The biggest rally in Moldova since independence was declared in 1991 took place in the capital Chisinau on Sunday. Organisers estimated that more than 100,000 people turned out to show their support for closer integration with the European Union.
Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti said: “European integration is a chance to rebuild our economy, improve our standard of living and ensure prosperity for everyone, to build a society with a clear vision. It also means our personal and common security and freedom, the free circulation of goods and our country’s modernisation and civil welfare.”
Later this month the government will initial an association agreement with the European Union at an Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. This will take steps toward free trade between the powerful 28-country EU and several republics of the former Soviet sphere – Moldova among them. Moldova has deep reservations about its relationship with Russia today, nestled between non-EU Ukraine and Romania. Around two-thirds of Moldova’s three million people speak the Moldovan language, similar to Romanian.
Romania is one of the poorest EU members, and yet Modovans’ per capita income on average – at some 2.500 euros per year – is well under half the Romanian average of 6.700 euros. Rural poverty is endemic.
More than half a million Moldovans now live abroad. The money they send home makes up one quarter of the national income. The departure and absence of 40 percent of 25-to-40-year-olds is a serious obstacle for Moldova’s development.
Another problem is the unresolved conflict with the breakaway Transnistria region east of the River Dniester, where Russian and Ukrainian language-speakers dominate. Russian troops are still stationed there, although no other countries have recognised Transnistria’s self-proclaimed separation of 1990.
Paul MacDowell spoke with Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca. He asked him what sort of messages Moldova wants to convey.
Prime Minister Iurie Leanca: “The event [on Sunday], which brought to Chisinau tens of thousands of citizens of Moldova, and which after independence in 1991 was probably the biggest gathering in the capital of Moldova, and which was organised by the political parties which represent the coalition which is governing Moldova, wanted to send a very clear message not just to Brussels but also to all our neighbours and to Moldovan civil society, and to the opposition which exists in the Republic of Moldova, that the majority of the citizens of Moldova understand very well that there is no alternative to its development, to our efforts to build a functioning European democracy, than to follow the European integration path – to share the same values, the same standards and the same principles which exist [in] and which work in the countries of the European Union.”
Paul MacDowell, euronews: “So, Prime Minister, what then do you say to Russia? You say [your message, your policy is] not against anybody, it’s pro-integration with Europe. But Russia is watching with interest. What’s your message to Russia?”
Leanca: “From the very first days of changes in power in September 2009, we had the same message delivered both in Moscow as well as in Brussels: that our fundamental choice – the fundamental objective of our foreign and domestic policy – is European integration. So I don’t think that the message and the objective – the priorities of our policies – were somehow misleading our friends and our partners, either in the West or the East. What we are also saying is that the European integration path and the objectives of our modernisation are not directed against another country, are not creating the [premise] of worse conditions; on the contrary, we believe that by turning Moldova into a stable and – what is very important – a predictable country, it is beneficial for our friends from the West but also for our friends from the East.”
euronews: “So, ‘win-win’ for Moldova; but what does Europe get out of it? What are you taking to the European party?”
Leanca: “I think that Moldova can also bring certain benefits to the EU. And not just the good quality wine and the very tasty food. By working together we can expand the area of stability and the area of prosperity to the southeast of Europe, and in this way we would show also to the other countries, if we speak about the Eastern Partnership, former Soviet republics, that if a country does its homework – and that’s what we have to continue to do – the EU acknowledges its progress and treats it accordingly. The happy future of Moldovans, of Moldovan society, is extremely closely linked to our rapprochement, our economic integration – and hopefully not in a very long perspective – political integration which means membership acknowledgement by the EU of the future of the Republic of Moldova. We need to focus more on the reform of the justice [system], of the prosecutor’s office, fighting corruption in a very systemic way and making sure that Moldova builds accountable institutions.”