God, it’ll be good to see the back of Vladimir Voronin. There were post-Communist leaders who were far more corrupt (Djukanovic), far more evil (Milosevic), sleazier (Iliescu), slimier (Aliyev pere), crazier (Niyazov), creepier (Nazarbayev), more authoritarian (Lukashenko), and more incompetent (Gamsakhurdia). But for all-around total tool-ness, nobody really beat Voronin. He was the decathlete of political crappiness.
Voronin was a stupid, corrupt, mean-spirited, small-minded, old-fashioned provincial Communist whose world-view was permanently frozen sometime around 1982. He hated the west, the US, the EU, Romania, the Ukraine, Turks and Gypsies. He hadn’t the slightest idea of how to run a modern economy, and he didn’t want to learn. Under his leadership, Moldova slumped from being a modestly prosperous backwater province of the Soviet Union to being in a dead heat with Kosovo for “poorest country in Europe”. It’s the most miserable country in Europe by almost any measurement. The PPP adjusted GDP is roughly that of India, and lower than the Philippines or Mongolia; one out of every five adult Moldovans works abroad.
But it’s not so much that he was corrupt and incompetent — hell, pretty much all the post-Soviet leaders were one or the other, or both. What made Voronin so unbearable was that he was a whiny bitch. Nothing was ever Moldova’s fault. It was always some outside force — the West, Romania, Ukraine, Russia (rarely, but it happened), Romania, the ungrateful ethnic minorities, the weather, “color revolutionaries”, capitalists, the CIA, organized crime, foreign agitators, and Romania.
There were things to like or at least respect about almost every post-Communist leader, no matter how crappy. Milosevic was an evil, relentlessly selfish scumbag who ruined his country, but he was a cunning political tactician and he never gave up. Iliescu was an unctuous smirking sleazeball, but he got his country through an incredibly difficult period without disaster; Romania could have done worse. Even Gamsakhurdia had a certain forlorn, cracked dignity. But Voronin? He… wasn’t an anti-Semite.
Even his departure from power was second-rate. He tried to steal an election, bungled it, and backed off in the face of massive street protests. Then he held a second set of elections, tried to steal them even harder than before… and lost even worse. Milosevic would have tried to rally the secret police to fire into the crowds; Gamsakhurdia would have fled into exile, to return with an army; Iliescu would have prepared the groundwork for a few years in opposition before a triumphant comeback as a rebranded center-left democrat. But Voronin is just stumbling towards the door, whining and complaining as he goes.
Some excerpts from a recent press conference:
Voronin: We canâ€™t draw the people into the games of politicians. Because the level of responsibility among politicians now is zero — particularly among the opposition. People in positions of power are obligated to answer for their actions and those in the opposition donâ€™t do this… There are a lot of people who donâ€™t connect their own fate with the future of the country — these are elements that are co-opted and commanded from other countries. That is why, following these elections, we need to sit and think about how to make sure such things do not happen again.
For instance, in Greece the party that has the largest bloc of seats in parliament automatically gets a majority of the votes, in order to avoid disorder. [Because this is the only system that would have kept Voronin and his party in power. -- DM] But now it begins — will there be a coalition, wonâ€™t there be a coalition, what kind of coalition, who will surrender to whom, and so on. But then we need to make the appropriate conclusions and, if necessary, make changes to the constitution. So that the country functions normally. But a group of dreamers, of pseudo-democrats, a group of corrupt mafia structures can agree among themselves and make such a shake-up in government that nothing can be done. ["Dreamers, pseudo-democrats and corrupt mafia structures" is exactly how Voronin sees the opposition.]
Q: Is that situation hard for you?
Voronin: The unifying, centripetal forces of this combination are interests that do not correspond with the interests of the majority of the people and donâ€™t even reflect the specifics of our life, our reality. These are interests that are bound to outside forces, primarily to various Romanian forces and other structures, including corrupt and criminal international structures. [Romania again! And the mafia, of course.]
Q: Now that they have power, will they be able to agree among themselves or will they start squabbling over ministries and make the crisis worse?
Voronin: As far as we know now, they canâ€™t even agree within the various parties. Some say we donâ€™t need more elections, we should do what the Communists suggest and form a broad coalition. Some are categorically against this, saying â€œThe West will help us; theyâ€™ll finance us and everything will be fine. We should hold election after election until the Communists lose or stop fighting.â€ That is basically how they see the situation.
Q: So there is no way they are going to be able to easily elect a president?
Voronin: No. Since we donâ€™t have the majority necessary to elect a president, I think things will be very complicated. For one thing, they are going to promote themselves — handsome, smart, and very principled. [Voronin is vaguely aware that the image of the Communist Party is of a bunch of creepy, corrupt old guys who think everything has gone to hell since Brezhnev died.] But when that doesnâ€™t fly, they will begin fighting among themselves. We also know how to negotiate, how to conduct talks. Weâ€™ve been practicing for years. We know more or less how they survive and whom they intend to nominate. And we can also arrange a competition among them: let them fight for a while about unification and how to vote. Weâ€™ll see how it all shakes out.
Q: Do you have any predictions or maybe preferences as to who should be the next president?
Voronin: Weâ€™d have preferred to win the elections with an absolute constitutional majority. But of the eight parties, seven were working against us and we were alone on the defensive. Therefore we are going to nominate for president the same candidate that we nominated before — our current Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii. This is a very serious and responsible candidacy, a responsible person who, as prime minister, has considerable experience and practice. [She's been PM for a year. Greceanii seems to be competent but colorless, and utterly loyal to Voronin.]
In principle, our party is not concerned about the question of power… we have a team that is capable of running this country properly, that can get us out of the crisis and develop the country. [As opposed to how they've done it for the last 18 years.]
Now, none of this is to say that everything is going to be swell in Moldova. Oh ha ha, no.
First, the coalition will have to elect a President. That’s going to be very difficult, since the Communists control a blocking minority in Parliament, and are — so far — still insisting on their candidate. Then, they have to agree among themselves how to create a government; not easy, since the opposition consists of a number of parties, from liberals to former Communists. And then they’ll have to make peace with Moscow, which will be no slight or easy task. Putin and Medvedev favored Voronin. They promised him $600 million in aid — around 10% of Moldova’s GDP! — before the election, in a fairly blatant attempt to swing it for him. (That this didn’t work will tell the casual reader much about Voronin’s intelligence, competence and popularity.) If Russia decides that it’s unhappy with the outcome, it has all sorts of options, ranging from “just enough interference to make a coalition impossible” to “crippling Moldova’s economy with trade sanctions”.
Still: we’ve probably — ohhh, not certainly, but probably — seen the last of Vladimir Voronin. And that’s just wonderful.
(If my count is correct, Voronin’s departure means there are just three active leaders left from the first generation of post-Communist Presidents and Prime Ministers: Belarus’ Lukashenko, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev, and Montenegro’s Djukanovic. Sali Berisha of Albania would be a borderline case, Rahmon of Tajikistan just misses, and Smirnov of Transnistria… well, Transnistria. Have I missed anyone else?)