“PR during the Plague”. How Authorities Are Splitting Society

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Anton Shvec
The ruling party’s incessant arrogance and its relentless attempts to demonstrate its loyalty to the West are increasingly at odds with public expectations, thus provoking disintegrative tendencies
The president’s endless tour around Western countries, against the background of worsening domestic problems, is causing great irritation among the population. Maia Sandu, who spent two weeks in Britain, Canada and the U.S. visiting low-productive protocol events and meetings with the diaspora, is now in Iceland. She also participated online in a summit on Russian crimes in Ukraine. Meanwhile, not everything in the country is going well for the ruling party. Evghenia Gutul, a Shor representative, won the elections in Gagauzia, the party with which the central authorities are waging a bitter war. The next day, Igor Grosu, speaker of the parliament, in fact, refused to cooperate with the new mayor and member of the government, threatening her with liability under the new anti-separatism law. Yesterday, the government found nothing better to do than to come into direct conflict with the autonomy, withdrawing the ballot papers from the local CEC. Thus, PAS is adamantly dividing citizens and political forces into bad and good, accusing the population of Gagauzia of backing Russia and denying the region the right to have its own opinion. At the national level, the government curtailed its support for agricultural producers who demanded restrictions on imports from Ukraine. Frightened by retaliatory measures from Kyiv, Chisinau, unlike the five neighboring EU member states, prioritized geopolitical expediency, and ignored the long-term interests of its agrarian sector. The attempt to ‘pay off’ through insufficient financial aid measures, the resources for which are planned to be generated through loans abroad driving Moldova further into a ‘debt hole’, did not improve the situation – Alexandru Slusari, executive director of the Farmers’ Power Association, directly accused the authorities of disregarding the national interests. Given the political competition, the problems of farmers will be used to further criticize the government, including by right-wing forces. The ‘witch hunt’ during the May holidays in the form of fines for wearing St. George’s ribbons, imposed based on an arbitrary interpretation by the authorities and the police of the current legislation, further heated the climate in a society that was experiencing a value split. At the grassroots level, criticism of the ruling party and of Maia Sandu personally is becoming more and more intense forming a social background to continue the protest movement. There is no doubt that after redirecting the resources from the election campaign in Gagauzia, the supporters of the Shor party will return to the practice of mass anti-government protests. The EU and U.S. sanctions, imposed at the behest of PAS, are unlikely to change the attitude of the opposition which is aware of the government’s course towards its final defeat and official banning. The National Assembly “European Moldova”, scheduled for May 21 in Chisinau, threatens to become a ceremonial and worthless event, which will not be able to formulate a certain program for the development and welfare of the population. Everything will end up with ritual repetition of mantras about the Russian threat, gratitude to Ukraine and calls to quickly admit Moldova into the European Union and NATO, to outsource security and economic growth problems to Brussels. In the current heated atmosphere, it is impossible to rule out that the pro-European rally will be attended by the citizens dissatisfied with the inhumane policies of the government, inflation, the rising cost of living, and the endless flirting with the West. Obviously, the representative summit of the European Community on June 1-2 should be the pinnacle of the pro-Western triumph of the ruling party and President Maia Sandu personally. The government is investing all available resources to prepare the infrastructure and the information environment for its success. About 2,000 foreign guests are awaited, including many important state and governmental leaders. PAS sincerely hopes that the summit will pave Moldova’s direct path to the European Union. In order to prove their loyalty to the West, the authorities do not bother to adopt European best practices, ensure a decent standard of living, or the rule of law. Instead, the anti-Russian policy is pursued, making it clear which side the current Moldovan leadership is on. Recently Igor Grosu announced that Moldova would exit from the inter-parliamentary assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Moldovan representatives haven’t participated in its sessions for several years. Earlier it was informed that the MFAEI would revise all the agreements signed by Moldova within the Commonwealth and replace them with bilateral agreements. In prior years, Chisinau expressed the opinion that its European integration aspirations did not contradict the logic of the free trade zone and the CIS structures, and now current authorities are destroying the relations that had been formed over decades. And not only with Moscow, but also with other countries of the Commonwealth, for example, with Belarus, with which our country has always had close economic and cultural ties. Authorities simply prefer to ignore opposition’s appeals for a pragmatic approach that takes into account the views of a significant part of the population and the regions, and for preserving cooperation with the East. Such an arrogant and shortsighted policy, intolerant of dissent, not only contradicts the norms of democracy, but also aggravates the split in society and between the center and the regions. If in Chisinau even ardent socialist, Ion Cheban, could be forged into supporter of European integration and Romanian language, ready to give up his past preferences in favor of political interests, the antipathy toward the ruling party is deepening at the local level. The regions feel the lack of representation – the authorities abused the voting process in Balti, the same is now repeated in Gagauzia. Amidst the upcoming local elections, such trends can provoke disintegrative moods. Now people of Gagauzia more and more often recall the 2014 referendum. Nevertheless, Maia Sandu continues to demonstrate a total unwillingness to deal with Moldova’s internal affairs, confined to silly remarks about the fact that now only ‘good honest people’ are in charge. By doing so, the president only more opposes herself and her team to the disgruntled part of society that does not feel any hint of feedback from the government. It is hard to predict how long the ruling party will be able to exist solely on external support. So far, in combination with the police cover, this support allows the PAS to feel quite comfortable without worrying about its image in the eyes of the society. However, local elections or changes in the geopolitical environment can dramatically change the situation, and then the country’s authorities will see their rating plummet.