova will have a terrific future if this generation is allowed to bring it about.

The second recipient must be the AIE's parliamentary deputies, who stood firm on June 3rd and refused to elect Zina 'Carabina' Grecianai as Moldova's president, and who have remained more or less cohesive up to the current date.

A third gong goes to the free press - Vocea Basarabiei, Timpul, Jurnal, Unimedia, ZDG, ProTV, TV7 etc, who refused to succumb to communist intimidation and threats to physical security, instead giving a voice to the opposition parties and promoting democracy and human rights.

The fourth award goes to Vlad Filat and his government, which is probably the most professional outfit that Moldova has seen since independence.  The speed with which they have moved to improve the lives of Moldova's citizens has been a joy to behold.

Finally, awards must go posthumously to those who are no longer with us but who have become symbols of  the fight for democratic change and national awakening - Valeriu Boboc and the other three young men who lost their lives in the aftermath of April 7; the national poet, Grigore Vieru and other leaders of his generation who passed away in 2009.

Honourable mentions go to

  • The European parliament
  • Pro-democracy bloggers
  • The IMF
  • Leading Romanian politicians


First place getter is the 'Taliban' group currently leading the communist party and doing their level best to rob Moldova of its future so that the kleptocracy of the last eight years can be returned to power.  Scumbags such as Tkaciuk, Misin, Petrenko, Postoico and Voronin come to mind.

Another recipient of a big juicy raspberry were the EU officials responsible for relations with Moldova (Javier Solana, Kalman Miszei and Benita Ferrero-Waldner).  Their 'enchantment' with the fraudulent April 5th election, their refusal to recognise the full extent of communist-sponsored violence and their weasly attempts to cajole the opposition into submitting to communist rule made me sick to the stomach.

The Communist media holding needs a big raspberry between the eyes as well.  Over the last eight years and in the lead-up to the April 5th and July 29th elections, this public broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova became cheerleader in chief for the communist party, manipulating and twisting the news agenda to the detriment of the liberal-democratic opposition.  Omega has to be the worst news agency I have ever had the misfortune to come across, unparalelled in its ability to twist information for propaganda purposes.  I won't even mention NIT and Constantin Staris.

Russia merits an award, both for supporting the communist dictatorship and for doing diddly squat to end the Transnistrian impasse.  The raspberries in this case would be best placed down the 14th Army's gun barrels and in the mouths of Igor Smirnov, Vladimir Putin and the legions of Russian 'policy experts' that spout garbage in the interests of the Kremlin.

The final and largest raspberry goes to Gheorghe Papuc, Artur Resetnicov and the police and security services of Moldova and Transnistria, who failed to protect the presidency and the parliament and who subsequently unleashed a wave of terror, hunting down protesters and journalists in broad daylight, detaining, beating, raping and murdering opponents of the communist regime.  See you in court.

Dishonourable mentions go to:

  • Gheorghe Gorincioi
  • Vladimir Socor
  • Dumitru Pulbere
  • Valeriu Gurbulea

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Occupation by Stealth

The Challenge

Veaceslav Tibuleac of the "Voice of Basarabia" radio station found a sensitive point and stuck his knife into it at the PLDM's conference on Saturday.  The statement that "the greatest danger to Moldova's existence is not the Russian 14th army stationed across the river in Transnistria, but the Russian media institutions in Chisinau, who day by day strangle Moldova's future" ruffled feathers in both Chisinau and Moscow among those who believe in the Russian language and culture's God-given right to dominate the Eurasian land mass.


The thing is, Tibuleac is right.  If you live in Chisinau and try hard enough, you can find one, maybe two Romanian language TV channels that aren't subtly pushing a Russian agenda.  If you live in the countryside you have little chance.

Those promoting content sourced from Russia defend their position by pointing to the poor quality of Romanian channels compared to Russian ones.  While I would cede the point that there isn't a Romanian equivalent of "Pervi Kanal" in terms of the quality of its content, it is unfair to write off the entire range of Romanian TV channels as being too inferior to rebroadcast.  Oh, and if you want a qualitative equivalent of "Pervi Kanal", how about BBC Prime?  At least the younger, English-speaking generation would have something decent to watch without the subtle propaganda.


The situation for magazine readers is just as bad.  Walk into Greenhills and you will be hard-pressed to find a Romanian language magazine on the newsstand.  Instead you are confronted with a wall-full of Russian glossies covering every possible interest under the sun.

The owners of the distribution networks claim that their supply is just following demand; apparently nobody reads Romanian magazines....

The fact is, if you cross the border into Romania you will find that it too has a range of interesting, glossy magazines on almost as many topics.  It's not that the material doesn't exist, nor that no-one wants to read it.  The distributors just aren't importing it, for whatever reason.

What the government / parliament needs to do

The answer to this problem is not to attack the Russian media outlets.  They have their place in Moldova's cultural environment.  Instead, a positive approach of promoting the Romanian language, Moldovan content and cultural diversity needs to be taken.  Here's a few ideas:

(a) 2/3 of the licences for television stations should be for channels which broadcast 2/3 in Romanian.

(b) The remaining 1/3 of the licences should be spread out - there should be Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and Bulgarina channels to cater to ethnic minorities, as well as channels in English and French for those with a broader worldview.

(c) Local content rules should also apply, to increase the volume of material sourced in Moldova

(d) As a minimum, 50% of the titles for sale on mass-market newsstands should be in Romanian.  No more than 25% should be in any foreign language.

As a liberal, I am always wary of proposing restrictions such as (a) - (d) above; in general it is better to leave people to decide for themselves.  In the current context, however (a country recovering from eight years of lies and manipulation) some affirmative action is warranted in the defence of the national language.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket

The orthodox bishopric of Moldova has today issued a statement in which it "disapproves of the method of protest" chosen by the orthodox believers who dismantled the Hannukah Menora last Sunday.

Without wasting a breath, the statement then moves on to condemn the placement of the Hannukah memorial in Europe Square, for the following reasons:

  1. It's inappropriate to place it in a place with a strong relationship to the faith of our people (Zimbru:  They put it in a park, not a cathedral.)
  2. The ritual symbolizes the victory of Jews over non-Jews (Zimbru:  over the Seleucid Greeks, actually.  They were a ruling class who for centuries had denied the right of public expression to followers of the Jewish religion, kind of like some other folks I know.)
  3. The decision of the city authorities should take into account the views of the majority (Zimbru:  OK, so now minorities don't have any rights or protections?  The Orthodox can do whatever they want in the square but Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims can't?)
The lukewarm response of the Moldovan Bishopric of the Russian Orthodox Church to the violence of its members is symptomatic of an organisation which is seriously ill.  It is riddled with communists, strongly influenced if not controlled by the Russian state, and contains many little pockets of hatred, intolerance and fear of those who are in some way different, be it ethnically, politically or by virtue of religious belief.

How can the Church hope to fulfill its spiritual mission in these circumstances?  Only after a period of deep, deep reform, effectively an 'Orthodox' version of the counter-reformation that Catholicism went through in response to the intellectual challenge from Luther, Calvin & Tyndale.

PS:  I am not orthodox but have a respect for the Church and some of its deep spiritual insights.  It is a tragedy for Moldova that the good that is inside the Church is being swamped by all this garbage.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

$50m and we're anyone's

Nauru has just recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  (Abkhaz story here) (S.O. story here)

Now I'm sure you all know this, but just in case you don't, Nauru is an island nation in the South Pacific.  For millenia migrating sea birds used the island as an enormous public toilet, depositing copious amounts of their faeces on top of the coral.  These deposits were rich in phosphates, and during the twentieth century were exported to farmers in Australia and New Zealand who used them as fertiliser.

On the basis of the fertiliser trade, Nauru became exceptionally wealthy, at one stage having significant property holdings in Melbourne, Australia.  The wealth was poorly managed, however, and has dwindled away.  What's more, the phosphate deposits have been used up.  These days Nauru is completely reliant on aid and on other windfalls (such as the rent the Australians paid to Nauru for several years to host a bunch of unwanted Afghan asylum seekers).

It seems that Nauru's latest ruse is charging money for recognising pseudo-states, including the likes of Taiwan and Kosovo.  Apparently in return for the recognition of Abkhazia the Russians are donating $50m to the cause.

