SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE:
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
DEMOCRATIC CHANGE AND CHALLENGES IN MOLDOVA
HIS EXCELLENCY VLADIMIR FILAT,
THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA
THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 4:31 P.M. TO 5:21 P.M. IN 485 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE
BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [SEN. BEN CARDIN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN], MODERATING
THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2010
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D-MD): (Sounds gavel.) The Helsinki Commission will
come to order. We’ll shortly be joined by the co-chair of the Helsinki
Commission, Congressman Hastings. He is making his way over from the House
side. House members always have a hard time finding their way over to the
Senate side. It’s a problem that we have here.
I want to welcome Ambassador Chaudhry, who is with us today, the U.S.
ambassador to Moldova. It’s a pleasure to have you in our committee room
today, and we welcome you.
Mr. Prime Minister, it’s a pleasure to have you here in the United States and
having you before the Helsinki Commission, and we welcome you and look forward
to your testimony.
This has been – 2009 was an incredible year for Moldova. Countries always have
a difficult time in an election year. And, as you know, the United States will
be going through its mid-term congressional elections in 2010, which is always
an exciting time.
Well, in your country you went through two elections in 2009. And the last
parliament that was controlled by the Communist Party fell in 2009. So it was
a dramatic year for Moldova. It has made tremendous strides to develop a much
closer relationship with the European community, and that’s very much noticed,
and we know that you still have very significant challenges, including
constitutional reform that you are looking at.
You’re operating under an acting president, which is a matter that needs to be
resolved, and I know that you’re working very hard to deal with the governance
issues, and the reforms in your country to develop not only the democratic
principles but the principles that will allow for the continuity of your
government, and we welcome your thoughts on how that is proceeding.
Moldova is in a critical part of a region and it is a country that we look to
as a very important country, as a member of the OSCE but as an ally of the
United States, in our commitments towards that region.
I do want to acknowledge that this is the first hearing that the commission has
had on Moldova, and I just really want to acknowledge that. It’s certainly not
because of the lack of interest, as you will see when we get to the questioning
time. There are a lot of issues that are important to our work on the Helsinki
It’s because there are so many countries and we’ve never had the honor of
having the prime minister before our committee, and we thank you very much for
giving us the opportunity so that we could have a hearing on Moldova.
The Parliamentary Assembly that my co-chair was the president of devoted a lot
of time to Moldova. There are a lot of issues. There’s a lot of issues that
are currently – in regards to frozen conflicts that we hope we’ll be able to
get into today.
So with that, we look forward to your testimony. And I would now call upon the
co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, the former president of the OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly, my good friend Congressman Hastings.
REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D-FL): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Senator I
appreciate your convening of today’s hearing. Is this microphone on? Yeah,
now it is. I appreciate you convening today’s hearing as part of the Helsinki
Commission’s ongoing monitoring of developments in the Republic of Moldova.
I’m particularly pleased, Your Excellency, Mr. Prime Minister, to welcome you
to Washington for your first visit, of which I hope will be many, but certainly
since your selection in September. And, as the senator has done, I welcome you.
Much of our attention following independence was focused on the continued
presence of foreign troops and military equipment on Moldovan territory. The
commission itself continuous pressed for implementation of related commitments
agreed to at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit, and we remain steadfast in our
support for core principles, including territorial integrity and sovereign
equality enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act.
When I was president of the Parliamentary Assembly of OSCE, I was pleased to
support the work of the assembly’s parliamentary team on Moldova. As a matter
of fact, a team of the Parliamentary Assembly was in Moldova just a week or so
ago, and I’m familiar with all of the principals that came.
There was a group of, and continues to be, of fellow parliamentarians dedicated
to promoting peace, stability, and the rule of law in Moldova while encouraging
dialogue across a wide spectrum of the Moldova population.
While your country, Mr. Prime Minster, has faced a myriad of external pressures
over the years, our focus today is on the current political impasse following
last year’s parliamentary elections, and popular sentiment of change was
evident last spring when thousands of Moldovans took to the streets to have
their voices heard following the April balloting.
Those protests attracted large numbers, and we’re seeing more and more of this
in a lot of our countries of young voters that are savvy in the use of new
technologies and united in their demands for change in their country. The
political stalemate and the street activity that followed the spring elections
led to a fresh round of parliamentary elections in late July and the result was
a coalition of opposition parties, led by Your Excellency’s Liberal Democratic
The current impasse results from the inability of any party or group in
parliament, and I find this more than ironic to muster the 61 votes required.
