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Opinion

President Igor Dodon’s Past Support for Irredentism Against Romania and Moldova’s New Government

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This opinion piece was written by Dr. Ionas Aurelian Rus, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College (USA). The opinion does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editorial staff of Moldova.org.

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A fact that is only known by those Romanian-speakers who have paid attention to this issue is the (Socialist) Moldovan’s president Igor Dodon’s territorial claims against Romania. After documenting this fact, I will analyze it, and place it in the broader context of Moldova’s recent change of government. First of all, there have been several declarations of Igor Dodon that document this, and I will make reference to the longest one. This is the taped interview of Igor Dodon for the Romanian newspaper “Adevarul” (The Truth) from December 2013.

Dodon declared in front of a map of historical Moldova (which includes not only the Republic of Moldova but also the part of Romania called Moldova and some parts of Ukraine) at the time of Stephen the Great (1457-1504) several surprising things. “There’ll be many [from Romania – author’s note] to take citizenship from Moldova. If we will join the [Eurasian] Customs Union [led by Russia – author’s note]. Then the massive creation of jobs will begin. Believe me, from here… and [we will] start releasing passports. You’ll see how many will come. And it explodes the European Union from there, The situation is…

But I don’t know,… whether to say it or not… The grant of the [Moldovan] citizenship to the Romanians, to those who were in [historical] Moldova. Look at my wall. It is Greater Moldova. Why not? And believe me, we’re going to get to that stage. Yes, take a look! This is [the map of] the Moldova of Stephen the Great. But this is one of the projects for the future. We’re going to scare those in your leadership [of Romania]. And even so, they don’t love us very much. When the Republic of Moldova or official Chisinau will say firmly that it is going in the direction of the [Eurasian] Customs Union, toward close relations with Russia,
this will be an important element, and maybe a decisive one to reintegrate the country in a federation. In the Republic of Moldova, 70-75% of the population declared itself Moldovan and declared that they speak in the Moldovan language. Despite what has happened lately and the attempts and movements that Romania makes [to promote a Romanian ethnic and linguistic identity] here in the Republic of Moldova, and this will be maintained from now on.”

Dodon’s statistics are problematic. Obviously, the Moldovan language is Romanian, and the distinction between ethnic Moldovans and ethnic Romanians is one of the identities; they share the same language and “objective” elements of ethnicity. To be sure, according to the Moldovan census of 2014 without the Transnistrian secessionist region, 73.7% of the people identified themselves as “Moldovans” (though only 64% if one includes the predominantly Russian-speaking Transnistrian secessionist region), and 6.9% as “Romanians”. Yet, in terms of spoken language, 53% (and declining) declared that they spoke “Moldovan” and 23.3% (and growing) “Romanian”. By now, perhaps less than 50% of the people of Moldova without Transnistria would declare that their colloquial language is “Moldovan”.

Dodon is obviously not the only Socialist who wants a Greater Moldova. What is noteworthy is that Western embassies have not paid any attention to this phenomenon. It is also noteworthy that the principality of Moldova united with the principality of Wallachia in 1859 to form Romania. The territory of the present-day Republic of Moldova was almost entirely a part of the Russian Empire at that time. The Republic of Moldova is not the successor of the medieval and modern principality of Moldova.

In other articles, I have discussed Dodon’s territorial claims against Ukraine (see Igor Dodon’s Past Support for Irredentism Against Ukraine), and his declared desire to be a dictator (see Moldovan President Igor Dodon’s Hopes of Becoming a Dictator and His Party’s Authoritarian Program).  And even though my article is obsolete in terms of details that have changed over time, Dodon has also pushed for Moldova’s federalization (see The Socialist Federalization Plan Is Just as Bad for Moldova as the Kozak Plan).

One is surprised when various analysts show their displeasure at the lack of enthusiasm in Romania for the alliance, created on June 7, 2019, between the pro-Russian Socialists and the pro-Western ACUM bloc, and for the fact that the Romanian government has not exactly made concrete promises of financial help to the Republic of Moldova after the change in government, after providing a great deal of support previously. What they either forget or they wish to forget is the content discussed previously in this article, including Dodon’s irredentism against Romania, and that the Romanian taxpayer can not reward such utterances. The Romanian government does prefer an alliance between ACUM and the more mildly pro-Western Democratic Party, just as the Ukrainian government does. The argument that the former leader of the Democratic Party (the dominant party in the previous ruling coalition), Vladimir Plahotniuc, was a highly corrupt oligarch and that Moldova’s democracy, already illiberal, became even more illiberal when he was the most powerful man in the country, is not a good enough argument to maintain the current ruling coalition. Moreover, when the Communists were in power in 2001-2009, and a large majority of the current Socialists were Communists, the state of democracy in Moldova according to Freedom House was even worse. This is not to deny that organized corruption has declined after the fall of Plahotniuc. The author of this article did prefer an ACUM-Socialist government as the lesser of two evils over a Socialist-Democratic alliance, though very ambivalently, and has been underwhelmed by the outcome. Nevertheless, what is needed for Moldova, and desired by the Romanian and Ukrainian governments, is an ACUM-Democratic coalition. This is the probable outcome at some point in 2020 unless it will be blocked by pressures from East and West.

