Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lupu's Friday

Lupu on Moldovenism
Yesterday Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu attacked Romanian foreign affairs minister Teodor Baconschii, who had earlier made a statement that "Romania rejects any action which gives credit to the idea of a Moldovan nation and language separate to the Romanian (nation and language), on the basis of clear, scientific arguments"
Lupu's response was that "Such statements from the officials in Bucharest - statements offensive to most of our population - disturb our relations".  The key phrases here are "offensive" and "most of our population".What in Baconschii's statement does Lupu find offensive? I think Lupu himself is on record as saying that Romanians and Moldovans are one people, sharing a common language, so that's not the problem. Maybe Lupu feels that Baconschii was attacking the right of self-identification (ie. if someone wants to identify themself as a Moldovan, they should be allowed to). The truth, however, is that Baconschii was addressing the aggressive ideological 'Moldovenism' which for over 80 years has distorted Moldova's history for Russian and Communist ends.  I think Lupu understands this, and as a result owes an apology to the Romanian foreign minister for his opprtunistic and politically motivated remarks.
As for the 'vast majority' being offended by Baconschii's statement, how does Lupu justify this? Was there a referendum that I blinked and missed? Was there an opinion poll that somehow escaped the rest of us? How does Lupu account for the PL, PLDM and AMN voters who would have no problem at all with Baconschii's position? The truth is there may not even be a simple majority, let alone a vast one. Lupu should be more careful when claiming to speak in the name of the Moldovan people.

Lupu on the 7 April Monument
Marian Lupu made another statement yesterday in which he criticised the decision of the Filat government to install a monument to those who died, were beaten or had their rights abused on 7/4/09. Lupu's view, which has some merit, is that we should wait for the parliamentary commission to complete its work so that all the facts are known before any monuments are built.
On balance, however, I'm with Filat. The monument needs to be built before 7/4/10, the first anniversary of the revolt. It needs to be there to remind the Moldovan people of this seminal event in the Republic's short history. It needs to be there so that the communists who ordered the abuses have to walk past it every day. it needs to be there so that the victims of the security services know that their state has recognised their suffering and sacrifice.
Of course, the best monument that could be built would be a prison for Voronin and Papuc.

Moscow calls
Next we find that Lupu is to follow his former mentor Voronin to Moscow in order to seek the blessing of Patriarch Cyril and congratulate him on his enthronement. Given the Russian church's continuing and massive intrusion into Moldova's political life (e.g. their explicit support for the communists in the 2009 elections, their willingness to reimforce the 'statalist' message), it would be wise for democratic politicians to give the Patriarch a wide steer until the Church changes its ways and refocuses on its spiritual mission.
Unfortunately, Lupu's visit to Moscow further demonstrates the extent to which he is under Moscow's thumb. Interestingly neither of Moldova's key office-holders - the President and the PM; both members of the church - have been invited to Moscow, indicating that the Russian church is playing favourites and that it is trying to send a message to the Moldovan people.

Of the People?
Marian Lupu also commented that anticipated elections may not be held this year and that the constitution might be modified in Parliament rather than by referendum.  I'm not so bothered by the elections - the people had two chances in 2009 to cast their votes - but the thought that a group of politicians would take it upon themselves to modify the supreme law without consulting the people is troubling.
Government in a republic is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people, and yet the Moldovan people have never been given the opportunity to debate and vote on their own constitution.  It would be a travesty if the historic opportunity now presenting itself is missed for the sake of saving a few bucks.
What is really curious, however, is the underlying reason that Lupu is flying these two kites.  Does he think that enough communist deputies would migrate towards the PD and MU such that a left of center majority could be formed under his leadership which does not formally include the communists, but which leaves out the Liberals and the Liberal Democrats?  Is he scared that a constitution put to a popular vote may be different in its content from one negotiated among political parties.

Summary
Taken all together, yesterday probably signals a turning point for the relationship between Lupu and his AIE partners. In the next parliament Ghimpu & Filat will need to achieve a liberal majority without relying on the Democrats. Otherwise Moldova's aspirations to strenghthen it's democracy and join the EU are likely to once again fall prey to the forces that seek to harm the country.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A historic wrong righted

The visit of Presidents Ghimpu and Basescu at the Romanian war cemetery in the village of Tiganca is a turning point in Moldova's history.

