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and timely, fueling the self-consciousness of the remaining minority in a territory of that empire from which it has withdrawn, at least formally.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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ending the Carnage

At the end of yesterday's meeting of the Government, internal affairs minister Catan was tasked with developing a plan to reduce road accidents.

Here's the advice I would give him:

1.  Focus in the first instance on accidents which result in injury and the loss of life.  Typically these happen outside city boundaries due to a combination of poor roads, speed and alcohol.

2.  Paint lines down the sides of the roads with high-quality fluorescent paint.  Many accidents occur because cars can't see the road and run off to the side, hitting trees, power poles etc.

3.  Fill the worst pot-holes (the 'axle-breakers')

4.  Place speed advisory signs on bends, corners and other hazards

5.  Eliminate corruption from the driver licencing process (i.e. make sure everyone actually sits and passes the exams)

6.  Introduce defensive driving techniques to the licensing course.

7.  Clean or treat the roads in winter

8.  Enforce tough drink-driving and speeding standards and ensure that penalties are a sufficient deterrent.

9.  TV campaigns against drink-driving and speeding

10.  Refocus the Politia Rutiera on dangerous driving, road clearing and ensuring that vehicles have current roadworthiness certificates

11. Consider how to link the income of minbus drivers to their performance in providing a service rather than the amount of fares they collect.

12.  Rewite the law such that drivers are obliged to move broken down or damaged cars to the side of the road so as not to create an obstacle for other drivers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Voronin huffs and puffs, but the house doesn't fall down

Like the big bad wolf from the fairy tale, Voronin keeps trying to blow down the AIE's house, having in earlier years blown down the house of straw built by the Agrarians and the house of sticks built by the Christian Democrats.  Today he met with Democrat Party Leader Marian Lupu, apparently to offer him the communist's support to secure the Presidency in return for breaking the AIE and taking the PD into a coalition with the PCRM.

The AIE's house appears to be built of brick however (although with a few cracks apparent) and the four little pigs inside have kept themselves (and the country) safe.  Leading democrat Dumitru Diacov has restated his commitment to the alliance and leading communist Mark Tkaciuk has confirmed that the communists didn't get what they wanted out of the Voronin-Lupu meeting.

By the way, the fairy tale ends with the wolf being boiled alive in a cauldron prepared by the little pigs.  Prosecutor General Zubco is chopping the firewood as I write...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Proportional Representation

Moldova has a system of proportional representation (PR) similar to many other countries around the world, the fundamental principal being that the number of seats a party obtains in Parliament is proportional to the number of votes it has received in the election.

In a sense, PR produces inherently unstable parliaments.  It is very rare that, in an un-rigged election, a single party would attain a majority of seats.  To form a stable majority, coalition building and maintaining skills are necessary, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

There are, however, several problems with Moldova's form of PR, and the AIE needs to fix these:

1.  The 6% hurdle means that many votes for smaller parties are wasted and reallocated to the larger parties.  In Moldova this generally means that votes for small centrist or centre-right parties have been reallocated to the Communists...

2.  There are no representative / electorate seats.  All of the members of Parliament are drawn from party lists, with some of the people lower down lists being nameless, faceless and useless.  Moldovans do not have a 'local MP' tasked with representing their concerns in Parliament.

Some voices are proposing a return to electoral blocs as a solution to problem (1).  To me, that's sub-optimal, as electoral blocs have problems of their own.  Firstly, they're heterogenous, so voters won't know what they're voting for.  Imagine an electoral bloc consisting of the four AIE parties, from the centre-left Rusophile Democrats to the centre-right Romanophile Liberal Party...   Secondly, they're designed to break up as soon as parliament forms, which means that they defeat the purpose of the hurdle (which is to ensure that Parliament is not so fractional that it becomes inoperative).

My proposals to address problem (1) would be to drop the hurdle back to 4% or 5% (6% is high by international standards), and (2) introduce a simple preference voting system in which voters get to name a second preference as well as a first.  For example, someone who wants Moldova to reunify with Romania could vote as a first preference for Pavlicenco's PNL.  As the PNL is unlikely to get into parliament, they would give their second preference to the PL, as the major party most closely aligned with PNL policies.  Now the votes for all parties which fall under the threshold would be distributed according to second preferences, meaning that a far higher proportion of voters will be represented in Parliament through one of their choices.