Personally I don't think the Russians bargained hard enough.  For an extra $25m Nauru would have thrown in  Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria as well.  For the all-time low price of $100m they would have also recognised Russia's claims to the Kuriles and the Crimea.  Toss in an extra $10m and all 11,000 of them would have learned Russian, become citizens and taken up drinking Stolichnaya.

Seriously, if $50m is the going rate for recognition by a tiny island state, imagine how much the Russians will have to pay for the other 189 members of the UN still to recognise the breakaway territories?  They'd be better off just buying them from the Georgians.


Обогошайтесь! (Go get rich!) is a Russian word famously associated with Yegor Gaidar, who is reported this morning to have died of a stroke, age 53.

Gaidar was Russian Prime Minister for six months in 1992 and was the chap who effectively introduced the market economy by liberalising prices (which not surprisingly spiked as a result). He also attempted to haul state-enterprises into the real world.

Gaidar is a tragic figure. He did what had to be done, and yet the Russian public hated him for it. In calling on Russians to go get rich, his intention was that they establish legitimate businesses and generate wealth. In reality what happened was that only a small group took his advice (the oligarchs), although instead of creating value they instead just accumulated former state assets in rigged auctions. The majority of Russians liked the idea of getting rich but didn't have a clue how to found or run businesses, how to market, or even where to acquire the necessary skills. As a result, Gaidar's admonishment came to be regarded as a sick joke (although I'm sure that wasn't the intention).

In recent years Gaidar has dropped out of sight, although he did pop up briefly in 2006 when he was reportedly poisoned in Ireland. He stated at the time that the poisoning attempt was the work of 'adversaries of the Russian authorities', however the details are a bit murky and there are echoes of the Litvinenko and Iusenko cases.

Gaidar is rumoured to have been working on a book at the time of his death; it will be interesting to see if other chapters will be posthumously added to his life story.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

True Believers?

It really wasn't hard to find a headline for this post.  Others which would have served equally well were

  • The Gang of Four
  • Et tu, Liudochka?
  • Shiprats
  • Podul de piatra s-a deramat
I am talking, of course, about today's decision by four communist deputies to leave the Parliamentary faction.  In former times three of the four have been leading lights within the party and close associates of Vladimir Voronin:
  • Vladimir Turcan, trusted by Voronin as ambassador to Moscow and lately the 'friendly face' of the party to the general public, like Voronin a former general in the police force.
  • Victor Stepaniuc, until recently the country's leading Moldovenist (although he has been repenting of some of his more extreme positions lately)
  • Liudmila Belcencova, until recently one of the party's main propagandists, employed as a journalist with the Voronin-owned television station NIT.
  • Valentin Guznac, who hails from the communist fortress of Balti.
These desertions (8% of the PCRM's deputies) must be personally painful for Voronin, and really show that he has lost control of the party to Mark Tkaciuc.

While any day the communists lose people is a good day for Moldova, it would be best to keep the champagne on ice for the time being.  The 'gang of four' remain died-in-the-wool communists; in fact, one of the reasons given for their departure is that the communist party is 'promoting the extreme right'.  The other reason is, of course, the failure of the PCRM to vote for Marian Lupu as president.

The best that one can hope for is that this group will form the core of a 'democratic socialist' party that will be reasonably constructive and somewhat less romanophobic than the PCRM.  In the worst case, they will just be a more intelligent and therefore even more dangerous version of the existing communist party.

The PCRM, on the other hand will continue to bleed for some time to come, eventually reducing to a small, still undemocratic, economically centrist party whose major appeal is to the rusofone minority.  With Tkaciuc at the helm it can't really be anything else.

Monday, December 14, 2009

ZDG takes on the railroad mafia

Ziarul de Garda (ZDG) is a little paper which has a fine tradition of investigating corruption and human rights abuses.  In recent weeks, in a series of investigative articles, ZDG has turned its attention to the goings on on Moldova's rail system (Romanian speakers can find the articles here).

Anybody who has ever taken an international train to or from Chisinau will recognise the look of disappointment in a conductor's eyes when you produce an official ticket rather than purchase a seat direct from the conductor using cash.  This is explained by the fact that, according to ZDG, each conductor is obliged to pay $300 per trip to one Gheorghe Moraru, for the privilege of maintaining their position.

Among many other abuses detailed by the paper are a requirement for employees to pay $2,000 in order to secure employment, and stories of wagons on the train to Moscow being loaded up with illegal wine exports.

Now, the team at ZDG and their families are receiving anonymous telephonic threats to their physical safety.  They are requesting from the authorities both protection and a speedy investigation into the multifarious rackets on the rails.

Zimbru adds his voice to their calls.


That's really the only way to describe yesterday's destruction of a giant Hanukkah menora sited in Chisinau's Europe Square.

For your information, a Hanukkah menora is a nine-branched candleholder used by people of the Jewish faith to celebrate the overthrow of Seleucid rule and the subsequent return of the temple in Jerusalem.  Hanukkah is one of the major festivals in the Jewish calendar and falls around the same time as Christmas.

The Hanukkah menora in question was only installed a few days ago.  It was dismounted yesterday by an Orthodox priest, Anatolie Cibric, and a group of around 100 parishioners from Saint Parascheva's church.  In it's place they placed a small wooden cross.

What they did was wrong in many, many ways:

1.  Historic.  Chisinau has a long and deep history as a Jewish city; in the year 1900 around half of the city's population was Jewish.  This proportion dwindled away over the course of the twentieth centruy as both the holocaust and emigration to Israel took their toll.

2.  Political.  Moldova is a secular state in which the majority of people just happen to be orthodox.  The Orthodox Church (or sections of it) have no special rights to impose their will on people of other faiths and confessions.

3.  Criminal.  Moldova has laws on its books which make 'instigating ethnic hatred' a crime, punishable by up to three years of imprisonment.

4.  Moral.  How dare you do this to a people who have suffered so greatly!  How dare you use your position and power as the dominant religion in the land to attack a smaller, weaker faith?  This is the opposite of the gospel Jesus preached.

There are all sorts of conspiracy theories floating around.  One has the Russians, the Jewish community and the Orthodox community colluding in an attempt to discredit Moldova before the European Union.  Another has the Communist Party provoking Cibric and his group into committing the provocation in an attempt to further divide society.

The theories may have their merits, but I hope that the Moldovan justice system sticks to the facts.  The sight of this priest and his followers being tried and convicted will send a powerful signal to others who wish to do evil to 'the other'.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fusu unleashed

I have had the pleasure of watching Corina Fusu in action on jurnaltv, discussing the political control of Teleradio Moldova together with PCRM deputy Grigore Petrenco and a TRM representative.

Fusu had well-thought-out and well-prepared responses, to both Petrenco's propaganda and to the TRM chap's lame attempts to defend his organisation's woeful performance.  She dominated the interview and didn't allow cheap shots or untruths to go unpunished.  At times she left Petrenco floundering for words, a rare pleasure to observe.

Ms Fusu appears to be a worthy candidate for the Liberal Party leadership should Mihai Ghimpu decide to relinquish it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rebooting Moldovan Agriculture

When discussing agriculture in Moldova, it doesn't take long before the s-word pops up.  It's a word beloved not just by those on the left who you would expect to use it, but also by the supposedly radical extremist parties of the right.


The problem with subsidies is that they don't work.  They don't build strong enterprises.

Sometimes subsidies end up being a complete racket, such as the loans and grants sloshed around over the last few years to supposedly promote the plantation of vineyards (and, rather stupidly, contribute to the world's growing wine lake...).  Subsidies shield agri-businesses from the realities of international markets, leaving them weak and unprepared for change.  They distort market prices, sending the wrong signals to business about where they should be investing their money.  Ultimately they divert money from social services or from the pockets of taxpayers.

