SAIS Next Europe

« Previous Post | Next Post »

Europe's Double Failure in Moldova

By Paul Maximilian Bisca

Europe's passive attitude towards the ongoing crisis in Moldova shows that when faced with the choice between power and principle, the EU is all too eager to abandon its core values in exchange for apparent geopolitical gains. True, the wise conduct of foreign policy often requires such compromises between what is right and what is necessary. But in the case of Moldova, the EU misjudged the forces at play and made a mockery out of its alleged commitment to a free society.

By European standards, Moldova today qualifies as a failed state. The country's average GDP per capita is only $250, with almost 30 percent of its four million citizens living below the poverty line. It is also one of the main sources of human trafficking on the continent and the break-away republic of Transdniester, which stretches between Moldova and the Ukraine, is a regional hub for money laundering and arms smuggling.

In the eyes of the disenchanted Moldovan youths, the victory of the Communist Party in the parliamentary elections held on April 5th signaled the continuity of this bleak horizon. In scenes familiar to Eastern Europe in 1989, thousands of protesters took over the Parliament building in the capital Chisinau and demanded a recount of the vote, which they claimed was rigged. The regime of outgoing President Vladimir Voronin - himself a former interior minister in the days when Moldova belonged to the Soviet Union - responded with a Soviet-style crackdown. Over 200 people have been beaten and jailed, some without access to lawyers. The body of 23-year old student Valeriu Boboc was returned to his parents covered with bruises and journalist Natalia Morar, one of the key planners of the anti-communist demonstrations, went into hiding after being placed under house arrest. Ten other journalists have been threatened or arrested by the Moldovan authorities. Backed by the Russian government, President Voronin accused Romania of plotting a coup against him, expelled the Romanian ambassador from Chisinau and reintroduced visas for Romanian citizens.

On both moral and strategic grounds, Europe's reaction lacked substance. In spite of the abuses, the EU went beyond traditional expressions of concern and invited Moldova to attend the inaugural summit of the Eastern Partnership. This initiative is due to be launched next month in Prague and aims to tighten relations with six former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus.

There were good reasons for the EU to be cautious: observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found no evidence that the election had been manipulated. Yet certain members of the OSCE mission openly challenged its final assessment, arguing that the positive evaluation was the result of Russian maneuvering. Furthermore, a United Nations inquiry concluded that Moldovan police subjected the detainees to cruel and inhuman punishment. In this context, Europe's deference towards President Voronin's regime dealt a blow to the country's already weakened pro-Western opposition, as well as to the aspirations of the young protesters for whom European integration is the only way for Moldova to chart a brighter course.

The EU position favored none of the rationales that would have made it strategically justifiable. Historically, Moldova has been coveted by Russia as a bridge to extend its influence into Eastern Europe and the Balkans. With the establishment of the Eastern Partnership - which President Voronin labeled as a plot to encircle Russia - and the recent tensions between the EU and Moscow over Georgia and Ukraine, disputes over the post-Soviet space are bound to recur. The EU thus failed to appreciate that a complacent reaction vis-à-vis the Moldovan repression will not postpone inevitable disagreements with the Russian government.

What is more, the EU's decision to reprimand Romania for planning to relax citizenship criteria for circa one million Moldovans exposed the lack of cohesion in Europe's foreign policy: strangely enough, the EU was more troubled these plans than by the crackdown in Chisinau.

The EU prides itself with an approach to diplomacy guided by "effective multilateralism", i.e. a preference for dialogue over isolation and/or confrontation. As illustrated by the Moldovan crisis, pushing this idea too far can lead to results that are both morally and strategically undesirable.

Paul Bisca is a graduate student in the IR/Strategic Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy. He is originally from Romania.

Email the Author | Email This Post | | Digg | Facebook

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (8)

dmitriid Author Profile Page:

> he regime of outgoing President Vladimir Voronin - himself a former interior minister in the days when Moldova belonged to the Soviet Union - responded with a Soviet-style crackdown. Over 200 people have been beaten and jailed

Yeah, right. Care to refresh your memory with what happened during protests in France and Greece and police response to those events? Unlike in those countries, Moldovan police attacked no one during the storming of government buildings. The actual arrests took place later, and of those people who went on, say, marauding

Rest of he article is as far from the truth as possible.

iuli Author Profile Page:

No better time to push your areas of influence than when the other party is loosing its power. We could argue who is on the losing side but I would prefer to continue seeing Russia as a turkey in defensive mode. Inflating its real size through its feathers...nothing more. If the EU does want to be considered a solid geostrategic player then these are situations in which it should have gotten its act right. Again it did not. Russia infulence in Europe should be limited. As for Georgia and Ukrain or Belarus it is far too much in the Russian sphere and demographically Belarus and Ukrain are quite complicated to attract towards the West. Moldova on the other side, like Lithouania, Estonia, Letonia are ethnically different. Moldova has a slavic population that totals a max of 25%, most of it in Transnistria. Latins (romanians) make more or less 75% of the backward republic. Historically the ethnik link between Moldva and Romania is proportinal to the number of romanian speaking population (75%). I am not suggesting any union between Romania or Moldiva, neither have the economic and istitutional attributes. What could be a viable move for Romania and the EU is to limit Russian influence in Moldova and get it as fast as possible to an EU entry.

katavo Author Profile Page:

Seemingly like all such "old-country" issues, who you support and what you believe depends on how far back in history you're willing see as the "true history" of [insert country here].

