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Disputed identity as unescapable pluralism. Moldova's ambiguous transition.

Abstract: Romania's accession to the European Union in 2007 provided Europe with an odd new neighbor. The small country of Moldova (4.3 millions inhabitants, with only two thirds de facto residing there) was pictured by The Economist in 1995 as "a perfect lab for the enacting of reforms" and a "model" for the right approach to reforms. Since its independence in 1991, this former Soviet republic with a Romanian-speaking majority embarked on establishing a democratic system of government based on fundamental rights and freedoms. It adopted a Constitution in 1994, which created a semi-parliamentary political system, with a President directly elected by voters. Moldova adopted all the UN conventions she was required to; unlike in the Baltic States, its minorities were granted citizenship and Russian was practically given the status of a second official language. In 1994, the country held its first free and fair popular elections; in 1998, 2001 and 2005 free elections were again held. In 2000, the Constitution was revised and Moldova again gave satisfaction to Western advisors, by giving up direct elections for President so turning its back completely to semi-presidentialism. The effects were immediate: the Parliament elected the first Communist President since the fall of Communism.

Keywords: transition, demonstration effect, Moldova, communism, Transnistria, Russia


Analyzing 'what went wrong', a 2000 UN report identified as primary cause that 'Reform implementation was influenced by the electoral cycles' and also that '...both legislative and executive slowed down their activity during elections ... Three electoral campaigns were run once in four years, in the framework of an unconsolidated state and an economy plagued by risks'. In other words, had it not been for Moldova's democratic process the country would have recorded steadier progress. But these 'problems' are common to all East European success stories, as the countries which recorded the greatest economic progress are also those which advanced further on the democratic path, and these advances, both in Central and SEE Europe were always contentious. Compared with Poland's, Moldova's politics, with elections only once in four years, was relatively dull.

It is perhaps due to the difficulty of explaining Moldova's exceptionality that the country is usually left out, together with Albania, with whom it shares the title of the poorest European country, when discussing the democratization of Eastern Europe. Moldova has slowly turned into an embarrassment to Western donors. Since declaring independence in 1991, Moldova has been one of the most pluralistic post-Soviet states. Still, she struggles with state consolidation, a weak economy, identity problems and a massive desertion by nearly all its qualified workforce. Writing in 2003, International Crisis Group advanced optimistically that: 'The conflict in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova is not as charged with ethnic hatred and ancient grievances as other conflicts in the OSCE area and it is more conducive to a sustainable settlement."1 Four years later we are as far as ever from having solved the Transnistrian conflict. Quite to the contrary, in 2006 Transnistria organized a successful referendum on its independence.

Explaining why Moldova fares so bad after behaving relatively well does not stumble from want of justifications. As we shall show, structural constraints to an independent, prosperous and democratic Republic of Moldova are plenty. We confront too many explanations, not too few. This paper will review them briefly, discussing the project's hypotheses underlined by Valerie Bunce as a conclusion of the broader discussion.

Brief assessment of Moldova's democracy

How democratic is Moldova? Its elections have been repeatedly considered free and fair by OSCE international observers, except for the breakaway region of Transnistria. Unlike in neighboring Belarus or Russia, its presidents have repeatedly lost the power fight with their legislatures. A critical media and civil society does exist, even if it is faced with economic problems. The nature of the occasional harassment of the media by authorities is not, however, typical for an autocracy. Media outlets are rather submitted to intimidation by tax authorities or threatened with corruption charges, rather than openly attacking journalists for their opinions.

Freedom House ranks Moldova as a non-consolidated democracy. Nations in Transit scores since the start of this Freedom House program in 1997 have placed Moldova close to Romania, especially when electoral process is concerned. Moldova lags behind on local government and governance issues more generally. It is also one of the most corrupt European countries according to Transparency International, but its scores over the last years were close to Romania and Bulgaria, the latest EU entrants. Rule of law is the area where Moldova fails most notably in meeting democratic criteria. Moldova's judiciary does not provide the checks and balances fundamental to a consolidated democracy. The judiciary also suffers from weak institutional capacity, including low capacity of judges, low wages, and lack of internal controls to curb corruption, weaknesses in the system of appointing and promoting judges, poor administrative and case management, and failure to enforce judicial decisions. The practice of "telephone justice" subsists despite improvements in the legislation meant to protect the independence of the judiciary.

