Tag Archives: separatism

Moldova’s Reintegration Policy: Challenging the Status Quo

The fall of the Soviet Union led to a series of armed conflicts in the periphery, which later became frozen, only to perpetuate instability in the regions concerned. Moldova’s region of Transnistria is a case in point. Following a brief war and a number of settlement proposals from Russian and Ukrainian representatives, the separatist entity continues to undermine Moldova’s territorial integrity. Economic developments in Moldova, and especially in Transnistria, show that neither side is better off as a result of the secession. The Gagauz experience, albeit imperfect, is nonetheless a successful example of peaceful conflict settlement. Moldova’s European integration ambitions offer increased incentives for cooperation. Thus, a pathway towards a political settlement becomes imperative, since for the past quarter century the status quo has been detrimental to both parties. Economic and geopolitical developments in the region present a window of opportunity. The Moldovan Government and Parliament need to be ready to capitalize on this rare chance.

Introduction: Background Information

The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought fifteen new sovereign entities to the international stage. This process, however, led to several ethnic, political and territorial conflicts across the former USSR. Moldova is a case in point, as pro-Romanian nationalist sentiment was growing following the return to Latin script in August 1989; Russian speaking minorities felt threatened. The heavily industrialized and mainly Russian speaking eastern region of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic – Transnistria – feared a potential union between Moldova and its kin-state Romania. Thus, on September 2, 1990 it seceded from Moldova and pledged direct allegiance to the crumbling USSR.  The turmoil surrounding the USSR’s collapse allowed local Transnistrian elites to channel the anti-nationalist sentiment towards building a platform of resistance that would become a de facto state – the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), alternatively named the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic. As the newly formed ‘PMR’ was asserting its ‘sovereignty’ over Moldovan law enforcement, an armed conflict erupted in March 1992, which ended in a Russian mediated ceasefire in July of the same year. The five month military standoff claimed around 1000 lives and left 3000 wounded on both sides.[1] The war has since become a symbol of Moldovan aggression, a sentiment adamantly cultivated by the Transnistrian authorities. Conversely, the Moldovan leadership and media blame Russia and its 14th Army for backing the separatists, a fact confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights.[2] However, facts are of little help when debate on the issue is highly politicized by all parties to the conflict.

Moldova declared its independence on August 27, 1991 and became a member of the United Nations on March 2, 1992, with only nominal control over the separatist region – a situation that still lingers to this day. Despite having proclaimed its own statehood, Transnistria remains unrecognized. Not even Russia or the quasi-independent states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have recognized Transnistria. Thus, if only for this reason, the Transnistrian conflict offers more hope for a sustainable solution based on reintegration than any other major ethno-political conflict in the territory of the former Soviet Union. But the local situation is even more favorably distinct from the conflicts in the Southern Caucuses given the absence of deeply entrenched animosity among the major ethnic groups, the positive effects of geographic proximity to the European Union, and, most importantly, the powerful incentives for economic cooperation despite the current political divide.[3] Yet for over two decades, economic cooperation has been hindered by the lack of a political framework that would allow businesses to capitalize on those incentives. Transnistria is exporting the majority of its products to the European Union, thanks to the autonomous trade preferences that Moldova has benefited from.[4] The new Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between the European Union and Moldova offers increased opportunities for Transnistria, should it choose to follow its economic interest instead of engaging in political brinksmanship. Hence, if economic cooperation is to bear fruit, a pathway towards a political settlement needs to be agreed upon.

Earlier Attempts of Conflict Resolution: Failed Policy Entrepreneurship

Shortly after hostilities ended in 1992, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) opened a mission in Moldova, providing its ‘good offices,’ including a venue for holding talks between the two sides. The OSCE office was, indeed, mandated to mediate a settlement between the two parties, while Russia and Ukraine provided political guarantees to the process. Given the chronic lack of trust among the two former belligerent parties, at first it was mainly up to the guarantors to put forward proposals for conflict resolution. Therefore, high profile Russian and Ukrainian politicians took turns playing the role of ‘policy entrepreneur.’[5] Back in 1997, then Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Yevgeny Primakov proposed a Memorandum of Understanding that was initially welcomed by both parties. It envisaged a one state solution with considerable devolution of power, but one important clause introduced later made the Moldovans walk away after a year. The additional reference to ‘a common state’ was interpreted as a union of two equal legal entities.[6]  Chisinau saw it as a covert sabotage of its sovereignty, fearing that by acknowledging this ‘equal status’ Moldova may, in fact, legitimize an act of secession further along the way. A lack of credible commitments was manifest at every step and from all sides.

