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EU praises Moldova: for efficient reforms or for building a kingdom of oligarchs?

Added by Mayfair on Jan 03, 2013 | Visited by 8474 | Voted by 78 persons

Within the last few months the Republic of Moldova has hosted a few top EU leaders, with Catherine Ashton being on the list of next VIPs to visit the country. Every one of them has loudly praised Moldova for implementing successful reforms, which is good for maintaining the high morale of the ruling coalition on its officially declared way to European integration. But are the successes true? High delegations usually come to Moldova for maximum a day, are well received in the famous unique in the world wineries, and then leave, and it is quite doubtful they see the real life and problems of Moldovans.

Moldova now is officially the poorest country in Europe. Once a prosperous entity in the former Soviet Union, it had the same level of life standards as Baltic States, and when Soviet Union started to disintegrate in 1990, it even had a higher quality of life than neighboring Romania. But 20 years have passed, and Baltic States as well as Romania are full fledged members of EU, and though Romania has its own serious socio-economic troubles, nevertheless rapid changes for better can be seen and felt at a glance there. In 20 years enormous China has made a huge leap forward to become the second power in the world with clear perspectives to become a world leader, whilst other Far Eastern countries, including former socialist Vietnam, have turned into economic wonders.

In 20 years a new generation has grown, and the world has changed enormously, but in Moldova it seems like the time has stopped: devastated half empty dark villages without roads and schools, a third of population, the able-bodied one, has left the country in search for some earnings and better life, leaving behind broken families and children without parents, outdated infrastructure, agriculture in shambles, economy unable to reach pre-independence levels. About 80% of the population are either very poor or barely making both ends meet, while most of the youngsters are surviving on remittances from abroad. Even Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, is far from resembling an European town changing for better: chronic dirt, unlit streets, pavements either not repaired since Soviet times or chaotically patched, like the streets around, outdated canalization and drainage system, chaotic traffic filled with dangerous minibuses, which do not respect any traffic rules, absence of a single modern parking house, an Eastern type bazaar and flower shops in the center of town, which create congestion and bring in even more dirt, lots of ugly kiosks everywhere, which means there is no architectural thinking in the city administration, rising criminality, and so on. The current Mayor of Chisinau Dorin Chirtoaca, who once seemed to be so different from others, especially from communists when he won the position in 2007, turned now into just another demagogue. Add to the above all-penetrating corruption, nepotism and you’ll get the picture about true Moldova, in which Moldovans live now.

So the question is what exactly foreign leaders perceive as a success to be praised? Do the foreign leaders realize that the European idea, which was so attractive a few years ago to most Moldovans is now hardly resisting to the more aggressive Putin’s idea of EurAsian Union, probably because people are disappointed and perceive all these European “successful reforms” as a Big Lie?! Reforms are meaningful and can be considered a success, when they change reality for better, not when done on papers and in nice reports filled with cold irrelevant numbers.

So, why Moldova, which has received billions in foreign aids from EU and other foreign donors and has had lots of well prepared reform aid programs from IMF and the World Bank, has not been able to change? In the end, it is quite a small manageable country, the budget of which is smaller than that of many international corporations. To turn around a company one should do is basically have a good understanding of sales and markets, of balance sheet and cash flow, operations, human resources management, and investments into the future. Why Moldova is still a failed state, then? Maybe, simply, because no one until now was a visionary and able enough leader to sort these issues out?

Putting aside some geopolitical issues, which are undoubtedly quite important, the truth is that:

Primo. In spite of many written and adopted reform programs, Moldova was not able to prioritize its revival strategy, adopt any and follow it strictly. Remember how Europe revived after the World War II? Coal and Steel Union, then Common Agricultural Policy, and NATO union, which means focus on Energy, Infrastructure, Food and Security. These are basic and most important issues for reviving any nation. From the Energy point of view Moldova has done nothing, still paying the highest price for energy among other former Soviet states. Infrastructure is basically what has been inherited from Soviet times, outdated and depleted. Expensive energy and old infrastructure not only burden the nation, but a priori make any serious economic reforms and investments questionable. As for Food, once a famous “Orchard of the Soviet Union” turned into an importer of everything. Ironically, Moldova is still afloat not due to successful reforms, but against all odds, contrary to all those reforms, mainly due to billions of remittances from Moldovans working abroad, who run away from these “reforms” in search for a living.

Secundo. Moldova has not been able to produce a unified political elite, an unifying national idea, which would continue regardless of changing political administrations. Moreover, it has not been able to produce and promote a visionary leader, who’d be above all egos and clan interests and who’d promote true market rules, equal and beneficial for everyone. All political changes after all elections until now resulted in chaotic change of directions, redistribution of spheres of influence, persecutions and political instability. Politicians jump from one party to another, rapidly “adjusting” their “political principles”. An unclear Constitution, with its unfortunate remake in 2000 only added to the overall chaos and unclarity. It is more and more clear, that if Moldova truly wants progress, it has to change its Constitution ASAP, and better for a strong presidential republic, the form of which proved to be able to promote faster reforms.

