Kalman Mizsei: Less Transnistrian vetoes, more of its democratic self-governance within Moldova / INTERVIEW
Kálmán Mizsei was EU’s Special Representative to Moldova during 2007 – 2011. His main duty was to negotiate the solution for the Transnistrian conflict. Currently he works for the Open Society Institute as co-chairman of Roma Policy Board. Mr. Mizsei is a Hungarian public person who holds a PhD in Economics from Budapest University of Economics. The former EU envoy to Moldova accepted to give an interview to Moldova.ORG.
Moldova.ORG: Mr. Mizsei, during your term in Moldova, what were the main projects you have focused on?
Kalman Mizsei: I think it is hard to call a “project”. The function of the EU Special Representative was established because of the Transnistrian conflict. But it was also my task to follow the domestic political process, with the purpose of helping deepening democracy and human rights. And in 2009 I was entrusted by the EU to deal with the political crisis in Moldova as well. In 2010, with the Appointment of Baroness Ashton as High Representative for Foreign and Security Affairs as well as the reorganization of the functions within the new Barroso Commission, my role changed vis-à-vis the internal affairs and it became more of an advisory role whereas my responsibilities for the Transnistrian conflict remained the same until my finishing my work in Moldova in February 2011. Within this broad set of mandates we of course also created “projects” but that is not the main way one looks at the work of a Special Representative.
Moldova.ORG: How would you assess the current Transnistrian conflict developments?
Kalman Mizsei: By being far from the concrete negotiations it is hard, of course, to make an assessment with certainty because a lot of the positioning from all sides happens behind the scenes of publicity. There are a few positive factors. The internal political changes in Transnistria stand out but one also needs to know that the Transnistrians are so dependent on the external factors – particularly Russia but increasingly also the EU – that democratization that Shevchuk’s unexpected, and by the Russians unwanted, election victory signalized is necessarily fragile.
The second positive factor is the attitude of Prime Minister Filat who understands best the complexities and dynamics of this conflict of any top politician I have worked with. Besides him I have had great colleagues in the position of negotiator and in other positions. But the number of politicians in Moldova who understand the country’s interests in this as well as the logic of the conflict still remains very, very few. Rational approach to the conflict is crucial and understanding the importance of confidence building within the framework of the efforts for a solid settlement is essential.
The third positive change is the interest of the Germans, also personally of Chancellor Merkel, in solving this conflict. This started already in my time, in 2010. Given the weight of Germany in the eyes of the Russians within Europe, this is positive. It is important that the German efforts remain embedded in the European foreign policy framework and I feel that this is the case.
On the other hand we will have to see how the new Putin presidency will approach the issue. There I do not yet have a precise enough understanding thus I would rather not speak out on this. Europe’s internal problems are also a factor weakening its energies devoted to issues of external policy.
Moldova.ORG: What would be the best solution to peacefully settle the dispute?
Kalman Mizsei: What is key is to be realistic in one’s expectations. Realism means a few things. First, one needs to understand that identities in left and right bank of Moldova have evolved differently in the last 20 years. Reunification can either happen through building bridges of understanding on the basis of mutual respect or from above as a result of an agreement of the international factors above the heads of the so called conflicting parties. The first case, that also presupposes strong international involvement, would have deeper roots and would be healthier.
Content-wise I can repeat what I told so many times as Special Representative: the name of unitary state or federation does not make a difference. What does is the distribution of constitutional powers, roles of the central authorities and of the Transnistrian region and the quality and feasibility of international guarantees. Clearly, there needs to be a strong delegation of power to Transnistria, stronger than in the case of Gagauzia. Contrary to the flawed Kozak-Memorandum one should be generous on this front but not allow crippling central decision-making with many veto-provisions. With other words: less Transnistrian vetoes, more Transnistrian democratic self-governance. Where one should not allow for compromises, besides the above, is further democratization of Transnistria. Russia’s security interests need to be addressed transparently and not in the way it was handled in 2003 through paralyzing the central decisions and through Russian troops in a neutral state.
One also needs to understand that currently a large part of the population in Transnistria is afraid to let the remaining – largely symbolic – Russian troops to go. They can and should be much comforted by a strongly defined and legally well fortified special status as well as wide use of the Russian language in the region.
Moldova.ORG: What are the key issues the Moldovan society deals with?
Kalman Mizsei: Moldova is Europe’s poorest country that also does not control its full territory. Tasks ahead of this friendly, very European society are many. The challenges of prosperity and territorial integrity are intertwined although much can be done to increase material wealth in the country even in absence of a sustainable Transnistrian settlement. In spite of Europe’s current problems, I remain convinced that Moldova benefits already and would benefit even more from a deep European integration. There is a lot of misperceptions in Moldova about this; but the truth is that it is only the European integration path as an independent country that provides with the much needed culture of the rule-of-law, with a widely based pool of foreign direct investment that are so crucial to Moldova’s leap towards an affluent, dignified future.
On the other hand restoring the territorial integrity of the country would benefit it strongly and make it a more attractive place economically and politically. Less discussed, but again I am deeply convinced that the half million people of Transnistria, entrapped in an extra-legal status, would even more, hugely benefit from a properly structured reintegration. The Transnistrians possess an industrial culture that Mr. Shevchuk so rightly wants to build on. His criticism of the previous leader, Smirnov, of impoverishing the people there by only looking at his own political and other interests was accurate. Shevchuk would like investments and the rule-of-law the same way I described the need of those modernizing components for Moldova as a whole. He, and the Transnistrians, can get it from a properly structured reunification, guaranteed by the participants of the 5+2 negotiating formula.