To advocate for an ACUM-Socialist government in the name of regional stability while forgetting Dodon’s irredentism, dictatorial tendencies, and push for Moldova’s pro-Russian federalization is unwise. We should keep in mind, without denying their tactical pragmatism and wiser current tactics, how pro-Russian the Socialists are. You could observe Dodon’s discourse as a sample without forgetting that the Socialist speaker of the parliament Zinaida Greceanai is even more pro-Russian. Moreover, one should not ignore the fact that, in the case of Plahotniuc after he lost power, Vlad the Impaler has become Vlad the Fugitive or Vlad the Impaled, and that he has resigned as the leader of the Democratic Party, and lost his influence in it. And the beneficiaries and practitioners of nepotism, cronyism and those linked to oligarchs in the past (including Plahotniuc) or present, those who can not justify all of their income or property, or who have benefited from the “theft of the billion” by Ilan Shor should not dare cast the first stone against an alliance with the Democrats. And,  perhaps, as one of the graduate students mentored by me might note, the former colonial powers from the East and West should not forget how historically the fight against corruption was used as an excuse for the expansion of colonial empires and spheres of influence. (By contrast, my ancestors who lived on the territory of the present-day Republic of Moldova were neither colonialists nor colonizers.) I also have serious doubts if the current bipolar governing coalition would have been possible if the president of the United States would have been the winner of the popular vote in 2016, Hillary Clinton, or will remain in power with, for example, Democratic Joe Biden in the White House.

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Opinion

Could the PSRM-ACUM coalition government be hindered by the results of local elections in Chișinău?

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The results of the second round of local elections have been already made public. In the capital city of Moldova, where the fiercest fight was put up, the socialist Ion Ceban was elected the mayor of Chișinău by 52.39% of voters, whereas the total turnout was really low -only 40.34%. Generally, that was a historical moment, as for the first time a left-wing party representative won the local elections in Chișinău.

Ion Ceban started to announce today his future plans of restructuring the capital city and happily waits for the validation of his mandate. His counter-candidate Andrei Năstase – the representative of the political bloc ACUM – organised a press conference where he publicly acknowledged his defeat and announced his return to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (as he still remains the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs).

At first sight, things are cooling off and everyone seems to take over the responsibilities they are supposed to. But is that so?

Could the results of the local elections in Moldova trigger a crisis in the coalition government?

Andrei Năstase delivered the message that no coalition between ACUM and the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) will be formed at the local level, after rejecting the proposal made by Ion Ceban to take over the positions of deputy mayor and praetors. He emphasised that no coalition in the municipality is needed as “any good project will be supported anyway.”

In this context, it needs to be taken into consideration that there is already a government coalition between ACUM and PSRM in the Parliament.

“Forming a coalition is not so important, but projects and concrete measures that bring added value to the life of the people from Chișinău and its suburbs. We do not make political coalitions for the sake of holding public functions. […] We do not accept this offer.”

“I am grateful for the availability of our colleagues from ACUM to support the projects of community interest. The proposal we made had the same purpose – to work together to solve the problems of the people and the municipality.”


Political analysts are convinced that the results of the local elections in the capital city will have an impact on the political bloc ACUM and its bilateral relations with PSRM.

Political analyst Veaceslav Berbeca claimed that after this defeat, Năstase will receive more negative reactions, but all this will not lead to the break-up of ACUM.

Political analyst Anatol Țăranu said that it is very difficult to understand how Năstase will proceed, at the same time, being obvious the fact that he is in a rather complicated situation. “The competition between him and Maia Sandu within the bloc will tighten, namely because Năstase has not succeeded and Sandu is winning in this competition. I do not know if Năstase will accept the second position in the bloc. He will have to take a step back… “ he stated.

Political scientist Dionis Cenușă believes that Andrei Năstase will return to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and will start a fierce competition with Maia Sandu, his colleague from the political bloc ACUM,  for attention and popularity. “There will be headaches for the prime minister and the Government, who will have to make concessions to calm down the spirit of competition within ACUM,” says the expert. Moreover, he declared that it is totally absurd to deny the coalitions at the local level with that party with which you govern the country, even though ACUM believes that would help them to regain the political credit they had lost when associating with PSRM.

