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The “Take off your geopolitical glasses for a second” Moldova edition

The “Take off your geopolitical glasses for a second” Moldova edition
By Weekly Focus (beta archive) • Issue #6 • View online
This newsletter was part of the beta version of n-ost’s Weekly Focus and originally published on November 25, 2020. 

After Moldovans chose their new president Maia Sandu on November 15, international media from different corners of Europe and the States were trumpeting that a pro-European had defeated a pro-Russian. People from other post-Soviet countries were also celebrating the fact that a woman had taken down a man in a neighboring country.
However, it is not all as simple as that. This is why during our editorial meeting last Friday, we decided that we should enrich these simplified international perspectives on what has recently happened in Moldova.
Are Moldovans really still voting through geopolitical glasses? Were the feminist voices loud enough to affect the support that had elected a misogynist 4 years ago? Or had the corruption in Moldova hurt so many, that those topics which would usually divide society, spread fear and helped Sandu’s opponent Dodon before, did little to tarnish her honest appeal?
Ana Gherciu, this week’s coordinating editor
This week's editorial team: Michael Bird, Paula Erizanu, Marian Chiriac, Nikita Kuzmin and Tatiana Kozak.
This week's editorial team: Michael Bird, Paula Erizanu, Marian Chiriac, Nikita Kuzmin and Tatiana Kozak.
🇬🇧 Moldova: Where the foreign press brings the Cold War back from the dead
When 48-year-old ex-prime minister and Harvard graduate Maia Sandu beat incumbent Igor Dodon, 45, a former Communist Party Minister of Trade, to become President of Moldova, the western media framed it in only one way: a pro-EU reformist knocking out a Putin-backed Russophile in a blow to the Kremlin’s influence among its former Soviet satellite states.
In other words: 30 years later, the Cold War still rages on.
Associated Press and Reuters fed the debate on Moldova, as there are almost zero foreign correspondents in Chisinau. They lead with such attention-grabbing headlines as “Moldova’s presidential runoff sees big Russia-West divide” and “Pro-EU candidate Sandu on course to win Moldova presidential run-off”.
Sometimes it feels as though the West wishes division on this East European republic of 3.5 million just so it can have an attention-grabbing headline. After all, these two rivals faced off in 2016, when Dodon was victorious with 52% of the vote. This time Sandu won handsomely with 58%. The voters are almost the same – so why the different result?
While there is a core of pro-EU and pro-Russian supporters among the electorate, Moldova is a land of broken promises from leaders of all varieties, and its citizens are more interested in solutions to the country’s wide-spread poverty than in a simplistic revival of any post-World War II dynamic. 
Sandu downplayed geopolitics and campaigned on her status as a politician of integrity and competence fighting against a corrupt political class. Conversely, last year Moldova’s Socialist party ideologue Ion Ceban (with a PhD from a Presidential Academy in Moscow) became mayor of Chisinau – a city that voted for Sandu in these presidential elections. It seems Moldovans are not as conflicted as the West wants them to be.
Michael Bird is a freelance journalist currently staying in Bucharest. His work has appeared in Vice, Decat O Revista, The Independent on Sunday, Politico, EU Observer and Mediapart. Formerly editor of The Black Sea and The Diplomat-Bucharest, he has also reported as a freelancer for BBC Radio and Deutsche Welle.
Michael Bird is a freelance journalist currently staying in Bucharest. His work has appeared in Vice, Decat O Revista, The Independent on Sunday, Politico, EU Observer and Mediapart. Formerly editor of The Black Sea and The Diplomat-Bucharest, he has also reported as a freelancer for BBC Radio and Deutsche Welle.
🇲🇩 Number of the week: The diaspora vote
A record number of 262,739 Moldovans voted from the diaspora, compared to 138,720 in 2016, according to Moldova’s Central Election Committee. They represented 15% of the total number of voters, and with their preference for Maia Sandu (93%), impressively underscored her clear victory.
