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The power of reason

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Igor Botan / February 8, 2004
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Politics in Moldova goes hand in hand with scandals related to the exercise of the citizens’ fundamental rights. January 25’ authorities decline of Christian-Democrats application to authorise a protest rally that was submitted back on December 3, 2003 — has produced yet another scandal.

Insight into the confrontation

It is quite interesting to observe the confrontation between the Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party and Communist Party for several reasons.

Firstly, the President, alias Chair of the ruling party, has reiterated on numerous occasions that joining EU is Republic of Moldova’s strategic goal. Referring to the first round of negotiations on the individual Action Plan “Republic of Moldova — European Union” President stated “we should create a favourable image of the country and prove through our actions that joining EU is a top priority of the Republic of Moldova’s foreign policy”. One month prior to that, he entrusted governmental decision-makers to pursue a key priority — becoming an EU associated member by 2007. This goal is to be pursued by concentrating the efforts on complying with Copenhagen political and economic criteria. These criteria provide for: 1) a viable democracy, human rights observance, rule of law, minority rights; 2) a functional market economy; 3) a legal framework in line with EU standards.

Having said that, the interests of the ruling party and opposition coincide, at least when it comes to declarations. Differences stem from the mistrust and above all, ways to comply with the above said criteria.

Secondly, both ruling party and opposition, including Christian-Democrats, are aware of the fact that joining EU without settling the Transdnistrian conflict first, or without withdrawal of the Russian troops from Moldovan soil, is impossible. And here again the end goals of the two parties coincide, whereas the ways and methods of pursuing them differ.

And finally, both the ruling party and Christian-Democrats are warming up for the parliamentary electoral campaign, supposedly due to begin at the end of the year or early next year. Both parties have already voiced their electoral ambitions. Communist Party wants to preserve the unlimited power it holds at the moment, whereas Christian-Democrats aspire to the role of unified opposition’s leader, which strives to “alternate power”. However, the resources each of them possess differ a lot. That is why the upcoming elections made political leaders want to try-out the strategies and tactics they intend to employ in political confrontations.

Moldovan experience proves that verbal confrontations and protest rallies staged by the opposition against the ruling party are the most accessible tools employed in political fight, even when the parties seem to have similar strategic goals.

Effects of the confrontation between Christian-Democrats and Communists

On the one hand, Christian-Democrats chose political dialogue with would-be partners on the right, centre-right and centre-left in view of establishing a centre-right electoral bloc. Interestingly enough, Christian-Democrats gave up their old aggressive methods of dealing with would-be allies and competitors in favour of the power of reason, so as to convince them to establish a single electoral bloc. On the other hand, the very same power of reason is denied to the Communist Party. Christian-Democrats deal with the Communists in a quite harsh manner, or should we say in a manner they are themselves treated. The thing is that to a certain extend, both parties are interested to present their confrontation as imminent, which stems from sharing different values and could be traced back to the “perestroika” era.

If it is indeed so, then opposition, including Christian-Democrats have won this confrontation. It was the Communist Party that had to give up its strategic landmarks and embrace the opposition ones. Once they seized the power and once all the illusions vanished, Communists shifted: 1) from joining Russia-Belarus Union to joining EU; 2) from building Communism to building “economic liberalism”; 3) from settling Transdnistrian conflict exclusively with Russia’s help to internationalising the conflict settlement. Currently, Communist leaders talk revising party program, which does no longer reflect the realities of the day. To put it differently, Communists have to acknowledge that the goals set by the opposition that they fought hard for ten years, proved to be valid and correct and are nowadays embraced by the Communist Party, at least when it comes to rhetoric. There is no doubt that Communists would never acknowledge such a thing, on the contrary party moguls and governmental press claim that the only thing opposition did was to voice certain goals and did nothing to pursue them, whereas Communist Party has already registered some success in this respect. Considering that throughout 1992 — 1998 the Agrarian Democratic Party, labelled by President Voronin as a party “friendly” to the Communist Party, was in power; while throughout the unstable 1998 — 2001 it held enough levers to wield a heavy influence on the political course of Moldova, one may easily figure out which party had opposed the European integration course as well as the internationalisation of the Transdnistrian conflict. An illustration to this effect is the political and electoral program that brought Communist Party to power in 2001.

