Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And now, for something (not so) completely different

For those of you wanting a break from thinking about Moldova, here's some light reading from the EU on the 2008 Russia - Georgia conflict.  I haven't had a chance to look at it myself, but at first glance the depth of the report and the fact that historical context is studied are encouraging.  It may not be the 'get out of jail free' card that the Russians and many Western Europeans were looking for...

Time to Grow Up

Moldovan society, and the individuals within it, need to grow up.

The country has a market economy, albeit a highly dysfunctional one due to the monopolies and oligopolies set up by the Communists over the last year.  It is clear (to me anyway!) that command economics do not work and that market economics are really the only way to secure the long term growth and development.  It is also clear to me that there needs to be safety nets for the poorest and weakest, and that governments should strive to secure equality of opportunity (but not of outcome).

In Moldova and much of Eastern Europe, many vestiges of the communist past remain, however.  One is in the mentality of citizens, who still believe that the government 'owes' them a living, or that the government should provide for their retirement, health care etc..  Accepting that this was the expectation under communism, there is a case to be made for attempting to meet these promises in respect of older generations.

The young, however, need to be encouraged to plan ahead and provide for themselves by saving, buying insurance etc..  Besides the moral argument, there is the reality that the Government is simply not going to be able to provide adequate retirement and health benefits to this group given the short-term fiscal and long-term demographic squeezes on resources.

The most visible expression of the communist legacy are the many and various freebies that exist for certain sectors of society - benefits such as free transport, free heating, free entry to theatres etc.  Sometimes these benefits are accorded to the truly needy - those receiving small old-age pensions, the cronically ill, large families etc.  Sometimes they are given in recognition for some meritorious activity (e.g. war veterans).  Sometimes they are given on the basis of politics, e.g. to government functionaries and other groups close to the regime.

The bottom-line with respect to the freebies is not only that they create and maintain a 'cargo-cult' mentality, but also that they put an unnecessary strain on government funds and restrict resources that could be made available to the truly needy.

These facts are recognised by the Chisinau Municipal Council and Mayor Chirtoaca.  Unfortunately however,  the pensioners protesting outside the mayoralty yesterday and today have been led to believe something else by another group of people who have little interest in seeing Moldova mature and develop either a strong market economy or sensible & targeted social protection mechanisms.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grey & Gullible

Chisinau mayor, Dorin Chirtoaca, has this morning been assaulted by hundreds of pensioners protesting against the municipal council's decision to increase tariffs for water and eliminate free transport on trolley buses for pensioners and other categories such as government functionaries.

Do the pensioners have a case?

No.  Instead of free transport, the council is offering pensioners a monthly cash payment of MDL 70 per month. A pensioner would have to travel on trolleybuses more than 35 times a month to be worse off.  Most will actually be better off.

Who are the real winners & losers?

The losers are the government functionaries.  Note however that these people are among Chisinau's higher income earners.  Everyone who lives in Chisinau is a winner, becuase the water company and the bus company can remain solvent and keep functioning.

Why are the pensioners angry?

1.  Because they believe they are worse off and they are frightened.  Valeriu Todercan and Moldova 1 have made sure of that.

2.  Because they are very poor to start with.  A decade of incompetent and corrupt government (mainly by the communists) has resulted in miserly pensions.

What is really going on?

Voronin and Tkaciuk are using the pensioners as front line troops in their battle with the AIE, attempting to discredit Chirtoaca and Ghimpu.  Frankly it's a disgusting manipulation of a vulnerable section of the population.

If it's about peacekeeping...

If it's about peacekeeping, then Russia should accede to the AIE's demands that Russian forces (which only enjoy the confidence of the Transnistrian side and are an interested party themselves) be replaced by impartial international peacekeepers with no direct interest in the conflict.

If it's about peacekeeping, Russia and Transnistria should allow international experts back in to Transnistria to resume the destruction of the arms stockpile at Colbasna, arms which are of deteriorating condition and have little defensive value.

If it's about peacekeeping, then Russia should ensure that mechanisms are in place to ensure that Moldova respects the legitimate rights of people in Transnistria, the best such mechanism being Moldova's entry into the EU.

If it's about peacekeeping, then Russia, recognising Moldova's territorial integrity, should place moral, financial and political pressure on the Transnistrians to reintegrate.

If it's about peacekeeping...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Statler & Waldorf




Spot the difference - on the left you have Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show.  On the right you have Voronin and Turcan from the Moldovan Communist Party (photo:  Stirea Zilei).

Statler and Waldorf were two grumpy old men who would sit up in the balcony week after week heckling everybody that came on stage and criticising everything that went on in the theatre.  Fozzie bear in particular came in for harsh treatment.  Interestingly however, despite ostensibly loathing the performances, they kept on coming back for the next week's show and buying the best seats in the house.

Voronin and Turcan are two grumpy old men who sit in parliament every week heckling every AIE deputy who tries to contribute to the debate.  Liberalo-fascisto-romano-unionisto-extremisto Mihai Ghimpu in particular comes in for harsh treatment.  V & T have the best seats in the house and, unfortunately keep on coming back for next week's show.

Last Friday, after a hissy fit, their got their own way on Voronin's inclusion in Moldova's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).  (Some commentators think that Voronin wants this in order to gain additional immunity and a good excuse to be out of the country should justice catch up with him.)

Today, however, V & T decided that it would be more fun to stay at home and kick up a stink about how the AIE are supposedly breaking the rules about participation.  They sent PCRM whiner-in-chief Grigore Petrenco instead (which is clearly breaking the rules given that he wasn't appointed by parliament...).

I think I've finally spotted the difference between the two photos above - Statler and Waldorf were funny.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The return of the law

September 23rd was a good day in Chisinau.

