On September 27, some 15,000 people protested in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, against government corruption and overall lack of good governance. The rally was organized by the civic movement Truth and Dignity, which is trying to capitalize on popular discontent against the government, currently controlled by Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet and his Liberal Democratic Party. But as the tiny, landlocked nation continues to play musical chairs with those in power, unfortunately for Moldovans, the country is beginning to look like a failed project at state-building and overall statecraft.
For a country that has been independent for less than a quarter of a century, Moldova is a small country with big problems. Shortly after independence in 1991, there was a short-lived civil war, which resulted in an area east of the Dniester River, known as the Republic of Transnistria, becoming de-facto autonomous. A garrison of Russian troops remains in the separatist Transnistria to this day; according to Moscow, its troops are there to preserve the peace, though Chisinau and European observers argue that Russia is protecting the separatist government. In early 2014, a referendum was held in the autonomous southern region of Gagauzia; the overwhelming majority (if the results are to be believed) voted for closer relations with the CIS Customs Union, and were largely against Moldova’s integration with the European Union. Another referendum question showed that Gagauzians support their region’s right to declare independence, should Moldova lose its independence (theories of Moldova forming some kind of union with Romania go back decades, and were a factor in the 1992 separatist war).
To what extent Moscow is actively supporting separatism in Moldova is questionable, though the Gagauz referendum occurred at the height of the Ukrainian conflict and around the time of the Crimean referendum.
As for Moldovan politics, new public anger against bad governance erupted last November, when it was revealed that one billion dollars, 12% of the country’s GDP, were missing from the Moldovan central bank. To this day no one has been arrested for absconding with the money. Though, heads have rolled. Just this past September 21, the director of Moldova’s national bank Dorin Dragutanu and his first deputy, Marin Molosag, resigned due to the scandal. The protests, including a tent city that has appeared in the capital, may cost one or two more politicians their job but there is no sign that the money will re-appear.
Ultimately, the question is who, if anyone, can lead Moldova and usher in a badly-needed era of good governance. There are not that many options right now. There are reports that the civic group leading the current protests, Dignity and Truth, may consider transforming itself into a political party. However it is unclear if there are reliable and trustworthy individuals within the organization who, if elected, can properly lead the country. Oleg Serebrian, a Moldovan political analyst and diplomat, argues that “there is a lack of new faces on the Moldovan political scene and Dignity and Justice is not an exception here. There are well-known politicians being recycled into ‘new leaders’ and probably there is no real trust in them.”
Just this past June, Chiril Gaburici resigned as prime minister of the country after four months in the job because he faked his high school diploma. While the Gaburici incident may be an example of how anyone can become head of state, in the positive sense of the term, it also illustrates that the country’s government apparatus may be beyond fixing.
Bringing 15 thousand people to the streets in a country of around 3.5 million is a significant feat. Though perhaps not all that surprising amidst Moldova’s current challenges: one separatist region, one close to following suit, the presence of Russia troops in its territory; the country remains one of the poorest in Europe; there is an overall lack of good governance, lack of independent institutions as well as endemic bureaucratic corruption in Chisinau. Given this reality, and with membership to the European Union a distant dream, it is no wonder that Moldovan adults and youth are migrating in search of new opportunities and a better future.
At this point, finding a billion dollars may be the easiest of Moldova’s problems.
The author would like to thank Lucia Scripcari, a double-major undergraduate student at Istanbul Sehir University, Turkey, for her research in preparation for this commentary.