Despite occasional massive participation to public protests, Moldova has managed to stay non-violent throughout these years of political disputes. The only violent incidents or non-compliance with European law are related to Transnistria. The central government in Chisinau has no authority in the Transnistria region, which has been ruled by a separatist regime since 1992. Hence, the Moldovan state is unable to uphold fundamental human, political, and civil rights there. For instance, although Moldova generally complies with the decisions of the ECHR, it is unable to implement the ECHR's decision in a notable case, Ilie Ilascu and Others vs. the Republic of Moldova and Russia (2004), in which Moldova was asked to ensure the liberation of two remaining detainees of the "Ilascu group," who have been held illegally by the Transnistrian separatist regime for over a decade for the mere fault of opposing Transnistria's secession. Another ECHR case on Transnistrian abuses features 1,300 farmers who have filed a case for being barred by the local militia form accessing their farmland. Harassing schoolchildren to make them enroll in Cyrillic language schools has also generated frequent incidents across the Nistru. As a result, there are claims that the Transnistrian regime is pursuing a policy of linguistic cleansing, and there are indications that the Romanian-speaking population of the Transnistrian region has decreased from 40 percent in 1989 to just 30 percent in 2005 (1). On the Moldovan bank bilingualism is the general rule, with schools, media and administration performing in both languages (2).

Moldova is a parliamentary democracy wherein citizens can change their government under a system of universal, equal, and direct suffrage. Voters choose members of the 101-seat Parliament for four-year terms according to a system of proportional representation. Under the 1994 constitution Moldova was designated as a "presidential-parliamentary republic." However, since the constitution, based on the Romanian one, did not adequately define how executive powers were to be shared between the prime minister and the president, a constant power struggle resulted within the executive branch. Efforts by President Petre Lucinschi to transform the political system into a presidential system, although fairly popular, alienated the members of Parliament. In an effort to derail attempts by President Lucinschi to change the constitution, in 1999 Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution that established Moldova as a "parliamentary republic." This seriously weakened the powers of the presidency and made the chief executive dependent on the legislature's continued support to remain in office. The amendments also eliminated the president's ability to initiate legislation and transferred the greatest authority to the majority party or group in the legislature. Lucinschi's term expired in the fall of 2000 but the sitting Parliament was unable to elect a new president as no candidate was able to muster a majority vote. Centrists within the National Assembly consistently sought to block the Communist Party candidate, Vladimir Voronin, from becoming the new president of Moldova. After four failed attempts to select a president, President Lucinschi called for new parliamentary elections to be held in February 2001. In the wake of these elections Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the new parliamentary majority party, the PCRM, was selected as president in March 2001. Voronin enjoys the distinction of being the first head of an unreformed Communist party to be democratically elected in the former Soviet Union. He immediately reinstated the Soviet holiday of October 24.

Unfinished national emancipation

Moldova gained independence for the first time in its history in 1991, after belonging in turn to the Romanian principality of Moldova (until 1812), then to Czarist Russia (until 1918), Greater Romania (until 1940), and finally to the Soviet Union. During the Soviet reign its borders were changed as the eastern bank of Nistru (Transnistria, also spelled Transdniestria or TransDniestr) was added by the Soviets in order to create a Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic worthy of its name. Two thirds of people in mainland Moldova are native Romanian speakers, compared to about 40% in Transnistria, where minorities consist mainly in Ukrainians and Russians.

The secession drive of Transnistrian leaders developed on the background Moldova's drive for independence from Moscow in the last years of the existence of the Soviet Union. Transnistria, as Kaliningrad or Crimeea used to have both a fortified military presence (XIV Russian Army of General Alexander Lebed was stationed there in 1989) and a civilian presence, as many Russian-speaking pensioners, notably from the military, used to choose this spot for retirement. The Transnistrian authorities feared most that an independent Moldova would implement political and economic reforms that would put an end to Communism, and would impose a cultural "Romanianisation" of the area, preparing the ground for its eventual unification with Romania. In August 1989, more than fifty factories in Chisinau (Kishinev), Tighina (Bendery), Ribnita (Rybnitsa), Comrat (Komrat) and other cities had joined a strike begun in Tiraspol to protest the requirement of a minimal knowledge of Romanian for the non-Romanian inhabitants. Five days later, when the Parliament was considering this legislation, 80,000 workers were on strike at a hundred factories. When the law passed on 31 August, the strikes intensified and continued for over a month in the urban areas of Transnistria. In November 1989 a county mostly inhabited by the small Gagauz minority (of Turkish origin), in January 1990 declared its independence. Transnistrian cities were next, voting one after another to become self-governing, independent territories. Later on, following the adoption of the Romanian flag (red, yellow, blue) as the Soviet Moldova's official symbol in April 1990, the local soviets in Transnistria refused to recognise it and continued to fly the communist flag. (1) On 19 August 1990, at a congress of Gagauz "people's deputies" that took place in Comrat, a Gagauz SSR was proclaimed. Following the same pattern, on 2 September 1990 in Tiraspol, "the second extraordinary congress of the soviets' deputies on different levels" proclaimed the Transnistrian Soviet Socialist Republic as part of the USSR (2).

