Books on Moldova
Update No: 321 - (26/09/07)
A perilous state
There is no more important issue for a state than its territorial integrity.
Indeed, Max Weber, the German sociologist famously defined the state as being
"that entity that exercises a monopoly of violence within a given
territory." Moldova's writ no longer runs on the left bank of the River
Dniestria (Dniester River in English) at all.
The Republic of Transdniestria may not have de jure existence in most people's
eyes, but it has de facto independence all right.
It is run by a brigand of a man, Igor Smirnov, who rather resembles the actor,
Sean Connery (007), another ardent advocate of national independence - albeit
for Scotland in his case.
The enclave is awash with brigands of all sorts, as it so happens, resembling
that other anomalous enclave, Kaliningrad, also a haven of smuggling and
misdemeanours galore, distrusted (for good reason) by the outer world.
Moldovans have been separated since a civil war in the early 1990s divided the
country, turning it into a source of political instability and organised crime
and a point of conflict between Russia and the West.
Hopes of a settlement have risen this year after it emerged that Vladimir
Voronin, Moldova's veteran communist president, had secretly initiated talks
with Russia, the dominant influence in Transdniestria. The US and the European
Union, which, like Russia, have long been involved in maintaining stability in
Moldova, were taken by surprise.
When the contacts were made public, Moldovan officials insisted they had not
intended to keep the West in the dark nor to negotiate outside an agreed
multilateral framework. Mr Voronin has kept pressing Russia for a deal. However,
Moscow has so far kept quiet about its intentions. And time is running out for
Mr Voronin's initiative, with tensions between Russia and the West escalating
and the Kremlin increasingly concentrating on its presidential elections. Marian
Lupu, speaker of the Moldovan parliament, says: "The general atmosphere is
very bad, so I don't see a big chance of a settlement."
Locally, the obstacles to a deal have little to do with inter-ethnic relations
and everything to do with politics. Powerful business groups involved in
smuggling anything from arms to chicken meat, by way of narcotics and human
traffic, do not want a settlement that might interfere with their profitable
exploitation of Transdniestria's unrecognised legal status. While the launch of
an EU border mission last year has reinforced customs controls, the frontiers
are still leaky.
Mr Voronin needs a settlement to boost his flagging popularity. But in Tiraspol,
political leaders will reject any deal that would damage their power base.
Smirnov, the ageing Kremlin-loyal president, who runs a Soviet-like state with a
feared security service, is under growing pressure from Yevgeny Shevchuk, the
young speaker of parliament who is backed by Sherrif, the biggest local business
group, (see above for selection of probable activities).
But even if Mr Smirnov is eventually pushed out of office, there is little
chance of a rapid policy change. Tiraspol last year dropped out of the
multilateral settlement talks when the EU border mission started. Later, 97 per
cent of Transdniestrians voted in a referendum for independence whatever that
might mean, given the way referenda are run here. (As Stalin famously said,
"it doesn't matter who has the vote - what matters is who counts
Meanwhile, Moscow has 1,300 troops in Transdniestria as a peacekeeping force and
backs Tiraspol with subsidies. Russian companies have big investments and supply
almost all of Moldova's oil and gas. One western official says that, for Moscow,
the debate comes down to whether it is worth swapping 90-100 per cent influence
over Tiraspol for a smaller say in a reunited country. Besides many Russian
officials can safely be assumed to have made personal fortunes, by selling
illicit goods over all these years through this unrecognised republic. Armaments
in particular were the key commodity, being delivered to any worldwide
destination by Ukrainian 'private' air-freighters particularly in the time of
Kuchma, when president of neighbouring Ukraine. (The movie 'Lords of War' gives
a good illustration of how it worked). It Tiraspol don't have what you want -
then they can surely get it.
Under this year's tentative proposals, Moldova would guarantee its neutrality
and legalise Transdniestria's privatisations, including those involving Russian
There would be new countrywide elections and Tiraspol would be given 18 or 19
seats in the 101-member Moldovan parliament (compared to the 14 it would get on
a population basis) plus guaranteed ministerial posts.
