Monday, December 10, 2007

Moldovan Democracy II: The Amazing Story of the Christmas Tree

Once upon a time, Chisinau Mayor issued a decision to have a beautiful Christmas tree installed in the central square of the city. The city agency in charge of such activities purchased the tree and installed it in the square. The municipal police was charged to guard and protect the Tree. However, in the morning, the Mayor and other city residents witnessed a miracle: the Christmas tree has moved across the street.

Although I wish this were a miracle, it is not the case. It is an example of the municipal police in action. In the middle of the night, the police assisted in the relocation of the Christmas tree. When asked by the Mayor for an explanation, the head of the police blamed everything on the agency that installed the tree. (More here )

One might wonder how this can be possible. According to Moldovan legislation, although it is funded from the city budget, the wonderful municipal police is subject to double subordination: to the Mayor and the City Council, on one hand, and to the Minister of Interior (who is subordinate to the Prime Minister and the President) on the other hand.

There is an ongoing conflict between the central and municipal governments, and this story is yet another manifestation and outburst. The City government intended to install a Christmas Tree early enough for all Chisinau residents to enjoy a longer holiday season and provide the opportunity to celebrate Christmas Day, including on December 25. The central government insisted that the Christmas Tree be mounted not earlier than December 30 presumably because the majority of city dwellers are Christian Orthodox who celebrate Christmas by the old calendar (January 6). In this conflictual situation, the municipal police preferred to display their loyalty not to city residents (who elected their Mayor last summer), but to the central government. Indeed, Moldovan democracy is amazing!

Financial Times Joins Debate on Moldovan Identity

In the previous posting I discussed Furman's opinion regarding the quality of democratic institutions in Moldova. One thing I agree with him is the existence and continuous exacerbation of the Moldovan identity crisis. It is like an active volcano that occasionally erupts and triggers chains of decisions, events and actions in the public sphere, both domestically and internationally.

One such recent eruption happened during a visit of the Moldovan President to Brussels, the capital of EU. The President complained about Romania's alleged attempts of undermining Moldovan sovereignty. As a result, a number of international media outlets such as Financial Times joined the debate on Moldovan statehood, security and identity.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Moldovan Democracy: How Amazing Is It?

I came across an interesting, yet somewhat controversial article Amazing Moldova by D. Furman. The author looks at the situation of democracy in Moldova from a different perspective and finds that Moldova's metamorphosis from a Moscow-ruled Soviet republic into an independent country is profoundly unique in the midst of the NIS area. Although Moldova has become neither a truly democratic state, nor a “weakly managed” democracy such as Azerbajan or Belorus, it managed to combine in an unprecedented way features from both types. Moldova peacefully combines two extremes records in the NIS area: on one hand, the revival and return to governance of a powerful communist party, and on the other hand, the highest level of alignment of its institutions to the general democratic model.

According to Furman, despite serious economic difficulties and a profound national identity crisis, the Moldovan democratic institutions have continuously developed. In fact, he claims, the societal cleavage on the national identity issues has actually reinforced the Moldovan democracy. Moreover, the return of the communists, instead of killing democracy, has actually strengthened it. The most amazing conclusion of Furman’s analysis is that Moldova can even teach other countries a lesson … in political honesty.

The specific Moldovan circumstances contributed to the situation in which the “rules of the game” were followed by both the Moldovan ‘players’ and, more consistently, by the West. The result is not bad. Possibly, Moldova’s most important lesson resides in the fact that, very often, honesty is the best way of doing politics.” (own translation)

I think the basic question raised by Furman is both important and interesting. Moldova is indeed a unique case in terms of political development. Perhaps, from outside and in comparison with other NIS countries, Moldova’s situation does not look so bad. However, I cannot agree with Furman’s optimistic view regarding democratic institutions in Moldova. From within, they seem to stagnate and public respect towards them is continuously falling. The revival and return of a communist party to power might not have killed (but frequently discouraged) all democratic institutions and processes (a worst case scenario which, by the way, is being gradually enacted in Russia by a non-communist party). The return of the communists and their on-going rule should be seen and evaluated in terms of opportunity costs. The low quality of governance brought by the communists has allowed major development, social and security challenges to stay unresolved or even worsen. For years now, Moldova remains the poorest country in Europe, largely due to continuous lack of political astuteness and maturity. Preserving status-quo is the easiest thing to do in Moldova, and should not be regarded as a political accomplishment.

Friday, November 09, 2007

CSR for Moldova: Too Soon, Too Late?!

Eurasia Foundation, American Chamber of Commerce and United Nations Development Programme in Moldova joined their efforts and organized an international conference Corporate Social Responsibility for Moldova on November 8 in Chisinau City. An outstanding fact is that this project was financed primarily from corporate sponsorship. Eurasia Foundation came with the idea, attracted two like-minded partners - the AmCham and UNDP - and conducted a fundraising campaign, which resulted in 10 companies making financial contributions to cover related costs.

The funds came from companies, the skills came from the non-profit sector. Who benefited? Because the actual value of this Conference – knowledge and information about CSR practices abroad and in Moldova – is inherently a public good accessible directly to participants and indirectly to a wider audience - via media outlets that covered the event, this blog, private and public discussions, and debates – it is difficult to identify and quantify beneficiaries. Although knowledge about CSR – and for Moldova CSR is new knowledge – is important, there is something even more important for Moldova. Cooperation as process, cooperation among sectors – pubic, non-profit, private, media – towards achieving a mutually advantageous societal goal – be it knowledge creation/dissemination, or policy implementation, or job creation – was the most valuable Conference result of all.

