Reunification with Romania? EU Dreams in Communist Moldova

Europe's last Communist regime is looking increasingly shaky. The population in Moldova, which holds parliamentary elections this Sunday, wants reunification with Romania -- and the EU membership it would bring.

German reunification is an increasingly common topic of conversation these days in Moldova, the poorest part of Europe. In the run-up to parliamentary elections on April 5, opposition parties calling for closer links, or even a union, with EU member state Romania are enjoying massive support.

Moldova, a Romanian-speaking country on the south-western border of Ukraine, was part of Romania from 1918 to 1940, and approximately 800,000 of Moldova's current 3.4 million inhabitants have already applied for Romanian citizenship. "If Romanians and Moldovans decide in favor of a union, the EU will not oppose them," says one European diplomat confidently. After all, he says, the Germans had created a precedent with the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990.

Moldova, a former Soviet republic, is located in a region of geo-political tension between Moscow and the West. The country is neutral and belongs to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regional organization of former Soviet republics. Russian troops have kept the peace in the country's breakaway region of Transnistria since a 1992 cease-fire ended a secessionist war. At the same time, they are cementing Russian influence in the region , which is home to around half a million people. The explosive situation is comparable to that in South Ossetia, which sparked a war between Georgia and Russia  last August.

The party most keen to keep Moldova independent is the Communist Party, which has ruled the country for eight years. It draws strength from the fact that the poor region enjoyed a significant boom during the Soviet era. For years, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, who leads the Communist Party, spurred the electorate with hopes for a "rebirth of the socialist community." Now he's taking a more pro-Europe stance.

The graying party functionary still lays Soviet-style wreaths at Lenin monuments on holidays and the Communist Party program still invokes the "volcano of social creativity, born in the revolution." The Communist Party is popular with their German comrades in the far-left Left Party, whose delegations get driven through the country's sunny wine country in Russian Volga cars. The Left Party members rave about their "friendly" and "warm" Moldovan counterparts.

'We Have No Fear'

Those affable Communists, though, are becoming less and less popular among their own people. The only people who listen obediently to Voronin's monotonous speeches are pensioners in worn coats. Speaking in a cultural center in Ustia, a village in the east of the country, he promises that they will soon "be no worse off than the people in the cities."

A Communist election poster, glued to the door of a grocery store, shows a beautiful young woman with impeccable teeth and the slogan: "We are building a European Moldova together." But there is little sign of young beauties with perfect smiles in the village. The customers coming into the store are mainly long-term unemployed with missing teeth. "The young people have gone to Russia or Europe," says Mikhail, a villager in his late fifties. "They are building their futures there."

Among those who are left behind, there are frequent outbursts of rage at the corrupt Communist Party regime, which has helped the president's son Oleg become one of the richest "biznesmen" in the country. The average monthly wage is €175 ($232). "We have no fear" is the slogan at a rally of liberal and right-wing opposition parties in the capital Chisinau, attended by some 30,000 people.

The source of that fear is the country's Information and Security Service, which is headed by a presidential confidant. The intelligence agency is located in a stone building surrounded by rolls of barbed wire on the capital's August 31 Street. In private, its officers boast that they have opposition politicians "under control" -- in other words, blackmailed and bought. The Communist Party plans to enthrone a successor to Voronin, who is barred by the constitution from serving another term, after the election.

Anyone who wants to resist the regime needs to endure a lot -- like Serafim Urechean, leader of the largest opposition party, Our Moldova. Urechean, the ex-mayor of Chisinau and a former Communist Party functionary, sits in his office surrounded by nine icons. He has survived five criminal proceedings, mainly related to abuse of authority, launched by the public prosecutor, which does the government's bidding. Urechean, who has a certain godfather-style charm, sees himself as a savior of the fatherland and a future president. He wants to bring the country into the EU as part of an alliance with Romania.

Dorin Chirtoaca, for his part, dreams of a Greater Romania -- one that includes Moldova. Chirtoaca is the energetic current mayor of Chisinau, belongs to the Liberal Party and has studied in the Romanian capital Bucharest. But his dreamt-of reunification would almost certainly take place without the Russian-speaking region of Transnistria, which suffered so much under Nazi-allied Romania  during World War II that full reunification seems unlikely.

The self-proclaimed president of Transnistria, Igor Smirnov, who is not recognized internationally, says his territory would not join Romania. "You should not confuse us with East Germany," he says. "We are not East Germany and Moldova is not West Germany."

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