Moldova: A Small Country in Limbo

By Nicholas Dima l November 15, 2009

Marian Lupu                                  Gheorghe Ghimpu

Following the rigged April 7 elections and the bloody street protests that followed, Moldova organized new general elections held on July 29. The communists still obtained the largest number of votes, but no longer the majority they claimed after the April elections. As a matter of fact, the April elections were denounced as rigged by most international observers, by many Western countries, and by the European Union. The only country that defended them was Russia, but even some Russian journalists criticized them. The reality is that Moldova has become a bone of contention between Russian and Western interests. The new July 29 election results have not solved or clarified much. Yet, they brought to power a pro-Western coalition that wants to join the European Union.

According to Western observers, the July elections were generally fair, but not necessarily democratic. The Moldovan Communist Party, which controls much of the economy, the police and military forces, as well as a large part of the media, was remain influential. While the United States, the European Union, and Romania supported the democratic opposition, Moscow backed the communists. Yet, Moscow was also prepared for an alternative. As a result, the Communists obtained 44.7 percent of the votes along with 48 parliamentary seats. Together the opposition obtained about 52 percent of the votes and 53 parliamentary seats. However, the opposition represents a fractured bloc of parties. The largest is the Liberal-Democrat Party, which obtained 16.4 percent of the votes. The next are the Liberal Party, with 14.4 percent, the Democrat Party, with 12.6 percent, and “Our Moldova” alliance, which received 7.4 percent. Consequently, no one party alone could form the new government or elect the new president. It is worth mentioning that Moldova has a uni-cameral legislative with 101 seats and a candidate needs an absolute majority of 61 votes to be elected president.

After the July election, the local and the international press pointed out that the opposition parties must join forces to be able to form a coalition and to govern this small and very poor former Soviet republic. Indeed, the opposition parties could form the new government if they join forces, but they still need the support of some communist legislators to elect the president. And regardless of any cooperation between the democratic bloc and the communists, some analysts claim that the new government could only move Moldova from a pro-Russian course undertaken under the communists to a neutral one. In fact, as reported by the paper Ziua of 4 August, the Muscovite publication Kommersant wrote that the elections showed there are in fact two opposing Moldova; one pro-Western and pro-Romanian, and another one pro-Russian. The journal stressed, however, that the pro-Russian faction of Moldova is losing ground.

The Financial Times of London, the Kommersant, and other publications, have already reported that the new Moldovan government appears to be in the hands of Marian Lupu, the new president of the Democrat Party. Marian Lupu, a 43 young man ethnic Romanian, is a former member of the Communist Party and the ex-speaker of the Moldovan Parliament under the previous communist government. He became politically active following the collapse of the Soviet Union and grew up as a realistic and pragmatic man. Initially, he opposed joining NATO, stressed neutrality for Moldova, and favored better relations with both Romania and Russia. The Financial Times also mentioned that Lupu is an able and charismatic leader who managed to attract a large number of Romanian speaking voters as well as many Russian-speaking citizens. Lupu became the key politician in the post-election period making himself indispensable to the opposition. And although he recently ruled out any cooperation with the communists, it will be very difficult to avoid them.

Moldova attracted international attention immediately after the July elections. As reported by Moldova.Org (USA) on August 6 the U.S. Helsinki Commission organized a session of hearings called “Moldova’s Recent Elections: Prospects for Change in Europe’s Poorest Country.” The topic of discussion was Moldova’s future. The same day Moscow reduced by almost 50 percent the price of gas deliveries to Moldova. The European Union announced that it would restart the negotiations on a new cooperation accord. However, the EU asked Chisinau to reestablish its relations with Romania and to abolish the visa requirements for the Romanian citizens. Then, unexpectedly, China announced it was ready to loan Moldova one billion dollars to finance all of its economic projects. The loan conditions were extremely favorable at three percent interest over a period of 15 years, with a grace period of five years. Why this sudden Chinese interest in Eastern Europe? According to Ziua of 17 August, an Indian economist stated that apparently China is getting ready to replace Russia in the post Soviet space.