Don't get me wrong; the state does have an important role in agriculture.  That role is to facilitate the development of strong Moldovan agribusinesses which are able to produce and market Moldova's primary produce in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

A serious agricultural policy needs to start with an assessment of the underlying problems of the industry:
  1. lack of investment capital
  2. fragmentation of farmland
  3. lack of marketing capability
Policy then needs to address these issues in turn.  Heres some ideas
  1. The state should work with international donors to support financial institutions willing to provide credit against substantive and sensible business plans.  Microfinance principles could come in useful here.
  2. The state should establish a machinery hire company, run on a fully commercial basis, with branches across the country.  Farmers can then hire tractors, harvesters, cement mixers etc rather than having to own them.  In the long term this company should be privatised.
  3. Land consolidation should be encouraged by giving groups of neighbouring peasant farmers a simple facility through which they can transform their small holdings into transactable shares in a collective holding larger parcels of land.
  4. Marketing capability could be strengthened by establishing a state-owned marketing enterprise which would once again operate on as fully commercial a basis as possible.  It would not be a monopoly (farmers would be free to market their produce as they see fit), however it would be available to puchase produce from enterprises too small or too underskilled to undertake their own marketing.
In all of the activities above the state should aim to make an acceptable profit on taxpayer investment.  Otherwise the policies above will just be the s-word in disguise.

Agriculture should not be a street-corner beggar, demanding subsidies from the secondary or tertiary sectors of the economy.  Its rightful place is as the motor of the Moldovan economy, standing on its own two feet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frattini tries to give the farm away

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has raised the possibility of Russian citzens being able to travel visa-free in the European Union sometime next year.

In principle this would be a good thing; it would build trade and cultural ties between the two powers, and expose more Russians to western liberal democratic ideals.

In practice however, visa free travel for Russians at this time would be a huge strategic mistake (on a similar scale to the huge strategic mistake of undermining the Nabucco pipeline...).  Why?  Because this is one of the few policy tools Europe has at its disposal for peacefully resolving the frozen conflicts in Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan.

By allowing Russians to travel visa-free, Europe will be indirectly supporting Russia's creeping annexation of the separatist territories of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and (to a lesser extent) Nagorno Karabakh. Russian nationality will become even more attractive to the residents of those areas than it is today.

The approach Europe should actually be taking is to give visa-free access first of all to holders of Moldovan, Georgian and Azerbaijani passports.  This would encourage residents of the separatist enclaves to take out the citizenship of the state where they live rather than look to Russia, and would promote the eventual reintegration of countries that have been torn apart by Russian-sponsored rebellions.

I'm all for visa free access for Russian citizens, however this should be a reward for Russia's constructive role in resolving the frozen conflicts (read withdrawal of troops and removal of other forms of support from the separatists.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More babies please

The world is sitting on a number of timebombs:

  • global warming
  • the end of oil
  • limits on food supply
The three issues above are all linked in some way to the Earth's ever - expanding population.  In Eastern Europe, however, we have a different type of demographic problem:
  • The old are living longer due to improved medicine
  • Some of the young are emigrating due to the lack of opportunities at home
  • The young who remain in the country are having very small families, as they can't afford too many children
The upshot is that Eastern European populations are rapidly declining and rapidly aging (and Moldova is no exception).  Over the next few decades, smaller and smaller generations of workers will be expected to support larger and larger generations of pensioners.  If left unaddressed, there will be open conflict between generations; we are already seeing elections won on the basis of unaffordable pension increase 'bribes'.

As populations decline, villages and towns will continue to empty out and fields will be left unattended, a crime in a hungry world.  Services such as schooling and medical care may become uneconomic in certain locations due to a lack of demand.

Governments around the region need to respond positively to these challenges, for example:
  • Mechanised, commercial, labour-extensive agriculture needs to be promoted as an alternative to traditional, labour intensive peasant farming.
  • The healthy elderly need to be encouraged to work beyond normal retirement age
  • Working age people need to be encouraged to save for their own retirements, so as to not put the burden of support onto their own children.
Above all, governments need to have an active population policy designed to both maintain a stable population and a good proportion of younger people.  They need to do all the can to keep young people from emigrating (e.g. by providing top quality educational and working opportunities at home).  They need to do all they can to encourage two or three children families (e.g. by providing free or cheap all-day childcare through schools and kindergartens, or by giving tax breaks to families).  They need to consider immigration from poorer, "younger" countries in Asia or Africa.

The problem with policies such as those set out above is that they only bear fruit in the long-term, when the generation of politicians who enacted them is long gone.  There is little to gain politically from telling people they need to save, for example.  One good way of counteracting this is by establishing a common position among all major political forces on long term issues.  In this way there is shared responsibility and long-term demographics don't become a political football.

Do we have politicians with the necessary foresight and character?

Mr Barbarosie should consider a new profession

Arcadie Barbarosie has published his latest opinion poll.  I won't comment on the results, as I simply don't believe them.  Consider the following:
  • Barbarosie has AMN coming in at 1.8%, way below the threshold.  His polls prior to the 29 July election were giving similar results, and yet AMN comfortably exceeded the threshhold and secured 7 seats.
  • Barbarosie gives the PSD 2.7%.  This is a party that has suffered through the loss of a co-leader (Musuc) and the recent dissensions relating to the proposed fusion with the PD.  There is no way they enjoy 2.7% support.
  • According to Barbarosie, 43.7% would want to rejoin the Soviet Union, while 16.3% would think about it.  60% of Moldova's population prepared to countenance a return to totalitarianism?  Crazy.
Barbarosie's polls have a tendency to overly favour leftist views.  In part this is accomplished by leading questions (e.g. the question about the USSR above came immediately after one which asked "Are you living better than you did under the Soviet Union?"), however I suspect there is also some sampling bias (or worse, manipulation of the data) which needs to be addressed urgently.

Otherwise, perhaps Mr Barbarosie should take up a career writing fiction.

Open Season

In some parts of the world there is one month a year when grown men get to wear floppy hats and rubber boots.  One month a year when they get to sit around in damp dugouts 'bonding' with each other.  One month a year when they can unleash their worst aggressive tendencies.  One month a year when the normal controls are relaxed

I refer of course to duck shooting season.

Up until yesterday, the Communists had something valuable to trade - 8 votes for the presidency.  With these eight votes, they could have bought themselves, in varying measures:

  • protection from prosecution for cimes committed
  • protection of their wealth
  • positions of power
  • implementation of certain policies
  • protection of their party's name and symbols
  • continuing influence in provincial administrations
  • Marian Lupu's twelve point plan
Now, having boycotted the vote, the communists have played their last card and now have nothing left of value to the governing coalition.  Furthermore, they have brought the four AIE parties together in a shared anti-communism.

It's now open season on the communist party and its members.  They will face the full force of the law, as they should.  The AIE will revert to its program of government, without making any concessions.  The various monopolies established by Voronin and his cronies will be unpicked.  Teleradio Moldova will be free in the very near future, following the recent appointment of 10 new members to its governing board.  Provincial members of the Communist party will defect, as will senior deputies such as Turcan and Stepaniuc.

Happy hunting, AIE.  Bag a couple for me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What now?

Following Parliament's failure for a second time to elect a President, we are now back in a similar situation constitutionally to the one we found ourselves in on June 3rd.  According to Article 78 line 5 of the constitution,

  • "If after repeated elections, the (new) President is not elected, the (current) President dissolves Parliament and sets the election date for the new Parliament."

The complication is in Article 85 line 3:

  • "In the course of a year, Parliament can only be dissolved once"

The last time Parliament was dissolved was on the 16th of June.  Taken together, these two articles required the current parliament to function until that date in 2010, and then to be dissolved ahead of new elections.  According to Article 61 line 3, the new elections need to take place within 3 months of the dissolution (i.e. by the 16th of September 2010).

Now, the AIE is keen to have a new constitution approved such that either the President will be elected directly by the people or by a simple majority of deputies.  Constitutionally, there are two ways to change the constitution:
  1. By a 2/3 vote of the deputies in Parliament.  This is almost an impossibility, due to the blocking minority held by the communists.
  2. By a referendum, which the constitution describes as having 'supreme judicial force'.
My counsel to the AIE would be to take their time in drafting a new constitution, and get it right.  Consult civil society groups directly and the general public by using surveys of public opinion on particular points.  To save money and avoid dragging out the Moldovan electorate, the constitutional referendum could be held concomitantly with the September parliamentary election, with the Presidential election to follow.

Three holes in the ground

Well, well, well...

Pardon for the old joke, but it seems that three holes in the ground (graves actually) will indeed be the outcome of this morning's events.

