Monday, 1 August 2011

Moldova and international work in the Green Party

On Saturday I attended the last meeting of the International Committee of the Green Party this year - a new committee will be elected in early September at autumn conference. Several of us said that we were not standing again and I was one of them, and we were thanked by those standing again for our contributions. It has been a very busy year and the committee has achieved a lot. I have been a committee member for the last year and a half and previous to that I was International Coordinator on the party executive and the international rep on the Green Party Regional Council for 3 years. All together I have been involved in international affairs in the party since 2004 and up until autumn of 2008, I attended the European Green Party Council meetings twice a year, often as a delegate and once or twic as an observer.

One of the things which the committee agreed to this year was to work on a project involving Moldova with the Westminster Fund for Democracy. The Westminster Fund has a Small Parties Unit and two of us agreed to travel to Moldova, together with Silviu Dimitru from the Romanian Green Party, to develop links with the Moldovan Greens and to assist them with developing in a relavitely new democracy on the eastern fringes of the EU. I am committed to seeing through this project for the rest of the two years that it requires.

The report which we compiled on our visit to Moldova is below, together with some clips of a village band who entertained us on our visit. The newly elected Mayor of the village was a Green and was the youngest mayor in the country. Indeed he played sometimes in this village band. They played us some selections of folk music and also a piece which I recognised as 'The Hunters Chorus' from Weber's opera 'Der Freischtz'.

But I am also hoping to be re-elected as the party's representative to the Stop the War Coalition, where I will continue my involvement in the campaign against the wars in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.

Moldova Report – July 2011

Travelling to Moldova with Chris Levick from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Silviu Dimitru (General Secretary of the Romanian Green Party) we had very limited knowledge of the situation of the Green Party there. Reports suggested that it was very small and had only gained an insignificant vote share in the recent local elections, not even standing a candidate in Chisinau, the capital. Silviu was more aware of the situation and there had been some contact with the UK ambassador there about the general political situation.

We had a number of formal meetings lined up. These included a meeting with the Green Party executive, with a local political analyst, two locally elected Green mayors and the UK ambassador. As our visit was only for two days it would be necessary to view the situation on the ground and to decide what actions to take at a later stage to follow up our initial findings.

Meeting with the Moldovan Green Party Executive:

On the initial day of our visit we met with the party leader and a number of members of the executive, including the chair of the party in Chisinau. There are 32 electoral regions in the country and the party has 2 mayors and 32 councillors. There is a deadlock in the parliament between the Liberal Alliance (a collection of several pro-western, pro-EU and pro-Romanian parties) and the Communists who are more pro-Russian. Because of this it has been impossible to elect a president and the Prime Minister has been running the country with the Speaker of Parliament acting as President. The current government is drawn from the Liberal Alliance. The Green Party had just had 2 mayors elected in the recent local elections in small villages near Chisinau. The biggest problem for the party was the political situation and the need for constitutional reform. The deadlock in parliament meant that political progress was difficult.

We asked about the economic situation. About one quarter of the population have emigrated – mostly to Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy, although there are some in the UK. They can do this by accessing Romanian passports. The country had 3% growth this year with 8.3% in the first quarter. The Western European market was now the most important for Moldava as the Russian market was now closed off but it was felt that the worst of the economic crisis had been overcome. Wine, canning and meat processing were the main industries. Russia had been the previous main market but had now closed its borders to many Moldovan exports. They regarded EU integration as the main priority now and they supported the current government and the Liberal Alliance as offering the better hope of this.

The political system was in a dire state and the Communists were blocking many reforms. The justice system also needed major reform. The local election had seen the Liberal Alliance mayor of Chisinau re-elected. The Chair of the Chisinau party said that the Greens were working with this mayor even though they had no councillors in the capital.

It was noticeable that all of the executive present were men and we asked a question about gender balance in the party and were told that many women were involved and that we would meet one of the newly elected mayors who was a woman.

