March 9, 2023
This week continued the trend of Russia trying to stoke fears of an impending conflict in Transnistria while everyone else tries to play down the risks. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a statement accusing Ukraine of preparing “provocations” against Transnistria including attacks "with the use of radioactive materials." Ukraine and Moldova both denied these accusations and called for the population to remain calm and only trust reliable news sources (aka - not the Kremlin).
This attention has brought international press to again look at Moldova. While some outlets sensationalized the threats, the BBC ran an excellent article on the town of Moldovata Noua. This town is a Moldovan enclave on the left bank (Transnistria controlled) side of the Nistru river. The town residents can only get to Moldova via ferry without passing through Transnistrian territory. The reason the town is in such a state is that the residents fought to keep their town part of Moldova during the Transnistrian war. Speaking to a BBC journalist, a resident who had fought at the time said:
"We're lucky that Ukraine is defending us at the moment," … "but if it kicks off in Moldova, we're ready to defend this territory again."
There was additional focus on the 1992 Transnistrian war this week as the 31st anniversary of the start of the war passed on March 2. Speaking after laying flowers at the war memorial, President Sandu stated:
“On Memorial Day, we pledge to never forget the enormous price paid by fallen heroes, veterans, and their families. Let's not forget the price paid by the entire society for Moldova to continue on its path to independence, freedom and peace. None of us wanted that war, it hit us like a storm. We didn't want it then, and we don't want war now. We are a peace-loving people, our efforts are now aimed at uniting all citizens, regardless of which bank of the Dniester we live on,”
Prime Minister Recean, speaking on a visit to Bucharest, sought to contextualize the overall security situation and explain the real risks saying:
“Russia does not have enough resources to escalate. It is also clear that Russia cannot invade Moldova by military means. On the other hand, Moldova has enough potential to cope with a possible escalation in Transnistria. And the Transnistrian region, like us, strives for peace and stability. Russia is waging a hybrid war - a lot of propaganda, disinformation, promotion of certain pro-war narratives. But I'm sure they won't succeed. All these waves are more of an information war than the real state of affairs,”
The Prime Minister clearly drew attention to the fact that Russia is in no position to directly threaten Moldova, and that the Transnistrian “authorities” are also desperately trying to avoid being dragged into the war. His statement was as much for an external audience as an internal one as these statements from the Kremlin tend to be picked up and spread by foreign media unfamiliar with the situation in Moldova. The Prime Minister clearly sought to re-focus people on the “hybrid war” against Moldova which is ongoing.
Signs of that hybrid war were very apparent this week as TV8 reported that fugitive oligarch and Kremlin ally Ilan Shor had paid to bring 80 young Moldovan men to Turkey for “trainings on mass riots and other radical actions organized abroad aimed at destabilizing the situation in Moldova.” The Shor party denied this news but Ilan Shor himself admitted to paying for the travel, saying he gave these 80 men a “free vacation as a gift from him.”
Meanwhile SIS agents and border police refused entry to 4 foreigners arriving from Turkey and held a number of Moldovan citizens returning for “checks” before allowing them to leave the airport.
In order to better handle hybrid threats, the EU has announced it will send a civilian security assistance mission to Moldova to advise in the area of security, cyber attacks and disinformation.
Moldova Increasing Condemnation of Russia
Parliament passed a resolution this week condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine. The resolution recognized the war as starting in 2014 and accused Russia of war crimes and breaches in international law. The resolution was passed by 55 PAS deputies with all opposition parties walking out in protest.
Responding to the resolution Igor Dodon stated that “Moldova runs the risk of being on the list of countries unfriendly to Russia.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicu Popescu announced that Moldova would increase its participation in EU sanctions regimes against Russia. Of the 38 current sanctions regimes in place Moldova currently implements 21. This minister said that this number would soon “increase significantly.”
Politics and Economics
Last week, couple Angelica Frolova and Leo Zbanka were the first LGBT Moldovans to file for a marriage license with the Public Services Agency (ASP). Employees at the ASP were surprised but accepted the application telling the couple that they would be notified of their rejection within 15 days. As predicted, they were called shortly after and notified of their official rejection.
The LGBT rights NGO GenderdocM announced their plans to go to court over the rejection citing the recent ruling from the European Court of Human Rights obliging all signatory countries to create a legal framework for same sex relationships. GenderdocM is calling on all LGBT couples who wish to marry to register and recieve rejections in order to create a class actin style case. This is one of Moldova’s first examples of strategic litigation by a minority group defending civil rights.
At the same time, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada introduced a draft law creating registered “partnerships” for LGBT Ukrainians. These partnerships would convey all the legal benefits of marriage without the name and would be open to both same sex and opposite sex couples. President Zelensky has previously noted that passing same sex marriage in Ukraine is currently impossible as it requires a constitutional amendment - something that is prohibited during a state of emergency. This workaround was the result of 9 months work between the NGO “LGBT Military for Equal Rights” and the government. The driving force behind the law is the desire to protect the rights of LGBT service members and to give their partners legal rights regarding banking, healthcare decisions, and funeral arrangements.
Here is a quick roundup of other political and economic news from the past week:
Debate continues to rage about the language law which “implements” the 2013 decision of the constitutional court that Romanian is the state language. Gagauzian Bashkhan Irina Vlah highlighted the semi-ridiculous nature of the debate by loudly decrying the illegality of the law while also responding to a question that she believes the language that she speaks is indeed Romanian. We covered this process and the history behind it in this week’s Quick Hit article.
