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.