Problem (2) can be resolved by moving to a German style Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system.  Here, half of the seats (50) in parliament would be contested in electorates, with the remaining 51 being allocated according to the party vote.  Each voter would get to choose both their favourite local candidate and their two favourite national parties.  There would be roughly one electorate for every 80,000 of population, so Chisinau would get 11 or so, Balti would get 2 or 3 and so on.

Traditionally, the conflict in Transnistria has been the argument against local electorates.  It was felt that voters in the separatist region wouldn't be able to cast their votes.  In the past that may have been true, however I believe it can be overcome using postal or internet voting.  But those are the subject of another post....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Real Money

Vlad Filat received confirmation from the Chinese that they intend to make good on their promise of an investment of $1bn in Moldova's infrastructure (full story here).

It's a match made in heaven - Moldova desperately needs to repair its crumbling transport networks and build a modern energy sector, while on the other hand the Chinese desperately need to diversify out of USD-denominated paper and into real assets that will hold their value.

The Chinese will, of course, expect a return on their investment, and the cost of the infrastructure built will ultimately be borne by Moldovan end-users in the form of road tolls or power bills.  That, however, is the way capitalism works and we just need to get used to it.

What is important is that the money is spent efficiently and not siphoned off into private bank accounts, as so often happens in the Eastern European construction business.  Spending will need to be audited, reviewed and audited again.  Tenders will need to be completely transparent.

The really good news in these troubled times is that the Chinese are one of very few nations that have the money to back their promises.  This isn't a political credit which vapourises at the first whiff of trouble.  It's real money, and all going well will be transformed into assets that will benefit the Moldovan economy for years to come.

Sheriff beats Twente

I'm not the world's greatest football fan, but Sheriff Tiraspol's 2-0 defeat of Dutch league leaders Twente cannot go without comment.

I didn't see the game, so I'm not able to talk about the quality of the football.  My interest is, as usual, in the geopolitics.

Some forum contributors in Moldova are tearing their hair out because of the shame of Moldova being represented by a team from a region controlled by separatists.  What makes it worse is that the team is sponspored by the huge and corrupt Sheriff business empire that runs most of Transnistria's economy, and that you would be hard-pressed to find a member of the team who speaks a word of Romanian (although it has to be said there are a lot of imports on the team as well as Rusofiles).

I tend to be in the other camp.  Football is one area where the country has remained united throughout the 18 years of the conflict, with teams from both banks of the Nistru playing in the national league.  When Sheriff Tiraspol took the field, it was the Moldovan flag that was raised and the Moldovan national anthem that was sung ("Our language is a treasure"!).  When they arrive back victorious they will be met by the fans (many of whom live in the capital and are ethnic Romanians) at Chisinau airport.

What is a great sporting triumph for Sheriff is actually a great political defeat for separatism.  The AIE would do well to rub salt into Smirnov's wounds by holding some sort of reception for them at the end of their European campaign.  They are, after all, the Moldovan national champions, and they have had more success in Europe than any Moldovan team before them.  They should be recognised as such.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A semi-permeable membrane

Do you remember when you were a kid in school and they made you do moderately interesting science experiments?  One that I remember involved a U-shaped piece of potato, a bottle of blue dye and a couple of petrie dishes.  We filled one of the petrie dishes with the blue dye and stuck one end of the potato into it.  The other end of the potato rested on the other (dry) petrie dish.

The outcome of the experiment was that, after a few hours, some of the blue dye had migrated through the potato and into the other petrie dish.  Apparently this was becuase the potato was a 'semi-permeable membrane'.  It wasn't a wall through which nothing could pass.  Neither was it a tube through which liquid could pass freely.  It was, in fact, something in-between.

The Prut river is about to become a semi-permeable membrane.  At the moment it's a wall.  Moldovans can only cross to the other side if they have a ladder provided by the Romanian authorities (i.e. a visa or a Romanian passport).  That's about to change, however.