The first grave is reserved for Romania's Social Democrat Party (PSD), which, despite being Romania's largest party in terms of popular support, and in spite of having the historic support of the National Liberal Party, still apparently managed to fail in its bid to defeat incumbent President Traian Basescu.  The problem:  all the crooks hanging around in the background (Nastase, Iliescu, Vintu etc.).  The PSD's candidate, Mircea Geoana will undoubtedly take the fall for the failure and be sacrificed.  Longer term, however, it is the PSD that is doomed to meet its maker as it has lost its ideological basis and become captive to business clans.  By the way, I can see Geoana following Marian Lupu's trajectory - leaving the party to establish his own left of centre outfit that would gradually cannibalise the corpse of the PSD.

The second grave is for Moldova's Communist Party, which today boycotted the second round of presidential elections, apparently forcing a new set of anticipated parliamentary elections on the country.  This was a very, very dumb move on their part.  Marian Lupu, the candidate for president, is the country's most popular politician and the only person capable of uniting Moldovan society.  Unlike in June, when the three liberal parties boycotted the elections in protest against the communist's abuses of human rights and democratic norms, this time around the communists have boycotted simply because they want to return to power.  I hope and pray that between now and the next set of elections (probably autumn 2010) enough water will flow under the bridge that the communists will only receive a fraction of the support they had last July and will be 'buried' as a political force.  The AIE will have to work hard to ensure that this actually happens.

The third grave (hopefully a temporary one) is for the people of both Romania and Moldova.  The political situtation in both countries is now such that stability appears impossible in the near future.  The instability will deter investors, lenders and donors, and make it much more difficult for the two countries to climb out of their respective recessions.

Thank you Voronin and Iliescu for your many years of corrupt leadership and political machinations against the interests of your poeple.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Where's your candidate?

You are the largest party in parliament, representing 700,000 of Moldova's citizens.

In theory at least you have a doctrine of protecting the poor.

You have been highly critical of the current AIE majority, complaining that this government will be ruinous for the country.

You have taken your complaints against the AIE's 'democratic abuses' all the way to Brussels.

You obviously think that the power of the AIE needs to be balanced if not overturned.

So, where's your candidate for president?

Shame on you for failing to participate in the democratic process.  You now have no moral right to complain about or oppose the AIE.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hello, I'm a Romoldacian!

Speaker Ghimpu is being heavily criticised in Parliament this morning for declaring that he is a Romanian and thereby neglecting the 'Moldovan' population of the country.  Both the communist Stepaniuc and the democrat Diacov have made statements to this effect, playing to the rusofile and moldovenist electorate that they both court.

The identity issue can be dealt with if it is broken down into its components - ethnicity and nationality.  With respect to the latter, it is quite clear that anyone (from Ghimpu to Klimenko) holding a passport from the Republic of Moldova can claim to be a 'Moldovan' national, regardless of their ethnic background.

With respect to the former, the situation of ethnic Ukrainian, Russian & Gagauz families is relatively clear, unless they intermarry with the majority population.

The tricky thing is what to call the ethnicity of the majority.  It is clear that by and large they share the same ethnogenesis as the majority population living on the other side of the Prut (Romanians), and I guess this is how they described themselves during the inter-war period when the territory was part of greater Romania.

Soviet influence has, however, led to many describing themselves as 'Moldovan', and this term may also have been used during the rule of the Moldovan principality (prior to 1812).  Many in the Republic of Moldova use such language as they feel little affinity with Romania.

From 1812 - 1917 (the Russian imperial period), I guess the term 'Basarabian' was used (Please correct me if I am wrong about any of this...)

In order to get an unequivocal name for the ethnic group that would unite majorities on both sides of the Prut, you probably have to go all the way back to the Romans and the Dacians who were forbears of all the latinate people in this part of the world.  It would, however, be difficult to persuade 20m people to pick up this moniker.

An interesting parallel is Austria.  Until the second world war, many Austrians considered themselves to be ethnic Germans, however now only 6% do (the majority believing that a new 'Austrian' ethnicity has emerged).

There doesn't appear to be an easy answer.  I guess the best approach would be to let everybody freely decide how to call themselves and let a consensus gradually emerge from the sum of individual opinions.

What is clear, however, is that the issue needs to be depoliticised.  Ghimpu has every right to describe himself as a Romanian and be a patriotic, high official in the Republic of Moldova.  Stepaniuc and Diacov should hold off the cheap shots and leave him be.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Comments on changes to the constitution

Please comment on any changes you would like to see in the constitution.

O'Neill, the AIE and a dead president

On Saturday morning interim presdient Mihai Ghimpu announced the establishment of a constitutional commission, charged with drafting a document to replace the existing (and dysfunctional) basic law.

On Radio Free Europe this morning, Louis O'Neill, a former OSCE Chisinau mission head, has made some important comments.

The main thrust of his commentary is that
  1. A new constitution shouldn't be written in haste (I agree)
  2. It shouldn't be directed against political adversaries (I agree, but with conditions - see below)
  3. The new constitution shouldn't be seen as a solution to the current political crisis (I partially agree)
  4. Care should be taken to avoid unforeseen side-effects (I agree)
  5. A constitution is best written in a calm political atmosphere in which it can enjoy broad support (I agree)
Mr O'Neills comments also contain some brickbats for the governing AIE, accusing them of changing the rules in their own interests, just as the communists used to do:
  1. Changing the rules for the election of the president so that it will be valid with only a single candidate
  2. Changing the rules for the election of members of the Audiovisual Council and the Council of observers such that members can be elected by a simple majority of deputies
  3. Allowing ministers to also be deputies for a period of up to 6 months
  4. Switching off microphones when communist deputies are attempting to speak.
  5. Persecution of communist deputies (e.g. the allegations of monopolisation of the meat market by Muntean)
I have to say that, if Moldova were a normal country with a strong democratic tradition, I would stand strongly behind some of Mr O'Neill's criticisms.  But it's not.  The country is emerging from a period of authoritarian quasi-dictatorship and the first priority is that that legacy be dealt with so that Moldova can emerge stronger in the future.  Let's take a closer look at 1-5 above:
  1. I don't have a problem with this.  Anybody who wishes to can register for election as president.  If only a single candidate registers, it's still a democratic process.  Besides, the constitution allows it (on my reading, anyway).
  2. Given the sorry state of the Moldovan media, something had to be done to allow the two councils to function properly (both were blocked without a quorum).  In any case, the AIE have recognised that this is a temporary solution, and that more comprehensive reform of media laws is required.
  3. This is the move I found most troubling, as it attacks separation of powers.  Here, however, there is a problem with the constitution (which requires an absolute majority and doesn't allow laws to be passed by a majority of deputies present in parliament as is the case in other democracies) and with the communist party (which won't establish a "gentleman's agreement" with the AIE to allow the passage of legislation even when 52 AIE deputies aren't present).
  4. This is nonsense.  I have been diligent in observing parliamentary sessions and am yet to observe an instance in which microphones have been switched off without due cause under parliamentary regulations.  The communists purposefully push the regulations to the limit in each session.  Admittedly it would be good if Ghimpu and Urechean could refrain from commenting beyond the necessary when they do flick the switch...
  5. The 'meat monopoly' case certainly has a political character and it was unfortunate how some sections of the media portrayed the anti-corruption centre's presentation of the case to government.  It must be said that the government is fully within its rights to understand what is going on in the marketplace and take measures to promote competition and derestrict access to the market.  The proviso of course is that criminal liability be dealt with independently by the prosecutor and the court system.
The AIE is using every legal means available to ensure that the communist party never again poses a threat to Moldova's democracy and the livelihood of the people.  Some of these measures may seem antidemocratic and should be modified in the medium term.  They are necessary in the short term, however.

I would counsel Mr O'Neill to take a look at his own country's history.  In the nineteenth century an American president imposed martial law and suspended Habeas Corpus (the need to have a justifiable reason for imprisoning someone).  It would be expected that such a president would have gone down in history as a tyrant and a dictator.

Actually no.  The president in question was Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest leader the country has ever had.  The context - the outbreak of the civil war against a foe (the South) and an ideology (Slavery / Racisim / Separatism) so dangerous that it warranted the temporary suspension of democratic rights.

