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Mega-initiative of the President Voronin

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February 12, 2003
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In the last two years the President of the Republic of Moldova has been very prolific in launching different kind of initiatives. For instance, his most important initiatives in foreign affairs concerned Republic of Moldova integration in the Russia-Belarus Union, Eurasia Union and European Union. As for the home affairs he initiated: the edification of the “vertical power”; edification of a Moldovan nation; Social Pact in view of overcoming social confrontations, etc. As for the social-economic field, it is worth mentioning the initiatives to liberalize the economy, to develop the National Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRSP). The latter has become a top priority of the Government, furthermore all the previous policies drafted by the Government are now to be adjusted to the PRSP. Indeed, some of the aforesaid initiatives run counter to each other, as well as to the ruling party political and electoral program. This fact indicates that the political situation in the Republic of Moldova was and still is extremely complicated, the top of the political elite pyramid still being shaped by regional and international context.

The last statement the President Vladimir Voronin made on February 11, 2003 is viewed as a mega-initiative aimed to settle Transdnistrian conflict. In addition it is likely to require the revision and adjustment of the previous initiatives, mentioned above, which would result in a document of paramount importance, namely a new Constitution of the Republic of Moldova.

From President’s point of view drafting a new Constitution is vital in order to settle the Transdnistrian conflict. Since he took over the Presidency on April 7, 2001, Vladimir Voronin stated on numerous occasions that Transdnistrian conflict is the major obstacle towards the country development. According to his last statement the adoption of a new Constitution on federalist principles is the only solution to Transdnistrian conflict.

Key points of the President Voronin statement

The key points of the President message refer to:

  1. acknowledging the role played by the mediators (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE) and thanking them for their efforts in conflict resolution;
  2. current Constitution of the Republic of Moldova hinders the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict, that is why a new one is to be drafted based on the draft on the Republic of Moldova federalization developed by OSCE in July 2002;
  3. Transdnistrian authorities are to take part in the elaboration of the Republic of Moldova Constitution.

According to the President’s statement all the documents previously developed by the mediators should remain in force, including the Memorandum signed by the Republic of Moldova and Transdnistria on May 7, 1997. Consequently, the “joint state” would be a federation formed by two equal entities, i.e. Republic of Moldova and Transdnistria. Debates already have spurred between the two entities on which type of federation to choose. Transdnistrian administration insists on a “contractual federation”, which is to be formed by two equal entities. On the eve of the OSCE Summit in Porto, Tiraspol even succeeded to convince the mediator countries as well as OSCE to support this model. However, Republic of Moldova opposed it. Allegedly, American Diplomat David Swartz had to resign as he failed to convince Republic of Moldova leadership to agree with the contractual federation. Accordingly, Republic of Moldova still has a chance to convince mediator countries and OSCE to give up the “contractual federation” in favor of a classical model of federation, envisaging the decentralization of the Republic of Moldova so as to encompass Transdnistria as a subject of federation.

President Voronin’s statement is viewed by many as an attempt to take over the initiative in settling the conflict and to combat the accusations of obstructing the negotiation process, which allegedly resulted in the resignation of OSCE Head of Mission, David Swartz.

Conjuncture factors

The new initiatives to settle the Transdnistrian conflict have been shaped by such events as the strategic alliance between US and Russia, NATO and EU extension to the borders of the Republic of Moldova. Under those circumstances, instability regions like Moldova would no longer be tolerated in the space between EU/NATO borders and Russia. Furthermore, mediator countries have also their interests on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. Needless to say, Ukraine and Russia have been rather the guarantors of Transdnistrian interests, fact proved by the Basic Treaty between the Republic of Moldova and Russia signed in November 2001.

Many experts view OSCE draft on the federalization of the Republic of Moldova as a compromise reached between the external actors interesting in restoring the stability of the region. And there are enough evidence to this effect, firstly OSCE Summit in Porto, secondly the joint statement of Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Voronin, other statements made by European and American officials, as well those of Russian and Ukrainian officials. Given the aforesaid, there is no other way for the Republic of Moldova than federalization. And this not because federalization is the best way of ensuring stability and observance of the human rights both in Moldova and Transdnistria, but mostly because the interests major powers, have in the resolution of Transdnistrian conflict coincide as far as federalization is concerned.