They say that history is written by the victors, and nowhere is that more true than in Moldova, where from 1944 on, the brave young men who fought in the second world war on the Romanian side have been vilified as fascists, their names associated with war crimes and atrocities.

Only tiny amounts have been spent maintaining their graves or furnishing monuments to their memory.  Their resting places have not been graced by office holders in the land, while on each May 9th, their deeds, their valour and their sacrifice have been swept to one side.  The tanks emplaced as memorials point their gun barrels at the homeland of these brave souls.

Whatever you believe about the war - which side was the occupier and which the liberator - there is simply no excuse for failing to honour the fallen, those who died fighting for their country, be that country the Soviet Union or the Republic of Romania.

Today was a big first step towards righting the wrong that has been visited on Romania's war dead for over sixty years.  More needs to be done.  May 9th must cease to be a triumphalist celebration of the victory of one side over another, and instead become a day of thanksgiving for the end of war, and a day of memory for those, both Romanian and Soviet, whom age never wearied.  Only then can healing and reconciliation between Moldova's cultural tribes truly begin.

Moldova's war

It has been suggested by some sections of the media, possibly correctly, that the quid-pro-quo for the $262m 'compact' grant package offered by the USA to Moldova is Moldova's participation in the war in Afghanistan.

War is not a pleasant thing for any government or people to contemplate.  Were Moldova to join the international forces in Afghanistan, it would just be a matter of time before young Moldovan men in the prime of their life would begin returning in body bags.  This is a fact not lost on the communists and other opponents of the AIE government.

And yet, Moldova should be in Afghanistan.  Why?


  1. Failed states are everyone's problem.  Somali pirates attack shipping under all flags with impunity because Somalia has no government capable of calling them to account.  Congolese rebels leave a trail of murder, rape and destruction behind them, not just in the Congo, but also in Burundi, Rwanda & Angola.  Islamic terrorists trained in Afghanistan have attacked not only the United States, but also the UK, Spain, India & Indonesia.
  2. Moldova needs to prove itself as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  By participating, even in a small, largely symbolic way to the peacemaking effort, Moldova will earn brownie points with its international partners and will be rewarded in a number of largely unseen but important ways (e.g. intelligence sharing and a stronger voice in international forums)
  3. The people of Afghanistan need and deserve help (just like the people of Moldova need and deserve help).  Moldova's contribution doesn't necessarily have to be at the sharp end of the fighting in Kandahar and Helmand, but could instead be focussed on practical measures to help the Afghan people (e.g. engineering works - school building, sanitation, power reticulation etc.)
Traian Basescu's faux-pas at Otopeni yesterday may have in fact contained a grain of truth; Cahul and Kabul really aren't that far apart.

PS:  Some commentators have suggested that Moldova's participation alongside NATO in Afghanistan might annoy the Russians.  If you think about it, however, this is illogical.  One of the countries with the most to lose from a NATO failure in Afghanistan is Russia.  Should the NATO force pack up and go home, leaving Afghanistan once again to the Taliban and assorted warlords, Russia's underbelly in Central Asia will become a zone of instability.  Weapons and money will flow more easily from Afghanistan to the separatists of the north Caucasus.  Russia's own large muslim population may itself be drawn to Taliban / Al Qaeda leadership.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Wheels of Justice

"The wheels of justice grind slow but they grind fine"


This is a quote variously attributed to Sun Tzu, Longfellow and a number of others, and one which I hope will apply to the situation that Moldovan justice finds itself in.


Naturally there is a huge amount of pent-up frustration that those who committed crimes during the PCRM's eight year rule haven't yet been brought to justice.  Younger commentators in particular believe that the four months available to Prosecutor General Zubco should have yielded more tangible results.


Kangaroo courts such as the one that convicted Nicolae and Elena Ceasescu on Christmas Day 1989 produce results very quickly and satisfy those seeking revenge.  They don't, however, bring justice.


Justice needs to be meticulous.  It needs to be done slowly and carefully such that the evidence is of sufficient weight and quality to produce a verdict beyond reasonable doubt (and which is seen by all to be such).  That sort of justice takes time.  Investigations need to be organised in such a way as to gather evidence without it being compromised in any way (e.g. that obtained by illegal searches, or by confessions under duress)


It does, however, appear that the wheels are grinding.  Papuc has been interviewed twice in respect of his role on April 7th, first as a witness, later as a suspect.  Voronin himself has spent a large part of the past two days providing testimony.  A young woman of considerable courage, Oxana Radu, has come forward and descibed her treatment in police custody and the (highly irregular) summary judgement she received for crimes she didn't commit.


