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Political year 2008

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Igor Botan / December 26, 2008
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Top events of 2008

The political year 2008 was special. In fact, it crowned the eight-year rule of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM). Many events recorded in 2008 will have a long-term impact, others have just impressed. In this regard ten events are worth to be mentioned, in particular:

Fulfilment of tasks for 2008

The 2008 year was also the first implementation year of the National Development Strategy (NDS) for 2008–2011. The strategy has set five priorities: the consolidation of the democratic state based on the rule of law and respect for human rights; the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and reintegration of the country; the enhancement of the national economy’s competitiveness; the development of human resources, the promotion of social inclusion; the regional development.

The NDS tasks for 2008 were detailed at the first governmental sitting this year: going on with country’s gasification and ensuring the drinking-water supply; long-term development of the agro-industrial complex; modernising public roads; opening jobs (300,000 new jobs); three-fold rise of wages in budgetary sector; doubling the number of budget-funded seats in education sector; three-fold rise of scholarships, etc.

Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii reported Government’s achievements for 2008 while addressing the Parliament on December 12, 2008. As usually, the premier stressed the progresses: the GDP has grown by 6.2 percent; foreign direct investments have increased by 70 percent in the first half of this year compared with 2007; the Moldovan banking system has resisted in the conditions of the international financial crisis; the number of public servants has decreased by 624 persons; the “one-stop-shop” has allowed the certification of 65 percent of new urgently opened enterprises; the Prosecutor’s Office and CCECC are combating the corruption successfully; the Republic of Moldova has organised the summit of CIS heads of state “at a high-quality level”; the share of budgetary social allocations was increased; new infrastructure projects have been developed; Transnistria-based export enterprises have been issued customs documents etc.

Reactions of opposition towards progresses reported by governors

The opposition has recalled governors and tried to explain citizens the true sources of the economic growth at the extent allowed by the access to the media. According to data released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), after the 1998 Russian financial crisis and slowed world economic growth at the end of the last century, the economy of developed countries has increased by 2–3 percent and of developing countries by 6–8 percent a year in 2001–2007. After the PCRM won the rule in 2001, approximately 1/3 of employable Moldovans have got along, leaving for other countries. Annual remittances have grown about ten-fold during the PCRM rule, from approximately 150 million dollars up to about 1.5 billion dollars. Thus, remittances were equivalent to the state budget in 2007 and 2008, being estimated at approximately 1/3 of the country GDP!

In those conditions, only a Government hating own country would have failed a conjectural economic growth. However, the Republic of Moldova remained the poorest country in Europe in 2001–08, being unable to reduce the difference with other poor states. More than that, the difference is deepening so far. The table below reveals that while being an agrarian province of the USSR, Moldova was planned for an economic collapse in case of an independent development, and this occurred in 1991. The PCRM predecessors had assumed the risks of promoting deep reforms, in spite of all committed mistakes, while the PCRM has won the governing when the most painful reforms were over and the regional economic conjuncture improved cardinally.

Real Historical Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

The conclusion is that in eight years of rule the PCRM did not make any significant progress, but seized on the favourable regional economic conjuncture and made propaganda. For example, speaking about enhancing the competitiveness of the national economy when the trade balance deficit in 2008 represented around 2/3 of GDP (about 3 billion dollars) is embarrassing. Statistics reveal that the deficit has increased by about one billion dollars in 2008, exports turned over 1.4 billion dollars and imports 4.1 billion dollars. By generalising all these accounts, the opposition recalls the ruling party that in 2008 “the negative trade balance was 7-fold higher than in 2000.” Should authorities made something real in the economic sector, it was done contrary to the ideology and political programme of the ruling party. The “liberal revolution” declared by the PCRM in April 2007 is an example in this respect.

European integration and consolidation of the state based on the rule of law

2008 was a true year of good intentions. While traditionally addressing representatives of diplomatic corps, President Vladimir Voronin stated that “year 2008 is the prologue of ordinary parliamentary elections… This year claims new European modernisation efforts from Moldova, which will focus above all on improving our justice, consolidating the human rights… I believe nobody doubts any longer that Moldova is very receptive to this kind of reforms, that our statehood is becoming very strong through extension of freedoms.”

