Top 11 Lies of 2020 in Moldova
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on December 30, 2020.
With a nasty pandemic that is far from being over and a nerve-racking presidential election that produced a historic outcome, but which still hasn’t made Moldovan politics any less of a mess, 2020 was a year to remember... and quickly forget. Traditionally, sic! wraps up the past year with a compilation of the most prominent lies, some more blatant, others more subtle, but which all had a significant impact on the course of things in this country. So here are the top 11 lies of 2002, in no particular order.
The coronavirus lies
The barrage of falsehoods and conspiracy theories around Covid-19 has grown to such proportions that it’s come to be known as an infodemic. We explained in an article why people are more vulnerable to conspiracies during times of crisis, especially during epidemics, and published a series of info cards about the most popular falsehoods – from “the virus was created in a lab” to “masks don’t work.”
The problem is that some of these false ideas have also been promoted by politicians. Igor Dodon, the now former president, suggested during the early stages of the pandemic that Covid-19 was nothing more than a common cold and there was no reason for concern. Ion Chicu, Dodon’s prime minister, constantly criticized Moldovans for not being responsible enough, but his cabinet did little to impose and enforce adequate restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.
Churches enjoyed immunity from the modicum of restrictions thanks to Igor Dodon’s protection, as the Moldovan Orthodox Church spread around the most fantastic theories about coronavirus, Bill Gates and 5G.
During a pandemic, such foolishness is criminal, as it causes people to drop their guard and expose themselves and others to a deadly virus. Who knows how many of the 3,000+ Moldovans who died from coronavirus could have been saved if those around them followed simple rules like wearing face masks, social distancing and keeping hands clean?
Covid is under control
All the while, Igor Dodon and Ion Chicu insisted that the Government was doing a good job handling the coronavirus crisis. We explained that the numbers cited by the former prime minister were misleading and showed a more statistically honest picture: Moldova was at that moment among the countries with the highest number of cases and deaths per 1 million population in Europe.
Today, our country is around the middle of the table, but the reason is simple: the government decided to scale down testing to a minimum. According to Worldometers, only Ukraine, Albania and Vatican carried out fewer tests per capita than us – and Worldometers uses the obsolete number of 4 million inhabitants for Moldova. On most days throughout December, over 40% of tests came back positive, and on a couple of occasions the positivity rate topped 50%.
Keeping the population healthy and safe is of course the most important, but not the only aspect of the corona crisis response. As the pandemic plunged the world economy into a deep crisis, most countries offered some sort of support to the affected businesses and employees. What the Chicu Government offered in the spring looked rather as a Fool’s Day joke and, towards the end of the year, IMF ranked Moldova as the last country in Europe in terms of financial aid offered to businesses and population during the pandemic.
The balanced foreign policy
Igor Dodon and Ion Chicu profess a “balanced” foreign policy, which boils down to the notion that we should be friends with both the East and the West, while not ceding a yota of our “sovereignty” to neither. But in actual practice, like in the previous years, Igor Dodon’s foreign policy has been very much one-sided: in 2020 he continued to be a regular at the Kremlin, as his official visit count to Bucharest and Kiev remained at a grand total of zero. Despite fancying himself a “technocrat,” Ion Chicu followed Igor Dodon’s ideologic line. Probably the sole exception was the initially successful negotiation of a new IMF deal for a larger-than-expected amount, but the Parliament Socialists made sure to sabotage this achievement of the former prime minister.
At the same time, Ion Chicu managed somehow to outperform Igor Dodon at alienating Romania, our neighbor and intercessor in Brussels. Last January, he stated he didn’t care what Romanian President Klaus Iohannis thought. And in May, he gave a cold reception to a shipment of coronavirus aid from Romania (which contrasted with the warm welcome enjoyed by Russian aid deliveries), while downplaying the help offered by a visiting team of Romanian doctors.
The culmination of this was a Facebook tirade against Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, chair of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee, for his criticism of the government in Chișinău. After calling Mureșan a “loser”, a “sinecurist” and a “ball boy,” Chicu went on to criticize Romania for corruption and its own management of the coronavirus crisis.
After such diplomacy acrobatics, Ion Chicu began complaining that international solidarity against Covid was just a slogan, and Moldova wouldn’t get any vaccines except “maybe some batches just for show”.
The way Maia Sandu’s presidential victory was applauded by the Europeans, the Americans and the Ukrainians illustrated once more how unconvincing the “balanced” diplomacy of the Dodon-Chicu duo was. Klaus Iohannis’s visit to Chișinău immediately after Sandu’s inauguration, and his announcement that Romania would be offering Moldova 200,000 coronavirus vaccines show that help was just around the corner, if the Moldovan government knew where and how to ask. In the end, the diplomatic gauchery of the Chicu Cabinet amid a pandemic was, without exaggeration, a public health risk.
