Books on Moldova
Update No: 312 - (20/12/06)
The secessionist province
Russian-speaking Transnistria seceded from Romanian-speaking Moldova after a
civil war ending in 1992. It has remained a thorn in its side.
Russia maintains troops in Transnistria and supports the Smirnov regime, led by
former political prisoner, Igor Smirnov. He is a Stalinist by persuasion, yet
his own father was ironically a political prisoner under Stalin too.
The region's economy largely depends on smuggling. It is a sort of mini-USSR,
more of a late Brezhnevite than Stalinist vintage.
But such have been the ravages of the post-communist experience in Moldova, as
elsewhere in the FSU, nostalgia for late Brezhnevism is rife. Smirnov and his
ilk are genuinely popular, even if electoral results are massaged a bit.
The authoritarian leader of the breakaway province was re-elected president by
an overwhelming majority, according to official poll results made public on
December 9th. Smirnov received 82 per cent of the popular vote on the previous
day. Regional Communist Party leader Natalia Bondarenko took second place with 8
per cent, the Infotag news agency reported.
"With this result the Transnistrian people have expressed their choice to
go forward towards economic development, in unison with Russia," Smirnov
said in a victory speech. Cleaving to Russia is the sine qua non of his regime.
Predictably, a declaration from Moldova's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on
the international community to consider the results of the vote illegitimate.
But nothing concrete is likely to be done about it. It is difficult to impose
trade sanctions on a regime already based on contraband!
President Vladimir Voronin not to stay for third term
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has had enough of dealing with Smirnov and
his Moscow backers, who imposed a trade embargo on Moldova itself in the summer,
notably on its fine wines. At the recent CIS meting in Minsk, Vladimir Putin
announced that there had been a change of policy and that the embargo would be
It is not clear at this stage what Moldova had to do to achieve this volte face
but could be connected with a 'pull back' by President Voronin in alleging
Russian involvement in arms smuggling from their puppet enclave of Transnistria.
That, a few weeks ago had been a bit mystifying, but may have been an acceptable
price to pay in order to re-establish the export market to Russia. He has
announced that he would not seek to stay in office for a third term.
"No. I am tired. And then the age. Eight years is enough for any office,
not only for president, to realise oneself or to understand that this is not
yours. Someone with fresh strength, ideas and thoughts should continue building
modern Moldova," Voronin said in a recent interview.
Asked about his heir, he said the Moldovan president was elected by the
parliament, which is constitutionally correct. "Certain results should be
achieved in the elections of 2009 before I can speak about a successor. This is
not such an easy question for me as it is on other countries. The party I am the
head of should have a majority. But there may be a different balance of force,
and then compromises and talks will be necessary. Who will become the next
president will definitely not depend on me alone," Voronin said.
Moldova has one of highest growth rates of Gross Domestic Product in entire
South Eastern Europe
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. Still it now has one of the
highest rates of GDP (7 per cent in 2005) in the entire South Eastern Europe and
follows a balanced budgetary policy, according to a report on the Investment
Reform Index, worked out by the Regional Investment Compact Programme of the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), launched in
Chisinau on 14 December.
OECD Finance Director Anthony Sullivan told a report launching ceremony that
Moldova obtained a solid progress in creating the foundation for a business
environment favourable for foreign investments. Under the report's conclusions,
important advancements were also made in the investment policies, foreign trade
and regulatory reforms. Particularly, Moldova is passing through the "guillotina
process", and has managed to rationalize the existing legislation and make
it friendlier to the private sector, Sullivan said.
As regards the fight against corruption, Moldova should particularly work out
and enact powerful laws on conflicts of interests and reinforce the public
acquisitions system. At the same time, "more efforts should be taken to
improve Moldova's image by promoting investments and providing services for
investors," Sullivan said.
Participating in the event, Economics and Trade Minister Igor Dodon stressed
that the launch of the OECD report "is a rather important event for
Moldova. It is even more important in the context of the meeting of the Donors'
Consultative Group, recently conducted in Brussels, under the auspices of the
World Bank and the European Commission".
"Regardless of sector, be it social, economic, or infrastructure, wooing
investments remains a major condition for development. Moldova, despite the good
results registered over the last four-five years, still has reserves in this
respect. One of the national economy's problem is competitiveness and the
capability of the local product's offer to satisfy the increasing demand
provoked by the growing consumption in Moldova," the minister said.
Dodon said that "it is important to attract investments in order to produce
and increase the local goods' competitiveness, both on the domestic and foreign
markets in order to supply this demand, not through import but through local
products and offers."
"The OECD Report is of special importance for the country and the
government as this analysis is conducted in comparison with the states Moldova
competes with in wooing investments," Dodon said. The minister underlined
that "during the next years, both the central and local public authorities,
and the civil society, will do their utmost to develop reforms and remove the
gaps, which are highlighted by the report's authors."