In 2008 Moldovans have permanently heard the European integration theses, about good but failed laws etc. A number of standard assessments on European integration have migrated from a report to another. However, two worthy examples explain the way the state based on the rule of law is being consolidated in Moldova. The first one refers to intention of some citizens to verify the functioning of the newly adopted law on public assembly and their immediate assaulting by police. This is a joking, eloquent example of analyses on development of Moldovan democracy, though it was very hurtful for enthusiastic experiment makers. The second example is linked to the prolongation of broadcasting licence for PRO TV channel. Although this case was commented much, the “benevolence” of the Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA) to introduce a moratorium unstipulated by the law on execution of a special provision of the Audiovisual Code should be noted. Once the moratorium deadline is over after parliamentary elections, the CCA will organise a contest on the basis of an act under the law and contrary to the law. In fact, CCA didn’t have serious argument to refuse the automatical license prolongation for PRO TV. The PRO TV case cannot be understood well, if the context is not made clear; mainly who controls and uses the media space in Moldova, particularly before the parliamentary elections. By manifesting its “benevolence” through dodging, the CCA is doing anything but not consolidating the rule of law.

Given the above facts, EU ambassadors had to doubt publicly in 2008 over the intention of Moldovan authorities “to extend freedoms”, raising their concern twice. The community of ambassadors has demanded a meeting with the chief of state at the end of the year, with the president reconfirming the positive intentions. The last occasion was a pretext for certain ambassadors to reiterate the dominant message of the last year — the signing of a new Association Agreement for Moldova will depend on respect for democratic freedoms and quality of the electoral process.

Transnistrian conflict

During the same traditional address to foreign ambassadors to Moldova delivered at the beginning of the 2008 year, President Voronin has promised: “We will do our best to see representatives and our compatriots from Transnistria in the next Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, which will meet in the jubilee year, the 650th anniversary of the Moldovan state, to make the residents of the region effectively participate in building a modern, European Moldova.” It has become evident at the end of 2008 that Transnistrians will not participate in the parliamentary elections. Even more, unfortunately, the Transnistria settlement has become a true tale of the white bull-calf during the PCRM governing, just good to be discussed in the non-functioning “5+2” format.

In fact, what kind of relations do we have between Chisinau and Tiraspol? The former Tiraspol foreign minister, Valeri Litskai, was right when he said that de facto there are confederate relations between two Moldovan entities — the Republic of Moldova and the Dniester Moldovan Republic. It is true, as the two entities have organised common football etc., championships for many years, Transnistrian enterprises have to apply to Chisinau’s services to get customs documents etc. However, the conflict remained frozen and one can say that the legal status of Transnistria will be probably uncertain for many years ahead. That’s because Russia will unlikely change its attitude towards Chisinau and Tiraspol (like towards two equal parties) in the near future. This will be confirmed every time needed, inclusively during the “2+1” consultations accepted by President Voronin at the December 24, 2008 meeting with Smirnov.

However, some changes will probably intervene in the political life in Transnistria in a medium term and they will have an impact on the conflict resolution process as well. In 2008, Igor Smirnov has cleaned up a little the political scene of Transnistria, sweeping away some “founders” of the separatist regime. He got rid of Grigore Maracuta long ago, and this year he dismissed the foreign minister Valeri Litskai. Now is the turn of KGB head Vladimir Antiufeev and there were many allegations about his dismissal in the latest period. In this context, Igor Smirnov has promoted his son Oleg, leader of the Party of Patriots from Transnistria (PPT), on various occasions this year. Thus, Smirnov is accompanied by his son politician at meetings with important Russian envoys. Therefore, Oleg could be up for the next presidential elections while Igor Smirnov would be his No.1 electoral agent. The Smirnov dynasty is probably prepared in Transnistria.

