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A new mission for Erhard Busek?

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Igor Botan / February 16, 2004
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Scandals avalanche

Lately Moldova has been overwhelmed by scandals. They pop up regularly in different fields both domestically and abroad, thus shattering the myth about the political stability of the Republic of Moldova.

As for the foreign relations, scandals pop up one after another. The incident with Romania has reached European level. Moldovan authorities accused Romania of pursuing its obscure goals when refusing to sign the Basic Treaty with the Republic of Moldova. Still, governmental press is committed to keep the scandal on the front pages, regularly featuring denigrating articles on the vices of the Romanian society and its political elite.

However, the mere existence of a Basic Treaty does not safeguard one from scandals. For instance Moldova did sign a treaty with the Russian Federation, setting Russia as Moldova’s major strategic partner. That is exactly why President Voronin asked President Putin to contribute towards a plan for settling Transdnistrian conflict. Kremlin came up with what has been known since as “Kozak Memorandum”, which was accepted and even initialled by Moldovan authorities, and was to be signed by President Voronin and Transdnistrian leader, Igor Smirnov, in the Presence of Vladimir Putin. Surprisingly, though, Voronin refused to sign the document, thereby offending Putin, who had to cancel his visit in the last minute.

As a result, the negotiations were disrupted and there are still no clear prospects on how to solve the Transdnistrian conflict. The bilateral relations between the two countries deteriorated to such an extent that Moldovan and Russian officials got to wrangle by means of press. If continued in the same manner, it may well happen that Moldovan diplomat Tulbure would have to deliver another annoying speech in Strasbourg (as he did against Romania), or we might end discovering yet another empire (as President Voronin discovered Romania to be), which might well prove to be the first and last one.

Domestically, scandals also pop up regularly especially between Communists and media outlets not affiliated to them and between Communists and the main opposition parties: Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party and Moldova Noastra Alliance.

Most recently President dubbed Christian-Democrats “fascist group”, which “is to be neutralised”. Surprisingly, it was also the President who several days later pointed that Christian-Democrats supporters only “yell and have fun”, and therefore posed no threat to the public order. Consequently, the scandal triggered by police setting dogs on protesting crowd and suspension of immunity to three Christian-Democrats deputies, is only a prelude to other bigger scale scandals yet to come that would likely spill out beyond the country boundaries. This would likely determine European structures to inquire why Moldovan deputies’ immunity had been suspended and why Moldovan citizens were denied the right to protest rallies. Hence, Pandora’s box has just been opened.

If so, then ruling party would have to explain how comes that attacks against Chisinau Mayor, also leader of the Moldova Noastra Alliance, and suspension of broadcasting licences to municipal media outlets (Euro TV, and Antenna C radio station) were synchronised. In the experts’ eyes of Council of Europe, OSCE and other international media organisations the latter is way too much for bringing the stations’ activities in line with the newly passed legislation on municipal media. The same thing holds true in the case of harassing “Timpul” and “Moldovaskie Vedomosti” newspapers, sanctioned for alleged offences prior to a court ruling being issued and bullied with exorbitant fines. The thing is that, state media affiliated to the Communist Party has launched a campaign to lobby a referendum on ousting the incumbent mayor Serafim Urechean. The campaign is very much in line with the instructions given by President Voronin to his fellow party members during the Communist Party Plenary of last summer, when Moldova Noastra Alliance was declared the party’s main political foe, with whom the party had to settle scores. In case the referendum on ousting the incumbent mayor really takes place, the said media outlets not affiliated with Communist Party could shed a different light on the event, that’s why it is being “neutralised” now.

Having said that, one may get the impression that the President, commander in chief of the military, General Voronin has simultaneously opened all the possible and impossible fronts on the political battlefield. As a strategist, he would have engaged in the battle only if sure of the victory on all the fronts. He should have assessed the terms of his victory, especially given a pre-election year, as well as the backlashes that have already emerged.

He that sows the wind will reap the whirlwind?

The latest scandals might affect the pre-election situation in the Republic of Moldova.

Therefore, albeit Romanian and Russian officials alike keep talking of their intentions to keep “privileged” and “strategic partnership” relations with the Republic of Moldova, it is all-too-clear that they would be possible only when a new governing is in place. Domestic analysts expect that both Romanian and Russian elite would want to shape the electoral landscape of Moldova. And this firstly, because great many Moldovan citizens (hundred of thousands) hold also either Romanian or Russian citizenship. Secondly, both Romanian and Russian politicians may want to take President Voronin’s example when during the 2002 parliamentary elections in Ukraine he publicly stated that he supported the Communist Party in the run-up. If so, then President Voronin would have nothing to reproach to his Romanian and Russian counterparts. For instance, Romanian politicians may want to reconsider their stance on the visa requirements for Moldovan citizens, depending on election outcomes. This alone might be a strong incentive for young voters to cast their ballot. Russians may take a similar approach, however this time in as far as debts for gas supply are concerned etc. Belarus is a quite vivid illustration to this end. This would directly affect Communist electorate. Therefore, it would be plainly clear to Moldovan authorities why bilateral relations with Romania should be “privileged”, whereas those with Russia “strategic”. Moreover, it would be plainly clear to them why for a country as poor and disoriented as Moldova is, inadequate foreign policy might have disastrous effects

