Public Discussion: Broad consensus in Moldovan society: necessity and possibility
Vladimir Voronin: I can’t see a clear perspective of development for Moldova, IPN interview
Vladimir Voronin: I can’t see a clear perspective of development for Moldova, IPN interview
IPN interview Vladimir Voronin, the third President of Moldova and president of the Communist Party, on the occasion of 26 years since Moldova’s independence.
- Moldova Moldova is marking its 26th Independence Day on August 27. How do you define this period, what has it meant to you personnaly and to your family?
- It’s all relative. If we compare the achievements of other former Soviet republics with what we have in Moldova today, we can see we are lagging behind in every department. Overall, all these twenty-six years, except for the eight years and a half of Communist government, have been lost years. No monumental project has been implemented, and I don’t mean large-scale projects, but the kind that really meets people’s expectations. I mean in particular better living standards. Anyway, during my presidency, some important things were indeed done, and not the way they were done in the first ten years since independence and, now, in the last nine years, under every aspect.
The Voronin family has been doing much like everybody else. Even the years of my presidency didn’t change us at all, despite all the criticism and the judgment, all the rumors of great wealth. Just like before my presidency, I still live in the same apartment on the fifth floor of a seven-storied block. I don’t own villas or other riches, either in Moldova or abroad. In this regard, nothing has changed, except for the fact that we’ve grown older, our children have grown older, and I’m a great-grandfather now. In this respect, we are very happy.
But what’s happened to Moldova looks more like a tragedy. Time will pass and patriotic people, analysts and historians will appear to evaluate all these years, from the first day of independence. Everything was done wrong, starting from that privatization process, the process of giving land to the people. We at least created something: over 270 farming stations; we gave people more than ten thousand tractors, plows and other pieces of farming machinery. We consolidated over 70% of the country’s farmland. Independence doesn’t mean having a flag, anthem and other such things, independence and sovereignty means when everything is decided inside the country and everybody is satisfied.
- Five years ago in an interview with IPN, you said that some were referring to Moldova as a ‘captured state’. Do you have a term for the situation today? And because we didn’t ask you then, we are doing it now: what term do you think would have fit the Communist rule?
- In the fall of 2012, we held this scientific conference attended by foreign participants and it was there that this ‘captured state’ notion was formulated. At the end of last year, Council of Europe’s Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland, too, said that Moldova was a captured state. The only thing I can now add to this is the question ‘who’s captured it”? It’s been captured by the same mafia-like, criminal group that today runs the country. These mob-like groupings have been around ever since independence. We fought them, especially to root out corruption in state institutions, and we were partly successful.
However, now in power are those who stole the billion, ruining everything they touch. They just don’t have the brains to know what Moldova and its people need, what projects, what mechanisms are needed. Their eyes and ears shut, they are telling us stutteringly that we have to adopt this or that law, just because the European Union says so. This is a stupid way of making laws, that’s why we never participate in votings, because these laws never work. They are written just because we have to convince the Europeans that we are making reform. But it’s not the Europeans we need to convince; it’s the citizens of this country, of my country. It’s the people we try to reach to during elections, and not the Europeans. It’s not the Europeans voting to elect our Parliament, government or the local authorities. It’s the people who vote, and this calls for a serious question: what do we still need to do so that our Moldovans finally see how politicians are fooling and deceiving them?
Meanwhile, this ‘captured state’ term has added new elements. Take the last legislative election results: there’s one party which entered Parliament with 19 seats; one with 21 seats (I mean us), and another one with 25 seats. Now this party with 19 seats, the Democratic Party, eventually ends up with a majority – over 50 seats. They bought them like piglets at the marketplace and you call this normal? You call this legal? How do you call this, when you enter the legislature under one party’s banner, supporting its program and with the support of its voters, and then you defect for your own narrow interests? All the fourteen MPs who defected from us now own luxury cars, new apartments and so on. This affects to a certain extent the moral standing of our honest members. Similarly, defections occur in the local governments where mayors become Democrats overnight. And then there’s the example of the Gagauz elections: only one ran officially as a Democrat, but after the People’s Assembly convened to elect its administration, everybody turned into a Democrat. This is what I mean by saying ‘captured state’. This is mafia-like behavior and this is where corruption stems from, when you have your men everywhere, your judges, your police, your prosecutors. This whole system is run by one party, which has illegally captured all the power in our state.
- Let’s go back to the question of what term would have best described Moldova under the Communist government, which lasted for about a third of Moldova’s whole existence as an independent country.
