Moldova: Bulletins from the Battlefield for the Minds

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Christian Russu Last Sunday the World Congress of Families that was held on September 14-16 ended in Chisinau. The event is annually organized by the same-name American movement and the International Organization for Family Affairs. In Moldova, the congress was held with the support of President Igor Dodon and the charity fund of his wife “Din suflet”. At one time the head of the Republic of Moldova, who adheres to the image of the conservative and champion of traditional values, ‘lobbied’ the choice of the Moldovan capital as the venue for the congress. Such a large-scale event with the participation of representatives of dozens of states was a great success for Dodon. Journalists associated the Congress with the name of Dodon and only strengthened the status of the socialists’ leader as the main defender of traditional family institutions in the eyes of the generally conservative Moldovan population. It is indeed a good move from the point of view of the pre-election context: not without reason Dodon demonstratively ‘offended’ the pro-European government for alleged promoting of “alien values” and “LGBT marches” at the conference with the head of the World Congress of Families, Brian Brown. It is easy to see that the excitement around the event was intentionally generated: issues of the congress arrangement have been a mandatory item on the agenda of almost every international conversation of the president of the Republic of Moldova for many months, including with the Russian ambassador. One of the main guests of the congress was to become Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, his visit was announced personally by Igor Dodon. Participation of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church seemed quite reasonable: the church in modern society is seen as the main ‘bastion’ of family values, and presence of one of the most authoritative world religious leaders could give a tangible weight to the forum and political points to the Moldovan president. However, just on the eve of the opening of the Congress, the visit of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to Moldova was either postponed or canceled. Only the chairman of the Patriarchal Commission for Family, Maternity and Childhood Protection, Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov was delegated to participate in the congress. No one has officially explained why the patriarch changed his mind about going to Congress, but we can assume that the cancellation of the visit is connected with the inflamed crisis in the Orthodox world. RTA previously wrote in detail about the growing conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the subject of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Both sides are only fueling exacerbation. For example, this week the media distributed the statements of the Exarchs of Constantinople at a meeting with the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko about the “resolved issue with Ukrainian autocephaly”. Obviously, the focus of attention of Russian church hierarchs is not on Moldova. If look from Moscow itself the positions of the Moscow Patriarchate look more solid there than in Ukraine. Nevertheless, a more detailed analysis of the spiritual life of Moldova ‘on the spot’ suggests that in the short term, Moldova can become no less a problem for the ROC than the current Ukraine. For decades, the Republic of Moldova has closely integrated into Western structures, which, in turn, actively ‘locked the focus’ on them in its economy and foreign policy. To date, Moldova’s financial dependence on European and American partners is extremely high and continues to grow. Moldova is equally rapidly being drawn into the orbit of NATO’s military-political bloc, which serves as a model for ongoing modernization of the Moldovan army and its gradual transition to a professional basis. It is suggested that NATO will fully assume its maintenance in the future. This is also confirmed by regular joint exercises, and the opening of all new facilities of the North Atlantic Alliance in the country. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Moldova in the light of the above factors seems to be a ‘lost’ asset for Russia, we should not forget that the Moldovan population, unlike its leadership, is very heterogeneous in terms of geopolitical views. Today it can be divided into two almost equal halves, one of which looks to the west and the other to the east. This electoral picture leaves for Moscow room for maneuver, as well as opportunities for a drastic change in the situation in its favor during the next electoral cycle. In this context, Moldova is becoming an area of active efforts of geopolitical actors, fighting for the minds and hearts of Moldovan citizens. At the same time, the Orthodox ground, which for a long time cemented Moldovan-Russian ties and seemed unshakable, now found itself on the ‘front line’ of this struggle. It is significant that the World Congress of Families, which Patriarch Kirill did not attend, was visited by Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin – the second person in the Catholic church hierarchy after the Pope and the head of the executive power of the theocratic state. The Italian cardinal was not only received by the president of the Republic of Moldova, but also made a trip to Transdniestria, where he participated in the consecration of the local Catholic church and held a meeting with the head of the unrecognized republic Vadim Krasnoselsky. This, by the way, not the first visit of major dignitaries from Vatican to Moldova in recent years. Western religious structures, both Catholic and Orthodox, competing with the Russian Orthodox Church confidently keep abreast of the regional situation, pursuing a clear policy for strengthening their influence even in the traditional patrimonies of Moscow. The growing discord in the Orthodox world only encourages them to intensify such work aimed at removing the Moscow Patriarchate and its dependent structures from the religious space of Moldova – in fact, one of the last formal ‘anchors’ that keep Moldova in the post-Soviet space. There are hardly more than two such ‘anchors’ in Moldova. It turns out that no matter how thorny the path of European integration of Moldova is, Moldova cannot leave it anymore. Even the most direct criticism of the authorities of the country by European institutions and officials should not confuse anyone: these are only particular moments of complex strategic work, coupled with the multibillion-dollar ‘investments’ that have been made in the RM and its elites for decades. Today, the process of a comprehensive ‘westernization’ of the country is close to the end, and even the fundamental basis of the Moldovan society – the Orthodox church centered in Moscow – is already visibly destabilized. It can be argued that for all involved ‘big’ players, the moment of truth is coming: failure of this cornerstone tool of influence on the minds that the church has always been unambiguously weakens the positions of Russia and simultaneously accelerates the reformatting of Moldova according to the European pattern. And upon its conclusion we are likely to see an entirely new state, where, at least, the problem of geopolitical choice between the West and the East will be a thing of the past.