A criminal court decided to change the conditions under which (former presidential counsellor and liberal politician) Sergiu Mocanu's two sons are being investigated from arrest in custody to house arrest. This enabled the young men to leave the grounds of the Romanian embassy, where they have been holed up for a year, and return home. It is likely that the charges against them, widely viewed as an attempt by Voronin to intimidate Mocanu senior, will be dropped entirely.

Another court dropped the trumped-up charges pending against Anatol Caslaru, director general of the Carmez meat processing factory, allowing him to resume his function for the first time in a year. Caslaru was met at the plant by smiling, clapping employees pleased to have him back and pleased to see the back of the Voronin-backed interim management. Check out the photos at www.timpul.md.

Finally we have the curious case of Gheorghe Gorincioi, head of the audio-visual council, and his attempt to ingratiate himself with the AIE leadership by directing the REN television channel not to broadcast the "Top News" show produced by the Omega news agency. As with most things that come out of the "Oh My God" agency, "Top News" is twisted, malicious communist propaganda, however that's not the point. The point is that Omega has the right to freedom of expression, no matter how vile their "expressions" happen to be. Three leading AIE politicians - Urecheanu, Lupu and Tanase - have, to their credit, gritted their teeth and come out with statements in support of Omega's right to broadcast. It is a good indication that the new government will be committed to protecting the rights of its opponents as well as its supporters.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Looting Moldova

A number of quite incredible stories are coming to light regarding how leading communists are using their last scraps of power to maximise the potential for looting state assets. Some are saying that the Communists' attempts to delay the AIE from taking power weren't so much political in nature, being designed, in fact, to allow more time for assets to be 'spontaneously privatised'.

I stress that these stories are unproven allegations at this time, however there is so much smoke that the absence of a fire would be difficult to believe. Here's some of what is reported to be going on currently:

1. Parliament cannot function properly because all of the computers, photocopiers, crockery, stationery etc. has disappeared.

2. Oleg Voronin, who controls the Moldovan railway system, is rumoured to be sending rolling stock into Transnistria, to keep it our of the hands of the Moldovan government.

3. The National Bank is holding the exchange rate artificially high so that Comunist bosses can change their lei into foreign currency at a good rate and ship it out of the country.

4. Government functionaries have received orders to destroy all documents that could incriminate PCRM luminaries, in particular former Deputy PM Igor Dodon, who has been receiving multiple salaries for fictitious jobs.

5. A multi-million dollar gas pricing racket has been uncovered, under which the Gazprom-controlled MoldovaGaz used a sale and buy-back scheme to make gas imports appear more expensive than they really were (by around 50%), the excess margin being on-charged to Moldovan consumers and pocketed by leading communists.

6. The various oligopolies that have been set up in various sectors of the economy (e.g. meat packing and importing) in order to push consumer prices to artificial heights.

7. Moldtelecom and Banca de Economie have been (illegally) forced to provide funds for the restoration of Parliament and the Presidency. Remember that the reconstruction contract was awarded without tender to a company controlled by the former PCRM minister of construction, Mr Baldovich.

Unfortunately it seems that this list will just keep on growing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The New Novgorod?

It's 1150 years since the foundation of 'Novgorod the Great'. Now a pretty county town in Russia's northwest, Novgorod was once the centre of the Russian-speaking world. Between the fall of Kiev to the Golden Horde in the 13th century and the rise of Moscow in the 15th, Novgorod was the capital of what became known as the 'Novgorod Republic'.

It was a curious affair constitutionally, with princes that could be sacked and with ultimate power nominally being vested in the city itself ("Lord Novgorod"). There were the rudiments of a democratic state, for example a representative assembly and a separation and dispersion of powers. The economy was oriented westwards, exporting to the city-states of the Hanseatic league on the Baltic sea. The wealth of the city was evidenced by the presence of a picturesque church on the corner of every block, as well as by the boardwalks that had been constructed to keep the mud off the feet of the genteel citizenry.

It is interesting to speculate on what might have been had 'democratic, bourgeois' Novgorod prevailed over 'autocratic, feudal' Moscow. Would Russia still have turned east and conquered Siberia, or would it have become a comfortable member of the European democratic family, not unlike, say, Poland or Sweden? We will never know.

What we do know is that in 2009 a small country to the south-west of Russia began establishing its own democratic tradition. It's a country that, like Novgorod, now understands the perils of concentrating power in a single pair of hands. Like Novgorod, it's people have demanded that their voices be heard and that they be given the right to sack their prince and replace him with someone who will promote their interests. Like Novgorod they yearn for a better quality of life and want to benefit from a close association with the West.

Could we dare to hope that the modern-day 'princes of Muscovy' will withdraw their swords and allow this "New Novgorod" to grow and flourish?

Could we dare to hope that this republic might even punch above its weight and, by example, begin to influence Russia itself to adopt more democratic and humane ways?

As the country's leadership systematically dismantles authoritarianism and builds liberal, democratic institutions, could we dare to hope that their Russian cousins will watch, listen and learn?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Propogandist in Chief

Today we have once again fallen victim to the 'intelligent foolishness' that drips from the pen of Alexander Isaev, editor of "The Communist" and one of the PCRM's chief ideologues.

Russian speakers can find his latest post at the following link. Let me take a few minutes to have a look at what he is saying.

In his first sentence, Isaev describes the AIE as 'rightist-radical'. I will concede that, on balance, the AIE is centre-right, although I would note that one component, the Democrat Party is definitely to the left of centre and two others (AMN and PLDM) are not that far to the right of it. The AIE is only 'radical' in the context of 8 years of communist rule. Certainly major change is proposed as Moldova moves away from its corrupt, totalitarian past, however what the AIE is doing would be considered orthodox in most other parts of the World. I would challenge Isaev to name a single announced position or policy of the AIE that justifies the 'radical' tag.

