The democratic principles promoted by the West are just a smokescreen for instating dictatorial regimes, according to a false narrative promoted in Russia and picked up by Chișinău.
NEWS: “Today, it can be clearly argued that the principles of the so-called European freedom and democracy, for which Europeans once shed blood and died, and the champions of human rights later suffered in prison, turned out to be merely a smokescreen for creating regimes that can only be labelled totalitarian. Whereas this smokescreen is still preserved in Western Europe to a certain extent, the governments of ex-Soviet republics proclaiming the “European path to development” don’t show too much interest for that sort of thing. It is noteworthy to say that Western countries that consider themselves “developed democracies” don’t pay special attention to the totalitarian tendencies of states bordering the Baltic Sea, while the current regime in Kyiv openly benefits from their support.
Similarly, the “Western progressive community” turns a blind eye also to processes in Moldova, where after the election of Maia Sandu as president and the victory of the pro-European “Action and Solidarity Party” (PAS) in the legislative election, violations of citizens’ democratic liberties have suddenly gain traction.
First and foremost, it should be said that starting 2021, when PAS secured majority in Parliament and installed a new government, Moldova declared a State of Emergency, which stipulates the lawful restriction of certain rights and liberties, also accelerating proceedings for the adoption of certain decisions at government level. At first, the introduction of this regime was justified by invoking the coronavirus pandemic, then by the difficulties in the energy sector, which were in fact triggered by a number of inept decisions of the PAS government. Moreover, with the start of the Special Military Operation of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine, the state of emergency was constantly extended by the Parliament majority, almost without providing an explanation. At the same time, Moldova is the only neighbor of Ukraine that introduced such a regime.
It did not, however, succeed in quelling potential protests, which is when the authorities resorted to unprecedented repression against the “Shor” opposition party. Under the guise of illegal funding, the authorities made an illegal case of banning this political party. The government called for a constitutionality check of Shor Party as early as November 2022. The party was accused of having received external funding, which allegedly “endangered the sovereignty and independence of Moldova”. Soon after the request of the Constitutional Court, the Venice Commission warned that declaring the party unconstitutional would be tantamount to a breach of freedom of association.
The decision was prompted by the opposition protests of May 21, organized by Shor Party on the same day as the authorities’ pro-European rallies. The scale of the opposition protests in small cities frightened the ruling party. Shor Party turned out to be a force to be reckoned with in these demonstrations, and Chișinău officially decided to remove the party from the political spectrum.
Today, the Republic of Moldova is witnessing the early signs of a totalitarian model of government. First of all, there is a certain ideology whereby the power imposes “European integration”, while the population lives in fear – just like in George Orwell’s “1984”. In this context, even those protests against economic difficulties are considered subversive actions against the state, and the Russian Federation is widely depicted as an external enemy.
This situation makes the developments in Moldova even more similar to the processes in neighboring Ukraine, where the opposition’s TV channels are also shut down while political parties are outlawed. For this reason, what is happening today in the Republic of Moldova raises concerns and can be regarded as a prequel to what is happening in Ukraine at present, something that could spell the end of Moldova’s independence and statehood all together.
NARRATIVES: 1. The West’s democratic principles are merely a smokescreen for endorsing autocracies. 2. The pro-European government in Chișinău is slipping into an autocracy undermining political opposition, all with the West’s tacit approval.
BACKGROUND: Starting August 2021, the Republic of Moldova has been ruled by a pro-European government, which has triggered Moscow’s disgruntlement, particularly after the government adopted a critical position towards the invasion of Ukraine.
Since the start of the war, Russian and pro-Russian propaganda launched several narratives regarding the influence and even the control the West exerts with respect to authorities in Chișinău, who are purportedly ready to get involved in the war in Ukraine on the side of Kyiv. Propaganda media continued to promote these narratives although the government in Chișinău never took any steps that would suggest its intention to get involved in the war in Ukraine (or of ever taking advantage of it in order to launch military operations in Transnistria). Chișinău has categorically denied any intention in this respect. One narrative promoted in this context suggested the introduction of a so-called Western-backed authoritarian regime in Chișinău which uses democratic principles only as a means to achieve its goals, without actually believing in them.