The irony is that Communists stole opposition’s best tunes once they won 2001 parliamentary elections, though before elections Communists promised their electorate completely different strategic options from the ones they share today. They did promise socially oriented programs, a foreign policy oriented towards Russia, which in its turn was to provide Moldova with fuel and gas at lower prices, as it was the case of Belarus. Thus, Communist moguls proved to be adroit at exploiting the “mentality inertia” of the former soviet citizens, who heard from the Communist Party what they wanted to hear, i.e. pledges of assistance in resolving their daily problems. For those people democratization prospects, would-be welfare based on free enterprise, European integration etc — mean nothing when compare to their daily struggle for survival. Those people do remember that during the soviet times when the Communist party was in power their living standards used to be much higher, and that is exactly why they cast their vote in favor of Communists.

Once in power, after none of his expectations (i.e. to drop the prices on fuel and to settle Transdnistrian conflict) came to fruition, President Voronin announced a shift in the strategic priorities of the Republic of Moldova and embraced those of the opposition, albeit the old goals have been preserved in the party statutory documents.

From this perspective, the President breaches the Communist party goals, which according to paragraph 4 of Chapter 2 are binding to each party member. That is why, more than a year ago Communist party moguls declared that it was necessary to revise the party program and statutory goals, in order to bring them in line with the socio-political and economic realities of the Republic of Moldova and set the framework for a would-be integration. This is to be done during the next party congress.

It’s hard to estimate the likely impact of any transformations within the Communist Party. The truth is, that a good portion of the electorate totally ignores the “ideological flexibility” among parties and the metamorphosis of their goals, fact confirmed during the recent local elections and by opinion polls. Communist party rating did not suffer any change after the party shifted its values. For great many voters what really maters is that the ruling party does not stop talking about raising salaries and pensions, economic growth, and their constant care for people.

Opposition and analysts see the Communist Party evolution as quite opportunistic and revisionist. Many when asked in how far is Communism still reflected in the Communist Party’s activity, would answer — not at all, or at best — in rhetoric. One thing is for sure, the only communist left outs are the means of reaching the ends, which are nothing but authoritarian ones. They resume to taking under control everything that might bring some political, economic, financial or informational dividends, and proved to be quite efficient in keeping the country under total control and quite inefficient when it comes to the image the country is projecting abroad.

That is why the confrontation between Christian-Democrats and Communist Party leaves a wide berth for manoeuvres to the so-called centrists. Several democratic parties having a certain electoral weight have agreed that exploiting anti-Communist rhetoric is counterproductive, whereas establishing a single anti-Communist centre-right electoral bloc is not likely to enjoy a full-fledged support of the electorate. Those parties, Democratic Party and Social-Democratic Party in particular, clearly distance themselves from the Christian-Democrat’s initiative to have a single opposition bloc. “Our Moldova” Alliance shares the same opinion, preferring to highlight Communist authoritarian means, which could be fought only with the help of international organisations. Challenging Communist rhetoric falls within the scope of the so-called left-wing opposition, which at the time is still quite weak, however is able to revive if granted necessary support from abroad (Russia) from those who used to support the Communist Party in previous elections.

Therefore, parties outside Communist Party — Christian Democrats’ antagonistic axis may want to exploit the difficulties Communists encounter once their leader lost the support of Russian authorities (as a result of shift in foreign policy and refusal to sign Kozak Memorandum), as well as credibility in the eyes of EU institutions (as a result of the policies employed at home, fact confirmed by the European Parliament Resolutions, statements of international financial institutions and Western academics).

Effects of discrepancies between words and deeds

An illustration of the discrepancy between pro-European words and deeds of Moldovan authorities was the prohibition of the protest rallies mentioned above. As grounds for refusal Chisinau Deputy Mayor cited some “verified data confirmed” by competent authorities that “calls to war and aggression and instigation to national hatred and public violence will be made during the protest rallies”.

Christian-Democrats appealed in Court of Appeal the decision. The later ruled in favour of the Deputy Mayor on the grounds that the flyers published by the Christian-Democrats contained such text as “Away with Voronin’s dictatorial regime”, “Away with Putin’s occupation”, which only confirm “the attempt to infringe on constitutional regime and instigate hatred of Russian people”. Christian-Democrats appealed that decision in the Supreme Court of Justice.

Even if the legal aspect of the confrontation between the two parties is important, still in the last two years domestic and foreign public opinion got used to the fact that in emergency cases European institutions intervene via: resolutions, “permanent round tables”, memorandums, moratoriums, etc. From this perspective, it would be far more interesting to assess the power of reason.

