Politics

Three Transnistrian Vectors

The new Moldovan leadership has recently upheld the traditionalist approach on tackling the conflict settlement: a large autonomy within a unitary state. It seems that immediate priorities - the constitutional and economic crises, as well as a certain political inertia have prevented so far the emergency of a new thinking in addressing this fundamental threat to the Moldovan society for over 20 years now.
Octavian Sofransky, 1 December 2009, 11:36

What makes Transnistria so relevant for Moldovans? How can this territory that has escaped the control of central government and became an informal appendix of the Russian Federation influence the life on the right bank of Nistru to better or worse? It can indeed and to a crucial extent!

Firstly: the European Union has repeatedly stated that the main barrier to Moldova's accession to the EU is the existence of the Transnistrian issue. In other words, the provision of substantial financial support and the granting of free movement that accompany the accession process is jeopardized by the fact that Chisinau does not have a credible strategy to solve or control the Transnistrian conflict.

Secondly: the foreign investments Moldovans are so desperate to receive, that would generate jobs and economic growth, are also conditioned by the provision of clear security and political guarantees, which could be assured only by a clear European perspective and a possible accession to NATO. It is the existence of the Transnistrian conflict, i.e. the lack of border control, the presence of a foreign army, the economic crime and the political distortion spurred by the conflict that hinders Moldova's accession to the European Union and to NATO.

Thirdly: the implementation of reforms required for country's cohesion and modernization has been continuously delayed by the illusion of possible adjustment to the „interests and specificity" of Transnistria and Russia. The coquetry with the concepts of bilingualism and multiculturalism has made the cultural conflict permanent and resulted in a minority imposing its models on the majority through media dominance and mercantile alliances to the detriment of progress and general wellbeing.

Fourthly: the political and economic corruption of the Moldovan political elite perpetuated by Tiraspol regime to achieve its goals hinders significantly the true democratization of the country and, thus jeopardizes both efficiency of the state and citizens' confidence in it.

In conclusion, only by getting rid of the "Transnistrian snare" can Moldova become a country where law is enforced, democracy functions, wellbeing is accumulated and the state is free to decide which alliances it wants to join. Chisinau's inertia or traditionalism in addressing this issue can leads only to poverty, political ambiguity and moral relativism that equal social disintegration and ultimately - country's demise.

Is there any sound strategy out of the present condition? Other than clumsy attempts to convince Russia to give up voluntarily its military base and other than offering a fair and democratic play to the Tiraspol regime, an offer they turned down abandoning the Chisinau Parliament in 1989? It surely exists! Instead of the unidirectional traditionalist policy that has contributed neither to getting these societies closer nor to the withdrawal of Russian troops, it is necessary to explore efficiently a number of vectors that can change the status-quo in the interest of the Moldovan society.

Consensual divorce. At the moment, the consolidation of Moldova as a democratic state is only possible within the territory controlled by Chisinau. It is imperative to comprehend that the interests of Moldovan citizens can be promoted also by negotiating a consensual divorce with Tiraspol.

The 1989 events represented a rushed divorce that created an inadequate border, busted hate speech and inevitable conflicts related to the division of property. In order to diminish the potential of these conflicts it is necessary to negotiate a "divorce agreement" based on the principles of observing the interests of the parties and fostering sustainable solutions.
For instance, it is necessary to correct the border, setting it along the Nistru; to evacuate the remaining troops on the left and right banks of the river; to launch a process of voluntary transfer of population in order to improve the ethno-political balance, providing also guarantees for the remaining minorities. This is how a clearly defined border can be set, a more homogenous society can be formed on both sides of Nistru, and prerequisites for cooperation instead of confrontation can be created. Alternatively, the frontier could be redefined also via local referenda, where every village and town along both banks of Nistru could vote for inclusion into Moldova or Transnistria respecively.

Such a negotiated independence of Transnistria would place us in a better situation than the current state of confrontation. To some extent, this scenario would favor the Transnistrian population as well, while those who will opt for changing the place of residence from one bank of the river to the other should receive an appropriate material compensation from the host authorities.