Inside the country, Sandu won with 52% but thanks to the diaspora vote, she came out a victor with 58%. A fact that matters all the more, since now ex-president Igor Dodon called the diaspora “a parallel electorate”. His phrase (which originally was used in Romania by the PSD party after Iohhanis became president with the support of the diaspora) swung back around like a boomerang: it enraged the diaspora.
Moldovans all over Europe and the US gathered at polling stations at 6 or 7 in the morning, after some of them had traveled hundreds of kilometers. Due to their overwhelming mobilisation, several polling stations in France, Germany and the UK even ran out of ballot papers. 
There’s a dark side to this story too. Domestically, the biggest age group showing up at the polling stations was 56-70 years old – accounting for almost a third of all votes. Meanwhile, half of the voters from the diaspora are 26-40 years old. This striking difference represents the worrying trend of brain drain, which has defined Moldova for the last 20 years.
However, migration hasn’t just been about economics. It was hope for change that mobilised the diaspora on November 15. So it is crucial that policies in their support are made and they become more than a source of remittance and votes.
Paula Erizanu is a Moldovan journalist based in London. She is the Culture Editor of calvertjournal.com, and has written for The Guardian, LRB, CNN, and has been a guest on BBC World panels.
Paula Erizanu is a Moldovan journalist based in London. She is the Culture Editor of calvertjournal.com, and has written for The Guardian, LRB, CNN, and has been a guest on BBC World panels.
🇷🇴 The loneliness of a reformer
Photo: Dan Gutu
Photo: Dan Gutu
Some 14 years ago, when I was interviewing Monica Macovei, at that time Romania’s Justice Minister, a detail struck my attention. There was nothing personal in her office: no family photos, no flowers, no paintings. Only papers and dossiers, all around. The office was not a reflection of her private life, but of her mission: to reform the judiciary and to crack down on graft and corruption.
For a few years, Macovei did a good job in rooting out the corruption long practiced in Romania. While winning strong support in the European Commission and among the public, she was deeply unpopular among politicians who feared her efforts. She was forced to leave the office, but her work was continued by other reformers, including Laura Codruta Kovesi, currently the EU’s first chief prosecutor.
Of course, corruption was not eradicated in Romania, but at least there are some clear results achieved.
Fighting graft, corruption and bribery and reforming justice are issues important in Moldova also, where Maia Sandu’s recent victory in the presidential elections could be explained mainly by people’s fatigue with the prevalent corruption in the country’s politics.
Sandu faces a difficult road ahead. Her unblemished integrity and experience as a technocrat have now to be matched by stubbornness and a capacity to take all necessary risks in order to pierce the shield of the patronal system.
She will surely face loneliness. Not too many people, except the general public, will support her. Like the reformers mentioned above, she will not be able to claim a decisive victory on corruption as it is widespread on so many levels. But, at least, she will be able to deliver some results and to rekindle hope among Moldovans. Not an easy task in a country where politics are traditionally considered a messy affair.
Marian Chiriac has worked as a journalist since 1992, mainly reporting on politics and human rights issues. He is the country manager of BIRN Romania and editor of SINOPSIS (www.sinopsis.info.ro) an online publication covering Romania and Moldova.
Marian Chiriac has worked as a journalist since 1992, mainly reporting on politics and human rights issues. He is the country manager of BIRN Romania and editor of SINOPSIS (www.sinopsis.info.ro) an online publication covering Romania and Moldova.
🇷🇺 One question to... Vladimir Soloviev
Vladimir Soloviev was a journalist specializing in international topics at Kommersant (Russia) and also headed the website Kommersant-Moldova. After its closure, he founded the website NewsMaker in Moldova. In June 2020 became the editor-in-chief of the website of TV Rain, a Russian independent media. (Photo: TV Rain)
Vladimir Soloviev was a journalist specializing in international topics at Kommersant (Russia) and also headed the website Kommersant-Moldova. After its closure, he founded the website NewsMaker in Moldova. In June 2020 became the editor-in-chief of the website of TV Rain, a Russian independent media. (Photo: TV Rain)
Mr. Soloviev, how will Russian influence on Moldova change after the defeat of Igor Dodon in the presidential elections?
