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Why Is Moldova Different? - My Thoughts

SInce 1991, Moldova, like other former USSR republics, has enjoyed independence: independence from Moscow, from Russian cultural conversion, from capitalism-phobia etc. Actually, 'enjoyed' sounds too optimistic, for many, the term would be 'suffered'. During this period some of Moldova's peers have managed to join the European Union: look at Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Moldova's sister country - Romania is preparing to join the EU in 2007. Why is Moldova not following suite? Why, unlike in the rest of Eastern Europe, the parliamentary elections held in 2001 brought back the Communist Party, which retained the power in the following elections in 2005? There is no one definite answer. And whatever answers there may be, they are not going to be simple.

The scope of this little article is to provide some basic analysis regarding why Moldova is different from the other European countries (not just the West-European, but East-European too), and why it will stay this way for some time.

This article follows a conversation with James Weatherlake - a friend, who is British, but who has visited Moldova many times. I am thankful for his contribution to the discussion and keen interest in the fate of the little country named The Republic of Moldova. However, all views expressed in this essay are solely mine.

So what do I mean by saying that Moldova is different? Basically, 'different' in the context of this essay means 'not getting on the path of quick development the other countries may have seen in the past decade or so'. In other words, I am addressing the issue of Moldova's stagnation in terms of economic, social and political development and the inertia present in Moldova on all levels.

The roots of stagnation

It is difficult to differentiate between the social, economic and political stall in Moldova, because they are very closely linked together. I will just keep writing (typing) along, as relevant thoughs fill my mind.

Let's look at Moldova's past, say, a hundred years. Moldova entered the 20th century as a Russian province called Bessarabia. Following the First World War and the Revolution, Russia let go of Bessarabia, which in its turn, by a parliamentary vote, joined Romania in 1918. This reunion with the motherland (i.e. Romania) didn't last very long, as with the beginning of the World War II Europe saw one of the most treacherous divisions of independent states by the emerging superpowers. Thus, in 1940, the Baltic states and Moldova were 'acquisitioned' by the Soviet Union. Of course, after the war ended, there was no thought of putting things where they had been before it, and so, Moldova became a Soviet Socialist Republic. In the following years the Stalinist regime brought devastating hunger to this area, while the crops were shipped to the other parts of the Soviet Empire, repressions and general subjugation of the people, many of whom ended up thousands of kilometres away - in Siberia, while people from other parts of the USSR (mainly Russians) were brought in. The rich and not so rich, who hadn't fled to Romania, were stripped of their wealth, with their cattle and land having been transformed into public property in the form of Kolhoz, or collective farms as they are known in the west. You know the rest - the communists ruled just like everywhere in USSR.

The difference between Moldova and, say, the same Baltic states, is a fundamental one, in my opinion. While other Soviet republics were left pretty much to themselves, Moldova was undergoing a major "national dilution", i.e. some part of the population was being replaced (people sent to Siberia, other people brought in). This has created a very differentiated society. Most of the people brought in, were settled in cities and towns and were Russian-speaking, while the rural population remained mostly Moldovan (except for some parts of the country, where there were ethnic minorities). The Soviet policy of promoting the physical labour as the most prestigious one, meant that the rural workers (read: agricultural workers) didn't need higher education, didn't need to move to cities. So, while people were nominally free to go to universities and live in cities, very few did so. This widened the educational gap between the urban and rural societies even further.

As you can see, by the time the USSR collapsed, the population was split into the less educated rural mainly Romanian speaking part, and the more educated urban population with a high share of Russian speakers. When Moldova gained independence in 1991, obviously, there was no unity. Not even close. Election after election saw dozens of different small and medium-sized parties, and only the Communist party stood more or less above the rest in terms of size. However, until 2001, the Communists were not as powerful as after that year. I see several reasons for this situation:

  1. Egoism of the leaders of various parties. Essentially offering (or rather, promising) the same values to the people, they never thought of giving up their leadership in favour of joining with another political force to increase their support base and chances of success.
  2. Lack of communication skills of PR agents of these parties. These parties could not get through to the people. Eventually, the people got tired and voted for Communists, who could not communicate either, but whom people at least knew from the past.
  3. Lack of social initiative and strong leadership (explained below).
  4. Big part of the young population being abroad, working illegally in Europe and Russia. This has created a gap in the electorate. The people who could decide the outcome of elections, were simply absent.