I don’t know whether it has any parallel here in the United States Senate –
(laughter) – but there must be something about it in your constitution to elect
a new president. Meanwhile, a host of domestic issues remain largely on hold,
awaiting a resolution of the deadlock, and we share that similarity as well in
Amid a global economic downturn, your country faces particular challenges,
including a sharp reduction from remittances from relatives previously working
abroad. We know that there are difficulties concerning a variety of issues.
One of our colleagues, my good friend Chris Smith, a member of this commission,
is particularly on the issue concerning the trafficking in women that takes
place all over the world.
While the United States has been supportive of Moldova’s aspirations for
further integrations into Western organizations, especially the European Union,
it’s going to be up to the country’s political leadership to chart a course of
action that moves Moldova beyond political and economic stagnation and holds
out the prospect for real change.
I certainly join in welcoming you, Mr. Prime Minister, and we look forward to
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you very much, Congressman Hastings. We’ll now be pleased
to hear from Prime Minister Filat. It’s a pleasure to have you before our
(Note: Prime Minister Filat’s remarks are delivered via translator.)
PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR FILAT: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Co-Chairman, it’s an honor
for me and my colleagues to be in this chamber and to be able to have a
dialogue with you.
The Republic of Moldova has undergone recently a period of time full of
dramatic developments. We have learned what separatism is, which hovers over
our country even as we speak. We have felt what the effects of economic
pressures are and dependency. In the 21st century we had to leave under a
communist authoritarian regime.
But despite all this, the citizens of the Republic of Moldova not only said
that they wished to change this and have a better life, but they have
undertaken concrete steps and actions to ensure that that happens.
On July 29 at the parliamentary elections, the people of Moldova chose between
past and future. So by a direct vote, their vote has offered the citizens of
the country the prospect of normality, the prospect for individual liberties
We have inherited a country with a distorted political and economic system,
which we must insist to transform. But along this uneasy road, we have had
constant support on behalf of our friends and partners, and I would like to
avail myself of this opportunity to thank you on behalf of the government of
Moldova, and my own to thank the United States government and also the Helsinki
Commission for all the support.
But now we have to concentrate our efforts and energy for what is to follow in
the future. We must face the effects of the economic crisis. We must settle
the issues that deal with the constitutional crisis in Moldova to carefully
settle and manage issues that deal with security. As an objective in our
program of government, we have the maintenance of inter-ethnic stability.
We want to build a society which is based on tolerance. I have to mention that
the incident that took place on the 13th of December in Moldova is the first of
such kind that happened in Moldova since independence, but even so, it is one
The government has acted promptly in this regard and I want to assure you that
even though we do have a number of imperfections in our legal system, we will
intervene in order to launch a new investigation so that those that are
responsible for perpetrating this act are brought to justice, and that such
instances do not occur again. At the same time, the Ministry of Justice is
examining ways of excluding the new movement from the Register of Social
As I’m making these remarks, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Co-Chairman, the full testimony
– written testimony – will be provided to the commission for record. But, to
conclude, I would like to say that the government of the Republic of Moldova,
in its program of actions, aims to build a state of law, which will offer its
citizens rights, freedoms and prosperity. And allow me once again to thank you
for allowing me to be in these chambers.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, thank you for your comments. Your full statement will be
made part of our committee record.
I want to start first with your observations to us as to the likelihood of
constitutional reform as it relates to a more stable government. As I
understand your system, but for the fact that one term of the presidency ended
and there was a vacancy, there may not have been able to get the election of a
president through the parliament because of the vote threshold.
It’s my understanding that you’re looking at constitutional changes that would
allow for the popular election of the president, but I’m curious as to whether
there are other fundamental changes that may be recommended in order to
reinforce democratic institutions for allowing a more definitive judgment by
PRIME MIN. FILAT: Mr. Chairman, as far as amending the constitution, we are
seeking to come up with a solution as soon as possible. Of course, the
situation we find ourselves in at the moment cannot be tolerated forever.
Having a qualified parliamentary majority and having that legal norm which
stipulates that the president must be elected with 61 mandates of members of
parliament, and I hope it doesn’t have any coincidences with the situation that
you have to deal with.
The situation will lead us to the instance when we will be required to have,
for the third time, an early election. So when the society finds itself, for
such an extended period of time, in an election campaign, it doesn’t offer the
possibility to develop and to move forward.
There are a number of solutions, but all of this must be viewed through the
prism of amending the constitution, and to this end we have requested
assistance and expertise on behalf of the Venice Commission in order to
identify a solution that is accepted not only and endorsed not only internally
but also externally as well.
There are ways to amend the constitution without having to conduct early
elections, but as I mentioned, this solution must be endorsed by foreign
experts. But we hope that by the end of the month we will have a solution
identified that will be endorsed by the foreign experts and will be made public.