The second attempt, this time by then Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Dmitry Kozak, offered an extension of the 1997 Memorandum in the form of an asymmetric federation. It meant offering disproportionately more powers to Transnistria and Gagauzia within a three-subject federation. Again, the initial draft was welcomed, despite decision makers in Chisinau being skeptical about granting the two much smaller subjects, which only amount to less than a fifth of the country’s total population, full control over the upper house and the Constitutional Court. Yet, when the Russian side insisted on maintaining its military base in Transnistria until at least 2020, despite having committed itself at the 1999 OSCE Summit to ending its military presence in Moldova, Chisinau walked away again. Thus, a policy window, created by Kremlin’s peacemaker ambitions at the time when the United States had just led the invasion of Iraq, soon closed. Unsurprisingly, it precipitated a worsening of Russian-Moldovan relations, as president Putin himself had invested time and his reputation into the settlement proposal. Yet even more importantly, the failure of the Kozak Memorandum cast a profoundly negative shadow over the concept of federalism as a potential solution to the conflict, or even as a feasible proposal for the ongoing negotiations. Moldovan media and part of the political class have taken the view that sees federalization as anathema to the national public discourse.

The third major proposal came in 2005 from then Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. The Yushchenko Plan suggested that the Moldovan parliament enact basic principles for the status of Transnistria, recognizing the legitimacy of the regional Transnistrian parliament, in order to allow for free and democratic legislative elections to be carried out under OSCE monitoring. Finally, the newly elected Transnistrian regional parliament would delegate members to a joint committee of fellow legislators from Chisinau tasked with drafting a comprehensive law on the Special Status of Transnistria.[7] Yet the proposal deliberately ignored the status of Russian troops and omitted a clear delineation of jurisdictions between central and regional governments. Still, both sides accepted the proposal, albeit without enthusiasm. Moldova then used this opportunity to unilaterally approve the Law of the Special Legal Status of Settlements on the Left Bank of the Nistru in July 2005, much to the dissatisfaction of the Transnsitrian side. In turn, using Chisinau’s unilateral action as a pretext, as well as seeing Yushchenko’s authority decrease in light of the disintegrating Orange Coalition in Kiev, Tiraspol went ahead with the scheduled legislative elections without the OSCE monitoring. Thus, another policy window closed and another policy entrepreneur suffered defeat.

Why Did Internationally Driven Reintegration Policy Proposals Fail?

In his seminal work on “Agenda, alternative and public policy,” John Kingdon suggests that policy entrepreneurs are generally self-interested or value driven. In this particular case, both Russia and Ukraine have a strong interest in the outcome of the settlement process for historic, ethnic/political, economic, and geopolitical reasons. There was strong suspicion on both sides of the negotiation table about proposals coming from Moscow and Kiev. Transnistria usually favored Russian driven agendas, whereas Moldova was more inclined to support Ukraine’s ideas, particularly after the Orange Revolution. Still, all of the policy entrepreneurs mentioned above succeeded in directly influencing the governmental agenda, and even partially the decision agenda, of the negotiating parties. Clearly, international policy entrepreneurship is, by no means, a silver bullet. Firstly, all of the policy windows closed before the policy entrepreneurs could push their proposals past the actual decision point – or rather the point at which a series of decisions could have been made, moving towards the implementation stage, or at least before they had a chance to regroup and repackage their policy proposals to address any concerns raised by the two parties.

Secondly, the lack of trust towards the mediators was augmented by a lack of ownership over the process. In line with Kingdon’s framework, the coupling of policy solutions with existing problems was not entirely in sync with the political exigencies of all the actors involved, most importantly the two negotiating parties. Thus, the policy, problem and political streams when merged did not create a ‘big enough’ policy window to accommodate all the interests involved and assure the two parties that they have sufficient ownership of the process. This prompted unilateral actions that repeatedly undermined the settlement process. In addition, the above mentioned entrepreneurs, even though powerful and well-connected, lacked another important quality – long term persistence. They did not attempt to strengthen the coupling between their view of the problem and their proposed solution, and, more importantly, did not – or in some cases could not – wait for another policy window to emerge. It is because they were either constrained by other duties or, when a window finally appeared, more often than not they were no longer in a position to act as an international policy entrepreneur, i.e. they had already left office.