According to a document initialled yesterday by the Moldovan Foreign Minister Leanca and (interim) Romanian Foreign Minister Predoiu - the Convention on Small Traffic - Moldovans living within approximately 30km of the border will be able to enter Romania (to a depth of 50km) without a visa.  This means that the good citizens of Ungheni and Cahul will be able to visit their relatives or do business in Iasi and Galati unimpeded.

Apparently the Convention relies on a piece of European law which was designed to ensure that the EU's external borders did not become barriers to traditional trade, family and cultural ties between local communities.

Once signed by both Prime Ministers (the Romanian one is currently AWOL as the government there has collapsed), the Convention will enter into force.  The Prut will cease to be a wall dividing Moldovans from Romanians.  For those lucky enough to live in the border area, it will instead more closely resemble an, er, U-shaped potato.

Silence, we're concentrating!

In Parliament yesterday, the AIE majority voted to extend to six months the length of time for which a deputy can hold another position (e.g. as a Government minister or as a mayor).

It is not unusual internationally for ministers to also retain a seat in parliament; that is the model in the Westminster democracies as well as in many continental European systems.  Many of the countries that allow such concentration of power have the highest scores on human rights, press freedom, economic freedom etc., so concentration in itself is not a threat to democracy.

What is troubling about the AIE's action, however, is that the spirit, if not the letter, of the Moldovan Constitution is being breached.  While the basic law has more holes than a Swiss cheese (and gives the AIE a degree of 'wiggle room'), it is clear that Executive power and Legislative power are supposed to be separated.

What is even more troubling is that the measure was pushed through both of its parliamentary readings in a single session, with little or no possibility for debate.

This move plays right into the hands of the Communist opposition.  They will be able to portray (with some justification) the AIE as 'usurpers of power'.  They may be able to win some judgements in the Constitutional Court against the measure and against parliamentary votes taken.

It all begs the question why the move was necessary.  Filat and his team have more than enough work at the Government to keep them occupied.  Chirtoaca has more than enough work at city hall.  Furthermore, in the event that the AIE ministers and mayors resign their deputies mandates, they will be replaced in parliament by new deputies from their party lists, meaning that the balance of power in Parliament should not change.

Without a clear explanation and justification from the AIE, all we will be left with is speculation.  One possibility that comes to my mind is that the AIE leadership do not have confidence in the people they have placed further down their lists.  Another is that the AIE have some sort of secret plan (e.g. involving early elections or a constitutional referendum) that will unfold within the next few months, and they don't want this disturbed by changes to the composition of Parliament.

If readers have any other ideas, I'd love to hear them.  Oh, and perhaps the AIE could also tell us what is going on?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A one-horse race

The deadline for registering candidates for Friday's presidential election has expired, and the centrist Marian Lupu of the Alliance for European Integration (AIE) is the only candidate.

The formerly governing communists failed to nominate a candidate, continuing their (public) stance in favour of boycotting the election and thereby forcing fresh parliamentary elections in 2010.

While the constitution does not explicitly require a competitive vote (i.e. more than one candidate), there is some wording, for example, about the top two candidates proceeding to a second round should the first round fail to produce the required 3/5 majority.  There is also a non-binding observation by the constitutional court from several years ago promoting a competitive decision.

The question is, why didn't the AIE propose a dummy second candidate, as the communists did in the wake of the April 5th election?  The official reason, according to Dumitru Diacov of the Democratic Party, is that the AIE wants to keep its integrity and show 100% support for its candidate.  Unofficially, it doesn't hurt the AIE if the election is delayed, especially when it is due to the Communist's failure to put forward a real counter-candidate.  Ghimpu can just keep on being the interim president...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Welcome to the front garden!

A casual observer would have missed the significance of today's announcement by the EU's Swedish presidency that the Union is to negotiate an 'association' treaty with Moldova.

Under the Communist government, Moldova and the EU signed an agreement under which the EU gave some limited concessions (e.g. trade access for certain goods) in return for Moldovan progress on democratisation and reform.  This agreement expired during the summer and was due for renegotiation following the formation of a new government in the weeks and months following the July 29 election.

What is significant about today's announcement is that, instead of renewing the old, limited agreement, the EU has instead decided to award Moldova 'associate' status on the successful completion of treaty negotiations.