The gist of Isaev's post is that the AIE (which the communists still don't officially recognise...) should accept Voronin's two conditions for PCRM support in the presidential elections. I suspect, however, that Isaev well understands that it will be impossible for the AIE to do this. Voronin's proposal regarding Transnistria would give 'Republic' status to the rebel region, allowing it to secede at will, hency undermining Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Voronin's second proposal, on pension and salary levels, is designed to tie the AIE's hands in such a way that they cannot reach an accord with the IMF for much-needed emergency finance. Furthermore, whilst at the start of his press conference Voronin stated that the PCRM is amenable to supporting an AIE presidential candidate, he then categorically ruled out support for Marian Lupu (who is the AIE's candidate...).

Isaev then has a go at the Teleradio Moldova issue, stating that the AIE is trying to 'capture' the station before anticipated elections next year. Actually, they just want to liberate it and let it do its job as a public broadcaster, representing all the diversity of Molodvan society. By the way, I wonder if Isaev was following the ECHR decision yesterday, which described in some detail how Teleradio Moldova censors its journalists and denies the Moldovan people their right to freedom of expression?

After delivering a quick verbal 'slap in the face' to the Independent Journalism Centre, he moves on to make the claim that the AIE want control over television because they are preparing for new elections. In a sense he is right, although not in the way he thinks he is. A truly independent Teleradio Moldova will be a tremendous support for all of Moldova's democratic institutions, including its electoral process.

Isaev then makes claims about what the AIE will do with power over the next few months.
1. Apparently they will contract credit from whoever they can and at whatever interest rate is available. In fact that was the communist strategy - remember the Russian and Chinese loans that now seem to have dematerialised?
2. Next Isaev claims that the AIE will try to privatise and sell state assets. Not possible - Oleshka has already grabbed most of these.
3. Then, apparently, the AIE will cut pensions and salaries and blame the communists. Here we are talking about the pensions and salaries the communists increased shortly before the April election without having the faintest clue how they were going to be funded...

Isaev moves on to repeat the communist refrain about Chisinau's recent decision to modify the way in which subsidies are granted for transport and water, and then calls the AIE to a curious form of repentance for their perceived sins, describing AIE policy (most of which is not yet announced!) as a 'political experiment'.

Finally he quotes the wisdom of Vladimir Voronin, who stated that "the PCRM is open to holding discussions". That, of course, is why they still don't recognise the AIE and failed to respond to their invitation to talk....

Actually I feel a little bit of pity for Isaev. He doesn't realise that Voronin is yesterday's man, and that the old dictator's proposals aren't worth tuppence. He also fails to realise that a vote against Lupu is highly unlikely in respect of the PCRM deputies occupying positions 30 - 48 on their list; they're far too attached to their deputies' mandates to risk them in this manner. Finally he doesn't understand the ambivalence of the AIE - happy to put up with 48 unproductive deputies if necessary, but equally happy to head back to the polls and get rid of a few of them.

An anti-social policy?

I'm listening to a speech by communist deputy Eduard Musuc in which he is complaining about the 'anti-social' moves taking by the Chisinau mayoralty to increase fares for public transport and for water provision. Other communists have been making hay out of this for a couple of days already.

If, however, you look more deeply at what the mayoralty has done, you will see that the move is actually meant to protect the poorest of Chisinau's citizens. At the moment, these services are subsidised heavily by the city regardless of the incomes of the consumers. What Chirtoaca has done is to (a) remove the universal subsidy, such that consumers pay the true cost of the service, and (b) target the funds freed-up through direct payment to the poor. The poor, who the communists claim to represent, will be better off.

It should also be noted that a bus fare costing 12 eurocents is still extremely cheap by European standards.

One hopes (forlornly probably) that M1 will tell both sides of this story.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How to choose a President

Some pointers to anyone thinking of re-writing the constitution:

1) Don't make the President's job too important. It should be basically ceremonial, with the exception of a few tightly-defined reserve powers designed to get the country out of constitutional crises (e.g. the power to dissolve parliament if it fails to pass a budget). By making the job ceremonial, the separation of powers becomes much clearer - executive power rests solely with the Prime Minister and his / her government.

2) Don't give the job to a politician. Define a group of candidates who are "worthy" by virtue of either the role they hold (e.g. chief justice, national bank president, ambassador etc.) or by the titles they hold (e.g. order of the republic*). Candidates must not have been party members or have held a politically appointed position for five years. They must also agree to their nomination.

3) Organise the election in such a way that there must be an outcome and that the candidate enjoys broad support. Put the candidate group past a parliamentary review committee where they need to receive a 2/3 vote in order to make it onto the short list. Put the short-list to the vote in a plenary session of Parliament. Successively eliminate the lowest polling candidate until there is only one left.

The end result - (a) no constitutional drama, (b) clear roles and responsibilities and (c) a half-decent President.


*The procedure by which such orders are obtained will be topic matter for another post....

The AIE reorganises government

In this morning's session of Parliament the AIE majority approved a new structure for the incoming Government. Here are my thoughts on the major changes:

1. DIS-ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF REINTEGRATION

Having a ministry doesn't necessarily mean that the problem will get solved. I'm a firm believer that the Transnistrian issue is neither complex nor resolvable at a low level. It is an issue between the US, EU and Russia and what Moldova thinks or does is relatively unimportant. In these cirumstances, the best thing Moldova can do is to make itself economically and democratically attractive to people on the left bank of the Nistru.