It therefore seems that internationally driven policy proposals, like the ones we have been considering, are doomed to fail largely because of their inherently unsustainable nature.  Having a rather limited time horizon, and being contested for their implicit – or even at times explicit – biases, such proposals cannot take advantage of such intermittent policy windows in a timely fashion. It becomes imperative to consider alternative approaches to conflict resolution, particularly when you take into account that a mediator-driven approach has until now been the only game in town. A new approach would have to address the main shortcomings of previous undertakings, while at the same time also building on positive experiences and lessons learnt. Despite the fact that earlier proposals did contain some realistic solutions, a major weakness of previous reintegration attempts was their excessive dependency on internationally driven settlement agenda, which, in turn, was largely a result of insufficient trust between the two parties. However, the only way one can actually build trust is through engaging directly and offering credible commitments.

Alternative Ways of Conflict Resolution

As with any post conflict situation, building trust between the former belligerent parties is of paramount importance. However, as can be vividly seen in the case of Moldova, mediator-sponsored confidence building measures will face an uphill battle so long as there is no genuine national reconciliation – particularly at the level of elites, bearing in mind that there is much less antagonism at the grass roots level. So far, electoral considerations have kept successive governments in Chisinau away from engaging in an honest conversation about the past (namely the 1992 conflict) – and also about the present situation of ethnic/linguistic minorities in Moldova – which makes any comprehensive discussion on the future of a reintegrated country largely futile. Now that Moldova has been undergoing a slow but steady process of Europeanization – implying an absorption of European norms and values, driven by the distant goal of EU membership – this will, hopefully, create more self-awareness on the part of Chisinau elites, while at the same time making Moldova more socially and economically attractive for Transnistrian residents. This latter has already become a tendency ever since the visa liberalization regime with the EU, but the economic and political turmoil in Moldova is keeping this trend from becoming a real tide. Even so, this process alone is not sufficient to trigger a major agenda change towards reconciliation. Political parties need to agree on a reconciliation strategy. In particular, as the concept of reintegration policy has not been too politically divisive, it seems realistic for the parties to put aside their broader partisan differences in the name of national unity. This would create the kind of focusing event that could jump-start meaningful negotiations towards a sustainable political settlement.

On the other hand, Europeanization has influenced the way Chisinau decision makers and political elites generally perceive the conflict resolution process. Previously, when the prospect of Europeanization looked dim, conflict resolution was viewed as a precondition of Europeanization. Yet when Europeanization became central to the government’s agenda – following the worsening of relations with Russia in the aftermath of the Kozak Memorandum – a shift occurred in favor of postponing conflict resolution until Moldova was politically and economically strong enough to attract and ‘digest’ Transnistria.[8] However, this preferred sequence appears to be more an excuse for the government’s inability to advance in the negotiation process. It seems, therefore, that Europeanization and conflict resolution need to go hand in hand. As Nicu Popescu rightly suggested, an increased cooperation and deeper integration between the European Union and Moldova in political and economic terms would likely boost those actors in Transnistria that would prefer a settlement over the possibility of secession. A decade later, conditions on the ground suggest that Popescu hit the nail on the head back in 2004. Now that Moldova has signed a visa liberalization agreement and is in the process of establishing a DCFTA with the European Union, Transnistrians – particularly the business elite – are increasingly looking at ways to capitalize on those incentives. The developments in Ukraine, the worsening economic conditions in Transnistria, exacerbated by the decreasing Russian support, are creating a window of opportunity.[9] This window, like the many others before it, has an expiration date, so the political leadership in Moldova needs to act swiftly.

The government in Chisinau needs to show good faith by offering Transnistria unconditional economic support in the form of channeling some of its donor assistance to social and infrastructural projects. Moldovan Parliament Members should invite Transnistrian lawmakers to establish a permanent dialog in the form of a bilateral working committee tasked with drafting a settlement proposal. This proposal should maintain Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but should also provide Transnistria with guarantees of broad autonomy. Realistically, this is only possible through granting Transnistria a certain degree of asymmetric influence. However, this need not amount to control over the entire country’s political process. Spain and the United Kingdom may serve as relevant examples of devolution in the context of entities of very unequal size. Belgium is another potential blueprint, but in this case one that represents an example of a symmetrical federation between entities of comparable size.[10] Finland’s Aland Islands could serve as yet another starting point for drafting a comprehensive settlement agreement. These options are largely in line with the earlier proposals, apart from the granting of veto power to Transnistria – an insurmountable condition, which led to the demise of the Kozak Memorandum, and ultimately discredited the notion of federalization.