The EU is in an awkward position on this. Following Romania's accession this
year, the union shares a border with Moldova. It is popular, especially among
young western-oriented Moldovans. But its influence is weakened by the tide of
European opinion running against further enlargement.
Whatever happens to the current settlement plans, the EU will struggle to
contain a resurgent Russia.
Smirnov in upbeat mood in annual address
Speaking to the press during Pridnestrovie's, (the other name for his country)
17-year independence celebrations, (for more about this unrecognised republic
see our Special Report "Stateless
States"), Smirnov - who was re-elected in December 2006 - said that
the past year was "full of important events for the building of the
Pridnestrovian nation and the consolidation of its foundations. There were two
significant events - the presidential elections and the referendum where our
people re-affirmed its pro-independence course."
" And, naturally, as we are somehow getting used to by now, there were
constant provocations by Moldova in the buffer zone, which very nearly ended
with a tragedy. These moments put the economy and the spirit of our state to the
test," he added.
In this interview, he looks back at the year and talks about some of the trials
that await Pridnestrovie in the future as it pursues its goal for international
recognition and full independence from neighbouring Moldova.
" All the trials that we have gone through shows that there's no other way
except our own statehood and independence. We must now cope with most of the
problems on our own. We're grateful to our friends for aid, but we understand
that we should first of all rely on ourselves," said Smirnov. "Over
the past year and a half we've lost 565 million dollars. Of course, the blockade
affected the macroeconomic indicators and our budget."
For the President of Pridnestrovie - very small but traditionally a strong
agricultural region - farming is a concern. "As you know Pridnestrovie
suffered a severe drought this year," he told journalists. "This year
the country lacks 60% of its crops. But agribusiness insurance is widespread in
our state, besides the state will offer tax relief for the lost crops. But
despite climatic conditions there are still farmers who managed to harvest more
crops than in the previous year. They achieved such results due to intensive
farming, modern irrigation systems and agricultural equipment. It shows that the
land bring profits when it is cultivated properly. Besides, the state should not
only launch anti-crisis measures aimed at minimizing losses. It should offer a
complex support program for agriculture. The main obstacle to development of
such a program is long-term credits which our banks are unable to offer just
If agriculture is a priority, are there any prospects for re-establishment of
the Agriculture Ministry?
"Well, we've already had the ministry for agriculture. What then? The point
is not in it, but in efficiency of work. The departments at local
administrations and services under the Ministry of the Economy have now been set
up. So in my opinion, the establishment of the ministry will only complicate the
matters when we are making every effort to cut funds for administration. We
allocated 17-25 million dollars every year. What did we get for it?"
Apart from the drought, what are the main problems, which the farmers in PMR
" - Today we have a problem with finding outlets and markets for what we
produce. The Slobodzya district used to grow 350,000 tons of vegetables. Tell
me, please, what are you going to do with 350,000 tons now? We compete with
Ukraine and Moldova in agriculture. The key tasks of agriculture is to feed our
people and then to earn money to fund social programs. There are positive
developments in land allocation. I visited the Kamenka and Rybnitsa districts.
Despite a severe drought and huge losses, people are still eager for farming the
land. The state should support those who cultivate the land effectively. The
right policy is to not hinder the farmers, but to assist them in processing and
selling their products when they can't export it without the forced registration
in Moldova. That's what we are doing now."
What is the situation with the status settlement talks in 5+2 format? Will they
" - We have nothing to talk about before Moldova begins to honor its own
earlier signed agreements with us. 148 documents have been signed between us,
but none of them are implemented. It is not my fault that new Presidents come to
power there (and then don't want to observe what their predecessors signed).
Under the 1997 Memorandum we have a right to independence in the economic
sphere. What new is there to negotiate about if they won't accept what they
signed with us?
The negotiations were first halted in 2001. Then, as you remember, Moldovan
negotiator Shova left the talks, slammed the door in everyone's face, and not
even William Hill (head of OSCE's Moldova mission) could stop him. Now, after
Moldova passed their law of the so-called "special legal status of
localities from the left bank of the Dniester", I think there's really
nothing to talk about. Remember, this law that offers us a lower status than
even Gagauzia (an ethnic Turkic enclave of Moldova) has. Other people say so, I
haven't read it and don't want to, because it is not a legitimate document. But
we are ready for negotiations if all of the above mentioned aspects can be
Pridnestrovie was once forced into a union with Bessarabia without anyone asking
its people. There was unification with some Ukrainian districts in the same
manner. Now they passed that law. For some reason, everybody performs the work
of God where they think they can set rules for others. At the same time they go
on and on about democracy. What about the will of people? Our 17 September 2006
referendum was absolutely free. You know the results: 98% of the voters want
independent development and also closer ties with Russia.
