Ruling party has launched a number of information wars and it waged them without any scruples. Nor did opposition parties hesitate to denigrate their foes. Hence, the means and possibilities of each side are quite different, to say the least, therefore their impact is also quite different.
Once they got to power in February 2001, Communists did not bothered distinguishing between state-owned and public media outlets that it subdued; or private or party affiliated outlets that it widely used in polishing its image while denigrating political foes. Information wars varied in intensity depending on political opportunity. What is striking is that Communist party media has been much more critical of the party achievements than the state-owned or public media. Currently, Communist party is the only party endowed with financial, administrative, and media resources allowing it to conduct a successful electoral campaign.
Let us consider the main stages of the “multi-vectorial” and “asymmetric” information campaign started by Communist party against its political foes:
Early this year a new information war started against a possible consolidation of opposition forces on the eve of 2005 parliamentary elections. Communist leader realized the danger of such a consolidation when opposition parties came together on November 24, 2003 under the Committee for Defending Independence and Constitution thus opposing his initiative to sign “Kozak Memorandum”. Yet another reason for launching a war against opposition was the declaration issued by Christian Democratic Peoples’ Party “On the need to keep opposition united” addressed to opposition leaders members of the Committee. Christian Democrats wanted opposition to go “as a single electoral block” in the parliamentary elections because “that is the only formula able to bring an alternative ruling”.
To put an end to the would-be unification drive among opposition parties, ruling party has started the procedure of suspending Christian-Democrats MPs’ parliamentary immunity. That in turn enabled a penal investigation against them to be started for staging unauthorised protest rallies and burning Russian Federation state symbols in protest for Russia’s failure to comply with undertaken engagements at Istanbul OSCE Summit, i.e. withdrawing its troops from Transdnistria.
Later, in March when the negations on establishing Democratic Moldova Bloc had started, whose leader Serafim Urechean was set to become political foe no.1 of the Communist Party, governmental Moldova Suverana published an anonymous article taken from “Novosti Moldovi” agency reading: “investigations against Mayor Urechean and a number of decision makers in Mayoralty and organisations in its subordination are almost completed …”, “Investigation on embezzlement of industrial machinery worth 8 million Lei by Chisinau Mayoralty in the person of Serafim Urechean.” As a result of this illegal and unfair deal, “NFJ-Gazgrup” had a huge gain. In addition, investigation of Urechean abuses, in particular signing a guarantee letter to Energoimpexgrup enabling it to take a bank loan, without prior approval of the Municipal Council….
Curiously, when asked to comment on investigations, Serafim Urechean knew nothing about them; he himself had learned from the press about investigations against him, not to speak that the prosecution was ready to go to court.
The aforesaid examples illustrate that ruling party is determined to stick to its propaganda campaigns against political foes by using all the means at hand and public institutions. Most importantly, with the elections coming additional backup measures were taken so as to increase the effect of the informational war. Probably, they resorted to new measures because the previous ones were not successful.
Apparently, the aforesaid allegations made by governmental media needed a legal back-up to gain more credibility. In this respect, on May 24 President signed a Decree on establishing Supreme Security Council (SSC). Its new enlarged membership included Prosecutor General, Head of the Centre for Combating Economic Crime and Corruption (CCECC). In the eyes of opposition leaders the new SSC was a “politburo”, “pet government” of the President that was to serve as “electoral headquarters that shall bring the victory to the ruling party in the upcoming parliamentary elections”.
One may well understand opposition’s fears. Article 12 of the Law on State Security provides that “President approves the number, membership, responsibilities, and action plan of the SSC”. And opposition fears have been brought to fruition recently. Media has come in possession of a SSC Secretary’s letter of 30.07.2004 addressed to the President, asking his consent for CCECC and Prosecution, i.e. newly appointed members of the SSC, to examine within a month “all the cases of abuses and violations” elucidated in the Court of Accounts resolution no. 44 of 2.07.2004 on “Results of control over developing and enforcing Chisinau Municipality budget for year 2003”. That letter had President’s resolution on it, thereby he consented “Organize the execution”.
Article 6 of the Law on State Security outlines basic principles for ensuring state security, among them legality and opportunity. Article 4 of the same law clearly provides that “cases of organized crime and/or corruption undermine state security”. That’s why, in principle, Court of Accounts’ resolution on “Results of control over developing and enforcing Chisinau Municipality budget for year 2003” might serve as grounds for invoking the opportunity of CCECC and Prosecution undertaking control. At the first glance everything seems legal, however at a closer look there are two other principles outlined in Article 6, namely non-partisanship and equality under law. Several issues arise in this respect.
A closer look at the resolutions no. 44 and 45 of the Court of Accounts of July 2004 as regards enforcement of the budgets in Chisinau, Balti and rayons of the country leads us to the conclusion that negative trends mentioned in the SSC letter to the President are common not only to Chisinau Municipality, but also to Balti and the rest of the country’s rayons. Irregularities found in Chisinau are not more severe than, lets say, in Balti where the Court of Accounts specifically requested CCECC to interfere. Noteworthy, as a result of local elections almost all 31 rayons and Balti Municipality are controlled by Communists. It is even more interesting that Court of Accounts resolution no. 53 of 23.07.2004 found similar irregularities after controlling Ministry of Transportation and Communications headed by Vasile Zgardan, Communist Party candidate in local elections competing with Serafim Urechean.
