Tuesday, May 15, 2007

diary part two


Driven by desperation

May 15th 2007
From Economist.com

Our correspondent dissects the Moldovan government

MOLDOVA is run by Vladimir Voronin, the only serving head of state in the world to have won a contested election on a communist ticket. His views have changed a lot from 2001, when he said he would make his country the “Cuba of eastern Europe”. Now he is pro-market and pro-European Union. He’s pro-democracy too, in theory. But the justice system is dismal and the security services powerful. The authorities treat journalists they don’t like with silly vindictiveness. The opposition finds it hard to get on telly: in short, it’s a typical bureaucratic and fairly authoritarian presidential republic, a bit like Ukraine used to be before the “Orange Revolution”.

The story the Moldovans want to tell is of their conversion to radical economic reform. It is certainly needed. Moldova is the poorest country in post-communist Europe; 47% of the population lives below the poverty line. At least 25% of the working age population has emigrated. Their remittances keep the place going.

Now Mr Voronin has announced an amnesty for illegal capital and unpaid taxes, and a sweeping tax cut for business. The idea, ministers and officials say with unconvincing confidence, is to make Moldova like Estonia.

That is a bit like announcing that Louisiana will in future be run like Switzerland. Estonia’s post-communist trajectory is the most startling success story in the region. For much of the 1990s reform went at warp speed there. The civil service is hi-tech, anglophone, instinctively open in its approach, informal, liberal-minded and honest. The country also benefits from exceptionally close contacts with neighbouring Finland

Dealing with the Moldovan government does not evoke memories of Estonia. Soldiers patrol the corridors in Soviet-style uniforms, saluting as minor bureaucrats go by. According to people who deal with it, the bureaucracy is old-fashioned and often corrupt. Ministries are run as Soviet-style hierarchies, where connections and status matter far more than good ideas, and everyone guards decision-making power and information jealously. No neighbouring country plays Finland’s role. Most outsiders that come to Moldova from neighbouring countries offer bribes, not advice.

The economics minister wants to make the country a “logistics hub” for the Black sea region. Not a bad idea—but it will be hard to do that without allowing foreigners to buy land freely, or to compete with obese sacred cows such as the national airline.

Yet things are changing. People now move from Transdniestria to work in Chisinau. It used to be the other way round: in Soviet times Transdniestria was industrialised, whereas Moldova specialised in low-value-added agricultural produce. Moldova is even facing a huge influx of cash over the next few years: $1.2bn was pledged at a donor conference last year.

Every big international outfit seems to have an office in Chisinau. Some are run by inspirational people. Others seem to have been sent to Moldova as a punishment, or at the fag-end of their careers. Some foreign missions are run by locals of questionable outlook.

Given Moldova’s exceptionally weak institutions, it is likely that some donated money will be stolen. Quite a lot will merely be wasted. Some will never be allocated at all, because Moldovan officialdom can’t get its act together. But some may actually do good.


Unknown said...

Dear Edward,

I am just curious in what part of the city the photo "Rush-hour in Chisinau" has been taken.

Can you name it, please.

Thank you,

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Dima
I don't choose the pictures but I am trying to find out


Unknown said...

Hi Edward,

I understand that you don't choose the pictures, but is there anything you can do so that your article won't propagate the same cliches that we've read over and over in the past 15 years? I understand that Moldova is not UK, however, an article that describes the overall political and social life in UK won't illustrate it with a picture taken in the poor neighborhoods of London.

Unknown said...

Yea, the picture is well out of place. Rush-hour in Chisinau with a
single horse-driven cart is a complete slander!! Though the article is good and holds the truth.

urr said...

i'm a bit confused why the picture about moldova is so pitiful. whe I was a kid, my mother went to bus excursion to ukraine and moldova. in her stories she painted me the picture of rich and beautiful country: nice handicraft, good music, pretty villages and small towns and how they bought a huge amount of cherries. it was like a fairytale.
i wish all the best to moldavian people and i'm sure that there will be soon a wealthy country anyway.

Edward Lucas said...

I am getting the picture changed on the website.

I did see quite a few horse-drawn carts when driving round the countryside, but I agree that the rush in Chisinau is just like congestion anywhere else.

to URR: Moldova was relatively better-off in the Soviet period because of strong agriculture. Now it is the poorest country in Europe.

Unknown said...

A. could you give at least one example of a foreign mission run by a local of questionable outlook?
B. Where exactly did you see soldiers patroling the government corridors in Soviet-style uniforms, saluting as minor bureaucrats go by?

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Vitalie

I won't mention it publicly because it could be libellous. But talking to NGOs in Chisinau the same few names came up again and again. It is particularly the case when the parent organisation would like some activity in Transdniestria, and the local head of mission blocks it for "patriotic" reasons.

The soviet-style saluting was when I was on my way to interview Mr Lupu in his office: we walked up the stairs and there was a soldier in that funny Soviet-style peaked cap, and he saluted as we went past. Also there are soldiers guarding entry and exit to all buildings--it is much friendlier
to have receptionists.

Anonymous said...

Hi Edward,

Please, remove this picture from the article, as this is not the reality. This picture was taken somewhere in Moldova, but not in Chisinau.

You can find here a lot of images from Chisinau, and you’re welcome to use it for your articles.


Best Regards

Edward Lucas said...

I have removed the picture here, but I have so far failed to have it removed from economist.com (these things are not decided by me)

I am sorry--I think the caption was meant to be ironic, but anyway I agree with the critics


Anonymous said...