The parliamentary elections in Moldova from 30 November should be a subject of interest for the global and European left.
Not only that Eastern Europe has been throughout the post-socialist transition the new playground for innovative state policies fashioned in the interest of capital and Western geopolitical dominance, as well as the new resource fields for converting labour power into cheap labour. The emergence of the conflict in Ukraine, ending the explosion since 2012 – throughout the region – of popular movements of protest against neoliberal policies and against the entire political system of the transition, reveals a delicate balancing moment in the global transition of the world system.
The Party of Communists of Moldova (PCRM) has been the only nominal “communist” party elected democratically twice during the transition in the region, governing without interruption from 2001 to 2009. In the elections of 2010 it remained the biggest party, registering 39.34% of the votes, as opposed to the leading party of the new governing coalition, the Liberal-Democratic Party (PLDM), who got 29.42%. In the elections of 2014 it has massively lost this position, coming third, with 17.48% behind PLDM (20.16%), and most surprisingly behind the newly formed Party of Socialists (PSRM, 20.51%). In absolute numbers, PCRM was voted by only 279,372 citizens in 2014, as opposed to 677,069 in 2010.
How did this massive loss of almost two-thirds of constituency come about?
The participation rate was down to 55.86% in 2014, as opposed to 63.37% in 2010, but there were other more decisive factors. Internally, PCRM has suffered in the past years from a constant loss of prominent cadres and something of a gradual loss of identity after the protests of 2009 which lead to the regime change, even if leader Vladimir Voronin has remained a relatively trusted figure within the Moldovan political class.
However, the most decisive factors have been external. First off, the electoral campaign has been dominated by geopolitical issues, namely the interpellation East or West, as evidenced by electoral billboards which actually featured NATO symbols, on one side, respectively Putin himself, on one other side. PCRM was the only major party who refused to take either side during the campaign, and this strategy of “silence” was taken as weakness both from outside and by prominent internal cadres. Furthermore, adding to the silence of PCRM was the loudness of several other campaigns which have been very well financed, from sources which could be internal or external, as the law of electoral finances for political parties has not been adopted yet. Also, the mass-media in Chişinău was strongly bent towards the governing coalition.
Secondly, one has to take into consideration the extraordinary efficiency – intended or not – of the electoral techniques of manipulation of the democratic vote in 2014. The pre-electoral season of 2014 saw the emergence of a plethora of parties targeting the left vote rather than the Russian-ethnic vote. The former CC member and Secretary of Komsomol, Eliza Moscaliciuc, resigned from the party through an open letter denouncing PCRM’s gray eminence Mark Tkaciuk of selfishness, and joined the new party founded by her husband, Ruslan Popa, the “Reformist Communists”. The party was registered officially in May 2014, enjoys the same abbreviation (PCRM) and a strikingly similar visual symbol to PCRM. The Reformists collected 78,719 votes, i.e. 4.92%. Mark Tkaciuk himself later announced that he “retires from politics”, accusing the passivity of leader Voronin, while his close associate and another PCRM leader, Grigore Petrenco, jumped officially the boat during the summer to the populist party of newcomer Renato Usatii. Other smaller parties appealing to a similar constituency emerged even in the last weeks of the electoral campaign, such as the party “The Force of the People”, lead by a known diplomat, which gathered another 11,672 votes (0.73%). Of course, the biggest leak was towards the Socialists, but one should not simply accept it as an organic phenomenon representing the turn towards Russia or the ethnic Russian vote, before understanding the artificial shock to the electoral system administered by populist newcomer Renato Usatii.
Renato Usatii emerged all of a sudden in the public space of Moldova in the summer of 2014 with a series of charity events in the rural regions of Moldova. His previous appearances included taking over 78% of UniversalBank in 2011, and emerging in 2012 in a video chat with runaway Russian banker Gherman Gorbuntsov. The latter was the victim of a shooting incident in London. Recommending himself as a “Moldovan gastarbeiter” and “philantropist,” and insisting on his humble provincial origins from Făleşti, Usatii is a successful 38-year-old businessman established in Russia from 2004. He appealed to the feelings of Moldovan immigrants and their families and to the general social discontent, claiming to bring a different kind of politics. Usatii accused the leading government figures of corruption, called out the two main oligarchs in power, stated that the mass media from Chişinău is controlled politically, promised popular justice, said that the Socialists left the Communists for money, talked about his love for Moldova and the need for a better change for the country, also claimed to gather 20% of the votes – in short Usatii made all the right noises, as if representing the popular anti-systemic discontent. And noise has been a very important part of his presence: during the electoral campaign, Usatii brought to Moldova (not only to the capital) some of the biggest senior pop stars of Russia. However, all the noise and triumphant ascent of Usatii ended right before the elections themselves, as his party was somehow denied official participation to the elections, through the undoubtedly dubious legal engineering of the incumbent powers in charge of elections. Usatii himself suddenly left the country with a night flight with a few days remaining before the elections, claiming assassins paid by the oligarchs in power were out to get him.