On 27 August 1991, at the request of about 600,000 representatives of all Moldovan districts, the parliament in Chisinau proclaimed the Republic of Moldova as a "sovereign, independent, and democratic state, free to decide its present and future without any interference from exterior". (3) On 2 March 1992, the Republic of Moldova became a member of the UN. On the same very day, the Transnistrian separatists provoked an incident in Dubasari that was to become the beginning of the armed conflict (March-July 1992). The violent clashes among Moldovan and Transnistrian forces in 1992 were confined to a few hot spots of relatively short duration, but ended with the consolidation of the breakaway region, informally supported by the Russian XIVth army. Moldova's dependence on Russia for energy, in particular, and its supply through pipelines that cross Ukraine and Transnistria, make it very vulnerable and open to economic blackmail. Cuts of gas and electricity endorsed by Russia and Ukraine in the nineties made Moldova's stand in the Transistrian conflict impossible to hold. At one point the whoile capital, Chisinau, was cut from gas and electricity for weeks with Ukrainian and Russian participation. The lack of control over the eastern region has deprived the economy of Moldova of up to 40 percent of its industrial capacity, including the bulk of the heavy industry and the republic's main power-generator. The presence of the 14th Russian Army in the Transnistrian region has constantly been a military, logistical as well as political source of support the separate status of the self-proclaimed Transnistrian Republic, a visible symbol of the Republic of Moldova's "limited" sovereignty, and a continuing threat to its independence. In time, the Transnistrian conflict has acquired the characteristics of a protracted, "frozen" conflict, and the Transnistrian region has turned into a second Kaliningrad.

In spite of extensive efforts for the peaceful resolution of the conflict, the CSCE/OSCE's record in solving the situation in Republic of Moldova is rather mixed. The first deadline of the OSCE Istanbul summit commitments--withdrawal/reduction of the CFE Treaty-limited conventional armaments and equipment held by the Operative Group of Russian Forces stationed in the Republic of Moldova--was completed ahead of schedule in November 2001. However, Russia has not fulfilled its commitments regarding the withdrawal of its troops by the end of 2002. OSCE endorsed a peace plan proposed by Russia (the so-called Kozak plan) which would have turned Moldova into a federation, granting Transnistrian leadership extensive rights, including in the upper federal chamber of Moldova. The plan has come under criticism from civil society and some Western analysts for acknowledging leaders who had never been elected in a democratic election (1). Besides, it soon became apparent that Russia was not going to fulfil its part and retire the XIV Army. This legendary army of former General Lebed has been reduced to shambles in the past years. Most of its arms have already been transferred informally to the local Transnistrian militias and the remaining effective would like to be recast as a 'peacekeeping' force. The state-like entity in Tiraspol has gradually assumed the characteristics of an organised crime safe haven. Many of the local militia leaders are ex-KGB agents, some of them criminals on the most wanted list of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Arms' smuggling, notably with the goal to supply other breakaway provinces in the Caucasus has become a chief economic activity.

In recent years Moldova has sought to give to the conflict resolution an international dimension process, as the regional approach had given all the leverage to Russia and Ukraine. The government and its few Western lobbyists tried to engage the West alongside Russia and Ukraine in the negotiating team. Moldova presented its desiderates in the U.N. General Assembly in 2006: the need of transforming the peacekeeping mechanism into an international peacekeeping mission with international mandate; Russia's respect for the commitments assumed at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit; conditioning of ratification and enforcement of the CFE Treaty with implementation of all decisions of the 1999 OSCE summit. A civil society endorsed plan for the region stresses the need to 'Demilitarize, decriminalize, democratize", but as those they seek to 'decriminalize' are the leaders of Transnistria themselves there are practically no chances of implementation.

On September 17, 2006 local authorities organized a referendum on the independent of Transnistria and an eventual unification with Russia. The referendum was not recognized by OSCE, which tried to prevent it from taking place, but it had some Russian endorsement. Voters decided Transnistria is independent from Moldova and expressed their desire to join Russia. Transnistria is currently under an economic embargo from Moldova, backed by Ukraine (its products cannot be exported unless going through the Moldovan customs and therefore unless paying the customs tax), but as Russia is not a part of this EU-sponsored arrangement, although she is reluctant to encourage any formal unification with the secessionist Republic, the embargo is likely to remain ineffective.

