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The project of federalisation of the Republic of Moldova

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Igor Botan / June 29, 2003
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One year after the launch of the Kiev project

One year ago, on 3 July 2002, the OSCE project on the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict through the federalisation of the Republic of Moldova was launched in Kiev. The optimism of the authors of the project, who intended to see the conflict resolved by the end of 2002, has taken the public opinion by surprise. During the 10 years while the conflict has been frozen on the two banks of the Nistru River two different state entities have been built. Therefore, one could hardly imagine that the existent status quo could be changed quickly. In addition, a number of experts believe that in Transdnistria multiple economic and other obscure interests held by various Moldovan and CIS neighbouring subjects and organisations converge.

Judging by the articles of the OSCE project one could assume that Moldova was to be turned into a classical federation by the model of the Russian Federation. Likewise, Transdnistria was to be granted, as a result of Moldova’s decentralisation, the status of federation subject; a delimitation of competencies between the federal centre and the subjects was to be worked out within the proposed federation. The things that have prompted most questions have been the lack of any indication as to the number of subjects that the proposed federation was to include, as well as the fact that the OSCE project was to have primacy over the Moldovan Constitution right after its signature by the President of Moldova and the leader of Tiraspol administration.

Therefore, from the start, the OSCE project was subjected to criticism by the political opposition in Moldova, which, in its turn, was criticised by the official mass media for its adverse position. In reply, the opposition parties dedicated a special meeting of the Round Table with Permanent Status to the topic, during which they adopted a Proclamation envisaging a series of alternative actions for solving the conflict. Curiously, for a long period of time the Moldovan authorities avoided to express their own position with regard to the issue of federalisation of Moldova and have thus shown that they were interested to see the reaction of the opposition first.

In Transdnistria things have been pretty clear since a long time. After the head of the Tiraspol foreign department expressed his positive view of the OSCE project, immediately after it was made public in Kiev, he fell into the disgrace of the Transdnistrian leader Igor Smirnov.

It was only on the eve of the OSCE Summit in Porto in December 2002, when the Moldovan and Transdnistrian authorities were expected to express their official position with regard to the OSCE project, did things clear up a bit. First, it became clear that, in general terms, neither the Moldovan nor the Transdnistrian authorities approved of the OSCE project provisions, save for their principle agreement to solve the conflict through federalisation. This has manifested in the diplomatic victory of Tiraspol that succeeded, on the very eve of the Porto summit, to persuade the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova and the representatives of guarantors (Russia and Ukraine) to sign a protocol whereby they committed to support the creation of a “contractual federation” between two equal subjects: Moldova and Transdnistria. This meant, in fact, giving up the initial OSCE draft, which allowed for granting Transdnistria the status of subject of federation through the de jure decentralisation of Moldova. De facto, Transdnistria has not been part of Moldova for a long time and, therefore, it was logical for the Transdnistrian leaders to invoke the provisions of the 8 May 1997 Memorandum signed between Chisinau and Tiraspol, which refers to the equality of parties to the conflict. Hence the obsessive idea of building a “contractual federation” between two equal subjects.

In consequence, only in February 2003, President Voronin overcame yet another critical stage and proposed to draft the new Constitution of the federation, together with Transdnistrian representatives. Thus, all that has been taken from the OSCE project was the notion of “federal state”. However, as expected, the process of drafting the new constitution got into a stalemate. More than two months have passed since the constitution of the joint Moldovan-Transdnistrian commission tasked with the drafting of the Constitution, but the activity thereof remains blocked. A number of causes for this have been invoked, such as the lack of co-ordination in determining the number of representatives of the two parties, the working site etc. If such things have not been co-ordinated in advance, then neither were the principle of functioning and decision making of the commission. But these are purely functional problems, the important thing is that even if these issues had been settled well in advance, the commission would still have not been able to function normally. This is due to the simple reason that the “architects” of the new constitution have not been provided with the basic parameters of the new state entity that the two “beneficiaries” from Chisinau and Tiraspol would like to craft.