Funnily enough, Voronin may be responsible for his own downfall.  As a member of parliament he enjoys immunity from prosecution.  Such immunity can only be lifted with a vote of 2/3 of the deputies.  At the start of December the communists had 48 seats, easily enough to block any attempt by the AIE to lift Voronin's immunity.  He could have sat tight for the four-year term of the parliament without any fear of prosecution.


His vanity, however, did not allow him to vote for Marian Lupu as president of the country, and as a result his party has started to fall apart.  The blocking minority is now only 44 seats and could fall further as deputies leave the PCRM in favour of the Democrats and United Moldova.  What's more is that, by blocking Lupu's election, Voronin may have forced anticipated elections later in the year, in which the communists are likely to do poorly.  It is entirely conceivable that the next Parliament will vote to lift immunity.


Of course , with respect to Papuc, Oleshka and the rest, there is no immunity issue....

Monday, January 25, 2010

Filat & Leanca conquer America

It was an extraordinary 2-3 days, including

  1. a meeting with the Moldovan expatriate community
  2. meetings with officials from the state of North Carolina, with whom Moldova has a special relationship.
  3. meetings with IMF head Strauss-Kahn, World Bank head Zoellick, UN head Ban Ki Moon and UNDP head Helen Clark
  4. meetings with US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  5. The signing of a $262m grant facility for rehabilitating roads and irrigation facilities.
All up, it was perhaps the most high-powered visit ever made by Moldovan ministers.  On the face of it, there was nothing said or announced that we didn't already know about.  On the other hand, the language used by Biden and Clinton in particular was strongly supportive of Moldova's aspirations, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were other matters of import discussed that we mere mortals can only guess at.

As a PR opportunity for the PM and FM it was unparalleled.  Images of the two Moldovans shoulder to shoulder with some of the World's most powerful people will go a long way to ameliorate the popularity that Vladimir Voronin gained by being seen alongside Russian leaders Putin and Medvedev at various wreath-laying ceremonies.

Hopefully the $262m will be spent quickly and wisely, and will result in visible improvements.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reactions, please

To the EU, US, UN, OSCE:

Today Transnistrian 'foreign minister' Vladimir Yastrebciak has called for Russia to increase its troop presence in the breakaway region to 2,400 and to base a squadron of helicopters at the Tiraspol aerodrome.

This call for remilitarisation of the conflict comes at a time when the constitutional authorities in Chisinau are seeking to restart the 5+2 negotiation process, having sought a relaxation of the EU's travel ban on Transnistria's leadership as a good-will measure.

Yastrebciak's call reveals the aggressive and illegal nature of the Tiraspol regime.  Aggressive because it comes at a time when there is no threat of violence from Chisinau, and will further undermine the security of those living on the right bank of the Nistru.  Illegal because it flies in the face Moldova's constitutional neutrality and in the face of Russia's Istanbul treaty commitment to withdraw all of its forces.

The international community must take a stand and let the Transnistrians (and implicitly, the Russians) know that such warmongering and endangerment of the security of Moldova is totally unacceptable.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Moldova addresses its past

When the communists were returned to power (democratically!) in 2001, I remember asking a close friend how it was that the people of Moldova, who had suffered so greatly at the hands of Soviet communists, could even think about allowing the restablishment of a communist regime.

He replied that the communists were nicer now, that they were really just social democrats under another name and that the change of government in 2001 was just a normal alternation of power between the centre-right and centre-left, just as you would find in a mature democracy.  Others have suggested that the 2001 election was won on pocket-book issues, i.e. the inability of the ADR government to pay pensions following the 1998 Russian default.

I believe, however, that the base cause of the 2001 communist victory was a lack of understanding by the citizenry of the horrors that the country had lived through during the Soviet period.

For starters, a good part of the electorate consisted of those who had formed the ruling class under soviet communism (e.g. rusofones, communists).  This group had no interest in the real history of 1941 - 1991 seeing the light of day.

A second group were rural folks who were either deprived of good sources of information or who chose to deprive themselves of good information (for example because they were too busy earning a crust).  While this group would have understood that democratic Moldova gave them more freedom than the totalitarian Soviet Union, they would also have observed that in economic terms they were worse off.