The politics of identity politics

Moldova is quite exceptional with respect to nationalism. Although in the eighties its Popular Front was as active and capable of mass mobilization as the Baltic ones, enjoying also a good demographic situation (about 76% of Moldovans are Romanian speakers), the defeat of the Moldovan state in the Transnistrian war under a Popular Front Prime Minister (Mircea Druc) has inflicted durable wounds to the pro-Romanian parties. Romania was the first to recognize Moldova as an independent state after its declaration of independence. The first Moldovan President, Mircea Snegur together with Romanian President Ion Iliescu agreed that reunification was not an immediate option, as the threat from secession of Transnistria was quite serious, on one hand, and Romania had enough problems of its own to be able to deal with integrating Moldova, on the other. In order to counterbalance the disintegration of Moldova, Mircea Snegur took great pains to distance himself from Romania and to vouch for the future independence of the Moldovan state. The initial adoption without reservations of various Romanian symbols (same flag, same national hymn) was later denounced, as the capital of Moldova confronted shortages of gas and electricity due to Russia's endorsement of Transnistria. Posing as a guarantor of independence and territorial integrity Snegur also hoped to win votes, as the great part of the population preferred a moderate option to the radical reunification with Romania. He lost, however, the first free and fair presidential elections in favor of a Russophone, Petre Lucinschi.

Since 1994 a serious policy reverse on identity has been gradually enacted. The new Constitution abandoned calling the language 'Romanian' as in earlier language laws: instead it was labeled 'Moldovan'. The industry of crafting a Moldovan identity was reopened after a brief closure of a few years. The arsenal was the same from Soviet times, historical Romania being chiefly identified as the 'exploiter' of Moldova. With the advent to power of Vladimir Voronin in 2001 further steps were taken to revert to the Soviet arrangements. Voronin attempted to turn Russian language compulsory (from optional) in public life and education, even in Romanian language schools. 30,000 people took to the streets in Chisinau in 2005 in a rally, which lasted for three weeks to protest these measures. The protests ended only when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe intervened and strongly urged the government to ease its persecution of the [pro-Romanian] opposition, to ban censorship on state-run television and radio stations, and to respect the rights of citizens to freedom of religion, education in their native language, and freedom of speech (1). Initial steps taken by the Moldovan government to prevent Moldovan students from enrolling in Romanian universities were later reversed. Furthermore, Moldovan became the only officially acknowledged identity in official census. Surveys still show two categories of Romanian speakers, those who identify themselves as 'Moldovan', and those who identify as 'Romanian' (a minority).

The cleavage between those who seek unification with Romania and those who prefer independence cuts deep through Moldova's public. Half of Moldovans agree with making Russian compulsory alongside Romanian; also, for many years half expressed their desire to join the Commonwealth of Independent States. The 'moderate' group endorses independence as the less conflicting solution. Only the last year, after Romania's joining of EU became a certainty did Moldovans start to be more pro-European. Presently 70% would vote for EU integration in a referendum, although less than a quarter of the population would support joining NATO. The public believes that Russia can do most to solve the Nistru issue, and that Romania can do most to help with accession. The two distinct publics differ sharply on education: 67% of those calling themselves 'Moldovan' fall below ten grades in school: 55% of those who identify themselves as 'Romanians' enjoy tertiary education (2). The issue of state consolidation always surfaces as the greatest public concern in surveys. CDM = Partidul Renasterii si Reconcilierii Nationale (Snegur), FPCD (8%), Partidul Ecologist din Moldova Alianta verde, Liga Democrat Crestina a Femeilor din Molodva, Partidul Taranesc Crestin Democrat.


Moldova's politics have reflected from the onset this deep division over identity. The first electoral campaigns were organized mostly around this theme. Fear of Russia, on one hand, and of Romania, on another, were the overriding campaign themes, the latter surpassing the former from afar. The first round of elections gave the majority to Communist successor parties, Agrarians (a party based on heads of kolkhozes) and Socialists. The Popular Front's main problem during the first years was the fight with what they saw as Snegur's opportunism, less than with the opposition. The shy Communists reappeared on their own name after the second round of elections, and they won an overwhelming majority in 2001. The years between 2001 and 2004 were the worst in recent Moldovan history, as Communists sought to curtail media freedom, cut the powers of local government, control the judiciary and reverse the mild decentralization process under way. Starting with the 1998 elections, politicians tried to capture the non-aligned, cautious public, which did not trust Russia and feared that a rapprochement to Romania would however bring more problems to Moldova. These parties, such as the Democratic Party or the Braghis Platform are usually built around one man (a former PM, for instance) and as a ground rule disappear after only one electoral cycle. The successor Communist parties had friendly relations with Russian Communist party; the pro-Romanian parties have constantly received funding from Bucharest.