On the one hand, both “beneficiaries” crafted in the territories controlled by them their own “vertical axes of power”, which they do not want to give up. Therefore, it is practically impossible to make the two axes coaxial. Judging by all appearances, for President Voronin the reintegration of the country is synonymous with creating an “asymmetrical federation”, that is annihilating the Tiraspol “vertical axis of power”. For the Tiraspol leader, Igor Smirnov, the “common state” that is to be created by Moldova and Transdnistria on equal terms could be a “contractual federation” where there would not be much interference between the competencies of the two “vertical axes of power”. The most curious thing is that following the May 2003 seminar organised by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly for Moldovan and Transdnistrian MPs, one of the deputy chairs of the Moldovan Parliament said that the most important conclusion of the seminar was that before starting to draft the federal constitution it is important for the parties to sign a “political document” to set by joing agreement the basic principles of the future Moldovan federation. Only then could the experts in the joint commission proceed with the drafting of the federative constitution itself. It would be naive to believe that before the OSCE seminar these things were not known. It is believed that the joint commission is but a cover that the parties to the conflict use until the changes in regional political configuration offers them new opportunities to impose their points of view.

In the meantime, things are getting worse. The Transdnistrian leader Igor Smirnov threatens to stop co-operating with Moldova in solving the conflict. On 30 June 2003 he addressed the Transdnistrian citizens and threatened to take measures in response to what he calls “economic blockade” by Moldova. From the point of view of the Tiraspol leaders, by “economic blockade” they mean the obligation of Transdnistrian economic agents to respect the Moldovan customs rules for import-export operations and the requirement that the Transdnistrian economic agents register with the Moldovan Chamber of Commerce to be issued certificates certifying the country of origin of exported goods. From Smirnov’s statements one can conclude that only out of “respect for the guarantors (Russia and Ukraine) and the OSCE” he does not block Moldova’s transport and energy supply networks, as he did during the 1992 armed conflict. The Transdnistrian authorities have already blocked the process of withdrawal of the Russian army from the region, breaching Smirnov’s decree on “ensuring the necessary measures for honouring by Russia of its obligation to withdraw its army from the eastern region of Moldova”.

Possible consequences of the new crisis

In this extremely tense situation, the news about the recent meeting in Tiraspol of the Transdnistrian leader Igor Smirnov with the newly elect General Mayor of Chisinau Serafim Urechean is presented by the state TV channel as an act of undermining the political stability in the country. There are a number of reasons for such unhealthy reaction. Firstly, both Smirnov and Urechean are regarded as the main “political foes” of President Voronin. Evidence to this is the fact that the governmental press has not hesitated to label both of them as Mafia guys and corrupted bandits etc. Obviously, the co-operation of the main “political foes” raises concerns. Secondly, due to circumstances, Serafim Urechean has really become the main political opponent of the Communist Party and President Voronin following his victory over the communist candidate in the recent elections for general mayor of Chisinau. The threat that President Voronin made at Urechean in his recent address to the citizens have forced the latter to take measures of protection. The threats have manifested in the permanent harassment and appeals against the results of elections in courts of highest rank.

Obviously, for the representatives of the ruling party and the state press it is quite shocking that the main opponent of the head of state goes to Tiraspol to discuss with the secessionist leader “socio-economic issues”, while Vladimir Voronin is declared there persona non grata. Finally, Urechean’s visit to Tiraspol has taken place practically at the same time with the visit to the region of the two socialist parties, who stated that the conflict needs to be solved on the basis of equality of the two subjects. This could have been a mere coincidence, but also co-operation.

