Twenty-one years after the Soviet Union’s demise and Moldova’s proclamation of independence, the Moldovan parliament has at last repudiated Communism, albeit by a narrow margin. The Communist Party retains a broad base of support in the country. For the last 15 years, Moldova has held the dubious distinction of harboring Europe’s strongest communist party, but that strength is clearly ebbing away now.
On July 12, the parliament condemned Communism’s crimes in Soviet Moldova, and banned the public use of the main Communist symbols. The Communist Party uses those Soviet-era symbols as its key electoral assets to this day. The vote was 53 in favor versus 42 opposed and one abstention. Voting was strictly along party lines, pitting the three parties of the governing Alliance for European Integration (AEI) against 36 Communists and six other leftists.
Prime Minister Vlad Filat ensured the passage of this measure by lining up the support of his Liberal-Democrat party. No Moldovan government undertook condemning Communism in the last 20 years. Filat, however, gave the signal in June of this year, participating in commemorations of the Soviet occupation and Communism’s victims. Returning on July 11 from an inspiring visit to Georgia, Filat announced that it was high time for Moldova also to “get rid of Lenin’s images and Soviet tank monuments” (Moldpres, June 28, 29, July 11, 12).
The parliament’s resolution “condemns the totalitarian Communist regime in the Moldovan SSR [Soviet Moldova], which committed crimes against humanity.” The resolution accompanies new legislation which, technically, modifies the law on political parties. The amendments ban the display of the hammer-and-sickle “on any type of surface” for political or propaganda purposes. This would evidently include red flags, electoral ballots, or publications’ mastheads. More generally, the new law bans the “propagation of totalitarian ideologies” in the country. The new stipulations go into effect as of October 1. This timeline allows the Communist Party a respite to change its iconography. The law does not explicitly penalize non-compliance with the ban.
During the debate, Communist deputies argued that banning the political use of Soviet symbols was a discriminatory move, depriving the Communist Party of a major asset in future elections. “This is intended to remove us from the political arena,” complained the party leader, former head of state (2001-2009) Vladimir Voronin in his speech (Pro-TV, July 12). All Communist Party deputies walked out after being outvoted. The Communist leadership is preparing a challenge in the Constitutional Court (Moldpres, July 12, 13; Jurnal de Chisinau, July 13).
Possible loss of the Communist brand and its Soviet logo is a matter of serious concern to the party leadership. Even during its genuinely pro-European phase (2003-2008), Voronin’s team exploited the popularity of the Communist title and symbols with the party’s electorate. The leadership steadfastly refused to change the party’s name or otherwise rebrand it as a “European-type, left-socialist” party. The party’s internal polls showed that it would have lost more voters than it could have gained by re-branding. From 2009 onward, moreover, the party shifted its electoral strategy, opting for maximum mobilization of its core electorate and intense social polarization, instead of a broad-based approach. The economic crisis contributed to perpetuating a favorable view of the Soviet period among many voters. The party’s accustomed title and imagery were well suited to its post-2009 politics of mobilization and confrontation.
The Communists are the single largest party in Moldova from 1998 to date, and governed the country from 2001 through 2009. But even after the AEI coalition had won a narrow majority in 2009, the parliament failed to condemn Communism or ban its symbols. Most politicians carefully avoid offending pro-Communist and Soviet-nostalgic voters, hoping instead to attract the soft periphery of that electorate. Such calculations carried weight during Moldova’s serial parliamentary and presidential elections from 2009 through March 2012.
Within the AEI coalition, however, the Liberal Party (right-wing) led by Mihai Ghimpu is radically anti-communist. This party had proposed legislation in 2010 to condemn Communism, outlaw its symbols, and ban even the use of the term “Communist” in a party’s title. The Democratic Party (left-of-center), led by the parliament’s chairman Marian Lupu, resisted such proposals within the AEI. This party hopes ultimately to inherit parts of the Communist electorate. Even on this year’s anniversary of the 1940 Soviet occupation, Speaker Lupu turned down the Liberal Party’s proposal for a minute of silence in remembrance of the Communism’s victims (Jurnal de Chisinau, July 4); but Lupu had to shifted gears and join the internal AEI consensus as Filat shaped it on this matter. With the recent election of a head of state (Nicolae Timofti, after almost three years of presidential vacancy), and the next parliamentary elections two years away, the AEI managed to reach internal consensus on repudiating Communism and ensuring the narrow passage of this measure in parliament (see accompanying article).