The conference centered upon the evolution of the social democratic doctrine in Europe and tried to assess the performance of social democratic parties. The current electoral trends in Europe are not homogenous throughout different regions. These variations in regional trends are nonetheless comprised within a generally accepted value framework involving direct elections, the separation of powers, the majority rule, opposition rights, the freedom of expression, etc. This value framework also serves as the foundation for the European integration processes currently being applied in stages across Europe. One can therefore state that these differences are rather alternatives, or maybe even alternative trends, than trends.
Social democracy emerged in an endeavor to fundamentally revise the Marxist ideology as a pre-condition for industrialization at the end of the 19th c. The reformist revisionism, supported by Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, envisioned two correlated projects, the moral and the social-prospective ones. Democratic socialism advocated a democratic society and individual freedom and stressed the importance and opportunity for a peaceful, legal and democratic way towards socialism. The main task for social democrats was winning political rights by the masses at large which they could use to improve their socio-economic condition.
The French sociologists grouped around Benoit Malon, Alexandre Millerand and Jean Jaures took a reformist-pragmatic stand too. The constructive socialism theorized by the Belgian Henri de Man turned into a profound, philosophical and moral doctrine.
The emergence of these trends was part of the efforts to channel the worker movement towards a peaceful effort to improve the conditions for economic development, socialize capitals and democratize the political life.
The major objective of the social democratic parties has been to guarantee all social rights, remove any form of social discrimination and ensure the premises for a free development of individuals as a pre-condition for the development of the entire society.
The post-war ideological evolution of the social democratic and socialist parties in developed countries was characterized by a rejection of revolutionary Marxism and the focus on the reformist pragmatic strategy. After 1970 social democracy has seen a strong drive towards globalization through increased international participation and cooperation of social democratic parties from Latin America, Africa and Asia within the Socialist International. At the same time social democracy got over its class nature. Social democratic parties are no longer exclusively worker parties. A deliberate extension of their social basis has occurred in the result of their ideological adaptation to concrete social and historical conditions.
Thus, the social democratic doctrine has been founded on the social evolutionism, humanism and the idea of respect for the individual right to choice and decision. Freedom, democracy, solidarity, equity and justice are the principles and values of social democracy. The former three form the defining conceptual triad of this doctrine from which other social democratic solutions flow.
The social democratic state involves the existence of one strong organizational structure, of sovereign rights and the legitimate monopoly of coercion power. The authority of state resides in the beliefs and consensus reached through free elections, intellectual competence and moral status. The ideologists of this doctrine believe that it is obligatory that social control be exercised over state power.
At present, 18 out of 38 considered European countries are ruled by social democrats. In three countries, United Kingdom, Greece and Sweeden, the social democrats are ruling on their own without allies. In the other 15 countries the social democrats rule within coalition governments together with liberals and Christian democrats. The Christian democrats form coalition governments in 13 European countries, and in Spain they govern on their own. The liberals are part of coalition governments in 21 European countries and in Andorra they rule alone. The conservatives participate in coalition governments in nine countries. Ethnic minority parties participate in coalition governments in four countries; green, agricultural/regional and nationalist parties participate in three governments each. According to the percentage held by parties of different ideological orientation, Europe is “pink colored”.
Social democratic parties are very powerful even in countries where they are in opposition holding about 10 to 30 percent of votes. On the second place by weight are the Christian democratic parties. The liberals, although the most often participants in coalition governments, hold a percentage much lower than the social democrats or the Christian democrats. This is explained by the fact that liberal parties have been practically always professional parties and generators of ideas that are often taken over and applied both by social democrats and Christian democrats and conservatives. Thus, in 12 countries the social democrats govern together with liberals. In other six countries the Christian democrats are the ones that govern together with the liberals. In three highly developed countries the social democrats, liberals and Christian democrats govern together.