Are the people of Moldova essentially Romanian? Yes? No? Kind of sort of maybe ... ? Between the Romanians and the Russians, who would you want as your "master" ? Can they be their own master, with these other countries claiming ownership ...

I choose to admit total ignorance on these questions, it is not my country nor is it my history.

However I do take the author's point, the EU makes many grand important claims about how it knows right and wrong which it never actually does anything about. Granted, the density of history here introduces a chaos of problems which seems to have only bloody and repressive solutions .. but isn't that what the EU is supposed to do, manage the chaos?

ATrueChristian Author Profile Page:


What "invasion"? Russian troops were on Georgian soil. Georgia has every right to restore constitutional order on its own territory. It would be the same as Canadian troops being in Vermont to "protect" it because the Vermont state government decided they wanted to become an independent state. Our military would (and should) be ordered to restore order in Vermont, it would not be an "invasion" in the same sense that Georgia didn't "invade".

The only difference between the two situations is that the US military could kick the Canadian military out of Vermont. The Georgian military was no match for the Russian military, and it was, actually, Russia who invaded Georgia by taking more territory than the providence the Russians were supposed to be "defending". The Russians had a right to self defense and repel the Georgian military, they had no right to march further into Georgia and forcibly take territory, detain Georgian civilians, etc. Russia is a bully and unless their leadership changes its ways, it will have to be dealt with, just like 1930's Germany. You can't appease them.

But then you sound just like one of Putin's useful idiots (remember, it was a Russian who coined that phrase).

udneypenfold Author Profile Page:

My favorite part of Bisca's writing is when he compares the events to 1989 but fails to mention the hundreds of violent youth smashing parliament and the presidential building, burning furniture, and trashing computer equipment, all while the police took no aggressive action. Some 1989.

My recommendation to Bisca: it's great to write a partisan piece, and being controversial is a good way to be noticed, but if you want people to read your writing in the future, try to be balanced. You write well, it's punchy, but it's so slanted that people with knowledge of the situation will not take it seriously. Disarm your opponents by acknowledging the serious failures on the part of the opposition.

mentar Author Profile Page:

Too strange that our esteemed author completely fails to mention the Romanian meddling which led to major riots in Moldova, which have been called "an attempted coup d'etat" by the president.

I have a good moldovian friend who is very pro-western, and who had to suffer through the riots. Essentially, what happened was that the movement trying to align some parts of Moldova with Romania lost at the elections. The OSCE attested that the elections were fair and correct, though single members expressed doubts. In response to their loss at the urn, pro-Romanian protesters rioted, but failed to gain the necessary traction for more. End of story.

And what happens? Another Romanian apologist agitates in the WaPo against the EU because they didn't support the Romanians' efforts. Wonderful. Reminds me very much of all the "we're all Georgians" and "against the Russian aggression" BS which was spewed here before it was finally proven that the initial written order to "restore constitutional order" (in other words, have the Georgian military invade) came from Saakashvili.

Dear WaPo, you really should be a bit more careful before offering a platform to self-serving anti-EU and anti-Russian voices... as much en vogue as this might be nowadays.

Comunista Author Profile Page:

KEVINK2- if you read the footer to the article, it clearly states not only is Mr. Bisca a scholar of IR from a school branch in Italy, but he's a Romanian by birth.

The rest of what you say seems like you're focusing on either the wrong points, or incorrectly assuming. He didn't say the EU needs to go in there and force Moldova's hand to ensure a 'fair' electin, but rather that the tone they took regarding it was surprisingly less than a comparatively benign thing that Romania did, and that in the greater picture, EU is being too passive to send a strong message about what it stands for.

kevink2 Author Profile Page:

So, let me get this straight. An incompetent, corrupt government gets re-elected in an election that international observers found to be reasonably clean and fair. Mr. Bisca feels he knows better than the Moldovan electorate, so he, an American academic, expects the European Union, of which Moldova is not a member, to do something to overturn the result???

I've got family ties to Moldova, and follow what goes on there. The Moldovans made a total botch of their independence from the Soviet Union. The government is catastrophically inept. How they convinced their voters that they were the lesser of all evils is mysterious - but then again, in many people's eyes, so was G. W. Bush's re-election in 2004. I don't doubt that the Russians did what they could to hide whatever vote rigging may have taken place in Moldova, but they have done the same in Belarus without being able to prevent the world from knowing about the sham elections there. If Mr. Bisca has evidence that the fraud that took place this year in Moldova was, say, worse that that which took place in, say, the US presidential election of 1960, he should share it.

Finally, why is he writing editorials in US papers asking the EU to change its position, rather than writing to his Congressbeing, Senator, and Secretary Clinton urging the US to adopt his position? The EU's official comment on the election was that it was "conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner, and in overall pluralistic environment" but that "the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission...shows that further efforts need to be ensure an electoral process free from undue amdinistrative infterferance..." and otherwise signaled in diplomatic language that further integration with the EU is contingent on such improvements." Yes, I suppose that's pretty passive and diplomatic. But I can't help but wonder what sort of "active" response Mr. Bisca advocates. Sanctions? An invasion to bring about "regime change"?

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.