Hearing :: Democratic Change and Challenges in Moldova

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HEARING



COMMISSION ON
SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE: 
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION

DEMOCRATIC CHANGE AND CHALLENGES IN MOLDOVA

WITNESS:
HIS EXCELLENCY VLADIMIR FILAT,
PRIME MINISTER,
THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA

THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 4:31 P.M. TO 5:21 P.M. IN 485 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE 
BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [SEN. BEN CARDIN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN], MODERATING 

THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2010

SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D-MD):  (Sounds gavel.)  The Helsinki Commission will 
come to order.  We’ll shortly be joined by the co-chair of the Helsinki 
Commission, Congressman Hastings.  He is making his way over from the House 
side.  House members always have a hard time finding their way over to the 
Senate side.  It’s a problem that we have here.

I want to welcome Ambassador Chaudhry, who is with us today, the U.S. 
ambassador to Moldova.  It’s a pleasure to have you in our committee room 
today, and we welcome you. 

Mr. Prime Minister, it’s a pleasure to have you here in the United States and 
having you before the Helsinki Commission, and we welcome you and look forward 
to your testimony.  

This has been – 2009 was an incredible year for Moldova.  Countries always have 
a difficult time in an election year.  And, as you know, the United States will 
be going through its mid-term congressional elections in 2010, which is always 
an exciting time.  

Well, in your country you went through two elections in 2009.  And the last 
parliament that was controlled by the Communist Party fell in 2009.  So it was 
a dramatic year for Moldova.  It has made tremendous strides to develop a much 
closer relationship with the European community, and that’s very much noticed, 
and we know that you still have very significant challenges, including 
constitutional reform that you are looking at.

You’re operating under an acting president, which is a matter that needs to be 
resolved, and I know that you’re working very hard to deal with the governance 
issues, and the reforms in your country to develop not only the democratic 
principles but the principles that will allow for the continuity of your 
government, and we welcome your thoughts on how that is proceeding.

Moldova is in a critical part of a region and it is a country that we look to 
as a very important country, as a member of the OSCE but as an ally of the 
United States, in our commitments towards that region. 

I do want to acknowledge that this is the first hearing that the commission has 
had on Moldova, and I just really want to acknowledge that.  It’s certainly not 
because of the lack of interest, as you will see when we get to the questioning 
time.  There are a lot of issues that are important to our work on the Helsinki 
Commission.

It’s because there are so many countries and we’ve never had the honor of 
having the prime minister before our committee, and we thank you very much for 
giving us the opportunity so that we could have a hearing on Moldova. 

The Parliamentary Assembly that my co-chair was the president of devoted a lot 
of time to Moldova.  There are a lot of issues.  There’s a lot of issues that 
are currently – in regards to frozen conflicts that we hope we’ll be able to 
get into today.

So with that, we look forward to your testimony.  And I would now call upon the 
co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, the former president of the OSCE 
Parliamentary Assembly, my good friend Congressman Hastings.

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D-FL):  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  Senator I 
appreciate your convening of today’s hearing.  Is this microphone on?  Yeah, 
now it is.  I appreciate you convening today’s hearing as part of the Helsinki 
Commission’s ongoing monitoring of developments in the Republic of Moldova.

I’m particularly pleased, Your Excellency, Mr. Prime Minister, to welcome you 
to Washington for your first visit, of which I hope will be many, but certainly 
since your selection in September.  And, as the senator has done, I welcome you.

Much of our attention following independence was focused on the continued 
presence of foreign troops and military equipment on Moldovan territory.  The 
commission itself continuous pressed for implementation of related commitments 
agreed to at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit, and we remain steadfast in our 
support for core principles, including territorial integrity and sovereign 
equality enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act.

When I was president of the Parliamentary Assembly of OSCE, I was pleased to 
support the work of the assembly’s parliamentary team on Moldova.  As a matter 
of fact, a team of the Parliamentary Assembly was in Moldova just a week or so 
ago, and I’m familiar with all of the principals that came.