Now have a look here at the status of 'associated states'.  They are small countries which have decided to become protectorates of a larger political entity.  Moldova is becoming a protectorate of the European Union, moving definitively out of Russia's sphere of influence and into the EU's  (...thanks to the courage of the students, the steatfastness of the AIE and a intercession of a certain former sea captain)

It's still a long road to membership.  The EU hasn't fully opened its doors to Moldova.  It will, however, let the country hang around in its front garden, enjoying a degree of protection from the violent gangs on the other side of the fence.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Russia on the defensive

Vlad Filat and Iurie Leanca have quietly but firmly demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Transnistria and their replacement with an international civilian peacekeeping force.  The AIE's position on this is supported by the EU and the US and also by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which prohibits the disposition of Russian forces in the region.

This stance has pushed the Russians into a corner.  They know that there is no legitimate reason to refuse the AIE's request.  Russian 'peacekeeping' has proven to be a sham, as all too evident from the conflict in Georgia, and it would therefore be positive for the peace process if Russian military forces were replaced by an impartial group of peacekeepers.

On the other hand, the Russians also understand that the introduction of truly neutral peacekeepers will be the beginning of the end for Transnistria.  As the basis for the conflict is artificial, the entity will quickly disintegrate once information starts flowing freely across the Prut and the disinformation of the last 18 years is counter-balanced.

And so Russia is trying to wiggle its way out.  Lavrov made a statement yesterday that the Russian peacekeepers couldn't leave until the conflict was settled.  Wrong.  First of all, it is not as if there won't be peacekeepers on the ground; they'll just be wearing different helmets.  Secondly, the partial Russian presence is actually a hindrance to settlement of the conflict; the conflict can't be settled until they are gone.

Lavrov went on to say that the destruction of arms at Colbasna was stopped because Chisinau refused to sign the Kozak memorandum in 2003.  I don't see the link here.  The arms dump is a threat to all the peoples of the region - Moldovan, Russian or Ukrainian, and needs to be dealt with whether or not there is a settlement in Transnistria.

Russia seems to be trying to dodge responsibility for the Transnistrian conflict by putting the blame on Chisinau for not signing Kozak.  The Western powers won't buy this, of course, as it was at their urging that Voronin refrained from signing the agreement in the first place.

The good news is that a win-win outcome could be possible, which would allow Russia to save face and Moldova to reintegrate without compromising its sovereignty.

The main problem with the Kozak memorandum was that it envisaged Moldova being a confederation of two sovereign states.  This meant that Transnistria could secede at will and that Moscow could use the threat of secession ad-infinitum to get its way in Moldova.  If Moscow was to back down and allow Moldova to insetad be a 'federation' in which Transnistria doesn't have sovereignty (but is a subject like Gagauzia), then the problem goes away.  As a consolation Transnistria could be given the right to secede in the specific event of Moldova losing its status as a subject of international law (i.e. reunion with Romania), and Moscow could appear to gain a small victory

The Transnistrians won't like it, as they would come back under the control and jurisdiction of the national authorities in Chisinau.  For a Russia anxious to save some money and improve their standing in the world, however, it could be tempting.

The Commonwealth of Incoherent States

I remember a senior British Conservative politician describing the Commonwealth of Nations as a 'comfortable old sweater'.  It doesn't look flash, it doesn't serve too many useful purposes, but it keeps you warm and it feels good.

The Commonwealth of Nations was formed out of the old British Empire and is a group of nations who have a shared history, a shared language and similar political and legal systems.  They get together once every four years for the Commonwealth Games, second only to the Olympics as an international, multi-sport event.  They have a secretariat which oversees worthy activities such as the promotion of democracy and human reights in member nations, as well as charitable support from the rich members (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Cyprus, Malta, South Africa) to the poorer members from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Carribean.

The Commonwealth of Nations survived the fall of empire because it redefined its aims, focussing on areas that would be of real benefit to its members.  Curiously, it's popular, and even nations that have no British imperial history have joined (Mozambique) or want to join (Rwanda, Algeria, Yemen etc.).