The Russian vaccine
Speaking about vaccines. In August, echoing Vladimir Putin, Igor Dodon announced triumphantly that Russia registered the world’s first coronavirus vaccine and that Moldova could receive it already in autumn, which obviously didn’t happen. We wrote then that there were no data and studies to confirm that the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute was actually ready. The Russians confirmed this when they announced the start of their phase III trial later in August.
Igor Dodon was not disheartened and, on his latest visit to Moscow, he stated he would only accept the Russian vaccine, advising Moldovans against taking “Western analogs”. In his words, vaccines in the West were developed subsequently and in a hurry, “just to show that there are alternatives to the Russian vaccine,” with the implication that they are not to be trusted.
Currying favor with Vladimir Putin, Igor Dodon doesn’t hesitate to put the health of Moldovans at risk and fan the already high levels of vaccine hesitancy among our country’s population by telling brazen lies. The Russian vaccine is not at all the first one. For example, Moderna-NIH and Pfizer-BioNTech started their III phase trials one month before the Gamaleya Institute did.
In fact, unlike Igor Dodon, the Russians don’t mind using “Western analogs” themselves. To the contrary, Russian researchers have partnered up with Oxford-AstroZeneca to test a combination of their respective vaccines in a bid to determine whether the two inoculations work better together than individually.
Fadei Nagacevschi’s shock therapy
We included this lie in the 2019 list as well, but at the time Fadei Nagacevschi had been appointed minister of justice relatively recently and there was still hope. But a year on, his “shock therapy” in the justice sector still hasn’t materialized.
As a presidential adviser in 2019, Nagacevschi insisted that the judicial reform had to be radical: “If we really want to do it, we must root out corruption from this system. It is imperative that we scale up this shock therapy.”
But after occupying the post of justice minister, the only radical change has been a flip-flop of Fadei Nagacevschi’s position. Instead of a “shock therapy,” we get a “reform” that essentially proposes an evaluation of judges using old rules and instruments. No more external vetting, no evaluation of prosecutors, no requirement for magistrates to credibly explain their riches – Fadei Nagacevschi scrapped almost entirely the reform initiated by his predecessor Olesea Stamate and didn’t propose anything instead.
Meanwhile, the High Council of the Judiciary continues to promote judges that got Moldova in trouble at the European Court of Human Rights.
Justice for the Turkish teachers
More than a year after his appointment, Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo and his Office have little to tell us about the progress of many high-profile cases, while some of them have been dropped altogether. One of the notorious cases that did find a resolution, though, was that of the illegally extradited Turkish teachers. Vasile Botnari, former director of the Security and Intelligence Service, took the blame for the whole operation on his shoulders, the prosecutors believed him, stopped investigating further, and dropped all the charges against the other suspects.
While this decision left many perplexed, the court ruling was outright scandalous: Botnari, the man who we are to believe was solely responsible for sending seven innocent people to Turkish prisons, got away with only a fine and no prison time. Moreover, the sentence was initially classified. We wrote on that occasion that if Botnari really pulled off the whole operation single-handedly, he should have faced more serious charges, maybe even treason, in addition to the very abstract “abuse of office” one.
Obviously, it’s hard to believe that the former intelligence chief acted on his own and without direct instructions from the top echelon of Moldovan politics. Stoianoglo himself admitted it in an interview: “It was a secret plan, an operation by special forces, who probably coordinated it with Mr. Plahotniuc.”
However, despite these very plausible suspicions, the prosecution service under Alexandr Stoianoglo decided to put the lid on the case without digging deeper and bringing the actual masterminds to justice.
Igor Dodon wants a presidential system
The Socialist leader is nominally a proponent of presidentialism, maintaining that a stronger presidential institution with broad powers is what will fix Moldova. We explained earlier that there is a difference between a genuine presidential system and an authoritarian or dictatorial one, and Igor Dodon’s vision of “banging [his] fist on the table” and giving orders to ministers, lawmakers and judges alike definitely falls in the latter category.
The deception is that Igor Dodon, much like his predecessors Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi, doesn’t really want to concentrate power in the hands of the presidential institution, but rather in his own hands. Immediately after Dodon lost re-election, the Socialists remembered that Moldova was after all a parliamentary republic and decided to take away the Security and Intelligence Service from the president and put it back under Parliament’s subordination. Igor Dodon’s preference for a presidential system vanished as soon as he lost office.
The apolitical mayor
In 2019, Ion Ceban became Chișinău’s mayor with the pledge he would suspend his Socialist Party membership and would refrain from “doing politics” at the City Hall. But in 2020, Ceban put his pledge on pause on several occasions, most notably to support Igor Dodon’s presidential bid. As a bonus, the mayor even let the president choose which roads in the city needed repair.
