Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mordor Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Gongs

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

ORDER OF MERIT

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

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

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

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

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

Honourable mentions go to

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


ORDER OF THE RASPBERRY

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

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

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

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

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

Dishonourable mentions go to:

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Occupation by Stealth

The Challenge

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

Television

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

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

Magazines

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

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

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

What the government / parliament needs to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

A slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

$50m and we're anyone's

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

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

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

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

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

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

Обогошайтесь!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

True Believers?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

ZDG takes on the railroad mafia

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

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

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

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

Zimbru adds his voice to their calls.

Disgraceful

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

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

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

What they did was wrong in many, many ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fusu unleashed

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rebooting Moldovan Agriculture

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

Subsidies.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frattini tries to give the farm away

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More babies please

The world is sitting on a number of timebombs:

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

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

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

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

Do we have politicians with the necessary foresight and character?

Mr Barbarosie should consider a new profession

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

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

Open Season

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

I refer of course to duck shooting season.

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

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

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

Happy hunting, AIE.  Bag a couple for me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What now?

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

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

The complication is in Article 85 line 3:

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

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

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

Three holes in the ground

Well, well, well...

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Where's your candidate?

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

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

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

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

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

So, where's your candidate for president?

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hello, I'm a Romoldacian!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Comments on changes to the constitution

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

O'Neill, the AIE and a dead president

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

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

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

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

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

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