What the AIE is doing is very mild in comparison to the measures taken by Lincoln, yet the foe and the ideology they face are every bit as menacing as that presented by the Confederacy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Motherhood & Apple Pie

Marian Lupu's 12-point plan appears to have a good chance of being accepted by moderate communists and facilitating his election as president. As the title of this post suggests, most of it is so innocuous that it would unite even the most extreme political foes. As nobody would argue that motherhood is a good thimg, so nobody would argue with 'promoting a spirit of dialog and compromise'.

There are some potential barbs among the points however. Point 2 gives the Communists control over the Auditor General's Office and the Central Election Commission. Given the need to (a) investigate white-collar crime committed under communist rule and (b) clean up the electoral process, neither of these moves seems terribly smart.

The 'socially oriented economic policy' of point 3 sounds warm and cuddly, but could actually end up postponing much needed reform in health, pensions, welfare and taxation.

Point 5 talks about communist participation in resolution of the Transnistrian dispute; hard to see how they could make a positive contribution after eight years of failure...

The worst is saved for last; In point 12 Lupu uses emotive language and plays to communist fantasies about Romanian 'iredentism' by promising to preserve Moldova's statehood. A simple and unbiased statement that the AIE wouldn't seek unification with Romania would have sufficed.

In summary, Lupu has made some significant concessions to the communists. These are unfortunate but are unlikely to be fatal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stalin was a treacherous, murderous coward

Chisinau recently had the dubious privilege of hosting Maxim Miscenko, deputy of the Russian State Duma.  He appeared at a press conference with Valerii Klimenko of 'Ravnopravie' and other Russian nationalists.  It emerged during the conference that Mr Miscenko considers Josef Stalin to be a hero.

The rehabilitation of Stalin, both in Russia and the other countries of the CIS, has got to stop.  If there is anyone out there tempted to put his photo in a locket next to their heart, please consider the following:

  1. The death of millions in Ukraine from famine during the 30's due to Stalin's misguided collectivization policies.
  2. His failure to enter the war against Germany in 1939 and 1940, leaving Britain to stand alone against fascism.
  3. His failure to recogonise the shipments of British and American gold into Archangelsk during the war (NB: it was this gold which largely facilitated the construction of the Siberian armaments factories) 
  4. His cowardice in failing to engage his political opponents in open debate (he chose the path of exterminating or exiling millions of them)
  5. His gross stupidity in failing to properly arm the Soviet military during the war, leading to millions of deaths among soldiers sharing rifles and using pitch forks.
  6. His cowardly and opportunistic late declaration of war on Japan, which came after the US had fought its way through the Pacific and dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  7. His installation of undemocratic communist regimes in Eastern Europe, against the will of the peoples concerned.
If Stalin is your hero, then you are either mad, bad or brainwashed.  My guess in Miscenko's case is a touch of all three.

NB:  As with all comments of this nature it is important to separate the heroism and tragic losses of the people of the former Soviet Union (which I greatly respect and honour) from the depravity and incompetence of their leadership (which I do not)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Romania Decides

It's election day in Romania; the nation's citizens are choosing their next President.  The election is being followed keenly in Moldova, partly as a result of the recent change of government in Chisinau.

The main choices are
  1. The incumbent, Traian Basescu, who is supported by the Democrat-Liberal Party (DLP)
  2. The leader of the main opposition Social Democrat Party (SDP), Mircea Geoana
  3. The leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL), Crin Antonescu
If it were just about domestic policy, then Crin Antonescu would win my vote hands-down.  The PNL-led government of 2005-06 was easily the best that Romania has had since the 1920s, and the PNL is the only party that has the sort of reformist policies that Romania needs to put itself permanently back on a high-growth track.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of this blog I also need to look at foreign policy and in particular what the candidate's election means for Moldova.  Here, the liberals have the weakest showing of all three main parties.  Historically they haven't paid much attention to the republic, and during the campaign their presence has been weak.  There is also still a whiff of the 'petro-liberalism' (and the rumoured ties to the big Russian energy corporations) which Basescu railed against a couple of years ago.

Geoana's team contains a lot of competent folks (e.g. former foreign minister Diaconescu), and Geoana himself looks the most 'Presidential' of the three.  In respect to Moldova the Social Democrats have been trying hard of late to improve their standing, rolling in heavy guns such as Titus Corlatean and Adrian Severin to make Moldova's case in Europe.  They have been making encouraging noises about citizenship and other issues.

The Social Democrats have a dark side, however.  The corrupt Adrian Nastase and the unreformed communist Iliescu still hover in the background, together with other dinosaurs such as Hrebenciuc and Vangelie.  The party's policies are old-fashioned socialism and statism, and will gradually choke the economy to death if given reign.

Basescu is, on paper, the most pro-Moldovan of the three.  He takes a lot of care to be seen as a protector of the "buni romani" that live on the other side of the Prut.  His opponents have, however, pointed out that Basescu is more smoke than fire on this one - how many Moldovans have actually received citizenship since the law was changed, for example?

Basescu's domestic record is quite poor, however.  On coming to power in 2004, he engineered a change of government from PSD to a PD-PNL-UDMR coalition, basically by coercing deputies to switch allegiance (although it has to be said that the PSD probably had a few more deputies than they deserved due to electoral fraud).  He then proceeded to systematically undermine the leadership of PNL prime minister Tariceanu, leading ultimately to the immasculated PNL minority government of 2007-08.  Following parliamentary elections in late 2008, a PD-L - PSD government was formed, and Basescu once more set about undermining it.  Put simply, Basescu has frequently overstepped his constitutional boundaries and has been singly responsible for the political instability of the past few years.

At the time of writing, (illegally leaked) exit polls put Basescu in the lead with Geoana in second and Antonescu clearly in third.  If these polls translate into official figures, we'll see a second round run-off between  Basescu and Geoana.

A good result for Moldova but terrible news for Romania.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mr Van Thingy and Baronness Whatshername

"Europe" has decided:  Herman van Rompuy will occupy the new position of President while Baroness Catherine Ashton will be the Union's new foreign minister.  Both are 'worthy' candidates, with Van Rompuy enjoying a good reputation as Belgian prime minister and Ashton being a respected Commissioner.

That's not the point, however.  It's bad enough that these two positions (in principle, two of the most powerful in the world) are designated rather than elected.  Its worse that the whole process has been opaque and has happened in the proverbial 'smoke-filled rooms' of the Brussels administration.

What is truely abominable, however, is the cynical manner in which two relatively unknown and basically powerless people have been thrust haplessly into these two top jobs.  They will be unable to forge the common foreign policy that was supposed to be the centrepiece of the Lisbon Treaty and will instead spend their days cobbling together messy compromises between Berlin Paris and London.  In one fell swoop, the European Council has defeated the purpose of a treaty thay have fought long and hard for.  They've also ignored the mounting evidence of estrangement between the Union's institutions and its citizens.

I say lets throw away Lisbon (which is now next to worthless) and go back to the birthplace of European democracy.  The new 'Athens' treaty should provide for a commission and a presidency which is directly elected by all the people of Europe.  Mr Van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton are welcome to throw their hats in the ring, but the bottom line is that I want a vote.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does the end justify the means?

There's a lot of talk these days about (re)banning the Communist Party.

In the early days of Moldova's independence, the Communist Party was banned, its very existence being considered a threat to the independence of the Moldovan state.  Communists fought for the preservation of the Soviet Union, promoted the oppression of Moldovan culture and stood alongside the Transnistrian separatists as they took up arms to carve out their puppet state.  As ideological descendents of Lenin, they believed in neither God, democracy nor the promotion of human rights.

The rehabilitation of the Communist Party began during the Presidency of Petru Lucinski, when a presidential order was issued to sidestep the ban earlier issued by parliament  (note that the legal validity of this order is somewhat questionable).  I guess Lucinski's rational was that, in a democracy, even people with distasteful and anti-democratic ideas have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

In a sense the last eight years have proved the case presented by parliament in the early 1990s.  The Communist Party, once in power, set about dismantling and undermining democratic institutions.  They failed miserably to protect the human rights of the nation's citizens (as evidenced by the string of ECHR judgements brought against the country).  Things got so bad that they ended up condoning the beating, rape and murder of their young opponents on April 7th.