SEN. CARDIN: Clearly you need to look at how your government is formed after a
national election, and that is, I’m sure, the main energy behind looking at
constitutional changes. But are there other parts of your constitution that
need to be reviewed from the point of view as you see the development of a
stable democratic country?
PRIME MIN. FILAT: The constitution of the Republic of Moldova has clear
provisions which provide for a state of law, so the problem was not in the
content of the constitutional norm but rather in its implementation. So we are
not talking strictly from a legal perspective.
The legal norm does not allow for the illegal arrest of people for their
mistreatment, for their dispossession of property. Nevertheless, these things
occurred in my country. So that means that we must ensure an efficient system
of control of the legal norm with concrete consequences for those who infringe
For that we need functioning state institutions. And by this I mean judiciary,
I mean the freedom of the press, and I mean freedom in economic activity so
that those who are able to exercise it can do it without any kind of
intimidation, which basically means a state of law.
SEN. CARDIN: I very much appreciate, in your opening statement, bringing out
the December menorah episode. And I want to start on a positive note but then
I want to come back to areas that concern me.
On a positive note, when the menorah was taken down and vandalized, it was
condemned by your governmental leaders, and we very much appreciate the
leadership that was shown by the government’s verbal response to what occurred.
But since that condemnation, the menorah was replaced in a different location,
not at Europe Square, where it was originally placed, but placed in a much less
Secondly, as you pointed out, the justice system treated it as a rather trivial
issue with those who perpetrated the act. I understand you’re saying now that
that’s going to be reviewed, and we very much want to make sure that is
But I just want to express my concern that – I believe it was not handled well
with the menorah being placed back up. It was almost like the vandals won.
They didn’t want it in a prominent location and it no longer was in a prominent
And there is a second issue – and if you could respond to both I would
appreciate it – which is very much of concern to the Jewish community, and that
is the International Joint Committee has invested foreign capital into a center
to help the people of Moldova, the Jewish population of Moldova.
And there has now been litigation to try to take over that center, and that,
again, appears to many of us to be a form of anti-Semitism, and if the courts
condone that, it will have a chilling effect on international support to help
the people of Moldova.
I would appreciate your comments on both of those issues, which are very
important to this commission in our continuing efforts to deal with all forms
of discrimination, including anti-Semitism.
PRIME MIN. FILAT: As I mentioned in my opening remarks, this incident was the
first of such kind since the independence of the Republic of Moldova. And,
again, I insist – repeat that even though it was once, it was one too many.
We are still waiting to obtain an answer to the question that you raised, and
the answer will come after a thorough investigation. I have sufficient reason
to believe that this was a provocation which had more of a political motive
behind it than anything else.
But this does not have any – must not have any effect on the actions that we
must undertake. And imperfections in our legislation did not allow us at that
time to intervene adequately. I have mentioned that this case will be
administered again, but in parallel with this investigation, we must ensure
that instances like this will bear a concrete and severe punishment.
About the second issue, it basically deals with the conflict between two Jewish
organizations in Chisinau. As a government, as the head of this government, we
do not have the right to intervene in the way justice works – the judicial
But we have had discussion with parties in the conflict. Yesterday, after I
visited the Holocaust Museum, I had a meeting with the leaders of the Jewish
organizations in Washington, D.C. Representatives of both parties involved
were present at this meeting.
We have agreed that upon our return to Chisinau, I have undertaken the role of
a mediator and we will take all necessary steps in order to make sure that this
civil action does not continue to have a negative impact on my country. And I
can see, in perspective, a solution being identified soon.
SEN. CARDIN: I appreciate your answer on both of those points. We don’t want
to take sides on a local dispute. However, the information we have is somewhat
different in regards to the community center, and we might, with your consent,
make some information available to you as it relates to international norms but
not trying to interfere with legitimate local disagreements. We understand it
differently than that, but we will get that information to you.
REP. HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Prime Minister, first let me – that’s okay if he needed to finish. I’d
like to commend you on holding the event at the Holocaust Museum. I think
that’s a manifestation of a good spirit after the December 13th incident. And
I certainly believe that it was the right thing for you to do and I think it
will resonate. Certainly it does with me, and to the extent that I can make
known the fact that you did take that action and did hold the meeting with
Jewish leaders, then I think that’s a step way in the right direction.
Second, I’m a little bit jealous that you signed a memorandum with North
Carolina. (Laughter.) Now, I’m from Florida, and North Carolina has mountains
like you do, but they don’t have oranges and they don’t have an ocean like we
do. No, I’m only being facetious, sir. I applaud you for that memorandum.
