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Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania at the end of 2018: More Challenges for the United States

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This opinion piece was written by Dr. Nicholas Dima. Dr. Dima was formerly a Professor of Geography and Geopolitics at Djibouti University, St. Mary’s University College and James Madison University. From 1975 to 1985 and from 1989 to 2001, Dr. Dima was a Writer and Field Reporter at Voice of America. The opinion does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editorial staff of Moldova.org.

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Two important events are occurring currently in Eastern Europe and they could shape the future of the region and challenge U.S. national security interests. First, a quasi-religious war is shaking the Orthodox Church that may have consequences similar to the great schism which split Christendom in 1044. Second, Romania feels threatened by Russia and is strengthening its alliance with America. Moscow is wary of both evolutions.

After the Russo-Ukrainian war of 2014 and the Russian annexation of Crimea, the conflict between the two countries has been largely frozen. Yet, it has continued to simmer inside Ukraine and is now about to explode in the open. And this time the conflict is spiritual and involves the Orthodox Church.

Most Orthodox Churches are autocephalous (self-governing) and are led by national patriarchs. In turn, they are under the Universal Patriarch of Constantinople, who is considered primus inter pares. Ukraine, however, the second largest Orthodox Church, has never received autocephaly from Constantinople. Historically, Russia, which is the largest Orthodox Church, exercised leadership over all the orthodox people in the east, including Ukrainians and Belarusians. As long as Russia controlled the land, it also assumed spiritual control of the people through the Russian church headquartered in Moscow.

Currently, the Universal Orthodox Patriarchate led by Bartholomew I is about to grant autocephaly to Ukraine. This is dangerous for Moscow because it means an end to its spiritual control over the country and would also encroach greatly on Russia’s political role over the east. As Paul Goble, a researcher of the field, put it… autocephaly for Ukraine is a major defeat for both political and religious reasons… It represents the end of President Vladimir Putin’s dream of a ‘Russian World…’ (Eurasia Daily Monitor, October 16, 2018). In fact, Putin and Moscow were aiming at controlling the entire Orthodox world which extends from the Baltic to the Mediterranean seas. Ukrainian autocephaly would put a firm end to this goal. Besides losing Ukraine, Moscow also risks losing leverage over Belarus and over the ethnic Russian minorities in Moldova and other former Soviet republics.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has always been an obedient arm of the government, reacted immediately. It broke relations with Constantinople and threatened to anathemize (excommunicate) the Universal Patriarchate. The answer of the Patriarchate was in kind and this marked the beginning of a new stage of a religious conflict. The canonical conflict would split deeply the Orthodox Church and would spill over into politics. Russia is already nervous, is threatening, and is becoming increasingly more aggressive.

The individual Eastern Orthodox Churches are divided on the issue. Canonically, they may align themselves with the Patriarch in Constantinople but politically is a different matter. The Armenians in the Caucasus and the Serbians and Bulgarians in south-east Europe will probably back Russia. That will isolate Romania, which is predominantly Orthodox but is overwhelmingly pro-Western. As for the Western reaction, Washington has already signaled that it will help Ukraine achieve autocephaly. The imminent canonical independence of the Kyiv church may lead to ethnic Russian riots in Ukraine and potentially to another military intervention. And a new conflict will be more widely spread than the previous one and may affect Romania directly.

Romania has canonical and territorial claims over Bessarabia and over other lands held now by Ukraine and Moldova. In the Republic of Moldova, like in Ukraine, the orthodox churches are split. Some belong to the Romanian Patriarchate in Bucharest and the others belong to Moscow. What will happen to the pro-Russian Moldovan churches if Ukraine acquires autocephaly?

On December 1 this year Romania marks one hundred years of modern independence, but instead of celebrating, it is worried about Russia. In the current confusion in the European Union, Bucharest is turning increasingly toward Washington for political, military, and geopolitical support. In fact, Romania is now one of the main pivots of U.S. policy in Eastern Europe. This is reflected in several bilateral treaties and accords. One such accord states:

Romania shares the U.S. commitment to transatlantic security, and fully supports endeavors to improve the effectiveness of NATO and strengthen its capabilities to address the current challenges… Thus, we are particularly appreciative to our U.S. ally for its strong political support and substantial contribution to projects such as the multinational brigade hosted by Romania, the enhanced maritime presence in the Black Sea or the Combined Joint Enhanced Training Program…’

The official statements stress that this year, besides celebrating the Romanian centennial, Bucharest also marks the 21st anniversary of the U.S.-Romanian Strategic Partnership. This treaty, signed in Washington in 1994, is considered a key factor in shaping Romania’s strategy as an American ally. Accordingly, Romanian and U.S. troops participated together on military missions in various operation areas such as the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Since its first deployment, the Romanian military contributed with more than 46,000 uniformed personnel and of these 34 were killed in action and 226 were wounded.

