20 August 2019

Republic of Moldova- Stop and rewind?

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

A country divided between East and West, poverty and wealth, past and present- this is Republic of Moldova, now. August is full of symbolism both because of 23th of August, the day the European Parliament chose, in 2008, to commemorate the victims of Stalinism and Nazism, and 24th of August, the day Fascism got to an end (also known as “bourgeois- Romanian landowner”). And, indeed, 27th of August, the National Independence Day. Enthusiastically proclaimed back in 1991, hardly to implement in a space wherein history throws milestones along heroism and sorrow pages, wherein geography, suffocated between two rivers, does not do any good to geopolitics and wherein politics is, sometimes, caught in the moment and transformed into a corruption tool for the society and institutions.

Image source: Mediafax

Once upon a time, there was an oligarch…

In the former Soviet space there are some regions, some of them transformed into independent republics, others in special status regions, wherein there were made experiments to get in line with the former Soviet system, one to be corrupt, ineffective, anti-social, with the conditions imposed, after the Iron Curtain fell, by the “other” market economy, democracy and human rights supporters. Moldova is such a laboratory, getting this status thanks to having all the ingredients at once: many resources, bureaucracy, linguistic and social divisions, national identity frustrations, but also a strong attachment feeling to Romania, two military beachhead that will hardly get reunited.

Between a Romania that does not know what political path it should choose and Ukraine, which has too many domestic issues, an Europe/European Union to be more interested in conforming Moscow and a Russia which knows that Dniester’s coasts are just a secondary front for the confrontation with the West, Moldova was left in the hands of a political class that has kleptocratic behaviors, wherein some idealist politicians having pro-European, unionist and anti-corruption speeches have only talked in vain.  

This is the environment the “Plahotniuc system” worked in, until the beginning of June 2019. The World Bank was defining Moldova, since the beginning of 2000, a “captured state”, but the definition was even more obviously true after 2010, when Vladimir “Vlad” Plahotniuc entered the political scene. He is, now, at the end of August 2019, presented online as the “self-exiled Moldovan politician, businessman and philanthropist”. There is no need to translate this, the clemency is obvious.

Among the experiments Plahotniuc did, in Moldova, was checking the effectiveness of the “kompromat” (a Russian abbreviation from a “compromising material” / компрометирующий материал”), a sort of autochthonous file, made by interested loyalists or member of the internal security services, wherewith he blackmailed his political and business enemies.

The system got so generalized that even the discussions with state’s president were recorded and publicly used.

Another experiment was compromising the European idea by using European Union’s institutions, dislocated in Republic of Moldova. Through a speech wherein he called on the European values and the attachment to Romania, concurrently with the Russian threat, Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party showed off as a pro-Western political force that both EU and US can count on, in Chisinau.

It did not matter that much that the leader of the party was the local image of Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, so negatively presented in the media. Most likely, it also did not count that he did not follow any democratic methods to get the power or solve the political disputes. He was becoming “our guy from Chisinau”.

Another experiment was the financial gain. Power without money makes no sense. The “How to steel a billion dollar” movie, dollars and not the Moldovan Leu, was filmed in Moldova.

In the meantime, the script, the director, actors and, indeed, the billionaire are all gone, and what is left behind is only the movie location (the National Bank, minus 40% of its reserves) and the extra, a nation impoverished by 13% of GDB ($6,5 billion, in 2015, when the operation took place).

Officially, rich men in Moldova having high positions, like Plahotniuc, have reasonable fortunes, some millions invested in different companies. Unofficially, in a top created by Wealth X, which was not updated in some years, Moldova has the 33th position of all 45 European countries analyzed for the study, in terms of those to have above $30 billion fortunes (75 people have a total of $8 billion dollars). Ahead of some states like Slovenia, Cyprus or Bulgaria. Moldovan millionaires seem to be more skillful than those at West of Prut. Having the last place in Europe in terms of per capita income, a top estimated for 2019 by 30% of the international media, fourth times lower than Romania, does not discourage our confrere.

