Socialism with Unclear Characteristics: The Moldovan Communists in Government

By March, Luke | Demokratizatsiya, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Socialism with Unclear Characteristics: The Moldovan Communists in Government


March, Luke, Demokratizatsiya


"Back to the USSR." (1) So ran a typical headline after the overwhelming victory of the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) in the parliamentary elections of February 2001. By winning 50 percent of the vote and seventy-one of the one hundred one parliamentary seats, the PCRM had been able to form the kernel of the government and successfully nominate its first secretary, Vladimir Voronin, for the indirectly elected presidency.

But this party was somewhat of an unknown quantity on coming to power, not covered at all by the voluminous literature on former Communist ruling parties in Eastern Europe. (2) All the same, many analysts and Moldovan politicians were quick to identify its political profile: This was a completely undemocratic force, "one of the most backward and certainly most Red group[s] in power anywhere in the post-Soviet world," (3) which aimed to transform Moldova into a pro-Russian "Re-Sovietised" backwater and would involve "redrawing the regional map." (4) Some of the new Communist government's key policies (such as the proposed upgrade of Russian to a second state language and the re-introduction of Sovietera administrative districts) have caused internal tension and international consternation and initially do appear to be an incontrovertible confirmation of incipient authoritarianism.

On closer inspection, the party's profile appears far more enigmatic: far from turning East, on several occasions President Voronin has declared European integration the primary aim of Moldova's foreign policy and initiated a federalization project that has had the support of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. State Department. Domestically, the party has presided over economic growth and sporadic privatization, while its most controversial policy proposals (for example, to join the Russian-Belarus Union) remain unimplemented.

Consequently, my aim here is to unravel the enigma of the PCRM by focusing on the party's aims and achievements as it ends its first term in office. To do so, I first analyze what the party, stands for, account for its return to power in 2001, and then assess its policy performance and wider role in democratization and socioeconomic transformation. Seeing the party as "unreconstructed" and unconditionally authoritarian clearly is very simplistic. The party is far more pragmatic than prevailing views contend, yet its transformation into a post-Soviet democratic party remains incomplete, and in government it has provided a stern test of Moldova's fragile post-Soviet pluralism.

Policy Profile: Principle, Pragmatism, Eclecticism

On its surface, the PCRM certainly looks like the "completely unreconstructed" organization it claims to be. (5) After all, the party flies the red flag, flaunts the Communist name and hammer and sickle symbol, and openly celebrates revolutionary holidays. Its party program, traditionally an "objective" statement of the party's long-term aims, is a clear statement of orthodox Marxism-Leninism, with claims about the ultimate goal of communism, internationalism, the temporary victory of capitalism, and the class basis of the party's support coexisting with commitments to free welfare, state control over banks, at least partial recollectivization, working class participation in public administration, and a "voluntary and renovated" union of republics. The party unapologetically claims that it is the heir to the ideas and traditions of the Soviet-era Communist Party of Moldavia (KPM) and remains a member of the umbrella post-Soviet forum for Communist parties, the Union of Communist Parties-Communist Party of the Soviet Union (SKP-KPSS). (6)

However, even in the party program there are signs of a more pragmatic, eclectic, and contradictory policy stance. Although there is no explicit commitment to democracy, there is rejection of dogmatism, totalitarianism, ideological monopoly, and the Stalinist cult of personality, with commitments to reformed socialism, political rights and freedoms, and entrepreneurship, except in the strategic branches of industry. …

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