Linguistic Corruption Clouds Political Negotiations On Trans-dniester

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 59

On July 21, Moldova walked out of the “five-sided” negotiations on settling the Trans-Dniester conflict. That format practically excludes the West. On July 22-23, on President Vladimir Voronin’s instructions, Moldovan officials called for consultations in a new format, with full-fledged Western participation including that of the United States and European Union. Official Chisinau pointed to the “failure of the existing negotiating mechanisms,” an obvious criticism of the Russian-dominated, OSCE-blessed mechanisms.

The head of the OSCE’s Chisinau Mission, American diplomat William Hill, provoked Moldova’s walkout when he relegated the matter of linguistic suppression of Moldovans in Trans-Dniester to the bottom of the negotiating round’s agenda, under “miscellanea,” with no chance for serious discussion at the end of the round’s second day. Hill’s decision (presumably taken jointly with fellow “mediator” Russia, under OSCE consensus rules) reflects his consistent strategy of excluding human rights and democracy issues from the negotiations on settling the Trans-Dniester conflict.

The OSCE-Russia “mediators” called for “continuing negotiations in the established format,” i.e., business as usual, while Trans-Dniester authorities moved to close the last six Moldovan schools that use Latin script, and to ban that script entirely in Trans-Dniester. On June 15, the Moldovan school in Tiraspol was closed and vandalized by the authorities. On July 21, Trans-Dniester authorities announced that four rural schools had either been closed or switched to Cyrillic script and a Russian curriculum, “without any commotion” (such ease presumably due to the summer vacation). The last remaining school, in the city of Bendery (Tighina), is being guarded round-the-clock since July 20 by teachers and parents, with dozens barricaded inside.

The OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities, Rolf Ekeus, twice condemned “linguistic cleansing” in Trans-Dniester (HCNM press release, The Hague, July 15; Ekeus speech to the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, July 22). Meanwhile, linguistic corruption afflicts the political negotiations on Trans-Dniester in the existing format. The official terminology disguises Russia’s control of the negotiations and the OSCE’s accessory role. Numerous misnomers are in use:

1) “Five-sided” or “pentagonal” framework. Created in 1997 by Russia’s then-foreign affairs minister Yevgeny Primakov (capitalizing on the results of Russia’s earlier military intervention in Moldova), the pentagonal format includes rump Moldova and Trans-Dniester as co-equal parties, as well as Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE as mediators. This format ensures multiple representation of Russia: in its own right, via its Trans-Dniester proteges; via Ukraine, which invariably seconds Russia’s positions; and via the OSCE, whose every statement and position represents a negotiated consensus with Russia. Thus, the “five-sided” format provides quadruple Russian representation, excludes any direct Western role, and leaves Moldova isolated.

2) “Mediation” by Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. In reality, Russia is a party to the conflict, having seized Moldovan territory by military force and installed Russian authorities there. This should disqualify Russia from a mediator’s role. Ukraine passively follows Russia’s lead in this “mediation.” Moreover, Ukrainian authorities collude in the unlawful trade operations of Trans-Dniester’s authorities. Russia determined the composition of this mediating trio by ruling Ukraine in, ruling Romania out, and resisting any Western participation. The OSCE as an institution is disabled from any effective mediating role because it cannot speak, much less act, without Russia’s prior agreement under the organization’s consensus rules. OSCE representatives who claim that operating by consensus is an asset (or even a comparative advantage of the OSCE, according to this argument’s hard-sell version) do not explain the organization’s failure to advance any conflict resolution anywhere. The OSCE’s last hope for relevance as a multilateral security organization is to lend its auspices to Russia in “federalizing” Moldova.

3) “Federalization.” This project of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, first submitted officially in July 2002, aims to turn Moldova into a “federation” of rump Moldova and Trans-Dniester, with Russia as main “guarantor.” The OSCE’s American-led Chisinau Mission became the main public promoter of “federalization,” with the State Department’s intermittent blessing, diminishing enthusiasm, and cursory supervision. “Federation” in this case is a multiple misnomer. It is inapplicable to a pact with foreign citizens who represent an occupying power, and who frequently display their loyalty to that power. While federal systems are designed to ensure proper representation of local interests, Trans-Dniester’s authorities openly speak for Russia’s geopolitical agenda. While federal units in any normal federation freely elect their leaders and representatives in federal structures, Trans-Dniester’s authorities are a Soviet-type dictatorship, and also the last ethnic-minority regime in Europe. In sum, “federation” in this usage is a democratic-looking label on an anti-democratic deal.

4) “Joint Constitutional Commission.” This forum, consisting of Chisinau and Tiraspol representatives, is officially mandated to negotiate on a draft federal constitution and to abrogate Moldova’s constitution when the “federal” one is ready. Critics dub it the “Anti-Constitutional Commission” for at least three reasons. First, Moldova’s constitution, in force since 1994, may only be amended, not abrogated. However, its abrogation and thereby its violation is necessary if a federal constitution is to be imposed. Second, Tiraspol’s representatives, who are supposed to write Moldova’s new constitution, are citizens and indeed agents of Russia, with no ties to Moldova. Third, the document’s preamble takes the 1990 Soviet Moldova as its point of reference, thus purporting to rescind the 1991 Declaration of Independence, on which Moldova’s constitutional development is based. The OSCE’s Bulgarian chairmanship and Chisinau Mission blessed the draft in February, then tried to keep it secret, and withheld comment even after Chisinau’s pro-Western opposition newspapers revealed its text.

5) “Guarantees.” By agreement among the three “mediators,” Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE are supposed to guarantee the federation’s functioning. (Post-conflict guarantees of a military nature are being discussed as a parallel, distinct matter.) Such an arrangement would appoint two non- (indeed anti-) democratic governments as guardians of a “federalized” Moldova, with Russia in an infinitely stronger position to exert its influence than either Ukraine or OSCE would be. The latter, through its Chisinau Mission, seeks to download some of its political responsibility for the consequences by asking experts of the European Union and Council of Europe to vet the constitutional draft. The vetting exercise is misleading, because decisions in a “federalized” Moldova would not be guided by the constitution and laws. Behind a constitutional screen, real decisions would be taken in non-transparent ways by power groups representing an array of anti-democratic forces and interest groups, including those of Russia as main “guarantor,” its security services and military, its business interests, Tiraspol’s Russian authorities, Moldova’s Communists, and corrupt government and business circles on both banks of the Dniester.

Responding to the recent assault on education, Russian and OSCE diplomats urged Trans-Dniester’s authorities to tolerate those last six Moldovan schools. OSCE Mission representatives displayed concern and made appearances at two of the schools. The Mission plays a weak hand because it has long separated the conflict-settlement negotiations from human rights and democracy issues. It treated the negotiations as top priority, and human rights and democracy issues as a complicating factor that must not impinge on those negotiations. This order of priorities must now change, if democracy is not to become just another lexical misnomer in this decade-long, futile “negotiating process.”