2. DIS-ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

One of the first things the Communists did on coming to power in 2001 was to establish a ministry of local government and replace the Judet / County structure with one based on smaller, soviet-style raions. These moves were decried by international agencies and opposition parties as a less efficient & less democratic structure which effectively brought local authorities under the political control of the central government. The AIE's move this morning is a welcome step back in the direction of devolution of power and empowerment of local communities. Hopefully in time they will also address the issue of units which are too small to be efficient.

3. ESTABLISHMENT OF A MINISTRY OF YOUTH, SPORT & TOURISM

Firstly, tourism doesn't belong here and would fit more naturally with the Ministry of Culture.

Secondly, why have a 'Ministry of Youth & Sport' in the first place?
(a) I understand that the AIE is indebted to the young people of Moldova for their support in the democratisation of the country, however I am unconvinced that a new bureaucracy is the right way to repay that debt.
(b) there's a degree of discrimination here - why don't we have a "Ministry for Children" or a "Ministry for the Aged"?
(c) What will the Ministry of Youth and Sport actually do that is of real value?

My preference here would be to fold this into the Ministry of Education (which also deals predominantly with young people)

4. MINISTRY OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS

Under the communists, this ministry grew into an all-powerful monster which sticks its nose deeply into the lives of Moldovans though its powers to issue and control all sorts of personal information. Actually it shouldn't be a ministry at all, but a support service for other government agencies. It is the job of the Internal Affairs Ministry to issue ID cards, register marriages etc.

5. THE AGENCIES

There is a list of agencies approved which do not appear to be fully under the direction of the 16 ministries. A number of them would appear to fit naturally within a ministry, e.g.
(a) Moldsilva should become part of either the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of the Environment
(b) The anti-corruption centre should go to Justice as should the ethnic relations bureau.
(c) the border guards should either be part of Internal Affairs or alternatively be managed alongside the customs service for greater efficiency.
(d) All the other agencies are essentially economic in nature and should form part of the Ministry of Economy.


SUMMARY

The AIE have made some positive steps with their structure, however they have also left undone much that could have been put in place to simplify and reduce the cost of Government. One hopes that the structure voted this morning is seen within their ranks as interim.


3.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Moldova loses its fear

Following the resignation of Vladimir Voronin as President, one major change can be observed in Moldovan public life. The fear is gone.

* We have a constitutional court prepared to rule against the communist party

* Police are prepared to move against Maria Petrenko (mother of a leading communist deputy), who has been illegally occupying a school building for two years.

* Journalists are able to put tough questions to Voronin, such as Saharneanu's request to comment on all the journalists and media organisations abused during the eight years of communist rule

* Most notably, some of the people oppressed by the communist regime have begun to talk.

On the last point, I listened yesterday to a JurnalTV interview in which Sergiu Mocanu (leader of the 'Popular Action' movement and a former cousellor of Voronin) and Anatol Caslaru (Director of Carmez, a meat packing company) started to describe the operations of the regime.

Mocanu was the most forthcoming, stating that Voronin 'was very hardworking in seeking to do evil to the people of Moldova'. He described how Voronin would work to bring elements of the Moldovan economy under his control.

Anatol Caslaru's example illustrates this process, and explains why food prices are so high in Moldova while salaries are very low. Caslaru was invited by Voronin's clan to participate in a scheme under which a meat-packaging cartel would be formed by the country's major importers and producers of that food product. The idea was that the cartel would keep the price paid to producers artificially low while prices demanded from consumers would be pushed up. Voronin and his accomplices would cream off the artificial profits, made at the expense of the Moldovan people. Caslaru refused to participate in the scheme. He was thrown in jail and Voronin's associates assumed control over Carmez so that their scheme could be put into effect.

It appears that we will be reading and listening to stories like this for many months to come.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Road Rules #2: Misbehaviour

The pro-communist press is wheeling out all sorts of corruption allegations against senior AIE figures. Some of this is reheated scuttlebut from many years ago, such as the unproven cigarette-smuggling allegations against Vlad Filat. Some is pure creation, such as the allegations that Mihai Ghimpu has somehow misappropriated government funds to repair his driveway.

Sooner or later, however, something is going to stick. While I expect the AIE leadership to be far less criminal than their communist predecessors, it would be unrealistic to think that we have 53 perfect angels in Parliament.

The alliance needs to think ahead and figure out how it will handle these situations when they arise. The mechanism they settle on will need to recognise the needs for both integrity and cohesion.

Integrity in the AIE ranks is absolutely vital if the eight years of communist wrongdoing are to be dealt with appropriately. In order to maintain credibility, the AIE will need to deal with miscreants among its own as severely as it deals with communist crimes.

Opposed to this is a need for cohesion - care should be taken so that measures taken against individual AIE politicians do not jeopardise the coalition itself.

As with the communication protocol suggestion, it would be best if a set of rules were written now for handling such an event. That way, they can be applied objectively when the need arises, without too many theatrics.

Why Russia is afraid of Ghimpu

The Russian government and its avatars in Moldova are kicking up a huge fuss about Mihai Ghimpu's unionism. There's silly talk of fascism, destruction of the state and even civil war.

In fact, Ghimpu's unionism doesn't present any peril, for two reasons:

1. Unification isn't going to happen any time soon. It would require constitutional changes and the preparation of public opinion on both sides of the Prut, as well as the approval of major international players. Furthermore, unification isn't on the agenda of either the AIE or even the Liberal Party.

2. Were unification to happen, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for either Russia or for Moldova's Russian-speaking population. The latter would gain EU citizenship and the accompanying travel freedoms. They would be able to export their goods and services freely to other EU states. Potentially Russian could be made an official language within the EU and on Moldovan territory. finally, the main bone of contention poisoning Russia-Romania relations would be removed.

