Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 144

On July 22, at President Vladimir Voronin’s initiative, the Moldovan parliament adopted an Organic Law on the principles of resolving the separatist conflict in Transnistria. The law completely reverses the logic of a 13-year old, futile negotiating process, with which Moldova had until recently gone along. As part of that change, the law draws inspiration from the “3 D” concept — democratization, demilitarization, de-criminalization of Transnistria — worked out last year by analysts representing civil-society groups.

Casting aside the old negotiations’ parameters that were confining Moldova within a “post-Soviet space,” the law seeks to move the negotiating process into the European space of democratic security. Instead of an expediency-based settlement with Moscow and Tiraspol, such as would have empowered both of them to block the reform of Moldova’s institutions, the law just adopted clears the path for advancement of those reforms.

Also on July 22, the Moldovan parliament adopted the laws on reforming the judicial system, the State Security Service, and the Chamber of Accounts, as part of the reform package required by the European Union-Moldova Action Plan. These three enactments also form part of the 10-point legislative program at the basis of the Christian-Democrat and Social- Liberal parties’ parliamentary partnership with the nominally Communist majority and presidency.

The law on Transnistria and those on institutional reforms passed, each, with more than 90 votes in favor in the 101-seat parliament. Organic laws require a majority of at least three-fifths (61 votes) for passage and for any subsequent modification. Thus, the law on Transnistria will in effect shield Moldova from direct or indirect external pressures to accept a settlement on Moscow’s and Tiraspol’s terms.

The law completely redefines the purpose of the negotiations, henceforth “to pursue the goals of democratization and demilitarization of Transnistria” (preamble and art.1.1). (The goal until now had been power sharing with the existing authorities there.) The law also stipulates the proper sequencing of the process: Transnistria’s special legal status will be negotiated “after the formation of democratically elected power structures in Transnistria, and after the Russian Federation fulfills its obligations regarding the full, transparent withdrawal of its troops and weaponry” (art. 1.2). (The process until now had envisaged a political status agreement with Tiraspol while Russian troops and Tiraspol’s forces remained in place.)

This law defines the “basic parameters of a special legal status” for Transnistria, short of the specifics that remain to be negotiated. Transnistria is to become a “special autonomous territorial unit … as an inalienable part of Moldova.” (A Gagauz autonomous territorial unit has existed in Moldova since 1994, with powers considerably more limited than those envisaged for Transnistria in this law.) This section as well as the law’s title uses the terms “Transnistria” and “localities on the left bank of the Nistru” interchangeably, obliquely suggesting that a future autonomous unit would not necessarily include the substantial bridgehead it now holds on the river’s right bank. (art. 2).

“Left-bank localities may decide to join or to leave [the autonomous unit] by local referendums, conducted according to Moldova’s electoral legislation” (art. 3). This stipulation draws on the precedent created by the law on Gagauz autonomy, whereby some towns and villages exercised the right to hold referendums on whether to join that autonomous unit or not. The law on Transnistria carefully uses the word “may” in order to allow flexibility in implementation.

This stipulation cautiously attempts to do justice to Transnistria’ ethnic complexity. Transnistria has to all intents and purposes been viewed as “Russian” or “Russian-speaking” during the negotiating process at all levels thus far. However, Moldovans form a plurality of Transnistria’s total population and the majority of the native-born population, with Ukrainians the second-largest, and Russians the third-largest, element numerically, though in overall control. Moreover, left-bank Russians are concentrated in the city of Tiraspol, while all of the five districts are heavily Moldovan or Moldovan and Ukrainian.

Reflecting that situation, the law stipulates that the official languages in Transnistria shall be (in this order) Moldovan in the Latin script, Ukrainian, and Russian (art. 6.2). At present, the same languages have “official” status in Transnistria in theory only, while only Russian enjoys that status in practice, and Moldovans may only use the Latin script within the walls of four schools in all of Transnistria.

The autonomous unit shall have a Supreme Council as its representative and legislative body that shall enact a Basic Law of Transnistria and local laws within the limits of Transnistria’s competencies [which are yet to be negotiated.] The Basic Law and local laws may not contravene Moldova’s constitution. The Supreme Council must be freely and democratically elected, under monitoring by the OSCE and Council of Europe. Such elections can be held after the demilitarization and democratization of Transnistria (art. 4). The autonomous unit’s judiciary, police, and internal security service shall be “component parts of Moldova’s single system of law enforcement” operating under Moldovan law (art. 5). The autonomous unit shall have its own symbols, to be used alongside Moldova’s state symbols (art. 6.1).

The delimitation of competencies between Moldova’s central authorities and the autonomous unit shall be regulated by a Law on Transnistria’s Special Legal Status, to be negotiated in accordance with Moldova’s constitution (art. 11) and to be accompanied by “internal guarantees” (art. 12). In his speech introducing the law to Parliament, Voronin referred to guarantees to Transnistria residents and businesses regarding their socio-economic, legal, human, and minority rights under the law.

The only remnant in this law from the old “negotiating process” is: “Transnistria shall have the right to conduct external economic and humanitarian relations” as authorized Moldova’s legislation (art. 9). Apart from this, the law makes no mention of “peacekeeping troops” (Russian), “mediators” (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE), “guarantors” (same trio), or a “pentagonal negotiating format” (same trio plus Chisinau and Tiraspol coequally), thus finally consigning that baggage to history. That terminology had practically disappeared from Moldova’s official discourse in recent months. On the day of the parliamentary vote, 22 Moldovan NGOs — the core of civil society — published a joint statement strongly criticizing the past approach to negotiations, which this law changes completely.

In his speech to parliament, which he equally addressed to the residents of Transnistria, Voronin (a Transnistria native himself) declared, “We shall never again just sit and watch how our beloved Transnistria is being turned into a currency of exchange for international geopolitical games.” Negotiations, “even with the incumbent Tiraspol authorities, will continue, but only on issues of democratization and demilitarization of Transnistria, as this law stipulates,” Voronin concluded (Moldpres, July 22).