Foreign policy

Things have stagnated rather than developed in the foreign policy area in 2008. In fact, the foreign policy of Moldova has been based on two dimensions in the past years: the European integration and avoiding the antagonising of Russia. Via the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and recently released Eastern Partnership (EP) the EU treats its neighbours with howt they deserve. On their turn, the ruling elites of the countries included in the ENP accept EU conditionality in the measure that allows them to control the domestic situation and keep the governance. If ignoring certain European standards is needed for maintaining the governance, this happens for sure.

As regards the second factor, avoiding the antagonizing of Russia, Moldovan authorities “are redeeming a faux pas” and sometimes in an awkward manner, rather than develop relations with Russia. And all this happen after the affront faced by former president Putin in 2003 in connection with the “Kozak Memorandum”. Moldovan authorities should not act “behind Europe which we want to join” when asked Putin to draft what is called “Kozak Memorandum” and probably we would not have had embargoes and the need to improve relations with Russia. Now the “things are re-fixed” by underlining constantly that the Republic of Moldova does not want to join NATO. That was the only reason why the national security concept of Moldova was adopted in 2008, to repeat again and again that Moldova doesn’t want to join NATO. Instead, the strategy drafted under the concept was not finished. Perhaps, it was not agreed in terms of limits for concessions in avoiding the antagonising of Russia.

The new foreign policy concept was not mentioned in 2008. What for? Relations with direct neighbours Romania and Ukraine did not melt anyway. However, Moldovan citizens cannot enjoy the small border traffic because of bad relations with Romania. The fact that President Viktor Yushchenko has cancelled his visit to Chisinau in 2008 points to the stagnation of Moldovan-Ukrainian relations despite the fact that good relations with Ukraine are very important to Moldova, including for the Transnistrian settlement. In this respect, it seems that relations are maintained at a certain level due to the Brussels-Kiev-Chisinau trilateral. At least, the EUBAM mandate would be extended thanks to the Brussels interest towards controlling the Transnistrian section of the Moldova-Ukraine border.

“Chromatic revolution” announced in 2008 or “Who is Mr. Tarlev?”

Starting 2004, PCRM propagandists have been obsessed with the danger of a chromatic revolution. All chromatic revolutions in the CIS area have been organised by former insiders. Saakashvili was minister of justice during the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze, Yushchenko was prime minister under the governance of Leonid Kuchma, Bakyev was prime minister under the chair of Askar Akayev. PCRM strategists and propagandists in Moldova are trying to disclose possible revolutionary scenarios of insiders for a long time. Longest-sighted of them have observed the danger two years before the “rose revolution” in Georgia, suspecting premier Vasile Tarlev of subversive plans. On October 9, 2001, the website published the article “Who are you, Mr. Tarlev?”. Many observers attributed the article to the No.1 presidential advisor, who denied that he was the author, but noted that he would have been proud should he wrote it. The writer said that “by hiding himself behind the goal to defend the interests of domestic producers, Tarlev uses Bonaparte-style corruption and protectionism methods to destroy the middle class, small and medium business in favour of foreign oligarchies”?!

If so, may be the Ministry of Justice was right when refused to register the “Russia’s Friends in Moldova” organisation, set up by Mr. Tarlev after his resignation in March 2008? May be the name of the organization indicates at the oligarchies Tarlev had plans to protect? Meantime, the PCRM governance hurries up to go ahead, giving green light to the privatisation of any public property. Even more, the Ministry of Justice refused to recognize Tarlev’s election as Chairman of the Centrist Union of Moldova (UCM) during the party ordinary congress on September 27. Thus, Tarlev’s mates had to convoke an extraordinary congress on December 13, 2008 in order to re-elect the leader of the party. In this way, Mr. Tarlev got acquainted with the grin of Moldovan democracy, which he regarded as a friendly smile when he was prime minister. Under these conditions, he has no choice but to declare the “green revolution” aimed at supporting the producers of “ecological agro-food products” provided that UCM wins the parliamentary elections.

Expectations from the electoral year 2009

CIS summit — a pretext for a propagandistic campaign? Moscow-related hopes of Chisinau and Tiraspol or “Moscow never sleeps”?