This proposition might also have the merit of revealing the real attitudes of foreign stakeholders! For example, would Moscow accept an independent Transnistria or even a new republic within its federation? Would the West contemplate a Russian military base in this area or would it rather counteract it's emergence? Is Ukraine ready for an independent Transnistria, hoping to integrate it territorially but risking to fall into the Russian embrace? What is Romania's plan for a genuinely independent "second Romanian state"? Those international actors that would oppose the Transnistrian independence could perhaps shoulder much more vigorously then in the past the other options!

The second chance. Chisinau and Tiraspol have coexisted within a single Soviet republic, so could they thrive in the future within an independent state. This coexistence acknowledging the basic interests of actors and focused on a prosperous and democratic common future can only be built on the basis of a „marital agreement" that would define common institutions and outline policies accepted by both parties.

The 3D project: democratization, demilitarization and decriminalization, fostered by the Moldovan civil society, contains the essential elements of a sustainable marriage: common political space, integrated economy, advanced local autonomy and, very important, withdrawal of foreign troops. For this scenario to be attractive, it needs to be complemented by integration policies, such as a certain "positive discrimination" of Transnistrians, joint infrastructure projects, etc. A symbolic gesture of reconciliation could be the transfer of the country's capital to Tighina-Bender under a new name, a truly unifying project to be. Both Moldovans and Transnistrians would benefit from such an evolution that will end the conflict and begin a new era of cooperation.

Accepted by foreign actors, country's reunification could attract also their financial support. The European Union, the UN and the USA could possibly invest in Moldova's reunification. The OSCE could finance withdrawal of the Russian army and the civil personnel that might want to follow suit. Romania and Ukraine would prefer neighboring a stable and democratic country rather than facing migratory pressures and geopolitical dilemmas: to integrate or not parts of Moldova into their state. Russia would probably negotiate tough the withdrawal of its army. In case it refuses to pull out, it will have to chose from the other two scenarios.

Emancipation. Since independence, for two decades already, Moldovan society is continuously confronted with the "Transnistrian issue", mixing identity, economy and politics at once. It is not a secret that the saga of a country called Transnistria and of its Transnistrian people is above all the work of Moscow agencies and their local broadcasters. In reality, Moldova faces a trivial Russian military base on its territory, which employs a media corporation to disguise itself as a „break-away republic", and a disempowered population as figurants.

Emancipation from the Transnistrian myth would imply a new affirmative policy of Moldova with regard to Russia: declaring Transnistria as a "territory of the Republic of Moldova under temporary military occupation of the Russian Federation" and revealing the "Russian aggression" to the international community; establishing a real border to the East and firewalling viruses and Trojans: corruption, criminality, smuggling etc.

Emancipation is an excellent project for both the internal cohesion of Moldovan society cleaning itself from saboteurs (is it conceivable that ministers of a separatist Government continue to live in the capital from which they want to secede?), and for attracting international support for democratization. A protected border, internal cohesion, a clear development project were the strategies that have brought success to (Southern) Cyprus. This scenario offers Moldovans an opportunity to advance more rapidly and consistently on the way of progress, but leaves the Transnistrians at the mercy of Tiraspol. Therefore, it is necessary to be prepared to integrate Moldovan citizens who would prefer to leave Transnistria and settle on the right bank of Nistru.

This political proposition may annoy some external actors and especially Russia which will inevitably protest against "accusations of interventionism" pretending to be a "peacemaking force". The EU, instead, would understand Chisinau's message clearer and would have more arguments to support it. Ukraine and Romania would have a more predictable partner on the right bank of Nistru river, but also a source of anxiety on the left bank.

So, what do we do with Transnistria: divorce, reconcile or emancipate?

Each of the three vectors indicates a direction of change for the better for the citizens of the country. The existence of several options is an important negotiation asset and confirms the imperative of action and disadvantages of the traditional numb approach to the Transnistrian conflict. The three vectors represent, first of all, an opportunity for active dialogue, with conscious options, open to a number of solutions.

Today, after two decades of vain illusions, there is a need for active negotiations with internal and external partners, it is necessary to persuade, to convince, to threat even in order to put on march the Transnistrian settlement.
Is the new Moldovan leadership, which has already shown a novel brand of unity and professionalism, ready to abandon the conformism of previous governments and take lead in resolving this fundamental issue for the fate of the Republic of Moldova?

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