Sunday, November 29, 2009

Motherhood & Apple Pie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stalin was a treacherous, murderous coward

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Romania Decides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good result for Moldova but terrible news for Romania.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mr Van Thingy and Baronness Whatshername

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does the end justify the means?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The tall and the short of it


Photo:  Stireazilei.md

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

The emporer has no clothes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A sporting chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In search of ten righteous people...

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spot the Principle

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Europe's Other Walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 6, 2009

Name Games

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies & Opinion Polls

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

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



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



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




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

Socor saddles up a new horse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Friends everywhere

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lupu tiptoes through a minefield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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