Genuine CSR practices exist in Moldova, and this was the most vocal conclusion of the Conference. CSR is good for companies and society at large, both internationally and in Moldova. Government needs to understand this and encourage CSR-friendly policies and laws, media needs to learn to distinguish between CSR and corporate publicity, and the non-profit sector needs to take initiative and be at the right place, at the right time and with the right idea. Then, CSR will be at home even in Moldova. Here is a TV7 news report on the Conference.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Searching for Truth in Moldova

Lately, I’ve had a pressing desire to find reliable facts on several issues of public interest, or what media likes to call “scandals”. When I feel such need for truth, I remember a story of several blind men who attempted to describe an elephant. Each of them touched a different part of the elephant, and concluded that the elephant was, in fact, something that resembled 1) a big snake 2) a sword fish 3) a tree trunk 4) a wall 5) a rope, etc. The idea of the story is that everyone is right in their own way, and that the ever-escaping truth can be attained only by considering all possible opinions.

I’ve followed this rule of thumb for the last couple of years in the public sphere in Moldova, and I discovered that Moldovans are pretty opinionated people. Almost everyone is eager to offer their opinions on pretty much every possible topic. Media abounds in various opinions. However, listening to this multitude of opinions rarely led to any miraculous revelation of truth. Why? The majority of opinions – particularly those continuously present in Moldovan media – are poorly informed and seriously biased. Politicians are, of course, the most outspoken, although as poorly informed as the majority of common citizens. This leads to a very lively public life: about 2-3 scandals – domestic and international – a week. Moldovan politicians like to politicize things, and one can’t blame them for that. After all, their job is to accumulate political capital in any possible way and from any possible source. Therefore, as a rule, politicians shouldn’t be regarded as a reliable source of information.

Then, who and/or what could be reliable sources of information, hard data and real facts? In an ideal world, public institutions (financed by taxpayers) would provide objective information – via mass-media and civil society – back to the public. Once highly-objective information is publicly available, then a politician can use it – as any other citizen – to support his arguments, propose changes and win votes. We all know that Moldova is not an ideal world, but, interestingly, of all these key elements, objective information is the one missing in the Moldovan public sphere. That is, before they could express their opinion regarding what the elephant looked like, the blind men needed to actually touch a REAL elephant.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ukraine: Emerging as Regional ENP Leader

High level EU officials paid an official visit to neighboring Ukraine for the EU-Ukraine Summit last Friday, 14 September. The delegation included the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and EU's top diplomat, Javier Solana. The mere fact that these two EU leaders visited Kiev is pretty important both for Ukraine and Moldova. Apparently, Ukraine emerges as a regional leader in EU enlargement debate and negotiations, and Moldova is right in between the two sides.

Ukraine is one of the European Neighborhood Policy countries, along with Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia. Because the ENP does not open any doors to EU accession, Ukraine has taken a vociferous position in its relation with the EU. Namely, it advocates for a differentiation of the EU approach towards certain ENP countries who have legitimate and clear European integration aspirations, including Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova - all former Soviet republics. Ukraine made this position very clear at the first ENP conference Working Together: Strengthening the ENP held in Brussels on 3 September, 2007.

Why is Ukraine's emerging role as regional ENP leader important for Moldova? First, Ukraine is a big country (47 million people) rich in natural resources, which gives it significant negotiation clout. Secondly, Ukraine is perceived as advancing better and faster on EU-driven reform paths. Thirdly, Ukraine has a politically-active citizenry, being a country where the Orange Revolution took place. All these factors allow Ukraine to strengthen its position as a regional ENP leader, and eventually persuade the EU that several countries deserve to be considered for membership. Needless to say, this opens a window of opportunity for the 3.5-million country stretching in between. Although, until recently, the Moldovan Government tried to talk the EU into considering Moldova as an accession candidate along with the Western Balkan states (unfortunately, without any success), it is important that the Government take serious measures not to miss this emerging opportunity, and cooperate closely with Ukraine in sharing and advocating this new position in its relations with EU.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Week-end in Tiraspol

Transnistria is a must-see destination for foreigners visiting Moldova. At least this is what the guidebooks say. So, my friends and I decided to spend our Sunday visiting Tiraspol, the capital city of Transnistria. Today, Tiraspol is a quiet and green city of about 160,000 inhabitants, located on Nistru River. It was established by Alexandr Suvorov in 1792 as a fortress protecting the Christian world against tatars.

However, to me, Tiraspol did not feel like home, unlike Ungheni or Cahul cites would. Maybe it is because the percentage of ethnic Moldovans is unusually small (circa 15%) or because the number of monuments of Bolshevic and Soviet heroes (Lenin, Kirov, etc.), existance of a museum of Transnistrian statehood, the presence of a red-and-green flag emanate the chill of an isolated frozen conflict zone.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How Much Moldovans Love Their Country

Moldova’s Independence Day – 27th of August – serves an occasion for Moldovans to assess their level of patriotism and define their attitude towards their country of citizenship. A couple of local TV stations conducted random interviews with Moldovans, and the general conclusion was that too many people had a wrong idea or no idea at all about this important holiday. After sixteen years of independence that is self-determination, self-governance, sovereignty, irresponsible mistakes and lesson learned, political turnarounds, used and missed opportunities, all types of mostly uncompleted reforms, ambiguous international participation, a great deal of people don’t really care about being citizens of Moldova.

Politicians, journalists, historians, analysts – the so-called local intellectual elite – all offered various explanations to this puzzling attitude. Some think Moldovans haven’t completed their national identity quest, others factor in the massive disappointment of Moldovans with their state and political elite, struggling for survival in poverty and injustice, yet others think Moldova as a country – too small, too vulnerable, and isolated – can inspire nothing but skepticism and disrespect.

