Just recently, the donors of the Network have fulfilled the fundraiser towards a 2-week-trip to Republic of Moldova to cover the campaign for the upcoming snap elections. We are grateful for your generosity and we already started putting the logistics together (put our paperwork in order, make sure we have a place to stay, transportation, etc.) – but… that’s the easy part.
The hard part is getting ourselves in the mental framework to do this job properly for you. So before we hit the road, we’ll try hard to get you up to speed and in the mental framework as well.
We’ve covered events before (elections, summits, controversial marches, tensed political events, etc.) both in English and in Romanian. So we approach this with a reasonable amount of confidence that we’ll be able to deliver on the expectations the fans and donors have on us.
However, what we never did before is to try to convey the inner-workings of an inside joke to a group that is outside of it. Just like it’s difficult to explain the implications of a remark like “Okay, boomer!” or “Top kek!” to a Romanian who doesn’t speak English and doesn’t hang out in the godforsaken corners of the Internet that many of y’all do, the same is true when it comes to explaining the implications of many things Moldova to those who don’t speak Romanian. Yet that’s exactly what we’ll have to do.
Heck, sometimes we need to explain to Romanians on the right side of the Prut river some of these things because no matter how similar the two societies are (the Romanian and Moldovan) there are still shockingly many differences.
Despite having Romanian as the official language, Russian is still pretty common in Moldova. And that’s not so bad. The worst part is that the common parlance on the left side of the Prut river is rife with calques – especially phraseological calques – in which an idiom from Russian is translated word-for-word into Romanian and then you’re just expected to “get it” – and you can’t unless you either lived in Moldova for years or you speak Russian well enough to figure out the context on the spot.
Such situations exist in every country, of course. For instance the French phrase ça va sans dire got calqued in English as “it goes without saying” and today it seems normal. Nobody bats an eyelid when hearing it and everyone understands what the speaker meant. However, in most countries of Europe, such imports into the language occurred decades or even centuries ago.
In Moldova, most of them occurred in the last 20 years or so – as more and more people started to speak Romanian in public (since Russian was no longer mandatory) but those generations were educated in the Soviet system. Perhaps this explains why so many young people are running in this election (more on that later).
Here’s a video that is impossible to translate fully into English, Romanian or Russian. You basically need to speak the latter two really damn well (or to have lived in Moldova for many years) to get an idea of what this very smart history teacher is trying to convey. Good luck:
At the same time, however, Moldova is still going through an identity crisis. Is it really a country? If it is, then surely some particularities aren’t a big deal. After all, the German spoken in Austria isn’t exactly identical to the one spoken in Germany, n’est-ce pas?
If it isn’t a country, then why bother since it will soon be integrated into something else? But hold on – what something else? This election, a party called “The Patriots of Moldova” is running on the platform to make Moldova a federal subject of Russia with certain conditions.
Also in this election, with bigger chances of passing the 5% threshold to get into the legislative, there’s a Romanian party running whose objective is also the dissolution of Moldova through complete and unconditional integration of the country into its western neighbor – Romania. The Alliance for the Unification of Romanians already shook the leftist-elitist political class in Romania after they “unexpectedly” got into the Parliament – so now that they’re running in Moldova as well with the same unionist message, the powers-that-be are treading more carefully. More on that later.
And then there’s the Transnistria issue. Or the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. A place so weird that it’s hard to explain even to Romanians, let alone to those not familiar with the shenanigans of the Soviet Union or Russia.
So, let’s try: The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) is a sliver of land on the left side of the Dniester (Nistru) river sandwiched between Ukraine and the rest of Moldova that’s on the right side of the Dniester river.
From an international law perspective, the PMR belongs to Moldova. De facto, however, as a result of the 1992 Transnistrian War, the PMR is a separate country with its own currency (recognized only by Russia) which only recognizes the Romanian language if it’s written in the Soviet Cyrillic script.
Point of information: there was a moment when the Romanian language was written in the Cyrillic script but that stopped almost 200 years ago. Also, the script used in the 1830s is not the same used today in Transnistria under the official name of “Moldovan Cyrillic Alphabet“.
