One of the sources of symbolical legitimacy for parties and politicians in the Republic of Moldova is “the relation with Bucharest”, namely the extent to which they manage to show the people back home that they are well-connected, they are granted audiences and their voices are heard by their Romanian counterparts and in this country’s institutions. Of course, it’s not just about symbolism, because, more often than not, symbols are doubled by resources, although this is not comparable to the level of assistance that Viktor Orban’s regime provides to Hungarian communities in neighbor states, by means of the Bethlen Gábor Foundation. And it’s a good thing, too, that we don’t strive to match FIDESZ’s huge clientele of individuals, organizations and media. Even so, it’s no less relevant that Moldova’s ingratiation with Bucharest authorities has at times given rise to a competition of sorts in terms of Bessarabia’s orientation – in the limelight or more under the table.
Usually, this kind of going back-and-forth was typical of parties on the right of the political spectrum, which is traditionally more fragmented, broken down in smaller, more numerous actors, who more often than not find themselves far removed from the mechanisms of power, and thus use Romanian politics as a springboard to establish relations in Europe or to access whatever resources they can get their hands on, limited as they are, as I mentioned before. Nothing wrong about that so far. The curious thing, though, is when politicians at the opposite end of the political spectrum, namely the pro-Moscow left, are also vying for closer relations with Romania. This is also because it’s become harder and harder for them to get their own Cabinet in office or win the presidency. Their Mecca is now the Bucharest City Hall, and their most pious pilgrim, is Iv Ceban, the Mayor of Chişinău, Dodon’s second-in-command at party level.
Since early 2020, as PSRM, a party overtly financed by the Russian Federation, was slipping in utter disarray, the then president, Igor Dodon, no longer able to pay visits anywhere else in the world except Moscow and Mount Athos, was knocking desperately on Gabriela Firea’s door, trying to talk her into signing a cooperation protocol. The Moldovan delegation met with deputy mayor Bădulescu and with District 1 mayor Daniel Tudorache. What’s wrong with two city halls working together, you might ask? In theory, nothing at all. It’s just that Romanians on this side of the river have no idea that something as routine as a visit or bankrolling a park in Chişinău gets touted in the Republic of Moldova by interested parties, depicted as a resounding diplomatic success on the evening news on state-controlled televisions, a genuine international acknowledgement, especially when it comes to parties such as PSRM or those controlled by oligarchs, which are otherwise pretty much ignored by the civilized world. Surely, this is exactly what happens when the people actually paying visits to the Bucharest City hall don’t even represent institutions, and the Bucharest Mayor General gets dragged into a picture by his own party with no idea what he’s getting into.
The hajj builds up as the early parliamentary election of July 11 draw near, which proves this is not as much about municipal projects, but rather just campaign rhetoric. A few weeks ago, a delegation of the Chişinău City Hall paid a visit to the District 4 City Hall, the only place left in the Romanian capital city where they might still find some friendly PSD faces. In recent days, Iv Ceban hismelf was received in Buzău by the president of the local County Council, accompanied by the de facto leader, Marcel Ciolacu, where they signed the famous cooperation protocol, which was all but a media stunt aimed at generating photo opportunities worth attracting the right kind of eulogistic publicity. With just three weeks left to go until the election, such opportunities are extremely important for Iv Ceban, common seen as Igor Dodon’s rightful successor, consolidating his position as a technocratic leader, balanced and accommodating with both West and East, and capable of dragging the party out of the political mess Dodon managed to land it into.
And, who knows: while Ceban keeps Chişinău boxed in, roping it into illegal real-estate schemes and diligently backing Dodon’s virulent anti-Western and anti-Romanian campaigns ridden with fake news, some people over here might actually hope to “turn Ceban around”, bring him over to our team, or at least make him a double agent, so as to have our own people in Chişinău working both sides of the political spectrum and hoping to beat the Russians at their own game. In other words, employ the genius “our son of a bitch” strategy, which fooled us a couple of times in the past, the last time in a most spectacular way, at the hands of Vlad Plahotniuc. Or maybe I’m just naïve and this isn’t about patriotism, but about private gain? Maybe the financial assistance goes the other way round, from Moldovan oligarchs over to Romanian politicians, who, much like everyone else, need a grey area outside the EU where they can launder the occasional cash and get it back home squeaky-clean in their calendar-bag? Whether they are still conducting business in Moldova or have fled the country to offshore havens (pun unintended – e.n.: reference to billionaire Ilan Shor), Moldovan oligarchs have proven themselves more resourceful, by comparison to their Romanian counterparts, at keeping their head in the game and controlling it from a distance.
And now that we mentioned it, I just recalled that the vistas of association are numerous and run deep, not just at top level, but also in terms of the larger entourage, including a long list of godsons, godfathers, subcontractors and lost sons who’ve temporarily strayed from their parties’ traditional base. Take, for instance, the close ties Victor Ponta still enjoys with Plahotniuc’s army of political heirs, who one day close ranks and disperse the next, shifting as the political wind blows. As Geoană famously said, they don’t even know how many they actually are and who’s sponsoring who, I might add. Finally, the dilemma facing the Romanian political class is the following: how is Chişinău choosing its partners and cooperates with them so as to be able to push Moldova towards Europe, and not get pushed away from it by their associates?