These and many other arguments are probably true. However, one fact is truer than others: Generally, Moldovans are not patriots. Few Moldovan have a genuine sense of public good, communal solidarity and a shared vision on the future of their country. Moldovans’ love for their country is limited to their families and closest friends, the house(s) and trees and vegetables in their gardens. When a Moldovan enters the public domain and starts making decisions that affect people outside close circles, this is when this shortage of patriotism is accutely felt.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Action by and for Youth with Disabilities

An unusual event was launched today in Chisinau: Amprente Art Exhibition , which provides young people with disabilities the opportunity to display and sell their works of art and handicraft. This event is part of a broader Disability with Ability Campaign supported with American and Norvegian funds.

Everyone who is interested in enjoying the creativity of Moldovan youth, and seeing the world from a different artistic perspective, you are welcome to visit this exhibition at the National Archeology and History Museum of Moldova on 20-26 August everyday except Friday from 10 am to 6 pm.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Greece: A Model Tourist Destination

Greece was the destination of my vacation this summer. Still overwhelmed with the poetic beauty of the Cycladic Islands, I'd like to share my favorite pictures that will talk for themselves.

Santorini island

Colorful boats

Oia at dusk

World-famous sunsets

Donkeys still around

For more pictures, please see this slideshow

Thursday, August 09, 2007

How Do Non-Profits Contribute to Moldova’s European Integration?

Although the biggest role in the implementation of EU-Moldova Action Plan is reserved for the Government, Parliament and Judiciary of Moldova, there is still a lot that non-profit organizations could do to help bring Moldovan society closer to European values, practices and standards. What could and should be done is up to the non-profits to figure out. For now, I will talk about an innovative initiative in this area – the Pro-Europa Centers in Balti and Cahul towns.

The Pro-Europa Center in Balti is run by Regional Center Contact, and the one in Cahul is run by Association Dialogue. The Pro-Europa Centers provide plentiful of EU-related information and training services to various social groups in their regions. Through activities such as workshops, study visits, public presentations and debates, guest speakers and public campaigns, Pro-Europa Centers encourage the non-profit sector, academic and professional communities, and the private sector to get informed and educated about EU affairs, thus enabling them to apply critical judgment regarding the governmental policies and reforms in this area. It is noteworthy that due to the efforts of Pro-Europa Centers, 2007 was the first year when Europe Day was ever celebrated in Moldova.

The Pro-Europa Centers will continue their activities in the following year. Currently, these Centers are being funded entirely by international donors. I hope this support will continue, and Moldovan Government will decide to contribute as well, given that European integration is officially a top priority on its agenda.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Moldovan Non-Profit Sector in Perspective

Am traveling to Belgrade, Serbia this week on a project that aims to develop a tool for assessing institutional and organizational capacities of non-profit organizations - or the non-governmental organizations - in the Western Balkans region. After first testing this tool among Serbian non-profits, the Serbian counterpart, ProConcept selected Moldova to test, and adjust this tool called INGOC . My first impression is that the Serbian non-profit sector is quite developed, having a strong influence on policy making and being an important counterpart in social service provision, despite significant distrust and negative image among the government institutions and people - an unfortunate consequence of the recent political history.

Belgrade is a nice and very green city. The landscape highlight is the meeting of two rivers - the Danube and Sava, which is best admired from the medieval fortress of Beograde. Here are my favorite pictures.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Moldova's National Development Plan Open for Public Debate

For the last several years, anyone interested in understanding the Moldovan national development priorities and objectives, has been referred to the famous Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (EGPRSP), developed with the support of the World Bank. There is an entire site dedicated to this document. Initially, the Strategy was intended for 2 years (2004-2006) but due to already unsurprisingly poor implementation and unavailability of any other national development planning document, it was extended for 2007. However, starting 2008 Moldova will have a new document, the National Development Plan, which is currently in the making.

On June 26, the draft NDP – mainly the product of line ministries and governmental institutions – was brought out for public debate at a National Forum. It can be found on the same EGPRSP website. It is good to see the Government initiate a broad so-called “consultative process” regarding the national development concept and selected development priorities. While the EGPRSP was a sector-based strategy with a multitude of priorities, the NDP is a priority-driven and goal-oriented document. The five proposed priorities are: 1) consolidation of a democratic, modern, rule-of- law-type of state; 2) solving the Transnistrian conflict and country’s reintegration; 3) enhancing competitiveness of national economy; 4) human capital development; 5) regional development.

In my view, these priorities are adequate for a mid-term (2008-2011) national development document, and manage to capture the areas, which – if left unattended – could hinder the country’s development for another decade or so. The ways in which problems in these priorities areas are proposed to be addressed should be the real focus of public debate before the adoption and then implementation of the NDP. Also, various public and private (both for-profit and non-profit) stakeholders should study the draft NDP, identify their role in, and start preparing for the future implementation process.

...And the debate has already started. Andrei Popov on his blog says that the draft NDP is more of a technical rather than strategic document, its most important shortcoming being the fact that Moldova's development concept lacks any connection to the external environment, perpetuating isolation and self-centeredness. Given Moldova's accute vulnerability to external political and economic ups and downs, dependency on external funds for development, as well as European integration aspirations, this indeed appears as a serious strategic shortfall that needs to be remedied.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chisinau City Has a Non-Communist Mayor

The results of the runoff elections for the mayor of Chisinau City are as follows:
For Dorin Chirtoaca (pictured), the Liberal Party candidate, voted 61,17% of the electorate(130,181), and for the Communist candidate - 38,83 % (82,653 people). It is indeed a stunning result, Chirtoaca winning with over 22%!