Well, usually, the votes from this region (which de jure belongs to Moldova) would routinely go towards pro-Russian factions. This time around, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) decided not to allow any polling stations in Transnistria because the Chișinău authorities can’t control them properly. All fine and dandy but in previous elections, it happened multiple times for voters to be physically carried over the “border” to cast votes (sometimes multiple votes per person) for the preferred Russian faction.
Readers from the ex-Yugoslav space may be more likely to get the idea of this practice as it also happened last summer in 2020 in Montenegro and it routinely happens in Bosnia or Serbia – particularly in the buffer area Republika Srpska (which de jure belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation but the populace’s loyalties routinely lie with Belgrade).
Moldovan politics in general are basically a meme, but this is particularly true this time around.
The political party supported by the Romanian Government and the European Union is called /pas/ – yes, kinda like /pol/ – except it has terrible memes and imagery.
The Party for Action and Solidarity – /pas/ – also doesn’t really think Moldova is a country. But they also don’t think Moldova should be Russian or Romanian. They’d prefer Moldova to be a blob of everything for everyone (globohomo basically) and maybe a “civic nation” à la française but without too much Allahu Ackbar like the original.
The slogan? “We are kickstarting the good times” (Pornim vremurile bune) – an NPC slogan by an NPC party for NPC voters. The same NPC voters who made other no-names relevant in Moldovan politics in the past. Or, as our favorite Moldovan analyst Marcela Țușcă would put it: “The goodniks” (with the implicit assumption, of course, that those who defy the Progress and Good brought by /pas/ are, of course, nogoodniks. The root of the word goodnik is Russian and Yiddish and may have come into English from present-day Moldova)
/pas/ wants to dissolve Moldova into the wider EU (and, make no mistake, it stands a good chance of succeeding since it will likely form the next government). The AUR wants to dissolve Moldova into Romania – and if they get into the Parliament they may even end up in Government. The “Patriots” want to dissolve it into Russia (these guys are way too late to the party, though).
Then there’s BECS. No, it’s not a misspelling of the Hungarian name for Vienna (Bécs) but an acronym standing for Blocul Electoral al Comuniștilor și Socialiștilor (The Electoral Block of the Communists and Socialists). This alliance is run by two pro-Russian ex-presidents – Vladimir Voronin and Igor Dodon.
For those who may have followed Moldova in the past, Vladimir Voronin is that president against whom the people rose up on April 7, 2009 in a similar fashion their western neighbors had risen up 20 years earlier against Ceaușescu.
No matter how you look at it, these guys represent the distant past. Vladimir Vornin just turned 80 a month ago and Igor Dodon is increasingly unpopular even in his own party (The Socialist Party of Republic of Moldova – PSRM) as the base of PSRM perceives him as having lost the support of the Kremlin. Whether that’s true or not we will surely find out by July 14. One thing is certain though: The path to victory for BECS is pretty narrow because in addition to fielding very pasée frontrunners, their message – one of independence – is a lot less popular than it was even a year ago, let alone 5 or 10 years ago. The faith in Moldova as a viable independent state is running dry. More cynical observers may even go as far as to say that Moldova as a state died a long time ago but it didn’t find that out yet.
Then there are two contenders named after two people: The electoral block “Renato Usatîi” and the Șor Party (named after Ilan Șor).
Renato Usatîi is the mayor of Bălți, a town known as a Russian-speaking stronghold. We will go there and will show you how it evolved. For now, it is worth noting that Renato Usatîi was instrumental in unseating Igor Dodon back in November 2020. He ran in the presidential election, came in third with ~17% of the vote and in the second round he advised his voters to reject Igor Dodon.
However, while him personally is quite popular, the electoral block bearing his name is not sure it will get the 5% necessary to be in the next Parliament.