This laboratory decanted by poverty and fortunes, called Moldova, became so interesting and novel, that an American writer, Aaron Miller, dedicated it a book, “Moldova under Vladimir Plahotniuc: Corruption and Oligarchy”, published at the beginning of this year. Book’s conclusion, only speculated when published, however, proved to be right in the end, was: “It is because of him the population of this small country is no longer able to see the difference between European values and corrupt oligarchic authorities. Only the immediate reaction of the Western world can keep the Republic of Moldova on its course towards Europe.”

Good news, not that good, in fact, truly worrying

This reaction came in early June when, in an unexpected consensus with Russia, not even for Romania – an EU member, which had the European Council presidency at that time - the European Union acknowledged the new government coalition in Chisinau, created between two political structures, the Socialist Party and the Alliance NOW/ ACUM, which previously separated their chestnuts when and where they could.

There was a deaf war that lasted for quite some days, wherein, following Venezuela’s example, state’s institutions got doubled and loyalties in terms of the executive and the parliament got roped-off between two power poles.

US has joined the European Union and Russia, although the order may be different considering that the decision to overthrow Plahotniuc's came a few hours after the visit of US Ambassador, Dereck J. Hogan, at Democratic Party's headquarters. Such consensus and coordination happen once in a blue moon!


And all of a sudden, the Chisinau airport runway got crowded by private planes and passengers hurrying not to miss the Miami reservation. And, in Chisinau, there was a sigh of relief, fugitive dictator’s parallel government resigned, though, "to be clear: there is no resignation of a government that does not exist. The Philippine government has ceased to exist on June 8, 2019”, as concluded by Maia Sandu, the Moldovan executive’s new chief.

The "other" government no longer exists but the people, the former ministers, the secretaries of state, the chiefs of different central and local structures, mayors, councilors, thousands of bureaucrats integrated in the "system", tens of thousands of people depending on them, they were and are all, there.

The Constitutional Court immediately called for mea culpa, overturned previous decisions stating that the government declared illegal was, however, legal and the one that was initially legal already leaving the scene. Justifying the crushing defeat, the Court also reasoned why it said yes where it previously said no: “Court’s decision from  June 15, 2019, aims to be a source of social peace, maintenance of rule of law, democracy, as well as to guarantee an adequate framework for the protection of human rights by combating major political instability”.

After that, all constitutional judges resigned. It had been a way too serious issue! For a few days, the Court already has a new composition and a new president, Vladimir Turcan (former member and deputy of the Socialist Party, the de-politicization starts well!).

But that was in June, two months have already passed and time has only partially revealed the answers to the questions raised during that period.

Why “our guy in Chisinau” was left in disgrace, both in East and West?

For Moscow, Plahotniuc was no longer a trustable person from the moment he decided that the pro-Western orientation has more advantages. Even though his offer, from the beginning of June, included republic’s federalization, it was not enough. However, Russia had, and has, in Chisinau, a much closer ideological supporter. And for both Brussels and Washington, the power excesses and the use of state levers had already become "toxic". And democracies don't like such associations. The events began with Dmitry Kozak's visit to Chisinau (June 4th, when it was established the new governmental alliance) and ended with the visit of US ambassador, Dereck J. Hogan, at the Democratic Party headquarters (June 14, when the oligarch received plane tickets). Ten days to clear, divide and unite the waters again.

How will an alliance of two different groups work from now on?


Depending mostly on foreign support, including financial support for the Socialists, government coalition’s groups will stay together as long as the agendas that led to its establishment will not change significantly.

The first point, “state’s de-oligarchization", is assumed by both political blocs. It will be a long process, wherein the first breaches will soon show up. The Socialist Party will be less transparent during this process, and the approaches for cleansing the institutions by former regime’s personnel will not be as "purely democratic" as the coalition partners would like it to be.

The first blockage could be come when a decision on Trans-Dniester status will be made. Most likely, they will not go up to federalization, as the geopolitical context is not favoring such an approach from Russia, but an extended autonomy within the Moldovan state could be among the options. Moscow will probably try to come up with a solution to solve the issue alike the Tiraspol one, also in order to reintegrate the rebellious republics from Donbass in Ukraine. So the bets are high on the Dniester racetrack. The Socialists will most likely support this plan and for the NOW alliance this will only be an identity issue. The pressures to stop the pro-Romanian speech are already too high.