Comparing the Status Quo vs. Alternative Ways of Conflict Resolution

The logic of path dependency and geopolitical determinism has served Moldova poorly in the last two decades. The country has only recently doubled its pre-1990 GDP; while, for instance, Lithuania has more than quadrupled its economic output since independence. Furthermore, in the last four years, Lithuania has also received on average four times as much FDI as Moldova.[11] It is clear, therefore, that neither Moldova nor Transnistria can develop their full potential in the current state of uncertainty. Moldova’s European integration ambitions are also being seriously undermined by the unresolved conflict. For that and many other reasons, a policy that would perpetuate the status quo is not a feasible option. We shall substantiate this claim by comparing the current approach to the proposed alternative in light of three evaluation criteria: political, economic, and administrative feasibility.

The current state of affairs, though politically expedient for ruling elites that have become increasingly disconnected from the public, is not sustainable in the long run. Conflict resolution has been a major promise in every national election. Repeated failure to deliver on this promise delegitimizes political parties as responsible actors. Inaction on the part of the Government and Parliament also undermine their credibility, deepening civic alienation. By engaging in national reconciliation and following the path suggested herein towards conflict settlement, political parties as well as state institutions will increase their legitimacy and boost citizen participation, ultimately within a reintegrated state. National opinion polls show a consistently high popular support for reintegration.[12] Thus, political leaders should be able to readily capitalize on opportunities created by external geopolitical and economic developments.

The current state of uncertainty is not conducive to economic development. Thus, reintegration through devolution, despite its costs, is the only feasible option for long term stability and economic growth. Reintegration costs are difficult to estimate and range from one to several billion dollars, which could be covered partially by international aid. However, Moldova could, and indeed should, already start to channel part of its present EU assistance towards the national goal of reintegration. So far, Chisinau authorities have been relying excessively on donors to support its reintegration effort, which indicates a lack of strong and credible commitment. Ultimately the political, social, and economic discrepancies between Moldova and Transnistria are still relatively low – as compared, for instance, to those between Western and Eastern Germany. However, the more time that passes, the higher the costs of reintegration. Reintegration is also feasible administratively, given that Transnistria only represents about 8% of Moldova’s population and territory. Furthermore, Moldova has been improving its administrative capacity in recent years, thanks to generous support in capacity building from the European Union.  At the same time, the positive experience of the Gagauz Autonomy, albeit not without its shortcomings, is a good example of sustainable conflict resolution.

Case Study: Relative Success of Moldova’s Autonomous Region of Gagauzia

The Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia was established on December 23, 1994, when the Law on its special status was passed by the Moldovan Parliament in line with the newly adopted Constitution, approved in July of the same year. Then Turkish President Suleyman Demirel played a decisive role in the resolution of the conflict, which erupted even before the one in Transnistria but on a significantly smaller scale. President Demirel urged the Turkic minority in Moldova to remain Moldovan citizens by accepting a status of regional autonomy within the country’s internationally recognized borders.[13] Despite the difference in religion, Turkey has always played a role in Moldova of de facto kin-state, including offering generous financial and technical assistance to the region. Nevertheless, Demirel’s successful plea for the Gagauz to renounce their secessionist zeal does not amount to fully fledged policy entrepreneurship, as the actual compromise was worked out between local Gagauz leaders and their counterparts in Chisinau. Thus, apart from the important role played by the leadership of the Turkish Republic, the law passed by Parliament was also made possible thanks to that played by then Speaker and former member of the 28th Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Petru Lucinschi, who was highly popular among Russian speakers, including the Gagauz. The compromise reached in 1994 ended a stalemate between Chisinau and Comrat that threatened Moldova’s territorial integrity, or so everyone thought. Twenty years later, Gagauz people have come as close as it gets to openly defying the central government in Chisinau, stopping short of declaring full blown independence in February 2014 – just one month before the infamous ‘referendum in Crimea,’ which resulted shortly afterward in Russia’s de facto annexation of Ukraine’s southern autonomous region.

Gagauz leaders organized a referendum on February 2, 2014 in which residents overwhelmingly supported closer ties with Russia at the expense of Moldova’s closer ties with the European Union. With a turnout of over 70%, voters almost unanimously (98.4%) supported closer integration with the Russia-led Customs Union, while 97.2% stood firmly against closer ties with the EU.[14] It is understandably quite difficult to be fond of something one knows next to nothing about. Moldovan media and civil society failed to breach the information gap, partly because of limited resources and the language barrier. In addition, when asked whether Moldova should lose its sovereignty in the future, 98.9% agreed that Gagauzia should have the right to independence. This is the where the shoe pinches, as it remains unclear whether the third question implied only a potential unification with Romania, or also covered Moldova’s accession to NATO and, especially, the  European Union. The general consensus appears to be that it was meant as a blanket statement that included Euro–Atlantic integration in general. Regardless, neither explanation makes the referendum legal. According to Moldovan law, only matters of local relevance can be subject to local referenda, whereas foreign policy is a matter of national importance, and is therefore to be decided exclusively by the central government or national referenda.

