An interview with Moldovan political scientist Igor Munteanu on Moldova´s choice to enter the European Union, Moldovan democracy, Transnistrian conflict and security issues in the Black Sea area. Igor Munteanu works as the Executive Director of Institute for Development and Social Initiative (IDIS) Viitorul.
Moldova is very often considered a single consolidated democracy in the Post-Soviet area. Do you agree with such statement?
The statement is too generous to be true. Moldova is a country with deep-rooted regional conflict which is still unresolved and with incipient democratic institutions, which we usually call procedural democracy, because its typical feature is the legally guaranteed substitution of political elites through the elections. But it is not enough for the normal and effective democracy. We have been trying to become the European member. However, this is not an agenda of the enlarged Europe. Currently we have been fighting hard to get wider recognition, since we perceive us to be Europeans and we think that the political dialogue with Moldova should be under way at the same pace and under the same terms as it was with the Balkans, i.e. that part of Europe which have been included in the Stability Pact and the South Eastern European initiatives. Moldova is the country that has many problems. It was successful till 1995 as regards important crucial reforms like the privatization of the former collective farms. Anyway, critical failures occurred, namely in the field of the transformation of the economy and the attraction of the foreign investments. Moldova has one of the lowest investment ratings in Europe. It is the country with huge difficulties as to poverty indicators, the restoration and reconstruction of the infrastructure and a ruling class which is composed of the members of former nomenclature. In 2001, Moldova chose the replacement of the semi-presidential regime for the parliamentary system, which made Moldova a little bit of unique within the former Soviet space. However, quickly after these changes in the Constitution, the Party of Communists of Republic of Moldova seized power and it made the best of this institutional change in order to have a constitutional majority in the Moldovan parliament. As a result they got in the elections 71 mandates out of 101, due to which they were at the unlimited liberty to reshape the institutional environment as they wanted. The opposition has remained quite fragmented and split as to the ideological preferences and also rather weak to defend, what was achieved between 1991 and 2000 during the fight against the Communist Party’s restoration attempts.
The Communist Party won the parliamentary elections two times, namely in 2001 and in 2005. Why were they thus much successful?
In 1991, the Communist Party was prohibited in Moldova in the aftermath of a putsch in Moscow. The putsch was the signal of the widespread recognition of the independence of the former Soviet entities. In 1994 with the adoption the Constitution, the incumbent President Petru Lucinschi of Moldova decided that it is not democratic to have political parties prohibited. Communist Party has been legalized and it re-appeared in the political scene of the country in the course of the following six years. In fact their agenda is not exactly the Communism of the Soviet type, it is much more the combination of the populist ideas, which is full of nostalgia, and desire to restore at least some of the institutions that were characteristic of the Soviet period including extensive interventionist policy within the society and the advantages provided to nepotistic groups. That was the principle how the system functioned during the Soviet times. Their victory in 2001 was the result of the large frustration of the ordinary citizens at the failures of the previous governments to create the vision of a country development, large corruption scandals and inability to create viable and well-structured Cabinet of Ministers. Accepting these failures the population expected at least more order to be established in the country. Communists went that way, but their political program was quite ridiculous. They wanted Moldova to join the Russian-Belarusian Union and wanted to restore the collective property. Such a program was thus much different from the agenda of the public, that after one year they distanced themselves from these issues and they became the promoters of the market oriented economic reforms.
What was the reason of their success after such a fundamental shift in policy?
