Igor Dodon: My most important mission is to discourage any attempt to provoke a new armed conflict on the Nistru. IPN interview

IPN interview with President Igor Dodon ahead of the 26th Independence Day

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- Moldova is celebrating 26 years of Independence. How do you see this period? What did it mean for the citizen Igor Dodon, for your family?

- This period is special in the history of the Moldovan people because we have shown ourselves able to ensure the continuity of our statehood, which started in the 14th century. We have proven that we are able to maintain our Moldovan identity, to build a Moldovan state, despite all the drama and challenges we’ve had and still have to deal with.

For me personally, this period coincides with my student years, with forming a family, raising kids, growing up politically. As most of my peers, numerous emotions, memories, regrets, but also gratitude link me to this period of Moldovan history

- What do you think people are most worried about at this stage of Moldovan history? How is this stage different from previous ones? How much can people rely on support from the state?

- We have to admit that we can’t boast any remarkable results in the economic and social fields. Most of the indexes are at least 30% below their value during the last years of the Soviet period. One third of our citizens left their motherland, which is a true national tragedy

Even though we obtained Independence, we lacked the wisdom or preparation to make the most of it. We were quick to destroy and get rid of many things left from the Soviet period. The first governments thought they could build everything from scratch, disregarding Soviet Moldova’s rich industrial and agricultural heritage. But they were terribly wrong. Since the 90s, we have fallen into a kind of transition, nobody knows towards what, and our people are constantly afflicted by social and economic problems. I don’t even have to list all these issues accumulated over the years.

I want to highlight a new phenomenon that arose in recent years, especially in recent months – the fear of armed conflicts. More explicitly, the fear of a new armed conflict that would involve Moldova. More and more people are repeating the post-WW2 phrase ‘if only there was no war’, because the people are feeling on an instinctual level the fear that there’s a risk of countries clashing, that might affect us directly.

We haven’t had such a state of alarm in the last 25 years and the government must do its utmost to avoid Moldova’s involvement in any kind of geopolitical conflicts between other countries, because the risk is more real than people understand.

- Indeed, it seems that the current regional and geopolitical situation is tenser than in any other period since our Independence. Do you think it poses a real threat, now or in the future, to our country?

- The ordinary people, without being big political analysts, are very well aware of how tense the current situation in the world and in the region is. The great powers are starting a new cold war and are mobilizing their forces. New confrontation hotspots are arising in East and South-East Asia, in Latin America, in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine.

In this explosive geopolitical context, we’re hearing more and more often about a scenario in which foreign troops, possibly NATO, are to be deployed on the Nistru, in order to strengthen the Western presence in the region. I can’t rule out that this is a veiled attempt to unfreeze the conflict in Transnistria in order to provoke Russia and create a new zone of destabilization. Someone from across the ocean is moving pawns on the geopolitical chess tables and here, in Moldova, our whole society could suffer the consequences. The tragedy of 1992 could repeat itself and many people could die.

The only solution for us to survive as a sovereign and independent state is to stay away from this new geopolitical conflict, the outcome of which is uncertain. Moldova must remain neutral and develop mutually advantageous relations both with the East and the West. The biggest mistake would be for Moldova to choose sides in this new cold war, to join the West against Russia. Only maintaining a balanced foreign policy, good bilateral relations with all our neighbors, with Russia, the EU and the US, can ensure peace in Moldova.

I think that now, when the country, the political class and our society are all divided by opposed geopolitical currents, when people are caught in conflicts and enmity, there is only one wise solution – to focus on the development of Moldova, outside of any geopolitical discussions. We should put a ban on geopolitical debates in order to calm the spirits in society.

Only after we improve the quality of life and reduce the level of corruption, when we have more clarity and calm, we can return to these discussions, if necessary. Now we must work for Moldova, not for integration in the West or the East. This is the only way to reach a national political consensus and avoid getting entangled in dangerous geopolitical and military games. But are the parliamentary majority and the rightist opposition able to hear this message?

- For the first time in its history, Moldova is sending clearly different messages via its authorities, both at home and abroad. What does this say about the current stage of our statehood?

- That’s what happens when some parts of the state power apparatus stray away from the people and the will of the people. The problem is not that the authorities have different opinions, the problem is that they have a different position from that of the people.

The people are the sovereign in the state, they have the right to direct the country’s external and internal policies, isn’t it so? If we look at polls, we can see that most people want to maintain good relations with Russia, to stay neutral and are certainly against joining NATO. They see themselves as Moldovans, want the History of Moldova to be taught in schools, are in favor of maintaining Moldovan statehood, want asymmetrical economic relations with the EU and don’t want to pay for the stolen billion.

If we consider these facts, as shown by polls, what do we realize? That the parliamentary majority and the government are acting against the wishes of the people. Our economic relations and friendship with Russia have been seriously damaged. There are clear signs that the situation on the Nistru is aggravating. Romanianism and pro-unification ideas are aggressively promoted in schools, at the expense of our Moldovan identity. And the people now have to pay for the stolen billion.

