Fwd: ECMI Brief: Communists of Moldova and the future of the country's ethno-political conflicts


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Subject: Fwd: ECMI Brief: Communists of Moldova and the future of the country's ethno-political conflicts

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Fwd: ECMI Brief: Communists of Moldova and the future of the
country's ethno-political conflicts


Communists of Moldova and the future of the country's ethno-political
conflicts
 
ECMI Brief #3
http://www.ecmi.de
 
Priit Järve
Senior Analyst

On 25 February 2001, the Party of the Communists of the Republic of
Moldova (PCRM) received 49.9% of the votes (50.7% after the recount)
at the parliamentary elections. This gives it an absolute majority of
71 seats out of 101. The OSCE has characterised the elections as free
and fair. The success of the PCRM can be explained by the worsening
economic situation in the country, a result of unsuccessful reform
efforts in the economy.

During the election campaign the PCRM promised to achieve two major
changes in Moldova if elected: to take the country into the
Russia-Belarus Union and to give Russian the status of an official
language. According to Mr Voronin, the leader of the PCRM, these
questions will be decided through a special, nation-wide referendum.

Since 1992, the Republic of Moldova has been closely monitored and
assisted by the international community (the OSCE Mission was
established in 1993), mainly because of its ethnopolitical conflict in
the separatist region of Transdniestria. Following the armed conflict
in 1992, political relations between the government of Moldova and the
Transdniestrian authorities have remained deadlocked. Moldova wants to
maintain the unitary state ("a common state") in which Transdniestria
would have a special status, while Transdniestria seeks recognition as
an independent state. In 1994, a few years after ethnic tensions also
escalated in the Southern part of the country, Moldova established "a
national-territorial autonomous unit" for the Gagauz, a
Turkish-speaking minority. This solution has been hailed as a success,
though the relations of the government of Moldova and Gagauzia have
not been without difficulties since.

Given these ethnopolitical tensions on the one hand, and the
pre-election promises of the PCRM on the other, one has to ask how
these promises, if fulfilled, would influence the ethnopolitical
situation in Moldova. Would they ease the existing tensions or would
they create new ones?

Joining the Russia-Belarus Union

Mr Voronin's justification for joining the Union is that "it is
abnormal [that], when the whole of Europe is uniting […] we, the
former Soviet republics, are standing separately, awaiting donations
from the West." [1] Indeed, not being fit to apply for EU membership
because of its poor economic performance leaves Moldova with little
choice. However, there are no firm guarantees that the majority of the
population will vote for the union with Russia-Belarus at the
referendum, even if Russia provides massive economic aid and, once
again, restructures the Moldovan debts for natural gas and oil. At the
same time, it is not certain at all that such assistance from Russia
will easily materialise. Moreover, the mobilisation of ethnic
Moldovans, who constitute more than 65% of the whole population, on
ethnic and linguistic grounds for voting against the union at the
referendum, cannot be excluded. Ethnic Moldovans have been
contemplating the merger with the culturally identical Romania since
1991 and some 70,000 have already got Romanian citizenship. Therefore,
the union with Russia and Belarus might be as unacceptable for them as
the prospect of a union with Romania was to the Russian-speakers of
Transdniestria.

Transdniestria did not contribute to the victory of Mr Voronin’s
party. Instead, it boycotted the parliamentary elections because the
programmes of all competing parties supported Moldova's territorial
integrity, and thus, from a Transdniestrian point of view, were
evidently not supporting the Transdniestrian claim for independence.
However, this does not mean that the relations between Chisinau and
Tiraspol should become worse. It has already been noted that the
pro-Russian stance of the PCRM could help improve relations between
Chisinau and authorities in the Transdniestrian region and thereby
ease separatists’ concerns about possible discrimination against
Russian-speakers [2]. Indeed, the initiative of the PCRM may even
please the leaders of Transdniestria, which have already attempted,
though unsuccessfully, to join the Russia-Belarus Union. Therefore,
Transdniestria could very likely support the idea of joining Russia
and Belarus. Whether it will trade its support to this idea for the
recognition of its autonomy, or some other power-sharing arrangement,
remains to be seen.