I believe the main reason Ghimpu is coming under attack isn't his unionism, but his liberalism. He is a true believer in the rights and freedoms of the individual, in government which is of, for and by the people.

Despite Russia's best efforts, democracy is slowly gaining ground in Eastern Europe, albeit using a 'two steps forward, one step back approach. Ukraine and Georgia have been in the lead, but now they are joined by a newly democratic Moldova, adding a further point from which the contagions of democracy and liberalism could spread into Russia.

And that is Vladimir Putin's worst nightmare.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Graceless Exit

Well, today's the day. Vladimir Voronin will, at 12pm, resign as the country's interim interim president. Not in front of Parlament, as convention would dictate, but by means of a signed letter to that institution.

His resignation speech mainly focusses on the 'successes' of eight years of communist government, however in the middle of the speech appears one of the most graceless and least statesman-like paragraphs I have ever seen in such a document:

"I tell you frankly, I hand over the country's leadership to the new authorities with a heavy heart. I'll be frank: I do not believe in the ability of politicians who have made an alliance only on the basis of emotions, of the total denial and denigration of their own country, only to carve up functions, to propose a positive programme for the country. I do not believe in their ability to be a united team, to lead the state, relying on your fundamental interests, rather than on their own goals and interests. I have no experience of a successful government being based on the idea of liquidating its own country, on the aspiration to destroy it. On such ground you can only cultivate despair, despondency and the feeling of fatality. Nothing more."

Even with his 'dying breath', Voronin is keeping up the ruse of portraying the AIE as a bunch of opportunist 'anti-statalists', only out for their own benefit. Scarily, he may actually believe this to be the case.

In any case, here's a wee hint from Zimbru to the old dictator: next time you resign from something, how about wishing your successors all the best? That would be a great start on the road to winning friends and influencing people.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Thunderer of Chisinau

During the 19th Century, the Times newspaper of London came to bear the nickname of "The Thunderer" for its strident editorialising. Chisinau also has its "Thunderer", appropriately named "Timpul" (The Time) and which is every bit as opinionated as its English cousin.

Timpul was established in 2001 by Constantin Tanase and a group of colleague journalists fleeing from Iurie Rosca's "Flux" publishing house. Tanase was one of the first to figure out Rosca's real intentions and decided the time was right to establish Moldova's first truly independent newspaper.

Funnily enough, the founding of Timpul came just as the communists were acceding to power, and Timpul has been their nemesis from that day to this. Not an asset has been stolen or a cultural value trampled on without Tanase and his team taking Voronin's gang to task. It has often been a lonely fight and Timpul has experienced many dark days.

Whilst not as news-rich or immediate as Jurnal de Chisinau or Unimedia, Timpul has excelled in its analyses and in its opinion pieces, establishing a fine journalistic tradition in this area. It has been a tireless promoter of Moldova's Romanian heritage and of Christian values.

I want to give you just a single quote from today's issue: "Don't lose your capacity to be indignant in the face of evil. A journalist who loses this quality becomes an accomplice of the evildoers." This is evidence of Mr Tanase's worldview - he's a crusader for what is right and noble, something many of us would aspire to be.

Timpul turns eight on Monday. Many, many happy returns to Mr Tanase and his team.

Rebels without a cause

Following this morning's session of Parliament, leading communists have come out with a series of declarations in which they state how unhelpful they plan to be, but without telling us why.

Turcan: The PCRM will accept a vice-speaker's post only if the AIE unblocks the situtation in Parliament.

Zimbru: Is the situation in Parliament blocked? I don't see how - motions are being voted, deputies are being appointed to committees etc.

Turcan: By deblocking, I mean the re-election of the speaker...

Zimbru: Ah, I see now - you have a problem with the romano-fascisto-extremo-righto-liberalo-unionisto Mihai Ghimpu sitting in the chair. Personally I can't see why; Ghimpu appears well acquainted with parliamentary procedure and is being very even-handed in his chairmanship.

Turcan: ...with respect for legal, democratic & constitutional norms. The Constitutional Court voted 3-3, which means that question marks remain and that the underlying issue wasn't examined.

Zimbru: The Constitutional Court voted to cease the hearing because it figured out that it didn't have jurisdiction. Parliament is responsible for setting its own procedure, by majority vote. The only question mark is why 3 of the judges tried to continue the hearing in complete disrespect for the Constitution.

Turcan: If the AIE conducts a re-election of the speaker, then the PCRM may be amenable to voting for an AIE candidate for the Presidency.

Zimbru: In other words, the PCRM wants Diacov or one of its own as Speaker and interim president so they can be spared from criminal proceedings and expropriation of their ill-gotten gains.

Tkaciuk: In April we were open for dialog...

Zimbru: Dialog with the romano-fascisto-extremo-righto-liberalo-unionistos against whom you were preparing criminal charges for inciting the violence of April 7 ?

Tkaciuk: But now Moldova is developing in a way which we can't accept

Zimbru: What in the AIE's programme can't you accept? European integration? Partnership with Russia? Membership of the CIS? All of these are communist policies as well!

Dodon: We want a head of state that will stand up for Moldova's statehood.

Zimbru: And Marian Lupu won't? By the way, wasn't it your man that officialised the presence of Russian troops on Moldova's soil for the next 20 years, violating her territorial integrity and undermining her statehood?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Klimenko breaks the law?

Valerii Klimenko is a Moldovan citizen who is leader of the 'Equal Rights' movement. This political party is one of Russia's avatars in the republic of Moldova, and is occasionally called on to make statements which it would not be appropriate for Russia to make directly. Here is what Mr Klimenko said earlier today:

"We know that Mihai Ghimpu will push for the unification of Moldavia and Romania, for leaving the CIS and for joining NATO. We, the national minorities, disagree with this and will do our best to stop it. If Moldovans will not defend the sovereignty and statehood of Moldova, we will ask for help from abroad, including from the Russian Federation. Such help may be of any kind, including military."