One reason him personally is popular is because under his leadership the municipality of Bălți suffered a transformation mostly for the better – and it even attracted international attention as to how transparent his administration is and just how much has corruption been reduced. Now, make no mistake, it’s still pretty corrupt, but before Usatîi, Bălți would make some Brazilian local authorities blush.
Usatîi would like to create the Moldovan equivalent of the Mossad to hunt down corrupt politicians, abolish district (raion) authorities and intensify economic cooperation with Romania and Ukraine.
Ilan Șor is the former mayor of Orhei. At the age of 34 he has a resume similar to more seasoned oligarchs. Born in Tel Aviv (from parents that had fled the USSR), grown up in Moldova since age 3, Ilan Șor came out as a strong advocate for the Russian-speaking population. He is married with Jasmin – a successful Russian pop-singer. He owns a football club, several duty-free stores, he got elected as mayor of Orhei whilst on house arrest and also got involved in the so-called “the billion scandal” in which roughly one billion dollars (one eighth of Moldova’s GDP) vanished from Moldova’s banks. Just like that. He is currently in hiding. And he’s just 34 years old!
The Șor Party could accurately be described as national-socialist. They believe in Big Government, Big Welfare State, nationalization of foreign energy firms, collective farming (they literally advocate for the return of the kolkhoz) and all around socialism. However, they distrust big transnational involvement (such as the European Union), they like the Church (and cultural conservatism in general) and, unlike the Western Left, they also support law and order (including death penalty).
At the moment of this writing 19 political parties and “electoral blocks” signed up for the election. That number may change as a few others are wrapping up their paperwork. Besides, in Moldova it is perfectly possible to be disqualified three days before voting day. Ask Renato Usatîi about that.
The Moldovan /press/
Partisan press exists in every country on Earth so the fact that such thing exists in Moldova as well comes as no surprise.
However, the way in which this is done oftentimes shocks even seasoned political operatives from the Intermarium area (who should be, and are, accustomed to this neighborhood’s way of doing things).
There is not much etiquette. It’s just straight-up agenda-driven reporting without any pretense of being anything else. In a way, that can be a good thing but the readership makes things depressing to look at and analyze.
Shilling is also at a level not seen in Eastern Europe for 20 years. To call it low-tier bait would be an understatement. Take for instance this article from Timpul. The headline reads: ”The communist Securitate officer is still on PAS’s list. On April 7th he was KIDNAPPING young people off the streets and taking them to police precincts” – and then throughout the article the individual in question is called a torturer (torționar). The Romanian word torționar is associated with the odious crimes against humanity committed in Communist-era prisons such as the Pitești experiment.
Now, make no mistake, this individual from /pas/ may indeed be a terrible commie bootlicker – but he is no torționar.
Similar type of gross exaggeration comes from all sides. In the pro-Russian media Romanians are casually called ”fascists”, ”imperialists” and even worse names are reserved for those further west.
Those who complain about the American media as being “hyperpartisan” should take a trip to Moldova to see what a real hyperpartisan media landscape looks like.
The more ”credible” media outlets (and by ”credible” one should understand slightly less hysterical but also very partisan) have meme names or meme practices.
It is unclear where this practice of writing /like this/ came from but it’s so common that the /pas/ logo doesn’t look so weird as it would look for those not accustomed to the Moldovan way of doing things.
Back in 2017-18, the Social Democrats in Romania (then in power) pejoratively called those who protested against them haștagiști (lit. the hashtag-ers). Well, in Moldova there is a legit media outlet called Diez (lit. hashtag).
And to make sure it lives up to the meme – the motto is ”News for young people”.
And the meme-stereotype goes even further: All of the news on the website are incredibly short. Basically the founders assume that their target audience is kinda retarded and lacks the attention span to read 1000 words. So most of their “articles” are under 200 words. Meme /press/ 🤷♂️
Drawing from the wisdom that Moldova is like the European Union in miniature, the worst excesses of the EU and many of the worst excesses of Russia are present in Moldova if you know where or how to look. Oftentimes the presence is pretty glaring.
