Populism and European integration in Moldova, Op-Ed



The failure to counteract populism means less European integration and fewer reforms, which is less prosperity and functionality as a state for Moldova...

Dionis Cenuşa

The incapacity, on the one hand, and the disinterest, on the other hand, shown by the political class of Moldova in solving the real problems of the country varied during 2009-2016. Populism every time served yet as a “lifebuoy” for crisis situations in which the corrupt, ostensibly pro-European governments found themselves.

What characterizes the Moldovan populism, similar to the populism in Europe, Russia or other regions, is the accusing of the foreign players of the failures and non-accomplishments at home. The interest in the disfavored social categories represents a complementary feature typical of populism. The care for the whole society is replaced by a struggle for the cause of vulnerable groups. This no way refers yet to the minorities used by populists rather as “scapegoats”.

Now that the presidency was taken over by Socialist Igor Dodon, the populism of the pro-European forces is complemented by that of the pro-Russian opposition. The latter one is more sophisticated and, in parts, more harmful than the populism of the pro-European forces.

About populism of pro-EU forces

When the pro-European governments of 2009-2015 fell, the ruling parties exploited the fears of the foreign partners, but first of all the fears of the own supporters, related to the emergence of Russia and the pro-Russian opposition. Both of the fears were justifiable owing to poor governance and extended corruption, including the continuous undermining of the independence of institutions.

Currently, the pro-European government fails to deliver radical, irreversible and palpable changes that would be embraced, without reserve, by civil society, the independent press and the people with pro-reform views. As earlier, the government makes use of the sensibilities and patience of the public opinion of Moldova and of decision makers of Brussels, European capitals or Washington (IPN, January 2017). They use the same arguments as those that namely Russia and the pro-Russian opposition hamper the course of the present and future reforms that are closely related to the European integration. They do not speak at all about political corruption, politicized institutions, alarming level of the “captured state” and interference of oligarchic groups in the decision-making process or these are mentioned rather as eternal objectives.

In another development, as a panacea for all Moldova’s problem, they regularly utter the entry into the EU (IPN, April 2016). The pro-European governments misled the public opinion, presenting the European perspective as a source, including as a condition, for the reforms and European integration to be put into practice. In reality, the EU’s openness depends on how Moldova and the Moldovan authorities do their homework. Evidently, besides homework, the European perspective also depends on the European political context that is not at all favorable. Thus, any enlargement of the EU is frozen at least until 2020. At the same time, the European project himself is subject to an avalanche of interminable crises.

The curiosity of the ruling party (Democratic Party) about children in rural areas through Vlad Plahotniuc’s foundation “Edelweiss” is also a facet of populism. If not, investigative journalists wouldn’t have raised the problem of the honorific title that was dubiously conferred on Plahotniuc’s foundation by the public broadcaster “Teleradio-Moldova” for the most efficient campaign aimed at protecting the health of children in rural areas that was ever conducted in the Republic of Moldova.

It's precisely populism and the low political culture of the largest part of the voters that enabled the corrupt, but pro-European governments to permanently victimize themselves, sometimes successfully, using most often the geopolitical factor. Without sufficient media coverage enjoyed by the current government led by the Democratic Party and oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, the populist instruments wouldn’t have worked so well or even at all.

About populism of pro-Russian forces

The pro-Russian forces’ populism is for now in the ascendant and will become noticeable if and when the pro-Russian opposition gains power as a result of the legislative elections of 2018. Until then, President Igor Dodon will be the main promoter of populism, inspired by the pro-Russian propaganda and Eurasian integrationist processes.

The pejorative labels were for now put on the EU and the U.S., which are considered to blame for keeping in power corrupt and, simultaneously, pro-European governments. The anti-oligarchic rhetoric of the pro-Russian opposition has always been connected with the support that the West gave to Plahotniuc and, earlier, to the Plahotniuc-Filat duo. More recently, Igor Dodon described, in particular the U.S., as a financial source for the activity of the nongovernmental sector, which got funds for launching the anti-Russian rhetoric in Moldova. If the accusations of the pro-Russian opposition continue to be aimed at civil society, the coming closer to the Russian model is inevitable and this will have unpredictable consequences for the NGO sector that exists based on external financing.

