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Is the newly elected Ukrainian president a model for any post-Soviet state? The impact of the Zelenskiy’s presidency on Moldova

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the newly elected President of Ukraine, who became a phenomenon overnight declared during the first minutes of his victory: “I am still not officially a president, and I can say as a citizen of Ukraine to all the post-Soviet states: look at us — everything is possible!”

Is that really so? Are the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine comparable when it comes to the political or economic situations, external relations and the overall character of the society? And what is even more important: will the changes in Ukraine impel any transformations in the Republic of Moldova as well?

The parallels between Ukraine and Moldova

First, Ukraine and Moldova have two different forms of government. Ukraine is a unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic, whereas Moldova is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic. Sounds similar but, in fact, that means that in Ukraine the president, as a head of state, has more political power, being more than a ceremonial, non-executive figure (as it is in the case of the Republic of Moldova). However, there is an important similarity regarding the election system used to vote the Parliament – both countries use the mixed election system.

Both post-Soviet countries suffered plenty of transformations in terms of changing governments since their independence declaration. Reformers, communists, nationalists, centrists, extremists, pro-Russians, pro-Europeans, all of them governed at certain point one country or another. Both Moldovans and Ukrainians fought for a better quality of life through mass protests. The peak for Moldovans was the mass protests from April 2009, when the victory of Communists at the parliamentary elections was publicly contested. In Ukraine, it was the Euromaidan from February 2014 when the pro-Russian President Yanukovych was removed from office after the Ukrainian ‘course’ was suddenly switched from signing the EU association agreement to tightening relations with Russia. The difference – Ukraine had a real revolution, Moldova didn’t.

Both Ukraine and Moldova have territories that were occupied. Ukraine has a territorial dispute with Russia regarding Crimea and Donbass, whereas Moldova has two self-proclaimed and unrecognised states that are, in fact, separatist regions – Transnistria and Gagauzia. The difference in this case is that Ukraine doesn’t seem to give up in trying to reclaim its territories. The Moldovan governments of all times didn’t seem to really care about the Russian tanks set in Transnistria for so-called peace-keeping reasons, leaving the situation up in the air for more than 20 years.

There is one more similarity between these two countries – both seem to be torn up between the wish to join the EU one day and the impossibility to fully detach themselves from the Russian interests. Basically, that is one of the most important sources of social disputes, beside the language and ethnic minorities problems. Moreover, both countries have ‘enthroned’ oligarchs to control the things and both have a permanently decreasing population that still keeps the post-Soviet reminisces in their behaviour and way of thinking.

As it seems, Moldova and Ukraine have a similar background. But will they have a similar future?

The Ukrainian model in Moldova

Even though so many things sound familiar both for Ukrainians and for Moldovans, the latter ones don’t really have any chance to repeat the same story, as the Moldovan cinematography is not as developed as the Ukrainian one. Taking it seriously, Moldovan people proved to be more sceptical and conservative when they had the chance to choose between a reformer woman and an experienced but traditionalist man running for President of Moldova in 2016. Maybe that would change in the future. Maybe.

For now, it is more important to observe the possible repercussions of the Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s presidency on the existing situation in the Republic of Moldova.

Zelenskiy is, at the moment, “a blank piece of paper”, as The Guardian wrote. People have a lot of expectations from him and as he didn’t discuss any political or social problems during the pre-elections period, the expectations are really differing. Nobody knows yet whether he will negotiate with Kremlin. Nobody knows yet whether he has ties with the oligarch Ihor Kolomoiski. However, as the political pundit Dionis Cenușă stated in an interview for RFE/RL: “Until now, there has been no one to come from outside the system and to propose an agenda in which to believe.”

Cenușă also stated that if Zelenskiy eventually is able to move away from the oligarchic circles, that would be relevant to the political systems and the oligarchs from Moldova and Georgia. It is widely known that the business and political interests of Vladimir Plahotniuc (Moldova), Bidzina Ivanishvili (Georgia) and Petro Poroshenko (Ukraine) coincided in the past.

Moreover, Ukraine as an active player in the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, being part of the 5 + 2 negotiation format. It would have a say in case Zelenskiy starts the informational war against Russia, as he previously promised during his electoral campaign.

One more thing that could change is the bilateral relations between the Ukrainian and the Moldovan Presidents. The discussions could be relaunched after 5 years of ‘cold’ relations between the Moldovan President Igor Dodon and the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. It happened after a precipitate statement of Dodon in which he seemed to put the Kremlin right in the Crimea problem. Since that moment,  Poroshenko refused any official meeting with Igor Dodon.

Nonetheless, things will be certainly clearer when Zelenskiy will take over after his inauguration in June 2019 and after the parliamentary elections in October 2019 will decide whether the Ukrainian president has a majority to support him.

Photo: Reuters

Justice

Former Prime Minister Vladimir Filat was released from detention

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Former prime minister Vladimir Filat was freed from detention on December 3rd, after a request was registered at the Chișinău District Court by the administration  of the prison no. 13 (the prison where the former prime minister spent his detention) on November 12th. The detention of Vladimir Filat was reduced by 709 days based on the decision of the national court as compensation for the inhuman and degrading treatment that was inflicted to him.