Given that my biggest concern was that the participation in the runoff elections would be too low for validation, I am happy to learn that the participation rate was as high as 35% in Chisinau City. Therefore, it is almost certain that Chisinau will have a young, charismatic and reform-orientated mayor.

Congratulations to Dorin and all Chisinau residents!

Monday, June 11, 2007

European Union is on Guard, and Moldova Should Be, Too

The EU Observer published an interesting article on Moldova's role in the EU-Russia tensions. EU special envoy to Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, thinks that there are two scenarios for solving the Transnistrian problem: positive and negative - both with high stakes for EU and Russia. This means that EU keeps a strict eye on what's going on in Moldova in terms of Transnistrian conflict resolution, and will criticize, if not punish, any deviations from the "5+2" format of negotiations.

Today, an important event is taking place in Vienna: “Extraordinary Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe” (CFE), which was convened in short notice by Moscow. This event might have interesting outcomes, including for Moldova, about which Vladimir Socor writes in this article. There are 3 main groups of players. Russia is trying to persuade US and EU to waive the Istanbul convention requirement to withdraw its troops from the conflict zones (in Moldova and Georgia): Through shrill rhetoric and a little German help, Moscow hopes to break the Western policy of linking ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty with Russia’s fulfillment of the Istanbul Commitments, primarily on Moldova.

The NATO allies' proposal is "to accept a small number of Russian troops remaining in Moldova as part of an internationalized peacekeeping operation for a limited period of time. Russia would evacuate or scrap its ammunition stockpiles as well as withdrawing part of its troops. The internationalized operation would be a military one, though potentially reformable into an operation with greater civilian content later on."

And, finally, the official Moldovan delegation, in addition to internationalization, is to advance the idea of “civilianization” of the peacekeeping operation, which implies "turning the Russian military operation into an international mission of civilian and military observers, with some small military backup, under an international mandate."

The event will last until 15th of June, and the actual outcomes would be of great interest.

Later addition: "Moldova is key to this whole dispute between Russia and NATO," says an alliance diplomat. "If we can resolve the Moldova issue, the rest could fall into place." More on this issue here

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Local Elections in Moldova Create Opportunities for Change

The general local elections in Moldova held on Sunday, June 3, brought about the following developments:

1.Overall participation in the elections was low in comparison with previous years, and represented 48%. In Chisinau City participation was even lower (30%)
2.Although still the top-choice of Moldovan electorate, the popularity of the ruling Communist party is declining. (From 40% of mayoral mandates in 2003 to 31% in 2007)
3.The next most popular opposition party is the “Our Moldova” Alliance with 17% of the mayoral mandates.
4.Chisinau City has a very real opportunity of bringing about change by electing a liberal mayor in the runoff elections on June 17. The communist candidate, Veaceslav Iordan, scored 28% while the liberal candidate, Dorin Chirtoaca, came in second with 24% of the total votes.
5.Chisinau witnessed a suprising emergence of a new Liberal Party.
6.Chisinau City council will be multi-partisan, the communists losing the comfortable majority. Out of 51 seats, the communists will have 16 (31%), the liberals – 11 (22%), and Our Moldova Alliance – 7 (14%). (Source)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Internet Governance in Moldova

This weekend, a new project was launched in Moldova Youth Leaders for Community Development through Internet Governance . It was funded by GKP, organized by CMB Training Center in partnership with DIPLO Foundation , APTI, RWCT, Better World JL Institute, AEGEE Beograd.

I participated along with other 14 Moldovan professionals from various areas in a 3-day workshop focused on Internet Governance (IG) issues in the world and their relevance for Moldova. The objective of this project is to create the core for a local IG community that would actively contribute to a meaningful development of Moldovan Internet resources, as well as their integration into the world wide web.

Although the workshop was merely the beginning of a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder analysis of IG challenges in Moldova, my initial conclusion is that the existing regulations – developed, but poorly enforced by the Ministry for Informational Development – are not targeting any particular needs or challenges, be it those of users, businesses, or those related to infrastructure and content. Rules and procedures seem to be developed in vacuum, and do not aim to curb specific negative externalities caused by a booming market or, on contrary, to encourage development of particular market niches or specific e-products and e-goods.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dreaming of Chisinau City

Now that Moldova is living the frenzy of local elections, it is in vogue to talk about how Chisinau City can be transformed into a more beautiful, developed, comfortable, friendly European capital city. As many as 19 candidates to Chisinau Mayor’s Office are sharing their visions about Chisinau, so I thought the City’s residents and visitors could share their visions as well. I invite the readers of this blog who live and/or visited Chisinau to contribute with their own thoughts and ideas. Your contributions will be used by a Czech student studying Architecture in Italy who is preparing for his master thesis a project derived from a recently approved Chisinau Masterplan (or the General Urban Plan) which can be accessed here in Romanian.

I’ll go first. After traveling extensively in many cities, I think that Chisinau as a whole and its districts in particular lack an identity. It is a little bit of everything scattered everywhere. Therefore, some deal of organization will help. From commercial redevelopment perspective, it would be good to have clearly established functional areas where various industries (entertainment/showbusiness, cultural, fashion, mass-media, restaurants, public administration, international and non-profit organizations) can develop fast, and benefit from agglomeration effects. I’d like to see thematic locations, such as Newspapers’ Square, TV Center or Music Street, each with own unique identities. I’d like to be able to go clothes shopping in a beautiful pedestrian area with plenty of vegetation, fountains and street cafés.

