Civil society: agents of influence or sanitarians of political system. OP-ED



For civil society in Moldova to give up promoting the European integration of Moldova, Russia and its geopolitical initiatives should fully borrow the values without which the EU wouldn’t have become a global magnet, such as the rule of law, good governance and human rights ...


Dionis Cenuşa


The supporters of the pro-Russian geopolitical order, either from the country or from Russia, attribute a docility to the EU or, in general, to the West to Moldovan civil society. Most of the times, such arguments are based on a simplistic deduction of a presupposed relationship of subordination existing between the NGO sector and the West owing to financing. Contrary to this interpretation, the supporting of civil society by backers from the EU and the U.S. is due to the positive impact that this can have on making the government that is more often disconnected from the public interest disciplined.

The non-understandings of the real role of the NGOs sector, supplemented with the intentional distorting of its image, does nothing but amplify the public confusion and generate suspicions. These are at the heart of the conspiracy theories that the voices loyal to the Kremlin project in relation to the civil promoters of the European integration in Moldova and the region. Seen as ideological opponents because they transpose the European values (human rights, anti-discrimination, gender equality, etc.), the NGOs start to become targets of the pro-Russian propaganda. This practically doubles the attacks on the NGO sector. Besides the Russian propaganda, there are the attempts by the pro-EU government of Moldova to toughen up the conditions of foreign (IPN, May 2017) and internal financing for the NGO sector.

Civil society as a natural partner of reforms

The number of noncommercial organizations is enormous (about 11,000), but not even 100 of these work in the field of government monitoring, promotion of positive international practices for these to be transposed to the national legislation or strengthening of democratic values. Consequently, fewer than 100 noncommercial organizations benefit from foreign assistance. This dependence is a consequence and also a feature of the way in which the democratic culture developed in the state and society. An NGO sector that follows the government policies will not be necessary if the government is not predisposed to vitiate the public policies, institutions or property.

First of all, supporting the activity of such organizations, the foreign backers, including the EU, contribute to maintaining democracy and distance the prospect of slipping to authoritarian political regimes. Namely for these reasons, the political regime in Moldova, which undermines the democratic institutions and the rule of law, feels discomfort in the presence of a pro-democracy NGO sector.

Secondly, civil society is a natural partner in the articulation and implementation of the reforms needed to modernize the country. The Association Agreement with the EU is practically the first international agreement that institutes clear commitments to the EU as to the Moldovan authorities’ obligation to ensure an important mandate for civil society in implementing reforms. Furthermore, the multiple image crises through which the governments and most of the political forces went spoiled their image. This legal and political context transforms the NGO sector into a vital interlocutor for the European partners that are interested in fluidizing the reform process and in having this supervised by a national player that would be as neutral and objective as possible.

Last but not least, the yet intact integrity and dynamic character of the NGOs is perceived as a threat by the government and the political parties that are controlled by particular political powers (PDM, PSRM). Since the opinion of civil society becomes an information source for decision makers in Brussels, the EU member states and other development partners, the conventional authorities are in a position of weakness. Thus, the latter are forced not only to provide counter-arguments to explain the concerns of the NGO sector, but to also make additional promises. As “mobile brains” and “permanent pool of knowledge and skills”, the NGOs become powerful voices that can educate the public, stimulate the mass media and direct the foreign backers’ attention to the neuralgic areas of the state. None of these functions meets the objectives pursued by the quasi-democratic political forces and by national and foreign pro-Russian agents interested in multiplying the Liberal democracies of the Russia-Eurasian type, where democracy is detached from the liberal values (human rights, rule of law etc.).

Sanitarians or agents of influence?

It is essential to realize that the NGO sector is critical of the foreign partners, including the EU, both in private discussions and in public approaches. The foreign financial support comes to support concrete projects in the electoral, public, energy and economic sectors, without following particular politicization, indoctrination or subordination.

The criticism of the quality of governance or particular controversial reforms derives from the internal impulses of the NGOs. Even if these depend on external financing, their intervention in the public sphere is determined by the intention to protect the state and the people from the predatory instincts of the political class and obscure interests. The self-organization and mobilization shown by the NGO sector are determined by the rupture between the current politic system and the others (citizens, business sector, foreign partners and civil society).

The activity of sanitarians of the political and public sectors becomes an essential element of the nature of civil society in Moldova. This obliges yet the NGO sector to adopt high standards of political behavior, such as impartiality, objectivism and professionalism. Any deviation risks leading to the destruction of its moral authority. Consequently, civil society should be self-critical and should penalize the old or new entities that try to use the image and credibility of the NGO sector to later enter politics or initiate vendettas against the government, which are irrelevant to the protection of the public interest.

The promotion of the European integrity in Moldova is interpreted by pro-Russian agents as a geopolitical campaign, while the NGOs are perceived as agents of influence. In reality, it is about the greater attractiveness of the EU’s soft power and of the European development model. These are not imposed by Brussels and magnetize by themselves the people from the European vicinity, economic migrants from different remote regions and even the Russian population. The NGO sector does nothing but promote an agenda that is beneficial to the country’s development, based on arguments that are powerfully related to the rule of law, good governance and human rights, which Russia and its geopolitical initiatives marginalize or destroy.

Instead of conclusion...

The multiple attacks on civil society stage by Vladimir Plahotniuc’s Democrats and by Igor Dodon’s Socialists through the media or public statements reveal a series of fears and particular discomfort of the dominant political class.

The foreign credibility and the capacity to fuel the critical mass in society make the NGO sector to be a worthy opponent of the government in the formulation of the public agenda. Moreover, in its informal post of sanitarian of the political system, this keeps the government and the political forces in a state of permanent suspense owing to its capacity to expose different corruptible manifestations.

At the same time, civil society should be preoccupied with the integrity of its own ranks. The neglecting of its own internal hygiene can affect its moral authority and increase the legitimacy of the visibly deficient government. No way should civil society be used to wage political wars. This should be used to strictly correct and improve public policies, discipline the government and create the necessary conditions for strengthening the democratic institutions.

For civil society in Moldova to give up promoting the European integration of Moldova, Russia and its geopolitical initiatives should fully borrow the values without which the EU wouldn’t have become a global magnet, such as the rule of law, good governance and human rights. Until then, the adoption of the European model through the Association Agreement with the EU will remain the best country development model.


Dionis Cenuşa


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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