Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu
by Tammy Lynch
If Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was asked today to choose an appropriate city in which to hold the Commonwealth of Independent States summit, it’s a safe bet Chisinau wouldn’t be his pick. Despite protestations of good will, peace and love from both sides, there’s no escaping the fact that Russia and Moldova aren’t exactly running hand-in-hand through a field of daisies.
It all began, of course, with a pesky uprising, followed by an even peskier election that ousted the ruling Communist Party of Moldova from power. Despite often battling with Russia, particularly over its support for the separatist republic of Transnistria, Communist President Vladimir Voronin had seriously wooed Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently. Voronin may have hoped that their (cautious) support would prop up his floundering regime. It didn’t.
Voronin remains in parliament, but was forced to resign as President following the success of a “liberal” coalition in the parliamentary elections and the creation of the Alliance for European Integration. It is this irritatingly named coalition government that will greet Medvedev in Chisinau, instead of the expected Communist fair-weather friend.
Even more, Medvedev will meet Moldova President Mihai Ghimpu just days after Ghimpu referred to his country and Romania as “brothers,” declaring – “We are Romanians.”
Prime Minister Vlad Filat followed on Ghimpu’s statements by announcing plans to reverse the Communist government decision to teach “integrated” history – a blend of Russian and Romania history. The country will now focus on Romanian history. If the government fulfills this proposal, Moldovan school children will learn a lot less about Russia. Filat also announced that the name of the “Moldovan” language may be changed to “Romanian,” because, “Moldovan people speak in Romanian like Americans speak in English.”
But, have no fear, Mr. Medvedev. There are already signs that these policies, as well as the plan to carefully but aggressively pursue EU integration, are causing some friction within the country.
A blog from the RFE/RL Moldovan Service, for example, criticized the focus on language. Natalia Morari asks, “Are we now going to justify every extremist who is inflaming ethnic tensions simply because he speaks Romanian? Or are we going to condemn free-thinking people espousing democratic values just because Russian is their first language?”
In the 2004 census, approximately 16% of Moldovans listed Russian as their “language of first use.” About another 8% listed another language, such as Ukrainian and Gagauz. Therefore, approximately one-quarter of the population may not be pleased with the focus on the Romanian language. It is also not entirely clear whether all members of the government coalition agree. In fact, there are ominous signs that they do not. By focusing on language and identity, the coalition just may complicate the already difficult task of forcing through vital economic reforms.
And, of course, Mr. Medvedev, you always have Transnistria. That deeply frozen conflict likely will provide Moldovan authorities much angst for many years to come, while allowing Russia to maintain its foothold at the western edge of the old Union.
So, President Medvedev, while this isn’t the Moldova you would have chosen, it’s really not as bad as it seems. And anyway, at least President Ghimpu is there. He could have avoided the summit like the Central Asian states. But that’s another story.