Chisinau is a prisoner of cars, therefore I’d love to see Chisinau become a bicycle-friendly city. For the initial stage, it would be great to have specially-marked roads leading to the major parks and recreation areas. The Bic River is severely underdeveloped. As I live in its proximity, I wish it would be transformed into a modern well-lit riverside recreation area, or a romantic riverwalk with boats, cafes and nice little shops.

This is, briefly, Chisinau City of my dreams. Who's next?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why Are the Brits Pessimistic about Moldova?

Monday started with two articles on Moldova in the British The Economist and Sunday Telegraph .

The Telegraph article is a variation on the same old topic: Transnistria and its role in the East-West relations, while The Economist deals with the Romanian-Moldovan relations. Perhaps the British media’s increased interest in this conflict zone is due to Moldova’s recently becoming an immediate Eastern neighbor of EU. Or, more realistically, the most recent Russian actions vis-à-vis Estonia put the decade-long Transnistrian conflict into a new perspective: Russia’s continuous interference into the internal affairs of an equally sovereign albeit much smaller and vulnerable country turned Transnistria into "an authoritarian regime under Russian occupation", "irritant to the US and the EU", "one of the worst thorns in the side of Europe and NATO", "serious political obstacle to Moldova's joining the EU". This historically-rooted mess aimed to strategically position Moscow in “some future East-West conflict”. Too bad for the half-million people living in Transnistria who are being manipulated in the worst possible way, …too bad for the other 3.5 million Moldovans who are viewed by the West as a “chunk of dirt-poor, ill-run, ex-communist nuisance”…

Although I wish something intelligent could be said to dilute the pessimistic image created by these two articles, no arguments seem to rush to mind.

Later addition It looks like The Economist is going to publish an entire series of diary-type-articles about Moldova. So much attention is really flattering :) Here you can read Tuesday part, or directly on the author's - Edward Lucas - blog .

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Local Elections in Moldova: Wind of Change?

Local elections are scheduled to take place in Moldova on June 3. There are over 930 local governments in this 4-million-people country. Moldovans will elect the local council and mayors in the city/town/village of their residence. Local non-governmental (Coalitia 2007) and international organizations such as OSCE have already begun monitoring the electoral activity throughout the country.

The stakes of these elections are high and the outcomes – important for the future of the country as there is a slight hope for change in power. The Communist Party has been comfortably in power in the majority of local governments since the previous local elections of May 2003 when they gained 41% of mayoral mandates. The opposition parties – united in a social-liberal electoral structure called Our Moldova – gained 21 %, and the independent candidates – 17.5 %. Right before the 2003 elections, the mostly-Communist Parliament, Communist central government and President have initiated the highly controversial reform of the 2nd tier of government.

The Communist Party still has a very strong hold on power in Moldova. Although I would like to see the opposition parties grow much stronger than they are today, the results of the upcoming elections are hardly going to be much different than those of the previous ones.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How a War Monument Can Cause a Diplomatic Crisis

The Estonian-Russian diplomatic crisis has rapidly escalated in the last days. The government of Estonia – an independent EU country, formerly a Soviet republic – makes a decision to relocate a World War II monument - the Bronze Soldier – from the downtown to a place in the outskirts of the city of Tallinn. Common sense tells me that, whatever the reasons, this is a type of decision that a government of an independent country (even of a city government) should have enough authority to make without having to consider the possibility of infuriating the government of another country. However, when we talk of Russia, common sense is rarely a guiding principle. The current diplomatic crisis between Russia and Estonia shows how Russian high government officials make offensive, unjustified and destabilizing declarations addressing another country’s government and, by representation, its citizens.

Here is an Vladimir Socor’s article on the situation.

In another article he reveals the elements of the sophisticated Kremlin’s assault:

They include cyber attacks from within Russia’s Presidential Administration against the Estonian presidency’s and government’s electronic communications; political demands, backed by economic sanctions threats, to change the Estonian government; siege laid by Kremlin-created organizations to the Estonian Embassy in Moscow; and instigatory coverage of the April 27-29 violent riots of Russian youth in Tallinn by Russia’s state television.

Also, he warns that Moscow’s goal is not what it might appear:

...Moscow’s operational goal is not to elicit condemnation of Estonia or Latvia. It is, rather, to portray these Baltic states as irritants to the West’s relations with Russia and to induce Western governments to remain silent, instead of supporting the Baltic states against such bullying. Moscow hopes to draw wedges among Western allies through protracted application of this tactic.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Political Crisis in Romania: For or Against Democracy?

One Romanian blogger was wondering why Moldovan bloggers did not react in any way to the political crisis in the neighboring Romania.

For those interested, I recommend reading blogger Kosmopolit's recent posting which contains an interesting collection of opinions on this issue.

I personally think what is going on in Romania is a shame ... A very bad exampple of democratic practices. A very popular (backup up by over 50% of the population), visionary, reform-oriented, democratic president - Traian Basescu - is being suspended by an insecure, devided Parliament, manipulated by compromised leaders and narrow party interests. I wish the Romanian political elite would come to their senses, and think about the national interests for a change.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Moldova in The Economist

The Economist published an article about an alleged deal between the Moldovan President and Moscow regarding Transnistria. It has to do with disolving the Parliament and organizing anticipated Parliamentary elections to include representatives and voters from Transnistria.

This initiative is another "suprise-suprise!" action which is not being open to public debate. Until recently, available information seems to come from leaking unofficial sources. Politicians , experts and bloggers have already experessed their opionions on something that the wider public has not been properly informed about.