First of all, neither Mihai Ghimpu, nor the liberals nor the AIE has announced that they will push for joining NATO or reunifying with Romania. Both of these issues would require constitutional amendments and be subject to a referendum. Leaving the CIS, however, would be within the remit of Parliament, as it is not a military / security body and hence does not impact on Moldova's sovereignty or neutrality.

So, to paraphrase, Klimenko is saying that he would support a Russian invasion of Moldova in the event that Moldova leaves the CIS. Such an invasion would have the intent of removing from power the democratically and constitutionally elected representatives of the Moldovan people.

He should take a look at Moldova's penal code. Article 341 states that it is an offence to call for the violent overthrow of constitutional order or for the violation of Moldova's territorial integrity. If this is done through the engagement of a foreign organisation, then the offence is punishable by a minimum of eight years imprisonment.

Mr Klimenko has a case to answer, and I hope that he will be brought to account by the new General Prosecutor.

Road Rules #1: Mixed Messages

Over the next few weeks I plan to write a few posts suggesting how the new AIE government may wish to handle issues arising during its term in office. First up: communicating with the media.

The recent publicity surrounding Mihai Ghimpu's statement that he is a unionist has brought to light the need for a communication protocol among the members of the alliance.

It is clear that the public wishes to know what politicians are really thinking, and in that respect they want to have access to the personal views of leading politicians. Mihai Ghimpu has won kudos for his sincerity, even among his political opponents.

It is also clear that each of the four parties needs to communicate a differentiated policy platform ahead of the next set of elections (which could be any time from January 2010 to 2013). The Democrat party will want to position itself on the centre-left and cement its relationship with Russophile voters, while the Liberals will want to maintain their traditional message of, well, liberalism.

As well as that, the AIE as a whole needs to communicate its policy positions, which are, after all, the decisions likely to be translated into law. These positions will impact on the lives of ordinary Moldovans for years to come.

What I would recommend is that, in media interviews, every AIE deputy should clearly state the capacity in which he or she is speaking, i.e. in accordance with either (1) personal views, (2) party policy or (3) the AIE's agreed programme of government. This will minimise the opportunity for pro-communist media to take statements out of context and twist them into something that sounds monstrous to a certain section of the electorate.

Another recommendation would be that the AIE forms a central policy office which would be taksed with producing agreed written policy positions. These positions would be a tremendous support for the politicians, enabling them to stay 'on message' and deflect the arrows being slung in their direction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Importance of Triviality

The Constitutional Court decided today to suspend its hearing into the Communist's petition that Mihai Ghimpu was elected illegally as Speaker. It was a close-run thing, three judges voting for continuation and three for suspension, and the process had already been allowed to continue llonger than justified by law, however the Alliance for European Integration (AIE) can chalk it up as a win over the Communist Party (PCRM). Ghimpu was legally elected as Speaker on the 2nd of November.

At its base, the decision is trivial. Had the PCRM won, all that would have happened was that the election would have be re-held and Ghimpu would have been elected speaker anyway, just at a later date. All that the Communists have gained by contesting the election is to slow down the transfer of power.

Symbolically however, the decision is hugely important. The Court has been completely obedient to Voronin over the last eight years, and singularly failed in its duty to prevent his many breaches of Moldova's highest law. Today's decision, however, shows that, despite the Swiss watches and the honours he has handed out, Voronin no longer controls the Constitutional Court.

One by one the levers of power are slipping out of Voronin's hands and he is seen to be getting weaker by the day. At some point during the next week he will lose his position as interim President. Sometime during the next month, the AIE will appoint a new Prosecutor-General and will probably succeed in freeing Teleradio Moldova from PCRM control. The AIE will also appoint a government.

Under circumstances where he is no longer able to dispense largess or to impose fear, it is very difficult to see Voronin surviving as the leader of a major party. My guess is that there will either be a coup within the Communist party that brings new leadership to power, that parts of the party will start to split off and form factions of somewhat different shades (e.g. a multi-ethnic Socialist party (Turcan, Musuc) that commits to democratic norms, or a Rusophone party (Tkaciuk, Petrenco) that has a market-oriented economic policy), or that there will be a migration to the Democratic Party.

Isaev mis-fires

'Communist' editor Alexander Isaev has published a list of quotes from Mihai Ghimpu on his personal site in the hope that they will discredit the new speaker. In my view they're perfectly reasonable and I appreciate his straight-talking. Here's a translation from Isaev's Russian:

«We are heading toward the EU; Russian occupants have killed our past, and continue to kill our present and future».

«It is unfair, that, due to political events, our people were divided and now live in two different states. The errors of 1918 and 1940 need to be corrected».

«Yes, I am a unionist»

«If it were not for the occupation, we would long ago have been in the European Union, and we would not have today's problems, especially the poverty. We have no economy, no language, no healthy people, and all this because of the occupation in 1940 »

«As the Poles say - Bonjour, maman!»

«If you want, I can buy a tank as well as a Mercedes» (Zimbru: Note that this one is taken completely out of context and is a response to a communist provocation)

«I will not forgive Dorin (Zimbru: Dorin Chirtoaca, the mayor of Chisinau), if he goes in the wrong direction, even if he's my nephew»

«We will picket the Embassy of Russia, until the last Russian boot is withdrawn from Transnistria»

«I regret that Russia continues to the present day her policy of occupation. This country claims to be democratic, but in reality its behavior is similar to an absolute monarchy. Russia must prove that she has finished with her past and no longer pursues policies of expansion and occupation.»