As opposed to Transdniestria, the Gagauz participated in the last
elections. The autonomous district of Gagauzia (Gagauz-Yeri) gave the
strongest support of all counties of Moldova to Mr Voronin’s party -
80.57% of the votes were cast for the communists [3].  The reason may
be the support which the communist faction of the previous parliament
gave to Gagauzia in its disputes with the Moldovan government.
Therefore, it looks fairly probable that Gagauzia will support the
idea of joining the Union. It might be indicative of possible future
actions that when Moldova was getting more independent from Moscow and
introduced Moldovan (Romanian) as the state language in 1989, the
Gagauz "reactive nationalists" wanted Gagauzia to stay in the Soviet
Union as an autonomous republic. Currently, the Gagauz are promoting
the idea of the federalisation of Moldova. After a recent visit to
Moscow and referring to Russia’s support, Mr Mihail Kendighelean,
chairman of the Popular Assembly of the Gagauzia, stressed that a
federation between Moldova, Transdniestria, and Gagauzia is the only
viable option [4]. As Gagauzia has entered into various relations with
the linguistically close Turkey, and as Bulgaria has supported the
Bulgarian minority in southern Moldova politically, these countries
may hold their own views on the possible fate of their ethnic
brethren.

However, last but not least, it is not clear how Russia might react to
Moldova's aspirations to enter the Union. The political elite of
Russia might not feel comfortable about admitting an unreformed
communist state. The economic elite of Russia might also be reluctant
to use Russian resources to help Moldova out of its present economic
misery. Such reluctance was already evident in the case of Belarus. On
the other hand, in the context of NATO enlargement, Russia might be
tempted to use Moldova as a military out-post in South-eastern Europe.
Again, in the case of Belarus, military considerations were not at the
bottom of Russia's priority list. Russia still has a military presence
in the region, as 2000 of its troops are stationed in Transdniestria,
not forgetting large amounts of military hardware, to be withdrawn in
the near future according to the OSCE 1999 Summit in Istanbul.

Russian as an official language

The plan to introduce Russian as the official language may please the
leaders of Transdniestria and Gagauzia alike. Transdniestria has
already established Russian as one of the official languages (the
other two being Moldovan [Romanian] and Ukrainian). While no ethnic
group constitutes an absolute majority in Transdniestria (in 1989,
Moldovans made up 40%, Ukrainians  28% and Russians 25% of the
population), Russian is the dominant language. Thus, the
Transdniestrian authorities can only welcome the establishment of
Russian as the second official language in Moldova. The Gagauz
authorities could take the same positive attitude towards the
referendum, as Russian is already one of the official languages of
Gagauzia alongside with Gagauz and Moldovan (Romanian), and ethnic
Gagauz know Russian much better than Moldovan (Romanian).

Russia will most naturally welcome the upgrading of the status of
Russian, as it recently did in the case of Kyrgyzstan. Again, although
in practice Russian is used widely in different spheres of life in
Moldova, including the civil service, giving it an official status
might be problematic for ethnic Moldovans (65% of the population) for
reasons of political and cultural symbolism.

The PCRM has several options how to go about the referendums. It might
be important to hold the referendum on Russian as an official language
before the referendum on joining the Union, but it may appear better
to hold them together. Moreover, one cannot exclude that the
Russia-Belarus Union may consider the official status of Russian as a
precondition for membership.

Conclusion

The plans of the communists of Moldova to take their country to the
Russia-Belarus Union and to give Russian the status of an official
language, if carried out, may contribute to the resolution of existing
ethnopolitical conflicts in Moldova. However, the same plans might
lead Moldova towards a federation, trigger ethnic mobilisation of the
titular nation and create new dimensions of ethnopolitical tension in
Moldovan society.

________________________________

Notes

[1] See http://gazeta.ru/2001/03/03/n983628300.shtml
[2] Ron Synovitz, "Communist Party wins election", RFE/RL Newsline, 26
February 2001, see at: 
http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2001/02/26022001115222.asp
[3] See the results of the elections at http://www.ifes.md
[4] See Natal'ia Prikhodko, "Gagauzia sotrudnichaet s Pridnestrov’em",
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 18 January 2001, 
http://www.ng.ru/printed/cis/2001-01-18/5_gagauziya.html 

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