There was a group of, and continues to be, of fellow parliamentarians dedicated 
to promoting peace, stability, and the rule of law in Moldova while encouraging 
dialogue across a wide spectrum of the Moldova population.  

While your country, Mr. Prime Minster, has faced a myriad of external pressures 
over the years, our focus today is on the current political impasse following 
last year’s parliamentary elections, and popular sentiment of change was 
evident last spring when thousands of Moldovans took to the streets to have 
their voices heard following the April balloting.  

Those protests attracted large numbers, and we’re seeing more and more of this 
in a lot of our countries of young voters that are savvy in the use of new 
technologies and united in their demands for change in their country.  The 
political stalemate and the street activity that followed the spring elections 
led to a fresh round of parliamentary elections in late July and the result was 
a coalition of opposition parties, led by Your Excellency’s Liberal Democratic 
Party.

The current impasse results from the inability of any party or group in 
parliament, and I find this more than ironic to muster the 61 votes required.  
I don’t know whether it has any parallel here in the United States Senate – 
(laughter) – but there must be something about it in your constitution to elect 
a new president.  Meanwhile, a host of domestic issues remain largely on hold, 
awaiting a resolution of the deadlock, and we share that similarity as well in 
our country.  

Amid a global economic downturn, your country faces particular challenges, 
including a sharp reduction from remittances from relatives previously working 
abroad.  We know that there are difficulties concerning a variety of issues.  
One of our colleagues, my good friend Chris Smith, a member of this commission, 
is particularly on the issue concerning the trafficking in women that takes 
place all over the world.  

While the United States has been supportive of Moldova’s aspirations for 
further integrations into Western organizations, especially the European Union, 
it’s going to be up to the country’s political leadership to chart a course of 
action that moves Moldova beyond political and economic stagnation and holds 
out the prospect for real change.

I certainly join in welcoming you, Mr. Prime Minister, and we look forward to 
your testimony.

SEN. CARDIN:  Thank you very much, Congressman Hastings.  We’ll now be pleased 
to hear from Prime Minister Filat.  It’s a pleasure to have you before our 
committee.

(Note:  Prime Minister Filat’s remarks are delivered via translator.)

PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR FILAT:  Mr. Chairman, Mr. Co-Chairman, it’s an honor 
for me and my colleagues to be in this chamber and to be able to have a 
dialogue with you.

The Republic of Moldova has undergone recently a period of time full of 
dramatic developments.  We have learned what separatism is, which hovers over 
our country even as we speak.  We have felt what the effects of economic 
pressures are and dependency.  In the 21st century we had to leave under a 
communist authoritarian regime.  

But despite all this, the citizens of the Republic of Moldova not only said 
that they wished to change this and have a better life, but they have 
undertaken concrete steps and actions to ensure that that happens.

On July 29 at the parliamentary elections, the people of Moldova chose between 
past and future.  So by a direct vote, their vote has offered the citizens of 
the country the prospect of normality, the prospect for individual liberties 
and freedoms.

We have inherited a country with a distorted political and economic system, 
which we must insist to transform.  But along this uneasy road, we have had 
constant support on behalf of our friends and partners, and I would like to 
avail myself of this opportunity to thank you on behalf of the government of 
Moldova, and my own to thank the United States government and also the Helsinki 
Commission for all the support.

But now we have to concentrate our efforts and energy for what is to follow in 
the future.  We must face the effects of the economic crisis.  We must settle 
the issues that deal with the constitutional crisis in Moldova to carefully 
settle and manage issues that deal with security.  As an objective in our 
program of government, we have the maintenance of inter-ethnic stability.

We want to build a society which is based on tolerance.  I have to mention that 
the incident that took place on the 13th of December in Moldova is the first of 
such kind that happened in Moldova since independence, but even so, it is one 
too many.  

The government has acted promptly in this regard and I want to assure you that 
even though we do have a number of imperfections in our legal system, we will 
intervene in order to launch a new investigation so that those that are 
responsible for perpetrating this act are brought to justice, and that such 
instances do not occur again.  At the same time, the Ministry of Justice is 
examining ways of excluding the new movement from the Register of Social 
Movements. 

