Moldova after 20 years: A mixture of lost opportunities, successes and challenges
Remarks by Vlad Spânu, President of the Moldova Foundation, at the Panel Discussion: "Moldova’s Democratic Transition: 20 Years of Challenges and Successes" held on August 31, 2011 at NED in Washington, DC
For me, like for many people of Moldova, August 27, 1991 represents the culmination of the national movement’s fascinating struggle that started in 1988. Many do not know, others are inclined to forget, but the mass peaceful protests and meetings in Chisinau in the period of 1988-1989 were among the largest and well-organized movements in the Soviet Union’s republics. Our main demands were to change Soviet Moldova’s flag to a national one, the historical Romanian tricolor, to change the anthem, and to replace the Russian with Romanian, as official language of the republic, using the Latin script instead of imposed Cyrillic and, ultimately, to get independence from Moscow. On August 31, 1989, 22 years ago today, the Supreme Soviet, legislative body in Chisinau, passed into law the establishment of the official language of the MSSR and the return to the Latin alphabet. Just to get you a sense of those days, several historical facts, events that followed. A few weeks from this date, August 31, the trans-Nistrian districts of the MSSR protested the establishment of the Romanian written in Latin characters as the official language of the republic, which started the secessionist movement among Russian speakers in Tiraspol and other districts on the left bank of Nistru, where the 14th Soviet army headquarters were located. In one year, on September 2, 1990, the Moldavian Transnistrian Soviet Republic was proclaimed in Tiraspol. And in one year, on August 27, 1991, Moldovans were able to use another window of opportunity in history and escape from Moscow’s control, similarly with the situation in 1918.
20 years is not a long period in history. Those who see glass half full would definitely praise the people of the independent Republic of Moldova for their achievements. First and foremost, they got liberty. Today, no one can argue with the fact that people in what was once Soviet Moldova have more freedom than they had prior to 1991 – of movement, of expression, of electing and being elected, to name a few. Arguably, Moldovans live now better than 20 years ago.
Those who see the glass half empty would argue that Moldova lost its opportunities in these 20 years. They would compare the country with the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – that in 1995 each country signed an Association Agreement with the EU, while Moldova, in 1994 became a member of Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States. In 2002 the Baltic nations applied to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (E.U.) and got into these organizations in 2004, while Moldovans elected in 2001 communists to control all branches of power until 2009. According to IMF’s data for 2007, GDP per capita in Moldova was $2,720, while in Estonia it was $20,961, Latvia -- $17,484, Lithuania -- $18,108. These are all Soviet republics that started in 1991in similar economic conditions. Moldova is last in the region when it comes to GDP and FDI per capita, but first in labor export and human trafficking, remittances per capita. Moldova of today is associated with high corruption in the highest echelons of power, political instability, unresolved separatist conflict and foreign troops on its territory. All of these contribute to Moldova’s vulnerability and make the country the poorest in Europe.
Why Moldova could not take off the ground as did the Baltics or its western neighbor Romania, of which the current territory of the Republic of Moldova was a part before Soviet occupation of 1940?
The simple reason is that Moldova was too easy to be handled and controlled, the society was too fragmented in dealing with very basic question of identity, besides, the west has been paying little attention and had not appetite to get itself involved with the “Bessarabian question”, to use a term from the Soviet historiography.
Today, after two years of ruling of non-communist parties that form the Alliance for European Integration (AEI), feelings of the Moldovans are mixed. Most of them are glad that the communists ended their 8 years in power, which ruled Moldova in a semi totalitarian style. Others are disappointed with the pace of reforms and their numbers grow by day. In my opinion, Moldova risks to repeat the Ukraine’s political scenario of 2010 when pro-western parties lost power through democratic elections or Moldova’s own scenario of 2001, when the communists return to power winning the absolute majority of the seats in parliament.
Indeed, since 2009, there was no a breakthrough in cutting corruption and red tape, in creating jobs to retain its workforce from leaving the country. Improvements – yes, but no radical change. If in 2001-2009, head of the communists ruled the country, monopolizing businesses, export and import operations in favor of his own company run by his son Oleg Voronin, today, there are several political actors that took that role. Business people, both those who were in Voronin’s entourage and those who were in opposition to communists, saw the opportunity to take over Voronin-controlled businesses and state assets. And they do so by using political parties as vehicles and, in many instances disregarding the rule of law. There is no secret anymore that there are three business clans that compete in Moldova, which are controlled by current PM Vladimir Filat, deputy speaker Valdimir Plahotniuc and ex-president Vladimir Voronin. Troika of the three Vladimirs. To get a better feeling of the complex business dealing in Moldova these days, I will give you one example. Today, after 2 years of ruling of the AEI, the only company who has an exclusive license to export metal in Moldova is the company controlled by the Voronin family. No state run company can get such a license today. This example shows how deep the corruption, protectionism are imbedded in the governmental institutions and how tied are business links across the political spectrum.
If you look into what writes the Moldova media since 2009, you would not see in the headlines that coalition parties or politicians are competing for who puts forward the best reform strategies. Instead, you will see what party or politician controls Moldtelecom, Franzeluta or other public companies and businesses.
Moldova is in a political deadlock, unable to elect a president for two years by the parliament, due to the Constitutional threshold of 61 votes out of 101. Parliamentarians need to do two of the following to overcome it: change the Constitution or find a compromise candidate. It is likely that new parliamentary elections will be triggered because of the deadlock, although politicians are reluctant to do this due to the fact that new elections are very unpopular with the tired electorate. After all, Moldovans had three parliamentary and one local elections in 2 years.
But even if elections take place, it is unlikely politicians will be able to find a solution to elect president, unless they are willing to make radical change in the system of governance.
What changes need to be made?
The key problem in Moldova is that the principle of the distribution of power became dysfunctional in 2000, when the country was transformed from a semi-presidential to a parliamentarian republic. That needs to be fixed.
Let’s take one by one.
The legislative. Today, Moldovans, unlike in early 1990s, elect members of parliament by party lists and parliamentarians are not accountable to the people who voted for them. A change to uninominal voting system, like one in the U.S., when only one member is selected from each district, is needed that would end the corruption practice lack of democracy within parties, and bring closer parliamentarians to the people.
The presidency. For the sake of the separation of power, the president has to be elected by popular vote. This could be the first step, followed by a large debate in the country about eliminating the duality of the executive branch when you have the president and the prime minster, a practice that is overspread in Europe, that lead to political in fights between these two executive sub-branches.
The judiciary. Now, it is not independent from political influences and it is still corrupt. This is why the judicial system needs reform and support from the west for such reforms.
This is true for overall reforms of the system of governance. And I hope Moldovans themselves start to realize that a comprehensive reform is needed in the Moldovan political system, but without the west assistance and pressure, if you wish, it is unlikely they will take the lead.