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Over the past month or so, I’ve been catching some flak for my supposed lack of patriotism, a lack of enough love for Romania and/or America, which then gets translated into love for Russia. I tried defusing this with some humor but I realize that it may have sailed over a few heads, so let’s try using some basic, plain talk.
I’ve always been a big fan of Mark Twain, a man who used his rapier wit to get a point across with sublime intelligence. Therefore, let’s start off with a quote from America’s greatest bard:
“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
Indeed. Patriotism has absolutely nothing to do with supporting a government. I realize it’s rather old-fashioned to think way nowadays, but even the greatest American imperialist, Abraham Lincoln, had this to say:
[America has a] government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
See, that’s the thing with democracy: it belongs to the people. That’s why (in English anyway) politicians and presidents are often referred to as public servant. Every single government employee is paid for by the people, elected by the people (or selected by someone who was elected), and tasked with the responsibility of serving the people. Everyone – you and I and all of your neighbors – are the real “bosses” here, not whichever man sits in the big fancy building and votes on laws or makes executive decisions.
The feudal days of kings, nobles and boyars are long gone. Yes, technically speaking, Mihai is the king of Romania, but he has no power to lead armies, implement laws, or even vote on legislation. He’s a figurehead, and a mighty weak one at that. Over in America, even the president is subject to being replaced, as has already happened in my lifetime.
The true rulers of the country are the people, the ordinary, boring, average folks who might occasionally be dumb, misinformed, drunk, or quarrelsome. Nonetheless, the dirtiest Gypsy and filthiest bum on the street are still part of the people, and the people are the sovereigns in a democracy, not the politicians.
Let me put it another way: fuck the government.
It’s their job to serve us, not the other way around. And love for one’s country (and people, and heritage, and traditions) has nothing to do with the government. The government is here to serve us, and kiss our ass, not the other way around.
And, while many “patriots” believe that the government is the one in charge, all you have to do is look at how the government responds to the slightest bit of unrest and you’ll see that they know that ultimately it is the PEOPLE who are the ones with all the real power.
Revealing my limitless love for Firefly, I’ll close out this section with a quote from one of the Mudders:
If the Mudders are together on a thing, there’s too many of us to be
There’s been more than once that I’ve thought about how the lives of the Mudders closely parallel the situation here in Moldova sometimes. See Jayne’s final speech to the Mudders for more on that.
Romania vs. Moldova
As my long-time readers know, I sure never expected to make a quick exit from Romania in 2014. It took me a while to get used to the Republic of Moldova and all of the differences, and the transition was rather difficult. But now that I’m settled in, I’m continually startled with how much I like one aspect of this country – in many ways, the Republic of Moldova is far more democratic than Romania.
Romanians spend so much time congratulating themselves on how great they’ve got it (compared to RM), and how their salaries are higher, and their cities more beautiful, and how the shops are fancier in the malls, and all sorts of other patronizing crap, that they tend to skip over any comparisons which paint Romania in a more unflattering light. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of being Romanian but that’s no excuse for downplaying some very disturbing problems in the way the government is organized.
I’m also about sick to death of Romanian politicians, bloggers and journalists thinking that only they can save the Republic of Moldova from chaos, disorder, and annexation to Russia. It’s a fantasy indulged in by many Romanians, but a sick one, and I thank God every day that the Romanian leadership is too incompetent to truly implement their goals for Moldova.
I’m one of the few people who has been through both judicial systems, in Romania and RM. I’ve already written extensively about how opaque and unfair the Romanian justice system is. Despite 10 years of EU involvement, the Romanian judiciary system today more closely resembles an African dictatorship than a member state of the European Union.
Moldova has its own problems, but consider the following facts about the Moldovan judicial system:
- The name of the presiding judge is not secret, and is written on all legal documents
- The defendant is allowed to cross-examine the prosecutor
- The defendant is allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and evidence
- The defendant is allowed to audio record their own trial
- The defendant can obtain a copy of the records of their own trial
- The names of the judges in each court are a matter of public record (and easily discoverable)
- Judicial decisions are published in a public database, easily searchable by anyone
- Judicial decisions are explained at length, including what evidence was introduced and lengthy details about what infractions the accused committed.