The OECD Investment Compact is a regional programme, created in order to improve
the investment environment and encourage the private sector's development in the
South Eastern Europe. It functions under the aegis of the Stability Pact.
The following is self-explanatory and extremely uncritical about the recent
Transnistria victor, who is an unusual man:-
The man who wouldn't be king
A man and his nation: Why does Igor Smirnov want to be president of this
place? He wasn't even born here...
By Karen Ryan, 09/Dec/2006
Igor Smirnov, 65, is a former political prisoner whose father was jailed by
Stalin. Locals say that he is not a foreigner. He wasn't born here, so what is
Igor Smirnov - a newcomer - doing as the only president that Pridnestrovie has
ever had since it declared independence 16 years ago?
That is a question which only an uninformed foreigner can ask. For the people of
the unrecognised country, the answer is obvious: He is our president, he is the
link to our past, he has secured our present, and he is - many here hope - the
link to our future.
To understand the man who wouldn't be king, but who anyway ended up on the
throne of a country that is not yet on the map, we must start in Siberia, in the
cold of World War II.
A shared past: Communist confusion
Igor Smirnov, now 65, was born in Russia's far northeast, in a city called
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The city was founded by the explorer Vitus Bering, the
man who also gave his name to the Bering Strait. The climate is sub-arctic. It
is hard to get to: It is the second largest city in the world that cannot be
reached by road.
It was World War II when Igor Smirnov was born, and life was hard in the Soviet
Union. But the war was not felt in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. There, near the
arctic circle, life had always been hard. And with more children on the way,
Igor's parents sought a better life in the sun: In the south of the Soviet
Union, near vineyards and the balmy Black Sea climate.
They found it the Ukrainian SSR, just miles from what is today Pridnestrovie.
Here, Smirnov Sr dabbled in local politics, but in the early 1950s that could be
dangerous. Stalin's purges were raging, and the security apparatus of the Soviet
dictator zoomed in on Igor Smirnov's father; "rewarding" his
activities with fifteen years of hard labour and another five in exile.
With Stalin's death in 1953, lots of Soviet political prisoners got early
release. Igor Smirnov's father was among them.
The younger Smirnov made his career as a welder and factory hand in the southern
Kherson Oblast of Ukraine, next door to what is today the country that he leads.
He had been in the area since he was three years old. He considered himself a
native, and indeed, at the time, it was his country: The Soviet Union stretched
from Siberia to the Dniester river, and beyond. Indeed, he was a native. It was
only later, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, that he became a
The Russian Lech Walesa
Working his way up on the factory floor, Igor Smirnov involved himself in
trade union activities; just like Poland's Lech Walesa, two years younger, had
done with the "Solidarity" (Solidarnosc) movement. In Smirnov's case,
he became one of the leaders of the OSTK, the United Work Collective Council.
The movement, just like Solidarity, was formed as a strike movement and a
counterpart to the Communist Party.
By now, he had become a resident of Tiraspol and leader of the workers of a
When the strike campaign failed to produce the expected results, OSTK activists
turned their attention to upcoming elections. Using institutional resources and
popularity acquired during the strike campaign, OSTK activists worked to get
sympathizers elected to office, both on local and republican levels.
Inspired by Solidarity in Poland, the OSTK organized strikes ... something which
was previously unheard-of in the Soviet Union. Between 16 August and 22
September 22, 1989, the OSTK brought over 200 factories and other state-run
enterprises into the strike campaign. At its peak in early September, over
100,000 workers participated in the strike in opposition to the Soviet Socialist
Republic's leadership and its Communist authorities, among them - in 1989 - a
Communist general by the name of Vladimir Voronin, head of the dreaded Interior
Ministry police force. Today, the same Voronin is president of Moldova.
When the strikes failed to bring changes in Communist policy, OSTK took
advantage of perestroika reforms and re-launched itself as a political party - a
tactic also followed by Lech Walesa's identical Solidarity movement in Poland.
OSTK candidates fared well in the 25 February 1990 elections. In Tiraspol, OSTK
leader Igor Smirnov defeated the Communist Party candidate for the position of
chairman of the city Soviet.
Resident: "His past is our past"
The Soviet Union was a huge multi-ethnic state in most parts of which
Russians had made their homes. On a smaller scale, but even more pronounced, the
same was true for Pridnestrovie; in the past itself a part of the Soviet Union.
There was nothing "foreign" about a Russian, with Russians, Ukrainians
and Moldovans making up roughly equal percentages in Pridnestrovie. Everyone
speaks Russian, and it is rare that someone identies himself on the basis of
ethnicity. It is a question reserved for the census takers, it seems. Ethnicity
does not play a role in the day to day of daily life.
" - His past is our past, he is one of us," says local resident Alina
Costirceanu. "He was born in our country, when it was all the same country:
The Soviet Union. He is not a foreigner. He understands what we are, and what we
struggled against in the past. He remembers the bad things of the past, that we
wanted to change. But he also remembers the good things, the things that we
always wanted to keep. Igor Smirnov fought with us for our ideals, our dreams
and changes, and he was always down there with us, side by side, never up high
like the Communist party leaders."