Stages of conflict resolution and legal aspects

Stages of conflict resolution outlined in President Voronin statement, practically coincide with those outlined during the seminar held by the Institute of Public Policies (IPP) on December 6, 2002, namely: firstly, a political document outlining the principles should be signed; then a new Constitution is to be drafted based on OSCE principles; next, the draft of the new Constitution is to be adopted within national referendum on both sides of Dniester River. This is to be followed by elections to the federal bodies, the adoption of federal legislation, and the adoption of subjects’ constitutions and of legislation to harmonize the relations in areas of national and mutual interest. The next steps will be elections to the representatives bodies of the subjects.

The terms envisaged for implementing the said stages point to a shortage of time and possible delays. The delay is expected to be even greater due to the legal problems which would surface upon implementation. The haste in implementing is probably determined by the pressure from outside or by the desire to gain some political and electoral capital on the eve of upcoming elections. Actually both are possible. In any case the Head of OSCE Mission, William Hill, indicated that the parties run out of time. Not to mention that, the draft on the federalization of the Republic of Moldova proposed by OSCE envisaged the settlement of the conflict by 2002. During the press conference held on February 12, President Voronin outlined the stages in conflict resolution and estimated that the elaboration of a new Constitution might take up to 6 months, Council of Europe expertise and public debates up to 2–3 months, which are to be followed by a referendum on both sides of Dniester River on endorsing the new Constitution. Accordingly, the draft Agreement envisages that a referendum to adopt a new Constitution is to be held by February 1, 2004, and elections to the Federation Parliament by February 25, 2005.

This seems to be a rather optimistic scenario, given that parliamentary elections are due in two years. However President Voronin did not rule out the possibility of early elections into the new Federal Parliament. The fact that right from the beginning President Voronin leaves no time for the discussion and adoption of the political document, which is to regulate the conflict resolution, is rather suspicious.

Indeed, we may not expect that the so-called Constitutional Commission (a kind of Assembly), which is to draft the new Constitution of the Moldovan federation would be established prior to the Agreement signing. It seems President Voronin’s recent visit to Moscow was aimed to convince Vladimir Putin to endorse the draft and to pressure Transdnistrian authorities to accept it. Even if we are to admit that Russia and Ukraine would force Transdnistria to sign the Agreement on conflict resolution, still this would take quite a while. Furthermore, the formation of Moldovan-Transdnistrian Constitutional Commission, defining its competencies, representation criteria, etc, would be time-consuming.

Adoption of a new Constitution is a rather complex and complicated issue. The haste in such matters might be fatal. If all the aspects are not given thorough consideration, then they may result in appeals later on. That is why legal matters are of paramount importance.

Firstly, the current Constitution of the Republic of Moldova does not provide for the abrogation and adoption of a new Constitution. Under Voronin’s plan it is not enough to amend the Constitution, because breakaway Transdnistrian regime is to take part in the foundation of a new state based on the federation model. Communist majority faction may indeed settle this by amending Constitution so that it could be abrogated, however this would take time and generate opposition protests. Secondly, Moldovan authorities would have to find a way of recognizing Transdnistrian regime, acceptable to them as the co-authors of the Constitution of the “joint state”. This is an almost impossible undertaking, as Transdnistria insists on being recognized as an equal partner to the Republic of Moldova in compliance with the Memorandum signed in 1997. Another issue to consider is that of the citizenship of the Transdnistrian “legislators”. It is known for a fact that the great majority of Transdnistrian officials are either citizens of Russia, Ukraine or Transdnistria itself, however none of them is a citizen of the Republic of Moldova. Probably a separate law would be needed to regulate the citizenship of Transdnistria’s “legislators”.

To enforce the presidential plan, besides drafting a new Constitution it would be necessary to bring in line the economic law, to negotiate the procedure of conducting a referendum to adopt the new Constitution and of holding elections to the Federal Parliament.