Attention in Chisinau is focussed on another Commonwealth that was formed from the ashes of empire.  This time its the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the empire in question was the Soviet Union.  Unlike the Commonwealth of Nations, the CIS has not really found its 'raison d'etre', being viewed mainly as a symbolic device through which Russia can express its continuing hegemony over its former vassals.  It's been basically incoherent, with very little to show for its 18 years of activity.

Many in Moldova (rightly) resent Russia's hegemony and seek Moldova's exit from the CIS.  If, however, you look at things with a cool head, you will see that the CIS is basically harmless.  Should it attempt to acquire a strategic / military / geopolitical dimension, then in any case Moldova would have to leave, due to its constitutional neutrality.  Should it focus on reinforcing economic, sporting and cultural ties (following the example of the Commonwealth of Nations), then (a) being a member of the CIS won't conflict with EU entry and (b) it's probably a good thing for Moldova overall.

Remember that the nations to the east of Moldova aren't suddenly going to disappear of the face of the Earth the day Moldova joins the EU.  She will still need to deal with them.  Moreover she can benefit from the shared history and cultural heritage enjoyed (?!) as former Soviet republics and provinces of the old Tsarist empire.  Furthermore, continued membership of the CIS will help sooth the nerves of Moldova's ethnic minorities, who have been whipped up into a frenzy by communist misinformation over the last few months.

Don't get me wrong.  If push comes to shove and Moldova has to choose between the EU and the CIS, then it's a no-brainer which way she should turn.  If, however, the CIS can morph into a 'comfortable old sweater', then there is no reason why Moldova shouldn't continue as a member.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


It is with real emotion that I write this post.

Moldova's young people were the primary victims of poor, authoritarian Communist government and are the primary victims of the lack of investment caused by Russia's continuing occupation of Transnistria.  It was their education that was being undermined by the spreading culture of corruption and declining standards, and their futures that were being stolen by Voronin's crony capitalism and romanophobia.

Six months ago they decided they had had enough.  The trigger was the blatantly fraudulent April 5th election.  Young people, in part organised through social networking, poured into Chisinau's central square and in great courage demanded an end to to the communist dictatorship that had entrenched itself over the preceding eight years.

The communist authorities, unable to contain the outrage, tried to turn it to their own advantage.  Parliament and the presidency were ransacked and Romanian flags raised in an attempt to make the protests appear to be an attempted coup d'etat.

On the night and days that followed, at least three young protesters lost their lives, victims of police brutality.  Others experienced beatings in the 'corridors of death' while young women were raped in the basements of police stations.

As we now know, the events of 7th April led to an almost incredible chain of events which appear to have decisively changed Moldova's future.  Voronin is gone,  Papuc is gone,  Resetnicov is gone,  Gurbulea is gone and  so is Zina Carabina.  There is a pro-European majority in Parliament.  Ghimpu is president and Filat is PM.  Moldova now has a future as part of a European family of democratic nations.

Moldova owes this change of fortunes to its young people, first and foremost.  If I were the new AIE administration, I would mint a special medal for each of the young people present in the square on the morning of the 7th, with special awards being given to those who endured rape and torture at the hands of the police and an even higher honour being bestowed posthumously on the families of those who gave their lives.

It's the least that can, and should be done.

How Romania can help Moldova rebuild its economy and democracy and reassert its identity.

Romania is going through its own crisis here, so we are not really talking about financial aid.  Nonetheless, there are a number of ways Romania could help, many of which involve putting pressure on the European Union:

  1. Keep making it easier for Moldovans to get Romanian citizenship.  This will put pressure on the EU and EU members to ease their visa and work permit restrictions on Moldova.
  2. Attract EU funds for infrastructure projects linking the two countries, e.g. a new highway from Focsani to Albita, a new rail track (Romanian gauge) from Chisinau to Ungheni, fast rail services from Chisinau and Balti to Iasi, Galati & Bucuresti, a four-lane bridge over the Prut at Giurgiulesti,  a new bridge at Radauti.
  3. Interconnect social welfare systems, so that each country is able to pay pensions and other benefits to citizens of the other country living on their territory (e.g. a Moldovan living in Romania should be able to receive their Moldovan pension from the local Casa de Pensii)
  4. Allow Moldova access to Romanian markets which is as full as possible.  Reduce customs barriers to the absolute minimum possible.  In particular promote the use of Galati and Constanta as 'free ports' for  Moldovan imports and exports.
  5. Help Moldova reinstate a pluralistic media space by encouraging Romanian channels and publications to operate in the republic.
  6. Provide Romanian language teachers for rural areas where the language is not used, e.g. Gagauzia, Transnistria and the ethnic Ukrainian villages of Moldova's north.
  7. Provide technical assistance in the EU integration process, particularly in the assimilation of the acquis comunitaire.
  8. Provide diplomatic representation for Moldova in those countries where Moldova does not have a presence and Romania does.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Whose history?

Several years ago the chief ideologue of the Moldovan communist party, Victor Stepaniuc, imposed a major change on the teaching of history in Moldovan schools, replacing the "History of the Romanians" subject with "Integrated History", the (ostensible) idea being to create a course that was more inclusive of all of Moldova's ethnicities.

It sounds innocuous, however it was quickly observed that the purpose of Stepaniuc's history course was to force his 'Moldovenist' prejudices on unsuspecting schoolchildren.  Remember this is the man who claims that Romanians and Moldovans are ethnically different and speak different languages, the man who sees Moldovan history in a Slavic rather than a Latin context.

Well, now the other lot are back in power and along come Bujor and Filat with statements about the need to toss out Integrated History (agreed) and bring back History of the Romanians (not so sure).  Lupu has chimed in by asking for the "History of the Republic of Moldova" to be taught instead.  He has also requested that any contentious bits (er, isn't it all contentious?) be left out.

While I understand the need for a 'return of the truth', history is a very hot potato in Moldova and needs to be handled extremely carefully.  For example, one part of society considers that Soviet advances in World War II were a 'liberation' and a great victory over the German nazis and their Romanian fascist allies.  Another part of society seems the very same actions as acts of conquest, enslavement and estrangement from their Romanian brethren.  Which is right?  Maybe both, maybe neither, maybe one or the other...

Ultimately I think it is unreasonable to expect a common position ("the truth") to be found in the teaching of history, especially in this part of the World.  Probably the best we can do is establish an agreed set of facts (e.g. "Soviet forces entered Moldova"), present as fairly as possible all interpretations of those facts ("It was an invasion", "It was a liberation" or "It was a transition from one totalitarian regime to another"), give the kids tools to apply to the problem (research, debating, comparitive analysis etc...) and then ask them to figure it out for themselves.

Another thing that would be useful in the Moldovan context would be to avoid navel-gazing.  It is important to know your own history, but it is equally as important to know the history of your region (e.g. how does the Ottoman empire continue to influence us today...) and of the world in general (What were the founding fathers thinking when they wrote the American constitution?  What is the meaning of the economic rise of China?  etc. etc.).

What we need therefore is a history subject which doesn't just serve up a bunch of facts about dead princes, but instead seeks to understand the econonmic, political, demographic & scientific forces that contributed to a particular event, a history which encompasses differing opinions and encourages debate and research.  Teaching this wider, more critical form of history will better equip young Moldovans to deal with a difficult world.

And deal with it they must.

A worthless piece of paper

On the 18th of March, the then Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin travelled to Moscow and signed a document which seemed to change the ground-rules for settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.  Up until that point, the Moldovan state had been insisting (at least officially) on withdrawal of Russian troops, as provided for in the annex to the "Conventional Forces in Europe" treaty that the Russians had signed in Istanbul in 2000.  On March 18, however, Voronin, together with Smirnov of Transnistria and Medvedev of Russia, signed a document which ostensibly allowed Russian forces to remain in place until the conflict was resolved (and thereby ensuring that the conflict would never be resolved...)

The Russians are placing great store by this agreement, however in law it is worthless and the AIE can ignore it.  Here's why:

1.  Art 11 (2) of the constitution says "The Republic of Moldova shall not allow the dispersal of foreign military troops on its territory".  Voronin did not have the authority to permit the Russian presence (and actually should be held to account by the justice system for "assisting an occupying power")

2.  Art 86 (1) says "The President of the Republic of Moldova shall be empowered to hold official negotiations, to conclude international treaties on behalf of the Republic of Moldova and to submit them, in the established under the law manner and term, to the Parliament for ratification."  Parliament has not ratified Voronin's agreement with Medvedev.