SSC din not follow-up on the aforesaid irregularities, while the state media remained tight lipped. In such cases, governors undertake some quite curious measures. Thus via presidential decree no.985-XIII of 13.11.2002 Anatol Cuptov, former Minister of Transportation promoted by the President was ousted. He was publicly accused by the President of embezzlement. The curious thing is that several weeks after being ousted Mr. Cuptov was appointed via Governmental resolution no. 1566 of 6.12.2002 as senior manager of the state enterprise “Giurgiulesti Commercial Port”.
Going back to the campaign against Chisinau Mayoralty, it is quite interesting that although on August 31 one month passed since the deadline set by SSC Secretary for control, actions undertaken by authorities in September had little if nothing to do with irregularities found by the Court of Accounts. Practically, all the previous allegations made by state media on the alleged investigations against Urechean were forgotten. On September 24, CCECC arrested three Municipality employees for “misinforming Municipal Council” that allegedly resulted in illegal privatisation by a private company of a 0.42 hectare plot in downtown in view of constructing a hotel. The curious thing is that there is a decision of the Economic College of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) confirming the legality of the transaction, however General Prosecutor appealed in SCJ Economic Court decision. Several days later, Prime-Minister Vasile Tarlev, also member of the SSC, issued a resolution no. 1071 “On controlling the legality of allotting plots for construction in Chisinau Municipality”. Under the resolution, Department of Constructions and Territory Planning, Ministry of Interior, State Cadastre Agency assisted by the territorial office of the State Chancellery, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, and License Chamber had to verify within one month the “information on the irregularities found” while granting 546 plots and “issuing construction authorizations”.
In fact, there are many questions as to how Mayoralty allotted the 546 plots to private companies and natural entities, especially as the decision was taken on a weekend in the eve of municipal elections of May 25, 2003. That alone was a reason enough for the state TV and radio to engage with new forces in yet another campaign against political foes of the ruling party. Reports and articles like “Corruption campaign” pop up one after another about “Serafim Urechean, also known as opposition leader…” Undoubtedly, allotment of plots would remain the “cherry on the cake” of the campaign against centrist opposition headed by Serafim Urechean. State media already discovered prosecutors, judges, employees of the Ministry of Interior and Court of Accounts, and many other moguls among the beneficiaries of the plots. Those details are probably used to show that all the previous campaigns to fight corruption in Chisinau Municipality have failed. Apparently, this last campaign is intended to be a very successful one for the governors, and at the same time a big blow on centrist opposition.
Christian-Democrats were not neglected either. During one of the recent sessions of the Parliament, at the initiative of Communist deputies, including Chair of the Parliament Commission on State Security, also member of the SSC it was decided to establish an investigation commission that would check how Christian Democrat leader Iurie Rosca came into possession of several real estates, a newspaper and a printing house. Rosca’s claims that his property was legal, declared, and all the taxes has been paid attracted a new storm of accusations, this time as regards his alleged involvement in money forgery as reported by Ukraine Special Service. The move was also aimed to denigrate the leader in the eyes of his electorate, but mainly raise discord among the party members. Apparently, it was no longer possible to prosecute Christian-Democrat leaders for burning Russian state symbols in February during unauthorised protest rallies and it was necessary to find fresh target. Indeed, several months ago Moldovan President launched a campaign against Russia for supporting Transdnistrian secessionism.
All the aforesaid examples pose the reasonable question: do authorities and SSC really observe the principles of non-partisanship and equality of all under law, as provided for in the Law on State Security, when they claim to fight corruption? This seems to be a rhetoric question, especially as the President himself answered the question immediately after 2003 local elections in his message of June 11, 2003 addressed to voters — “Mayor Urechean shall learn a lesson”. He continued “as a President, I have univocally opposed Serafim Urechean’s candidature”. Rather, during the electoral campaign President endorsed Communist candidate Vasile Zgardan. The thing is that Court of Accounts found similar irregularities in the Ministry of Transportation under the incumbent Vasile Zgardan and his predecessors, Anatol Cuptov and Vasile Iovv who were also affiliated or even members of the Communist Parthy, nevertheless SSC headed by the President chose to investigate only Serafim Urechean. In fact, may the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Chair of the Supreme Security Council be a party member or not? If so, then how can the principles of non-partisanship and equality under law be observed when it comes to fighting corruption that undermines state security? When the President acts as an electoral player, he does so in the name of the people as provided in Article 2 of the Constitution, or in the name and in favour of Communist Party? Until the interested persons find an answer to this question, Republic of Moldova citizens may get the impression that so far, in this country the principle outlined by Franco is triumphing: To friends — everything, to enemies — the law!
Indeed, opposition parties undertake campaigns or even wide scale information wars of their own targeted against ruling party. The latter should be considered separately. The major distinction, however, is that ruling party resorts to state-owned media when waging information wars against its political foes. The negative side of both ruling and opposition’ campaigns is that electorate is left with the impression that all the political elite is corrupt in Moldova. Only that ruling party may protect “its own corrupt ones”, by directing political flak at opposition. So far, no judgement was issued by a Moldovan court against high-rank moguls or party leaders accused of corruption. However, it is this issue that is widely exploited during information wars.
The situation might radically change on the eve of 2005 parliamentary elections by applying the aforesaid formula. And this of course unless the targets back off and accept much-coveted positions of ambassadors, managers of important institutions, etc. Again, this might not be the case, as it is too late and things have gone too far already, to the extend that “execution” has become inevitable.