Mircea Snegur was a politician who started his career as a local leader of the Soviet Communist Party. He advocated for the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Moldova, promoted the Romanian language and the tricolor, but accepted the accession to the CIS and the return of agrarian neo-communists to power. He also clearly assumed a pro-Romanian and pro-Western public discourse only after retiring from political life.
A controversial president: Russia’s inside man or the architect of independence?
On September 13, late in the evening, the first president of the Republic of Moldova, Mircea Snegur, died at the age of 83.
The current president, Maia Sandu, announced that September 16 - the date on which Snegur's funeral will take place - will be a day of national mourning in the Republic of Moldova. "Mr. Snegur lived in historic times and had an essential role in promoting the independence, freedom and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova. Mircea Snegur will remain in our memory as the Man who stood at the cradle of the Independence of the Republic of Moldova", wrote Maia Sandu on her Facebook page.
The President of the Moldovan Parliament, Igor Grosu, and the Prime Minister, Dorin Recean, had similar messages. Igor Grosu wrote that Mircea Snegur was the man who brought independence, the Romanian language and the tricolor to the Republic of Moldova. "The process of acquiring independence started with the proclamation of the Romanian language as the state language in 1989, with the democratic elections of 1990 and with the declaration of independence in 1991". In turn, Prime Minister Dorin Recean said that the first president of the Republic of Moldova "was a devoted statesman, a true architect of our independence and a promoter of the Romanian language”.
There are messages that, beyond the protocol reserved for a former head of state, seem to express to a certain extent a sort of Bessarabian sentimentality and ignore more controversial aspects related to the political career of the first president of the Republic of Moldova.
Throughout his political career, Mircea Snegur was constantly praised by one part of society in the Republic of Moldova and criticized by another, including under the accusation that he was Moscow's inside man. Controversies were triggered by the decision of the Republic of Moldova to join the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS, which replaced the defunct USSR in 1991, the fact that he accepted that the war in Transnistria should end on Moscow's terms, or the support he gave to the neo-communist agrarians, who only a few years after the Republic of Moldova achieved its independence, came up with a series of counter-reforms, including the one by which the so-called Moldovan language was proclaimed as the state language.
It seems more likely, however, that when Mircea Snegur played Russia’s game, he did it not because he was Moscow’s asset, but because he was influenced by certain groups in his entourage or intimidated by threats from the Russian Federation.
From local Communist official to president of a newly emerged country
The first important political office held by Mircea Snegur was that of First Secretary of the Edineț District Committee of the Communist Party of the Moldavian SSR, a position he held in the period 1981-1985. In 1989, he was elected president of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, a kind of political bureau of Parliament, and in April 1990 he became president of the Supreme Soviet of the SSR, the legislature of the Soviet republic. In August, 1989, Snegur agreed to support the draft law that gave the Romanian language the status of state language and the return to the tricolor flag, a fact that attracted the sympathy of an important part of society.
In September 1990, Mircea Snegur was appointed by the Supreme Soviet President of the Moldavian SSR, a position he held until 1996, when he lost the elections to Petru Lucinschi.
During his term in office, Mircea Snegur had an oscillating attitude towards the national and anti-Russian forces. In 1991, he supported the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Moldova and its recognition by the international community, as well as the withdrawal of Soviet troops from its territory. He condemned the occupation of Bessarabia in 1940 by the USSR, but spoke out against the union with Romania and distanced himself from the anti-Soviet Popular Front which had supported him in the last years of the USSR's existence.
In December 1991, President Mircea Snegur signed the act by which the Republic of Moldova became a (founding) member state of the Community of Independent States, an act that was ratified by Parliament only in 1994, after the power in the Legislature was taken over by the Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova. This party, which had obtained 56 mandates out of 101, was supported at the time by President Snegur. The new majority adopted the constitution of the Republic of Moldova in which the state language was no longer Romanian, but Moldavian, and changed the national anthem, which until then had been "Wake up, Romanian!"
A political figure promoted by Mircea Snegur and who marked the Agrarians’ era in the Republic of Moldova was Andrei Sangheli. On July 1, 1992, Mircea Snegur appointed him prime minister, that being one of the conditions of the Yeltsin-Snegur convention, which ended the Dniester war in 1992. The convention provided for the formation of a reconciliation government, and the head of this cabinet became Andrei Sangheli, later also supported by the agrarians. Andrei Sangheli went down in history with the scandalous statement that Romania "did not give Moldova any karandash [pencil] for free". That was happening after Romania had provided the Republic of Moldova with multiple economic and military aid, including during the Dniester war, without which Chisinau would not have been able to face the conflict. Also, Andrei Sangheli had distinguished himself, as the press of the time reported, by the fact that he had signed several Government decisions with the same number, some published in the "Official Gazette", others used for personal or group purposes.
In 1995, Mircea Snegur came into conflict with PDAM, and some of his partisans in Parliament broke away from the agrarians.
In February 1996, Mircea Snegur signed a decision by which the secessionist region of Transnistria, controlled, de facto, by Russia, obtained the right to use the customs stamp of the Republic of Moldova, but without the authorities in Chisinau being able to control the activity of the Tiraspol customs office.
After losing power, Snegur focused on the pro-Romanian and pro-Western discourse
Mircea Snegur lost the 1996 presidential election to Petru Lucinschi, who in the Soviet period had been head of the Communist Party of the Moldavian SSR. After losing power, Snegur founded the Renaissance and Reconciliation Party, with a rather pro-Western discourse. The party entered Parliament in 1998 on the lists of the Democratic Convention of Moldova, but since 2001 it has not been able to pass the electoral threshold.
Political commentator Nicolae Negru believes that Mircea Snegur was eventually removed from power by Moscow, because of his democratic and nationalist views, and replaced by Petru Lucinschi.
“The lack of experience, of course, was seen in his activity, but he sincerely wanted to separate the Republic of Moldova from Russia, from the Soviet Union. He was under pressure from many sides. In the end he fell, in 1996 he suffered defeat in the elections because Russia started putting in motion levers to remove from power those who contributed the most to achieving the independence and strengthening sovereignty. He had a fate similar to that of Stanislav Petrovich Shushkevici in Belarus and Leonid Kravciuk in Ukraine", Nicolae Negru believes.
About the Republic of Moldova joining the CIS, Nicolae Negru says that the document was signed under pressure.
“He signed this return to the CIS space under the pressure of his party, the so-called group of agrarians. Certain political confrontations on our stage made him listen to the agrarians, the former nomenclaturists, who spoke out against the rapprochement with Romania, for example. In the end, he overcame this stage, which we can call on of weakness", says Nicolae Negru.
In the interviews he gave after retiring from politics, Mircea Snegur would insist on the importance of the Republic of Moldova’s rapprochement with Romania and the West.