On March 8th International Women’s day is celebrated in Moldova. This year it was marked by a “March of the Feminists” in which a large crowd marched for equal rights and in support of the women of Ukraine. The march passed by the Russian embassy stopping so marchers could shout “Glory to Ukraine,” “Fuck Putin” and more. The march was attended by multiple members of the current government but no opposition figures. “Smashing the patriarchy” is not a communist or socialist position in Moldova.
The government has put forth a draft law to reform the Supreme Court of Justice. The law would reduce the number of judges from 33 to 20 as well as change the composition of the court by opening seats up for lawyers, prosecutors, university law professors and others with a legal background. The law will go to public consultations as well as review by the Venice Commission. Author’s Note: The Supreme Court of Justice is separate from the Constitutional Court in Moldova. It is the final court of appeal but does not rule on constitutional questions.
80% of brinza (cottage cheese) sold in placinta is fake says ANSA. The health agency noted that "As a filler, a vegetable fat-based food product composed of hydrogenated palm oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil with the addition of skim milk is used, which in consistency only imitates fresh cow's cheese. In these cases, both the filling and the pies exposed for sale were sampled." The agency noted the risks of this filler saying that it contains excessively high trans fatty acids. No companies were named and how the agency intends to follow up the study is not clear.
Philip Morris is considering opening a factory in Moldova to relocate some of their production from Ukraine. No concrete plans were announced but the company is conducting a feasibility review now. The Ministry of Economy hailed the news supporting foreign investment and new job opportunities in Moldova.
Parliament received an audit report of MoldovaGaz from the state Accounts Chamber. The report highlights multiple serious problems including 3.3 billion lei that the state allocated to MoldovaGaz in 2008 which the Accounts Chamber concluded should be viewed as a debt. Further irregularities were found in the construction of a regional office in Ungheni and a main office in Chisinau which vastly exceeded their budgets. The office in Ungheni was never used and stands mothballed. All documentation from the construction work on both buildings has been “lost.” Further, it was found that 2 billion lei of gas leaked out of the transportation network in 2021. Parliament is taking steps to recognize and claim the debt. The Government is taking steps to suspend shareholder rights of Transnistria in MoldovaGaz which the report noted were hugely disproportionate to their contributions to the company. Finally, the new Ministry of Energy will be tasked with creating a plan to manage the transportation network and detect leaks.
The Government has approved the Ministry of Economy’s proposed package of deregulation. The package proposes various mechanisms that reduce bureaucracy and opportunities for extortion in the relationship between the state and business. It will eliminate the “Blue Medical Passport” that we wrote about back in September removing the requirement for hospitality and food industry workers to suffer numerous indignities on a yearly basis (read the previous article for a refresher on why the government requires anal probes for restaurant workers). The package also reforms “controls” (inspections) of companies mandating that all inspections in the first 3 years of operation are consultative rather than punitive unless serious or repeat crimes are found. Checklists will also be mandated so that companies can know what the inspectors are looking for. This package is a major reform and one of multiple “deregulation” packages that the Minister of Economy has promised this year.
Proof that this author has first hand experience in this awful process. The elimination of this dreaded document will be celebrated by around 40,000 Moldovans who need to update it yearly.
Crime and Corruption
Author’s Note: This week the University of Virginia law school wrote a profile of Moldova’s new anti-Corruption prosecutor and Alumni of UVA Veronica Dragolin. It is well worth reading to understand the background of Moldova’s top anti-corruption official.
We haven’t had a “Crime and Corruption” section in Moldova Matters for a while. This isn’t because nothing is happening in fighting corruption - there have been numerous raids, arrests and (most often) releases of local officials or law enforcement officers for taking bribes or conducting extortion rackets. Unfortunately what there haven’t been is many convictions as the courts continue to treat both large and small corruption lightly.
This is most apparent in the cases against Ilan Shor (still stalled in court), Plahotniuc (stalled) and Igor Dodon (stalled again… this time his lawyers claim he has COVID). Prosecutors continuously accuse the defense of deliberately stalling the trial (asking that a judge demand proof that Dodon, who has no problem giving press conferences about language laws actually has COVID). Meanwhile, judges continue to accept nearly any excuse from the defendants and the cases are punted month to month to month.
All this highlights that while Moldova does have aggressive anti-corruption prosecutors now, judicial reform is badly needed and progressing at a snail’s pace.
In an interesting case highlighting how petty corruption continues to thrive and impact people’s lives, data was released showing the national pass rate of new drivers trying to get a driving license in Moldova. Only 17% of drivers pass on the first try, another 17% take 2 tries and 13% pass on the 3rd try. 22% of driver take more than 8 tries. Tests can only be taken again after a waiting period of one month. Bribing instructors to get your license is very common in Moldova, and a test designed so that few people can pass without “help” is a situation everyone understands. For reference, the first time pass rate in the UK is over 50%.
Moldova has a long way to go to root our corruption big and small.
Ending on a High Note!
This week, Moldova has officially selected their Eurovision contender. Pasha Parfeni’s song “Soarele si Luna” will represent Moldova at Eurovision in Liverpool this spring. Moldova takes pride in sending bands to Eurovision that are widely praised for their flamboyant performances - a very high bar at Eurovision.
You can watch the video of Moldova’s chose song on youtube.
Another excellent newsletter! We will be highlighting the news that Moldova plans to join more EU sanctions on Russia on our FaceBook page "BoycottRussia" soon. We will be citing "Moldova Matters" as our source and encouraging our readers to subscribe!
I am headed to Molvova in a few days..