As I’m making these remarks, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Co-Chairman, the full testimony 
– written testimony – will be provided to the commission for record.  But, to 
conclude, I would like to say that the government of the Republic of Moldova, 
in its program of actions, aims to build a state of law, which will offer its 
citizens rights, freedoms and prosperity.  And allow me once again to thank you 
for allowing me to be in these chambers.

SEN. CARDIN:  Well, thank you for your comments.  Your full statement will be 
made part of our committee record. 

I want to start first with your observations to us as to the likelihood of 
constitutional reform as it relates to a more stable government.  As I 
understand your system, but for the fact that one term of the presidency ended 
and there was a vacancy, there may not have been able to get the election of a 
president through the parliament because of the vote threshold.  

It’s my understanding that you’re looking at constitutional changes that would 
allow for the popular election of the president, but I’m curious as to whether 
there are other fundamental changes that may be recommended in order to 
reinforce democratic institutions for allowing a more definitive judgment by 
elections.  

PRIME MIN. FILAT:  Mr. Chairman, as far as amending the constitution, we are 
seeking to come up with a solution as soon as possible.  Of course, the 
situation we find ourselves in at the moment cannot be tolerated forever.  

Having a qualified parliamentary majority and having that legal norm which 
stipulates that the president must be elected with 61 mandates of members of 
parliament, and I hope it doesn’t have any coincidences with the situation that 
you have to deal with.  

The situation will lead us to the instance when we will be required to have, 
for the third time, an early election.  So when the society finds itself, for 
such an extended period of time, in an election campaign, it doesn’t offer the 
possibility to develop and to move forward.

There are a number of solutions, but all of this must be viewed through the 
prism of amending the constitution, and to this end we have requested 
assistance and expertise on behalf of the Venice Commission in order to 
identify a solution that is accepted not only and endorsed not only internally 
but also externally as well.

There are ways to amend the constitution without having to conduct early 
elections, but as I mentioned, this solution must be endorsed by foreign 
experts.  But we hope that by the end of the month we will have a solution 
identified that will be endorsed by the foreign experts and will be made public.

SEN. CARDIN:  Clearly you need to look at how your government is formed after a 
national election, and that is, I’m sure, the main energy behind looking at 
constitutional changes.  But are there other parts of your constitution that 
need to be reviewed from the point of view as you see the development of a 
stable democratic country?

PRIME MIN. FILAT:  The constitution of the Republic of Moldova has clear 
provisions which provide for a state of law, so the problem was not in the 
content of the constitutional norm but rather in its implementation.  So we are 
not talking strictly from a legal perspective.

The legal norm does not allow for the illegal arrest of people for their 
mistreatment, for their dispossession of property.  Nevertheless, these things 
occurred in my country.  So that means that we must ensure an efficient system 
of control of the legal norm with concrete consequences for those who infringe 
them.

For that we need functioning state institutions.  And by this I mean judiciary, 
I mean the freedom of the press, and I mean freedom in economic activity so 
that those who are able to exercise it can do it without any kind of 
intimidation, which basically means a state of law.

SEN. CARDIN:  I very much appreciate, in your opening statement, bringing out 
the December menorah episode.  And I want to start on a positive note but then 
I want to come back to areas that concern me.

On a positive note, when the menorah was taken down and vandalized, it was 
condemned by your governmental leaders, and we very much appreciate the 
leadership that was shown by the government’s verbal response to what occurred. 
 But since that condemnation, the menorah was replaced in a different location, 
not at Europe Square, where it was originally placed, but placed in a much less 
prominent location.  

Secondly, as you pointed out, the justice system treated it as a rather trivial 
issue with those who perpetrated the act.  I understand you’re saying now that 
that’s going to be reviewed, and we very much want to make sure that is 
reviewed.

But I just want to express my concern that – I believe it was not handled well 
with the menorah being placed back up.  It was almost like the vandals won.  
They didn’t want it in a prominent location and it no longer was in a prominent 
location.

And there is a second issue – and if you could respond to both I would 
appreciate it – which is very much of concern to the Jewish community, and that 
is the International Joint Committee has invested foreign capital into a center 
to help the people of Moldova, the Jewish population of Moldova.  