And that leaves the small, liberal, largely ethnic Moldovan chattering class of Chisinau as the only people who would have really understood just how awful Soviet communism really was.

Now however, interim President Mihai Ghimpu (with the tacit support of his AIE colleagues) has established a commisssion to investigate the Soviet Communist period and produce a report, in what is likely to be a prelude to an official denunciation of communism.

This is a necessary step.  Countries need to be honest about their past (and about their sins) in order to learn from them and build a common future.  South Africa's truth and reconciliation commission, for example, brought the black and white communities together in a spirit of forgiveness after the awful hatred of apartheid.

In Moldova's case, we need to understand who executed and who was deported to Siberia, by whom and why.  We need to understand what property was confiscated, how elections were rigged, how the policy of russification was promoted.  We need former agents of the regime to confess to their crimes and seek forgiveness.  The commission will give us that opportunity, and allow those who have been abused to achieve closure.

It will also produce some other results:

  1. An official denunciation of the acts of the state by the state itself may open up a legal right of redress by those who had their rights abused under communism (i.e. pretty much everyone).  The government needs to think ahead and determine how these claims will be handled.
  2. The communist party will continue its downward slide, and, as scandalous information comes to the surface, will be increasingly shunned by mainstream society.  The ostracisation process may be pushed along by bans on the party's symbols or even closure of its organisation.
  3. The inquiry and report will be a lesson in human rights to many of the citizens of the country, who will become aware, perhaps for the first time of rights such as 'economic liberty' and 'freedom of association'.  This can only be for the good.
Obviously some will claim that the inquiry is just a politically-motivated witch-hunt.  I'm sure that part of the motivation (but not all) is political, however that does not reduce the investigation's value.  As for being a with-hunt, the best way to avoid that is by sticking to the facts, taking a broad view and by operating in transparency.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cuddly communists and loose liberals

It was a big news day:

  1. Negotiation of an associateship treaty between (eager) Moldova and the (reticent) European Union began in earnest.
  2. Interior minister Victor Catan spilled the beans on just how corrupt his department had become under his predecessor Gheorghe Papuc.
  3. The Russian embassy, in a fit of extreme wierdness, decided to surround itself with barbed wire.  I'm not sure if they're trying to keep the Moldovans out or the Russians in?
The biggest political news was the migration of six deputies to new political homes.

First came the announcement that 'liberals' Veaceslav Untila and Iurie Colesnic and a bunch of their hangers-on were leaving Serafim Urechean's 'Our Moldova' (AMN) to join the extraparliamentary 'European Action Movement' (MAE) of Anatol Petrencu.  Curiously, this effectively makes MAE the fifth constituent component of the governing alliance.

Personally I think we need a bit more unity on the right.  The MAE and Pavlicenko's National Liberals (PNL) are both very close to the Liberal Party (PL) in their values and policies, the only perceivable difference being that the PL stops short of promoting unification with Romania  They should at least form a bloc together if not merge completely.

On the left we saw the four renegade communists led by Vladimir Turcan mounting a reverse takeover of the small 'United Moldova' Party (PMU), currently led by Ana Tkaci.  According to Turcan, the revitalised party will sit between the PCRM and the PD on Moldova's political spectrum, placing it well to the left of centre and maintaining an 'ideological moldovenist' philosophy which seeks to put distance between Moldovans and Romanians.  Curiously, at the last election, UM ran on a straight down the middle centrist platform, avoided ethnic issues and threw its support squarely behind the AIE...

Personally, the more parties we see on the left the better.  Hopefully Ciornii will start one as well and further fragment the vote on that side of the spectrum.

Of all the leftist parties, only the technocratic Democrats are capable of making a positive contribution to Moldova's future.  While Turcan's group is a step improvement on the PCRM, they're still very dangerous, and could easily mess up the economy or sell the country out to Russia.

What is really sad is that the majority of Moldova's population continue to support the political & moldovenist left, even when it has let the country down so badly over the last 15 years or so.  This is even more ludicrous when you consider that it's the supposedly "right-wing extremist" parties of Ghimpu and Filat that are currently working their butts off to improve the life of ordinary Moldovans, while Voronin the "communist" billionaire zips off to Croatia in his private jet for a holiday...  