Meeting with a political analyst from ADEPT (Association for Participatory Democracy)

We met with Igor Botan who is a political analyst with the local political association ADEPT and also has a political discussion programme on Moldovan television. This organisation is used as a sounding board and a source of local political information by many of the Western embassies in Chisinau. He told us that Moldovan politics was fatally damaged by the chasm which existed, and which was emphasised during election periods, between the Romanian speaking and Russian speaking populations. Roughly 20% of Moldovans are Russian speaking and refuse to speak or learn Romanian. This group votes for the Communist Party but the party also receives support from others who are concerned about the creation of a ‘Greater Romania’ and the resultant damage to ties with Russia. The Communist party play on this fear during elections. On the other hand, the Liberal Alliance play on the fear of Russia and the need for closer relations with Romania, and the need for the Romanian language to be dominant. One of the parties (the Liberal Party) calls for full reunification with Romania. He believes that this substantially damages political dialogue and that other issues become secondary.

The issue of political corruption was also raised. It is endemic and not confined to any one party. Each bloc supports its patrons and the various business elites which support them. A recent report from an anonymous source in the Interior Ministry claimed that police and Interior Ministry staff were engaged in protection rackets against various shops and businesses. He had spoken with another official who had verified this. This illustrates the depth of the political and judicial situation in the country. He knew nothing of the Green Party and felt that it had a very low profile. However, he felt that the emergence of such a party on the political scene, with the resultant ‘normalisation’ of political discourse could be truly ground breaking. He felt pessimistic about the entire political situation in the country.

Meeting with the UK Ambassador

The ambassador had been based in Moldova for the preceding two years and believed that very interesting times lay ahead for the country. He regarded the EU Association Agreement as the most significant political development for the country. He made the point that the Greens were playing no role in talks around this issue and indeed had not attended any of the major conferences and seminars discussing energy, environment and the future geopolitical direction of the country. Indeed, he also was unaware of the existence of the party and although he wished it well, did not believe that it had any real electoral or philosophical basis in the country. He also spoke of the problems around the absence of any concept of civil society which he regarded as the major problem confronting the development of democratic politics there. He drew the analogy of the state having provided everything in Soviet times and the citizens having retreated totally into the private sphere after its collapse. He also referred to the many Moldovan emigrants, including to the UK and said that some villages had no residents between 18 and 50 and that there was a huge problem with the lack of youth. The ambassador believed that Moldova had great potential for environmental tourism and also for organic agriculture. He agreed that the election of the new mayors was a positive signal but stated that no candidate could have stood in Chisinau as the election costs were too high in terms of publicity etc.
Green Mayors

The Moldovan Greens managed to get two mayors elected in villages of Criuleni county just outside Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova. Both areas have populations of around 3-4,000. During our visit we met up with both mayors. Our trip coincided with their first day in office so there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.

Our first visit was to Hrusova where we were treated to a traditional lunch with Parascovia Cotovici. She had won with a convincing margin over her nearest rival and seemed to have effectively used her strong personality and knowledge of the area to her advantage. We were shown some of her campaign materials and I was quite surprised how similar the tactics used were to elections in Britain. Ms Cotovici had clearly worked hard to talk to residents and to demonstrate her political platform. In addition to the mayoral victory the Moldovan Greens also managed to get 5 councillors out of 13 elected onto the local council and they appeared confident of being able to negotiate a governing coalition with at least another two councillors.

It is interesting to note that Ms Cotovici had previously been elected as an independent mayor in 1999 and is clearly a respected member of the community. She stood as a Green candidate due to her enthusiasm for the party’s values. There was also a sense of frustration from the lack of progress in improving conditions within the village during the terms of the subsequent two mayors. She hoped to be able to work on issues such as the poor state of local roads and the renovation of a vacant building to turn it into a cultural centre.

