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Rethink Moldova

Today, “color revolutions,” which a few years ago were seen as promising developments in the post-Soviet space, seem to be out of fashion. Around the world, disappointment with democracy promotion is widespread. Instead, consolidation of authoritarian regimes appears to be the prevailing trend.

Roughly a year ago, Moldova, a country few know about, seemed to confirm this. On April 7, 2009, Moldova made headlines when peaceful protests against unfair elections were hijacked by a small number of provocateurs who attacked the parliament building and presidential palace.

The media termed this the “Twitter Revolution,” which was an exaggeration, of course. Yet one year later, and despite the actions of those provocateurs, a new democratic government is in charge. The parliament building is not yet rebuilt, but the government is trying hard to rebuild Moldova as a democratic country with legitimate aspirations to join the European Union.

The protests of April 2009 were triggered by the Communist Party’s claim to have won a third consecutive term in power, following an aggressive election campaign with widespread abuses. The then-Communist government cracked down on protesters, leaving at least one person dead, while numerous allegations of widespread torture further traumatized and divided Moldovan society. Many in Moldova and Europe believed that another authoritarian state was emerging in the European neighborhood.

But the country’s democratic forces halted the Communist Party’s attempt to bulldoze its way back into power. The Communists needed the vote of just one member of parliament to perpetuate their domination of Moldovan politics for another term. They failed to get that vote, and early elections were called. As a result, a four-party “Alliance for European Integration” came to power in September.

The alliance is working hard to consolidate Moldova’s democracy, the rule of law and economic reform, as well as to press ahead with European integration. But there is a difficult legacy to overcome. The global economic crisis not only hit the country hard, but, because of irresponsible electioneering, the previous government did not even try to fight it. Reckless populist promises left a gaping budget deficit that amounts to 16 percent of gross domestic product.

Fortunately, we managed to avoid economic collapse, thanks to support from the International Monetary Fund, while reducing the deficit by half. In late March, Moldova was also promised 1.9 billion euros ($2.37 billion) by the European Union, the United States, the IMF, the World Bank and other donors to support a strategy of reforms under the banner “Rethink Moldova.”

The media are now much freer. After eight years of media monopolization, in the last month and a half two new television channels have been established. Investigations against some of the police and judges responsible for the human rights abuses committed in April have been opened. The government is taking quick steps to demonopolize the economy and break the nexus between economic and political power that characterized the previous government. We are also working to improve the business environment and investment climate by cutting red tape and simplifying the administrative burden on foreign investors.

Relations with the EU have gained significant momentum. We are working on a new Association Agreement, which would anchor Moldova in the European space. We will also sign a far-reaching free-trade agreement with the EU. Such an agreement makes sense because more than 50 percent of Moldova’s trade is already with the EU, while roughly 70 percent of Moldova’s citizens and virtually all of its political parties support European integration.

What matters deeply for Moldova’s citizens, though, is to move toward a visa-free regime with the EU. We are already working on implementing all the necessary technical conditions. From Jan. 1, 2011, we will switch to biometric passports. Our customs officials and border guards are working actively with an EU mission to modernize our border infrastructure, and we are progressing fast in border demarcation with our only eastern neighbor, Ukraine. Moldova will be an increasingly safe neighbor for the EU and a good partner in managing migration flows.

We have also returned to the settlement talks over the breakaway region of Transdnestr, where the only viable basis for a solution is to make Moldova ever more economically and politically attractive to the region’s residents. From this perspective, every step that brings us closer to the EU is also a step toward resolving this so-called “frozen conflict” — perhaps the only European secessionist conflict that can be solved through EU soft power alone.

Moldova’s re-emergence from authoritarian rule after eight years is the result of elections and parliamentary procedures. This makes Moldova the only post-Soviet state (aside from the Baltic countries) with an uninterrupted cycle of transfers of power through elections since 1991. In a sea of pessimism about democracy in the EU’s neighborhood, some winds are still blowing in the right direction.

Vlad Filat is prime minister of Moldova. © Project Syndicate

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