Also, by convention, Presidents in the sunset of their term in office should not take make major policy decisions, so as to allow their successor (who has a fresh mandate from the people) a freer hand.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Europe needs Moldova

Europe needs Moldova.  It also needs Ukraine, Turkey, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and, in the long term, Russia.  Why?  Because

  1. Europe as an economic power is in relative decline due to its ageing population and over-regulated markets.  This decline could be redressed by geographical expansion.
  2. In all but high-value-added industries and occupations, Europe is uncompetitive due to high labour costs.  The Eastern European countries could allow Europe to competitively produce a far wider range of goods and services within her borders.
  3. Transit routes for oil and gas run through Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey & Georgia.  Bringing the Eastern Europeans into the EU will ensure more stable and secure supplies.
  4. True democracies are less prone to go to war with their neighbours.  By promoting democracy in Eastern Europe, the existing EU members will themselves become safer.
  5. In its mixture of Protestants / Catholics / Orthodox / Muslims and Teutons / Latins / Slavs / Turks this wider EU would provide an astonishing example of tolerance to the rest of the world, making it far harder for extremist, racist or totalitarian ideologies to gain traction, making the world as a whole a safer place.
  6. Western Europe has some unpaid moral debts to Eastern Europe, e.g. for bearing the brunt of Communism & the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, for containing the Ottoman Turks etc.
Some of you will think I have lost my marbles for suggesting that Russia could one day be a member of the Union.  I agree it is unlikely, but what if the following conditions were met:
  1. Russia having a significant but not dominant voice (and being counterbalanced by Ukraine and Turkey)
  2. 20 years of real democracy and respect for human rights
  3. 20 years of respect for its neighbours' sovereignty and territorial integrity
  4. A cleaned up economy in which there is strong and fair competition in all industries

Friday, October 2, 2009

Discretion is the better part of valour

It is refreshing to hear Vlad Filat speaking the truth into Moldova's relationship with Russia.  Statements regarding (a) the need for Russia to withdraw its troops, (b) the language spoken in Moldova (Romanian), (c) a desire to get closer to NATO and (d) Russia's dominance of the media in Moldova are all true and will play well back home with a liberal electorate keen for change.

Unfortunately however, they may have the opposite effect to that intended.  Russia doesn't take kindly to being given black eyes in public - consider the treatment they have meted out to Saakashvili and Iusenko over the last few years.

A smarter mode of operation would be to allow others (bloggers, foreign partners, NGOs) to make those kind of statements and instead quietly focus on actions.  For example, rather than publically complaining aboiut Russia's media dominance, just re-auction transmission rights under a new system designed to ensure greater pluralism.  Rather than complaining about Russia's propensity to turn off the gas as political weapon, build gas storage and renewable energy production facilities, and introduce carbon taxes.  Rather than making statements about possibly joining NATO one day, make other proposals to get western military boots on the ground in Moldova (e.g. training of the national army).

Above all, build in Moldova a strong economy and a strong democracy, in order to strengthen Moldova's negotiating position.

The AIE needs to be smart as well as determined.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lessons for Moldova from Georgia

I've had a chance to look through volume 1 of Ms Tagliavini's fact finding report on the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war.  It is an intelligent and thorough piece of work, and, due to the parallels between Georgia's frozen conflicts and the Transnistrian rebellion, contains important lessons for Moldova and its international partners.  I've listed a few of these below:

