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Balkans: Moldovan Pro-Western Parliament Bans Communist Insignias and its Moscow Implications

July 14, 2012 (TSR) – Moldova’s pro-Western parliament has banned the use of communist symbols and condemned crimes committed by the communist regime in the former Soviet republic of Moldova on Thursday.

The move means that the Communist Party will have to replace its Soviet-era hammer and sickle with a new emblem.

The law was adopted with the vote of 53 lawmakers of the ruling Alliance for European Integration (AIE).

The hugely contentious initiative belongs to the pro-EU liberal majority in Parliament, proposed by former president and vehement anti-Communist Mihai Ghimpu and was voted in two readings by the AIE lawmakers. Under the law, the use of symbols of totalitarian political regimes is banned. The law does not see the sanctions which be applied in case of violation.

Former Moldovan President and Communist Party Leader, Vladimir Voronin.

The law was criticized by the parliamentary faction of the Partidul Comuni?tilor din Republica Moldova (PCRM), the Communist Party, — which has 36 deputies in parliament - walked out the session hall immediately after its voting.

Fifty-six deputies from the coalition voted for, two abstained and six voted against. Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin warned his foes that they risked splitting Moldovan society as many people valued the Communist era and had fought in World War II under its symbols.

The same day, the MPs also voted a draft law on condemnation of the Communism.

The Moldovan Communist Party uses the hammer-and-sickle all over its insignia such as on its website and its election materials. The law still needs to be signed by President Nicolae Timofti but Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin said his party would challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

Partidul Comuni?tilor din Republica Moldova (PCRM) is the only communist party to have held a majority in government in the post-Soviet states is. It is part of the Party of the European Left. It is the current opposition political party in Moldova. After the July 2009 parliamentary electionAlliance For European Integration has agreed to create a governing coalition that pushed the Communist party into opposition.

According to its Statute adopted in 2008, article 1, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova is a “lawful successor and heir of the Communist Party of [Soviet] Moldavia both in terms of ideas and traditions”.

Ideologically, while officially espousing a Leninist Communist doctrine, there is debate over their policies. The Economist considers it a centre-right party, communist only in name, whereas Romanian political scientist Vladimir Tism?neanu argues that the party is communist in the classical sense, as it has not changed much since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, Romanian and foreign observers usually are misled by the name of the party, because the Moldovan Communists are far from their cognate parties and certainly different from their Russian counterparts, which are indeed unreformed. Ion Marandici, a Moldovan political scientist considers that the success story of the Moldovan Communists is mainly due to the Communists’ capacity to attract the votes of the ethnic minorities and the Romanian-speakers identifying as Moldovans, by proposing a Moldovenist nation and state-project. Also the Communists’ control of the major electronic media, the authoritarian practices regarding human rights activists, the support of the West in April 2005 helped their consolidation. The incapacity of the opposition to unite is due mainly to the specific electoral rules providing incentives for the emergence and creation of new parties. The decline of the Communists followed after Marian Lupu, a keyfigure in the Moldovan politics left the Communists’ Party and joined the Democratic Party, thus bringing with him the Moldovan supporters of the Communists.

Vladimir Voronin is the third President of Moldova from 2001 until 2009 and has been the First Secretary of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) since 1994. He was Europe’s first democratically elected Communist Party head of state after the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc. His CV states he is an economist,engineer, political science graduate, and jurist by education. He has the military rank of Major General from the former USSR Ministry of Interior (equivalent of NATO OF-6 Brigadier General).

After the parliamentary election held on 5 April 2009, the PCRM won 49.48% of the vote and 60 seats, one seat too few to elect a President. Voronin was elected Speaker of the Parliament and retained the Presidency of Moldova with an interim status. The police crackdown of the civil unrest in April 2009 (also known as Twitter Revolution) antagonized the society, and the communists were unable to secure one additional vote out of the 41 MPs from the three opposition parties; a snap parliamentary election was necessary.