The first crack in ruining the government coalition could be considered the socialists’ official statement made today after the parliamentary faction of PSRM met with President Igor Dodon.

“The head of state expressed his concerns regarding the inefficiency of the Government and the increasingly negative perception citizens have about its activity. […] The biggest concerns were related to the serious deficiencies in the economic and social sector, the total lack of vision and actions to solve the problems of citizens, but also the dramatic situation regarding their security, as there are daily situations that endanger people’s life. Until now, the responsible institutions proved to be incapable of managing the situation, they failed to come up with concrete solutions and actions to protect the citizens,” is mentioned in the statement.

In this regard, the Party of Socialists expressed their intention to have discussions with their coalition partners from the Government and ministries and even make proposals for the replacement of ministers who, according to socialists’ opinion, are poorly managing their areas of responsibility.

Does it seems like an attempt at revenge for a previous rejection? Only time will tell.

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Economy

Unaffordable prices for low quality transportation services in Moldova or the apple of discord among carriers and the Government

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The Employers Association of Car Transport Operators from Moldova organised a protest yesterday and today. More than 250 transport units have been brought to the city centre of Chișinău, and about 250 other units are stationed in villages and district centres. That means 586 trips of 124 regular routes were suspended.

The carriers require the adjustment of the tariffs for transportation by doubling them (from 0.48 lei/km to 0.92 lei/km). On the other hand, the Government officials consider that only after providing decent transport conditions for passengers, the request of tariff adjustment can be discussed. In the meantime, people have to wait for hours for public transportation all over the country.

The <<Marshrutka>> phenomenon

The public transportation in Moldova is not expensive at all from an outside perspective. There are few countries on the European continent where one can travel from the airport to the city centre of a city for 0.10 euro. The prices for longer distance travel using mainly the so-called marshrutkas (fixed-route minivans) and sometimes buses may also look more than affordable. Nonetheless, due to low income, these prices seem high for the main client segment – the local population.

Moreover, passengers in Moldova accept and tolerate to travel standing and ‘packed like sardines’ (as local people like to say) sometimes their whole route. Some people still approach the driver to pay, that meaning their ticket money are not officially recorded and paid. The schedule of busses and minivans is sometimes confusing and not accurate, the transport services being provided on old and insecure vehicles.

The protest of transportation companies

According to protesters, the last change of tariffs took place six years ago and they incur losses because of this. Oleg Alexa, the president of the Employers’ Association of Car Transport Operators, explained for Moldova.org that there is a Government decision, approved ten years ago, which provides for the adjustment of tariffs in the transportation area once a year. However, the decision was not respected. The last adjustment of the tariffs was made six years ago, in November 2013, and was obtained by addressing the matter to the court. That time, the tariffs were increased from 0.38 to 0.48 lei/km.

“We are basically all bankrupt and we have a staff shortage of 3,000 employees.”

At the same time, during the negotiations with the representatives of the Ministry of Economy, the carriers have presented a list of proposals that could cause the tariff not to increase so much. That means carriers require partially maintaining the current conditions of passengers’ transportation, namely reusing transport units, transporting passengers standing up to 50 km, combating illicit passenger transport, importing transport units up to a certain age, eliminating abusive tax controls, etc. If the authorities will consider the carriers’ proposals, they would be willing to accept a lower tariff than the one requested during the protest, as Oleg Alexa stated.

At the same time, the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure declared that the Government is against increasing the tariffs on transport, specifying that the adjustment of the tariffs can only be discussed after the passengers will be provided with civilised travel conditions.

In a press release, the Government disapproved the decision of the carriers to suspend 600 trips, thus blocking the movement of citizens, motivating the strike by the refusal of the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure to increase the tariffs on national road services.

The experts’ opinion

Economic experts say that the request of the carriers is justified, but the tariffs should be increased gradually, in order to not affect the citizens.

The economic expert Veaceslav Ioniță declared that the carriers have at least 50% higher costs as compared to six years ago. This is mainly due to the basic components of tariffs – employees’ salaries, the cost of spare parts and fuel price, which have all increased.

According to him, the authorities impose more and more stringent requirements on the carriers, which means that the carriers can no longer use old cars, but have to buy well-maintained cars, that implying additional costs.

As for the requested increase of tariffs, the expert claims that it is obvious that the carriers “requested an exaggerated tariff, hoping that they will reach a middle ground at the negotiations.” In the same context, he noted, however, that the current government has a reason to be upset about the carriers. This is because they have not taken such actions in the past, during the six years since the tariffs were maintained.