For a better comparison of electoral trends in Europe and Moldova it is logical to examine separately regional trends in the Central and East Europe (CEE), the Baltics, Western Europe, Scandinavia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
One could state that for the CEE social democracy has been an adequate option for doing away with communism and avoiding sliding into some other extreme. The experience of these countries is particularly relevant for Moldova. Thus, in nine out of 12 CEE countries the social democrats are at rule. Only in Slovakia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, where nationalistic parties are very strong, the social democrats are not ruling. In the cases of Slovakia and Bulgaria this is explained by the fact that, on the one hand, the previous governments of nationalist and communist orientation have been compromised, and, on the other hand, the bite of joining NATO and the EU has been so appealing that center right collations have replaced previous governments in order not to miss the prospect of joining the EU. Thus, these two examples only confirm the fact that social democracy has offered Central and Eastern Europe the necessary tools for a gradual transformation so that these integrate later in the EU. As mentioned above, one of the most interesting exceptions has been Bulgaria where the last elections were won by the National Movement Simeon II of conservative orientation, led by the former monarch. This movement was set up on the eve of elections and won in the first round with 42.7 percent of votes. This example shows how important can the personality of the leader be as compared to the doctrine, all the more so when the leader is associated with certain aspirations, such as joining the EU in the case of Bulgaria. This is a good example for Moldova in that it shows why the number of members necessary for the registration of a political party should not be increased in an arbitrary way to 15,000.
A similar example has existed in Lithuania where a representative of the Canadian Diaspora, Vaira Vike-Freigerga, was voted by the Lithuanian Parliament for the position of President and then a right-wing party, the newly formed New Era, was set up to support her later winning parliamentary elections in the first round. The motivation for such an electoral behavior has been the same as that in the case of Bulgaria — the aspiration to join NATO and the EU. It is to be mentioned that in the Baltics the social democrats initially had a strong position only in Lithuania. In Estonia and Latvia the liberals and Christian democrats were more powerful. This state of affairs has been preserved to date. Thus we can see that in the Baltics too social democracy can be a solution but not a panacea. It is important though for the political movements to set for themselves reasonable aims for which they should secure their citizens’ support.
At this stage it is difficult to talk about the existence of an electoral tradition in the Baltics. One thing that is certain is that the organization of free elections immediately after the collapse of the USSR has been beneficial for the adjustment of the structure of parliaments to the new conditions and tasks for Euro-Atlantic integration, which thing failed to happen in the CIS. In any case there is no doubt that in the CEE and the Baltics, especially after their integration in NATO and the EU, a tradition will emerge which is going to be very different from that in Western Europe. Also, there is no doubt that the external factor, first of all the prospect of joining the EU, has channeled the electoral behavior in the post-communist countries towards social democracy. From this perspective one can probably speak of a mutually advantageous initiative for the EU and the former communist countries. Although the integration of the latter into the EU is very costy, this is probably the only reasonable solution for the threats flowing from the instability in the immediate neighborhood of the EU. The bloody conflicts in the former Yugoslavia only confirm this assumption. Here it is worth mentioning the curious development that has recently occurred in the elections in Turkey. In conditions when the signals related to Turkey’s joining the EU were preponderantly negative, the voters turned their back to the social democrats and tied their hopes to the Islamic movements. Surely the political and economic situation of the country were not brilliant at the time of elections. Yet, immediately after the results were made public, the European bureaucrats appeared to have changed significantly their opinions about Turkey’s chances of joining the EU.
Social democracy has been reigning in the EU Member States for a long time and in deeply rooted way. Despite historical collisions in Germany and Austria since 1919 the social democrats have had the support of approximately 1/3 of voters. In the aftermath of World War II, the social democrats governed for years in Germany, France and Great Britain, alternating in government with the Christian democrats and the conservatives. It is well known that in the post-war period huge efforts were made in order not to allow extremist movements get to power in Western Europe. Among others fascism was banned because it was defeated in an armed conflict and was condemned within an international judiciary process. Although responsible of crimes against humanity comparable with those committed by fascists, communism was not banned because it was not defeated in a direct conflagration but, on the contrary, was the one that beat fascism. Nonetheless, the ascension of communism in the west was restrained in various legal ways and that is why it developed firm roots only in Italy and France where it enjoyed the support of the intelligentsia. Yet, after the collapse of the global communist system in the last decades of the 20th century the communist parties in these countries have enjoyed as much as three to fine percent of votes compared to the 25 to 30 in the first post war decades. After the fall of dictatorships in the Iberian Peninsula and Greece, these countries have shown the same symptoms — the accession to government of social democrats and Christian democrats. At present social democrats rule in such EU Member States as Germany, Greece, Finland, Great Britain and Sweden, and the Christian democrats and conservatives in Austria, Norway, Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. In the rest of the EU coalitions with a strong liberal component are ruling.
