23 April 2021

Gheorghe Russu

Vice-director, The Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption

Parties-Phantoms, Parties - State Institutions, Parties - State Enterprises


20 parties have registered in the current election campaign. Many people say it is a too big number for such a small country as Moldova. At the same time, much more parties could take part in the election campaign.

Last week illustrated

Activists launch Moldova’s first ‘Space Camp’ © Susan Coughtrie

Moldova and Transnistria need a ‘shared vision' for future co-operation

"You can't choose your neighbours but you have to find a way to live with them," - was the overriding message of Walter Kemp's presentation entitled ‘Building Confidence Across the Dniestr', the latest in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission's Public Lectures program.
Susan Coughtrie, Moldova Azi, 17 November 2010, 10:45
Photo by Lucas Farcy
Photo by Lucas Farcy

‘The logic of co-operation', ‘trust and reciprocity' as well as ‘predictability and regulation' were among the key phrases on Monday night, as Dr Kemp, Director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Peace Institute (IPI) in Vienna, explained how collaboration between two conflicting parties can lead not only to increased confidence and security, but become mutually beneficial over time. In particular, how the development of a ‘shared vision' could lead to improvements in Moldova's relationship with the semi-autonomous region of Transnistria, a source of internal conflict for over twenty years.

Opening with an analogy about two warring neighbours disagreeing over the playing of loud music, Dr Kemp demonstrated how human nature causes us to intuitively look out for, and protect, ourselves, and that often co-operation is not our first instinct when tension arises. He argued that in an environment of uncertainty, mistrust and lack of regulations even relatively minor disagreements can deteriorate into a vicious spiral where neither party gains, but rather both lose out, as a result. This pattern can be seen whether the parties are two neighbours or two states, or in the case of Moldova and Transnistria, a state and an internal region which wants to break away from the rest of the country.  

The proposed solution? Primarily, the provision of incentives for the two sides to co-operate with one another. Using the term ‘making the shadow of the future more important today', Dr Kemp described how, if you create a vision of the future in which both sides want to invest in, they will over time see the self-interest in co-operation. Quoting the maxim ‘do unto others, what you would have them do unto you', Dr Kemp stressed how this co-operative approach did not necessarily need come from an altruistic place, but rather that "there is a vested self interest, in actually maximizing your own potential gains and your own welfare by working with somebody else". In other words, you can dislike your neighbour, but ultimately you still benefit in the long run by collaborating with him.

Tensions between the Moldovan government in Chisinau and the administration in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol are, however, long-seated. Present since the breakdown of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the conflict is currently classified as ‘frozen' with the breakaway region's claim of independence not officially recognised internationally. The divisions between the two sides have become noticeably more distinct in recent years, with Transnistria continuing to align itself with Russia, while Moldova has taken on an increasingly Western outlook, particularly moving towards greater EU integration. Nevertheless, the IPI director emphasised not only the possibility, but also the importance, of finding areas upon which to build common ground.

"Even if Transnistria became independent it wouldn't be picked up and moved somewhere, you would still have to work with those people across the Dniestr, in the same way that Moldova has to work with Romania, the Ukraine and others" stated Dr Kemp. Rather than the failed approaches of the past which tackled the issue of independence wholesale, he recommends instead a more low-key process of identifying and targeting specific issues, such as access to farmer's fields, the rail link, police working together in Bendery, or the schools in Transnistria. This way, he argues, it is possible to "de-escalate potential flashpoints until the whole idea of working together becomes a matter of course... then if you want to deal with the big picture that will come". However, if you were to start with the big picture, he argues, "there would still be the need to work together - so why not do it from the bottom up, as well as, talking about it from the top-down?"

The mechanisms proposed for achieving greater collaboration rest primarily on confidence building, lessening misperceptions, as well as improving reciprocal trust, strength and predictability. A series of tit-for-tat measures, where both sides give something to the other, are also important to ensure that all parties benefit from the relationship.

Given the length of the conflict and opposing viewpoints held by the two sides, Dr Kemp acknowledged that this model may seem idealistic to some. However, he cited the very real example of the developing relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States during the 1980s. "You had two very powerful and mutually opposed camps [but] the two parties realized the self interest in working together because the alternative was mutually assured destruction". The Cuban Missile Crisis and birth of the Cold War engendered a culture of fear and mistrust, but Regan and Gorbachev were able to overcome these issues with Regan stating that ‘it's important to trust but verify'. Dr Kemp underlined the role of ‘verifying' the relationship, which came through a host of confidence and security building measures, strengthening the relationship and ultimately bringing about the end of the Cold War.

‘Confidence and Security Building Measures', known as CSBMs, which typically involve a military aspect, continue to be used throughout the world today. However, as the nature of conflicts has increasingly changed from interstate conflicts towards intrastate tensions, which are not necessarily violent, Dr Kemp described how the solutions have also been evolving. There is now a focus on ‘Civilian Confidence Building Measures', or CCBMs, including joint legal frameworks, educational measures and civil society development, as well as, the opening up of trade agreements. This latter process can be used not only as a way to build trust but also to create economic benefits for all parties involved. The re-opening of the train link between Chisinau and Odessa could be cited as a prime example of one such CCBM initiative and a positive development in Moldovan-Transnistrian relations. 

With an increased level of NGO activity, backed by foreign administrations including the British government, there do appear to be steps being taken on a grassroots level to create incentives for co-operation between the two sides. However, Dr Kemp believes that the Moldovan government has yet to make a strong enough case for co-operation, and with those in power in Transnistria seemingly happy with the status quo, he argued that it falls to the people this side of Dniestr to push for the creation of any potential ‘shared vision'.

"It too often seems to me that the people who make the case for multi-cultural Moldova are branded as Communists or people who don't want good relations with Romania," said Dr Kemp. However, he pointed to examples of neighbouring countries who share a similar history and a similar language that have their own identities, such as Austria and Germany or Canada and the United States. "I think that this is the kind of vision that somebody has to make to say that we are a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country, with our own identity," he argued, "that doesn't necessarily want to be part of Romania, that doesn't want the country to break up, [but] that has certain degrees of self-government".

Although, as Dr Kemp was quick to point out "you can't just have one meeting and hope that it happens, it's a step by step process with a longer term perspective". Certainly the need to recondition ‘human nature', and put twenty years of tension and conflict aside, will be no easy undertaking. Whether a multi-cultural Moldova can be achieved is yet to be seen, but if the policy of ‘shared vision' can be realised, then there is hope that these ‘neighbours' might enjoy a far more collaborative relationship over the next twenty years and beyond.

NOTE: Dr Walter Kemp is currently Director for Europe and Central Asia, based at International Peace Institute's Office in Vienna (IPI - He joined IPI in August, 2010, after serving for four years asspokesman and speechwriter at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). At UNODC his main focus was on Afghanistan, West Africa, piracy, corruption, and the impact of organized crime on security and development. From 1996 to 2006, Dr Kemp worked for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including as Senior Adviser to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and Senior Adviser to the OSCE Secretary General and Chairmanship. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics, United Kingdom, as well a Master's in Political Science from the University of Toronto, Canada, and a Bachelor's in History from McGill University, Canada. Dr Kemp has extensive research experience in the field of conflict prevention, the OSCE, the political economy of conflict, and national minorities, and therefore has written several articles and chapters on these issues. It is worth mentioning the fact that he is the author of Nationalism and Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (1999) and Quiet Diplomacy in Action (2001), and also the editor of Blood and Borders (2010).

Susan Coughtrie, for Moldova Azi



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