None of these things are true in Romania. Indeed, if you do publish the name of the judge of your own trial in Romania, you can face prosecution and/or fines.
In Moldova, none of this is a state secret, which is why I can tell you that one of the judges in my cases was voted as the sexiest judge in the world without my having to worry about getting in trouble.
Romanian court websites have minimal information and can barely be searched at all, with most of the relevant information in a closed legacy system called ECRIS that the public has no access to. The Moldovan court system, in contrast, is not only far more user-friendly and easy to search but also has a brief survey on the landing page to make using it even easier to use.
Furthermore, neither one of my judges in Moldova even tried to ask for a bribe while my Romanian judge most definitely did.
Again, I’m not saying that no abuses ever occur in RM, but hands down the Moldovan judicial system is way, way, more fair and transparent than in Romania.
With all the unrest here lately in RM, it’s been really tempting for armchair journalists and bloggers from Romania (and the rest of the world) to perceive secret evil influence from Russia or undue pressure from the United States (using Romania as a proxy). Some of that is true, but it’s worth taking an objective look at the political systems in RM and Romania since independence.
In Romania, the December 1989 revolution led to the overthrow of Communism. Days later, a senior Communist party chief (Iliescu) took “temporary” control of the country as the interim president. Elections were scheduled for 30 days afterwards, during which time Iliescu used his control over state media (especially TV) to stump for his own party, which then became “legitimately” elected and Iliescu became the new “legitimate” president. Five months later, Iliescu used riot police and miners to illegally (as determined by the European Court of Human Rights) squash all democratic opposition to his reign.
From 1990 to 2014, every single president AND major contender for president was a former member of the Communist Party, helped by the fact that not a single law on lustration has ever been enacted. In the 2014 president elections, neither major candidate (Ponta and Klaus) were former members of the CP, but one man (Ponta) was facing corruption charges from an EU-mandated body (DNA) while the other man (Klaus) had been barred by an EU-mandated body (ANI) from holding public office. Klaus won the election and then a court (whose members are appointed by the president) retroactively declared he could hold office after all.
In 2009, in complete accordance with Romanian Constitutional law, a referendum was held in which the public voted to restrict Parliament to a total of 300 members. This has never been implemented and today the Parliament has nearly double its legal size (588 members composed of 176 senators and 412 deputies).
Currently, Romania has far more politicians (per person) on the national level than almost any other country on Earth. Adding to that, Romania has far more administrative divisions (41 counties + Bucharest for a total of 42) than it needs.
Due to its top-heavy federal structure, this equates to nearly 7,000 politicians on all levels (including village mayors) being paid by the national government. Romanian politics are organized by party, meaning that even local politicians must be members of national parties in order to get sufficient funds and services from the central government. There is absolutely zero regional or local autonomy as local/regional governments are nearly completely dependent on the parliament (and the ruling political party/ies) to enact legislation, collect fines, or make decisions.
Starting in 2012, the Ponta government enacted a number of legislative and executive changes which amounted to a (bloodless) coup de etat, earning widespread condemnation from the European Union. I’ve written extensively about those days but for a more objective summary, click here.
Since 1990, Romanian political parties have changed names and morphed slightly over the years but have never deviated from three main groups – a “leftist” party originally formed from Communist Party stalwarts (today’s PSD), a “centrist” party (today’s PNL), and a “rightist” party (today’s ALDE). The “centrist” party has repeatedly formed tight political coalitions with one of the other two.
The only true alternative is the Hungarian party (UDMR), which narrowly focuses on representing Hungarian issues, although it wields an extraordinary amount of power by regularly joining majority coalitions in the parliament.
Current breakdown of the Romanian parliament.
PSD – 76 seats
PNL – 61
ALDE – 15
UDMR – 8
PSD – 182 seats
PNL – 112 seats
ALDE – 26
UDMR – 17
Independent – 19
There are also 17 members representing minorities, as mandated by law.
Last but not least, a number of politicians (including on the national level) have been allowed to continue serving even after being indicted for, or convicted of, crimes.
