Andrey Devyatkov: Discourses on Transnistria in current Moldovan politics

Forthcoming presidential elections have revitalized the discussion on issues of a strategic importance for the Moldovan future. The reintegration of the country belongs to such issues. Actually how the Transnistrian problem is treated within Moldovan political discourse can be seen as a touchstone for the evolution of Moldovan politics itself. While analyzing current initiatives on this issue, we can identify some shifts in Moldovan politics.

Earlier there was a clear dominance of ultra-political discourses in Moldova. Famous Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek sees ultra-politics as a specific variation of societal de-politicization through extensive militarization of politics. It allegedly helps to disguise real political conflicts within the society while emphasizing artificially constructed topics. Russian and Romanian “threats” have been such artificially constructed topics for Moldova. Politicians and experts, insisting on a “Russian” threat, have suggested that due to occupation of the Eastern part of the country Russia tries to hold up Moldova’s European integration. They have argued that Transnistrian conflict is a conflict between Russia and Moldova (Transnistrians are only Russian puppets), favoring the Euro-Atlantic integration of Republic of Moldova as a way of counter-balancing and at the end defeating Moscow. Besides, they have made the “Soviet occupation” of Moldova to the main source of their very active politics of memory.   

The second, not less alarmist discursive option has been pursued by political forces referring to Romania and to some extent the West (first of all the NATO) as explicit threats for the Moldovan statehood. Officially they interpreted the reintegration of the country in form of federalization as a mean to counter “the Romanization” of the country. These political forces have expressed solidarity with Russian historical discourse of World War II and “great Soviet legacy”.           

Both discursive options are still alive. The Euro-Atlantist argumentation is fully present in such documents recently appeared as National Security Strategy Draft (elaborated by the Moldovan Ministry of Defense in cooperation with Moldovan military experts) and Declaration of the Civil Society regarding the Red lines of the Transnistrian Settlement (published on the platform of the Moldovan non-governmental organization “Promo-LEX”). These documents securitize to a very great extent the relations with Russia and practically exclude any dialogue options on the Transnistrian issue. In particular, the Declaration is based on implicit fear of a Russian-German plot at the Moldova’s expense.   

The “pro-Russian” camp is represented now fully by the Socialist Party of Igor Dodon. In cooperation with Russian Izborsk Club he intensified recently his anti-Romanian and anti-Western agitation, having inherited the legacy of “golden age” of Vladimir Voronin.

At the same time, despite their continuing significance these ultra-political discourses seem now to be blurred by some alternative discourses which are closer in their substance to what is called “normal politics”. At the centre of this “normal politics” is now a debate about “captured state”, which is taking place between the ruling Democratic Party, on one side, and political forces represented by Andrei Nastase and Renato Usatii, on the other side. Aforementioned political camps also participate in this debate, but they obviously assume a subordinate position there.

After having ousted Vlad Filat from power and erected the government of Pavel Filip, the Democratic Party put forward the idea of bringing back stability to the country. In his interviews Vlad Plahotniuc stressed that Moldova should not choose between East and West. Both in 2015 and 2016 it became known that the Moldovan government tried to find the way of rapprochement with Moscow, also on the Transnistrian issue. For example, the Moldovan authorities transmitted a message about an opportunity of a “package deal”, including Transnistria, via the Kyrgyz president in 2015. Besides, the head of the Moldovan parliament Andrian Candu has tried to establish a dialogue on confidence building measures with his Transnistrian counterpart and promoted the idea of a strategic approach to Transnistrian issue at a special parliamentary platform. In spring 2016 the Moldovan authorities initiated a dialogue with Russia aimed at rebuilding trade relations. For the Democratic Party it was certainly a pragmatic, not value- or ideologically based calculation: to get centrist and left electorate and to support economic growth in the country which at the end brings benefits to the ruling clan itself.   

It does not mean that the ruling party does not use the instruments of ultra-politics. That’s very much not the case. For example, the article of the Prime-Minister published recently in the blog of “The Hill” referred to the idea that Russia allegedly endangers Moldovan independence through propaganda and the West should assist Moldova (in other words the current government) on its hard pro-European path. But this tactics has returned predominantly due to Nastase’ attempts to get the American support for criminal prosecution of key representatives of the current Moldovan authorities and subsequent Plahotniuc’ attempts to prevent it from happening by such acts of demonstrating geopolitical loyalty to the West. But in general the Democratic Party rather abstains from the rhetoric about “Russian tanks”. Nevertheless, to keep the loyalty of the Liberal Party the Democratic Party is enforced to tolerate all the activities of the Ministry of Defense. 

It is strange to compare Andrian Nastase and Renato Usatii. But they both do have many things in common. Firstly, both of them do not extensively use the geopolitical narrative. That’s why Transnistrian issue has practically never appeared on their agenda, first of all because it is not an acute issue for Moldovan people and consequently Moldovan “normal politics”. Nastase even came to Moscow to appeal to Moldovan diaspora in Russia what reveals that he is ready to go beyond existing geopolitical lines. Concerning Europe and the West in general his discourse is more normatively based, so he does not argue i.a. that Moldova will be able to join the EU in 2020. At the same time, both politicians do not hide their core cultural identity being transparent in that sense. Secondly, Nastase and Usatii do not hide the fact that they do have good ties in the West and Russia respectively, but at the same time these ties seem to be less strong than by Democratic and Socialist Party. In their rhetoric they attack the existing political system in Moldova without paying much attention to other topics.       

The picture of Moldovan politics has become more diverse. It is at all not a guarantee that “normal politics” will defeat “ultra-politics”. In the short-term perspective no one political force will be able to dominate the political terrain, not even the Democratic Party. Consequently, ultra-politics will further be a good resource for the ruling class to avert any structural changes. It will make the initiation of a Moldovan strategic approach to such a complicated issue as the Transnistrian conflict settlement hardly possible. The appointment of a strong politician to the president of Republic of Moldova could eventually change the situation.