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kuzmin loves Stalin

Russian Ambassador Valerii Kuzmin at a round table on the causes of the Second World War:

Kuzmin: The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly gave the USSR and Hitler's Germany the same responsibility for the outbreak of World War II, the causes, conduct and results of war, Stalinism and fascism having the same equal footing.

Zimbru: Actually the OSCE PA resolution of 3 July makes no explicit reference to the war. It does condemn the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, however that's as specific as it gets.

Kuzmin: Stalin pursued a justified and acceptable policy of protecting the Soviet Union from external attacks.

Zimbru: I guess the invasion of eastern Poland two weeks after the Nazis overran the western half was part of this 'justifiable and acceptable' policy, as was the overrunning of the Baltics and Basarabia the following year?

Kuzmin: By concluding a non-aggression pact with Hitler, Stalin gave his country a year and a half of peace...

Zimbru: And ensured that the rest of the continent would be engulfed by war.

Kuzmin: ...and giving the country a chance to prepare a defence in the event that Fascist Germany breached the pact.

Zimbru: ...which is why the Soviet leadership were completely unprepared when Germany launched operation Barbarossa in 1941.

Kuzmin: Controversial moments in history should be discussed only by scientists.

Zimbru: Heaven forbid that the proletariat form its own opinion! That would be way too, er, liberal & democratic.

Ghimpu lays out his stall

Mihai Ghimpu, President of the Liberal Party & Speaker of Parliament, in an interview given to JurnalTV.md, made the following statements:

1. Yes I am a unionist (Zimbru: someone who favours reunification of Basarabia with Romania)

2. Yes I am a Romanian (Zimbru: according to the latest census 2% of Moldova's population identifies itself as Romanian, although this number is likely to increase under non-totalitarian government)

3. These are my personal positions and do not represent the policies of either the Liberal Party or the AIE.

4. The AIE's priorities are restoring democracy and reducing poverty.

So Ghimpu has stated his personal views (which, in a democracy, he has every right to do), while, at the same time, seeking to assure the Russians and the communist electorate that the AIE will not be pursuing a reunification agenda.

Ghimpu's comments have been received in quite a varied manner. Encouragingly, they have defused much of the hysteria that was being generated in the Russian press folllowing Ghimpu's election. The Russian media generally reported his statements faithfully, They now realise that what they are dealing with is not the fascist extremist caricature created by the PCRM, but instead a solid, centre-right politician whose views in many areas (foreign policy excepted) align with those of Dimitry Medvedev.

The pro-communist Moldovan press has, unfortunately, had a more predictable response. Omg.md (known colloquially in Moldova as "Oh My God!" due to the incredible bias of its stories) sought to present the interview in the worst possible light, headlining their story "The Speaker will promote the idea of the liquidation of the Moldovan state".

Todercan's M1 went one up on Omega, issuing a poll (how did they organise that so quickly?) in which Moldovans expressed their indignation that the speaker of Parliament considers himself a Romanian. Funnily enough, it doesn't appear to concern the Moldovan people that large sections of the Communist Party consider themselves Russian or Ukrainian. But then again, they weren't asked that question.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Formuzal teaches leadership

The Gagauz people of southern Moldova have long been viewed as natural allies of the communists and as agents for Russia's interests in the republic. There is a significant degree of distrust between them and the ethnic Moldovan majority.

In the mid-90s, Russia almost succeeded in establishing a separatist enclave in the region as it had done earlier in Transnistria. Until relatively recently the Gagauz would vote communist en masse.

Things started to change with the election of the non-communist Mihail Formuzal as Gagauzia's Bashkan (President). Formuzal understands that it was the ethnic policies of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union that lead to the russification of the Gagauz people and the near loss of their langauge and culture. Moreover, he understands that the region's economic future lies in investment from and exports to Europe (and Romania in particular).

And so, he is charting a new course, as evidenced by two actions taken earlier today. The first was the holding of today's meeting of the Gagauz assembly in the Gagauz language, for the first time in eleven years,of autonomy. The second was to plead with Gagauz officials to keep out of the power struggle in Chisinau and not allow themselves to become cannon fodder in the PCRM's desparate struggle to hang on to power.

Formuzal is showing the hallmarks of a true leader, promoting, at considerable personal cost, a course of action which, while not popular, is the 'right thing to do'. I wish him all the best and pray that his approach to government is contagious!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The communists, abetted by the Constitutional Court, deepen Moldova's economic crisis

It is already evident that Moldova is in urgent need of a government committed to resolving the country's problems.

The state budget has run out of money and is borrowing from commercial banks to make ends meet, a strategy which can only be short term. State sector salaries are being cut and functionaries being sent on forced holidays without pay. Private firms are being pressured to pay their taxes in advance.

What is needed is a quick transfer of power from the Communists to the Alliance for European Integration (AIE). This could be facilitated by a formal and timely resignation letter from Vladimir Voronin, paving the way for Mihai Ghimpu to become the interim head of state. Ghimpu could then nominate Vlad Filat as Prime Minister and negotiations with the International Monetary Fund could begin in earnest.

The communists, however, are doing everything in their power to stall the transfer process. While Voronin has announced that he will resign, he hasn't actually done it, and will probably wait until the last possible day he could maintain a claim to the interim presidency (September 14th). In reality the presidency became vacant on May 22nd, but the AIE's chances of persuading this Constitutional Court to uphold that view are next to zero.

Another communist delaying tactic was their appeal against Ghimpu's election as speaker. In truth, the Constitutional Court should not have admitted this appeal, as it relates to matters of parliamentary procedure, which are outside the competence of the court. However, 5 of the judges recently received expensive watches from Voronin, and Chief Justice Pulbere was given the Order of the Republic, the highest honour in the land. Accordingly the Court has acceded to the communists' request and set a hearing for September 8th. This further delays the transfer of power, as parliament is reluctant to take decisions and pass laws until the Court has made its ruling.