Terzo. Last but not least: all-penetrating corruption and nepotism, clan interests over national interests. Last outcrying case: school buses for children have been procured at a double price from the factory. And yet again a million Euros cigarette smuggling to Romania. Top cynicism of the poorest country in Europe is that politics has turned into the most profitable business: no one until now has been smart and able enough to build a truly market economy, but local businessmen rapidly realized that investing into a political party, which comes into power and starts ripping off the state budget thru various protectionist and corruption schemes, provides an easier and faster way for a huge return on investments. Other businessmen are buying for themselves and for their businesses immunity from law with a parliamentary mandate. Oligarchs in all parliamentary parties became a true fact of modern Moldova.

Maybe that is the main reason, that while on one end official salaries are far beneath the minimum level of normal human existence, on another end, prices for goods are higher than in Europe: meat and imported food products are pricier, medicines are 3-5 times more expensive than in neighboring Romania, an EU member state, real estate prices in Kishinev are probably now more expensive than in Budapest or Riga - all this proves existence of a distorted, corrupted and inefficient economy.

Sadly, there is no sign that politics shall become a job for politicians, while businessmen should do business outside the parliament and government. These new arrogant nouveau-riches turned politicians are lavish spenders, vividly enjoying their high all-mighty status, as they seem to live above the law.

One of the most outspoken Moldovan oligarchs is Mr.Vlad Plahotniuc, First Deputy Chairman of the Moldovan Parliament, or, how he likes to call himself without any scruples, “the second person in the state”, a low level lie, which shows the unprecedented vanity and ambitions of this person. Former pimp and, according to some sources, a women trafficker, and former mafia cover for businesses (publicly accused so by the current speaker of the Parliament and leader of the Democratic Party, of which Mr.Plahotniuc now, ironically, is the First Deputy Chairman), this active man, supported by secret services, cunningly used former communist President Voronin and his son to apprehend huge businesses and ultimately not only control the whole legal system in the country, but also the main law enforcement state bodies. Recent raider attacks on banks and insurance companies are also said to be orchestrated by this notorious person. Having acquired plenty of mass media institutions, he is now not only trying to turn his name (actually, he has several names and citizenships) into a noble one, but also actively acquiring politicians from other parties into his Democratic Party, in which he basically controls everything. Rumored to have law suits in Cyprus and UK, he has officially denied it, whilst not a single politician has dared to question these serious allegations, which in any other truly democratic country would have had fatal repercussions for any politician or party, but not in Moldova. Mr.Plahotniuc has recently bravely demanded a vote of confidence in the parliament, after one communist accused him of being a criminal, and Mr.Plahotniuc has won this vote from his alliance parties, which practically means that these parties fully associate themselves with this man’s deeds. At the same time, the communist leader former President Voronin has shyly mumbled that they do not have clear evidence of Plahotniuc’s wrongdoings. In fact, the parliament has cleared Plahotniuc from all previous insinuations!

This was a serious turning point in Plahotniuc’s status - basically it was his victory day over all other parties. He is said to have compromising materials against all leading politicians, and now nothing and no one can oppose his drive for power. Even the Prime-Minister’s Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova has lost initiative for the last half a year after rumors of some cassettes held by Plahotniuc spread around. And this is a bad sign, since the LDPM has been until now the most decent, the most promising and most serious political party.

So, an odious person, who controls the legal system of the country, controls law enforcement bodies, controls most of the mass media of Moldova, controls financial institutions and has a lot of money for buying in any politician, has support from local and foreign secret services, has compromising materials that keeps other politicians either in trepidation or paralyzed - what he would do next? With such personal ambitions and capabilities he can easily become a King of Moldova! Or the next Prime Minister or President - even easier. With practically non-existent system of checks and balances, with the only truly opposition party of communists being in intensifying disintegration, massive and aggressive political takeovers by the Democratic Party, led in fact by a clever con artist Mr.Plahotniuc, such a scenario is more realistic than ever.

Would this eventual chain of events be considered a success story by the EU is quite doubtful - such personalities are usually backed by serious foreign forces, so there is much more into it as it seems on the surface at first glance (needless to say that neither Romania, nor Russia are interested in any meaningful progress and true reforms in Moldova). EU needs a success story, but its shortsightedness in Moldova, praising illusions of successful reforms, may cost dare in the long run and in the hidden geopolitical rivalry.

As one clever Moldovan told me: there is a relatively quick solution to Moldovan troubles, but it needs “almost nothing” - however, the “recipe” is a subject of a totally new story.

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