In the meantime, the new Moldavian authorities celebrated the anniversary of its Declaration of Independence and the adoption of Romanian as the official language of the republic. The linguistic movement known as “Limba noastra cea Romana” or “Our Romanian Language” was extremely important in the reawakening of the local national spirit in the late 1980’s. In a desperate move to counter the new pro-Romanian and pro-Western trend, the chief of the Communist Party, Vladimir Voronin, flew to Soci on the Black Sea to meet Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev. According to Ziua, the meeting took place on August 22. However, the Kremlin leader did not encourage Voronin and said that Moscow was ready to work with the new coalition in Chisinau. In an unexpected change of attitude, Medvedev even stressed that Russia wanted to work with Moldova within the limits of the established international diplomatic norms. Then, as reported by and Ziua, the new Parliament of Moldova met in its first session on August 28. The communist legislators boycotted the session, called Lupu a traitor and refused to lend him any support. Nevertheless, the parliament went ahead with its agenda and unanimously elected Mihai Ghimpu as the new speaker of the legislative body.

At 58, Ghimpu is the chairman of the Liberal Party, and was among the signatories of Moldova’s Declaration of Independence. His late brother, Gheorghe Ghimpu, spent five years in the Siberian Gulag for having claimed that the so-called Moldavian language was just Romanian. On September 11 former communist president Voronin resigned and Mihai Ghimpu was elected interim president of the republic. The communists again denounced the new government and some local Russians even warned that a civil war may be in the making if the new authorities move the republic toward Romania, EU and NATO. Analysts in Moscow stressed, however, that neither of these perspectives is an imminent possibility. They even claimed that the European Union does not want new and poor members like Moldova. Yet, the Russian Duma warned that if Moldova moves toward union with Romania, Moscow would officially recognize the independence of the breakaway Dnestr Republic.

As temporary president, Ghimpu, another ethnic Romanian, was cautious in approaching Romania without upsetting Moscow too much. He declared, however, that Moldovans are simply Romanians, but the Romanians live now in two different states. In an interview published by Timpul (The Times) of Chisinau on 21 September he said:

“We know very well what happened in 1940 when the Soviet Union occupied this territory. The Soviets could not say that they freed the Romanians form under the Romanians, so they invented the Moldavian nationality…”

In the same interview Ghimpu asked Moscow to withdraw its troops from Moldova. It is worth remembering that Russia maintains military units and very large quantities of equipment in the Transdnester region of Moldova on the left bank of the Dnestr. Ghimpu also addressed the accusation that he is a “unionist,” meaning union with Romania, and therefore against Russia. He answered by stating, “If I plead for truth and justice, for my true identity, does that not mean I am against someone else…?” I am not against the Russian Federation or against the Russian language, he continued, and for me the word “union” has positive connotations. “I am for the truth and I want to tell people the truth,” Mr. Ghimpu said in closing his interview.

In the meantime, and as reported by Ziua of 23 September, the newly appointed prime minister, Vlad Filat, declared for the German radio Deutche Welle that the former communist president Vladimir Voronin is a criminal and that he and his thugs should be sued and imprisoned. But the communist leader did not easily accept his party’s loss of power. He went to Moscow for new consultations and suggested that new elections be held. However, Moscow’s attitude was luke-warm. Russia can indeed manipulate Moldova, but it is also aware of its pro-Western trend and it fears that any new elections could further weaken the positions of its Moldovan allies.

Since the defeat of the communists, Moldova implemented a policy of rapprochement towards Romania and the West. Thus, Chisinau followed the EU request and again allowed the Romanian citizens to visit Moldova without prior visas. At the same time, it reversed a previous decision and announced that the citizens of Moldova, including officials, are allowed to hold double citizenship. Previously, one of the biggest fears of the communists was that if Moldovans were allowed double citizenship most of them would become Romanian citizens. According to Romanian laws, the people living in the lands annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 are entitled to citizenship, if their parents or grandparents were Romanian citizens before the annexation. Meanwhile, the parliament tried twice to elect a permanent new president and each time the communists boycotted the session and the attempts failed. Yet, fearing that in a new election they may lose their seats, a number of communist legislators indicated that they may vote for a president designated by the democratic opposition. Such a move would further split the communist party.

As for the future, Moldova will probably continue to remain in a limbo until a strongly pro-Romanian generation comes of age, or until another international agreement decides its fate. On the other hand, given Moldova’s geopolitical importance for Russia, Moscow will most likely bitterly oppose its integration into NATO, as it has for any and all of its former Soviet republics. With regard to reunificat4ion with Romania, there is no doubt that this remains the ideal of most Moldovan Romanians. And given Romania’s membership in the European Union, many non-Romanian ethnics may also prefer this option. Overwhelmingly, Romanians from both Romania proper and Moldova believe in reunification.

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. (Refer to updated editions). He is currently a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.