The current communists in Moldova are a typical populist party and populism is their ideology. According to Ivan Krastev populism stands for assuming the power and forgetting about the accountability. That’s the real ideology of the Communist Party of Moldova. The President Voronin comes from one of the wealthiest families in Moldova and, of course, he has many reasons to defend what he has got so far. The Communist Party is a political structure, led by the more or less charismatic leader, and it strongly relies on his personality. It is a vertical structure and without the personality of the president this party would not even enter the Parliament. In 2005, however, the Communist Party had to made momentous decisions, because in the period after the Ukrainian and Georgian revolution, speculations that similar revolution may appear in Moldova were spread. It deliberated rationally and adopted a new course towards the westernization of the country focused on the acceleration in the European Union integration. On 25 February 2005, it signed the first Action Plan with the EU in terms of European Neighborhood Policy. The plan contained a set of domestic reforms carried out under the competent supervision of the European officials. On the one hand the EU demanded from Moldova domestic reforms, on the other hand it refused to make Moldova the candidate for integration. Since 2005, we have been striving hard to carry out some of these reforms, but the society is quite sceptical. The administrative capacities as well as the reform incentives are quite low. That’s why there is a huge discrepancy between the commitments presented in the official political documents and the capability of the Moldovan officials to prove that they are ready to follow the European path. We have found a lot of divergences between the way the public officials present themselves in and civil society monitoring reports.
At present, is there any alternative to communists considering that they are such a long time in power?
First of all, there is no alternative to the European integration, in other words, there is no alternative to make domestic reforms really functional and effective. Usually the parties in power try to be more cautious as to the results of reforms, since they fear that they may loose power before the new political cycle. They are very much concerned about the internal battles and therefore less interested in the long-term effects of these reforms. The instances of such approach are the results of the political reforms including judicial reforms or the freedom of expression that is not only confirmed in the general constitutional principles, but also put into practice. The transformation of the former state television into a public broadcasting company may also serve as an example. There are still a lot of items on the list of things to be done in Moldova. All of them represent the first generation of commitments, namely those ones for the Council of Europe. If we didn’t fulfill them properly, we wouldn’t have moral right to claim more and to expect that the Acquis Communautaire would be implemented in a faster way. On the contrary, there are opinions that the restrained approach of the European bureaucracy to Moldova prevents the pro-reform groups to maximize their way how to comprehend the real impetus to reforms. In addition to that, there is still the stumbling block, namely the unsettled conflict in Transnistria. One could say – let’s forget about Transnistria and focus on the Moldovan policy of Europeanization. This is partially true…
Is such an idea in Moldova widespread nowadays?
This is kind of diminution and simplification of the real context. The Transnistrian case is also an economical problem. This is an important factor from the viewpoint of smuggling and the obscure schemes of the shaping up of Moldovan financial balance. There are no administrative obstacles between Transnistria and Moldova; therefore the goods are transported there without the consent of the authorities. We have provided Transnistrian enterprises with benefits in order to reintegrate them to the economic area of Moldova. They don’t return any taxes to the Moldovan budget and they process and export their goods in accordance with the GSP Plus agreement which is still under negotiation. Apart from the economical impacts of the Transnistrian problem there are also political influences on Moldova. Transnistrian elites have a huge influence on the politicians in the Russian Federation as well as the representatives of the power vertical. Nevertheless, there is no political opposition in Transnistria.
The movement “Renaissance” led by Yevgeny Shevchuk won the last parliamentary elections in Transnistria and Shevchuk is likely to replace Igor Smirnov in the office of the President. Does it mean that there will be any changes in Transnistrian politics?
This is not a decision that can be taken by Shevchuk. In Transnistrian administration, both Shevchuk and Smirnov are only puppets in a greater strategic game which is designed and promoted in the Russian Federation. Thus they represented the same way of thinking, the same strategy. I myself cannot see the impact of the replacement of Smirnov by Shevchuk. That will not change the rules of the game in this enclave. The most serious issue is the illegal and unconstitutional presence of the military troops. There are more than 18,000 members of military troops in the region who wear Transnistrian uniforms, but they are financed from the Russian federal budget and that’s the real issue. Without the reorganization of the region’s security structure, I don’t expect any kind of breakthrough in the next ten years.
Are you not afraid that the expected declaration of the independence of Kosovo could have influence on the development in Transnistria as well?