However, legal considerations played second fiddle to local political expediency and regional geopolitical competition. This referendum was perceived by many in Chisinau and beyond as an attempt by Moscow to derail Moldova’s European integration by precluding Chisinau from signing the Association Agreement with the European Union.[15] Fearing a Ukraine-like scenario and lacking any better options, leaders in Chisinau chose to ignore developments in Comrat and let the local Gagauz elites have their way, much like Transnistrian leaders had organized equally illegal referenda before. In retrospect, Chisinau’s feeble response to a de facto regional insurgency may have given Moscow just enough confidence to take the referendum on tour, first stop – Crimea. It is futile to ask what could have happened had Moldova given a steadfast pushback in Comrat, because what followed one month later in Crimea is already contemporary history, the repercussions of which are still in the news every day under the tagline of ‘Ukrainian crisis.’

Gagauzia and Moldova have had a difficult relationship for most of the last 20 years. It was only during those brief moments when Chisinau had control over local Comrat politicians that things went more or less smoothly. This is not to say that such top down control is advisable – on the contrary, it is a clear infringement of the autonomous region’s self-management powers. Even so, that kind of negative ‘harmony’ rarely took place because, unlike Chisinau politicians, Gagauz lawmakers are elected in single member districts, and the head of the executive – the Başkan (Turkish for president and chief executive) – is also elected directly. With no regional parties allowed, and chronic distrust towards national parties, Gagauz often elected strong-minded populist independents who, lacking a better alternative to boost their standing, make it their sole purpose to discredit Chisinau. Yet, to be fair, local Gagauz elites have had their hands tied by Chisinau’s power of the purse. Chisinau’s drive for centralization and malignant disregard of Comrat’s autonomy has allowed – and at times even encouraged – the incremental watering down of the autonomous region’s prerogatives. Subsequent amendments to national legislation have automatically chipped power away from Comrat, be it in terms of appointing local heads of law enforcement and judges, or – even more importantly – in collecting and administering taxes and customs duties.

Chisinau has often chosen to ignore Gagauzia largely because of electoral considerations. The Gagauz people were either repeatedly punished for ‘voting the wrong way,’ or they simply did not matter enough in national political calculations, since they only represent less than 5% of the electorate. Furthermore, Chisinau has habitually accused Comrat of lacking the desire to become integrated into national social-economic and political processes, while Comrat has responded with accusations of its deliberate isolation. Ethnic and linguistic differences have only exacerbated the divide, derailing too many important policy discussions. Hoping to remedy this ‘electoral irrelevance,’ Gagauz lawmakers demanded a 5% representation quota in the National Parliament. However, this proposal is inconsistent with Moldovan electoral legislation, which stipulates a proportional system wherein Parliament members are elected on national party lists by a national constituency. Thus, Chisinau would have to amend the entire national electoral system in order to grant Gagauzia the right to directly elect their representatives to the National Parliament. So far, changing the electoral system has been a rather contentious issue, and the parties in power have refused to budge, despite several of them having promised a mixed electoral system during election campaigns.