One of the most interesting questions refers to the advantages that the Mayor of Chisinau Serafim Urechean might gain from his co-operation with the secessionist leader Igor Smirnov. First, this co-operation may be interpreted as an elementary measure of protection against the harassment by the CPM. The co-operation between Urechean and Smirnov has taken place exactly when the CPM started to dispute the results of Urechean’s re-election to Mayor of Chisinau. Under these circumstances, an eventual declaration of the results of elections null and the announcement of repeat elections in Chisinau could increase Urechean’s rating with the most disciplined part of the Moldovan electorate, the Russian speaking voters. Most of the Romanian speaking population considers Urechean, as compared to the communist candidate, as the “least evil”. Therefore, the ostentatious action by Urechean might be aimed at discouraging the CPM representatives to cancel the results of the election. It is true that there are other factors that should calm down the vengeful spirits of the CPM. Right after the end of elections, during which the ruling party made great promises, things have taken an opposite turn. The price of bread has risen, as did tariffs on gas and electricity. But this is an immediate task.

Urechean’s move could be a long way shot too. In any case, one can assume that Moldova will be imposed the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict through federalisation. The right wing political forces are opposed to this scenario in any case, yet the guarantors (Russia and Ukraine), the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Union and the USA have all supported the resolution of the conflict through federalisation of Moldova. At present, Voronin’s “asymmetrical federation” and Smirnov’s “contractual” one seem to be two extremes of the federalisation process. Although Urechean has evasively expressed his point of view on the federalisation of Moldova, it is not excluded that Urechean puts forward a middle solution of a classical federation. For this, there’s no need for a special effort. It is only necessary to reanimate the OSCE project, made public a year ago, which includes the main provisions about the constitution of a classical federation. This assumption is based on the fact that the media affiliated to the mayor of Chisinau has already reported that it would be convenient for Chisinau to become a subject of the proposed federation, and the governmental and state press have blamed the mayor of Chisinau of “economic secessionism”. This sort of clashes have emerged during the recent electoral campaign when the mayor of Chisinau had to face attacks by the pro-Communist press which blamed him of the disastrous state of Chisinau. The answer of the mayor was that the Government leaves less than 1/3 of returns accumulated in Chisinau to cover the needs thereof.

If things were to go in this direction it is certain that Urechean would win the sympathies of the citizens from the autonomous region Gagauz Yeri, whose leaders have long talked about the need to grant the region the status of a subject of the federation. For the secessionist leaders in Tiraspol, restrained by the “economic blockade”, a compromise with Urechean to the disadvantage of the CPM would not seem to be too offensive.

There are also great risks related to this. First, this could endanger the constitution of the Social Liberal Alliance made up of three parties: Alliance of Independents (AI) (led by Serafim Urechean), Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) and Liberal Party (LP), as the main political opposition formation that could provide a real alternative to the communist force. In any case, for the merger of AI and SDA, federalisation is not an obstacle. SDA has often expressed its public consent to the plan of federalisation of Moldova. Beyond doubt, in the LP there could emerge problems related to accepting federalisation in general and Urechean’s contacts with Smirnov in particular. Without the LP, the would be united formation would gain votes from the Russian speakers, at the expense of the CPM, but will lose a considerable number of votes of Romanian speakers to the right-wing parties. In any case, the ones with limited possibilities seem to be the CPM. It is possible that this is the ultimate aim sought by Urechean and his entourage. Two years ago, the press affiliated with the ex-president Lucinschi, currently supporting the AI and SDA wrote that in Moldova it is imperiously necessary to set up a democratic political force of pro-Russian orientation in order to avoid Russian support exclusively to the CPM, which declared itself of pro-Russian orientation. That things are so the statements of high Russian officials show with reference to the results of the recent local elections in Moldova.

At the first sight, the risks that Urechean has assumed are not so big. First, the most important right-wing parties have been vehemently criticising him already. Secondly, his real influence on the process of federalisation is at present an insignificant one to attribute him certain responsibility for the possible consequences. Therefore, Urechean’s recent move seems to entail certain political prospects. On the other hand, an eventual federalisation of Moldova on the condition of giving Transdnistria the right to influence Moldova’s foreign policy could seriously endanger the far-off prospects of Moldova’s integration into the EU, which thing would have extremely negative consequences.

The Discontent of the Victorious Political Parties and European Integration