Definitely, and probably not only myself. I am quite concerned about the manipulative force of the arguments, used in terms of Russian foreign policy. First of all, it isn’t conceivable to compare the situation in Kosovo and Transnistria. There isn’t a separate nation in Transnistria that needs to gain right for self-determination, this is only a kind of plot made up by the military regime subsidized by the Russian Federation the military troops of which are unconstitutionally deployed in the territory of Moldova until now. The Transnistrians are not a nation. Transnistria contains from three large communities. One of them, the Moldovans comprise almost 40 percent of the population. The population of the region has declined dramatically from 850 thousand in 1997 to 550 thousand in 2005. The people have left the region because they haven’t accepted local rules of the game. This is the result of the policy of Transnistrian regime, which is very brutal and is supported by the Russian peacekeepers and Russian security agents.
Let’s pick up the Moldovan domestic policy. Is there any prospect of replacing the communist government in the near future?
For sure, there is a natural “erosion” of the party in power. The consequences of this erosion are already to be seen. In the local election held in June 2007, the Communist Party lost almost 10 percent of all local governments that it had controlled before. Now, the opposition has 22 chairmen of regional administrations in contrast to 10 communist ones. 52 mayors are the members of the opposition parties. This is a good deal and, of course, this kind of change has caused a lot of fears within the ruling party that its representatives may not survive in the next political cycle. Therefore, it started anew to deliberate rationally. Is it a good thing that we are going to promote the reforms that will cut our influence in the country, or shall we remain tougher and save the energy for the 2009 elections? That is exactly the opposite of what is expected from the official authorities of the country in connection with the enhancement of the political dialogue with the European Union.
Has the EU integration a massive support among the Moldovan population?
The citizens of Moldova are very much pro-European. According to the polls 78 per cent of them perceive Moldova to be a European country. Almost one million out of four million people of the entire population work and live abroad, 70 per cent of them live and work in the EU countries or associated countries. Almost 300,000 live and work in Ukraine and Russia, but they only do seasonal work. The largest part of the emigrants work in the Western Europe, in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany, France, Israel etc. They know very well how the Western economy functions and they represent the most important link in the Moldovan association with the EU and this is the reason why the Communist Party cannot simply delete strategic course from the agenda and say: “We are no more interested in the European Union.” If they did so, they would lose immediately.
Which country is to be considered Moldovan possible strategic partner on the way to EU?
Firstly, it is the European Union itself as the major player that has been discovering its borders creating new common foreign policy and simultaneously deliberates how it can improve the security situation of its neighborhood. We very much count on the Eastern Europeans, who were in the Soviet block and didn’t forget about the impact of the Soviet regime on their nations and cultures. These countries have preserved the moral obligations to assist other Eastern neighbors to help them to deal with the Soviet past. They are our natural and strategic allies. Furthermore we expect the improvement of the situation in the region owing to the new initiatives in the Black Sea region, namely the combination of the interests and strategic vision of the USA and the EU. Finally, we rely very much on the exchange of the political elites in Moldova itself after the upcoming elections in 2009. Thus, more responsibility and accountability will be vested in the politics.
Apart from Transnistria, what’s the role of Russia in the Moldovan domestic policy? Are there some pro-Russian political forces in the country?
Although someone might think the Communist Party is not pro-Russian as to the contents of its policy, it is definitely that way in the very essence of it. The pro-Russian communities are more oriented towards ethnic groups, for example in the Congress of Russian Communities. They are very small and minor and they never reach the level of 2 – 3 percent in Chisinau. They are totally unknown and not representative. The people in Gagauzia don’t vote for them, they prefer regional parties. Russia has no candidates to master its interests in Moldova. Russia has completely lost its trust to the President Voronin and has been looking for other candidates now. However, it’s not so easy. First of all, it doesn’t matter what sum of money they invest in this kind of parties, which may be loyal to the Russian Federation, the main thing is that the politicians are accepted by the Moldovan public. The most loyal part of Russian voters is in Transnistria. That is the reason why the Russian Federation speeds up the process of forceful reintegration of the country unless it is to late. It wants to create a confederation in which the Transnistrian administration will play the role of a bottleneck in terms of the domestic and foreign policy issues of Moldova, but this is not possible, because any amendments to the Constitution have to be made in accordance with the national referendum. Nonetheless, such an amendment to the Constitution has to be endorsed not only by the President Voronin, but also by political parties. In the current political circumstances it is a most impossible. The Communist Party has been losing voters and credibility day after day.