That’s why I repeat and insist that we, the politicians, must agree on and impose a ban on all geopolitical issues and focus on domestic problems. If we overcome the pressure from abroad, from our so-called development partners, it will be easier to have a balanced dialogue at home and to reconcile the people.

- During this period, did, do or will the people have a “president of everyone”? Is it possible? Is it necessary? What about a “government and Parliament of everyone”?

- The people anywhere in the world are too different in their preferences and opinions, especially in a democracy where pluralism of ideas and opinions is allowed. In a country like ours, divided by identity, geopolitical and ideological lines, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. It’s not realistic to be seen as a president of everyone, even though it’s goal worth striving for, at least as an unreachable ideal.

In this situation, I’m more focused on being a President of Moldova, on the fundamental interests of the state. I was elected by a strong majority of voters, who chose me to represent the country and its interests, not only a certain category of citizens.

And this is how I work. I’m promoting a series of concepts that are vital to the Moldovan statehood, integrity and identity. This is what matters, regardless of the reputation I gained among some “elite circles”, who analyze my activity through the lenses of the grants they receive for “civic activism”.

- Why do we have separatism in Moldova and can’t get rid of it? Are the reasons internal or external”

- There are multiple reasons, but we must understand that this separatism was stimulated by the wrong policies of the first Moldovan government. Its official discourse was too trenchant, too radical and even xenophobic. As such, it generated disproportionate, exaggerated reactions among the ethnic minorities. There was a vicious circle, in which every statement or accusation increased the tension. People moved from words to action and after the first clashes, the conflict was difficult to stop.

It’s not the people’s fault, it’s the fault of the political leadership of the main administrative structures in the early 90s. Later, external forces were called in to stop the locally generated conflict. Today, I’m afraid we are about to repeat the same mistakes with similarly serious consequences, that will lead to mistrust and enmity in our relations with Transnistria, with Gagauzia and the other ethnic minorities. The external factor, which acts with the hand of the government in Chisinau, seems to prevail.

Today, pro-unification activism is the main destabilizing force in Moldova. This anti-state ideology can cause social or ethnic conflicts and if it becomes officially promoted, it can lead to new separatist tendencies. But I promise you the pro-unification activists won’t achieve anything. All the frenzy about the 100th anniversary of the Unification in Romania in 2018 will pass, the current government will go away, but the Moldovan people and state will stay strong. I’ll do my best to ensure this.

- The change of the electoral system is presented by its advocates as starting point for resetting the Moldovan society and country. What institutional and personal guarantees can you offer those who hope that these transformations will lead to a better life, but also to those who fear the negative effects of the change?

- By voting in favor of the mixed system, we wanted to offer our people more freedom in choosing their MPs. We offered them more democracy. We will be able to involve in the decision-making process local leaders from districts, representatives of the diaspora, and our people in Transnistria.

If we believe what we have have been told for decades, that more democracy means fairer elections and better governance, then the mixed voting system is step forward in this regard. We offered the people the chance to directly elect their MPs, not only according to party lists, and I think this way is more correct from a democratic perspective. The next Parliament and government will be more representative. I hope that in the next Parliament we will find it easier to reach a national political consensus.

- In your opinion, how will the 27th, eventually the 28th and the 29th anniversaries of our Independence be different from this one? How will the President personally contribute to these differences?

- Given the threats to our peace, which I mentioned earlier, I think my most important mission is to discourage any attempt to provoke a new armed conflict on the Nistru. I hope that during the next Independence Days, we will be more consolidated and integrated territorially, not completely divided and fractured. Thus, maintaining peace, neutrality and statehood are at the top of my priority list.

I have recently visited the military base in Bulboaca and I reminded the high-ranking officers that Moldova is a neutral country and that I will not allow our soldiers to become wheels in the military machinery of any alliance in the West or the East.

If the government and the parliamentary majority, pressed from abroad, decide to involve Moldova in a military conflict within the regional geopolitical fight, I will have to act firmly to defend our peace and national security. As President of Moldova, together with the people, we will have the right to remove this government by any means, including by summoning the Great National Assembly and organizing non-stop protests.

We want peace in our country and won’t allow any hidden and dangerous games that can harm the security of our people. I will categorically resist any attempt to involve us in a conflict or war. In spite of the political pressure or attacks, of the campaigns promoted by the politicized mass-media, financed by the government or from abroad, I will protect our peace and safety unwaveringly.

I also most categorically condemn the intention to cancel Moldovan statehood, whether it comes from abroad or from inside the country. All kind of groups, funded and supported from abroad, have become very active recently, but their activity, I say it again, is unconstitutional. Worst of all is that these groups and their ideas are represented among our officials, including the Parliament and the Constitutional Court. However, the people are against the destruction of the Moldovan state and merging with another state. Based on the will of the people, I will block and stop any attempt in this regard. I will use all the available means and I’m sure we will be able to defend our statehood. We will protect Moldova for the descendants of our descendants.

- Elena Nistor, IPN