And there has now been litigation to try to take over that center, and that, 
again, appears to many of us to be a form of anti-Semitism, and if the courts 
condone that, it will have a chilling effect on international support to help 
the people of Moldova.

I would appreciate your comments on both of those issues, which are very 
important to this commission in our continuing efforts to deal with all forms 
of discrimination, including anti-Semitism.

PRIME MIN. FILAT:  As I mentioned in my opening remarks, this incident was the 
first of such kind since the independence of the Republic of Moldova.  And, 
again, I insist – repeat that even though it was once, it was one too many.  

We are still waiting to obtain an answer to the question that you raised, and 
the answer will come after a thorough investigation.  I have sufficient reason 
to believe that this was a provocation which had more of a political motive 
behind it than anything else.  

But this does not have any – must not have any effect on the actions that we 
must undertake.  And imperfections in our legislation did not allow us at that 
time to intervene adequately.  I have mentioned that this case will be 
administered again, but in parallel with this investigation, we must ensure 
that instances like this will bear a concrete and severe punishment.  

About the second issue, it basically deals with the conflict between two Jewish 
organizations in Chisinau.  As a government, as the head of this government, we 
do not have the right to intervene in the way justice works – the judicial 
system works.  

But we have had discussion with parties in the conflict.  Yesterday, after I 
visited the Holocaust Museum, I had a meeting with the leaders of the Jewish 
organizations in Washington, D.C.  Representatives of both parties involved 
were present at this meeting.  

We have agreed that upon our return to Chisinau, I have undertaken the role of 
a mediator and we will take all necessary steps in order to make sure that this 
civil action does not continue to have a negative impact on my country.  And I 
can see, in perspective, a solution being identified soon.  

SEN. CARDIN:  I appreciate your answer on both of those points.  We don’t want 
to take sides on a local dispute.  However, the information we have is somewhat 
different in regards to the community center, and we might, with your consent, 
make some information available to you as it relates to international norms but 
not trying to interfere with legitimate local disagreements.  We understand it 
differently than that, but we will get that information to you. 

Congressman Hastings?

REP. HASTINGS:  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Prime Minister, first let me – that’s okay if he needed to finish.  I’d 
like to commend you on holding the event at the Holocaust Museum.  I think 
that’s a manifestation of a good spirit after the December 13th incident.  And 
I certainly believe that it was the right thing for you to do and I think it 
will resonate.  Certainly it does with me, and to the extent that I can make 
known the fact that you did take that action and did hold the meeting with 
Jewish leaders, then I think that’s a step way in the right direction.

Second, I’m a little bit jealous that you signed a memorandum with North 
Carolina.  (Laughter.)  Now, I’m from Florida, and North Carolina has mountains 
like you do, but they don’t have oranges and they don’t have an ocean like we 
do.  No, I’m only being facetious, sir.  I applaud you for that memorandum.  
And I do urge, however, that on some of your return visits, if possible, that 
you come down and see us in Florida.  

Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister, concerning challenging economic realities – and 
that’s just global, but then in countries like Moldova, it’s a bit press down.  
Last week, for example, I attended, the third time, the elections, for me, in 
Ukraine, and undergirding all of that election was the harsh economic reality 
that Ukraine has faced, as Moldova has faced, as all countries in the world, 
not all the same way.  But what do you consider the most urgent assistance for 
your country at this time?

PRIME MIN. FILAT:  Of course the Republic of Moldova is not touched just by the 
effects of the economic crisis.  The thing is that the Moldovan economy was 
underdeveloped and was not able to face adequately the crisis, also due to poor 
management.  

Presently we have a situation which offers a good platform for the economic 
development of Moldova.  We have managed to agree with the IMF on a new 
program, and on January 29th the IMF board must approve this program with 
Moldova.  The government of the Republic of Moldova has fulfilled all of its 
commitments under this memorandum, and pending this approval we will have a 
program of implementation for a period of three years.  