Have the Russian economical sanctions imposed on the import of Moldovan agricultural products any impact on the country’s domestic and foreign policy?
Of course, these bottlenecks have impinged upon the Moldovan economy. We have lost a good deal. At the same time such a policy has a redeeming effect on the Moldovan economy, because it diminishes Moldovan over-dependency in certain areas. It has effected the natural recovery of the national economy. Now, more than 60 per cent of the exports of Moldova flow into the EU countries and not Russia, which is positive. From one perspective, for the entrepreneurs and the public it’s a kind of practical lesson that the Russian markets are not so open and biased in favor of Moldovan partners. We have to understand that in order to survive we have to invest a lot in the modernization of the economy, in the attraction of the technologies from the West and to in people. This is not an easy task, but if we succeed the country will be transform fundamentally and the situation in the country might be improved in the long term.
The relations between Moldova and Romania are problematic. The President Voronin has accused Romania of the undermining of the state security of Moldova. What’s the cause of such a tension?
It’s caused by the populist politics pursued by both Chisinau as well as Bucharest. Sometimes people feel threatened by this kind of populism of both the presidents. On one hand, for instance, the Romanian President Traian Basescu speaks about the unification of Romanian and Moldovan forces without consulting it with the EU, on the other hand the Moldovan President Voronin uses the image of foreign enemy in order to his ideological basis. The result of these two types of populism is that they support each other and they disable the predictability of the relations and hamper the potential for a good cooperation between our countries. Romania has come up with the idea of “two states – one nation” and the President Voronin and his party support the idea of two separate nations, which is a lie. Namely, it is the result of the Soviet historiography and it is a basis for the creation of the enemy.
Is the idea of the reunification with Romania supported in Moldova?
Nobody knows what the next twenty or fifty years will bring. We should not forget about the changes of the structures, the institutions of power and the reconstruction of a modern state in the unified Europe. We should not speak about sovereignty in the 19th century, we should speak about the double and multiple identities of citizens, who can find the way of living in prosperity and peace irrespective of the countries of their origin. This is how we portray the attraction of the European Union without believing in the annihilation of national cultures and national identities.
How do you assess the activities of the EU, for example, the EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) in the Black Sea area? Do you think that they are sufficient?
As regards the Black Sea Synergy Policy, which has been introduced under the German EU-presidency, I think that it is very good framework for enhanced cooperation in the region of the Black Sea. It is in line with the strategy of other global players in the region and it is very awaited by the countries in the region. Nevertheless, this strategy has many weak points. The first one is that it is supposed to act within the existing institutions, which pursue the old agenda, like Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), and these are not institutionally adjusted to the challenges of the new situation. I think, however, that the synergy along with the talks about the upgraded and updated ENP are the reason for the hope that the European Union policy and the players within EU will act more effectively, more in favor of the nations by means of a different kind of assistance. It should be more purposeful a not question “who we are”, i.e. Europeans or non-Europeans. It’s the matter of individual choice. Of course, European Union should not pay the same attention to Morocco or other countries of Northern Africa than to Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, because it is us that are in Europe. The framework of dialogue should be more meritocratic and more aimed at the benchmark that we can set and it should not close the doors before us affecting the partnership challenges and membership.
The President Voronin lays stress on the concepts of regional integration like GUAM or Commonwealth of Democratic Choice. What do you think about the potential of these projects as we can hardly consider them successful so far?
Although we can make many critical remarks about these associations, nowadays, they try to introduce us a new type of security concerns. Our countries, i.e. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan feel themselves unprotected, they lack security guarantees. As far as we avoid the critical and fundamental question, namely what the security guarantees will be like, these issues will not be solved. The Baltic states have resolved from the outset the security issue by the membership of NATO and that was the precondition for the integration into the EU. At present, for us in Moldova the neutrality is the burning issue. However, what does neutrality mean? Is neutrality the situation when the country feels itself unsecured, when individual rights and freedoms of the citizens are unprotected? The institutional environment is out-of-date. I mean the public order and the removal of the other countries’ agents from our security agencies. These are the key and burning issues that have to be solved not in a primitive way, but very methodologically, in line with the geopolitical orientation of our region.
