How Moldovans View the Crimean Precedent
After all that has happened in Crimea, Moldova is now finding itself more and more at the centre of Europe and Russia’s attention. Last year, most Moldovans thought that Russia had forgotten about Transnistria and European rhetoric about the Transnistrian conflict was just “something that had to be mentioned”. Then nobody had thought that Ukraine would reverse its European route and nobody imagined that Crimea would de facto become a part of Russia. Today things have changed beyond anyone’s expectations.
No clear opinion
Statistics in Moldova show that for more than three years, people’s opinion about the European Union and Russia has been split right down the middle. At the same time, 60 per cent of Moldovans see Putin as a great leader who can be an example for Chisinau authorities. Things have not changed much since the Crimea developments. Even today many people see the Crimean scenario as another step of Russia’s total domination in region.
In general, Moldovans do not have a clear opinion about what happened in Crimea. All that they can clearly say is whether they agree or disagree with Russian territorial expansion. Moreover, a simple man or woman from a simple Moldovan village rather thinks about how to survive on a day-to-day basis with the lowest salary in Europe. He or she thinks how to work the land and how to prepare festivities for the coming Easter holiday. When a man is poor he thinks only about money and food and will not pay much attention to what is happening in the world outside.
Despite this, public leaders promote different opinions about what happened in Crimea. Some of them say that the Crimean scenario can be repeated for Transnistria and that the danger of losing the left bank of the Dniester River is very real; however, it is now clear that Russia will not continue its “offensive” in Transnistria after Lavrov’s declaration on March 31st.
The politicians prefer that discussions in Moldova now be more about the European future of Moldova in this new geopolitical context. However, Moldovans are afraid about the possibility of Russia increasing the price of gas, which is already one of the highest in the region. All of us understand that Moldova’s route to Europe can seriously affect Moldovan-Russian relations. Despite the so-called “wine embargo” almost 300,000 Moldovan citizens work in the Russian Federation. Since last autumn, Moldovan authorities feared the possibility that a large part of our labour immigrants in Russia could be deported back to Moldova. If this would happen, we would then see a larger portion of our population become more Euro-pessimist (and consequently pro-Russian) than now.
A simple Moldovan citizen is in quite an interesting situation when it comes to Crimea. Moldova has its own separatist region, so if someone will be defending Crimea’s right to self-determination he or she risks being “attacked” with questions about Transnistria’s right to self-determination. Because of this we as a nation in general condemn what has happened in Crimea. Unfortunately, there are no recent public opinion polls that accurately show Moldovans’ true feelings about Crimea.
In March, more and more people began fearing that Russia would occupy the Odessa region and that Transnistria would become a de facto part of the Russian Federation. There was even some panic because of this possibility. Now things are clearer; people have calmed down. In truth, Moldovans are split about what is happening in Ukraine. Some think that Ukrainians are brave that they changed the political situation, while others believe that neo-fascists came to power and that the worst case scenario is happening in Ukraine. However, at the same time many people agree that Moldova will only gain from the Maidan success. Europe now pays more attention to Moldova, and the process of attaining visa-free travel to the EU is accelerating, and progress is being made towards the signing of the Association Agreement.
Younger Moldovans see Crimea differently than people over 50. Many young Moldovans agree that this is an illegal occupation, but many are also indifferent. They see today’s government in a positive light but do not agree with everything that happens in the country.
It is clear that since the start of the Crimea crisis pro-Russian forces in Moldova accelerated their own PR campaigns. In Gagauzia, officials became more aggressive in addressing the government in Chisinau. There, many see the annexing of Crimea to Russia as a positive thing and could be a precedent and example for those who want to see some Moldovan territories become a part of Russia.
There are fears that the Russian-speaking population of Moldova, around 17 per cent, is becoming more aggressive towards Romanian speakers. Several days ago, I spoke with local medical workers and social workers from two Chisinau hospitals. All of them told me that the Russian-speaking population outwardly, and sometimes aggressively, voices opinions about its rights and needs. Perhaps this is just a coincidence but it may also be a troubling sign.
In conclusion, Moldovans are divided about the Crimea precedent. Most opinions are expressed in “silent mode” because of the Transnistria conflict, but also because of our mentality: we have to be polite to all the big geopolitical actors.
Dumitru Condrea is the president of the Moldovan Youth Development Associaiton and founder of Tenmag.md.