And this program is complementary to the program of internal stabilization and 
economic development of the country.  It provides for thorough economic 
reforms, which also will bear significant costs, including social costs.  So we 
are now in the process of seeking resources in order to minimalize (sic) the 
impact of these reforms on the most vulnerable representatives of the Moldovan 
population.  

REP. HASTINGS:  I appreciate that answer.  

Mr. Prime Minister, looking at your curriculum vitae and listening to your fine 
testimony lets me know that you are a lawyer, and Sen. Cardin and I bear that 
same diploma.  I would urge your consideration – and I’ve listened to you very 
carefully – on more than one occasion in this short time, you have used the 
fact that you and other members of your country are moving toward, as you put 
it, a state of law, and I have no quarrel at all with that.

What I do remind all developing democracies – and I wish to make it very clear 
here the United States is not finished – but all developing democracies need to 
know, and very occasionally world figures, particularly in the OSCE sphere – we 
leave an election – and your last two elections meet minimum standards, and I 
know that whenever an election is called, you and others are going to do 
everything you can to improve the overall standards for election.

But an election – and this is not lecturing you; this is all comers – an 
election does not a democracy alone make.  Or, standing alone, an election does 
not make democracy.  The rule of law is fundamental, and I hear you loud and 
clear and applaud your efforts, and one of the things that I believe that you 
would benefit from is the experience of the more developed democracies in 
developing an independent judiciary and efforts to arbitrate the local matters. 
 

Too often, resources that are available to accomplish that are not, one, 
offered when people are talking about helping you toward prosperity, and, 
number two, are not requested.  And, therefore, I would urge you to take my 
words, lawyer to lawyer, friend to friend, and make sure that along the way of 
the request that you rightly ask and hopefully will have provided to the extent 
that our country can and other countries can, that you ask them to send you 
assistance in developing the state of the law.

And that includes – and I know a part of your background – that includes land 
reform, which becomes particularly critical.  And understanding that you 
understand English, I’ll just tell you, I’m from where Haiti has a large 
diaspora in the congressional district that I’m privileged to represent.  

And right now, in spite of all of this awful disaster that we are facing – and 
your country has faced similar circumstances, I know – it is an opportunity for 
them to do something that they hadn’t done before, and that is land reform so 
that it can be developed along the way.  I don’t mean that as a lecture; I mean 
that most sincerely as a friend, and I know for a fact, many countries that 
I’ve been in have that ongoing problem.  

Now, we continue to refer – just turning to another subject, we continue to 
refer to areas where there are disputes, Transnistria being one – not the only 
one.  It’s interesting; I began a discussion a week ago in Syria with President 
Asad by asking him what he thought about Nagorno-Karabakh, and it kind of 
stunned him, you know, because he expected me to ask him about issues having to 
do with Syria and Turkey, Syria and Iran, Syria and Israel.

And world leaders have views about things other than their area, and so toward 
that end, it is important for us to know what your view is regarding how we 
might assist in that resolution, but it is also important in light of the fact 
that you have lived that conflict that you help us understand how we might 
resolve other conflicts as well.

And that’s the approach that I take.  I hope it resonates with you and that you 
know that at least the Helsinki Commission is open-minded and open-hearted when 
it comes to resolution of these conflicts.  They are critically important.  I 
don’t mean to minimize them at all.  I’ve worked on that one, Chechnya, South 
Ossetia, you name them – Kashmir.  They’re all over the world, and very 
occasionally – too occasionally right here in America, and we tend to forget 
that when we go around the world talking.

I don’t know if there is any need for a response, but on the rule of law, I 
think you and I have a similar view, and I want to be able to help.

SEN. CARDIN:  Thank you very much.  

Mr. Prime Minister, Congressman Hastings mentioned the Transnistria region.  I 
want to get to that for two reasons.  It’s significant because of the military 
presence of Russia.  It’s also significant because of the ethnic community that 
lives in that area has a relationship with Russia that at times could be of 
concern of whether their rights will be protected under a centralized Moldovan 
government.

So I just really – we haven’t heard much about it I guess of late.  This has 
been, as Congressman Hastings said, one of the frozen conflict areas.  How does 
that resolution fit into the priorities of your government?