Does the identity cleavage impact on the political cleavage? A majority of Moldovans still believes a one-party system is superior to democracy (54% 'firmly' believe, with an additional 15% who would 'rather' believe). Pollsters dropped the question after 2002, probably from fear these results might impair Moldova's EU accession aspirations. What are the determinants of attitudes supportive of democracy in Moldova? Regression models like the one below show that the likelihood of being a democrat is higher for males, residents of urban areas, the educated, workers in the public sector, the well off and those who speak Romanian at home, as opposed to those who speak Russian or Moldovan. On the reverse side, people who endorse CSI over Europe are less likely to be democrats. The cleavage over identity is thus mirrored by a political cleavage. Its existence might have prevented Moldova's nation building one way or another, but it also acted as a form of natural and inescapable pluralism.

The profile of the Moldovan voter is generally consistent with autocracy rather than democracy. The average voter is not interested in politics, does not read political news in newspapers, and believes that nothing she can do will affect politics. A staggering 44% consider that the 2006 elections were not fair and free, as opposed to 40% who believe that they were free and to 17% who do not know.

Review of working hypotheses

Moldova is not a substantial democracy in any way. The 'consolidation' term shows its clear limitations in this case. There is nothing further to consolidate in Moldova. Elections are free, though frequently not completely fair. Incumbents often lose, so vertical accountability works. However, elected actors are not convincing, either on democracy or on public integrity. The public also is not the critical autonomous public of liberal democracies, but a dependent, pessimistic and fearful public.

Absence of a state history.

Moldova lacks any history as an independent state. She has, however, a Soviet-times bureaucracy, which is capable of current management. In 1989 and 1990 she managed the passage of language laws, independence and creation of a national army fairly well, in very difficult circumstances. If other ongoing factors would allow its lack of background as a state would not impede its consolidation.

Absence of a nation

Moldova has not managed to create a political nation, and the cultural nation is also under dispute. Transnistrians have opted out of any common political community with the rest of Moldova. The pro-Romanian minority is committed to unification, not the independent state. Adepts of the independent Moldova are on the majority, and they have controlled most of Moldova's transition, but they are unable to control these two centripetal, though divergent, movements, towards Russia and towards Romania. Efforts to create a separate cultural nation backfired. This is the deep factor influencing Moldovan politics, which renders other political factors mostly irrelevant. Hundreds of thousands of Moldovans have Romanian passports, far more than the numbers of political supporters of unification. Transnistrians also have either Russian or Ukrainian passports. The generally high figure of Moldovans who would leave the country to work abroad long term or forever if given the opportunity skyrocketed in recent years, to more than sixty percent in 2006.

A weak, subverted state

Moldova is a weak state from any perspective: security, as 'collector', as 'deliverer' of public goods, and as to its incapacity to become autonomous from private interests of predatory elites. The Moldovan state is an extremely poor collector. The revenues of the state budget come mostly from customs taxes. An alleged one million people, who make more than a half of Moldova's workforce, are currently working abroad, but remittances are not taxed. The Moldovan state also performs poorly in delivering security, law and order, starting with customs (58% of Moldovans declare to have bribed a customs officer at least once per year).

The Transnistrian issue weights heavily on Moldova's state consolidation. Moldovan leaders, from Communists to the Popular Front all played the card of territorial integrity. For the adepts of an independent Moldova this issue is crucial, as they do not conceive Moldova succeeding without Transnistria, mainly on economic grounds. The existence of the rogue entity complicates further Moldova's already feeble attempt to lay the grounds for a solid rule of law. Despite treating her Russian speaking minorities in a far more inclusive manner than the Baltics, granting automatic citizenship and allowing large scale Russian education, Moldova did not succeed in building a political community. Its sovereignty is still limited, the rebels in the rogue state of Transnistria are still more heavily armed than the national Moldovan army, and the predatory elites in control of the black economy are stronger than ever. Regardless of their divergent evolution paths, the three regions, Moldova proper, Transnistria and Gagauzia have only managed to reach the common point where they successfully annihilate each other's perspectives. The forces which oppose the Europeanization of Moldova have a vested interested in preserving the current status quo, which enables them to consolidate their power and gains from both the formal and the informal economy.

Other historical legacies

Moldova is bound by its legacies at least on two crucial issues. She has the largest proportion of subsistence farmers in Europe, nearly 60%. The Moldovan elite was subjected to severe cleansing by the Soviets after her brief occupation by Romania during the WW II (1940-1944). Tenths of thousands of families were deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan; an additional 115 000 Romanian peasants died in the famine provoked by the Soviets. Germans were also the target of persecution; their numbers were reduced from 80 000 to almost none ten years after the war, as well as the educated and better off Romanians, who were either killed or deported in their entirety. Being denounced by a neighbor to having spoken with a Romanian soldier during the four years of Romanian occupation made sufficient grounds to be deported to Siberia. Most of the refugees from 1944 were forcibly repatriated from Romania to the Soviet Union (1). The scars left still show today in the fear of the population, as well as in the absence of any elite in deeper Moldova, beyond a couple of cities. Furthermore, brain drain to Romania and the West is continuous and important, reducing even more the already thin elite of the country.

