Referendum initiative – a step taken with the left. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



Establishing, on the initiative of the President’s Office, a roundtable meeting on a permanent basis, with the participation of political and civic representatives from the Europeanist segment of society in this, with the objective of debating publicly and formulating recommendations for the political agenda of European integration in the Republic of Moldova, can be a solution...


Anatol Țăranu

The initiation of a pro-Europe constitutional referendum in a state with an impoverished population, where nostalgia for the Soviet past is strong and the national minorities do not integrate into the cultural community of the majority, took many people by surprise. It is known that many Soviet nostalgics are the captive electorate of pro-Russian and anti-European parties in Moldova. Namely these political forces specialize in instrumentalizing Moldovan voters’ frustrations and fears caused by poverty and uncertainty in tomorrow, cultivating their ignorance and anti-Westernism in various modifications. Financially, politically and informationally supported by Moscow, this kind of Moldovan politicians will use to the maximum the opportunity of the referendum to promote their political agenda, with the major purpose of compromising the European development course of the Republic of Moldova.

Still divided into two

The integration of the Republic of Moldova into the European Union and the restoration of the Soviet Union in the formula of a Eurasian project guided by Moscow are options that continue to divide Moldovan society into two camps that are of comparable size. According to a series of polls, about 40% of Moldovan citizens want the USSR to be restored, and this also means accepting the return of communism as a political regime. It is true that a majority of slightly over half of Moldovan society is yet for the Republic of Moldova’s accession to the European Union. But this majority is not an overwhelming one, which would definitely ensure the irreversibility of the European course for the Republic of Moldova. The fixing of this reality by referendum cannot bring appreciable added value to the European course.

The Moldovan citizens will continue for a number of years to fall into two categories - those who want the Soviet Union to be restored and support the Russian Federation’s actions, and those who want the country to integrate into the European Union. A part of society believes that the Soviet and totalitarian legacy is one of the causes of today’s stagnation. Other citizens believe that, on the contrary, the Soviet legacy is actually the foundation of a prosperous life. Thirty years after the fall of communism, almost every second Moldovan citizen remains a Soviet nostalgic. The explanations of historians and analysts regarding the survival of this phenomenon, lacking the communication support of a state policy focused on revealing the development impasse on the path of communism, are not enough to diminish this nostalgia. The precariousness of living standards in Moldova continuously fuels sympathies for the Soviet past, keeping the risk of reversal of the European development course for the Republic of Moldova.

PAS needs partners in governance

Recently, the government in Chisinau came up with the initiative to organize a national pro-EU referendum, coupled with the electoral exercise of the presidential elections Even if sociological polls show that there is a slight majority in favor of European integration in Moldovan society. However, the pro-presidential party PAS, which promotes the European course at government level, sees the electoral support declining and is unlikely to repeat the victory in the previous parliamentary elections and form a monocoloured pro-European government after the next electoral cycle. Therefore, PAS will need governing partners in the future to perpetuate the European course.

In this perspective, the proposal to organize the plebiscite came from President Maia Sandu and the PAS government, hence involuntarily inducing the idea of using this referendum for party electoral purposes. Under the circumstances, other pro-European parties, which will naturally be electoral rivals of PAS in the next elections, are placed in an embarrassing position to support the opponent’s initiative with an electoral connotation. By launching the pro-EU referendum initiative in the current formula, the PAS government not only intends to enter into a political struggle with pro-Moscow Soviet nostalgics, but also limits the possibilities of political cooperation with pro-European parties in promoting the European course.

Coupled with the presidential election, the referendum will offer additional chances also to the pro-Moscow opposition, because the electoral debate will be naturally consumed mainly in the geopolitical area. For Igor Dodon, Maia Sandu’s best-placed opponent in polls, the replacement of the electoral theme of corruption represented by the “kulyok” case with the theme of geopolitics will become a real find. Not to mention the opportunities offered by the political atmosphere of a referendum for intensifying Moscow’s information war in support of the anti-European forces in the Republic of Moldova.

Members of First Parliament warn…

In the circumstances, the members of the first Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, who founded the organization “Independence Parliament, not at all accidentally expressed their concern. In a statement, they described the idea of a referendum held before the completion of accession negotiations as unnecessary and dangerous, which facilitates for Russia the thwarting of the European path with the “popular” vote of the indoctrinated masses. The mentioned statement says that given the extremely complicated geopolitical situation in the region, generated by Russia’s war against Ukraine, but also by the openly expressed intentions of Putin’s Moscow not to give up the idea of returning the Republic of Moldova inside the empire, there are “major risks” that this referendum will be vitiated and will bring “an unfavorable result”. The members of the Independence Parliament urge the leadership of the Republic of Moldova “to abandon any experiments that can jeopardize the negotiations and European integration, including the organization of referendums in conditions of insecurity and hybrid war.”

The dispute on the initiative to organize the referendum has already arisen in Moldovan society and will certainly grow along the way. Unprepared from public communication perspective, this initiative risks having the effect of an opened Pandora’s box as the referendum initiative poses obvious risks to the increase in the number of supporters of the European integration of the Republic of Moldova given that it is suspected that its real purpose is not to affirm the European idea in Moldovan society, but rather to promote the electoral interests of the ruling party PAS. Such a perception, if it is rooted in public opinion, risks provoking the effect of demobilization among the supporters of the European option, jeopardizing even the positive final result of the referendum on the European idea.

Roundtable meeting on a permanent basis

In order to nip this danger in the bud, swift action should be taken to stem the spread of this perception in society, to maximally involve all pro-Europe political and civic forces in supporting and obtaining a positive result of the referendum. Establishing, on the initiative of the President’s Office, a roundtable meeting on a permanent basis, with the participation of political and civic representatives from the Europeanist segment of society in this, with the objective of debating publicly and formulating recommendations for the political agenda of European integration in the Republic of Moldova, can be a solution. Any attempt, even a camouflaged one, to monopolize the agenda of European integration for the benefit of a particular party, especially the successes on the political dimension of the process, is categorically counterproductive and harmful to the final result. The initiators of the referendum, who rushed to launch this initiative and did not weigh well enough all the risks involved, should realize this truth in the best way possible.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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