Monday, January 11, 2010

Welcome to the club

Today Chile becomes a member of the 30-strong "rich nations club", the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Chile was a military dictatorship in the 1970s and the 1980s, with the right-wing military Junta of General Augusto Pinochet committing terrible atrocities in order to repress left-wing & liberal opposition and hang on to power.  At that time in Latin America, dictatorial government was the norm and human rights were  routinely infringed.

Two decades of good government later, Chile is a model democracy with a GDP per capita of around US$15,000 and a high rating on the UN's human development index.  Their pension system has become a model for countries all over South America as well as in Eastern Europe.  Their growing horticultural industries are world class and a good complement to the base of the economy, copper.  The country is an island of stability in a continent that, while improving, is still racked by social problems, democratic shortfalls and economic underdevelopment.

Let's hope that in two decades from now we will be reading about Moldova joining the OECD.  It can be done, even from the most dismal of starting places and in the most difficult of contexts.  Chile has proved it.

Be afraid, be very afraid

Over-the-top costumes, larger than life dance acts and some of the kitchiest lyrics you'll find this side of Hong Kong.  The competition that launched Abba and gave us Finnish metallers, an Israeli transvestite and camp from Ukraine, of all places.  Yes of course, it's the Eurovision song contest.

In most parts of Europe it's a bit of a giggle.  In Moldova it's life and death, far more serious than the political machinations which are normally the subject of this blog.  Why?  Because Moldova has a lively music scene and can draw on its rich cultural tradition to punch above its weight.  Moldova will typically make the top twenty and has been in the top ten on occasion, not a bad result given that only Romania can be counted upon to provide 'automatic' votes.

Because its so serious, the pre-selection is normally vigorously contested and the results disputed with allegations of vote-rigging common.  This year is no exception; some of the acts making the most noise are

  • a band called Akord with a tribute song to Lady Gaga,
  • a security guard from Ungheni (Pavel Turcu) with his 'Eurovision hymn' that apparently only took five minutes to compose, and
  • a Romanian called Mihai Traistariu, who is eligible to represent Moldova because he is singing a duet with Natalia Gordienko
May the best kitsch win!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sa aparam "Patria"?

Over the last week there has been a lot of comment in the Moldovan blogosphere about the activity of the Patria cinema in the centre of Chisinau, and in particular their practice of running Hollywood films overdubbed in Russian, without subtitles.

I empathise with the views expressed:

  1. It is shameful that the national language isn't used at all by Patria
  2. Subtitles would be a significant help for those trying to learn the original language of the film
  3. The overdubbing can be clumsy - e.g. delicate young women being voiced by a gruff middle-aged male
That said, Patria is a business, and their business model works well for them.  While they obviously need to conform to Moldova's language laws, they are not subject to the more rigorous constaints that a state institution would be.

What we have are problems of both supply and demand.  There is little (or no?) supply of cinema films with Romanian subtitles, and there is sufficient demand for films overdubbed in Russian to make Patria's business model work.  Some of that demand may of course be artificial in the sense that people go to Patria because they don't have other options.

The solution is obvious.  Create other options.  At the simplest level this could be a small, art-house cinema showing quality films in original languages with Romanian subtitles.

The business plan could be fairly simple, with relatively low initial capital investment.  You would need to hire a hall, set it up with seating and a screen.  You would need to buy or hire some projection equipment (but not necessarily the latest stuff).  You would need to contract with the copyright holders of the films you want to show and in some cases arrange the subtitling.  You would need to purchase a popcorn maker.  You would need to hire an usher, a projectionist and someone to sell the popcorn.  Oh, and by the way, you'll need to make a profit.

I look forward to receiving your business plans at zimbru2009@yahoo.com!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

If the Mountain will not come to Mohammed....

Did you ever get frustrated by the lack of a comments facility on pro-communist news portals?  Were you ever hamstrung in your desire to set facts straight, let alone express an opinion about what has been written?

Unlike their democratic cousins unimedia.md, jurnal.md, azi.md and zdg.md, sites such as omg.md and newsmoldova.md do not have forums and do not allow the, er, wisdom they publish to be debated.

Well, I think we can fix that problem, at least partially.  Firefox and IE users can install a plug in from reframeit which effectively provides a comments facility for every page on the web (including our good friends at Omega :) ).

So now you can tell them exactly what you think of their, er, journalism....