In addition, the United States built an important anti-missile base in southern Romania which is already operational and which has made Russia fume. A new conflict in Ukraine will also involve the current Republic of Moldova and will bring to the fore the old and unresolved question of Bessarabia…

Correspondent reporter of Moldova.org Focus: Transnistrian conflict settlement, Eastern Partnership. Inquiries at [email protected]

Culture

East or West? Celebrating Victory Day and Europe Day at the same time

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For 3 years, people in the Republic of Moldova have been debating what is more important: celebrating Victory Day or Europe Day on the 9th of May? In 2017, the Parliament of Moldova adopted a law to make Europe Day an official holiday in Moldova, along with Victory Day.

Every political party, regardless of the political views, organize a celebration on this day. This year, the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and the Șor Party organised concerts, parades and demonstrations for celebrating Victory Day, whereas the political bloc ACUM, the Liberal Party (LP) and the National Unity Party (NUP) celebrated Europe Day. Another political actor – the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) tried to please everyone and organised a holiday of “peace and prosperity for Moldova”.

At the same time, the Moldovan Government decided to focus merely on Victory Day and postponed Europe Day for the following weekend, on May 11th-12th. In such a way, they considered the conflict of interests resolved.

Now it’s the proper moment to ask: what is the problem with having 2 different holidays on the same day? In fact, they are not even contradictory. On the contrary, they are related, as the end of World War II and the surrender of the Allies armed forces (which is celebrated on May 8th in Europe) represented an important drive for the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community – the forerunner to the European Union. Actually, the only problem with it is the context of the Moldovan social and political behaviour.

First, both holidays are politicized and are transformed into an apple of discord deliberately, as the Moldovan politicians, especially those who are in power today, understand very well that a divided society means a weaker society; therefore, an easier to control society. The debates about directing Moldova to West (the EU) or East (the CIS) never stopped in Moldova. On May 9th, everyone argues about that: the governors, official representatives of the civil society, activists and, consequently, common people that instead of taking time to discuss their real problems, new businesses, initiatives, projects, protests against the injustice that is done to them, most of them are dividing in groups, spreading hatred and treating superficially the true meaning of both celebrations.

People forget that Victory Day is not about expensive concerts organised by the socialists or buckwheat with pickled cucumbers served in the city centre by the democrats. It is not about pompous demonstrations that involve children who are forced to dance synchronously instead of listening from their parents, grandparents and teachers about the tragic consequences of the Second World War.

Children singing and dancing on Victory Day| Photo: ZdG

On the other hand, Europe Day is more than classical music concerts organised in the central park of the Moldovan capital. Behind the exposed photo galleries are people that have been working a lot, searched and applied for European funds, people that didn’t expect somebody to simply come and save them from the poverty, corruption, injustice, etc. Unfortunately, such people are still not enough in Moldova and Europe Day is treated by the majority just as superficially as any other holiday in Moldova: an occasion to eat out, listen to concerts’ music and have fun.

Moreover, the governmental institutions and some big media outlets present the events happening on May 9th as a natural occurrence. So, the fact that several political parties ‘marked’ their territories in the city centre of Chișinău, organizing their own events for their own electorate is considered normal. The direct use of propagandist methods combined with avoidance to declare the events’ costs by the political parties is not a problem in Moldova.

We live nowadays in a country stuck between Eastern and Western worlds, which can perfectly make it without our existence. We live in a country with poor people, morally poor first of all, as we don’t really know much about our past and don’t care as much about our future.  None of these two holidays real meaning is interesting for the biggest majority of the population. We just love their symbolism that takes us back in the past or enables us to dream about the future. May 9th is just another reason to celebrate, not more than that.

Photos: Ziarul de Garda

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Why do Moldovans have fewer official holidays but still don’t work more than Germans?

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I am an emigrant. Several years ago, I left my home country – Moldova and, after several changes, I ended up in Germany. No, I am not telling you my life story. You just would need some background information to understand why I decided to call your attention to this sensitive topic.

Every year, I encounter the same situation: a lot of people from Moldova are complaining about too many public holidays in Moldova, empty streets and paralysed public services. Especially during this period: Orthodox Easter Monday (April 29th), Labour Day (May 1st), Memorial Easter (May 6th), Victory Day or Europe day (May 9th) – a reason for one more dissension in the Moldovan society, all of them in just two weeks.

So, in a way, it is understandable why some people are not very happy about it. But are they not happy because of the public holidays’ existence or because of the way things are taken care of during these days?