The aforesaid could happen only if there is a political consensus between authorities and opposition, as well as between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Needless to say, there are no premises for this. In the case of Transdnistria, Chisinau authorities could count on the guarantor countries to exercise some pressure in order to make them more cooperative, however this strategy won’t work in the case of opposition when authorities would have to rely on reason and legal framework. Furthermore, it is not clear what would happen with the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova. It is still a question mark whether Tiraspol leaders would accept the Declaration as the cornerstone. Back in 1991 they justified the establishment of the breakaway state by the fact that Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova entitled them to this. Another question is what would happen to the state symbols: flag, coat of arms and hymn?

Moldovan opposition is highly diverse, there are political parties, which oppose federalization plan and there are also parties, which endorse it. Having said that, President Voronin should be very cautious not to make any mistakes when embarking on new initiatives. Republic of Moldova is a parliamentary Republic with the President holding the highest position in the state. He may not initiate Constitution modification, which is an exclusive prerogative of the Parliament and citizens. Once elected the President vows “to observe the Constitution”. Presidential statements like “the current constitutional order precludes our efforts to modernize the state” might have very dangerous consequences. Only the Parliament, which adopted the Constitution and holds the exclusive prerogative to amend it, is entitled to make such comments. One may speak in this respect about the double posture of the President Voronin, who simultaneously holds the President office and that of the Chair of the Communist Party. However, the much cited statement was entitled “Declaration of the President of the Republic of Moldova”. Opposition did noticed this, as well as the fact that President Voronin disclosed his plan to amend the Constitution firstly to the leaders of foreign countries and only afterwards to his own fellow citizens.

Psychological factors

Besides time and legal issues, psychological factors are another issue of concern as they are likely to be the greatest obstacles in the implementation of the President’s initiatives. Indeed, public opinion both in Moldova and in Transdnistria acknoledges that Moldova lost the war with Transdnistria. It’s the merit of mass media on both sides of Dniester River, as well as CIS, Russia and Ukraine.

For one thing, Transdnistrian leadership hasn’t changed since 1989, when the conflict started. Created the “Transdnistrian state”, an authoritarian but economically sustainable regime. Not once was its policy questioned or mistakes admitted. Transdnistrian propaganda machine only reported on the achievements in economy, state edification, and its international recognition. Transdnistrian leader, Igor Smirnov had to amend the Constitution so as stay in power indefinitely. He promised his fellow citizens he would leave the office when Transdnistria would be recognized as an independent state. So far the only obstacle to the prosperity of the Transdnistria was the “obstructionism of the Republic of Moldova aggressors”. The cornerstone of the Transdnistrian propaganda machine was to highlight that “Transdnistria is the land of Russia”. This message was intended to gain the support of the Russian political elite haunted by the collapse of the USSR and to nurture the hopes of the citizens that Russia would not allow the statehood of Transdnistria to be undermined.

On the other hand, several governments have changed in Moldova since. The politicians who stood behind the conflict are no longer in power. While electioneering for Petru Lucinschi in 1996, Moldovan press denigrating the first Moldovan President, Mircea Snegur, blaming him for the Transdnistrian conflict. In 1997 the newly elected President, Petru Lucinschi, signed a Memorandum with Transdnistria stipulating that Moldova and Transdnistria enjoy equal rights and shall build a “joint state” assisted by the guarantor countries Russia, Ukraine and OSCE.

Today nobody is interested in the causes of the breakaway, nor whether the causes were eliminated. Nobody dares to question whether the secessionism imposed by the “right of the Transdnistrian people to self-determination” was justified, or whether Moldovan authorities’ attempts to “restore the Constitutional order” were justified. What really matters is that Transdnistria won the war, even if it did with Russia’s aid (fact confirmed by the Ghenadie Selezniov, Speaker of the Russia State Duma). Noteworthy, in his declaration President Voronin acknowledged these facts and thanked guarantor countries, including Russia. According to Voronin the conflict was triggered by the “nationalist ambitions of the Chisinau”, whereas Tiraspol was guilty of inappropriate reaction when it decided to “leave the Republic of Moldova”. If Transdnistrian leaders are invited to draft the new Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, it would be interesting to see what would happen with those who stood behind the conflict. Would the guilty ones be persecuted or pardoned?