- Our goal was—and I think still is for the future—was to build a social state based on social justice. All people must be equal and the notion of person must stand above everything. True, someone is better at doing a job that is paying better, someone is better at working physically at some building site or at the rail roads, and so on. But there should be a mean coefficient that ensures a decent living for everybody – from the maternity ward to retirement. During our time at the helm, even if we weren’t able to solve all the problems (as they tend to appear all the time), we demonstrated that we have capable people, that we have potential and that our country can develop independently.
Our predecessors left us with a foreign debt amounting to 85% of GDP, in addition to overdue salaries and pensions that had not been paid for 12 to 16 months; they left us with a country that was only 7% covered by gas supply, and so on and so forth in all areas. The International Monetary Fund was gone in a week, reluctant as they were to work with the Communists. After the IMF’s departure, the others followed suit – the EBRD, the World Bank, everybody. I actually breathed a sigh of relief because I knew no one would tell me ‘do this or do that’, because they come here from their foreign countries, with their foreign standards, when we have our own peculiarities. We were on our own in 2008, during the biggest economic crisis the world had ever seen, and in this English economic magazine Moldova was ranked the world’s fourth most stable financial and banking system. Every year, or even twice a year, we were able to index pensions, increase salaries for teachers and health care workers. Gas supply coverage rose from 7% to 93%. We were able to demonstrate that Moldova had the potential to develop as an independent state. And in the last nine years, can you name one major issue that’s been solved? Schools are being shut down, as are hospitals and other social establishments, pensions are hardly being raised, and prices are skyrocketing. And what have they done now? They’re telling people they’ve cut the number of ministries from 16 to 9, when in fact they’ve created 9 mini-cabinets and they are going to be in trouble once they start sorting out who’s the boss: the minister of the secretary of state.
- The geopolitical situation in the region today seems as tense as ever. What threats are there for Moldova? Or perhaps with this new context chances are higher now to settle some enduring issues? How should our country behave in these new circumstances?
- The biggest threat, remaining since we were in power, is related to the failure to reintegrate Moldova and settle the Transnistrian issue. The Romanians are after us, as are the Ukrainians, and the Ukrainians could bite us worse. All our efforts in different formats, involving international structures, are not able to remove these risks. Our political stability, both internally and externally, is at stake. The biggest threat are we ourselves, because there’s no greater harm that the one we can inflict ourselves, and not because we are fools, but because of this mafia and corruption...
Who created the first Center to combat corruption in the whole of the CIS space? We did. I consulted in this regard with the then President Bush, among other people, and in creating the Center we were assisted by an American expert. But now what results do you see at that Center? Zero! I remember the time when I had a list of these so-called ‘thieves in law’, and the minister would periodically report to me who was arrested from that list. In about eight months, there was none left. Now the mafia, the bandits, corruption is out there again. Corruption doesn’t start from the grassroots; it starts from the government and then spreads all over. The fight against corruption requires tremendous engagement from the state, and if corruption exists at institutional level, every effort is in vain, and no loan, no funding will ever be able to help. To be a truly independent state, you need to fight corruption and combat the manifestations of a ‘captured state’.
- One of the few documents ever adopted in the Moldovan Parliament by broad consensus was the 2005 Law on the Legal Status of Transnistria, but which hardly gave any practical results. What do you think will happen to the 2017 Parliament Decision requesting the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transnistrian region? How true do you think the statements are that the separatist regime is upheld by “Russian bayonets” and “the Russian gas offered on credit, which the citizens of Moldova will eventually have to pay”?
- In 2003 we were just a step away from signing the document that was subsequently called the Kozak Memorandum, and in 2005 we adopted this law. This was a very serious and critical step for the entire legislature, who voted for this law to convey a message to Transnistria. By this law, we were telling them: we are open and there will be no problem whatsoever after reintegration. Today no one asks anymore why the Transnistrian regime is still in place, and it’s obvious that they are backed both economically and politically by Russia. They also had support from Ukraine, when they had presidents that were less conscious than the present leaders. This separatism in Moldova was designed to have the power of example for other soviet republics. Obviously the failure to respect the August 31 Law on the Official Language contributed to this isolation of the Transnistrian region. As a member of the Supreme Council back then, I too voted for that Law, but it formulated things differently, just like the Constitution puts it, and not like (former Constitutional Court president) Alexandru Tanase interpreted it on the orders of his bosses. They tout their Romanianism around, scaring away the Transnistrians. I don’t know what Russia’s strategic plans for Transnistria are, but considering that over 40% of its population are Ukrainians, about 35% are Russians, and the Moldovans are a minority, why isolate them completely? I really don’t see this as the solution. We got really close to a settlement back then, but then they wanted all problems solved at once; instead I was telling them that we need to tackle one issue at a time, let’s focus on reintegration first.