The official record books will have no mention of his impact, but the shocks left by Usatii’s insertion in the Moldovan electoral games are still widely felt. The billboards with the slogan “justice and truth” are still present throughout the country and on the back of the seats of minibuses criss-crossing Moldova and Chişinău. And after his retreat to Russia, the Socialists were there for the taking. PSRM is also an entirely new party registered in 2014, lead by a few well-known figures, primarily Igor Dodon, former Minister of Economy in PCRM’s former government and Zinaida Greceanu, former Prime-Minister of the same government. It mattered little that Dodon had been for quite a while a has-been figure, due to several scandals of privatisation under his mandate as well as public accusations of gluttony and treason, including from former prime-minister Vasile Tarlev and Voronin himself. However, the campaign of the Socialists had very little to do with PSRM’s leaders, being a straightforward transition from a clear text to a very powerful image: in the first part of the campaign, the Socialists emerged with big red billboards featuring only their electoral symbol and the unequivocal written slogan “For the Customs Union”. The bolded text was changed in the last two weeks leading to the elections with a grand image showing Putin himself in a face-to-face meeting with Greceanu and Dodon.
Russian-bent PSRM recorded eventually an impressive 327,910 votes, or 20.51% of the votes. The governing pro-Western alliance won the elections more comfortably than expected (PLDM 20.16%, PDM 15.80%, PL 9.67%), in spite of the worrying pre-electoral polls, and in spite of a loss of almost 10% registered by the main governing party (PLDM). The change of regime has been averted. In the final week leading to the elections, the police made a series of well-publicized arrests of members of an AntiFa movement (some were actually Borotba activists from Odessa) who were accused of plotting an armed, violent leftist overthrow of the government after the elections; curiously, the gravely accused were released after just 72 hours. The remarkable police activity continued after the elections, when thanks to the opportune help of US colleagues, the Moldovan police apprehended a group of smugglers of uranium. Even if the Moldovan pro-European forces may have been helped also by the rather unexpected success of German-ethnic Klaus Iohannis in the Romanian Presidential elections against the “leftist” Social-Democrat Ponta (on a campaign of anticorruption and civilization), the fact remains that the rising danger of the popular vote of protest has been averted in Moldova through electoral and statal “technologies” used with remarkable success by both the pro-Western “democratic forces” and the pro-Russian opposition.
As for PCRM, paradoxically, the pro-EU group may need an alliance with PCRM in order to make the numbers. Voronin himself apparently sees no point at the moment in making an alliance with PSRM, and continues the line announced in October, emphasizing that PCRM was the party that started the process of development and association with EU in 2002, and that presently it does not denounce the Association Agreement with EU, but only asks for its revision. Returning to government, even in the form of a “monstrous coalition” would probably mean a survival boost for the embattled PCRM. It would not be the first cohabitation in the region between a communist and a capitalist party, as the Ukrainian CP allied at one point even with Yulia Timoshenko’s party. But as Moldova is asked to choose between one form of dependency and another, one visible backdrop is the general deterioration of the control of the National Bank over the Moldovan currency and a serious diminution of its reserves in USD.
The public overdetermination of local politics by the option “either West, or East”, and by big capital is no secret. In fact, this is public news in Moldova. The associated deep interference with democratic processes goes against the re-composition of social forces in their own terms, but also opens the field both for retreats in safe-spaces and for non-purist alliances, which might have a more general and immediate influence. In this context, the role of culture, rather than the famous “civil society” of transition, becomes ever more important, as the backdrop where subjective perceptions, connections and recompositions are being forged. There are wide popular seeds for what is widely expected from Eastern Europe by progressives, namely a reinvention of the left, or a movement against the dominant directions of the post-socialist transition – anticommunism, capitalism and coloniality. There are also very worrying concentrations of power and retreats into conservative ideologies – not in the least from left forces. In this sense, further developing regional internationalism in Eastern Europe is a highly necessary objective for the global left. In the meantime, within its formal sphere of politics, Romania and Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova is showing a true face of the world: how a small space lives intensely all the internal contradictions and conflicts of the world system. And now it has the survival mission of showing how the peaceful overcoming of the same open contradictions could be done.