PRIME MIN. FILAT:  It’s one of our priorities, the priorities of the new 
government.  In order to achieve its objectives, the country must be 
reintegrated.  The citizens that live in the Transnistria region of Moldova are 
citizens of the Republic of Moldova.  And as similar to what we have on the 
right bank of the Nistru River with people being of a different ethnicity – 
Russian, Ukrainians, Gagauz.  

We are all citizens of Moldova and we constitute the country of the Republic of 
Moldova, which is an independent, sovereign and international-recognized state. 
 And here we have to recognize whose actual rights are being infringed in this 
conflict.  

So when we talk about the Transnistria region, it’s not only national 
legislation that is being infringed; it’s also international obligations and 
commitments that are not being fulfilled.  And you mentioned yourself the 1999 
OSCE Istanbul documents.  

This is a flagrant infringement of law, but without consequences.  I am talking 
about the international commitment undertaken at that summit.  So sometimes I 
have the impression that the approach to this issue is more diplomatic because 
unfulfillment of international commitments but also negligence of national 
legislation can become usual practice.  

SEN. CARDIN:  I have one final question I want to ask, and it’s a general 
question, not related to the last subject exclusively, and that is how can the 
OSCE help you in your priorities?  And, as a second question, how can the 
United States – what can we do here to further your efforts to strengthen the 
democratic and economic institutions of your government?  And I would be 
pleased to hear your answer.  

REP. HASTINGS:  Mr. Chairman, would you just yield?

SEN. CARDIN:  Sure.

REP. HASTINGS:  To add to that as the final – whether or not the aid you are 
receiving now from the United States is reaching the greater development of 
your country.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

PRIME MIN. FILAT:  First of all, I would like to say that since its 
independence – since the independence of Moldova, the United States has been an 
avid supporter of the democratic processes in my country and not just 
financially.  And we have had this support constantly, and we count on this 
support but also our request is that the issues of my country, the Republic of 
Moldova, is maintained on the foreign policy agenda of the United States.

And also, as far as the Transnistrian settlement is concerned, is we ask that 
you maintain your position with support to our national legislation.  And we 
are to talk about the Transnistrian conflict.  This region continues to 
register a constant infringement of human rights and freedoms, and this makes 
this issue even more worthy of being maintained constantly on your agenda.  And 
of course, we need your support in our quest towards European integration.  

SEN. CARDIN:  Well, let me tell you that we very much agree with you.  You will 
have our support on Transnistria.  We consistently have supported the 
commitments that have been made and we want to see them carried out.  And in 
regards to your movement towards integration with Europe, we strongly support 
that effort and will continue to do everything we can.  

I think Congressman Hastings’ last point about how our current relationship is 
working is one that we welcome a continuing dialogue as to how the United 
States directly and through international organizations such as the OSCE can be 
constructive, because we very much are encouraged by what we have seen in the 
last several months in Moldova, and we want to see the continued development of 
sustainable democratic institutions.

We wish you well on your constitutional reform.  I am encouraged by your 
understanding that it requires international legitimacy as you go about 
developing the type of constitutional changes that would promote democratic 
results.  It’s not who wins the election – the people as that right to make 
those judgments – but you want to have a functioning national government that 
can govern and protect the human rights of its citizens.

And I would say that, you know, you live in a very challenging region.  I mean, 
there’s strong ethnic ties to other countries that – and there is concern as to 
whether they’re a national government.  They are all Moldavian, but they are 
concerned as to whether they’ll be treated the same if their ethnic ties may be 
to Russia versus Romania, and you need to have a government that is respected 
for the human rights protections of all of its citizens, and you are moving in 
that direction, and we want to make sure that we are helpful in you achieving 
that. 

And through integration into Europe, it’s going to be good for Moldova, it’s 
going to be good for Europe, and it’s going to be good for the United States.  
So we look forward to very much working with you.  And we look forward to 
working with your delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly as we continue to 
find ways to work together on areas of mutual interest.

PRIME MIN. FILAT:  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. CARDIN:  And with that, the commission will stand adjourned.  Thank you.  
(Sounds gavel.)

(END)