However, I would also like to mention what Moldova can build on since its pessimistic people sometimes do not realize their own strong advantages. It is a hard working, peaceful society that learnt something that in today’s world is very valuable: living in an ethnically mixed society. Working abroad, particularly in European cities, equips them with similar values. It is a very strong side of Moldova that I wish they were much more proud of because those, who look condescendingly to Moldovans, typically are much less broad minded than the Moldovans. Self-confidence what this society also badly needs; I know it can not be decreed but only achieved step-by-step with societal successes.
Moldova.ORG: What kind of measures should the Moldovan authorities take in order to reduce high migration and the process of “brain drain”?
Kalman Mizsei: Indeed the level of migration from Moldova is very high. Here the authorities and the European Union both have tasks and, I would say, moral obligations. One crucial common challenge is, paradoxically, to make travel to Europe easier. The Moldovan authorities do a lot in order to accelerate this negotiation. Sometimes things get difficult such as with the anti-discrimination law that the EU rightly expects from the Moldovans.
Where the authorities should do much, much more is a decisively more consequential and serious fight with corruption. The ordering of the Center for Combating Economic Crime and Corruption under the Parliament is only one, modest step. This institution should not exist and paradoxically it can even be a source of more corruption as it has always been used to achieve political goals more than to fight corruption. European countries do not have such institution; this is a bad, bureaucratic, typically post-Soviet non-solution. This organization should simply not exist. Corruption can be fought by liberalizing the economy much more than it is currently done, by increasing transparency of the public sphere, including procurements and by privatizing the economy in a transparent manner. The EU needs to be here an intelligent, well-informed demander. So, overall, the task for maintaining people in Moldova is identical to the task of making it a prosperous country.
I should also say that, although I do not know the details, what I see in the public sphere currently about this I like. President Timofti rightly speaks about salaries of the judges. Both, judges and public officials need salaries that are not so low that they feel morally relieved when they accept – in worse cases actively invite – bribes from private businesses and people. So, this is important and the example of Georgia shows that as part of a proper policy mix, it can be very effective tool. A state which does not pay its employees well, shows it does not respect itself. Of course, with higher pay should come high expectations.
Moldova.ORG: How do you see the future of Moldova in the next five years?
Kalman Mizsei: Moldova can have a positive development path but there are also risks here. Success will be not automatic; it needs hard work from people but also from the authorities, and broadly from the elites. They run a race with time and Europe ought to be very supportive. Particularly the process of visa liberalization and free trade should be resolutely accelerated. On the first, we do not really have a choice: either Moldovans can freely travel to Europe as Moldovans, or their majority soon will freely travel to Europe as Romanian or sometimes, particularly in case of Transnistria, Russian citizens. In European capitals this truth needs to be understood very well. These two freedoms would – and I hope will - also have a very positive effect on the Transnistrian settlement.
In case these two most important European integration components will happen I see Moldova, in a positive case scenario, as continuing to grow with a pace of 5-6 per cent per year. It will accumulate visible positive effects on the country. I see much more widely based foreign investment that helps improving the corporate culture of Moldova and implant a much less corrupt relationship between business and government. This will also make the current Moldovan emigration an asset: people who either move home to open small businesses or being in a frequent relationship with the Motherland.
Moldova also needs a lot of public investment in its infrastructure: roads, irrigation systems, etc. This has started after much delay and this needs to resolutely continue – only this way Moldova can be linked well to the outside world. And I can see in five years the Transnistrian conflict also solved in case this European integration pattern succeeds. The societies on the two banks of the Nistru have lived 20 years in a degree of separation: this will not be overcome overnight but it will gradually ease for the benefit of the people. Again, this is a scenario for which we will have to work hard but it is perfectly achievable.
Moldova.ORG: Moldova has recently voted the Law Ensuring Equality of Chances, also known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill. How would you comment the reaction of the churches and if such a law will ensure a free travel regime with the EU?
Kalman Mizsei: One should clearly say that the Moldovan elites here did not perform in a mature European manner, with the exception of those politicians who had the courage to advocate for the adoption of the original anti-discrimination law. The most cynical politicians, and I regret to see among them many with whom I worked in the past, labeled this law to the public as a “law to promote homosexuals”. The reality is that an equal right of all people is a deeply rooted European value whose content is constantly evolving in Europe. At the moment this is not properly understood in Moldova. This renders tasks to the education sphere and it requires courage from the elites to explain the sense of the requirement to the public. Instead most of them simply placated the most conservative elements of the Orthodox Church. We should not be discouraged about it but to continue to make those humanistic European values better understood.
There is a complex political nexus here too: the so-called left wing parties in the Moldovan society that are “left” not by values but by geopolitical orientation, campaigned for the most retrograde, inhumane values. You can not hold such political names and cajole so strongly to the Church at the same time, particularly if that Church happens to be directed from abroad under strong political influences. I do not think that politicians can be cynical about this and to expect not to pay a heavy long term political price.
Let me mention another paradoxical aspect of this: if people advocate for the Moldovan society to be intolerant towards one group of people, in this particular case homosexuals, why are they not afraid that the same society will the next day, on the basis of what behavior they have been encouraged of today, become intolerant towards another minority: in this case for instance Russian speakers? Equality of all is not only deeply humane, European, but also happens to be a very wise principle, deeply rooted in Europe’s humanistic tradition, gradually evolving over many centuries since the reformation and the enlightenment. Politicians would be well advised to think and see a bit ahead of their nose when undermining this beautiful principle in their rhetoric.
Overall, the debate shows that Moldova’s European modernization road remains full of thorny challenges and the risky alternative of a darker past can not be ruled out. Still, while a modern, prosperous, European Moldova is not a certainty, this political project remains profoundly feasible and I expect the representatives of the Moldovan elites to be aware of the stakes and work towards this, brighter future and not only towards lesser immediate, private advances.