On April 16, the Council of Europe (CE) hosted in Strasbourg a political dialogue among the parliamentary leaders of Moldova’s Communist Party and the Christian Democrat People’s Party (CDPP, the renamed Popular Front). The CE seeks to stabilize the political situation in Moldova on terms consistent with the country’s obligations as a CE member.
The European Union initiated a parallel effort at the April 17 session in Luxemburg of the EU-Moldova Cooperation Council, the institutional expression of the EU-Moldova Cooperation and Partnership Agreement. The CE’s and EU’s efforts stand good chances of success for two reasons. First, because the CDPP’s anticommunist protests in downtown Chisinau are clearly running out of steam, amid evidence that the action has antagonized the populace while perversely increasing the Communists’ approval rating. And, second, because the Communist leaders are responding deferentially to West European overtures and seem willing to accommodate some of the opposition’s demands.
At the CE, Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer mediates the dialogue among Moldova’s parliamentary parties: the Communists, represented by majority leader Victor Stepaniuc; the CDPP, represented by party leader Iurie Rosca; and the “centrist” Braghis Alliance under former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis. Simultaneously, the Deputy Secretary-General Hans Christian Krueger led a CE delegation to Chisinau with a view to drawing up a special report on the situation and proposing remedies.
Rosca brought to Strasbourg a twelve-point list of demands, addressed to the Communist authorities. The most salient demands are: 1) resolving the case of the kidnapped CDPP parliamentary deputy Vlad Cubreacov; 3) granting legal registration to the Metropolitanate of Bessarabia, a branch of the Romanian Orthodox Church; 5) turning Moldovan State Television and Radio into public broadcasting companies, uncensored and free of state control; 6) abrogating the government’s decision on the obligatory study of the Russian language in schools of all levels; by the same token, offering state-funded instruction in the Ukrainian, Gagauz and Bulgarian languages in elementary and secondary schools; 7) abrogating the law, enacted last year, which would reinstate the Soviet-era, “rayon”-based administrative system; and 12) setting the date for pre-term parliamentary elections.
Conspicuously absent from the list is any mention of Transdniester and the Russian occupation troops. This omission is consistent with the CDPP’s policy of abandoning Transdniester in the naive hope that a reduced Moldova could then more easily unite with Romania. This position is at odds with that of the EU and United States, as reaffirmed on April 17-18 by the U.S. State Department’s top negotiator Rudolf Perina in Chisinau and by the EU delegation at the EU-Moldova talks in Luxembourg. Both of these authorities described the Transdniester problem as top priority for Moldova and the international community.
Point 12 on that list is the CDPP’s key demand. It has been reformulated to drop the demand for immediate (“within 48 hours”) self-dissolution of the Communist-dominated parliament and resignation of the president and cabinet of ministers. Nevertheless, in a telephone call from Strasbourg to the handful of protesters remaining in Chisinau’s central square, Rosca reaffirmed the demand for the regime’s abdication within 48 hours, per the March 31 rally’s resolutions.
Point 5 is an issue that long predates the Communist government. Political control over central television and radio was in fact instituted by the Popular Front itself while in power in 1990-91, and was then used and abused by all Moldovan governments since. The Council of Europe urges the establishment of public broadcasting. On point 6, the government last month officially “suspended,” though did not “abrogate,” its decision to impose Russian language study. On that same point, instruction in the native languages of the non-Russian though “Russophone” minorities would have salutary cultural and political effects, but is beyond Moldova’s means to finance. On point 7, Moldova’s highest courts have several months ago halted the return to the “rayon” system, but the issue remains in limbo. Significantly, Communist-appointed judges have voted to suspend that Communist-enacted law–a clear sign among others that the independence of the judiciary is taking root.
At the Strasbourg talks, both the Communist and the CDPP leaders refused to sign a joint statement on the main principles of political accommodation. Rosca declared that he would only sign the document if it included “the protesters’ main demand–the wholesale resignation of the authorities and setting the date for pre-term elections.” For his part, Stepaniuc set the condition that the CDPP call off the protests in Chisinau’s central square–a condition that CDPP leaders rejected.
On their return to Chisinau yesterday, the three parliamentary leaders held a joint news conference for the first time in memory. Although marked by mutual acrimony and polemics, their joint appearance constitutes a modest harbinger of stabilization. Meanwhile, during the past week, the number of protesters in the central square has dwindled to 200 or 300 at peak hours and to a few dozen at night in their encampment, the tents of which stand mostly empty (Flux, Basapress, April 14-18).
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