In the snap parliamentary election in July 2009, the PCRM won 44.69% of the vote, which is more votes than any other individual party, and gained 48 seats, but it lost its parliamentary majority to a coalition of opposition parties which has 53 seats. However, the opposition also failed to obtain enough seats to elect a President, thereby producing more uncertainty. Voronin resigned on 11 September 2009.

Mihai Ghimpu, the sponsor of the anti-communist insignia bill, succeeded Voronin as interim president until 28 December 2010. He was Speaker of the Parliament at the time, and leader of the Liberal Party, which is pro-Romanian and pro-European with some pro-unionist concepts, and has a liberal program.

The election of Timofti in March ended a political stalemate that left the country without a full-time head of state for almost three years and the ruling coalition now appears keen to impose its stamp on society.

COMMENTARY by Witold Rodkiewicz

This law could now also complicate efforts to settle the long-running dispute with Moldova’s breakaway Transdniester region, which continues to use communist-era symbols. The dispute is perceived in Russia as pro-Romanian and anti-Russian.

On 3 July, the Moldovan gas monopoly Moldovagaz revealed that it has signed a provisional agreement with Gazprom to extend its gas supply contract until the end of 2012. The old contract expired on 31 December 2011. Negotiations on a new agreement were suspended in October last year after Moldova committed itself, as part of the Energy Community, to implement the Third Energy Package.Gazprom deemed this move to be unacceptable, and one way it found to put pressure on Chisinau was to break off the talks. As a result, the gas contract was twice extended by a quarter. In recent days, the Moldovan government – under pressure from Russia – has appeared willing to abandon implementation of the third package in exchange for signing a new contract, lower gas prices, and a resolution to the problem of Moldovagaz’s US$3.5 billion debt to Gazprom for the gas consumed in the separatist region of Transnistria.

- It seems that Moldova, which annually imports about 3 billion m³ of gas, will be unable to resist the pressure from Gazprom, and will most likely give up the implementation of the third package in exchange for a favourable gas pricing formula. In this case, Chisinau’s adoption of Russian conditions would mean its effective resignation from the Energy Community, and create serious obstacles to the country’s plans for European integration. Russia sees the expansion of the EU’s gas market rules in its vicinity as a threat to its interests. Moreover, Moldova is an important country for the transit of Russian gas to Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey (which totalled 19 billion m³ last year).

- Moldova is trying to link the question of signing a new gas contract and withdrawing from the Third Energy Package to Gazprom’s agreement to resolve the question of Moldovagaz’s debt. This is the result of gas supplies to Transnistria, which for years has not paid for the raw material which has been formally supplied to it as part of the gas contract for Moldova, and which thus does not count as government debt. However, the protocol signed by the Moldovan government and Gazprom in December 2006 probably included government guarantees for Moldovagaz’s debts. In view of the fact that the Russian company owns 50% plus one share in Moldovagaz, and manages 13.44% of the shares held by Transnistria (the remaining 35.33% stake is owned by the Moldovan government), we can assume that this is largely a debt of Gazprom to itself.

- The Moldovan government’s proposal for addressing the gas debt consists of splitting off part of its infrastructure on the territory of Transnistria from Moldovagaz into a separate company and assigning the debt to it. However, Russia does not appear to have agreed to this proposal or the final resolution to the debt problem, because it serves as an additional guarantee to maintain Russian influence in Transnistria, and as an instrument of pressure on the Moldovan government.

- To strengthen its bargaining power with Gazprom, Moldova has announced that in autumn it will begin the construction of a pipeline which would allow gas imports from Romania (the Iasi-Ungheni interconnector). For now, however, this is merely a symbolic gesture that will not significantly affect the course of negotiations. Key talks on the gas question will take place during the talks between the Prime Ministers of both countries, Vlad Filat and Dmitri Medvedev, scheduled for September in Moscow.

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