The same holds true for Transdnistrian separatist regime. There is no doubt that one way or another Tiraspol would get involved in the Moldovan electoral campaign if only to get even with Voronin and the party he is heading, for the propaganda war waged against Smirnov during his re-election in December 2001. The gist of Tiraspol-led campaign is known already — since Communists got to power relations with Tiraspol had never been worse off.

The thing is that Kozak Memorandum has triggered many other smaller-scale scandals that are breaching citizens’ rights. Thus, to get back at Chisinau for its disregard of Kozak Memorandum and for the “telephonic war” it started, Tiraspol has resumed its propaganda war on several fronts. It intimidates the citizens by declaring invalid documents issued by Moldovan authorities, by closing down Romanian schools, and by refusing to restore telephone connection between the two sides of Dniester.

Going back to the informational war between Communist Party and not affiliated media, it determined the latter to disclose some murky bargains struck by the ruling party, which it remains tight-lipped about. This refers in particular to the non-transparent acquisition of luxury cars by the State Chancellery. Public opinion was outraged by the similar bargains struck by national railway leadership, and by the surreptitiously nationalised Dacia hotel, etc. All of this leaves one wondering whether those who are called to fight corruption, in fact are the ones to generate it. There is evidence to back up those assumptions, namely several scandals produced just last week. The first one is related to the address to the country leadership made by about one hundred (!) former VIPs and officers at the Ministry of Internal Affairs accusing incumbent Ministry leadership of incompetence and abuse that jeopardise Ministry’ capacity to secure public order.

The second one was brought about by the open letter addressed by a group of Chisinau Municipality prosecutors to President Voronin revealing the offences of Chisinau Prosecutor. What’s interesting is that the letter was addressed to President Voronin, viewed as the last institution to appeal to in the Republic Moldova, or as they put it “the only person they still trust”. But what about judiciary system? This is the more important as according to Constitution and Law on Prosecution, the President has nothing to do (!) with prosecution. It is the Parliament that appoints Prosecutor General who in his turn appoints the other prosecutors. Is that possible that President Voronin has suddenly become a monarch or some kind of anointed sovereign?

The open letter is a cry of help from prosecutors, that indicates that all the legal means of access to the President are stymied and that the security of the prosecutors who signed the letter is threatened by the Municipal Prosecutor. This is a very serious matter that makes one wonder: who is obstructing the free flow of information to the head of state; what for they are doing this; what’s in there for them; and finally what kind of state could allow for such things?

Also last week public opinion was outraged yet by a third scandal — ousting apparently without any reason of two Deputy Ministers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At least one of them had a huge experience in the field that is quite rare for Moldova. The resumes of those who replaced them and of those who were recently appointed as Moldovan Ambassadors to the major European capitals, paltry against the resume of the ousted.

All the three scandals produced last week stem from the faulty policy promoted by the ruling party, which is based on rather teetering principles. Observers point that ruling party employs all the means at hand to preserve and consolidate its positions, including by promoting loyal people to key positions. The risk here is that upon crisis, the loyalty and beliefs of those people might prove to be as teetering as the very principles of selection.

Who would fix Moldova’s PR?

What’s striking is that the aforesaid scandals occur at the time governors claim the country has taken the path of European integration and is ready to comply with Copenhagen criteria. No less curious is the fact that what happens in Moldova brings to mind not EU or other candidate countries for that matter, but rather Belarus. There, also, important reshuffles happened last week, when President Lukashenko ousted almost all of the presidential apparatus as well as moguls in ministries, some of them even arrested.

Noteworthy, last year Communist newspaper featured an article reading “unfortunately President Voronin is neither Fidel Castro nor Alexandr Lukasenko”. However, now it seems the President’s image veers to the very same direction the newspaper wished for. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Belarus President smiles to Moldovan citizens practically every week from the front pages of governmental media.

Indeed authorities’ actions and the scandals they brought about project a certain image of the Republic of Moldova, which is not exactly favourable to the strategic goal the country is pursuing, i.e. EU integration. Nevertheless, there is still a glimmer of hope, namely that Erhard Busek, Special Co-ordinator of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe would bring a face-lift to the country image. Recently, President Voronin awarded him the “Order of Honour” for “promoting a favourable image of the Republic of Moldova on the international arena”. If Erhard Busek accepts the honour, then he would probably feel obliged not to fall short of Moldovan authorities’ expectations.

The power of reason Preparations for elections