At the same time, Ioniță warned that tariffs are politicised in Moldova. “They are approved by the authorities. It is not an independent regulation. Because of this, carriers are also vulnerable,” claimed Ioniță.

As it seems, the protests of the carriers will continue and the public transportation problem in the Republic of Moldova will not be so easy to be solved, as several contradicting interests exist. One thing is clear: Moldovan passengers of national and international routes have to suffer in this situation.

Photo: ipn.md

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Opinion

Want to increase birth rates? Try gender equality

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By Alanna Armitage and Tomas Sobotka

Many countries in Eastern Europe face what is often perceived as a population crisis. Highly skilled people of reproductive age are leaving their countries to look for better opportunities elsewhere. Among those who stay, birth rates are below two children per woman; in some countries, they are closer to one.

These trends have raised alarm among politicians and the general public. The fear is that outmigration and low birth rates will lead to smaller, older and weaker nations.

Are these fears justified? To some extent, yes. Rapid population decline and ageing can pose serious challenges, especially if countries, for economic or ideological reasons, can’t attract immigrants to compensate for demographic losses. In such cases, lower population numbers can indeed put strains on economies, social systems, and infrastructure in sparsely populated areas.

However, much of the unease around these demographic changes is rooted in outdated notions of nation and power. On today’s World Population Day it is important to emphasize that it is not population size that matters in contemporary societies. What matters is the human capital of a population – its education and health, productivity and innovative potential. Countries like Germany or Japan have had very low birth rates for decades, and have continued to thrive. Small countries like Switzerland or Norway have continuously punched above their weight.

What this tells us is that the fixation on numbers we sometimes see in the region, and on birth rates in particular, is unproductive. Most scientists agree that there is no optimal fertility rate, and that, in any case, raising birth rates is not an easy fix.

Studies show that traditional programmes providing parents some form of financial incentive for having more children generally only have a temporary effect. People might choose to have a baby earlier than planned to cash in the incentive, which initially drives up the number of births. But they won’t have a bigger family overall, so long-term birth rates remain largely unchanged. This is not surprising: even the most generous financial incentives will only cover a tiny fraction of the total costs of raising a child.

Besides, without changes to the overall environment, any potential gains would just mean adding more young people to those who already can’t find a decent job or can’t see a long-term future in their country and are moving elsewhere, taking public investments in their education with them.

A more promising path for the countries of Eastern Europe is to focus on one often-overlooked fact: most people in the region actually want two or more children. The reasons why they can’t realize their reproductive intentions are the key for finding solutions to the region’s population crisis.

Where young people can’t be confident about their country’s future and their own job prospects, having children is financially risky, especially given the weak social safety nets in the region. High youth unemployment, low salaries – especially for women – and the trend towards more unstable work arrangements don’t help.

Another major factor is lack of support for working women, who are still widely expected to take care of children and the household. Public childcare for small children below age three is woefully inadequate in Eastern Europe and work arrangements rigid, leaving many women forced to choose between children or career.

What all this means is that for any government to be successful in lifting birth rates close to the level of people’s fertility desires – and to provide alternatives to outmigration – it must create an environment in which young people are confident to plan their future and start a family.

This requires progress on good governance, making economies more competitive and matching individual skills with labour market demands. And it requires a set of specific policies responding to the needs of families, women, men and children.

UNFPA Moldova. Dan Guțu (2019)

There is broad consensus on what needs to be part of such a policy package: Quality, affordable childcare starting from an early age. Flexible and generously paid parental leave for both parents (with incentives for men to take what they are entitled to). Flexible work arrangements, and providing equal pay for women. Programmes to encourage men and women to equally share care and household work. And affordable housing as well as financial support for low-income families.

Countries like Sweden show that variations of this policy mix can work in sustaining higher birth rates. Estonia has gone further still in its radical redesign of parental leave policies, and has significantly expanded early childhood education. A few countries in Eastern Europe have also embarked on this journey, with support from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and its partners.

It is not going to be easy. Shifting scarce resources towards family policies is likely to spark resistance, as will the urgently needed transformation of traditional social norms and stereotypes about men’s and women’s roles in society.

Overcoming these roadblocks will require strong political leadership and readiness for change. But the potential benefits are massive – and go far beyond increasing birth rates. Because when young people have confidence in their future and women can fully participate in all spheres of society without having to give up childbearing, countries are likely to grow, not only in numbers, but in opportunity, stability and prosperity for generations to come.

Alanna Armitage is Director of the United Nations Population Fund Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Tomas Sobotka leads the research group on fertility and family at the Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences.

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