Vladimir Filat was supposed to serve a nine years prison sentence until November 5th, 2022. However, the law provides for the possibility of conditional release after serving 2/3 of the sentence. The former prime minister could have been released from detention on October 15th, 2021.

However, in July and October this year, there were two court decisions (based on a decision of the European Court of Human Rights) on reducing the sentence by 709 days, as a compensation for the bad conditions of detention. Thus, after the execution of 709 days reduction, it was concluded that Vladimir Filat has already reached 2/3 of his sentence on November 6th.

“Filat was sentenced to nine years in prison. Two-thirds of the sentence is six years. Now he’s four years old. One year was calculated for two, because he was sentenced in inhuman conditions. […] The law allows that when there are no civil actions and no recovery of damages,” explained  Filat’s lawyer Ion Vâzdoaga for TV8.

Vladimir Filat was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment on October 15th, 2015, being found guilty of passive corruption and traffic of influence. His criminal case was directly related to the disappearance of one billion dollars from 3 banks of the Republic of Moldova.

There is also a second criminal case, in which the former prime minister is charged with committing large-scale money laundering. The former prime minister pleads innocent.

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Society

Violence against women in Moldova. Facts and figures

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The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) launched the “Break the Silence” campaign in the Republic of Moldova and throughout Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, on the occasion of the annual 16-Day Activism Against Violence campaign. According to the OSCE research, women who face violence in Moldova rarely contact the police.

OSCE Study

The study revealed that three out of four women think that violence against women (VAW) is common in Moldova. Cases of VAW remain under-reported to police and other specialised organisations because of a lack of trust in institutions among women and a limited specialised services for survivors of violence. Also, according to the survey conducted within the OSCE study, one third of women personally know someone subjected to domestic violence among their family and friends, and the same percentage within their local neighbourhood. Two out of five women say that they have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15 by a partner or non-partner.

Therefore, just as in other countries where the survey was conducted – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo and Ukraine – violence against women remains a huge social problem in Moldova, as well as a serious violation of human rights and the most serious form of discrimination against women. “The research conducted by the OSCE is essential for raising awareness with policy and lawmakers, but also the general public, law enforcement agencies and many other stakeholders. […] Attitudes, norms, and beliefs that justify violence against women need to be tackled at their root, as they continue to perpetuate this grave human rights violation. This survey provides the information needed to take action,” said Serani Siegel, OSCE Project Manager.

National statistics

According to a study conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), violence against women is more common among women in rural areas, the phenomenon is more often with the age of the woman and it is indirectly related to her level of education. The married women are more reluctant to report cases of violence and, consequently, the highest rates of reported VAW is recorded for divorced women and widows.

60% of women from Moldova reported at least one form of psychological violence, while physical violence was disclosed by about 40% of women. About 19% of women said they suffered sexual violence at least once in their life. (Violence against women report, NBS, 2011)

13 women were killed by one family member, and another 22 women lost their lives as a result of traumas caused by their partners since 2018, as NGOs official data revealed.

Most of the time, the women do not report the cases of violence because they are afraid of the aggressor, they are blamed by the society, they do not trust the authorities and the judiciary, they do not have sufficient financial resources and employment opportunities (especially if they have children), and the support services are insufficient or even missing.

Istanbul Convention

Several organisations and representatives of civil society are calling for the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) until the end of 2019. The NGOs from Moldova also launched an appeal the President of the Parliament of Moldova Zinaida Greceanîi and to Prime Minister Ion Chicu.

The Istanbul Convention is currently the most effective international tool to ensure the prevention and fight against VAW, being based on the belief that VAW seriously violates the fundamental rights to life, security, freedom, dignity, physical and emotional integrity of women. The document calls on implementation of comprehensive and coordinated policies against this type of violence, governmental support for specialised non-governmental organisations (NGOs), collection of relevant data, changes in social and cultural models for eradication of prejudices, customs, traditions and other practices, which are based on the idea of ​​inferiority of women or on stereotypical roles for women and men.

The document also provides for the development of support services for victims, raising awareness, education and training of professionals, participation of private sector and media in preventing and combating violence, etc.

The Istanbul Convention was signed by Moldova on February 6th, 2017 but until now its ratification has been delayed, even though the representatives of the Government and the Parliament have repeatedly assumed a public commitment in this regard.

Legal measures

Moldova is part of the European Convention on Human Rights since September 12th, 1997. The Convention is the main instrument within the Council of Europe for guaranteeing fundamental human rights. Moldova also has an obligation not to infringe the guaranteed rights and freedoms and to ensure adequate judicial protection.

Since 2008, the Republic of Moldova regulated domestic violence, adopting the Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence. The law prohibits the aggressor from approaching victims for a specific period. Still, the authorities do not have an effective mechanism of protection, as the victim is rarely offered a place in a specialised centre, psychological counselling and material assistance.