Performance on economic and social transformation

The Moldovan economy is growing, but structural problems persist. Moldova's exports go mostly to CIS. A ban on wines in 2006 as a political retaliation for Moldova's pro-EU policy crippled Moldova's economy. Moldova has been long before Ukraine subjected to high prices of gas and is completely dependent on Russia when energy is concerned. The country is highly dependent on capital flows from abroad, and support from international financial institutions has led to high foreign debt. High political risk, a shrinking labor force, and the small size of the Moldovan market do not make an attractive combination for foreign investors. Poverty remains a significant problem, with approximately 80 percent of the population living on less than US$1.00 per day. In terms of UNDP's Human Development Index, Moldova ranks at the bottom, at the same level with Tajikistan and slightly ahead of Mongolia. Corruption plagues the administration and the judiciary, and the large informal sector (estimated at 65% of GDP) is blamed on the lack of resources of the state, despite providing some backup for the poor and the unemployed in the absence of any other safety net. An estimated one million Moldovans--or half the country's workforce--have migrated to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Romania, Russia, and other countries in search of better jobs. In Italy alone, there are allegedly over 200,000 Moldovans.

External significant actors

The future of Moldova depends on what external actor will be more interested in extending or preserving influence in the region. Foreign influence is undeniably the most important factor acting on state consolidation, which in its turn weights heavily on Moldova's further democratization.

* Russia has undeniably been the most powerful actor in shaping Moldova's destiny. Russia occupied Moldova, or parts of it, on the side of its chronic war with the Ottoman Empire, in 1812 and 1878. The Soviet Union, in its turn, invaded Moldova after the Ribentropp-Molotov pact. Inhabitants were given 48 hours to leave to Romania if they wished. Leonid Brejnev famously declared that raions on the Dniestr (Nistru) have to break through to socialism by the shortest possible path. Mikhail Gorbachev warned Moldova that its territorial independence would be guaranteed only if it stays within USSR. During the last fifteen years, all Russian leaders have, in one form or another, embraced the doctrine of a legitimate Russian influence on its near abroad. It was the Duma, rather than the Executive, which provided the most open help to separatists. The Kozak plan proposed the federalization of Moldova leaving practically all the sovereignty to Tiraspol. In more recent years the Russians have given up formal promises of retiring the XIVth army, instead lobbying for it to be employed on the ground as a peacekeeping force. Vladimir Putin made clear in his 2006 yearly address that the precedent of Kosovo opens the door to Transnistria's recognition by Russia as an independent state. A union between Transnistria and the Georgian enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was also encouraged by Moscow. Although Moldova's Communist Presidents boasted of closer ties with Moscow than democrats, they have not succeeded in getting much out of this friendship. Russia is determined not to lose Moldova to NATO, and the international current energy context favors her designs.

* Europe has been only somewhat influential so far. The presence of the Council of Europe has empowered the democratic minority of Moldova, which managed to play its cards well enough to prevent the total degradation of Moldova's low quality democracy. EU, on the other hand, preferred not to address directly the consequences of the short but intense 1992 secessionist conflict in Moldova (1). Among the reasons, one might count the absence of an institutional common foreign policy, the fact that Moldova was a former Soviet Union Republic--and thus, directly in Russia's "sphere of vital interest"--, the presence of the former Soviet-Russian XIVth Army as well as the existence of an ethnic element in the conflict (also due to next door Gagauzia) that suggested its treatment as minority issue. The Council of Europe was very active in Moldova, also because Moldovan deputies to it assembly have done a good job to ask for help each time democracy was stumbling back home. EU, however, has delayed for years the appointment of a representative in Chisinau. Starting with the EU-Moldova action plan adopted in 2004, Moldova was accepted as a potential candidate. EU also endorses the embargo against Transnistria and has put some pressure on Ukraine to respect it.

Moldova claims it will sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with EU in 2007, the year of Romania's projected accession, and hopes to become an EU member some time after 2013. EU integration has become a consensual project over the political spectrum. Institutions specific to accession countries, such as a Department of European integration have been lately set up within government. The Moldovan authorities hope for an EU active involvement in the Nistru issue. Europe has a serious test ahead in dealing with the only frozen conflict on its Eastern border unless it finds a way to persuade Russia, which in the current energy crisis is extremely difficult.