So where does the line get drawn?  To what extent do communists have the right to freedom of expression and association?  Is that right unlimited?  Can it be withdrawn based on either (a) past abuses, or (b) anti-democratic positions, statements and policies?

A tangential debate is the one initiated by Democrat deputy Oleg Serebrian earlier today.  Wearing another hat as leader of a civil society group, he pleaded for the banning of all communist symbols, claiming support from the Council of Europe's recent condemnation of Fascism and Communism.  Putting aside Serebrian's underlying purpose (to force significant change on the PCRM by destroying their 'brand'), such a move can easily be supported.  Nazi symobols have been outlawed in Germany since the end of the second world war, with western powers turning a blind eye to the curtailment of freedom of expression that this represents.  It would appear be an entirely reasonable extension of this policy were countries that suffered greatly under communism to introduce a similar ban on the hammer and sickle.

We are in for interesting times in the months ahead as Moldova figures out whether it is justifiable to use undemocratic means to safeguard democracy...  I'd love to hear your views on this one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The tall and the short of it


Vlad Filat has requested that Russia treat Moldova with respect.  It seems as if he will get his wish - if Marian Lupu is elected as president, then Russia won't be able to look down on Moldova for at least the next four years.

The photo above also suggests an alternative conflict resolution mechanism between the two countries; instead of long, boring negotiations, how about we just settle things by an arm-wrestling match between the two leaders?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The emporer has no clothes

My 'favourite' news agency, Omega, is running a story this morning under the heading "Moldova's premier accuses Russia of supporting the Transnistrian regime".  Most Omega stories (a) take half a fact about the 'extremist, pro-Romanian, anti-popular AIE', (b) contort it until it screams with wrenching pain, then (c) head it up with a tagline designed to scandalise and outrage Omega's pro-communist readership.

My guess is that the intention was the same with this story, which you can find in Romanian here.  Here's a rough translation of some of it:

"Prime Minister Vladimir Filat, said in an interview for the Romanian newspaper "Truth" that he will ask Russia to stop "direct and indirect support to the regime in Tiraspol.

Filat stressed that Moldovan-Russian relations should be based on "dignity". The Prime Minister said in the interview that dignity "means respect for our sovereign rights, withdrawal of the Russian army and ammunition from Transnistria, cessation of direct and indirect support of the Tiraspol regime, and a respectful relationship with the Republic of Moldova."

I think Omega has messed up here.  There's nothing remotely scandalous in what Filat said.  What is noteable is that Moldovan leaders are speaking the truth about the Transnistrian dispute.  Except for a couple of years following the Kozak debacle, Voronin and Stratan preferred to tiptoe around the issue, attempting not to put Russian noses out of joint (and failing miserably...)

Like the little boy in the fairytale, the liberals and liberal democrats are pointing out that, actually, the emporer isn't wearing any clothes.  Filat and Ghimpu are not going to play Moscow's game and pretend that the Russian forces in Tiraspol are peacekeepers or that the Russian diplomats are mediators, positions made unsustainable internationally by last year's Russo-Georgian war.

In my view, the recognition of Russia's true role in Transnistria, the recognition of her interests (both real and perceived) and her presence at the table as a party to the conflict are the first steps to be taken in bringing about a durable resolution.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A sporting chance

It's a country of four million people that was born out of the unravelling of one of the world's great empires.  Its economy is dependent on primary production and its exporters struggle to gain access to foreign markets.  It shares a language and close cultural ties with its larger neighbour to the west.  From time to time significant strains arise between the ethnic majority that makes up 80% of the population and the various minorities that make up the remainder.  The people are hospitable, if somewhat reserved.

Funnily enough, the description above applies equally well to the Republic of Moldova and the Dominion of New Zealand.  There are of course many, many differences, however the similarities are interesting.

What brought this to mind was last night's soccer world cup qualification game between New Zealand and Bahrain,  New Zealand won 1-0 in front of the country's largest-ever soccer crowd (35,000) at the 'Cake-Tin' in Wellington.  As a result, the 'All-Whites' get to go to their first world cup since 1982.

Traditionally a rugby-playing nation, New Zealand's soccer eleven is likely to suffer in South Africa.  The raw material is promising enough, however the team simply doesn't get match-practice against decent sides.

Turning to Moldova for a moment, it has been very pleasing to watch the development of rugby in the country over the last few years.  Readers might be interested to note that the national rugby team holds the 43rd position in the IRB's table while in FIFA's rankings the national soccer team comes in only at 88.

Once again, however, the Moldovan rugby team doesn't get good match practice, having to settle for playing other third-tier sides such as Belgium and Portugal, rather than the real powerhouses of Western Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

So here's the idea:  New Zealand sends its soccer team up to Moldova & Romania, where it can have a go at Sheriff, Zimbru, Steaua, Unirea etc. and the national teams of both countries.  Moldova reciprocates by sending its rugby team down to New Zealand for the next southern winter to improve its skills by taking on a range of challenging provincial sides.

Now we just need to find several hundred thousand Euros to pay for travel and accommodation.  Has anyone out there just won the lottery?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In search of ten righteous people...

One of my favourite passages in the Bible is in chapter 18 of Genesis.  Abraham's nephew Lot, his wife and two daughters are living in the city of Sodom, which has been overcome by all sorts of evil.  God tells Abraham that the city is about to be destroyed because of its wickedness, and they start negotiating:

Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."

Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?" 

"If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it."

Once again he spoke to him, "What if only forty are found there?"

He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it."

Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"

He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."

Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"

He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."

Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"

He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Abraham could only scrape up four righteous people and Sodom was destroyed.

I can't help thinking of the parallel with the Communist Party in Moldova, an organisation whose deputies and functionaries have committed all sorts of evils over the last eight years.  In the second round of the presidential election they will have the chance to save their party by voting (at least in part) for Marian Lupu and thereby giving Moldova a chance at a half-decent future.  If they don't vote Lupu they will go the way of Sodom as their sins are uncovered and they are eventually punished by the electorate in an anticipated poll or a referendum.

My question:  Are there ten righteous (or at least 'redeemable') people in the PCRM?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spot the Principle

The first attempt at electing Marian Lupu as President has failed after the 48 communist deputies walked out of today's session of parliament and failed to present at the urn.  61 votes are needed to elect the President and the AIE only has 53.

Voronin stated recently that the communists wouldn't vote for an AIE candidate as a matter of principle.  I guess this is revenge for the earlier boycott by the three liberal parties of the election of Zenaida Grecianai.  Then, however, the principles at stake were clear - the liberals refused to vote for the candidate of a party that had rigged an election and committed horrible acts of violence against its own citizens.

Now, however, it is really difficult to discern the 'principle' the communists are fighting for.  Marian Lupu shares many of their policy positions (e.g. neutrality, CIS membership).  He is the most popular politician in Moldova and represents the middle of the political spectrum.

I guess the PCRM will keep on harping on about the 'anti-statalist liberal dictatorship', but in reality they know this is a beat up and miles from the truth.

So where's the principle which is so important that it is worth prolonging the political deadlock for several months?  Or are we just seeing the village bully, uncomfortable with being on the losing team, deciding to walk off the field with the ball in hand?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Europe's Other Walls

Today we mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, an event which was the dominant image of a wave of democratic change which swept across Eastern Europe in 1989 before collapsing the Soviet Union in 1991.

I'm not going to comment on that event - there are plenty of others better placed to do that - but I do want to highlight some of the other 'walls' that remain in Europe to this day.

In the far west we have Spain and Gibraltar.  Spain ceded the rock to Britain after a military defeat, but has never reconciled itself to the loss of this territory.  For Britain, Gibraltar is so strategically located that to hand it back would be a major loss.  My guess is, however, that these two mature democracies could develop a solution if they put their heads together (e.g. give sovereignty back to Spain, which would then lease the territory back to the UK).

In the mediterranean we have the island of Cyprus, divided between the Greek South and the Turkish North. There has been a warming of relations between the two sides in recent years, both of which appear to have pragmatic governments that seek peace.  Northern Cyprus is, however, Turkey's trump card in its relationship with the EU.  It will only let the island reintegrate when Turkey itself receives a green light from the EU on membership.

