Friday, July 31, 2009

Moldova reloaded

After the riots in the wake of the elections in April the parliament in Moldova was unable to elect a president (according to the constitutional provisions a candidate needs 61 votes in the 101 member parliament, the communist party had only 60 MPs) and as the constitution prescribes early elections were held at the end of July. The results - although the communists still retained their position as the far largest party - are different enough to modify the balance of power, but not different enough to resolve the deadlock. The outcome is highly improbable, even though adherents of so-called pro-European parties are in a cheerful mood, celebrating the fall of the last communist government. I do not want to discuss the options and possibilities as I have very limited expertise on the Moldavian politics. But the situation has some underlying characteristics worth to outline, more precisely the distorting effect and influence of the application of a very limited dichotomy - pro-Europeans and pro-Russians - regarding the political divisions in the area on the perception of external observes.

There is a sometimes surprising tendency to assess political forces and personalities in the countries earlier part of the Soviet block based on a dichotomy of pro-Europeans or pro-Western and pro-Russian parties. (It is described many times as an opposition of democrats and anti-democrats or post-communists.) It was one of the dominant interpretations of the series of so-called "colored revolutions" beginning with the Eduard Sevarnadze's fall, followed by the electoral victory of Traian Băsescu over Adrian Năstase in Romania and the elevation of Vladimir Yuschchenko to the position of president in Ukraine. And even though the record of the new leaders is not a success story neither in terms of democratic reforms, nor regarding their own political convictions as firm democrats - as it is seen in the case of Moldova - the dichotomy is still extremely popular. (It was especially stupid to apply on the Romanian case, as Romania was on its way towards EU membership and although far from being a functioning model democracy certainly not an autocratic regime neither a markedly pro-Russian one, and its government led by Năstase struggled desperately for a NATO membership, finally achieved still in his term as prime minister.) This fact allows people ti frame a discursive space in which a political force only has to set as one of his aims the EU membership and it will immediately be considered as a democratic one, as Europe - due to the rethorics encompassing the transition and the enlargement process - has only positive connotations and usually juxtaposed with it's negative counterpart - the Russians, always only seeking their own advantages, playing games of great powers, striving for a sphere of influence, as if we would still live in the 19th century.

Even though the colored revolutions proved to be only half successes at best and none of the new leaders turned out to be democrat with firm conviction, the idea reemerges in almost every case when political contest in the post-Soviet space flares up. And the quite controversial experiences of the last enlargement process were not capable to reduce the popularity of such simplistic approaches. Neither the level of corruption, nor the rise of populist politics or the monopoly of the civil sphere practiced by political parties or the attempts of the governments of the new member states to seek only they very narrowly perceived interests in the EU institutions were enough to convince enthusiasts of the idea that there pure democratic and pure anti-democratic political forces to approach the situation with more caution and with more balance.

In the Moldavian case, after the elections at 5 April, many observer easily accepted the idea that the success of the communists - 49% of the votes casted and 60 mandates due to the loss of a significant share of the votes for parties not scoring 5% necessary to enter into the parliament - can only be a result of massive electoral fraud, because the earlier polls and the exit-poll showed a lower result for them. Many observer accepted and accepts the idea, that being pro-Romanian - i. e. supporting the idea of Moldavians belonging to the Romanian nation and therefore having the support of the Romanian government - means pro-European and necessarily democratic stance as Romania is an EU member state. Now the communists achieved 45% of the votes - significantly higher then predicted by earlier polls (31-32%) and showed by exit-polls (41%) - and nobody cried aloud fraud or crime, although the difference this time was more significant. And at the same time nobody apologized for their earlier assumptions, even though the result in itself could show that the communists really has a high level of popular support behind them. (Not only scored similarly as three months earlier, but a new formation led by a dissident of the party, former president of the parliament, designated by the communists, achieved 12%, that way also supporting the correctness of the earlier result. While no one showed astonishment hearing Traian Basescu telling in an interview that Voronin hoped in vain for his help in the formation of a large coalition, after the insults exchanged by the two governments and heads of state during the tumultuous period after the April elections, as if this remark wouldn't express a will for a far more significant influence on the internal politics of a sovereign country than it would be normal from a simple member state of the EU, caring only for democracy. Such remarks can for many - retrospectively - even prove Moldavian communist's allegations regarding Romania's role in the April events.) Enthusiasm dominates the scene, seeing in the communists defeat the automatic emergence of democracy.

Quite peculiar is the way democracy is interpreted - implicitly - in this case. Something not according to Russia's will or interest. Moldova was far from being a model democracy under the communists and after April the security forces acted sometimes violently, but anyway Voronin was for a while seeking methods of cooperation with the West and opposition parties had an opportunity to run a successful campaign against the communists, not exactly one would expect from an completely anti-democratic regime. (My point is not to whitewash PCRM, rather to point out that in these transitory countries democracy is far from any textbook example and many types of practices can co-exist in the framework of a country. Or even in a party.) Meanwhile so-called democrats were not capable to extend their basis significantly, their results remained almost the same as in April(their overall share of the votes grew only with 3%, and they even lost one mandate), showing that the kind of anti-communist rethoric was not really attractive. The tip of the balance was moved by the dissident Marian Lupu's score, and not by the suudenly discovered anti-communist emotions of large layers of voters.

That predicts a hard future for any kind of anti-communist coalition, the most probable outcome at the moment. With four parties and three key positions to share (president, speaker of the parliament, prime minister) someone will certainly remain without the influence, positions and resources hoped for earlier. The high support for communist expressed by most rural voters prophesizes hard times for a rather urban based political coalition, facing immense problems of a poverty stricken country, living from exporting its workforce. Romania could seems as a potent player in the region, but it is a weak country, that is not really capable to frame the EU's action, therefore it's triumph is rather temporary and as the country will certainly not capable to fulfill its tacit promise of rapid EU accession for Moldavia, the end can easily be a huge disappointment. Moreover, the country, as it is shown by the election results, is highly divided and not only in its political choices, but in more profound issues of identity and societal culture. No anti-communist government will be capable to overwrite these divisive lines in the nearest future. And the usual signs of democrats being not so principled democrats already emerged. While the then-opposition parties blocked the election of a new president with their 40 MPs - and that way triggered the early elections - now they already denied the right of the communist to engage into negotiations regarding the new president, stating that the communists have no right to block the election against the popular will, even though the communist party - that can turn out to be equally fragile as the anti-communist coalition - has 48 MPs and higher popular support then these opposition parties had in April. Democracy is clearly not a matter of principle, rather depends on ones position in the respective moment.

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