32 years of an unfinished war. IPN debate

On Saturday, March 2, it will be 32 years since the beginning of the armed form of the political conflict between constitutional and anti-constitutional forces, which marked the birth of the young Republic of Moldova. Unfortunately, this “birthmark” continues to accompany the state throughout recent history, both in the form of current political hostilities of all kinds and in the form of systemic dangers to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country, which became even more evident with the start of the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against neighboring Ukraine. Why this war was possible 32 years ago, why it wasn’t possible to end it logically even after 32 years, what risks and dangers the maintaining of this state of affairs involves and other aspects of what is commonly called “the Transnistrian conflict” were among the issues discussed by the experts invited to IPN’s public debate “32 years of an unfinished war”.

According to the permanent expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan, the Transnistrian conflict represents the most difficult problem inherited from the Soviet era by the Republic of Moldova. “The essence of the conflict lies in the fact that about 12% of the Republic of Moldova’s territory is not controlled by the constitutional authorities. On May 2, 2017, the Constitutional Court adopted a decision on the neutrality status of the Republic of Moldova, which stipulates that the territory of the Republic of Moldova from the left bank of the Nistru is occupied by Russia. A number of ECHR judgments underline that Transnistria is effectively controlled by Russia and these ECHR arguments were used when the Constitutional Court passed the judgment to which I referred. By the way, the judgments of the Constitutional Court have the status of law," noted the expert.

As for how this conflict is called, the expert said that they often talk about the “Transnistrian conflict”, which is correct. However, after the hot phase, there are two parties that have differing opinions about how this conflict should be resolved. “The Nistru war” is the real name given to this conflict. From March 2, 1992 until July 1992, we went through that hot phase that was indeed a war. I think this name is appropriate,” explained Igor Boțan.

According to him, the name “Moldovan-Russian war” is also used and has the right to exist because the 14th Army, which came under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, participated in this war on the side of separatist bodies. Moreover, it equipped the initially paramilitary forces of the regime from the left bank of the Nistru, transmitting heavy weapons.

“The War for the Independence of the Republic of Moldova” is also an appropriate name because Transnistria, at that time, defined itself as the last bastion of the Soviet Union and after the collapse of the USSR, Transnistria found this mission, as they called it – Russia’s bridgehead in the Balkans. After the fall of the Balkans, Transnistria found itself in a situation where it says “we have existed for 10 years, you must recognize us”, which cannot be admitted because the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova expressly states that the territory of the country is inalienable and this means that giving up a part of the territory is impossible without amending or adopting a new Constitution here, in the Republic of Moldova,” noted Igor Botan.

According to the director of the Institute of Legal, Political and Sociological Research of the Moldova State University Victor Juc, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova, the conflict in the eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova is a complex phenomenon because it involves more interests and more appraisals. “In fact, I would make a comparison with what happened in October 1962 in Cuba. There it was clear from the start what was happening, but the phenomenon is treated differently. We know better the name “Caribbean conflict”. In the United States, in the research and analytical communities, they write about the “Cuban conflict”, while in Cuba – about the “October conflict”. The conflict in the eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova is not an ethnic one, but is a political one with a wide geopolitical connotation,” he stated.

Victor Juc said that the phrase “frozen conflict” denotes that this conflict has not been resolved, but has been put on hold and other times are expected for it to be resolved. “In fact, as long as a “frozen conflict” lasts, the situation is different each time. We have the conflict in Korea, which has been going on since 1953 when it was frozen. The Cyprus conflict of 1974. There was an impression that even the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, its frozen state, would last for a very long time, but in 2016 it was a small test of the relation between the military forces. After 2020, after the 40-day war, the impression was again created that this conflict will be frozen for a long time, but in 2023 it was solved and we can talk about an internal problem of the Azerbaijani state only when some animosities arise, But, as a rule, conflicts are frozen for a longer period,” explained the director of the Institute of Legal, Political and Sociological Research.

According to him, in Ukraine, unlike Moldova, the conflict was thawed and damage and disasters followed. However, it is good when a conflict remains frozen, as long as no preconditions are created and it should not be thawed by force because the effects are very harmful.

“Regarding the conflict in the eastern districts, I believe that in the research community, in the analytical community on the right bank of the Nistru, the option that it was a political conflict with a wide geopolitical extension has already become established. And it is not at all accidental that in different periods, negotiations in the “1+1” formula were considered unproductive and the “5+2” format was insisted on, and they still insist on it in parts, which means that the conflict was internationalized and the constitutional authorities do not have possibilities to bring back to the constitutional field the eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova. And my opinion, which I have expressed for several times, is that it is better for the conflict to remain frozen, as long as there are no preconditions and it cannot be solved in the interests of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, even during the European integration process,” noted Victor Juc.

Doctor Alexandru Cerbu, a former chief physician of the Emergency Medical Station in Tighina during the combat, said that in terms of notions, there are three different approaches used by specialists, by the political class and by the citizens. The political class and experts use the notions of “dispute” and “Transnistrian conflict”, but society largely uses the notions of “Nistru War” and “Moldovan-Russian War”, not conflict or dispute. Active participants in battles concretely use the notion of war – the Moldovan-Russian war.

“There are different approaches in society. The situation during the first years after the war and the current situation differ greatly. Everyone understood that it is Russia’s interference. For the most part, everyone rejected this notion of civil war element, although there are such elements. But it’s clear that this is all due to the Soviet and even Transnistrian propaganda. Now even the attitude of the ordinary population to the conflict itself is calmer. They all want it to be settled, but it should be resolved without blood. All the positions should be clarified,” said Alexandru Cerbu.

According to the doctor, the conflict of 1992 was certainly not an interethnic one. With an ethnic element, it would have been much bloodier and harsher. This is seen in other ethnic conflicts that aren’t easily solved. “There was a political conflict here, which was visible from the beginning, starting from the sessions of Parliament, when the Transnistrian deputies left the meeting hall, up to today. The acceleration of the separation process began then. In addition, many representatives of our society, either willingly or unwillingly, poured water into the mill,” noted Alexandru Cerbu.

The public debate entitled “32 years of an unfinished war” was the 31st installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” which is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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