Outrage over Moldova
BSSB.BE ft.com 01.02.2016
Pavel Filip, Moldova’s new prime minister, took office last week in a manner more befitting a dictator on his last legs than the leader of the EU’s one-time success story in eastern Europe. In the dead of night, his government was secretly sworn in as thousands of protesters stormed past riot police into parliament to try to prevent it.
Politics in Moldova, an impoverished former-Soviet republic, have never been easy. The country has long been torn between a liberal elite eager to align with Brussels and rival politicians who favour closer ties to Moscow.
But anger over a $1bn banking fraud has united people in outrage that is not only threatening Mr Filip’s tenure but a larger political reordering.
“We can only overthrow this criminal junta with protests,” Ilian Kashu, a prominent pro-Russian activist, told a crowd of 20,000 at a rally in the capital, Chisinau, on Sunday. “Language and geopolitical preferences don’t mean anything any more. Down with the mafia!”
- Protesters have threatened to block all roads out of Chisinau this week, as well as the railway station and airport, if their demands are not met. Both camps are calling for snap elections.
- Though it has a population of only 3m and is Europe’s poorest country, Moldova has become a geopolitical battleground as the EU tries to integrate it more closely into western Europe while Russian president Vladimir Putin is attempting — more vigorously since the pro-western revolution in neighbouring Ukraine in 2014— to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence within the borders of the old USSR.
Mr Filip, the former telecommunications minister, has vowed to continue the pro-EU path the country has trod fitfully since a 2009 revolution. But to many Moldovans, the coalition he belongs to is pro-EU in name only.
Its members have been increasingly discredited by the banking scandal and accusations from all sides that they have been captured by the country’s richest man, Vlad Plahotniuc, a shadowy figure said to wield vast influence throughout the government.
“We want to lie and say it is a pro-EU coalition, but it is not,” says Maia Sandu, a former education minister.
Leaders of Dignity and Justice (DA), a protest movement that has emerged in the wake of the scandal, say Mr Plahotniuc and his rival Vlad Filat, a former prime minister who was arrested last October for alleged involvement in the banking fraud, have for years paid lip service to European values while amassing illicit wealth and consolidating power over state institutions.
- “They managed to transform politics in Moldova into a very profitable business,” says Igor Botan, a senior figure in DA.
- Until the fraud came to light last year, Moldova was considered a rare success in the EU’s campaign to build bridges to post-Soviet states through its Eastern Partnership programme. The partnership offers trade benefits and other incentives to such countries in exchange for reforms and good governance.
- In recognition of Moldova’s progress, Brussels granted the country visa-free travel in 2014, a concession that is highly sought-after by Turkey and governments in eastern Europe.
But the scale of the bank theft has quickly removed any modernising glow: about $1bn, or one-eighth of Moldova’s gross domestic product, was funnelled to offshore shell companies from three big banks .
The west always closed its eyes because it was always advantageous to the west to consider Moldova a success story
– Igor Dodon, Socialist party
“I doubt anyone understands what happened in our banking sector,” says former prime minister Iurie Leanca, who signed Moldova’s alignment with the EU as the fraud reached its apex.
The revelations have sparked mass protests and empowered Moscow-linked politicians, who have laid the blame with the coalition’s European backers.
“The west always closed its eyes because it was always advantageous to the west to consider Moldova a success story,” said Igor Dodon, whose Socialist party is the largest pro-Russian group in parliament, and is now a favourite if snap elections are held. “Moldovan politicians blackmailed them. They say, ‘we are bad, we are corrupt, we didn’t do reforms, but if you don’t support us Putin will come’.”
The weight of the scandal shredded the government in an extraordinary scene in parliament last October when members of Mr Plahotniuc’s Democratic party turned on Mr Filat by voting to strip him of his immunity. Armed police in balaclavas then led him away in handcuffs.
With Mr Filat behind bars, Mr Plahotniuc is seen as the country’s undisputed kingmaker, even though he holds no official position. Publika TV, one of the four television channels and three radio stations he owns, has estimated his fortune at about $2bn. Mr Plahotniuc’s critics say his wealth helped him create a new “social democratic” parliamentary coalition and establish influence over Moldova’s legal system.
“A single person has deprived us of our government institutions,” Mr Filat said in a speech just before his arrest.
For western diplomats, Moldova is now a cause of despair — and division. US officials worry that a pro-Russian coalition would be even more destructive for the country than the current embattled elite, a view often echoed on Mr Plahotniuc’s TV stations.
But in private, some European diplomats say they would welcome a pro-Russian government — if only so that the current coalition cannot further tarnish the EU. Says one: “Asking them to do reforms is like asking the turkeys to prepare Christmas dinner.”
Euroskepticism Economy Crisis
- project-syndicate.org – Europe`s on the Brink.History tells us that the answer is an emphatic no. Sixty years ago, with Europe’s economy reeling from the destruction caused by World War II, Europe’s leaders lifted their eyes above daily hardships to shape a more hopeful future, underpinned by European integration. That same vision and foresight is needed today, and the European Union, with its unmatched ability to facilitate regional cooperation, will remain essential. It is time for Europe’s leaders to break the decades-old habit of pursuing half-baked projects that blunt the symptoms of crises, and to implement real reforms that address the root causes. Only with a new approach – and tangible progress – can solidarity within Europe be regained.Nonetheless, the EU and its institutions remain integral to efforts to respond to challenges that require a united front – challenges like those that Europe faces today.
- md – All eyes on Chisinau. During the meeting from today, the protesters voted unanimously a resolution through which they state the definitive seizure of all state institutions. “The only salvation of the existence itself of the state Republic of Moldova is the replacement of the current political class, through early elections in democratic conditions, with a government of popular trust, monitored by the UN and the international institutions”, is said in the resolution which is lower. The only salvation of the existence itself of the state Republic of Moldova is the replacement of the current political class, through early elections in democratic conditions, with a government of popular trust, monitored by the UN and the international institutions.
- com – Hurricane Moldova. Moldova’s Jan. 20 parliamentary vote to approve the new government ended nearly three months of political deadlock in a country that plays an important role in the competition between Russia and the West in the former Soviet periphery. The previous government, led by former Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet, collapsed Oct. 29, 2015 after Strelet lost a no-confidence vote over allegations of corruption. Protesters are still on the premises at the time of this writing, albeit in lesser numbers. Representatives of some smaller pro-West factions, such as the Civil Platform for Dignity and Truth and the party recently formed around former Education Minister Maia Sandu, have also gathered to protest the new government, accusing it of weakness and corruption given its ties to Plahotniuc. In the case of yet another government collapse, early elections probably would be unavoidable and would give Moldova’s pro-Russia elements the chance to stall, if not reverse, Moldova’s efforts to integrate with the European Union.