As concerns the latest Parliament Decision requesting the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transnistrian region, it will have a null result. This mechanism is dangerous and the events in Ukraine should be a warning for us. I’d rather not talk ahead of our Independence Day about issues threatening our independence and statehood. Actually, ‘independence’ and ‘statehood’ are empirical definitions, based on the Constitution, and for these things to exist in reality, they need to be filled with meanings that correspond to the interest of every citizen.
- In the same interview five years ago, you stated that “Moldova can follow to paths concomitantly, towards the EU and towards the Customs Union, and that no one forbids us or requires us to go either this or that way”. But during your two terms as President, Moldova completely reversed its geopolitical orientation from straight eastward to straight westward. You also signed a Moldova-EU Action Plan and enlisted our country into the Eastern Partnership. In retrospect, was this change necessary and beneficial? Do you think our current foreign policy is a continuation of your aspirations or not?
- We demonstrated that we can follow both ways, including to our European partners at the highest level. There were official visits and meetings with President Bush, with Angela Merkel and with other leaders, because they too have relations with these countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States. And Vladimir Putin also understood me, as I told him: you too have this special commission Russia-EU. Why can’t we be in the CIS together with you and with the EU at the same time? But the decisive thing that made me take those urgent measures was the number of citizens who were compelled to apply for Romanian citizenship to go to Europe. When I saw the statistics and the tendencies, I issued the decree allowing people to hold double citizenship, and this document didn’t apply to those working in the intelligence, the security and the law enforcement; perhaps this should be stated explicitly in the Constitution.
As concerns the Eurasian Union, then the grouping was rather nominal and it remains so now. So I decided and convinced my colleagues that Moldova should cooperate closely with the European Union and the European states. The traditional market for our exports was in Russia, but to rely solely on it was not practical. Russia has trade exchanges with the Turks, who supply it with vegetables, they have good wines too, and our wines somehow end up on the lowest shelves selling at the lowest price. Then blockades came along, and as a result steps were taken to improve relations with the EU. It was not us, but our predecessors, who signed the first-three year Action Plan. But not a single item was fulfilled on this Plan. We started fulfilling the objectives and succeeded not in three years, but in half the time, and were rewarded by the European Union. We dared and told them we wanted to go forward, so we developed a five-year Action Plan. The president of the National Commission overseeing the implementation of this plan was the President of Moldova. And this five-year plan we managed to fulfill in three years. The condition was that if we succeeded we get to enjoy asymmetric trade.
Due to meeting all the terms put forwards by the Europeans, we got to be the first of the former Soviet Union countries to have easier visa application procedures for the EU countries. We didn’t stop there and prepared the document that was subsequently signed by Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, I mean the Association Agreement with the European Union. This agreement contains over 800 pages and it seemed that the Europeans had a good laugh when they sent to that government just one copy, and in English too. Of the total 800 pages, some 270 covered political aspects, and the rest economic aspects. The current Ministry of Economy hardly understands the Agreement. We the Communists translated it, studied it, and then invited the leader of the group that drafted the document on EU’s part, Luc Devigne, to come to Moldova. After two days of analysis, we removed 49 items that were totally inappropriate for Moldova and could not be implemented. The European official eventually accepted 42 of the 49 items to be removed. That document was then sent to the Government, and nothing has moved, despite them bragging about implementing reforms. The Association Agreement is in fact unachievable and it seems to me that the Europeans signed it just to annoy the Russians, just because Ukraine and Georgia also signed their documents around that time. So they angered the Russians, and how does this benefit us exactly? And all the reforms they are talking about today are stillborn laws.
I certainly see Moldova’s future as a European future, with our country independent and sovereign. This should not be taken to mean that Moldova is against one country or another, because we have our own country, our people, and it matters less whether this country is Communist, green or blue.
- How would you describe the political class today? What are the tendencies?
Much of the political class today is deeply corrupt and that’s about it. I can’t talk about the professional and other capacities of the political class, and I specifically mean the government here. Nothing matters as long as they are corrupt. The reasons of corruption are many, and I don’t just mean in the sense that they take money and stuff their pockets, but also in the sense that people are getting promoted to key posts based on party affiliation. These people are there to heed the boss’s orders rather than serve the people’s and country’s interest.
- What do you think about the current state of the democratic institutions, which are key to a democratic and independent country? During the Communist government, some would say that you personally and your party had a great control over the state institutions…
- Today these institutions have no right to be called democratic, but rather oligarchic and crooked. I spoke earlier about the ‘captured state’ notion, which applies to these institutions as well. Only if people wake up and realize it one day, can something change. There are solutions still. For example, in October the Communist Party will celebrate the centenary of the Great Socialist Revolution. We know every detail of how Lenin prepared the revolution and we need to see if such actions are appropriate today or we should use other mechanisms. All these wounds on Moldova’s body are hurting the country, obstructing its growth and hindering people from having better living standards.