Later addition: Here is a recent
EUobserver article
on EU's reaction to this issue.

And here is how Moldovan media interpretes the above EUobserver article.

One thing is obvious: a secret plan, the so-called "Zubakov plan" that becomes public in an unofficial way breeds a great deal of speculation and manipulation. As journalist Dumitru Minzarari puts it, "the political parties and intrest groups are currently analyzing their own benefits and losses that might result from the potential consequences of this plan, trying to identify potential political alliances" (my own translation) at the expense of the country's sovereignity and public interest.

LATEST ADDITION: At a meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, the Moldovan President claims there is no any Russian 'secret plan'. Likewise, Russia denies existance of such a plan as well.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Regional Development in Perspective: Romania and Moldova

Previously on this blog I discussed the regional development policy in Japan. Last week I had the opportunity to learn first-hand about regional development in Romania in a study tour to the North-Eastern Development Region. Regional development in Romania was initiated in 1998 with passing of a related law, establishing 8 development regions. The process was driven by the availability of pre-accession European funds for large-scale development projects with regional impact. After passing of the law, each regional development council (decision-making body) created a regional development agency (executive body) to design and implement regional development for their respective regions.

I visited the North-Eastern Regional Development Agency, and was positively impressed by a couple of things: the organizational set-up and institutional capacity (excellent human resources management, result-oriented organizational culture, and partner-focused operations), the number of projects implemented (about 600), and the amount of funding invested in the region (over 130 million Euro). The most important indicator that is reported by regional development agencies is the absorption (of funds) rate, which for this region is as high as 85%. The key factors of success in case of the North-Eastern Development Region are: availability of funds, decentralization in planning and implementation, and institutional capacities.

How is this eight-year-Romanian experience in regional development relevant to Moldova where the law on regional development came into force just recently (16th of February 2007)? Although it is indeed too early to talk about the results of regional development in Moldova, one cannot ignore the current unknown variables that make any forecast of the impact of this policy an extremely difficult task. Although the Romanian and Moldovan laws are somewhat similar in their provisions, there are several underlying issues that might make regional development policy in Moldova a totally different story: 1) because Moldova is not an EU accession candidate country, it cannot benefit from the pre-accession funds available via PHARE, ISPA and SAPARD instruments which supported the regional development in Romania, 2) lack of access to these ‘traditional’ funds increases the need of the Moldovan central government to negotiate an individual development funding menu with the European Commission, which determines a high level of centralization and unpredictability in spending future regional development funds, 3) such a high degree of centralization and unpredictability will disallow proper institutional capacity building and development at the regional level, which in turn might result in inefficient project implementation and overall failure of regional development policy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Transnistrian Conflict Revisited

An international conference entitled "Settling the Transnistrian conflict in the context of Moldova's europeanisation" took place in Chisinau on 26-27 March. The Conference was organised by the Foreign Policy Association of Moldova in cooperation with the Peace Building Framework Project.

Among the key speakers at this conference was Vladimir Socor, a well-known political analyst of the Jamestown Foundation - a think-tank based in Washington DC. Here you can find his speech, which is a good read for anyone interested in the Transnistrian conflict. The main idea is that almost all policies or models previously proposed for the resolution of this non-ethnic, non-economic, non-religious conflict have, in one way or another, failed, and the conflict is currently, more or less, in the same "frozen" condition as it was a decade ago. Except one single positive circumstance - Moldova becoming the immediate EU's Eastern neighbor the consequence of which is "the radiation of the EU soft power on Moldova." In Socor's view, the desire to become part of EU should be a strong motivation for the Transnistrian population to opt for a democratic government, which will ultimately lead to reconciliation with the rest of the country.

I like this idea, although its success relies heavily on Moldova's central government's ability to effectively steer the country onto the path of EU integration. Yet, who said EU integration was easy?!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bringing American Music to Moldova: What Does it Take?

Leading a busy professional lifestyle, I rarely get a chance to attend cultural events. Last night was an exception. The National Philharmonic of Moldova presented a wonderful concert of American music performed by the Moldovan Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted by a distinguished American conductor, Charles Ansbacher of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Beside enjoying a well-selected repertoire, which included such world-renowned pieces like Aaron Copland’s Outdoors Overture, Quiet City, Lincoln Portrait, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings , and Richard Rodgers' Oklahoma and Sound of Music, it was truly exciting to experience this successful American-Moldovan musical project.

Beside providing funding for this event, the US Government has physically participated in the concert: the US Ambassador in Moldova performed a highly significant and emotional part of Lincoln Portrait: he recited excerpts from the famous public speeches and addresses of Abraham Lincoln - the most beloved and devoted to democratic values American president. Have a look at that text because those excerpts are very relevant for any country that strives to become a true democracy. I will quote the most relevant part for Moldova:

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Referring to a previous discussion (on this and other blogs) on what the Moldovan Government could do to enhance its positive image and perception in the world, I think this is a great example of how to organize and conduct a bi-lateral cultural event.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Industrial Parks: Public vs. Private Management

Industrial parks are back in fashion. A draft law on industrial parks was prepared by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce of Moldova. An industrial park is an economic development tool, similar to free economic zones, five of which are already functioning in Moldova. The main difference is that an industrial park is designed to encourage and facilitate manufacturing activities. So far, so good. However, the management of the industrial park – a key function determining whether the park will achieve its objectives – will be carried out by a public entity. The park, endowed with public property and facilities, is to be managed by a state administrator’s office appointed and financed by the central government. The private sector is to be involved exclusively as rent-paying, service-consumers and industrial manufacturing residents.