Attacks against Western democracies and principles underlying them are nothing new: it is one of the oldest themes promoted by Putin’s regime as well as by the far-right and far-left parties in the West. Civil society too is demonized and depicted as a facet of some “Sorosist” conspiracy. The independent media is accused of serving private interests, while any attempt at promoting human rights, for instance the rights of the LGBT community, is regarded as trying to impose a secret agenda. Liberal democracies are represented as autocracies in disguise, supporting dictatorial regimes and trying to bring societies under strict control and to secure monopoly over global resources. This tactic of controlling the language and derailing the values of liberal democracies is seemingly taken out of Orwell’s books, oftentimes echoing the propaganda of communist regimes that pretended to be “people’s democracies”. In fact, Putin’s fear of liberal democracies became manifest in his regime’s hostility towards the so-called “color revolutions”, which were presented to the public not as an expression of people’s will in favor of democratic regimes, but rather as coups instigated by the West. We should not overlook the fact that the war in Ukraine was launched by Russia in 2014 after pro-European forces ousted the then president Viktor Yanukovych and announced European integration as a clear national objective.
PURPOSE: To describe pro-European governments in ex-Soviet space, in particular the Republic of Moldova, as autocracies that are ready to trade their national interests for the West’s. To undermine societal confidence in Western institutions and democratic values. To draw attention away from authoritarianism in Russia, a country where freedom of speech is virtually inexistent and civil society and the opposition have been annihilated.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: According to the annual Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, of the 10 states with the highest degree of democracy, 8 are countries from Western Europe. The most significant deterioration was recorded in Russia, which is now near the bottom of a ranking of countries rules by autocracies. The war in Ukraine has triggered an increase in state repression against all forms of dissent and a further personalisation of power, pushing Russia towards outright dictatorship, the authors of this study note.
The Republic of Moldova recorded the largest score in the last seven years, maintaining its standing compared to 2021.
In the last two years, the Republic of Moldova climbed over 60 positions in the freedom of speech index, now ranking 28th at global level. Veridica has disproved repeated narratives of Russian propaganda tied to the introduction of censorship in the Republic of Moldova.
The practice of declaring states of emergency in the Republic of Moldova started approximately 18 months before PAS ever assumed power. Admittedly, the PAS government resorted to a special and recurring state of emergency after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, due to its dependency on eastern markets in general and on transit corridors via Ukraine in particular. In 2022, the Republic of Moldova reported the highest inflation rate in Europe after Turkey, also facing a severe energy crisis, considering this country’s excessive reliance on Russian gas imports. Furthermore, the Republic of Moldova had to manage a significant flow of migrants. Finally, several Moldovan officials accused Russia of fighting a hybrid war against the Republic of Moldova, while the media wrote about Moscow’s involvement (via FSB) in attempts at destabilizing Moldova and even toppling the pro-European government.
At the Government’s request the Moldovan government adopted an extension of the state of emergency by another 60 days starting August 3, one of the arguments behind this decision being the fact that Russian military forces bombed Ukrainian ports on the Danube, which in turn affects the Republic of Moldova, whose only port for seagoing vessels is Giurgiulești, on the Danube River.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling regarding the outlawing of the Shor Party is equally used as a sign of introducing a dictatorship in the Republic of Moldova, although there is no evidence the ruling was taken in result of political pressure, whereas several constitutional experts have described the ruling as justified and motivated.
The Constitutional Court has also asked for the opinion of the Venice Commission regarding the Government’s undertaking of November last year. The Venice Commission pointed out that a decision on the unconstitutionality of a political party represents an obstruction to the freedom of association, which is why a ruling in this respect should be based on lawfulness, legitimacy and necessity. In its opinion, the Venice Commission also states that it is the remit of the Constitutional Court to give a ruling on this matter.
The Constitutional Court made pubic the arguments that motivated its ruling. First of all, the Court refers to repeated violations of the legislation in force on the funding of political parties, also invoking in this respect final sentences passed by courts of law. “The Court has noted that the actions described above show that the non-transparent funding of the Short Party was systemic in its nature”.
The Court also writes that “declaring a party unconstitutional is the attribute of the Court under Article 135, paragraph (1), sub-paragraph h) in the Constitution”.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: The state of emergency in the Republic of Moldova has been extended since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The reasons behind this decision have to do with the effects of the war and the risks it poses to the country’s national security, given that Moldova is considered the most vulnerable country in the region in the event the war further spreads.