Power Hungry: Moldova in Economic and Political Upheaval

Moldova, a former country under the Soviet Union, suffers from domestic corruption and economic upheaval. These two ailments have caused Moldova to suffer the rise of power hungry oligarchs. Moldova’s oligarchs have run the country according to each of their own selfish beliefs, resembling a gang rather than a government, for the oligarchs are not being held accountable by the Moldovan people, the voters.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, Bessarabia, now known as Moldova, belonged to Romania. During the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed Moldova from Romania. In 1991, following the demise of the Soviet Union, Moldova became an independent country; however, Moldova promised to preserve the country’s heritage of communism. The Moldovan legislature kept true to their word, for in 2001, Moldova elected a communist president, becoming the first country from the former occupied Soviet eastern bloc to support communism. After the 2001presidential election of a communist, Moldova started experiencing political and ethnic unrest. This upheaval stemmed from neighboring countries’ prosperity. As Moldova’s neighbors succeeded with democratic governments, particularly Romania, the Moldovan people began questioning Moldova’s communist regime. Since several thousands of Moldovans maintain ethnic ties to Romania, a successful democratic country, Moldovans pushed for reform within their government. Due to political unrest, the Moldovan legislature signed and ratified an agreement, the Association Agreement, which would make Moldova one step closer to creating a relationship between its country and the EU, appearing to the world as a move towards democracy. Despite this initial attempt to bring democracy to a previously communist country, Moldova failed to structure an orderly government.

After the 2014 elections, following the ratification of the Association Agreement, Moldova’s political landscape shifted, for the government steadily became intertwined with corruption and unrest. Corruption scandals came one after another. Following a banking scandal, where $1 billion vanished from the top three Moldovan banks, an investigation led to a series of loans transferred to five companies in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. The Moldovan government appeared to have covered up the transactions, which amounted to one-eighth of Moldova’s GDP, due to the involvement of Moldovan judges, prosecutors, and senior politicians. In response to the banking crisis, the EU, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank refused financial assistance to Moldova, suspending $33 million dollars in subsidies. This denial of aid prompted many Moldovans to call for the resignation of President Timofti. Despite the façade of the Moldovan government, the top oligarch of Moldova happened to be Moldova’s richest man, Vladimir Plahotniuc, the reigning vice-chairmen of the Democratic Party. According to a report conducted by The New York Times, Plahotniuc is “Moldova’s most-feared figure, a man with a politically toxic reputation.” The former Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leanca, a former Plahotniuc ally, stated in a report that the United States State Department acted accordingly when the State Department requested to meet with Plahotniuc because “[the State Department] talk[s] with the people with real power all over the world…and he is the person with the real power in this country.”

Vladimir Plahotniuc, the reigning oligarch of Moldova since the early 2000s, maintains an expanse of power, allowing him to control business, media, and government sectors of Moldova. He created a platform for himself through business ventures, such as serving as an executive for Petrom Moldova (a Romanian gas and oil business) from 2001 to 2011, as well as acting as chairman of Victoriabank (Moldova’s leading commercial bank) from 2006 to 2011. In 2009, Plahotniuc developed his political career by becoming a member of the Democratic Party, which at the time was struggling financially. Vladimir Plahotniuc provided for this defecting party financially, gaining control of the party’s decisions in return for his favors. Critics of Plahotniuc tie his dealings to corrupt acts and abuses of power. The most famous unsolved allegation against Plahotniuc is his involvement in the Moldovan banking scandal. If evidence is released incriminating Vladimir Plahotniuc’s involvement in the Moldovan money-laundering scandal, which left $1 billion missing from several Moldovan banks, it would prove that Moldova allows oligarchs to maintain control, that the power does not lie with the Moldovan voters.