The populations of Moldova and Pridnestrovie have different mentalities,
ideologies and different ideals. The generation who knows its state - the
Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic - has grown up and knows about the harm caused
by those nationalists who wanted to take personal advantage of the break-up of
the USSR. Pridnestrovie's society differs markedly from Moldova's. And everybody
here wants to live well. One should live by working and we do so. We are ready
for negotiations to resolve all these problems."
A so-called "wine war" between Russia and Moldavia burst out last
summer. There have been positive changes lately. What are Pridnestrovie's
" - As for the losses - 8-10 million dollars failed to enter the budget.
Unfortunately, we are getting used to it."
According to Voronin, the issue of "Transnistria" will be resolved in
the near future. What is your view on that?
" - Voronin has made so many different statements that it is hard now to
know what to believe and what not to believe. But it is impossible to solve
anything behind people's back. Not a single agreement can be reached that way.
What comes next? We shall see. Let us take the Kosovo precedent. Of course, it
serves somewhat as an example, but we have at least as much right as Kosovo to
independence. We didn't withdraw from the Soviet Union, and Russia - as the
successor state to the Soviet Union - could therefore include us. But somebody
didn't like that. Now it is up to us to just live, to work, to give birth to new
children and to teach them that we must preserve our way of life that has been
shaped for centuries of existence of the people who live here on this
Why doesn't Russia provide financial help to Pridnestrovie anymore?
" - We can speculate about different reasons, but I think that Russia's
economic experts have arrived at a conclusion that we can cope on our own.
That's why they don't give us help. In the end, this is their decision and not
You said that you would retire after recognition of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian
Republic. Is your decision still firm?
" - Everyone must perform his and her duties. When the time comes, I won't
run away and hide. Moldova spreads the myth that as soon as Smirnov is removed
from office, everyone who lives here will start embracing Moldova's President
Vladimir Voronin. Of course, we can put this to a test, but I'm afraid they will
hug Voronin to death. Let's do our job and strive for international recognition.
We are expanding our information exchanges with the West. Guests from Russia,
the West, and European parliamentarians are coming to Pridnestrovie. And we're
doing it not to show that we are good, but merely to inform them objectively
about what is really happening here in Pridnestrovie. We've already suffered
from double standards, even triple standards."
The European Parliament held hearings and members of the now-released Ilie
Ilascu group participated to talk about human rights abuse in Pridnestrovie.
" - It is a case where human rights are being discussed by convicted
assassins. They killed an MP, a deputy of the Moldavian Parliament. To us, these
men are just killers. If you doubt this, go meet Gusar's widow or Ostapenko's
Moldova's government said that they are ready to share humanitarian aid to be
given by the West if Pridnestrovie send a request. Will you send a request?
" - At first they robbed us, they do not pay their electricity bills to us,
they destroyed Bender, Dubossary. And now we must ask them for something? It's
easy to be kind when there are others who pay the bill. This money is not
Moldova's money. We didn't ask for Moldova's help and we never will. If any of
the guarantor-countries want to provide humanitarian aid to us, we welcome it
and accept it with gratitude. We have laws in place to clearly state how all
such money is spent and who is responsible for it. Only yesterday I received a
message from Ireland about a new container of medicines and medical equipment.
We are very grateful to them. We didn't ask them for this, but they wanted to
help and they sent it. They are working, not talking. In our case, we won't ask
Moldova for anything."
Have you appealed to the international community for drought relief?
" - There should be enough bread. But if not, we'll think of where we can
get it. At any rate, we were brought up not to steal. Anyone may of course
render help if they want to. Anyone who wants to help us will help us freely
without having to be asked first. We do not want a political show. It is not the
way that the Pridnestrovians are."