Romania is also included in the list of “foreign enemies” for the fact that it indirectly supports the unionist movement whose objective is to see Moldova disappear as an independent state by uniting wit Romania. These aspects became Igor Dodon’s focus of attention immediately after he effectively took over the presidency, being permanently the trump card of Dodon and the Socialists. That’s why the withdrawal of the Moldovan nationality from the ex-President of Romania and the active promotion of the Moldova identity, history and language marked the debut of Dodon’s presidency.

The religious groups, including those that have aggressively protested against the sexual minorities staring with 2012, when the anti-discrimination law took effect, are the preferred social categories of the pro-Russian opposition. The intensification of the opposition to sexual minorities derives also from the emphasis laid by President Igor Dodon on the promotion of the traditional values. The same reasons are spotted in the pro-Russian propaganda. The liberal values, including the human rights, are considered an expression of the noxious influence of the West, indirectly of the European integration process, which would endanger the bases of the Christian-Orthodox civilization built on the traditional family.

President Igor Dodon’s first actions, such as the conferring of state awards on mothers with many children, is a clear proof of this. The giving of such awards to large families is not mandatorily something negative. But it is a problem when this is done under the pretext of promoting the “traditional Christian model” (Presedinte.md, December 2016), which, de facto, runs counter to the human rights, in particular as regards gender equality. Earlier, as a candidate for President, Socialist Igor Dodon made sexist allusions to his opponent, the leader of the Party “Action and Solidarity” (PAS), Maia Sandu, suggesting that she does not have children. Such an excess in promoting the traditional family, with many children, involves both the problem of gender equality and the propaganda against sexual minorities that was efficiently exported by Russia to the region and even to some EU member states (Lithuania, Latvia).

In general, for Dodon and those who support his rhetoric, the sexual minorities, which are accused of impinging on the integrity of traditional values, are the main “scapegoats”. In contrast to the pro-Russian opposition, the ruling parties attack the promoters of Russian propaganda (Russian journalists, opinion leaders), who were put on blacklists and deported from the country (See Table below).

Judging objectively, the subjects of the pro-Russian propaganda can really be associated with risks to the country’s information security that was already undermined by the Russian information war. No risk can be attributed to the sexual minorities that, according to the national legislation, the commitments made to the EU and international treaties, must benefit from equal rights, as the other citizens.

Table. Populism in Moldova


Players regarded as “foreign enemies”

Players regarded as “internal enemies”


Pro-European populists



Pro-Russian opposition


Pro-Russian propagandists

Pro-Russian populists






Unionist movement


Ruling pro-European parties




Sexual minorities





Instead of conclusion

The problem of populism is essential for the future of Moldovan politics, in particular for the European agenda of Moldova. The profile of the future governments and their quality, as well as the intensity and coherence of dialogue in society, will depend on the way in which populism transforms and extends.

This subject deserves special attention given the rapid extension of the Euroskeptical and illiberal populism in Europe and the West, starting with the U.S. and the UK and ending with France and Germany.

The new pro-European opposition of Moldova (PAS, Platform “Dignity and Truth”), which is for now extra-parliamentary, uses similar populist rhetoric. Unlike the pro-Russian opposition and the ruling parties, the new pro-European opposition tends to combine elements of populism cultivated by the two camps. Thus, Plahotniuc is to blame for all the problems faced by Moldova, while the emerging pro-Russian opposition is blamed for all the future problems. Evidently, political corruption, politicization of institutions, oligarchized political regime, banking crisis and other issues are directly or indirectly linked to Plahotniuc and the Democratic Party. But the solving of these problems requires political instruments and real public policies, not political rhetoric based on hatred, antagonism and hyperbolized populism.

The citizens must be persuaded to protect the democratic institutions and not strictly for combating an oligarchic political regime. In general, Moldovan democracy necessitates new, upright political parties that behave differently compared with the ruling forces or the pro-Russian (extra)parliamentary opposition that are criticized for past and future failures.

Ultimately, the combating of populism implies colossal efforts aimed at ensuring transparency and increasing the responsibility of political players, civil society and the mass media, eliminating the interference of the church in political affairs and limiting its participation in public affairs (to only social, charity areas) and at rooting out the Russian model (developed under Putin’s regime), which the pro-Russian forces led by Igor Dodon plan to implement.

The failure to counteract populism means less European integration and fewer reforms, which is less prosperity and functionality as a state for Moldova. This will increase the fragility of the state and also the number of Moldovans willing to terminate the social contract with the state with which they find it increasingly difficult to identify themselves.

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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