Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 70

For the last two years, Moldova’s political parties, parliament, presidency and law enforcement bodies engaged in a political war of all against all. It has destroyed the country’s political system and helped lift the Communist Party on its ruins. Meanwhile, a Pax Russica reigned undisturbed in Transdniester. For the first time since 1991, it now has a chance to be extended to the rest of Moldova with the support of the newly elected parliament, if Moscow nudges it and if the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe goes along.

Among all the parliaments of CIS member countries, Moldova’s newest one is unique in two respects. First, it is the only truly powerful parliament, owing to constitutional changes enacted by its predecessor chamber in July 2000. Those changes, vesting the legislature with far-reaching powers, turned Moldova from a semipresidential into a parliamentary republic. And, second, as a result of the February 25 elections, it is the only post-Soviet parliament with a Communist Party majority.

The Communists held a plurality of the parliamentary seats prior to these elections, yet were clearly outnumbered by the “center-right” and “rightist” parties. Those, however, joined forces with the Communist Party against the head of state and instituted the parliamentary republic. The transfer of power to a Communist-dominated parliament was an irresponsible move. Those then went into elections on the basis of the proportional system, which all too predictably favored the large and disciplined Communist Party at the expense of the smaller, disunited centrists and rightists. These ultimately competed against one another and were crushed as a result. The constitutional change and the ensuing elections were two stages of a political suicide by all but one of Moldova’s anticommunist parties. Therein lie both a lesson and a warning to the national-democrats of Ukraine.

Of a total of the 101 deputies in the new parliament, seventy-one are members of the Communist Party. Additionally, several deputies elected as “centrists” are in fact diehard Communists who did not find a niche on that party’s slate of candidates. The Communist deputies are–almost without exception–the products of Soviet political socialization, a process which was more successful in the Moldavian SSR compared to many other union republics. Most of these deputies were born in the early post-war years–mid-1940s to early 1950s–and experienced the Soviet modernization of the backward agricultural Moldova. They contributed to and benefited from that process as professionals, managers and Party apparatchiks. That is their sole formative experience. Many of them opposed perestroika, and most of them regard the post-1991 reforms as wanton destruction of a functional agro-industrial system in Moldova.

Almost all of them hold degrees from Moldavian SSR institutions, supplemented in some cases by degrees from Party academies of that period. Only a few hold more respectable degrees from Moscow, and none graduated from Western institutions. Almost none took advantage of the opportunities for professional and cultural exchanges with the West which opened after 1991. The great majority fall into one of three professional categories: agronomists from kolkhoz backgrounds; engineers, including technical gymnasium (“tekhnikum”) graduates designated as engineers; and secondary school teachers.

Some of the Communist frontbenchers in this parliament are former nomenklatura heavyweights, sidelined not in 1991, but in 1989, because they resisted Gorbachevian reforms. Among these are Ivan Kalin (Ion Calin), ex-chairman of the council of ministers of the Moldavian SSR; Vasile Iovv, the ex-Party chief of the republic’s second largest city, Balti (Beltsi); and Major-General Viktor Zlachevsky, former military commissar [in charge of conscription] of Soviet Moldavia.

The ethnic composition of the Communist group holds one of the clues to this party’s success–and by the same token to the center-right’s failure–in this multiethnic country. About half or perhaps less than half of the Communist deputies are ethnic Moldovans with Moldovan surnames, the other half being either “Russian-speakers” or individuals with the fluid ethnolinquistic identity so common in Moldova. The anticommunist Moldovan parties ignored these segments of the population and ran mono-ethnic slates of candidates. Compounding that miscalculation, some of the “right-wing” parties staked their fate on the narrow Romanian-minded segment of the ethnic Moldovan electorate. All this drove many Moldovan-minded Moldovans, as well as all the “Russian-speakers,” into the arms of the left.

The Romanian national idea in Moldova tends to be confined to about 10 percent or less of the total electorate, or maximum 15 percent of the ethnic Moldovans. The main bearers of this idea belong to the literary and scholarly intelligentsia in Chisinau. This stratum also supplies the leadership of Romanian-oriented parties, which define themselves as rightist and fight with one another for dominance on that narrow segment of the political spectrum. By ignoring the Moldovan-Moldovans and the non-Moldovans, these parties in effect resign themselves to perpetual marginalization while abandoning the “Russian-speaking” third of the electorate to the Communist Party.

The new chairman of parliament is Eugenia Ostapciuc (Yevgenia Ostapchuk), who is bilingual in “Moldovan” (that is, Romanian) and in Russian, whose surname is typically Ukrainian, and who is a native of the northern county of Soroca, where Moldovan and Ukrainian settlements mix. Ostapciuc, born in 1947, spent her entire career in public food catering, first in Soroca and later in Chisinau. She was first elected to parliament on the Communist slate in 1998 and never took the floor in that parliament. In the new, she only spoke once–to nominate the Communist Party’s leader, Vladimir Voronin, for the post of head of state.

Voronin handpicked Ostapciuc as parliamentary chairman in order to have a colorless and loyal figure in that post. This suggests that Voronin intends to run Moldova as a presidential republic de facto, relying on the discipline of the Communist parliamentary majority and of the Communist Party. For now, he does not need to tinker with the constitutional setup of a parliamentary republic (Survey based on Moldovan media post-election coverage; see the Monitor, January 2, February 26, March 5, 7, 9, 13, 21, 27, April 5).