Earlier in this article we mentioned that so many young people are running in this election. But just how young? Well, one of the few articles that is longer than 200 words on Diez.md is the one with the whole list of people younger than 30 that are running in this election.
While in the EU political parties go out of their way to accommodate young people – some even going as far as instituting a mandatory quota – in Moldova no such thing is necessary. If anything, some parties would probably need some pro-boomer policies 🤪
It is true that many of those young people are not on the so-called eligible spots (meaning they’re so far down the list that only a miracle or an extreme tragedy would take them into the next Parliament) – but, even so, the number of very young people involved officially in national politics is still quite astonishing in itself.
For instance, if /pas/ manages to win 51 seats, that would mean 2 legislators born in 1991 and one born in 1993.
If the political party PACE wins 13 seats, then that would put in the next Parliament a legislator born in 2002. That would mean a legislator who was in utero at the time of 9/11 and under the age of 7 at the defining moment of Moldova’s post-Soviet history (namely the April 7th protests). It’s unlikely that PACE would surpass the 5% threshold, but the intellectual exercise in itself should tell you just how young the political class is poised to be in Moldova in just a few more years.
The electoral block “Renato Usatîi” is unsure if it will be in the next Parliament. But if it manages to get 8 or 9% of the vote, this will mean at least one legislator from them born after 1998.
Platforma Demnitate și Adevăr (the Dignity and Truth Platform) may get into the Parliament unless it withdraws to support /pas/. If they don’t withdraw, they will send at least one legislator born in 1994.
If the Alliance for the Unification of Romanians (AUR) repeats in Moldova the score it has gotten in Romania, they will send one legislator born in 1994 and another one born in 1991. That would mean people who weren’t even born when the Soviet Union was still a thing.
A lot of things can happen (Moldovan elections, when looked at for this kind of nitty-gritty, is notoriously unpredictable) but the point remains: All political parties have on their lists people who could never be elected in most of the EU (as they wouldn’t be allowed to run due to their age).
On one hand, here on the Sofa, we’re quite skeptical of ostensibly pro-youth policy and messaging. We’re simply not convinced that tweens would make good legislators at a national level.
On the other hand, Moldova is a mess. So it’s not like these young people can really make things significantly worse, relatively speaking.
After all, there’s always room for worse (întotdeauna se poate mai rău) as Romanians bitterly (and cynically) say when referring to the Regime but, realistically speaking, a few 20-somethings in the next legislative body of Moldova will probably be no big deal overall. Other issues will come up much faster than the perceived lack of experience of a few MPs.
However, what’s a lot more interesting is the trend. While this won’t make much of a difference on July 11, 2021, at least some of those born between 1991 and 2003 (!!) that are now running (and will predictably fail to win a seat) will stay around in politics. How will their mentality be affected? What kind of worldview will they end up developing as a result of getting into politics at such a young age?
To give you an idea about how out of touch the legacy institutions are, Radio Free Europe was running a report a week ago lamenting that young people in Moldova aren’t interested in politics. Well… it’s quite hard to reconcile that kind of messaging with the reality that there are more young people per capita running in the upcoming Moldovan election than in any EU country in the last two decades.
Is that a good thing? If not, why not?
These are questions we will have to explore in the field in the upcoming weeks we’ll be spending on the left side of the Prut river.
As a rule, wherever there’s young people and politics radicalism and radicalization isn’t far away. Will this “rule” hold true for Moldova as well? Keep in mind that the economic level of Moldova is very backwards (it is the poorest country in Europe after all) which can foster resentment and radicalization even faster than in the West.
Many American youth got radicalized (to the Left or to the Right) because they can’t purchase a new home in a nice suburb. In Moldova the concept of a new home is pretty alien. The median household income in Moldova is $2,145 per year. In other words, we at the Freedom Alternative Network, will end up spending in two weeks to study their elections more than the official median household income for an entire year.
Now, of course, it’s not that bad because, like it’s usual in such countries, there’s a lot of gray market, then there’s the huge diaspora and the remittances they send (a third of the population lives and works abroad) and the prices are oftentimes lower both in relative and absolute terms for many basic items. Also, adjusted for PPP $2145 is around 5000 in 2019 Int$.