It appears that the social democrats enjoy a special role in the Scandinavian countries. In Sweden the vote for social democrats has varied in the last 50 years between 35 to 47 percent. Only in the last elections of 2001 the social democrats received 25 percent, but their most powerful rival, the Conservative Party, received one percent less and succeeded to form a government coalition with the Christian democrats and the liberals. A similar situation is being witnessed in Denmark where since 1945 their percentage varied between 30 to 43 percents. In the last elections the liberals received one percent less than the social democrats and created a right-wing coalition. In Island too the social democrats received in the last two electoral cycles 37 and 26 percent respectively, thus becoming the main rivals of the conservatives who dominated the political scene in the post-war period. Although Finland is not a Scandinavian country, for convenience we will examine it in the same category. In the post war period the social democratic party of Finland was the most powerful party, permanently holding 20 to 30 percent. At present it is the ruling party.
Although Moldova is a CIS Member State, it is worth mentioning the fact that it takes a special position in this body and is unique. In Moldova, for the first time ever and in the most legal way through direct and free vote the Communist Party obtained absolute victory.
Still, the electoral behavior and the performance of Moldovan political parties have much in common with the ones in the rest of the CIS. It is only natural for things to be that way. The first free electoral cycle started in 1993–1994, after the parliaments of the Soviet republics elected in 1990 started to dissolve as a result of serious political crisis determined by intestine fights among various faction and groups close to the executive power. At the same time, the privatization of state property was being carried out which determined the political elite to behave in a certain way. This triggered a corresponding reaction on behalf of the ordinary citizens who associated the dramatic decline in living standards with the reform process and the liberalization of political and economic life. The voters in these countries had not had any previous democratic experience and many of them could not see any other opportunity to get over the crisis but going back to the status quo before the crisis. This has fueled the nostalgic preferences of voters. Interestingly, the first pluralist parliamentary elections in the CIS Member States took place before the mandates of their first post-Soviet presidents elected in a relatively democratic way around 1990 expired. Hence the first electoral democratic cycle in the CIS was won first of all by non-doctrine parties that represented at that time the circles of the presidents and executives of those countries. The second category of parties that enjoyed a relatively massive vote were the ones of communist or crypto-communist origin and which were contesting the need for reforms in principle. At last, the third category of parties supported by the voters was the one that represented the parties that were exploring nationalistic feelings. Those were the parties that formed as a result of the breaking up of People’s Fronts and Interfronts. These three categories of parties had a relative success due to the fact that they were either backed by administrative resources of governments or were appealing to citizens’ feelings. Thus, we have noticed in the CIS area three distinct categories of parties that promoted presidential authoritarianism, the comeback to communism and nationalism (Georgia and Azerbaidjan).
Now in retrospect it is difficult to imagine that the voters would have been able to notice and embrace an alternative choice such as, for instance, the social democratic or the liberal one. All the more so that for the CIS countries there existed no offer from the outside to join the EU as it existed for the Baltics and the CEE. On the contrary, the CIS countries have had to face attempts by some influential circles in Russia that refused to accept the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Thus, an International of secessionist regions in the former Soviet republics was inspired and established to keep the latter within Russia’s sphere of influence. The example of Belarus is representative in this sense. President Lukashenko has survived politically because he received the necessary support from the Russian political elite. Top figures of the Russian political elite (Cernomyrdin, Stroyiev, Seleznyiev) came especially to Mensk in November 1996 to put pressure on the Parliament and the Constitutional Court to stop the procedure of impeachment against Lukashenko. This was enough for Lukashenko to take over the political initiative and bring the political events in a suitable direction. Everyone knows what followed afterwards.