On the one hand, Christian-Democrats argue that the rallies staged by them were legal and they protested against things hard to contest, such as: 1) Russia did not comply with its engagement to withdraw the troops and munitions from the Eastern region of the Republic of Moldova; 2) Moldovan authorities and international organisations can not influence Russia to observe the deadline, therefore, there is no other way to draw public attention to that issue other than by means of protest rallies; 3) Russian military presence on the soil of the Republic of Moldova is an incentive for the breakaway regime controlled by the Russian citizens, who do not make a secret of the fact that their ultimate goal is to represent Russian interests in the region. This jeopardises Republic of Moldova’s future and its prospects to achieve the strategic goal — European integration; 4) any approach in settling the conflict, whether a yielding one based on concessions, or a harsh one such as the exchange of customs seals or “telephone war”, have no effects whatsoever as long as separatist leaders enjoy a full support of Russia; 5) solutions put forth by Russia, such as synchronizing munitions evacuation with the conflict resolution, the idea of a joint state, or Kozak Memorandum are solely targeted at subduing the Republic of Moldova; 6) at the previous protest rallies, regardless of whether authorised or not, Christian-Democrats never allowed for actions that served grounds for declining of their application.

On the other hand, there are clear signs that Moldovan authorities really understand and even agree with the arguments brought up by the Christian-Democrats. An illustration to this effect is the governmental press featuring articles and documents proving that opposition’s arguments were valid, but which come from super-powers such as EU or US. It was interesting to read the European Parliament’s Resolution related to the Republic of Moldova on the pages of the governmental press one-month after its release. Despite the fact that the Resolution was not exactly praiseworthy of Moldovan authorities in as far as economy or democracy are concerned, and could have tarnished authorities’ image, it was still published. The main reason is that it reads that Russia failed to come up with adequate solutions for settling Transdnistrian conflict, as it had its own interests and was itself involved in the military conflict on the Dniester. This was yet another reason for President Voronin not to sign the Kozak Memorandum, and for the document to be published. Even more curious was the recent publication in the governmental newspaper of an article entitled “US demands Russia to treat its neighbours fairly”. The article reads that during his meeting with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Colin Powell “once again demanded the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Georgia and Transdnistria … observing the sovereignty and inviolability of the neighbourhood countries territory”. Therefore one may rightly wonder why the citizens of the country are not allowed to do the same thing, however through the means available to them — protest rallies? The fact that international press has lately featured articles about separatist regimes encouraged by the Russian military presence in George, and also made reference to the state of affairs in Moldova — is mainly due to the protest rallies of Moldovan citizens.

Going back to the question, the answer is well known. Russian authorities demanded Moldovan authorities to put an end to the “anti-Russian” rallies. Therefore, it is plainly clear that Moldovan authorities would like Russia to be under the pressure of the international structures and at the same time avoid Kremlin’s anger. As a result, the ruling party rejected opposition’s initiative for the Parliament to adopt a declaration calling, in a diplomatic manner, Russia to comply with its engagements and withdraw its troops from Transdnistria, and at the same time denied its citizens the right to rally.

That is why, albeit protest rallies were not sanctioned, Christian-Democrats went ahead with their plans of staging the rally on January 25. President Voronin reaction was quite harsh, he dubbed Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party a “fascist group” which is to be “neutralised”. Moreover, Information Service and Ministry of Internal Affairs thwarted the rallies by setting the police dogs on the crowd. As usual, journalists got to suffer when trying to record the clash on tape.

In fact in a country like Moldova one may come up with an endless number of reasons and explanations. Nevertheless, the metamorphosis to follow in governors’ attitude towards Christian-Democrat staged protest rallies, has raised a number of eyebrows. One week after the protest rallies President Voronin stated in an interview to the “Trud” magazine that from that time on Christian-Democrat staged protest rallies would no longer enjoy that much attention from the law enforcement forces, as they had much more important things to take care of, than escorting a screaming crowd having fun.

This attitude towards Christian-Democrat revealed much of the Communists’ manners and power of reason. On the other hand, Moldovan citizens who did agree with the reasons cited by authorities for not sanctioning the rallies, might feel they were done an injustice by authorities’ decision to no longer protect them from “fascist elements” that pose a threat to the “constitutional order”. On the other hand, Moldovan citizens who did not agree with authorities’ reasons, have all the reasons to believe that these were indeed false, once the law enforcement forces decided to leave the protesters alone. Under those circumstances, it would be at least odd to mention the independence of Moldovan judiciary. It remains to be seen to what extend this reasoning fits the Copenhagen criteria, which Moldovan authorities pledged to abide.

The conclusions are quite sad, the only funny thing in the confrontation between the Communist Party and Christian-Democrats are some article titles in right-wing and left-wing press alike, “Communists compromise dog’s image” and “The face of Moldovan democracy with a grinning cur”.

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