We could also witness some blockages inside the NOW camp. The two component groups, the Action and Solidarity Party (Maia Sandu) and the Dignity and Truth Platform (Andrei Nastase) are both signing the pro-European score, but they have different people, with their own interests. Andrei Nastase's connections with the business environment, indeed, Plahotniuc’s competitor, is in a different register than the soft, academic-educational one that Maia Sandu’s supporters come from.

What is happening with Moldova’s greatest pain, the economy?

 Although the country was mostly run by economic environment’s representatives, this did not mean that their expertise was useful. Within last few years, they have proved the opposite. Moldova’s precarious economic situation imposes the ruling parties a cooperation that goes beyond the limits of the ideologies and political currents they represent. It is a statement that belongs to the new and young foreign minister, Nicu Popescu: “What unites us (these parties, n.n.) is the will to create better conditions for Moldova’s economic development. This is more important for the population, than applying geopolitical labels to one or another in the parties”.

Trying to present the domestic situation optimistically, minister Nicu Popescu promoted, during his visit to Washington, in the middle of July, a reassuring message regarding coalition’s internal political situation: neither the Alliance NOW has an anti-Russian platform, nor is the Socialist Party anti-European. But the main message, however, focused on economy: “60% of trade exchanges are with EU, 10% with Russia. Our commercial dependence, our geography make it impossible not to be pro-European, for any political player. Without access to the European market, our economy dies the next day”.

Even if the diagnosis on economy, that the foreign minister established, is accurate, it does not have much to say about the process that should be followed. And here is where things get complicated. Asking for EU funding again, unblocking the agreement with IMF are good news. The difficulties in investigating bank frauds, especially in taking measures to punish them (Kroll report 2, regarding National Bank’s devaluation), are not that good news. In a small economy and a large corruption, discussing only about economic reforms and better taxes is an endless enterprise.

The current government is just a temporary and tactical solution, functional until the new parliamentary elections will take place (the local ones, from October 20, could influence them), possibly later than that too, if the electorate will indicate this. But until then, state’s central institutions have to be resettled (trial started with some leftists, see the election of the Constitutional Court members), the electoral system must be changed (the mixed system, promoted by Plahotniuc favors the parties and encourages the bidding of independent deputies).

An agreement between coalition’s two components, so demanded by the Socialist Party and President Dodon, could settle a short-term relationship and would also create a longer-term economic program.

For now, the economy is reaping the fruits, some of them poisoned (unsustainable wage increases, risky social and infrastructure projects) by the previous government. The recent budget recalculation, mostly targeting the public costs’ austerity, is a step forward for a more firm approach. For many of the new dignitaries, coming from the analytical and expertise environments outside the country, the contact and adaptation to local economic realities takes some time. No one knows how much time they will have, though. In the meantime, an anniversary and a commemoration can make things worse.

When 23th of August is one century away from 24th of August

Until the local elections from 20th of October that the new coalition is also preparing to settle an electoral non-aggression agreement, there will surely be other tense moments to test the ACUM-Socialist Party’ coalition solidity.

And the end of August, which is profoundly symbolistic thanks to the commemorated and celebrated dates, will be one of those moments.

Both political blocs have different approaches in terms of what should be celebrated and what not.

The government will focus on 23th of August, dedicated to “commemorating the victims of Stalinism and Nazism” (80 years since signing the Ribentropp-Molotov Agreement!), including by keeping a moment of silence.

The presidency is organizing, between 23th and 25th of August, a series of activities dedicated to “Moldova’s liberation from Fascism” (75 years since that moment). These events are not matching. The first one is also a European day, because Moldova (and Romania) were not the only ones to suffer from august 1939 agreement’s consequences. The second one is celebrating these consequences and gives justice to the 1940 aggressor and the 1944 liberator.

Therefore, on 23th of August, at 22.00 pm, there will be a moment of silence to cover all the Great National Assembly Market.

The following day, in the same place, a “huge concert” will take place, having the well-known Russian artist, Elena Vaenga, as a guest, wearing the military costume on scene and signing, most likely, “War songs”/ “„Песни Военных Лет” / ”Pesni voennih let”.

If Valentina Matvienko will also be there (the president of the Russian Federation Council, who received an invitation) 24th of August will be a century away from the previous day.

Translated by Andreea Soare