Now, several words on the third statement - about the lack of social initiative and strong leadership. I believe that Moldovan people are by and large are very 'intert'. By 'intert' I mean that they prefer to wait and see, rather than change something themselves, or they simply don't believe that their initiative will have any effect. I am not saying that the whole nation is dumb. No, but rather very pessimistic and not self-confident. People don't want to take risks. Those who are prepared to take any risks, are entrepreneurs, who invest in their businesses. But no one would pursue taking the risk of trying to raise public awareness or lead people into meetings. The only people who do this are either groups of desperate citizens who can no longer survive on their own (like war veterans, pensioners and teachers), or the PPCD (the Christian Democaratic Popular Party). The latter have a very strong leader and apparently strong financial backing. Too bad they are pro-Romanian nationalists. They are probably the only force able to take people into the streets, have protests etc. But in my opinion they are doing it for the wrong causes. Usually they simply demand the current government to step down, they don't normally demand anything in particular. Their support often comes from students who simply seem unwilling to study and who decide to go to a march instead. I was a witness of such 'recruitment' - students were invited to join the demonstration just before it started, during university lectures. No one mentioned why this action was being taken, no prior meetings with students or even posters.

A few words on the trade unions. These seem very powerful in some countries, such as UK, France, USA. In Moldova Trade Unions are mainly present in the state sector. The whole economy suffers from high unemployment and trade unions would probably not survive, as it would be easy to hire non-members. But even in the state sector, where membership is almost obligatory, trade unions are quite powerless. They take part in negotiations with the state representatives when the economic policies are devised, but they have little effect on the end result. Paradoxal as it may seem, there were two different minimum wage values - separate for the private sector and for the state sector, the state one being three times smaller, but neither being enough for living. Industrial action is very rare.

In my opinion, Moldova needs a strong leader, who can reach the masses, who can show them what needs to be changed and how it can be changed, who can unite people. Currently, there is no one like this in Moldova. Maybe Moldova hasn't reached the critical point, at which people would revolt, maybe things are not bad enough (thank goodness!). But even such a simple notion as public opinion doesn't really exist. Or rather, it exists in a very distorted, perverted form. The public opinion in Moldova usually simply condemns any state authority, but has no or very little real impact on its policy. The mass media are mainly an information portal, rather than the "Fourth Power", as they are sometimes called, and effectively are in the developed world. Just look: late in 2004 British Home Secretary had to resign because some newspapers dug up some material on him fast-tracking some visa application. In Moldova, corruptin flourishes, and various accusations appear in the press all the time, but to no avail. Instead these accusations are treated as another fact of life or a rumour, while journalists may be stalked, beaten, threatened etc, and when these assaults on reporters become known to the public, still nothing happens.

People have become tired of all politicians. Only the most loyal remain so. Others simply believe that they are all the same (and most of them are) - trying to get to the power to become rich. No new people have managed to get to the power, because they are not known and lack the ability to make themselves known - they are either too local, or manage to represent just a specific part of the society (like business, or pro-Romanian nationalists). The older members of the political arena all (well, almost) came out of the ranks of the Soviet administration. This is a vicious circle, when no new blood gets to rule the country.

In less than two months Moldova will have parliamentary elections. Let's hope I'm wrong!


A fresh thought crossed my mind after I came back to Moldova from London. I noticed that I had a different perspective in London from the one I have in Moldova. When I am in Moldova, I am consumed more with day-to-day issues, like getting a job, affording some things, staying in touch with the family and friends. But when I am away, it's as if I look at Moldova from above, and see the general picture, "spiced" with various reports by foreign media, which usually talk only about some very bad, if not horrible, things, such as absolute poverty, leading people to sell either their body parts or themselves to earn some money. Maybe this is another reason for the lack of good leaders: they don't see the whole picture.