Also delaying change with all his might is Valeriu Todercan, Teleradio Moldova chief, who refused to broadcast yesterday's meeting of Parliament. In a written tirade, he accused Parliament of undercutting TRM's independence and threatening democracy. This from a man who's station has been a communist poodle for many years already, delivering incredibly slanted news coverage to the Moldovan people. The AIE will eventually figure out a way of levering him out, however in the meantime he will obviously try to be as much of a nuisance as possible.

The communists may think that all the stalling is clever, however the delay in putting in place a new administration is costing the country dearly. I hope and believe that in the near future, both the AIE and the people of Moldova will hold the PCRM and the Constitutional Court to account for this further contribution to Moldova's suffering.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An energy policy for the 21st century

Communist Energy Policy

One of the disappointments of the 2001 - 2009 Communist government has been its failure to put in place an adequate energy strategy. Moldova remains hopelessly dependent on fossil fuels imported from ultimately unreliable suppliers, be it gas from Russia, oil from the Gulf or electricity from the gas-fired power station at Cuciurgan in Transnistria.

It's not that the communist government was inactive; just that what they did was either negligible (e.g. opening a couple of village straw-burners) or counter-productive (e.g. making Moldova even more reliant on Russian gas by extending reticulation networks).

What is needed now is a true 21st century energy policy, aimed at replacing fossil fuels with renewables and at replacing imported energy with the home-grown variety.

Moldova's Options

At first glance Moldova has little in the way of energy resources; just a couple of very small oil fields in the south of the country, and not much else.

But think a bit more laterally. The country has significant potential for generating energy from wind, especially in the south. Solar panels are becoming more efficient all the time, and could represent a significant source of power in summer at any rate. Sunflower oil is the main ingredient in the manufacture of bio-diesel. Finland could provide technical assistance to enable Moldova to construct small, modern and safeish nuclear power plants (or alternatively the country could take a stake in Romania's Chernovoda facility).

What it will take to make some or all of this happen is a bit of facilitation by government. Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) infrastructure projects should be developed to channel private sector investment into:

1. A redesign of Moldova's power grid, such that it would allow a myriad of small generation stations (e.g. wind turbines) to put power into the network (this would need to be accompanied by a law forcing power companies to buy the power at a market rate)

2. The establishment of at least one biodiesel plant and at least one bioethanol plant

3. The development of factories to make solar panels, efficient woodburners, small scale windmills, fuel pellets etc., and the development of a chain of stores to distribute them

4. The construction of combined cycle waste burners to provide both heat and electricity to apartments and office blocks.

Incentivising the right behaviours

The other 'out there' idea which I am a fond proponent of is Al Gore's notion of taxing what we burn rather than what we earn. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense - why discourage the earning of income by taxing it? The earning of income is a good thing and should be encouraged! Instead, what we should tax is the usage of the Earth's limited natural resources, as this will encourage their conservation and re-use and allow the full real cost of an economic activity to be understood.

The way I see this happening is a ten-year phase out of income taxes accompanied by a ten-year phase-in of taxes on resources (most notably on fossil fuels). The phase-in period would allow the tax system to be recalibrated as time goes by to ensure that taxes collected are sufficent to both fund the government and repair environmental damage.

A resignation, sort of...

It was a day that had promised much; the first full meeting of Parliament under the leadership of the AIE. In the event the meeting was a fairly tame affair:

1. In deference to the Constitutional Court, which is yet to rule on the legality of Mihai Ghimpu's election as speaker, no decisions or laws were adopted.

2. Acting Prime Minister Grecianai and Teleradio Moldova head Todercan were summoned to Parliament to give account, however both failed to show.

3. The meeting ended up consisting of worthy but dry economic analyses and a statement designed to calm the nerves of Moldova's national minorities

The other main event of the day was the on-again off-again resignation of Vladimir Voronin. After much to-and-fro-ing, it emerged that Voronin intends to resign sometime in the next ten days or so.

The importance of this lies in two things. Firstly, Mihai Ghimpu's assumption of the interim presidency will not be challenged by Voronin, avoiding a potential constitutional crisis. Secondly, it appears that even Voronin's thick skull is now being penetrated by the realisation that the communists lost the election.

It's still too early to celebrate however. Voronin's 'resignation' speech to the party faithful as well as the communique issued after the meeting were full of fight. The PCRM is still calling the liberals names, claiming that it has a mandate to rule as the largest party and threatening to force early elections.

I will celebrate when Voronin actually signs his resignation letter, allowing the AIE to get on with the job of governing the country.

Communists in a legal knot?

I don't know if anyone has spotted this yet:

1. The communists have appeal to the constitutional court, suggesting that the AIE's decision to continue the meeting of Parliament on the 28th of August breached their legal right to have 10 days to form their faction.

2. The decision to continue was expressed in the form of a vote which took place under the session presidency of Ion Hadarca.

3. Ion Hadarca was presiding over the session as 'senior deacon', in the absence of Ivan Calin, who had walked out with the Communist deputies.

Here's the important bit. By attacking the outcome of the vote to continue, the communists are necessarily accepting as legal everything that had happened up to that point in time, i.e. the continuation of the session under Hadarca's presidency and the organization (if not the outcome) of a vote on continuation. They are also accepting that Calin's decision to terminate was illegal.

If the Communists had been smart, they would have attacked Hadarca's assumption of the role of "Senior Deacon" and his putting of the continuation motion to a vote.

Pedantic stuff, I know, but I just thought it might give the AIE some more ammo.