The powers that be
It is not fair to use phrases like the deep state or the System (mandatory capital-S) when it comes to Republic of Moldova.
While, of course, such thing as a deep state exists in Moldova as well, it is far less established than it is even in the neighboring countries (Ukraine and Romania) let alone the United States or Great Britain.
This is the case because, as we mentioned a few times in this article, very few people have a firm commitment to Moldova continuing to exist as a country and State.
The deep state and the corruption that comes with it is more often than not in petty bribes – like a professor asking a student to pay her €139 phone bill in exchange for a good grade.
Sure, that doesn’t mean there aren’t bigger ones too. We mentioned earlier the $1 billion just vanishing from Moldovan banks. There was also the incident when the president was getting a nice bag full of cash (allegedly).
But corruption notwithstanding, the shadowy deals in Moldova aren’t happening as part of an established framework that we’d call the Civil Service, or the deep state or whatever name you want to give to such a structure you know it exists in your country as well.
In Moldova, however, it is much more accurate to talk about the powers that be. And who are those powers? Well, it’s not difficult to guess. Who holds authority over Moldova?
The current president, Maia Sandu, is openly supported by two of the governing parties in Romania (PNL and USRPLUS). In the past, the Romanian diplomacy would somewhat bother, occasionally, to halfheartedly deny that it is being involved in Moldovan politics. Those times are long gone.
Also, the current president is openly supported by Berlin (and, by extension, by Brussels too). Just this month, the EU approved €600 million for Moldova as part of the “economic recovery and resilience” mechanism which was supposed to be for Member States only. But then again, it’s Moldova. And the powers that be have already reached an agreement.
If it’s supported by Berlin, then Moscow likely agrees. Following the recent Putin-Biden summit, it’s quite likely to see a sudden disappearance of Muscovite objections over Moldova’s westward lurch. Call it a hunch, if you want.
In addition to Bucharest, Berlin, Brussels and Moscow, there are also business actors who are indeed part of the powers that be from Moldova’s standpoint. These include, but are not limited to, Banca Transilvania (Romania), Rompetrol (Romania), Lukoil (Russia), Orange (France) and the commerce lobby (mostly Ukrainian and Romanian – for obvious reasons).
If these powers that be reach an understanding (and they likely will, if they haven’t already) then the political forces that disagree with a core component of that said understanding may end up in trouble.
What the public sees
All while this is happening in the background, the public continues to argue in other parameters.
It is worth noting that in Moldova, oftentimes, the public is privy to the real discussions as well. Not necessarily by design, but because the country is small enough that you can’t really keep a secret.
Nevertheless, this election may be the first one in which themes from Romania overlap and makes the public discourse a lot more complicated (and nuanced) than in the past.
Just two years ago the discourse was “pro-Russians” versus “pro-Europe”. That’s it. Even though at least a third of the populace wants unification with Romania, the powers that be always made sure that that option is not on the table. And the same is being attempted now as well.
Mark Tkaciuk former ideologue of the Communist Party founded a new party a month ago with a view to run for this election. Yet he isn’t campaigning. Instead he is fighting tooth and nail in the courts to get the Alliance for the Unification of Romanians off the ballot. Why?
It’s difficult to assess since we’re not yet in the field but the easiest explanation (which routinely turns out to be the correct one) is because the powers that be don’t exactly like AUR. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad about AUR – but if the understanding is for /pas/ to govern (which is the most likely outcome anyway) – it is preferable to have /pas/ get a majority in the Parliament in a coalition with Renato Usatîi (thus returning the favor from November 2020 when Usatîi helped /pas/ leader Maia Sandu win the run-off against the Kremlin-backed candidate and incumbent president Igor Dodon).