Human Rights and International Law
The Romanian government has consistently lost cases in the European Court of Human Rights, with most adverse rulings involving the abuse of prisoners in custody and inhuman treatment of minorities (mostly Gypsies). Romania also has the worst track record (most cases lost) in the ECHR of any EU nation, and the third-worst record overall (only Russia and Turkey have lost more cases).
Romania has also been sanctioned by the ECHR for torture on more than one occasion. Furthermore, on multiple occasions when Romania lost a case in the ECHR and the court awarded damages, the Romanian government has refused to pay, a direct violation of international law.
Romania has also been condemned for allowing torture by a third party (the American CIA) on its soil and the illegal transportation of prisoners (again in conjunction with the CIA).
Romania consistently ranks very low on international rankings in terms of Press Freedom, Police Brutality, and the Democracy Index. State-run TV (TVR) is consistently criticized by international bodies for unfair and prejudicial content in favor of the ruling coalition/party.
According to the Romanian Foreign Ministry, the EU has initiated penalty procedures against Romania 515 times since becoming a member in 2007. While many were resolved before litigation could commence, Romania is still facing substantial penalties for multiple infractions involving the failure to adhere to its obligations to the EU.
Romania has criminal penalties in place for defamation of character and libel, making it nearly impossible to openly criticize powerful politicians and other leaders without risking jail time.
Moldova became formally independent in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union but became de facto independent in 1990 when democratic elections were held for the Moldovan parliament. A war broke out shortly thereafter, leading to the de facto separation of Transnistria from the rest of RM.
Although a Communist party official (Mircea Snegur) was elected as the first president, Moldova quickly passed a law banning the Communist party (this law was rescinded two years later). In 2000, the law was amended to have the president elected by parliament instead of via direct elections.
From 2001-2009, the president of RM was Vladimir Voronin, democratically in office as the leader of the Communist Party and elected by the parliament (the CP had a super majority in 2001). Voronin was then re-elected in 2005 as the CP handily won a majority (but not a super majority).
In 2009, elections were held and the CP remained in power (as did Voronin) but wide-scale protests were met with force, leaving one protester dead. As fallout, Voronin resigned and new elections were held. At the end of 2009, following Voronin’s resignation, Mihai Ghimpu became the interim president for one year. Ghimpu had never been a member of the CP and in fact had been a member of the Popular Front of Moldova in the 1980s, which had opposed Soviet rule.
From 2010-2012, two other men were interim president of RM, Marian Lupu and Vlad Filat, neither of whom were members of the Communist Party. In 2012, Nicolae Timofti was elected (by the parliament) as president of RM and holds that post today. He also was never a member of the CP.
Moldova is officially a militarily neutral country as guaranteed by its Constitution.
Following the 2009 elections, a coalition of parties self-entitled the “EU bloc” enacted legislation to set Moldova on footing to join the European Union. This led in 2013 to the signing of the Association Agreement, officially putting Moldova on the path towards EU membership.
In late 2014, the parliamentary elections resulted in a nearly perfectly divided parliament, with the Socialist Party (split off from the Communist Party) winning the most seats. The “pro-EU” coalition maintained a majority thanks to support from the Communist Party. The government was dissolved in 2015 following a major fraud scandal led by Vlad Filat (who resigned as PM).
Currently, protests are being held to demand new elections. These have been ongoing continuously since September 2015.
I’ve already described above how much fairer the Moldovan court system is than the opaque system used in Romania.
Furthermore, thanks to international assistance (from a number of organizations and bodies), the Moldovan court system uses a system of digital management for all court records, decisions, and correspondence. Romania, in contrast, is still heavily reliant on handwritten paper documents.
And, while I had a fair and equitable experience in the judicial system, it must be mentioned that bribery of judges is still a problem in RM.