When the election campaign formally began, the mayor let his mask of independence down and took a brief leave of office to campaign for the informal leader of the Socialist party. Ion Ceban forgot not only about his promise, but also about the fact that we were in the middle of a pandemic, and Chișinău was (and still remains) the largest hot spot in the country.
In late December he took another leave for an apolitical visit to Moscow alongside Igor Dodon and other top Socialists. On his return, there was little time left for consultations and debates and so a PSRM-led majority in the City Council went on to hastily adopt the 2021 municipal budget. More recently, Ceban used his lunch break to attend a Socialist convention that got Dodon reelected as PSRM leader.
Maia Sandu wanted presidential debates
The two favorites of the 2020 presidential race chose not to participate in debates in round one, but promised to face off against each other in round two. Actually, Maia Sandu did participate in one event in the first round, but only because she was drawn to face Igor Dodon. Too bad he didn’t show up. Sandu’s message was clear: her enemy was Dodon and she would only battle him.
However, after securing the lead in the first round, Maia Sandu changed her mind. The excuse was that she wasn’t going to give the Socialist propaganda the opportunity to pour more poison and that Dodon was free to “bathe in his own dirt.” As cynical as it was, Sandu’s decision to boycott the presidential debates did the trick, as proven by the outcome of the election. It was a winning tactical move for a politician, but a losing step for Moldovan democracy.
When organized and moderated properly, debates can be an essential part of the electoral process, allowing voters to compare how candidates stand on various issues as well as their personas. The fact that even the more progressive candidate chose to shy away from debates is a step backwards.
There is no PSRM-Șor coalition
PDM pulled out of the governing coalition just ahead of the presidential election, leaving Igor Dodon’s Socialists scrambling for a majority in Parliament. The parliamentary group of the fugitive Ilan Șor, assisted by a number of turncoat legislators, quickly offered to fill the void. And since no coalition agreement has been signed to this day, both PSRM and the so-called “For Moldova Platform” continue to deny the relationship.
Meanwhile, the two groups staged together two legislative blitzkriegs (one of them around midnight), shocking even Democrat legislator Pavel Filip, the Plahotniuc regime’s prime minister, who had himself been sworn in around midnight on January 20, 2016.
In addition to the fact that the Socialists and the Platform adopted a score of laws together, sans debates and apparently in breach of procedure, the informal coalition has been also cemented by a reassignment of posts in the leadership and commissions of Parliament promoting Ilan Șor’s people.
PSRM and “For Moldova” may deny the existence of an alliance as much as they want, but facts say otherwise.
The Socialist stability
Igor Dodon and PSRM fashion themselves as defenders of “stability,” but often their words and actions are to the opposite effect. Dodon’s campaign can easily provide material for a separate list of top lies, with an infusion of hate speech. The Socialists, often using anonymous social media accounts, tried to exploit all the fears, tensions and divides in Moldovan society. They fear-mongered about Sandu being in cahoots with the new world order and attempting to “homosexualize” the country and “destroy the traditional family,” “wipe out our Moldovan language and culture” through integration into Romania, push us into the deadly embrace of NATO and then reignite a civil war with Transnistria, and many more.
During the fortnight leading up to the presidential runoff, the Dodon campaign cranked up the scaremongering in a bid to mobilize their base, which was simply irresponsible given the frozen conflict with Transnistria in the east and the lingering polarization of the Gagauz autonomy in the south.
After the election, the Socialists continued playing the same tactic in Parliament, adopting without broad consensus and in a non-transparent manner a number of laws on some sensitive issues, such as the status of the Russian language, the Gagauz autonomy, and Russian broadcasts. The opposition criticized and challenged some of these laws citing procedural violations, but once started, the disputation can further polarize people along identity and ideological lines anyway.
Not only sowing seeds of social division, the Socialists made sure Maia Sandu’s early presidency would be associated with financial struggles as well. The PSRM-Șor coalition adopted the 2021 budget with a 14 billion lei deficit, while sabotaging a three-year deal with the IMF which would have covered part of this deficit. Then there was the repeal of the so-called “law of the billion,” whereby the Government vowed to repay the bailouts issued by the central bank following the infamous 2014 bank fraud. Besides the fact that the Government will have to repay the money anyway, the measure will likely affect the national currency, inflation and Moldova’s international credit reputation.
If by stability the Socialists mean social tensions and budget problems, then they've done a great job.
The coronavirus pandemic and the elections last year brought out the worst in some Moldovans, including politicians. Even in such a difficult period, they continued to lie and put their narrow interests first, even above the health of the nation. And we, alongside other colleagues in the media, continued to monitor and debunk lies and manipulations. We hope that at the end of 2021 we’ll have a shorter and duller compilation of top lies than this one. Until then, stay healthy and take care!
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