Mark Tkaciuk in fact admitted (sort of) on TV that the main beneficiary of removing AUR from the ballot would indeed be /pas/. But why would a Russian shill want to help the pro-EU party?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Prut river, AUR is routinely painted (falsely) as a pro-Russia party. So imagine the 🤡: The same political party is ”pro-Russian” in Bucharest but openly and harshly pursued by legit pro-Russians with a view to have it disqualified from the race in Chișinău. Welcome to politics in this part of the world!
Meanwhile, the allegedly anti-Russian and pro-EU /pas/ has on its list a lady who thinks Romanians are fascists, a chap who believes (just like Stalin unironically) that such thing as the Moldovan ethnicity exists, and another chap who believes such thing as the Moldovan language exists. All of these represent legit pro-Russian shilling and talking points but… the powers that be decided that /pas/ is anti-Russian, therefore you WILL believe that. Or else your mother is Putin. Or something.
However, even though the efforts to remove AUR from the ballot are ongoing and could help /pas/ and president Maia Sandu, the president herself made an unexpected move and asked the Migration Board to review the case of AUR president and founder George Simion – who got banned from the country for 5 years in 2018 by the pro-Kremlin regime at the time. Errr… that’s a long story in itself.
And then there’s the whole business with the Diaspora. Unlike Ireland, Greece, Armenia or Israel (countries which also have huge diasporas) – Moldova permits equal voting from all citizens wherever they are in the world and organizes polling stations for them at consular offices. Romania does the same too although at a much bigger scale.
Well, the diaspora vote tends to skew heavily for the pro-western and unionist parties. So it is in the best interest of the socialists and communists to frustrate the diaspora vote as much as possible.
In the past the diaspora vote was pretty balanced since a huge chunk of the diaspora lived and worked in Russia. But, over the last 5-ish years, the Moldovan diaspora started to look more like the Romanian one (in part because many of them acquired Romanian citizenship) and worked more in the EU (including Romania) and, with that, also came a shift in the vote, geopolitically speaking.
Every single election season there’s a dispute about the number of polling stations in diaspora. The ‘right’ (read: not Russian commies) prefer more polling stations in the west and as few as possible in Russia. The ‘left’ prefers the opposite.
In the last two weeks there were even small protests in Germany, Romania, the UK, Italy and other places against CEC’s decision not to severely increase the number of polling stations in the West to avoid the long and excruciating queues observed in 2020. But CEC is run by a Socialist (Maxim Lebedinschi) so… yet another court battle.
One thing the Moldovans get better than Romania: Their court battles on these matters are surprisingly swift. Which can be both a good thing (speedy trial is generally good) but also annoying (it encourages frivolous lawsuits that harass parties and waste their time and distract from campaigning).
And then there are the promises. We won’t get into that now because it’s much better to show them to you on tape. Because you’d never believe us otherwise.
Nobody in the EU (or North America, or indeed South America) dares to promise in the election that they will quadruple all wages. Nobody. No matter how populist(ic) a candidate or a party may be. But such promises are thrown around like candy in Moldova. More on that in a few weeks.
Of course, this article barely scratches the surface on what Moldovan politics are. There’s no way an article, no matter how long, can cover everything.
Three months ago we invited on the Sofa a fan of /pas/ just to walk us through the political history since April 7, 2009 (the turning point in Moldovan politics the way December 1989 was the turning point for Romania). The chap doesn’t really like to speak a lot. We still ended up talking for over 3 hours just to list all of the events and explain the terms. Translating that into English would take two weeks at the very least and a re-edting to include extra explanations.
Perhaps we’ll just have to do it allover again in English. If he’ll want to, of course. Until then, those who speak Romanian may want to review the Sofa’s older videos with Marcela Țușcă, especially this one.
For this tour, we will only explain in English the aspects not yet explained in previous materials. For the coverage in Romanian, we will assume that everything discussed in the over 12 hours of Moldova-related content from podcasts and interviews is already known.
One definitive conclusion that we can draw now is this: The two weeks spent in Moldova are not going to be a walk in the park. Meme country with meme politics reported by a meme press… untangling that ain’t going to be easy, that’s for sure.
Welcome to Moldova!