Since independence, RM has had 11 prime ministers (4 of them interim), Ion Sturza (CP member), Vasile Tarlev (an ethnic Bulgarian scientist and scholar, never a member of the CP), Zinaida Greceanii (woman and former member of CP), Vitalie Pirlog (never member of CP), Vlad Filat, Iurie Leanca (CP member), Chiril Gaburici (served 3 months in office, never member of CP), Natalia Gherman (never member of CP but daughter of Mircea Snegur), Valeriu Strelet (not member of CP, in office 3 months), Gheorghe Brega (not member of CP, served 3 months) and Pavel Filip (in office one week).
Moldova has pursued prosecutions against members of Parliament on corruption charges. There are no sitting members of parliament who are under indictment or convicted of crimes.
The Moldovan Constitution came into effect in 1994 and has been amended eight times. Currently, the Parliament has 101 members. This is the current make-up of the parliament:
Socialists: 24 seats
Liberal Democrats (pro-EU): 21 seats
Communists: 21 seats
Democratic Party (pro-EU): 19 seats
Liberal Party (pro-Romania and pro-EU): 13 seats
European People’s Party: 2
Moldovan parties regularly change between elections, with new ones appearing and dissolving all the time. It should be noted, however, that these parties are vastly different from one another.
The Socialists and Communists disagree on how close RM should be to Russia, while the Liberals want a political union with Romania and Moldova to join NATO, the Democrats want membership in the EU and possibly NATO but no union with Romania, and the Liberal Democrats want only EU membership.
Moldova has 32 administrative districts (“counties”), three cities, one autonomous region (Gaugazia) and one “territorial unit” (Transnistria), for a total of 37.
The autonomous region of Gaugazia has their own elections, parliament and president. On the national level, Gaugazia has a cabinet level position to represent their interests.
Human Rights and International Law
Moldova amended the law in 2004 to no longer make defamation of character and libel an act punishable by jail time.
After independence, Moldova had a poor record when it came to human rights, but this has been improving steadily since 2004. Nonetheless, the government has consistently been condemned for poor treatment of prisoners, Gypsies, and LGBT people. Nonetheless, there have been gay pride parades held annually since 2013.
Since 2009, protesters have been able to assemble in front of Parliament and other government offices without excessive crackdowns or the use of violence by police.
Moldova consistently ranks very low on international rankings in terms of Press Freedom and the Democracy Index although it has received positive marks for the balance of reporting from its state television channel (Moldova 1).
Extending the Blessings of Civilization
Taking all of the above into consideration, as well as my own personal experiences (how I’ve been treated when arrested by police, court system, etc), I’m much happier living here in the Republic of Moldova. I’m not a citizen, so it’s not like I can do much (vote, etc) but I know a lot of Moldovans who are taking an active stand and getting things done.
Is the government perfect here? Not even close. But it is on a steady path towards better reforms, thanks to a combination of democratic choice (multiple parties representing vastly different interest), small size (fewer politicians), and greater independence from outside countries.
Romania effectively underwent a coup in 2012 while RM has consistently demonstrated democratic values since 2009, most definitely including the current protests. In Romania, protests come and go within a week, while here in RM the protesters have been camped out in front of Parliament for months.
It looks and feels messy, unstable, and chaotic, but what’s going on right now in RM is an example of real democracy. Complacency and no forward progression, as regularly seen in Romania, is the hallmark of a well-entrenched oligarchy. Romania has all the right labels, member of the EU and NATO, but it’s actually Moldova which has implemented more real freedoms and democratic choice.
Romania has effectively been a client state of the USA since 2000 while Moldova has somehow managed to chart a narrowly independent course between Russian and American influence. I’ve got no interest in Moldova falling under the shadow of any country, Russia, America OR Romania, and want it to remain as independent as it possibly can despite all the outside pressure.
As such, I’ll end this with a quote from Mark Twain’s brilliant piece warning (in 1901!) of the dangers of getting rescued from “chaos” by the United States:
Having now laid all the historical facts before the Person Sitting in Darkness, we should bring him to again, and explain them to him. We should say to him:
“They look doubtful, but in reality they are not. There have been lies; yes, but they were told in a good cause. We have been treacherous; but that was only in order that real good might come out of apparent evil. True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us and we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic. We have debauched America’s honor and blackened her face before the world; but each detail was for the best.”