Does it mean that the concept of neutrality is in Moldova under discussion now?
According to the polls conducted regularly, almost 35 per cent of the population wants Moldova to be the NATO member. The number is higher than the number of Lithuanians supporting the NATO membership in the course of accession talks. Of course, the fact remains that in our Constitution, there is a provision securing neutrality. Anyway, the Constitution is not immutable. It should respond to the public needs and concerns. We have improved a lot and we have created the provision concerning the security environment as well.
Last year, Moldova signed an agreement with Gazprom that is not very advantageous for the country. In spring 2007, Russia announced a new plan for the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. Voronin mentioned the restoration of the Lesani – Chisinau – Dubossary transport corridor. Do you think that it could lead to an orientation shift in the Moldovan foreign policy?
Not exactly. First of all, the widely accepted truth is that the Russian gas policy looks like the conquistador policy rather than real partnership. We were the first victim of such policy, already in 1995, when we sold under exclusive conditions our gas industry to Russian Gazprom which became a major shareholder without the approval of the Moldovan Government. Afterwards, it divided the property, in such a way that even the transit fees were distributed in favor of Transnistria. Russia exports through Moldova amounts to almost 18 per cent of oil and gas exports in the Balkans. The transit fee is 2 USD / 1000 m3, but 70 per cent of them receive Transnistria, the pipeline is only 17 km long, whereas 30 per cent flows into Moldova, which has a 140 km long pipeline. We understand very well that this is a purposeful policy and the consequence is that Moldova subsidizes its own territorial separatism in fact. Of course, the President Voronin still repeats in Moscow that we don’t have any troubles with Gazprom. Why? Because we need to keep peace between our countries. He has been the target severe criticism from Russia since 2003 after the so called Kozak’s memorandum. He needs peace in order to have at least one external ally before the next political cycle.
How do you assess the role of Ukraine in the solution of Transnistrian conflict and in the foreign policy of Moldova?
Since the power assumption of the pro-democratic forces in 2005, Ukraine has renounced its politics inherited from the Kuchma era which consisted in balancing between the East and the West and taking the advantage of the “divide and rule” policy. In 2006, EUBAM, the EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine, was created with the consent of Ukraine along our borders. It was the great sign of solidarity and the support of our policy aimed at the reintegration of Transnistria. We are positive that nobody will challenge the policy and the commitments to us and the European Union by removing the EUBAM, that has the great symbolical force and has to complements other policies, like the full withdrawal of the troops from the region and the cessation of armament, the installation of the first liberal institutions in order to secure the freedom of expression and the right of the citizens to vote, to publish and associate and the removal of the security agencies of the Russian Federation from the institutions in the region.
On the contrary, the role of Ukraine in the foreign policy of Moldova should be not restricted only on the Transnistrian issue… It is the largest neighbor of Moldova as well as an important trade partner.
Ukraine hasn’t grown up yet so that it can become the regional leader. That’s why it was not able to take a democratic stance in the case of Transnistria. Probably in different security environment it would be better off.
Do you think that the new EU-members and particularly Slovakia could help Moldova in the modernization of the country or in the transfer of democratic know-how and if so, in which fields?
In Slovakia, there are important democratic activists that shape up a good deal of processes in Central Europe and in the post-Soviet area. We have derived much benefit from meeting them, understanding their viewpoints and explaining what has to be done in our countries. There are important incentives that Slovakia can bring to Moldova in terms of the practice of doing a modern business, reforming public administration, shaping up interactions between business community and government as well as between civil society and administrative agencies. We are also interested in Slovak experiences of the implementation of the Acquis Communautaire, however, not only on the theoretical level, but also on practical one. Slovakia could furnish us with a lot of expertise as a trade partner as well. It is the miracle of Central Europe and has a high potential to teach a lesson how it has become the centre of interests in a very short period after the Mečiar era.