Ethnic polarization must disappear from the speeches of political actors, instead Moldova should accelerate the Europeanization process of society

15 November 2018

Increased polarisation of Moldovan society is one of the main obstacles for development. It further increases the vulnerability of our young democracy that already suffers from a growing concentration of power and a significant erosion of trust in Government. The norms of public discourse employed by politicians must be rewritten and the futile practice of parties focusing on geopolitics rather than programs and polices of modernization must change. These are some conclusions of the policy paper produce by Stanislav Ghileţchi, analyst at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE) and Sarah Pagung, program officer at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

According to the authors, the pro-European parties in Moldova enjoy only minimal support (2%-6%) from Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauzians or Bulgarian ethnic groups. On the other hand, support for pro-Russian parties among these ethnic groups ranges from 54% to 74%. Thus, the general parliamentary elections in February 2019 are expected to be a battle of “us versus them” rather than a competition over which policies would best develop the country and rebuild trust with Moldovan citizens after years of unfulfilled promises.

When a country splits into opposing camps with mutually exclusive identities and preferences, as in Moldova, it is an indication that polarization has reached an especially troubling level. For example, Pro-Russian views are expressed not only by Russian ethnics, but also by Ukrainians, Bulgarians and Gagauzians. This alignment along single dimension has created destabilizing political swings over the past of 27 years of Moldova’s independence. The people of Moldova have suffered enough from division and polarisation. If politicians are unwilling or unable to compromise in order to bring the country together, the political divide will gradually grow to the point where it may be too late to do much about it”, considers Stanislav Ghiletchi.

According to IPRE, geopolitical divisions over East and West will continue to provoke heated debates. But the debate should focus on the shared priority of improving the lives of Moldovan citizens rather than on narrow geopolitical interests. While differences about policies are an inherent part of any democratic society, the exploitation of grievances between different ethnic groups is not. The debate about the future of the country should not be between the majority ethnic group and the national minority, but among citizens of the Republic of Moldova.

“The Association Agreement with the EU offers the possibility for modernization of the entire society. It is the roadmap towards democratization and development of Moldova. And rather than focusing on which union to join, the ruling elites should enact policies that will: increase the integrity of judiciary, restore public trust in state institutions, improve the efficiency of healthcare, innovate the classrooms, or rebuild and expand roads and bridges”, says Sarah Pagung.

Thus, according to IPRE, one of the models that will allow Moldova to overcome these problems would be the implementation of good practices employed in the EU and the development of an European identity. A common feeling of belonging is seen as crucial for creating coherence, enabling solidarity among EU member states and citizens, and building acceptance and legitimacy for the Union and its policies itself. It is therefore seen as one pillar of European stability, especially in times of crisis.

Find below IPRE’s recommendations which should be further explored:

  • To step up its efforts in developing new programmes aimed at increasing interethnic relations and social cohesion: (i) promotion and increasing of Romanian language learning; (ii) improving representation of various ethnic groups in local and central governments; (iii) raising employment opportunities in public and private sector;
  • To allocate more financial resources to implement the Strategy on Strengthening Interethnic Relations. Without adequate financial support, it will be impossible to put into practice the ambitious goals of the strategy;
  • To identify ways to involve the business sector in more informational campaigns, especially in order to target those ethnic groups that have the lowest levels of trust towards EU.
  • A broader reform of the Eastern Partnership concept is needed to pursue these objectives. Besides this, the EU has leverage on Moldovan politics that it can unfold in short-term actions.
  • The EU needs to improve its public diplomacy efforts towards the citizens of Moldova. To do so it should focus on (i) information in the mother tongue of ethnic minorities, as their knowledge of the Romanian language is often limited, especially among Gagauz. As studies in the EU on cohesion have shown, receiving personal benefits from EU support funds does more to create a positive view of the EU than does the mere knowledge of their existence. Therefore, the EU should (ii) label projects financed by their funds more clearly. Furthermore, the EU should (iii) promote its funds in the languages of the minorities to receive increased applications from these groups.
  • The EU should refrain from an “either or” rhetoric as well as from using images of rivalry if it wants to avoid deepening the societal divide over foreign policy orientation.

For more details, consult below the document.

The Project “Establishing Policy Bridges with the EU – IPRE (Moldova)” is implemented by the Institute for European Policies and Reforms in collaboration with the Institute for European Politics from Berlin (IEP), with the support of Open Society Foundation Initiative for Europe (OSIFE).

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