* OSCE Prior to the double enlargement process of NATO and E.U. which confers a new "European dimension" to the crisis, the international community's vehicle in the Transnistrian conflict was represented by O.S.C.E, as one of the three guarantors of the political settlement, together with Russia and Ukraine. Despite OSCE involvement, given the low profile of Moldova on the E.U. agenda, there was little, if any progress, and the federative project was clearly giving satisfaction to Russia only. The role OSCE can play in the Transnistrean case is mined exactly by what used to be the major advantages of the organization: the lack of the mechanisms for implementation of its decision and the rigidly consensual nature that exposes any OSCE initiative to the veto power of all its members, especially Russia. Recent plans to solve the frozen conflict through OSCE have stumbled upon Russia's determination not to withdraw its troops from Transnistria. By stressing that federalization along the lines of the current internal borders is the preferred political solution for the West, as well as Russia, OSCE mediators have also contributed to further weakening of the already feeble Moldovan state.

* Romania After the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 and that of the Soviet Union in 1991, some expected that the two Romanian-speaking lands would be drawn together in a steady course towards Europe. After Moldova gained independence, however, the movement for reunification, very active in the last Soviet days, has gradually faded. The Romanian governments have always been only lukewarm concerning Moldova. Ion Iliescu's personal background as a 'liberal' apparatchik, a self-styled 'perestroikist' educated in Moscow made him an unlikely nationalist. Due to the alliance of Romanian Hungarians with Romanian anticommunist parties nationalism was however a strong presence in the first years after 1989 in Romanian politics. But it focused on Transylvania only, the usual playground between Romanians' nationalism and Hungarians' irredentism. The Romanian opposition was also cautious. Fighting against a post-communist power strongly in control of poor rural areas, the Romanian anticommunists were not really eager to enlarge with Moldova, a country even poorer and more rural than Romania, where over 50 % believe that single party-systems provide the best government possible. After Romania's bid to join NATO, the governments rushed to settle affairs with neighbors: among others, this meant including in the Romanian Ukraine treaty signed in 1997 that Romania has no claim over the territories lost by the Ribentropp-Molotov 1939 pact, southern Moldova and Northern Bukovina, which are now part of Ukraine. The modest drive for a reunification on the Romanian side fell thus victim to this policy, which emphasized that Romania must first complete its Euroatlantic integration prior to considering Moldova at all. After the return of power of Communists in Moldova (2001), even normal bilateral relations degraded, although since Romania's latest President Traian Basescu has come to power (since 2005) some of the old friendliness returned. By 2003, Romania had phased out most of its aid, leaving only the scholarships for students in place. Moldova actually complained in 2003 that those are a form of cultural imperialism from the bigger sister country.

Throughout transition the issue of double citizenship was also hotly disputed. In the end, even the Communist government in Chisinau had to allow it, less for nationalistic reasons than electoral ones. A Moldovan can get a Romanian passport, the key to Europe, by proving that her direct ancestors lived and worked in inter-war Romania and held Romanian citizenship. With Romania's EU accession on January 1st, 2007, the granting of passports ceased and a visa was introduced for Moldovans. Traian Basescu is more interested in Moldova and has created a serious assistance budget. He also announced in his first speech in the European Parliament that Romania's main foreign policy priority will be to support Moldova's EU accession.

Conclusions. The reverse demonstration effect

During the early years of the East European transition, transitologists made much of the 'demonstration effect'. Its best exemplification was provided by the luxurious Mercedes cars that Berlin Wessies were showing off when visiting their poor Socialist relatives across the Wall to the East. Transition developed a new set of models that countries and voters could compare to. For Moldovans, the choice is between Romania and Belarus, and a few years ago a focus group told me they would actually prefer Belarus, whose economy is more stable than Romania's and where gas is subsidized. This is the economic demonstration effect. Indeed, in very successful EU member Romania inhabitants pay between a third and a half of their income during winter to cover utilities.

Furthermore, due to the Transnistrian issue the daily demonstration is made that Russia remains the only strong regional actor. The Council of Europe pressed hard Moldova when it derailed from democratic rules, but was impotent to push Transnistria on the same issues. This is the political demonstration effect. Transnistria has preserved its statues of Lenin and fought for its recognition as the last Soviet Republic. Ironically, the Moldovan city council in Balti voted only two years ago to reinstate theirs at its old place in the central square.

Romania's EU accession might provide a new model and initiate a new cycle of the demonstration effect. Opinion surveys have already started to show some change. Meanwhile, Moldova is still trapped by its preconditions of dependency, most specifically the Nistru conflict unsolvable in current conditions, the lack of reform constituencies and Russia as a hegemonic economic power. Moldova cannot yet afford to radically opt for either East or West integration1 and will retain its ambiguous status, although it is precisely on this ambiguity that its state building nightmare rests upon.

(1) No quick fix in Moldova, Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2003,

(1) "Militarised Transnistria Threatens Civil Society and Elections," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 15, 2005.