“Dodon had enjoyed a special relationship with the Kremlin since the last parliamentary elections, when he visited Vladimir Putin, while still only a deputy. This became a vivid testimony of who Russia was counting on in the struggle for influence in Moldova. 
In fact, Russia supported a Moldovan politician, but at the same time did not have any policy towards the country. The financial support for the socialist party was enough.* Also Dodon was personally supported by high-ranking Russian officials, such as the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin
In September 2020, Vladimir Putin wished Igor Dodon success in the presidential elections. But this didn’t stop him from congratulating the newly elected president Maia Sandu. It is just a trivial international practice. 
Sandu herself demonstrates a fair attitude towards Russia. We can say that she successfully competed with Dodon for the votes of Russian-speaking voters. According to a recent interview, she understands the necessity of interaction with Moscow.”
*Author’s note: Dodon was seen in leaked video recordings admitting monthly funding from Russia for the Socialist Party in the amount of 700-800 thousand euros. These were not accepted as evidence by the legal authorities because they were “illegally recorded”.
Nikita Kuzmin is an and editor at rugrad.eu in Kaliningrad with a focus on regional politics and economics. He is an experienced investigative journalists and cross-border practicioner.
Nikita Kuzmin is an and editor at rugrad.eu in Kaliningrad with a focus on regional politics and economics. He is an experienced investigative journalists and cross-border practicioner.
🇺🇦 The change might have a woman's face
Maia Sandu in the National Museum of Arts in Chisinau. The photo was taken by Igor Schimbator and prominently shared on Facebook. Photo: Igor Schimbator
Maia Sandu in the National Museum of Arts in Chisinau. The photo was taken by Igor Schimbator and prominently shared on Facebook. Photo: Igor Schimbator
One of the most viral moments during the election was this iconic picture of Maia Sandu that was shared and commented on thousands of times across social media. On it, “Maia” looks transparent and honest, giving democracy and reform in Moldova a woman’s face. 
As an open women’s and LGBTQ+ rights supporter, Sandu is the opposite of Dodon, who is mirroring Russia’s policies by embracing conservative ideas and promoting an anti-gay agenda. Still, during her campaign Sandu stayed focused on corruption issues in a move to win more conservative votes. 
A woman winning the presidential seat in Moldova is also an important sign for neighbouring Ukraine. The highest position of a woman in our country so far was that of Prime Minister – held by Yulia Timoshenko who, unlike Sandu, failed to represent herself as a reformist and progressive politician.
Newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky was not once criticized, like his predecessors, for his discriminatory statements – sexism is still largely perceived as a normality in Ukraine. 
But there is some progress: Ukraine has signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014 that required making steps to eliminate discrimination. Since then, among other things, domestic violence has been criminalised and recently, a woman’s quota of 40% was included in the Electoral Code
Sandu represents hope for women’s rights both in Moldova and Ukraine. But still there is a huge challenge ahead: fighting a post-Soviet system where patriarchy and corruption go together so well.
Tatiana Kozak is a Ukrainian journalist and editor at graty.me, a media focused on criminal justice reporting.
Tatiana Kozak is a Ukrainian journalist and editor at graty.me, a media focused on criminal justice reporting.
What we were reading and listening
‎Visegrad Insight Podcast: A New Path for Moldova?
A society where men and women were never treated as equals - Moldova.org
Moldova’s Presidential Election: The Russians Were Not Coming (This Time) - Jamestown
KREMLINOVICI: DEPLOYMENT :Rise Moldova
Moldova Has a New President. What Next? - Carnegie Moscow Center - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
This issue was coordinated by Ana Gherciu, a journalist and a media manager at Moldova.org. The online outlet focusses on solution and explanatory journalism as well as multimedia storytelling. Ana is also the co-organizer of two international movie festivals in Chisinau and in 2019, she hosted n-ost’s annual media conference in Moldova.
This issue was coordinated by Ana Gherciu, a journalist and a media manager at Moldova.org. The online outlet focusses on solution and explanatory journalism as well as multimedia storytelling. Ana is also the co-organizer of two international movie festivals in Chisinau and in 2019, she hosted n-ost’s annual media conference in Moldova.
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