There are a lot of countries in this world that have more public holidays per year. One of them is Germany. That’s true, one of the most hard-working nations in this world (at least according stereotypes) has slightly more public holidays than we, Moldovans, do. So, does that mean that Germans work less throughout the year? Not necessarily.

Well, let’s take it one by one.

First of all, as compared to the Moldovan people that have 12 public holidays in 2019, Germans, in particular Bavarian people (this is the region where I live in) have 13 officially declared public holidays for the same year. Nonetheless, I never heard that Germans would collectively and continuously complain about that. On the contrary, they love it.

Somehow, they got used to the fact that on national public holidays and on Sundays everything is closed, including the grocery stores. In bigger cities, there is still at least one open grocery store at the central train station. In smaller towns, people have the option of gas stations stores only.

Now imagine how people in Moldova would react if one day the government would decide to implement such a measure and almost all grocery stores would be closed on Sundays. It would be a catastrophe!

Germans learned to plan, to prepare everything in advance. That is one thing that Moldovans need to learn as well.

One more important aspect is that some service industries are still open: public transportation is still punctual, even though, it comes less often, there are enough hotels, cafes and restaurants that provide their services, as well as entertainment and sport institutions like theaters, cinemas, museums, swimming pools, tennis courts and so on, remain open. And of course, the emergency services such as fire, medical, police services are available. People that work in these areas usually receive supplemental pay for working on Sundays and holidays. They understand that their job is important for other people who want to be safe or go out during their free time. At the same time, nobody expects postal services, administrative institutions, fashion shops, travel agencies, family doctors, lawyers to work in these days.

What do I want to actually say through this article? It is not as much about the amount of working time as it is about the efficiency of the effort. It is the government’s job to assure the basic public services during the national public holidays (e.g., public transportation) and it is the people’s job to adapt to the free days setting and plan everything in advance. That refers to Moldovans as well – we should stop complaining and try to be more productive during the working days, so that no frustrations would appear when we have our free days, which are, by the way, not as many as we think.

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Important

Expert: The possible effects of snap elections in the Republic of Moldova

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The Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IEPR) published recently an analytical note that describes the possible effects that the snap parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova could have.

The main conclusion expressed in the note: the decline in the geopolitical character of the recent parliamentary elections, the delay in functioning of the institutional structures of the newly elected parliament, and the uncertainty about the formation of a parliamentary majority capable of appointing a new government, escalates the risk of having snap parliamentary elections.

According to the author of the document, Mihai Mogîldea, an IEPR associate expert, more than 2 months after the parliamentary elections, the political parties that entered the Parliament failed to advance in the establishment of a parliamentary majority. The only rounds of consultations, organized by the Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and the political bloc ACUM, revealed the diametrically opposed positions regarding a possible coalition formation.

Moreover, the character of the geopolitical vote, used in the previous elections as a powerful tool of dividing the society on the basis of language, ethnicity, geographical location and geopolitical options, has changed. “As less geopolitical discourse during the last pre-electoral and electoral period was present, the attention of the political parties was focused on other areas besides foreign and security policy of the Republic of Moldova,” stated Mogîldea.

At the same time, by analyzing the impact of the mixed electoral system and electoral rhetoric on the results of the parliamentary elections, the author concluded that the current electoral system favoured to a large extent the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM), which with a result of 23.62% of the votes (the results in the national constituency) obtained 30 seats in Parliament (out of which 17 seats were allocated based on single-seat constituencies results). On the other hand, the mixed electoral system clearly disfavoured the ACUM bloc, which received 26.84% of the votes and only 26 seats (12 seats based on single-seat constituencies results). Even if the PSRM obtained the highest electoral score (31.15%) and the highest number of seats (35), it proved to suffer the greatest loss from the mixed electoral system. Due to the configuration of the single-seat constituencies, the PSRM lost its primacy in the regions considered to be pro-Russian.

Therefore, the following effects of early parliamentary elections in Moldova can be highlighted:

Effect 1. Running early parliamentary elections in in a short space of time after the local elections could favor the DPM, which could get a higher score of about 5-7% due to its administrative resources at the local level.
Effect 2. The active involvement of President Igor Dodon in a possible electoral campaign for the snap parliamentary elections would facilitate the wider mobilization of Socialists’ voters.
Effect 3. Keeping the non-geopolitical character of the electoral campaign might disadvantage the PSRM, whose electorate may partially and gradually migrate to the supporters of the “Șor” Party.
Effect 4. The organisation of snap parliamentary elections could cause a lower presence in the polls during the fifth voting process organized in only three years.

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