Three of the 'walls' are in the Caucasus, and involve Russia as a sponsor of the conflict.  In the southern Caucasus we have the conflict between European & Christian Armenia and Turkic & Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.  I'm not an expert on this one, however the solution would seem to me to be for Armenia to return the area to its rightful owner under international law (Azerbaijan), and for Azerbaijan to then give the region a large dollop of autonomy (so that its majority Armenian population could run their own internal affairs).

The walls separating South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia are much better understood after last years Russo-Georgian war.  These conflicts can begin to be resolved only when Russia exits militarily and is replaced by an unbiased international force.  From that point on the solution would also involve autonomy within the internationally recognised borders of Georgia.

The last wall runs down the Nistru and separates Transnistria from the rest of Moldova.  In some ways this would be the easiest conflict of all to solve.  There is no substantive ethic basis for the dispute as there is in all the other conflicts mentioned above.  The people of Transnistria have little to lose and much to gain from reintegration.  There is little risk of inter-ethnic conflict.

The Transnistrian conflict has no substance.  It's just about Russian misbehaviour (e.g. flaunting of the CFE treaty, non-adherence to its Istanbul commitments and continuing occupation of a foriegn country) and the narrow interests of a couple of business clans in Tiraspol.  The solution to this one is actually dead easy:

  1. Russia leaves
  2. Smirnov hands over the keys to Ghimpu.
That's it.  No need for interminable negotiations, or, even worse, negotiations over the format of negotiations...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Name Games

Two of the sorest points that exist between Romania and Moldova relate to the name of the country and the name of the language.

Romanian nationalists have a point when they claim that the former Moldovan Soviet Republic should not be called the "Republic of Moldova".  After all, there is a significant part of Romania known as "Moldova" which is not part of the Republic.  Furthermore, this Romanian region was the heart of the old principality of Moldova, and the area now known as the Republic of Moldova was essentially a colonial frontier of the principality.  In rights, the newly independent country should probably have been named the "Republic of Basarabia".

On the other hand, Moldova's communists have a point in preferring to name the common language "Moldovan" when used on the territory of the Republic.  After all, the language was being used hundreds of years before Romania came into being, and even hundreds of years before the formation of a Romanian identity.  Furthermore, the territory of the republic of Moldova was only part of Romania for around 25 years, whereas it was part of the Moldovan prinicpality for several hundred.

As you can see from the above, there are strong (but different) arguments for naming the country "Basarabia" and the language "Moldovan".  In both cases however we need to appeal to pragmatism.  The world already knows the country as "Moldova" and the language as "Romanian", and the sooner that both countries make their peace with these names, the easier it will be for everyone.  For example, the people of Moldova will wake up to find that they already speak an official language of the European Union, while use of the moniker "Moldova" by Romania will blunt some of the attacks of the communists relating to 'iredentism'.  Some of the stupid hurdles to cooperation between Romania and Moldova would dissolve overnight.

So here's my request:  for pragmatic (rather than historic) reasons, the old soviet republic should be known as "Moldova", while the language should be known as "Romanian".  Such a compromise would work to the benefit of both nations.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies & Opinion Polls

Today the IMAS research organisation issued the first credible opinion poll to be taken since the July 28th election.  It seems to give some comfort to the Communist Party, delivering back to them the same number of seats they currently retain (48), and with it the ability to continue blocking a presidential election.  It also shows an apparent decline in support for the Liberal Party, supposedly due to mayor Chirtoaca's decision to obey the laws of economics and charge money for services rendered.

The real story of the poll is, however, very, very different.  A whole range of adjustments need to be made to the raw data.
  • The first thing that needs to be done is to allocate the undecided vote.  Traditionally in Moldova most of this goes to the non-communist parties; let's assume 2/3. 
  • Then we need to remove the absent voters and rescale accordingly.  The fourth column now gives us the share of the votes that would actually be cast:

The next step is to adjust for all the changes that will take place through the AIE government's moves to democratise the election process and the general environment in the country.
  • The first thing they will do is allow electoral blocs or develop some other mechanism such that all votes will actually count.  Let's assume they go down the bloc route and that parties with similar ideologies group together.
  • In the last two elections the international vote went over 90% in favour of non-communist parties and was sufficient to pull a seat away from the communists.  This time around, we can expect the international vote to be much bigger as the AIE moves to dramatically increase the number of overseas polling stations and possibly introduce postal voting.  Let's say twice as many international votes are cast.
  • The biggest effect on the outcome will be the environment in which the vote takes place.  We can expect that, in the near future, Teleradio Moldova will cease being a propaganda instrument and some of those currently in the dark about Voronin's crimes will be enlightened.  As pensions and salaries continue to be paid under an AIE government, we can expect that some of those who voted PCRM out of fear will now rethink.  As leading communists are held to account for the crimes of the last eight years, some supporters will turn against them.  Let's assume that 10% of the electorate switches allegiance from the PCRM to non-communist parties.

In the table above you can see the seats that each bloc would get taking these adjustments into account.  If we now redistribute these seats to the constituent parties of each bloc, we get the following.

The AIE coalition in this parliament would have between 64 and  71 seats and could elect a president without any help from the Communists.

Socor saddles up a new horse

Vladimir Socor, the Omega news agency's favourite 'western analyst' and long-time afficionado of Moldova's discredited Christian Democrat party, appears to have found himself a new object of affection.  Here's an excerpt from yesterday's "Eurasia Daily Monitor" published by the Jamestown Foundation:

"Lupu is a thoroughly Western-oriented politician; and his Democratic Party’s leadership team is undoubtedly the most European in terms of cultural and professional background among AEI’s four parties. Lupu and his team are untainted by national irredentism, the Soviet heritage, or the post-Soviet oligarchic politics.

I agree that Lupu himself is a very smart and professional politician, and that his English and French language skills endear him in western capitals, but I would like to understand why a 'thoroughly western-oriented politician' keeps running off to Moscow and wants to get into bed with the (totalitarian) United Russia Party?

As for 'being European in terms of cultural and professional background' I think this claim could be contested by the PLDM, which boasts among its ranks the best prime minister, foreign minister and justice minister that Moldova has ever had.

'Irredentism' is Socor's way of making 'reunification with Romania' (and those who promote it) sound like a nasty disease.  In this his views are no different to those of the Communist Party.

As for 'Soviet heritage' and 'post-Soviet oligarghic policies', if these two monikers don't describe DP founder Dumitru Diacov and some of his hangers-on, then it is difficult to see who they would apply to...

A little further up the article Socor indirectly accuses the AIE of corruption:

"AEI parties are rapidly accumulating “administrative resources” and building up new clienteles."

In the same paragraph he cleverly refers to two elements of the AIE by name, namely the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrat Party, ensuring that the corruption slur sticks to them rather than the other two members of the alliance.

Socor seems to have received three messages from his masters in Moscow:

  1. The Christian Democrat Party is a dead horse, so stop flogging it.
  2. The horse we want you to back is the Democratic Party.
  3. Please do everything you can to undermine the real threats to our influence - the PL and the PLDM.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Friends everywhere

I remember listening to a BBC radio programme a few months ago in which a western diplomat from a smallish country described the welcome he received from the Vietnames government at Hanoi airport.  I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something like this:

"They made us feel as if we were the most important people in the world and as if their relationship with my country was absolutely vital to them."

A 2008 edition of the Economist magazine had this to say about Vietnam's foreign policy:

Vietnam's overriding interest in its foreign relations has been to accelerate its economic development. The main point of having “friends everywhere” is to seek their investment and their technical help. Another goal is seeking and maintaining trade access for Vietnamese farm produce and manufactures.

It seems to me as if Moldova should take a similar approach; a small country cannot afford to antagonise its neighbours but instead needs to make sure that it is on as good terms as possible without sacrificing vital national interests.  It also needs to diversify its foreign relationships in such a way as to maximise inward investment, technology transfer and export opportunities without being reliant on a single partnership.  I might be imagining it, but this seems to be what Vlad Filat's government is doing.

We've seen the initialling of the small traffic agreement with Romania and increased cooperation on the Ukrainian border.  We are also seeing credit and grant agreements negotiated with a wide range of foreign powers and organisations; eastern (Russia, China), western (USA, EU, Poland) and international (IMF, WB).