In 2017, the Government of the Republic of Moldova adopted the National Strategy on Prevention and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence for 2018-2023 and the National Action Plan for 2018-2020 regarding its implementation.

NGOs

The National Coalition “Life without domestic violence” is an informal platform that gathered 21 NGOs and public institutions that try to do their best in their work to prevent and fight against domestic violence.

The Coalition members managed to provide telephone counselling, emergency and long-term psychological counselling, legal, primary and qualified assistance, social assistance, financial support, material and placement to 5600 beneficiaries, working in 1681 localities with the direct involvement of 200 specialists.

There are also local projects supported by international organisations involved in fighting against VAW. One of them is “Combating violence against women in the Republic of Moldova: exploring and learning from local solutions” – a pilot project from Autonomous Territorial Unit (ATU) Gagauzia, supported by UNDP Moldova.  The purpose of this project is to help the local implementation of the the National Strategy on Prevention and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence for 2018-2023 and to use the lessons learned, as well as the results of the initiative proposed in the pilot project, for offering improved policy recommendations to the decision makers.

Photo: Tumisu – Pixabay

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Economy

The state budget for the next year includes a deficit of 7 billion lei. Why this could be a problem?

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On November 27th, the Government of the Republic of Moldova approved the draft budget for the next year. The document displays revenues of over 44 billion lei and expenditures of 51 billion lei. Thus, a budget deficit of 7.4 billion lei was calculated, whereas a lower amount- 6.1 billion lei – was previously presented at the meeting of the National Commission for Collective Consultations and Negotiations on November 25th.

Assurances vs doubts

“The budget deficit difference of 1.3 billion lei is the equivalent of an eventual investment loan for the development of road infrastructure,” explained Minister of Finance Sergei Pușcuța. The minister explained that the deficit will be financed by loans on the internal market, issuance of securities ​​and privatisation of public assets, yet he didn’t provide too many details about it. “The real budget deficit is 2.6 billion lei only,” added Pușcuța.

The internal state debt is expected to not exceed 25.7 billion lei, and the external state debt is forecasted to be 41.8 billion lei at the end of the next year, according to the projections made by the Ministry of Finance.

On the other hand, former Minister of Finance Natalia Gavriliță criticised the decision of the current Government, saying that it is taking irresponsible actions. “The Government increased overnight the state budget deficit to 7.4 billion lei, or 3.25% of GDP. The draft budget was approved without the Government publishing the annexes or the informative notes to the budget. The Minister of Finance avoided to specify how this deficit will be financed. These decisions, which will affect our country in the coming years, are taken with maximum irresponsibility,” the former Minister of Finance said.

The main public expenditures

The main focus of the future public expenditures are investments in infrastructure, creating jobs and increasing people’s well-being, according to an official statement made on the Government official page. That is why, a series of social projects and expenditures were approved, such as granting an unique support for people that receive a low level of pensions and allowances, increasing the cold weather allowance, pension indexation for former military corps, etc.  “We are a Government that is focused on people. That is why we came up with these projects. There is financial coverage for these projects,” said Prime Minister Ion Chicu. The coverage, as the head of Government mentioned, will be provided from the estimated difference in social security revenues, which are expected to be 2 billion lei higher than the revenues in 2019.

Money from abroad

Next year, the Government expects to receive more than 8 billion lei from abroad, according to the annex to the state budget, prepared by the Ministry of Finance, out of which 109.7 million lei in the form of grants received from other states’ Governments, 1.6 billion from donations received from international organisations and 6.3 billion lei from foreign received loans.

At the same time, the US Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova, Dereck J. Hogan, emphasised that external partners want to see a Government implementing reforms, otherwise the country will be lacking financial support. “The PSRM-ACUM coalition had more potential to implement the necessary reforms. Now we expect this to be done by the current Government. […] We want the current Government to continue implementing reforms in the same way. External partners insist on continuing to implement reforms. If external partners, including the US, will not see progress, of course we will stop funding,” the ambassador said.

“Moldova has now a new government, and the need for genuine reforms remains,” stated Federica Mogherini during a speech at the European Parliament Plenary debate on eastern neighbourhood developments. So the external source of financing for Moldova remains conditioned and, therefore, is not certain.

World Bank projections

According to the World Bank economic projections for the Republic of Moldova, the budget revenues was going to reach 29.5% of GDP (66.25 billion lei), while the budget expenditures was going to represent 31.6% of GDP (70.97 billion lei) in 2020. Consequently, a lower budget deficit was expected – 4.72 billion lei. The public external debt was forecasted to raise to 146.43 billion lei, as compared to its actual value of 122.74 billion in 2018. Thus, it is not clear yet how the Ministry of Finance calculated the value of 41.8 billion lei for the state external debt  and whether the values included in the state budget, as well as the Government promises to cover the budget deficit reflect the reality.

Next, there draft budget law will be examined in up to 3 readings in the Parliament, based on an explanatory statement of the Government and the reports’ presentation by specialised committees.  If it’s the case, the necessary changes will be made and the state budget law will be adopted.

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