Coming from the factory floor, Igor Smirnov was not afraid to get his hands
dirty, remembers fellow OSTK organizer Boris Shtefan, a shop foreman from the
"Elektromash" electronics factory and trade union activist.
" - I don't think that he really ever wanted to be a leader," said
Shtefan in an interview shortly after the first election of Smirnov. "He
only got involved in all of this out of a sense of civic duty. It was the kind
of Soviet loyalty that is sometimes hard for a foreigner to understand. Not a
loyalty to the leaders, mind you. After all, we stood against the Communist. But
a loyalty to the little people, to the ideals and to the dream that we could
make a better society for all of us, regardless of ethnic background."
Remembering how his father had been imprisoned, Igor Smirnov was sceptical of
the political establishment. A year later, in 1991, he himself was taken
prisoner. Accused of being a "secessionist", Moldovan authorities held
him incommunicado in a Chisinau basement from 29 August 1991 until 25 September
1991. In the basement, he was regularly tortured and even forced to sign a false
statement renouncing his people's wish for independence. He was only freed after
thousands of women joined in public protests organized by Galina Andreeva, who
staged a Gandhi-style sit-down strike on the railroad tracks; blocking all train
traffic on the Chisinau-Tiraspol-Moscow route.
If Smirnov had doubts about his commitment to independence, that vanished
when he emerged from the dark Moldovan cell. The month in solitary confinement
taught him to trust Chisinau authorities even less than the Stalin henchmen who
had imprisoned his father.
Today, the voters of Pridnestrovie - also called Transnistria, in Moldovan, or
Transdniester, its unofficial English name - see Igor Smirnov as someone who
will never budge on independence. This is the way that most of them want it,
too. So he is "their man." Because of his personal history, and the
torture which he suffered when he was jailed by Moldova, he will not easily give
up what he now sees as his life work: The international recognition of the
independence of the little country which was founded by public referendum on 2
Smirnov works an average of 15 hours a day. There is no evidence that Smirnov is
interested in power or money. He drives a Skoda and goes to theatre with his
wife at least once a week, always without bodyguards.
The small and unrecognised country which he leads is called a Russian
protectorate, a reference to the place where Smirnov was born and the language
that the entire population speaks. But, says his defenders, Smirnov was not born
in Russia: He was born in the Soviet Union, and at the time, Pridnestrovie was
part of that. It was the same country. Smirnov was never a foreigner.
Pridnestrovie has always been more Russian than Moldovan, with a Slav majority
and a history as part of Russia going back hundreds of years. It has never at
any time been part of an independent Moldova, and it has never at any time in
history had a Moldovan majority. The Slavic population - which Igor Smirnov is
part of - has always been the majority in the territory which is today
Pridnestrovie, or PMR to use the initials of its official name.
A future without Smirnov
Igor Smirnov has announced that he will retire from politics when the
Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica obtains international recognition as a
sovereign state. He says that this goal his life's work.
The inhabitants in Tiraspol, Bender, Rybnitsa and the other cities know that
this is what he works for, first and foremost, and this is why they vote for
" - Smirnov is our link to the future," says Dubossary voter Andrea
Densusianu. "Of course we don't want to have him as a president forever.
All we want is to make sure that our independence is secured. We want the rest
of the world to recognize that we have decided to be independent, and that
nothing will ever change that."
Iosif Glavina agrees: "He should finish what he started. That is all we
want. I am Moldovan, but like most of my neighbours here, I am first of all a
Transnistrian. We have no future with Moldova, and the only way to get better
relations is for them to respect us for what we are, and then we will respect
them, too, as good neighbours. I am ready to move on, and get a new president,
but I prefer that Igor Smirnov complete what he has started, and make sure that
our independence becomes final."
Delegation discusses gas deliveries in 2007 at Gazprom
A delegation from Moldova is in talks with Gazprom in Moscow on the price of gas
deliveries in 2007 and the settlement of debts for previous deliveries. "So
far we have not come to any agreement but I expect that we will resolve all
issues before the end of the year," Sergei Kupriyanov, Gazprom's spokesman,
said on Ekho Moskvy radio on December 6th.
Commenting on the talks on the valuation of Beltransgaz company, the shares of
which may be used for payment for Russian gas deliveries to Belarus in 2007, he
said that so far there had been no progress in opinions about the value of the
company. Kupriyanov was adamant there would be no problems with gas transit to
Europe through Ukraine this winter. No negotiations are under way with Georgia,
which Gazprom is planning to charge US$230 for 1,000 cubic metres instead of the
US$110 in 2007, since Georgia is in talks with alternative gas suppliers.
Gazprom remains in contact with the Georgian side at the expert level, not the
level of top executives.