NARRATIVES: 1. Moldova needs a strong leader (to the detriment of democratic institutions). 2. Only a father-figure political leader can solve the country’s problems. 3. The people are not ready for a parliamentary democracy. 4. Communist leader Vladimir Voronin was a figure of authority. 4. Authoritarian regimes (like that in Russia) are more effective than liberal democracies (like those in Europe).
BACKGROUND: Moldova is undergoing a prolonged period of transition. This year marks three decades since the country broke off from the USSR and switched from a one-party state (the Communist Party) to a democratic, multi-party political system.
The USSR’s collapse didn’t necessarily usher in democratic regimes in ex-Soviet space. Some of the old republics, particularly those in Central Asia, switched straight to authoritarian regimes that have endured to this day. After a period of relative democracy, others have returned to a single-leader system, who nevertheless feigns democracy, allowing the existence of several parties and a certain opposition. Such is the case of Belarus, where president Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, despite massive anti-government protests in this country. In the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin has been the Kremlin’s strongman since 1999, serving as both Prime Minister and President alternately. He recently revised the Constitution, allowing him to stay in power after the expiry of his current mandate in 2036.
In the Republic of Moldova, shortly after obtaining their political freedom and amidst a deterioration of their living standards, the people started to feel nostalgic about their Soviet past, when they were guaranteed a stable job and the means to make a living. In the 2001 snap elections, the Communist Party (PCRM) therefore won 71 of the total of 101 seats in Parliament, becoming the dominant party. PCRM swiftly managed to implement a top-down political system patterned on the Russian model. Vladimir Voronin became the head of state, PCRM also made up the Cabinet and held all the executive and legislative power up until 2009. The communist rule resembled an autocracy, employing the authoritarian power structures of the USSR. Although it did enjoy widespread popular support for a while, PCRM’s undemocratic decisions, including its attacks on the free press, sparked the people’s disgruntlement. The communists were eventually removed from power at the end of street protests, the people suspecting the April 5, 2009 parliamentary election had been rigged. The protests were repressed in force, dozens of young people being detained and beaten in police stations in April, 2009.
Vladimir Voronin won a second term in office in 2005, grabbing the votes of Iurie Roșca’s Christian-Democratic People’s Party (PPCD), which was ideologically situated on the other side of the political spectrum. Over 1991-2005, PPCD had been promoting democratic, Western and pro-Romanian values. In the mid-2000s, Iurie Roșca switched camps, siding with Voronin. He is presently advocating a number of Kremlin-linked narratives and is an outspoken partisan of the so-called sovereigntist politics in Europe and the United States.
The leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), Vladimir Plahotniuc, in turn made an attempt to grab absolute power for himself in the 2014-2019 period, when he exerted control over most state institutions, including the judiciary, the country’s prosecutor’s office and part of the media.
PURPOSE: The publication is promoting the myth of the authoritarian leader as the only institution capable of getting the country’s affairs in order. Such narratives undermine the people’s confidence in democratic institutions and the separation of state powers. Moreover, this kind of discourse is an indirect reference to Putin’s model of authoritarian capitalism.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: The myth of the powerful leader who sorts out the country’s problems and makes people obey him exerts particular appeal in the Republic of Moldova, as in all ex-Soviet republics for that matter. Depending on the problems currently facing the country (high crime rates, economic difficulties, etc.), the propensity for this type of leader can be much bigger. On the other hand, Moldova has had a long tradition of standing up against authoritarian regimes or power-hungry politicians, ever since the dissolution of the USSR. Voronin had to deal with widespread demonstrations, which prevented him, for instance, from signing the Kozak Memorandum, and subsequently cost him his seat. Vladimir Plahotniuc’s regime equally faced grassroots opposition. Apart from street protests, people also tend to vote in high numbers against politicians who want too much power for themselves. This was recently the case in 2020, when Igor Dodon lost the presidential race.
As regards the efficiency of iron-fisted politics, again, we are talking about a myth. It’s worthy to note here the difference between the Republic of Moldova and the Baltic States, to which it was compared in the past due to their shared history and trajectories. The Baltic States took up extensive reforms to become liberal democracies shortly after the breakup of the USSR. Ten years later, there were already sizable gaps between them and Moldova, which further widened over the next years, according to the World Bank’s ranking of countries in terms of GDP per capita.
The Republic of Moldova had a GDP-per-capita rating of some $400 in 2000, which rose to $1,899 in 2009, the year when the communists were removed from power. In 2019, Moldova’s GDP per capita stood at $4,504.
By contrast, Estonia had a considerable lead in 2000, with $4,075 per capita, and $23,723 in 2019. Latvia had $3,357 in 2000, $12,228 in 2009 and 17,828 in 2019, while Lithuania $3,293 in 2000, $11,820 nine years later and $19,601 in 2019. Also worth mentioning is that all the three Baltic states reported significant slumps as a result of the economic recession that hit Europe.