Formerly known as Bessarabia and later historically referred to Moldavia, located between the Ukraine and Romania, and accounting for disputed land ever since the XIV century, Moldova sustains a history of nationwide challenges prior to, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by the country’s declaration of independence and proclamation as the Republic of Moldova on the 27th of August of 1991—subsequently joining the Commonwealth of Independent Countries in the same year, and being recognized by and becoming a member of the United Nations in 1992. With 30 years of independence, Moldova currently functions under a mixed economy—relying primarily on agriculture. The country has also steadily built relations with the European Union—having signed the association agreement with the EU in June 2014. In the month of November of the same year, a corruption scandal involving the then-Moldovan government—with Nicolae Timofti as president and Iurie Leanca as prime minister—erupted. To this day, with two presidential elections in between then and now, information concerning who the parties responsible for the scandal were has not become official.
The winning candidate of the second presidential election run — held on the November 1, 2020 — was Ms. President Maia Sandu, the first female presidential candidate to win the presidency in Moldova. Contrary to her rival candidate and former President Igor Dondon, Maia Sandu is pro-European, and aims to create closer ties with the European Union. As part of such an agenda, the President made her first official state visit to Austria since the start of her presidency during the third full week of October 2021; whereby the President took part in press conferences and held meetings with Austrian officials, including with Austrian President Van der Bellen. On the morning of October 22, 2021, she met with Emil Brix—Austrian diplomat, historian, and Director of the Vienna School of International Studies—delving into detail concerning why she decided to run for Presidency, and how she financed her political party—the Party of Action and Solidarity. When talking to Emil Brix, Maia Sandu also described the challenges faced by Moldova when transitioning towards an independent state.
“I have to say—from the beginning, I didn’t plan to become a politician. I started as a civil servant very soon after Moldova became independent, so I witnessed the transition of the Republic of Moldova, which is never ending, and I witnessed the reforms that the country has been implementing over the years—the first 10 years of transition, trying all kinds of experiments, and then the big poverty indicators that we reached at the end of the first decade of transition.”
The President continued to explain what the implications of such a situation were in the economy of the country during the time: “In 1999, 70 percent of Moldovans were below the poverty line. So what happened at the beginning are the things that we need to learn and to take into account, even now. Moldova has been, [since] the beginning, obtaining some of the freedoms; so it did build some democratic processes, but in terms of the economic development, things didn’t go very well… And that’s why after several years of experiments, at the beginning of 2000, people decided to go back when poverty reached such unbelievable levels, and people decided to vote for the communist party.”
Ms. President Maia Sandu conversed openly about her background in Economics and former role at the World Bank, furthermore explaining how the creation of the Party of Action and Solidarity was financed.
With the goal to end corruption at the highest levels, the President emphasized the importance of the eradication of corruption at the first stage of any presidency—when creating a political party. “What we need to do now is to enforce the legislation on funding transparently and legally the political party” – reminded us her voice.
In continuity Ms. President stated: “Now we proved that in eastern Europe you can create a political party which is financed totally transparently and legally; and this is what should happen with regards to the other political parties, because corruption starts in politics. If you use big money, dirty money, money stolen from the state to finance your political party, then when you get into high-level positions, you try to—you know—to get reimbursed, which means implementing corruption schemes to get back your so-called investment.
Small-Talk, Small Money – Big Deeds
In addition to such statements, Maia Sandu shared fascinatingly simple way how her party was financed: “We have established the first political party which is financed legally and transparently. When I first went out, I went out to the people to tell them that we want to create a political party because you’re asking us to create a political party, but you’ll have to make small donations for the party to exist.”
The President explained that it was not easy to get donors at first for a number of reasons: “People got upset with me. They said ‘wait a minute. You want to do politics and you
want us to pay for that?’ Because until then—and that was 2015, 2016—people in Moldova didn’t know where the money for political parties would come from. They were out of—you know—their interest. But then we started to educate them. And initially, the contributions to the political party were coming from the pensioners—those who have a pension smaller than 50 euros per month,—and they were coming to make donations because everybody else was afraid of the government. To make donations, we would make everything transparent. So, we [would] publish the list of donors, and if you work for the state and you make a donation to our party then you [would] be fired. If you have a business and you make a donation for our political party, they will send the tax inspector and the others to harass you. So, the only free people in Moldova were the pensioners; and we started to create the political party with the pensioners.”
The President also added that volunteers made the creation of the party possible: “We didn’t know it was going to be that difficult—we didn’t have any experience, we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have any media coverage and support… So just to to tell you how things developed, we established the party people did come to sign in to be members of the party. But then, for four years the party had just one employee because we could pay the salary just for one employee. Everything else was voluntary work, like, some people would do full-time voluntary work—spending all their savings. And it was not easy also because this was the time of the worst authoritarian and corrupt regime in Moldova…”
Ms. President continued: “But that’s how we worked—on one hand being on the streets, protesting against the regime against its authoritarian and democratic decisions and actions, and on the other hand going village by village talking to people explaining why the country is in such a bad situation because of these big corruption schemes.
Throughout the entirety of the conference, Ms. President Maia Sandu put emphasis on her determination to improve the living and working conditions in Moldova, with a strong focus on ceasing corruption.
*About the Author: Júlia Costa de Araújo of the Madrid-based IE University (Communication and Digital Media). She has a diverse background—being born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and being of Brazilian—Portuguese nationality in addition to having lived a good part of her life in the United Arab Emirates before moving to Spain. She is the forthcoming IFIMES Information Officer.