If Transdnestrian leaders would not stand the pressure of the guarantor countries Tiraspol may resort to the same actions as it did in 2001. Back then Smirnov set as one of the conditions to resume the negations, for Vladimir Voronin to apologize in front of the “Transdnistrian people” for the 1992 aggression and pay war compensations. Other similar statements intended to show that Transdnistria was independent from the Republic of Moldova, followed later on.

President Voronin was very emotional in his reaction. He called Tiraspol leader “a Mafia guy, bandit and smuggler”, whereas Tiraspol regime was labeled by international organizations as a “drug and arm smuggling” and “impossible to negotiate with”. President Voronin even asked Vladimir Putin a year ago to recall Russia’s citizen, Igor Smirnov from the soil of the Republic of Moldova.

It is very unlikely that the Tiraspol leaders would miss the chance to exploit the current situation. Considering previous experience we may expect they would first demand a “moral satisfaction” by asking President Voronin to withdraw the accusations he made, otherwise threatening not to take part in the elaboration of the Constitution. Besides, the governmental press continues to portray Tiraspol regime in the same manner it did before Voronin had made public his plan. Secondly, Tiraspol leaders would call for the compliance with the 1997 Memorandum providing for the Republic of Moldova and Transdnistria equality. Thirdly, they would argue that the “asymmetric federation” founded by two entities endorsed by Voronin violates the principle of equality. For this reason Tiraspol insists on its own federation model, namely “contractual federation”. Furthermore, Transdnistrian leaders might be in a more advantageous position. The guarantor countries and OSCE have already endorsed draft Agreement on a “contractual federation” and signed a document in this respect. On the other hand Voronin managed to secure only the verbal endorsement of his plan of conflict resolution.

From this point of view it doesn’t seem very realistic to count on the support of the guarantor countries, especially Russia, and to expect that they would exercise some pressure on Tiraspol. Electoral campaign is due to start in Russia, where there are too many supporters of the slogan “Transdnistria — land of Russia”, even if officially Russian authorities recognize the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova.

Risk factors and guarantees

Vladimir Voronin stated that “we need a Constitution our people would be proud of”. Experts in the Constitutional law, however, claim that no Constitution, no matter how perfect, may guarantee normal functioning of the state, if the citizens do not observe its provisions.

It is very unlikely that a national consensus would be reached immediately the new Constitution is adopted. On the one hand opposition views Tiraspol regime as a criminal one, whereas Voronin’s plan is viewed as making too many concessions. After OSCE made public its federalization plan a series of opposition parties, which gathered around 20% in the previous elections, signed a proclamation outlining their own plan for the conflict resolution. The plan refers in particular to: preserving the current constitutional regime of the Republic of Moldova; starting demilitarization and democratization of Transdnistria; changing the current negotiation process which includes five parties; replacing the current peacekeeping forces with UN forces; withdrawing Russian munitions and troops from the region; overtaking the control over the Eastern border of the Republic of Moldova; dissolving Transdnistrian army; putting an end to the crime in the region; establishing favorable conditions for the return of the refugees; establishing favorable conditions fostering democracy and civil society; and finally holding elections into the representative bodies of the region.

On the one hand, around 15% of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova entitled to vote who reside in Transdnistria have been brainwashed by Transdnistrian propaganda machine for the last 14 years. That’s why it’s very unlikely that Transdnistrian leaders would agree to give up their political ambitions for the conflict resolution plan to be implemented. In the presidential elections of December 2001, 80% of the Transdnistrian voters cast their votes in favor of Transdnistrian leader, Igor Smirnov. Consequently, in case guarantor countries would determine Tiraspol to support Chisinau plan, Vladimir Voronin could count on the support of about 2/3 of the Republic of Moldova citizens. But the problem is that Russian speaking citizens of Moldova have always favored Tiraspol regime and regarded Igor Smirnov as a “hero” who opposed “Romanian nationalists”. That is why the press could be right when assuming that once Tiraspol leader enters Moldovan political arena he would dramatically polarize the society based on ethnic criteria. Moldova has suffered of this syndrome for a long time, but this time the sympathy of the Russian speaking voters might go from the Communist Party, headed by Vladimir Voronin, to Transdnistrian leader, Igor Smirnov. Apparently President Voronin foresaw such kind of speculations and stated that he was ready to sacrifice his own career for the sake of the “country integrity”. However his fellow party members and opposition may disagree viewing federalization as a too high price to be paid for getting rid of Communists the Republic of Moldova.