- How would you describe the state of human rights in Moldova?
- What rights? No one has a right today in Moldova, starting from a newborn, because you have to pay a bribe even at the maternity ward. What human rights? Rather, the money is always right. If students don’t offer a bribe, they can’t pass an exam. You can’t get a job in a state institution without money. Wherever you go, you have to pay up.
- How would you describe Moldovan society, including the electorate? Is it true that a society deserves its government? What needs to be revived first: society or the political class?
- Today all the voters deserve their government. We the Communist should also share part of the blame, for not being able to explain it clearly enough to our voters what the consequences would be. But our foresight had a limit, too. Who knew that they would buy so many deputies, and would steal so many billions? However, the main problem is how the voters behave. They vote not as their mind tells them to, but as politicians expect them to. Until the voter learns to vote consciously, nothing will change. This is why the government exploits the opportunity to throw money left and right during campaigns to buy people’s votes. We are cutting off our own noses to spite the face. It’s about time that people understood that the ballot they cast has a greater value than any amount of money, than any stolen billions. That it has a value that matters for the next for years of his life. It’s sad that even if we try to explain this, they come with three-four hundred lei and buy his vote, and then he laments his decision and weeps. Like I said on previous occasions, if there were an international weeping contest, Moldovans would certainty take the “Oh my God, what am I to do now!” grand prize. We’ve gone “Oh my God!” for twenty-six years now.
Today it’s the young people who must take matters into their hands and rule this country. But everybody’s looking for an easier life, because it’s easier to leave everything behind and move abroad. It’s easier to run from hardship than stand up to the challenge and fight the mafia and the corrupt. You flee no matter where, and then you come for a visit twice a year and bring your parents some candy.
- Moldova is the only country in Europe where a communist party ever came to power democratically following free elections. How does this describe the Republic of Moldova as an independent and democratic state? We are asking this question especially since most European countries have officially condemned communism and fascism, and the Moldovan Parliament in 2012 adopted a decision condamning the crimes of communism and banning communist symbols.
- We sued that decision and won – no banning of the communist symbols. But it matters not how you call a party, but rather who those people are and what they can do. So these guys are calling themselves Democrats, but what’s democratic in what the do? What has changed since they came to power? Nothing! Only worse! You can call yourself whatever you want, but if you don’t have the potential to do the right thing... And if they know they can’t do anything more and that they are here today and gone tomorrow, they grab whatever they can. I will repeat myself, it doesn’t matter how you call your party, the people of this party matter, its program and strategy. But there’s a catch: there’s a tendency for parties to promise something in the campaign, and then they just don’t deliver.
I want to build a prosperous social state here in Moldova. Back in that period we increased pensions and salaries. When we were in power, they said our country would be isolated, that a Communist government would mean that no official visits would take place. But in the end, we had 38 bilateral meetings with Putin; two at the White House, one in Washington and another one in Prague with Bush; two with Merkel; and so on. Nobody ever blocked us. And the European integration choice was a deliberate decision. We do need the Association Agreement with the EU, but it will start working in another 20 years or so, because we are not ready yet.
- Freedom of the press is one of the main indicators of a democracy. What does this indicator read today in Moldova? But in formulating you answer, please take into account the quasi-general perception that during the Communist government and your presidency, the press was underdeveloped, heavily controlled and the part which couldn’t be controlled was marginalized. Case in point, IPN is successor of the agency Info-Prim, which was brought down along other organizations that were part of Chisinau’s municipal media consortium.
- During our government, many TV channels and newspapers appeared, and not a single broadcaster was ever penalized. And even if someone on my team would say that they didn’t agree with something that was published, or that it was a lie, I would always urge them to request retractions or take legal action. There’s more rumor than truth in those allegations, just because we were Communists. And now, is there any freedom of the press? All the press is prostrated under the oligarchs and under those who bought Parliament and created a puppet president.
- Are you suggesting that the tendency during independence has been for the freedom of the press to constantly decline? Why is that?
- This is true not just of the freedom of the press, but about all the other areas as well. In politics almost all the parties are marionettes, economically as well as socially. Everything boils down to interests. In his most important work “The Capital”, Karl Marx wrote that society is driven by interest, that’s the explanation. The first thing we need to do is to stop this rampancy of the last ten years, and organize work adequately in all areas at both local and central level, with a focus on the citizen.
- Which guarantees can we offer to the children of this country that they will one day enjoy friendlier conditions than what you suggest are now?
- I’m not ready to answer this question because today I don’t see a clear perspective of development for Moldova. Therefore I can’t see what course my country will take in the future and I can’t guarantee anything to anyone. We must understand that we are responsible for everything that happens in this country, good and bad.
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