Being a not very numerous but extremely proud people, it is not at all surprising that the Gagauz are frustrated with how things have turned out. Despite the cliché-ridden comparison between Gagauzia and Transnistria, and attempts to present the former as a blueprint for diffusing the standoff with the latter, Chisinau – largely consumed with mitigating daily governance fiascos – is becoming more and more chronically short-sighted. Failing to articulate an inclusive democratic vision for the entire country, and instead succumbing to widespread prejudices, Chisinau politicians have not lived up to the expectations of the Gagauz people, or the rest of Moldovan society for that matter. Hopefully, as both regular Moldovan citizens and their leaders become more socialized with their European counterparts in the incremental process of the country’s Europeanization, the following decade will see a shift towards better governance, real decentralization, less corruption, and a more considerate attitude towards the regions.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Located at the cross roads of several major empires (Russian, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian), Moldova has for centuries had a challenging history, which has left the country not only economically crippled but also cruelly divided along ethnic and linguistic fault lines. Those very divisions are coming into play yet again, now that Moldova is torn apart between the European Union and the Russian driven Eurasian Union. It is not at all surprising that many Moldovan citizens would naturally gravitate towards Russia in pursuing their ethnic, linguistic, historic, cultural, and even economic interests. That is why, in a democratic society where there are a plurality of viewpoints, it’s important to engage and to have an informed public discussion on the country’s future, so that even those who disagree with a certain policy vector may feel at least included, if not quite fully persuaded, by their fellow citizens. Inclusive public discourse is paramount if the country is ever to bridge the gap that has been holding it back for so long. Jurgen Habermas’s influential theory of ‘communicative action’[16] describes well the benefits of sincere collective public engagement in a deliberative democracy, which, normatively speaking, Moldova certainly should strive to become one day. However, for effective communication to take place, a number of conditions need to be met. First and foremost, participants in a genuinely inclusive deliberation need to demonstrate an ability to empathize. Secondly, public actors need to a share a ‘common lifeworld.’ And finally, discourse must be undertaken openly with all actors having equal access to the discourse.[17] Certainly Moldova, and even more so Transnistria, has a long way to go before they are even close to these, admittedly, ideal conditions. Unfortunately, political parties tend to do little to project this sort of inclusion and openness. Quite the opposite, they tend to exploit existing societal differences for political gain, instead of engaging in what Habermas calls ‘communicative action.’

Such short-sighted and reckless behavior by political parties and elites in general has made a successful reintegration policy less likely to be implemented in the near future, or even to have a chance to be put forward. In the last decade or so, too many politicians have grown accustomed to the existing status quo and have become unwilling to spend their political capital on making reintegration a national priority. Without political activism, a Transnistrian settlement will sink further down on the long list of issues that voters care increasingly less about. Unfortunately, politicians seem to be doing very little to reverse that trend. The wishful hope that conflict settlement will come along with European Integration, almost by default, is certainly more of a self-reassuring excuse than a sound government policy. Ironically, politicians bound by electoral cycles fail to realize that time is of the essence, in more ways than just one.

For almost a quarter of a century now, the Republic of Moldova, including Transnistria, has failed to realize its development potential, largely because of separatism. Yet the current economic difficulties, augmented by regional political turbulence, present a focusing event that may make Russia a more lenient partner and Ukraine a more understanding one. These developments are also boosting the position of moderate forces in Transnistria, eager to engage in a constructive dialog in order to benefit from the new economic opportunities presented by Moldova’s closer ties with the European Union. As we have seen time and again, overtly relying on policy entrepreneurs coming from abroad is a defeatist strategy – one that is prone to so many shortcomings that it can only lead to failure. Therefore, the Moldovan Government and Parliament, as well as the broader political elite, need to become more proactive in challenging the status quo rather than surrendering to it. To that end, we recommend the following measures:

  • Central Government should appoint more representatives of ethnic/linguistic minorities (Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauz, Bulgarian, Jewish, Roma, etc.) to national offices.
  • It should work with Russia, Ukraine, the European Union, the United States and the OSCE towards boosting confidence-building measures and increasing economic opportunities for reintegration.
  • A portion of Moldova’s international donor assistance should be channeled to jointly agreed upon social, educational and infrastructure projects in Transnistria.
  • Parliament should review/repeal the 2005 Law on Special Status of Transnistria.
  • Political parties in Parliament should draft and implement a comprehensive national reconciliation strategy. Constructive input from non-parliamentary parties should also be taken into account to ensure a broad national consensus.
  • A bilateral committee should be set up together with Transnistrian lawmakers to draft a framework towards a political settlement that would grant the left bank broad autonomy in a reintegrated, but decentralized or even federalized Moldova. Civil society experts from both banks of the Nistru should also be included in the process.
  • Civil society experts, from both banks of the river, should provide input into the process of drafting a national reconciliation strategy. Civil society groups should hold state institutions accountable with respect to the strategy implementation.
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Transnistrian soldier during tactical training, April 2016.

Note: This is a book chapter I have written for the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series by IOS Press. The book is a follow up to an advanced research workshop on”Best Practices and Lessons Learned in Conflict Management: NATO, OSCE, EU and Civil Society” funded by NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme and organised by the Slovak Foreign Policy Association along with partners in Ukraine and Germany  in June 2015 in Bratislava, which I attended on behalf of the Foreign Policy Association of Moldova. The views expressed are mine alone. References available upon request.