(1) Daria Fane, "Moldova: Breaking loose from Moscow" in Ian Bremmer & Ray Taras (eds.), Nations & Politics in the Soviet Successor States, Cambridge, 1993, pp. 138-139.

(1) See Vlad Socor reporting,

(1) Based on Popescu and Dura.

(1) Based on Charles King, The Moldovans, Hoover Institution, as well as on local sources.

(1) A detailed history of the conflict can be found in Adrian Pop, "The Transnistrian Conflict Revisited", SAR's Policy Warning Report.

(1) See Wim van Meurs "Moldova ante portas: the EU Agendas of Conflict Management and 'Wider Europe'", in La Revue Internationale et Strategique, nr. 53 (2004).

(2) See Nations in Transit 2006, by Nicu Popescu and George Dura, for in-depth coverage of the issue of rights.

(2) Adrian Pop, The Transnistrian Conflict Revisited, Bucharest: Romanian Academic Society,

(2) Reporting based on analysis of three surveys of Institute for Public Policy Moldova (, 2002, 2004 and 2006.

(3) Nicolae Enciu, "De la suveranitate la independenta" in Ioan Scurtu (ed.), Istoria Basarabiei de la inceputuri pana la 1918, Bucharest, 1998, pp. 309-311, 313.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi Alina Mungiu-Pippidi is a graduate of Ohio State University, a postdoctoral fellow of Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government and holds a PhD in Political Psychology and Diploma in Medical Science Iasi University. She is professor at the Romanian National School of Political and Administrative Studies and also director of Romanian Academic Society.
Table 1. Moldova's democratic performance

NIT Ratings        1997      1998      1999      2001

Process            3.25      3.50      3.25      3.25

Civil Society      3.75      3.75      3.75      3.75

Media              4.00      4.25      4.00      4.25

Governance         4.25      4.50      4.50      4.50

National           n.a       n.a       n.a       n.a

Local              n.a       n.a       n.a       n.a

Framework          4.25      4.00      4.00      4.00

Corruption         .na       .na       6.00      6.00

score              3.90      4.00      4.25      4.29

NIT Ratings        2002      2003      2004      2005       2006

Electoral                                        4.00       3.75
Process            3.50      3.75      4.00

Civil Society      4.00      3.75      4.00      4.00       4.00

Independent                                      5.00       5.00
Media              4.50      4.75      5.00

Governance         4.75      5.25      5.50       n.a       n.a

National           n.a       n.a       n.a       5.75       5.75

Local              n.a       n.a       n.a       5.75       5.75

Framework          4.00      4.50      4.50      4.75       4.50

Corruption         6.25      6.25      6.25      6.25       6.00

score              4.50      4.71      4.88      5.07       4.96

Table 2. Evolution of Moldova's main electoral blocks 1994-2005
(% of seats in Parliament)

                     1994                    1998

Communist            81                      40
successor            27 Socialist Party      40 PCM
parties              (22 Socialists, 54

Pro-Romanian         20                      37
parties              11 PIB                  CDM 26
                      9 AFPCD                PFD 11

Unaffiliated          0                      24
centrists                                    24

                     2001                    2005

Communist            71                      56
successor            71 PCM,                 56 PCM

Pro-Romanian         11                      11
parties              11 FPCD                 11 PPCD

Unaffiliated         19                      34
centrists            19 The Braghis          34 BMD

Table 3. Determinants of democratic attitudes in Moldova

                                         Unstd.         Std.
                                         Coefficients   Error

(Constant)                                .966          .164

Subjective       Scale 1 to 4 of          .139          .039
welfare          assessment of
                 economic situation

Employed in      1 yes, else 0            .221          .085
public sector

Rural            1 yes, else 0           -.127          .035

Age              Age in 4 steps         -1.436E-03      .031

Endorses CSI     1 yes, else 0           -.153          .064

Education        No of years of           .153          .021
                 school graduated

Speaks Russian   1 yes, else 0           2.97E-02       .080
at home

Speaks           1 yes, else 0            .359          .122
Romanian at

Female           1 yes, else 0           -.138          .031

                 Std.                    T              Sig.

(Constant)                               5.886          .000

Subjective        .101                   3.564          .000

Employed in       .074                   2.616          .009
public sector

Rural            -.112                  -3.586          .000

Age              -.001                  -.047           .963

Endorses CSI     -.067                  -2.391          .017

Education         .228                   7.120          .000

Speaks Russian    .012                    .371          .710
at home

Speaks            .085                   2.957          .003
Romanian at

Female           -.122                  -4.496          .000

Dependent Variable: More parties better than one, scale from
one to four.
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Title Annotation:POLSCI PAPERS
Author:Mungiu-Pippidi, Alina
Publication:Romanian Journal of Political Science
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EXMO
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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