I wonder what considerations justify this level of public sector involvement in the management of future industrial parks in Moldova? Isn’t it an already well-known fact that private companies are more efficient managers than the public sector? In my view, existence of a state administrator reporting to the central government is an open invitation to corruption and traffic of influence. The role of the Moldovan state in the management of industrial parks should be limited to developing and enforcing clear-cut regulations on industrial park management and operation. The rest should be the job of the private companies, audit companies, media, and, if needed, courts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Moldova - Romania: Controversial Issue Open for Debate

Although I am very well aware that the previous poll is not the ideal way of depicting the public’s opinion on a certain issue, nevertheless the majority of those who voted think that Romania is not interfering into Moldovan internal affairs as the Moldovan government claims.

However, accurate information (which should be the basis for any rational decision and opinion) on this issue is scarce, which fully justifies the “don’t know” option of the poll. Only after doing some research on this issue and watching the last night edition of the PROTV Chisinau program In PROfunzime, did I conclude that, most likely Romania is just trying to help Moldovan citizens gain better access to EU, and is not threatening the country’s sovereignty.

As Vladimir Socor put it, “the dispute has escalated beyond issues of history and national identity, now seemingly revolving around Moldova’s continuation as a state.” The issue, a rather important one, is on the table, and open for debate in which I invite you all to participate.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Is Romania Interfering?

The latest official declaration of the Moldovan government regarding Romania's alleged interference with the country's internal affairs took many people by suprise, including myself. It can be accessed in Romanian here and in English here and here. This poll intends to determine how many people share this official opinion.

Later addition: For those interested in this issue, have a look at this article by Vladimir Socor of Jamestown Foundation, which sheds more light and provides a new perspective.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Moldovan Traditions Celebrated in the US

The Moldovan diaspora in the USA celebrated a traditional Moldovan holiday - Martisor. Martisor is the celebration of beginning of spring, life and love in Moldova. Moldovans give each other red-and-white martisors, and wear them close to their hearts throughout March.

This celebration was organized by the Moldovans' Community in DC, Moldovan Embassy in the US with the support of several companies and organizations established by and/or run by Moldovans such as the Moldova Foundation, Moldova House, BIP Moldova, etc. It included a fashion show by designer Valentina Vidrascu, photography contest, Moldovan traditional food contest and lots of music. Around 200 people, mostly Moldovans from Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, attended this event. With Evghenia Berzan's permission, here are some pictures from this event.

It would be nice to hear from people that contributed to the organization of and/or participated in this unique event of the Moldovan diaspora in the US.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Moldovan Organizations: Promoters of Change?

According to the previous poll results, mentality and indifference of Moldovans are the major barriers in the way of the country’s development. Both have to do with the people’s attitude. How can these counter-productive attitudes be changed?

In my view, this change should start and last in institutions and organizations of all types: private, governmental and non-governmental. The reason why organizations are created is to allow people to join their efforts in achievement of a particular mission and objectives. Organizations are more powerful, effective efficient than individuals. Organizations, just like families, but at a different level, represent the foundation of a society. Organizations can tell you a lot about the society that nurtures them.

Do Moldovan organizations provide an appropriate ground for advancing change and reform? According to my own observation, not yet. People still perceive organizations merely as a means for achieving their own personal agendas, which, at the very first impression, does not seem to be a problem. However, to create a sustainable and long-lasting organization, the founders and managers of organizations need to have a vision which can transcend personal gains and interests. Once created, the organization needs to be allowed to develop by achieving successful results, incorporating innovative ideas and bringing about change. Very few organizations in Moldova have a vision powerful enough to attract like-minded people. Actually, I find it difficult to name even a couple. First that come to my mind are private corporations like Voxtel, Moldcell, SunCommunications, but I am not sure about them since I lack an insider’s view. If you can think of such an organization in Moldova, I’d appreciate your input.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Poll: What Hinders Development in Moldova?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Human Capital Development in Moldova: A Chicken and Egg Problem

There is an interesting discussion on Sandu’s blog about the existing differences between the intellectual elite in the US and Moldova. In the US, and by extension, in the Western Europe, the academic and professional elite are open to change, inquisitive, simple and flexible. In Moldova, however the intelegentzia, including university professors and students, is arrogant, narrow-minded, mediocre and unproductive. Initially, I found the family and pre-university education system as being the main factors that can guarantee high quality professionals (technocrats) and academic elite.

However, if you look at this issue from a larger perspective, we can see a more relevant picture. First, Moldova is an underdeveloped country. Many problems that the Moldovan society and economy is currently facing stem from a very low level of human development. In this sense, a nation’s human development is much more than mere financial well-being of its individuals.

Human capital, as input in the production cycle of an economy, is attained through consumption of education services. The better the education services, the more developed the human capital. But human capital is only an input. In order to achieve high quality outputs, you actually need a functioning economy. A rapidly developing economy demands better human capital via a vibrant labor market.

It is easy to see how the quality of the human capital is directly determined by the quality and dynamics of the labor market. In order to ensure development of human capital, there must be a strong motivation for investment into development. People need to perceive a promise of reward for studying hard, exercising critical judgment and being creative and innovative. Without it, peole, being what they are, won't be able to achieve and develop much. In the West, people pay a high price (including in financial and personal effort terms) and demand high quality education because they know it will eventually pay back (both in financial and esteem terms).