Our next visit was to Boșcana. Here we met Anatolie Vântu and were introduced to various local members of the Moldovan Greens. At 28 he is the youngest mayor in the country and was very confident and ambitious having studied law in Strasbourg. One of the primary concerns Mr Vântu saw for the village was the need to keep young people in the area. Migration is a big issue in Moldova and it is estimated that around 1 million of a total population of about 3.5 million live abroad. There was a desire to give more reasons to younger people to stay in their local communities and increase available activities and job opportunities.

Mr Vântu was joined on the local council by 3 Green councillors. Although the council was quite split politically he was confident of working with a number of other councillors to form a working majority of 7. Mr Vântu felt his training in law would enable him to start leading the local administration in a much more professional manner and that his young support team would refresh activities. In addition to keeping younger people in the area he also identified four key areas to work on during his term of office: waste management; maintenance of green areas; water drainage; renewable energy.

Both mayors were excited by the idea of working with the Green Party of England and Wales. They seemed keen about the prospect of gaining experience and knowledge. We were obviously shown the best side of the Moldovan Greens and I can’t comment on their efforts in other parts of the country but it appears that they have a good initial foundation from which they can expand as a party. I think further projects with GPEW and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy would benefit not only the Moldovan Greens but also GPEW.

Young Greens

During our visit the topic of young greens had been mentioned and it was felt that this could be a good area to focus on as part of our work with WFD. A meeting was hastily arranged on our final evening with some members from the Moldovan Greens’ fledgling youth wing.

The Young Greens we spoke to were very enthusiastic and passionate about environmental issues. They also recognised the need to maintain a distinct identity from the ‘senior’ party and to run independent campaigns and activities. It was also interesting that they raised the issue of the lack of attractiveness of the Moldovan Greens and the need to make a distinctive message known to the general public - one of the observations we made during the visit.

I got the impression that there was a lack of experience and organisation at this stage. The members we spoke to recognised themselves that they needed to develop communication skills so as to be able to educate people and attract them to their activities. Although one member had some knowledge of European Young Green activities there seemed to be a distinct lack of knowledge about opportunities in this area and it is also the case that the Moldovan Greens are not yet affiliated to either the Federation of Young European Greens or the Co-operation and Development Network.

I feel that there are two areas for further work with the Moldovan Greens’ youth wing. Firstly, the possibility of specifically involving young members in planned WFD activities and/or setting up a young greens specific workshop. Secondly, the Young Greens of England and Wales could work with the Young Moldovan Greens, FYEG and CDN to get them more involved in international events and to become members of both organisations.

Next Steps

In conjunction with Silviu Dimitru of the Romanian Greens, Chris Levick of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and members of the Moldovan Green Executive, we agreed that several initiatives needed to be taken in order to improve the capacity of the Moldovan Greens and particularly of their youth wing.

The elected mayors and councillors needed some form of mentoring and advice and had particularly asked for information and support on issues such as recycling, land tips, drainage and other problems relating to small villages and agricultural communities. We felt that a visit to Moldova by Green councillors from rural areas/small communities would be particularly helpful for them in order to exchange ideas and support. This could be organised for the autumn.

We also felt it useful for a delegation of Moldovan Greens to visit the Green Party of England and Wales spring conference, where a number of training fringes and workshops are organised and that this would assist them considerably with publicity, election strategy and other practical assistance This delegation should include a significant number of young people.

A visit from members of the International Committee or other party members to the Moldovan Greens conference was also recommended, where ideas could be exchanged and relations cemented. This could also serve the purpose of updating the European Green Party on developments there and serve to strengthen the link between the EGP and the Moldovan party.

Finally, we are of the opinion that an event held between the two youth wings of the parties, and possibly involving the Federation of Young European Greens would be very constructive. Linguistic knowledge and levels of political activity seem to be higher among the younger members of the Moldovan party.

Dr Joseph Healy and Marek Powley

International Committee of Green Party of England & Wales

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