  1. Page 17:  South Ossetia and Abkahzia did not have the right under international law to secede from Georgia, and other nations do not have the right to recognise them as independent states.  Zimbru: Transnistria does not have the right to secede from Moldova.
  2. Page 17 & 21:  No genocide took place in South Ossetia.  There were 162 civilian deaths, not the 2000 claimed by the Russians and South Ossetians.
  3. Page 18:  Persons living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are in most cases Georgian citizens.  Russian passports held by South Ossetians or Abkhaz who are Georgian citizens are invalid because Georgian law does not permit dual citizenship.
  4. Page 18:  Under international law, citizenship may only be granted where there are significant personal ties between the applicant and the state concerned.  The mass conferral of Russian citizenship to Georgian nationals represents an open challenge to Georgian sovereignty and interference in its internal affairs.  Zimbru: The Russian nationality of Russian passport holders in Transnistria does not need to be respected unless they have a significant personal link with Russia.
  5. Page 22:  The shelling of Tskhinvali on August 7th by Georgian forces was not justified under international law.  This is because of the existence of agreements between Georgia and South Ossetia ruling out the use of force.  Had the Georgian military only taken "necessary and proportional" actions in response to aggression by the other side, then this would have been justifiable.  Zimbru:  I'm not suggesting doing it, however Moldova would probably be justified in using necessary and proportional force to reclaim the Tighina railway station and the Varnita river terminal, both of which were Moldovan 'posessions under the 1992 ceasefire.
  6. Page 23:  Russia had the right to use "proportional and necessary force" to defend its peacekeepers.
  7. Page 24:  Russian military action in Georgia went far beyond the limits of reasonable defence, and was therefore illegal.  Conversely Georgian efforts to constrain Russian force were legitimate.  
  8. Page 24:  There is no customary law allowing states to undertake military actions outside their borders in defence of their citizens, the only possible exception being actions limited to rescuing and evacuating citizens.  Zimbru:  Russia please take note.
  9. Page 25:  According to the 1994 ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia, the upper Kodori gorge was not abkhaz-controlled territory and therefore the attack on it by Abkhaz and Russian forces constituted an illegal use of force.  Conversely, Georgian defence of the territory was justified.  Zimbru:  There are few legal justifications for incursions into Moldovan territory by Transnistrian forces or vice-versa.
  10. Page 26:  All sides to the conflict committed abuses under international humantitarian and human rights law.
  11. Page 26:  Ethnic cleansing (forced displacement) was conducted against ethnic Georgians both during and after the conflict.  Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia must take appropriate measures to allow the return of internally displaced persons, including those from the conflict in the early 1990s.  Zimbru: Transnistria should allow the return of Moldovans displaced in 1992, and should also restore their land and properties to them.
  12. Page 29:  Prior to the conflict, the Georgians had offered South Ossetia and Abkhazia autonomy within a federation.  The regional authorities rejected this, pushing for 'confederation', under which their sovereignty and right to secede is recognised.  Zimbru:  As noted above, Transnistria doesn't have the right to secede.  Federation is the best deal it's going to get.
  13. Page 30:  Russia is an interested party, not an 'honest broker', and this has complicated attempts to reach a settlement.  Zimbru:  Russia is not an appropriate power to be acting as either mediator or peacekeeper in the Transnistrian dispute either
  14. Page 31:  The lack of timely and sufficiently determined action by the international community contributed to the unfolding crisis.  Zimbru:  I hope Brussels and Washington are listening.
  15. Page 34:  As needs on the ground may change with new developments, the international community must be prepared to reassess, readjust and reinforce the stabilising arrangements and institutions which were put in place during or immediately after a crisis situation.  Zimbru:  Ditto for Transnistria.  It's time to review the framework such that an acceptable agreement can be reached.  For example, let the Norwegians mediate and do the peacekeeping and give Russia a seat at the table as an interested party.
  16. Page 34:  No party to the conflict or party which is considered to be strongly supportive of any of the sides should assume a position of command, or chair, or arbiter nor exercise any other control of an operation which rests on the notion of impartiality and even-handedness in order to be effective.
  17. Page 36:  International law (e.g. the non-use of force and respect for territorial integrity) should continue to be respected and observed in its entirety.  Zimbru:  Amen to that.
  18. Page 36:  Political concepts and notions such as privileged spheres of interest or otherwise laying claim to any special rights of interference into the internal or external affairs of other countries are irreconcilable with international law. They are dangerous to international peace and stability and incompatible with friendly relations among States.  Zimbru:  The Kremlin should put a sock in it.
  19. Page 37:  Regular armed forces have a responsibility to protect non-combatants.