And there are enough reasons for this, especially as the “asymmetric federation” promoted by President Voronin would have to be adjusted by Russian speaking voters in order to compensate the “asymmetrical disadvantage” of Transdnistria. On the other hand Moldovan/Romanian citizens might also be offended by the “policy of concessions” promoted by the incumbent ruling party.

It is also to be mentioned that the previous two Presidents lost political capital and the support of their allies in the battle for adopting or revising the Constitution. This was the case in 1994 when the prerogatives of President Mircea Snegur had been limited upon the adoption of a new Constitution, which later on resulted in the split of the ruling Democratic Agrarian Party. The same thing happened in 2000, when President Lucinschi in an attempt to enlarge his power so as to bring order into the country, initiated the modification of the Constitution, fact that scared away his allies and ended his political career.

There is another problem we should not neglect. The Communist Party headed by Vladimir Voronin is still an un-reformed party striving to “build Communism”. Experience shows that Communism may not be build based on the principle of political pluralism. That is why both Moldovan opposition and Transdnistrian leaders would probably cite the examples of “asymmetric federations” that failed, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which were formed based on Communist ideology. In fact, the elaboration of the Constitution is an indicator for the Communist Party. Would the core principles of European “bourgeois Constitutional regimes” be preserved, or would be the new Constitution based on Communist principles like in North Korea, Cuba, China, former USSR, in line with the political program of the ruling party? Apparently the new Constitution would be based on “bourgeois principles”, otherwise President Voronin wouldn’t have mentioned a would-be expertise of the Council of Europe. However if the President in order to be trustful tries to change his party program, a lot of party members would be dissatisfied. In conclusion we may say that one way or another President Voronin’s initiative triggered a series or risk factors.

Having said that, only Transdnistria may count on the guarantees of the mediator countries, Russia and Ukraine. The guarantees are stipulated in the OSCE draft as well as in the Basic Treaty between the Republic of Moldova and Russia. Sadly enough, it is when mostly needed Moldova has nobody to appeal to. This is the more important as the President Voronin plan provides that Transdnistria “is guaranteed the right to self-determination upon any change in the international legal status of the country”. Recently the same right has been granted to Gagauz-Yeri via the modifications currently operated in the Constitution. This complicates the issue even further. During the electoral campaign Gheorghe Tabunscic running for the office of the Gagauz Bashkan (Governor), supported by President Voronin, promised his voters to secure for Gagauz-Yeri the status of federation subject in the would-be Moldovan federation. Needless to say, President Voronin speaks only about an “asymmetric federation” formed by the Republic of Moldova and Transdnistria. This might displease Gagauz citizens.

Once they accept federalization as a model of settling the conflict, Transdnistria and Gagauz-Yeri would be entitled to demand Communist authorities to keep up their promises of joining Russia-Belarus Union. Fulfilling this electoral promise would justify their right to self-determination.

That is why a number of domestic and foreign experts believe Republic of Moldova is under a kind of “international protectorate” of the mediator countries, i.e. Russia and Ukraine, whose citizens control the Eastern region of the Republic of Moldova. They believe the “protectorate” should be extended by inviting new, unbiased guarantor countries able to guarantee the existence of the Moldovan state and not only that of Transdnistria. This extended protectorate should be accompanied by a plan of economic recovery to be supported by the mediator countries, which endorsed the federalization, let’s say EU and USA. The arguments brought in favor of the scenario are: Republic of Moldova already has its sovereignty tarnished, fact proven by President’s actions — first he disclosed the plan on conflict resolution to the Presidents of guarantor countries and only later to his own fellow citizens. The plan of economic recovery via guaranteed foreign investments should be accompanied by a very detailed timetable of adjusting the economic laws and resolution of political and constitutional problems stage by stage. Delay and failure to comply with the timetable should be sanctioned. Only after an economic recovery is achieved, and when possible economic losses would be strong incentives for the solidarization of the citizens, only then general elections should be held and sovereignty regained.

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