In Moldova, however, such motivation does not exist. There is really no promise whatsoever that if you study hard in school or work conscientiously at your workplace, you will be rewarded in any way. The Moldovan employers rarely require candidates to have previously-attained academic or professional achievements. Rewards are distributed in a random and inconsistent manner, which perpetuates all types of insecurity. There are no question asked, no promises made, and no guarantees. People are on their own with their conscience, and we very well know of what human nature, when left unattended, is capable of.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Moldova and European Union: What Next?

Since the first day of 2007, Moldova has become one of European Union’s neighbors. Moldova’s hopes related to EU integration are pretty clear and well-known, and its Government is actively pursuing a dialogue with the European Commission, the ultimate objective of which is an EU Association Agreement. However, this objective is yet far from becoming a reality. Today, negotiations between EU and Moldova are focused around two important agreements: Visa Regime Facilitation and Readmission Agreements. Here is a very good article by Gheorghe Stamate about the meaning and significance of these agreements, as well as positive and negative implications for Moldova.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Global Warming in Moldova

Last week it was unusually and disturbingly (at least for myself) warm in Moldova. On Wednesday, the outside temperature reached 14 degrees Celsius, thus making this January the warmest winter month since the first instrumental weather records in the country.

I don’t see common Moldovan people being concerned by this phenomenon. At most they are just amazed, and sometimes pleasantly surprised by generous warmth and sunshine. Farmers are worried because this unusually warm weather might mess up their crops, and consequently, their families’ incomes (for those interested in the potential impact of this weather conditions on Moldovan agriculture, here is an opinion). Government is passive because it is widely-accepted that one “cannot change the weather.” Some scientists are probably amazed in their own, scientifically tacit way.

I do not hear anybody talking about global warming, and this unusually warm January temperature for Moldova being a real manifestation of it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

How to Tax Real Estate Property in Moldova?

Until recently, revenues from property taxes throughout Moldovan cities and villages were merely symbolical and represented an extremely small share of already meager local budget revenues. A property tax reform, initiated in 2003, intended to change this situation.

Firstly, all residential properties (so far, in cities only) were re-assessed so as to reflect their market value, considering a multitude of factors like location, condition of apartment building and availability of residential infrastructure. Owners of apartments and houses were informed about the re-assessed value of their property and given the opportunity to petition the decision. Only in Chisinau Municipality, about 190,000 apartments and 28,000 single-family houses were re-assessed.

Secondly, Section VI on Real Estate Property of the Fiscal Code was recently modified. For Chisinau, the tax rate was set at 0.02% of the re-assessed value of taxable property. All other municipalities should set their own rates (0.02% being the minimum allowed), so as to achieve an average increase of 10% in revenues from this particular tax compared to the previous year. For large properties (with surfaces comprised between 100 and 200 square meters), the tax rate is 3 times bigger, and for very large real estate (more than 200 square meters), it is 28 times bigger.

What will be the real outcomes of these policy measures? According to a rather good article in Economic Overview, the impact of these changes, particularly on municipal governments, the ultimate beneficiaries of this reform, has not been calculated. Judging by the extremely small number of transactions on the real estate market, (543 sales, 483 donations, and 346 inheritances in Chisinau in 2006), and a large number of social categories that are exempt from this tax, the municipal budget will fail to incur the much-needed revenues. Theoretically, the tax revenues that could accrue from 9,000 very large residential houses located in Chisinau could make a real difference in the municipal budget. However, experts are rather skeptical because it is obvious that these well-off owners might prefer to experiment with various tax avoidance loops.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Moldova as a Loser

A well-known journalist from The Economist who specializes in Eastern Europe and whom I highly respect, Edward Lucas, published an article “Stars and soggy bottoms” which contained a brief description of Moldova. Because I find his choice of words precise in describing our reality as perceived from abroad, I just want to quote it here without further comments:

Loser: Abandoned by the West, and with a defeatist political elite unable to look beyond Russia, Moldova is sinking. If any post-communist country faces real collapse, it is this one. Nothing seems to be working in its favour, save that its neighbour, Romania, has just joined the EU.”

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Electricity Crisis in Moldova: a Single Extraordinary Event or Should We Expect More?

The recent electricity crisis that occurred in the rural areas of Moldova as a result of a strong snowstorm (3-4 January) revealed a high degree of vulnerability of the country’s electricity networks to extreme natural phenomena, which due to global warming, are expected to become more frequent and severe in the future. According to official data , about 500 settlements in the southern and central parts of the country have been cut off from power. Although the raion (district) centers were reconnected quickly, many rural areas are still in darkness.

Some consider this situation as the worst energy crisis in the last twenty years. Although all discussions in the media are focused on how the private power supplier, Union Fenosa, and Government dealt with the crisis, I’m more concerned about the causes that triggered this situation. One obvious reason is the unusually bad weather conditions. However, given that we cannot change the weather and such conditions might occur pretty often in the future, having electricity poles fall like domino all over the country does not appear as an attractive scenario at all. Secondly, the power infrastructure, like any other type of infrastructure in the poorest country in Europe, must be pretty old and worn-out. According to my knowledge, the Spanish private supplier, Union Fenosa, was supposed to make significant investments in the electricity infrastructure. According to the severity of the crisis, the investment has been either of low quality or extremely limited. I wonder as to how the Government regulates and monitors such investments of one of the largest monopolies and most important public utilities in the country. Thirdly, based on the experience of other under-developed countries, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that neither the Government nor the supplier had a well-rehearsed and operational emergency plan to be used in such situations, therefore the great delay in restoring power supply to final consumers. In my view, these could be the main factors (but not the only ones) that contributed to the ongoing electricity crisis in Moldova. In order to avoid such situations in the future, these factors should be addressed immediately and effectively by both Government and power supplier.