Following the aftermath of the banking scandal, Moldova experienced six prime ministers in six months with the ruling party, removing anyone suspected as a puppet of the business elite. Therefore, in an attempt to renew morale in the government, the Moldova legislature announced that the country would have the first direct presidential election since 1996. The pro-Russian candidate, Igor Dodon, won the election. Immediately, Dodon announced that there would be elections for more pro-Russian lawmakers and that he would end efforts in joining the EU. Due to Dodon’s close relationship with and Moldova’s economic dependence on Russia, gangs originating in Moldova were suspected to have connections with Russian intelligence agencies. In October 2015, Moldovan authorities, along with the United States F.B.I. (Federal Bureau of Investigations) released five years of joint information that incriminated Moldovan gangs for attempting four smuggling operations of nuclear material to extremist organizations in the Middle East. The nuclear material, after several studies, is believed to have originated in Russia. One Moldovan smuggler communicated to an informant that the nuclear material was being used to build dirty bombs, which would eventually be used by the Islamic State to kill several neighborhoods of a city. This investigation came as no surprise, for the Moldovan government has embedded itself firmly within criminal activity, and corruption scandals are of no shock to Moldovan people.

In an attempt to restore order and rid the country of corruption, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has begun to develop a National Integrity and Anti-Corruption strategy, which will be implemented throughout the years of 2017-2020. The UNDP believes their strategies, if properly implemented, will focus on the reform of the legal framework in the country, not on legal adjustments, which usually happen every year. Also, the UNDP has started debunking the corruption phenomenon in hopes of eliminating stigmas associated with corruption. They believe that by changing the country’s focus on anti-corruption to the “enhancement of the integrity of the society”, corruption will soon be demolished.

 

Af “gang” istan

For over 50 years, Afghanistan has seen conflict ranging from wars to dysfunctional governments. The region’s instability can be partially attributed to the structure of the Afghan government. Shortly after Soviet occupation in Afghanistan ended, the Taliban, an extremist Muslim group, seized control. In the early 2000s, a series of corrupt elected leaders intensified tensions. Hamid Karzai wasted billions of dollars in aid while earning money for himself through illegal businesses, solidifying the precedent for corruption in Afghanistan. The Afghan government tries to steal as much money and gain as much power as possible for the top leaders while many citizens live in extreme poverty and unsafe conditions. The Taliban’s presence in most of Afghanistan further undermines the influence of the government. The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang bent on enriching its members at the expense of Afghan society.

The Afghan government is directly involved with powerful families, the private sector, and terrorist groups, making positive change difficult or impossible. The goal of the Afghan government is not to govern, but to use the people for their own benefit. Corrupt governments, including Afghanistan, send the majority of their money and resources outside the country, which benefits the top leaders, but increases poverty. This structure is very similar to that of an institutional gang. Furthermore, similar to a gang, the Afghan government does not have a clear separation of powers, which would otherwise limit the power of individuals. In addition, kleptocracies, such as Afghanistan, are more susceptible to corruption. Citizens who travel within Afghanistan must pay bribes to the Afghan police at every checkpoint in order to pass. The lack of real police presence may force citizens to turn to the Taliban for protection, increasing their power. In fact, many people see the Taliban as a favorable alternative to the government. The Taliban provides loans, protection, and collects taxes more reliably than the actual government. Even though this appears to be a viable solution, both the Taliban and the Afghan government treat their citizens poorly, which is similar to how gangs treat their people. Relations between the Taliban and the Afghan government resemble wars between gangs for territory, resources, and power. Therefore, 80% of the Afghan people support neither the Taliban or the government. Support for the Taliban would shrink significantly if the undecided 80% trusted the government. This would decrease the Taliban’s influence and stabilize the state without military intervention.

The Afghan government closely resembles gangs in their domestic governing method. This correlation is clearly shown in the government’s control over the opium industry. The government first accommodates the opium farmers, then cooperates with them, and finally becomes a predator, eventually taking complete control of the business. This cycle shows how the Afghan government slowly transitions from a government to a gang when interacting with the opium farmers. In addition, the farmers must pay “taxes” to the government in order to grow opium even though its cultivation is technically illegal. The Taliban also instituted a similar taxation system for their land. The government seems to be very effective at taxing the opium farmers. The tax rates, which are dependent on the number of acres, rain, and crop yield, seem more reasonable than many US tax laws. Afghan officials are becoming more involved with the opium trade. They are competing with the Taliban for money and their competition can resemble that of drug gangs. Everyone in government, including the president, is involved with the opium trade. Using illegal businesses and sending money upward are two main determinants of institutional gangs. Opium cultivation benefits both the farmers and the government in the short term, preventing corruption from ending.

The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang. The Taliban and the Afghan government resemble two competing gangs with similar motives. This situation could be improved by directly supporting the people rather than giving aid money to the government.