Through their 'friends everywhere' policy, the Vietnamese have build a rapidly modernising economy out of a country completely reliant on peasant agriculture.  Let's hope Moldova can do the same.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lupu tiptoes through a minefield

The prophets of doom are wailing loudly on the internet forums this morning.  Marian Lupu has gone to Moscow to see his bosses.  Worse still, he's talking about a formal collaboration protocol with Putin's "United Russia" party.  It's only a matter of time, say the prophets, before all of Vladimir Voronin's dreams come true and the Democrats leave the AIE and enter into a coalition with the Communists.  Just a matter of time before the terror and totalitarianism returns.

Prima facie, they have a case.  Russia would be well-served by a DP - PCRM coalition that was pro-Russian whilst being acceptably 'democratic', which paid lip-service to EU entry aspirations whilst doing nothing to achieve that goal.

The pilgrimage to Moscow is indeed demeaning.  Moldova's political issues should be resolved in Chisinau, not in a foreign capital.  It is also indicative of the instincts of politicians in the centre and on the left; imagine what the communists would have said had Lupu instead gone to Bucuresti for consultations....

The link-up between "United Russia" and the Democrats is also troubling.  The Democrats are centre-left, while "United Russia's" policies place it firmly on the centre-right economically.  Furthermore, "United Russia" is seen internationally not so much as a political party but as an interest group centred on the person and associates of Vladimir Putin.  In that sense its structure and mode of operations is not unlike the undemocratic and illiberal Moldovan Communist Party.  Why would the Democrats want to associate themselves with a party which is so obviously totalitarian?

The answer I suspect, is realpolitic.  The democrats have an electorate consisting of many people who are sympathetic towards Moscow, and wish to win more such support from the electoral base of the PCRM, hence positioning themselves as the major party of the centre-left and (moderate) rusophile community.  Visting Moscow and forming an alliance with "United Russia" are like the CIS - cheap and symbolic.  It doesn't cost anything really, but it does position the Democrats well in front of a certain segment of the electorate.

The upshot is that I'm not too worried.  I don't see a centre-left coalition forming.  For one, this would result in Lupu's political death - noone on the right would ever trust him again.  Secondly it would split the Democrat Party.  Sensible moderates like Serebrian, Nantoi, Lazar and Popov would walk away.  Thirdly, these moderates would vote with the liberals to prevent the election of Lupu as a communist-backed candidate, leading to anticipated elections.  In the electoral context created by the abortive establishment of a centre-left coalition, both the communists and the democrats would lose ground to the impressive and (relatively moderate) PLDM.

Lupu is a smart politician.  The lesson of democratic politics all over the world is that power is wielded by those who know where the centre is and stay as close to it as possible.  Given the current polarised state of Moldovan politics this is not easy, however this is what Lupu is trying to do.  He needs to gain Russian support and approval without giving away anything substantive that would be detrimental to Moldova's interests.  He needs to play to his electorate whilst remaining true to the commitments made to AIE partners.

It's a tricky dance, but let's hope he can pull it off.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dan Dungaciu on Inter-ethnic Tensions

I translated the following from Vocea Basarabiei.  There's some useful background here on the resentments felt by both sides of Moldova's ethnic divide:

Beyond the choice of future president, which appears to draining all public debate, there is a quiet tension looming which will shock the society in Moldova. The ethnic tension. From time to time, it vibrates visibly & dangerously. An unstable political and vengeful environment do nothing to discourage a development which could prove harmful for the region.

2004 census data indicates that national minorities in the republic make up 23.9% of the population, of which 8.4% are Ukrainians (2.9% less than in 1989), 5.8% Russians (4% fewer) 1.9% 4.4% Gagauz and Bulgarians. The ethnic Russian population is 366 461, of which one third are recent immigrants born in other parts of the former USSR. Historically, most Russians came after the Second World War. In 1940, there were only 6%, in 1959 the figure reached 10.2 percent and peaked at 13% in 1989. The largest Russian minority flow occurred in the interval 1950-1980.

But each time when the subject comes into question, objective statistics are not sufficient. Although the population is in decline, Russians in Moldova fall into the category which literature calls an "imperial minority", indicating a different attitude pattern. Characteristic of these populations is a specific substrate of political consciousness, based on their supremacy in all points of view : political, cultural, economic. Although they live in a society where they were not the majority, they have never seen the natives as equals. Today, the "empire" has fallen apart and, while the minorities have lost their explicit political dominance , their "imperial" self-consciousness remains and normalization is difficult. The phenomenon is not specific only to Moldova, but, after recent political changes, becomes increasingly acute on the left bank of the Prut.

The second element that generates a special status in the "imperial minority" is the relationship to the former empire. The reaction of the latter is frequent, steady and timely, fueling the self-consciousness of the remaining minority in a territory of that empire from which it has withdrawn, at least formally. Beyond economic, cultural, and media links, there are (geo)politically explicit gestures and initiatives. They are many laws through which the Kremlin has warned that Russian citizens in former USSR countries enter into its power, from culture to  Also important are the statements from the field, part of the whole package dedicated to the minorities. Russian Ambassador to Moldova, Valeri Kuzmin has formally asked for the Russian language to be official in Moldova, which is necessary, he said, especially in context of post-election in Moldova. A similar official statement was made on the "history of Romanians", which he does not want in Moldova's (a statement greeted with conspicuous silence by the Moldovan officials present at the event). But beyond the issues of conscience or connection with the former empire, the supremacy of "imperial minority" in Moldova is also based on geography ....

Put another way, a minority in the city may be more influential than in most of the country. There is a disturbing problem in sociological analysis, namely the relationship between demography, ethnicity and politics in a modern society. The conclusion is that simple statistics prove inadequate, because what matters maybe first, is the distribution of these ethnic groups in a society. An ethnic group that has a population mass of, for example, 10%, but is fully distributed in major urban centers of that territory, acquires on a geopolitical map a much higher effective weight, because, in the modern world, the urban space is creator of history and public discourse, while the rural space is an "object" of history. The influence of ethnic minorities in society increases, therefore, in direct proportion to its location. Who dominates the city can influence society, especially when the degree of of rurality is high. An eloquent illustration of this situation is found on the left side of the Prut, where the population of Russian origin is overwhelmingly found in urban centers. This is reflected in both the economic, but also the education level of that population. Within a pyramidal power structure, as in Moldova, where decentralization is still to be achieved, the influence of the city will remain significant.

Activating "imperial minority" became urgent after the change of power in Chisinau. What seemed yesterday to be an accident, the election in Chisinau of Dorin Chirtoaca, today turns, for some, into a nightmare. The AIE team (and some of its members in particular), are confirming an ethno-political reality, an evolution which everybody expected and understood, but with which not everyone is willing to live peacefully.

Recent protest movements are not in any way without ethnic colour or identity and disguising them under the banner of "social" is just a naive and dangerous political ploy. The aggressive protests of pensioners in Chisinau is a perfect example. That there are social problems in Capital nobody denies, but that the motive of those in the street was 'social' is difficult to sustain. And that, because pensioners in Chisinau - "Pensioners from Botanica!" have a specific sociological profile. We can call them "ethno-imperial pensioners"! They are, on the one hand, the expression of Russian emigration in MSSR, populations moved directly from the cold corners of the empire into apartments in Chisinau, Tiraspol or Balti, which local village families aspire to, while spending lifetimes crammed into dirty hostel rooms. On the other hand, there are some pensioners in Chisinau who, directly or indirectly, relate to the category of retired heads of power in the USSR (military, intelligence, police ) who, after 25 years of work "to serve the country" withdrew to a quiet retirement on the banks of the Prut and Dniester, where the climate was good, food and wine were in abundance and importantly, there were kind people speaking good Russian. Beyond the social aspect, these Chisinau retirees are part of the "imperial minority" - proud, disdainful, who never learned Romanian and have no plans to do so. They always lived better than the natives whom they have never considered equals. The Voronin regime more than tolerated this and preserved their supremacy, at least symbolically (by according a status to the Russian language, by supporting Russian-language media, etc.). Now things are changing, they see their status being affected and react accordingly, being led out into the streets by leaders with suspect and possibly extreme political genealogies.