However, it is curious to observe a certain correlation in the electoral behavior in these countries. In the 1993–1994 elections in Russia and Ukraine approximately 12 to 13 percent voted for the communists, and when the Moldovan communists first participated in the local elections in 1995 they won 16 percent. In the second electoral cycle in 1996–1998, approximately 25 percent voted for the communists in Russia and Ukraine each, while in Moldova they received around 30 percent of votes. Obviously the electoral behavior of Moldovans until 1999 was not much different from the one of Russians and Ukrainians. Now the following problem emerges: why is it that in the third electoral cycle in 1999–2001 the Russian and Ukrainian communists received around 20 to 25 percent each, while the Moldovan ones as much as 50 percent? The difference between Russia and Ukraine on the one hand and Moldova on the other is that in the first electoral cycle in Russia and Ukraine no party affiliated to the presidents or including the presidents were created. To a certain extent this forced the Russian and Ukrainian presidents to opt for the introduction of presidential regimes, which thing happened, including through the use of military force and administrative resources, but also the support of the new economic elite seeking to avoid the comeback to power of the revengeful communists. In the Republic of Moldova, on the contrary, even at the beginning of the first electoral cycle in 1994 the ruling political elite consolidated around the Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova (DAPM) which later proved to be a clients’ party. In the first stage the positive effects of such state of affairs showed up. The Constitution was adopted whereby a semi-presidential system to balance various political groups’ interests was introduced. Later, though, two more reformist groupings that were gravitating around President Mircea Snegur and the Speaker Petru Lucinschi left the DAPM. Curiously the electoral options of the Moldovan voters in the first two electoral cycles were predictable and highly influenced by top political figures. Unfortunately, the attempt by the first Moldovan President Mircea Snegur to found a powerful party failed. The Party of Rebirth and Conciliation that he constituted faded gradually as he lost the presidential elections and with it the administrative resources to influence voters. The second Moldovan President did not want to become the leader of any party and avoided getting involved with any preferring that parties court him instead. But for parties to court him, President Lucinschi needed the power that president Yeltsin and Kuch’ma enjoyed, as well as other authoritarian presidents in the CIS area who managed to introduce presidential systems. Lucinschi’s attempts to introduce a presidential system were opposed by almost all parliamentary factions and groupings but a small one. Of course, the president could have withdrawn his initiative but then this would have been interpreted as a defeat and therefore there really existed no compromise solution. On the other hand, the presidential regimes in the CIS have shown that presidentialism is not the best option. We are presently witnessing the deep crisis faced by Belarus and Ukraine. Russia succeeded to get out of the crisis after a period of instability of approximately 10 years. Yet, this happened not so much due to the stability of the political system as to the favorable international environment and the importance of this country, which will never be left by the West to go waste.
In Moldova the deep political crisis happened when government was being associated by the voters with the center-right coalition. This crisis found a logical conclusion in the early elections within which only the communists managed to explain its causes in a manner suitable for them. They promised to solve people’s many social problems, including by joining the Russia-Belarus Union where energy cost at least three times less than Moldova was paying at the time.
The obvious conclusion is that the Moldovan political class has failed to put forward in due time an objective similar to the one proposed by the political elite in the CEE countries and the Baltics. It is true that Moldova was situated in a different area of interest and was experiencing a secessionist conflict within its borders. Thus the EU could not send Moldova any clear signals. For these reasons it is obvious that none of Moldova’s first presidents had the ability to use the authority of their office to found or take over the leadership of a party whose message would have met the expectations of the majority of Moldovans. It was the communists who managed to produce this message promising eastward orientation and exploiting to maximum people’s nostalgia for a relatively stable past. It was these things that helped communists win the 2001 elections.
At present, the Communist Party is pressured from outside to modernize and is thus sliding more towards social democracy. In fact, this is what has happened in most CEE countries. It is difficult to foresee how social democratic the communists will turn. They hold the parliamentary majority and could do many useful things. In this sense it is only encouraging that the communists have been speaking lately of Moldova’s joining the EU. This is a profitable business to change the communist illusions for a prospect of actual wealth, even though a distant one, within the EU, which as we have already shown is chiefly of social democratic nature. Most of those who vote for communists are interested little in ideology. Hence they could keep voting for communists even if these transact illusions for a certain degree of realism. According to appearances, the problem the communists have is not so much in their relations with the voters as it is within the party and in their capacity to defeat the reflexes of the dogmatic members inside the party. In exchange, an eventual modernization would save the communist elite the need to demonstrate that they “are not horned”, as President Voronin and the leader of the Communist Faction Victor Stepaniuc use to say.
These issues could be discussed within the Permanent Round Table supported by the Council of Europe. Certainly, this could happen only if the communists give up their arrogance of all-mighty, and the opposition gets rid of the illusion that it can rival the communists while it is fragmented, all the more so that the international political environment is changing so quickly that the Moldovan political class can hardly keep pace with it. Certainly very much depends on Russia’s position, which has extensive influence over the leaders in Chisinau but also heavy weight in the solution of the Transdnistrian conflict.
As for the fate of the four social democratic parties that received in the last parliamentary elections about 20 percent of votes, it is to be seen if they are able to join their efforts together.