And I do urge, however, that on some of your return visits, if possible, that
you come down and see us in Florida.
Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister, concerning challenging economic realities – and
that’s just global, but then in countries like Moldova, it’s a bit press down.
Last week, for example, I attended, the third time, the elections, for me, in
Ukraine, and undergirding all of that election was the harsh economic reality
that Ukraine has faced, as Moldova has faced, as all countries in the world,
not all the same way. But what do you consider the most urgent assistance for
your country at this time?
PRIME MIN. FILAT: Of course the Republic of Moldova is not touched just by the
effects of the economic crisis. The thing is that the Moldovan economy was
underdeveloped and was not able to face adequately the crisis, also due to poor
Presently we have a situation which offers a good platform for the economic
development of Moldova. We have managed to agree with the IMF on a new
program, and on January 29th the IMF board must approve this program with
Moldova. The government of the Republic of Moldova has fulfilled all of its
commitments under this memorandum, and pending this approval we will have a
program of implementation for a period of three years.
And this program is complementary to the program of internal stabilization and
economic development of the country. It provides for thorough economic
reforms, which also will bear significant costs, including social costs. So we
are now in the process of seeking resources in order to minimalize (sic) the
impact of these reforms on the most vulnerable representatives of the Moldovan
REP. HASTINGS: I appreciate that answer.
Mr. Prime Minister, looking at your curriculum vitae and listening to your fine
testimony lets me know that you are a lawyer, and Sen. Cardin and I bear that
same diploma. I would urge your consideration – and I’ve listened to you very
carefully – on more than one occasion in this short time, you have used the
fact that you and other members of your country are moving toward, as you put
it, a state of law, and I have no quarrel at all with that.
What I do remind all developing democracies – and I wish to make it very clear
here the United States is not finished – but all developing democracies need to
know, and very occasionally world figures, particularly in the OSCE sphere – we
leave an election – and your last two elections meet minimum standards, and I
know that whenever an election is called, you and others are going to do
everything you can to improve the overall standards for election.
But an election – and this is not lecturing you; this is all comers – an
election does not a democracy alone make. Or, standing alone, an election does
not make democracy. The rule of law is fundamental, and I hear you loud and
clear and applaud your efforts, and one of the things that I believe that you
would benefit from is the experience of the more developed democracies in
developing an independent judiciary and efforts to arbitrate the local matters.
Too often, resources that are available to accomplish that are not, one,
offered when people are talking about helping you toward prosperity, and,
number two, are not requested. And, therefore, I would urge you to take my
words, lawyer to lawyer, friend to friend, and make sure that along the way of
the request that you rightly ask and hopefully will have provided to the extent
that our country can and other countries can, that you ask them to send you
assistance in developing the state of the law.
And that includes – and I know a part of your background – that includes land
reform, which becomes particularly critical. And understanding that you
understand English, I’ll just tell you, I’m from where Haiti has a large
diaspora in the congressional district that I’m privileged to represent.
And right now, in spite of all of this awful disaster that we are facing – and
your country has faced similar circumstances, I know – it is an opportunity for
them to do something that they hadn’t done before, and that is land reform so
that it can be developed along the way. I don’t mean that as a lecture; I mean
that most sincerely as a friend, and I know for a fact, many countries that
I’ve been in have that ongoing problem.
Now, we continue to refer – just turning to another subject, we continue to
refer to areas where there are disputes, Transnistria being one – not the only
one. It’s interesting; I began a discussion a week ago in Syria with President
Asad by asking him what he thought about Nagorno-Karabakh, and it kind of
stunned him, you know, because he expected me to ask him about issues having to
do with Syria and Turkey, Syria and Iran, Syria and Israel.
And world leaders have views about things other than their area, and so toward
that end, it is important for us to know what your view is regarding how we
might assist in that resolution, but it is also important in light of the fact
that you have lived that conflict that you help us understand how we might
resolve other conflicts as well.
And that’s the approach that I take. I hope it resonates with you and that you
know that at least the Helsinki Commission is open-minded and open-hearted when
it comes to resolution of these conflicts. They are critically important. I
don’t mean to minimize them at all. I’ve worked on that one, Chechnya, South
Ossetia, you name them – Kashmir. They’re all over the world, and very
occasionally – too occasionally right here in America, and we tend to forget
that when we go around the world talking.
I don’t know if there is any need for a response, but on the rule of law, I
think you and I have a similar view, and I want to be able to help.
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you very much.
Mr. Prime Minister, Congressman Hastings mentioned the Transnistria region. I
want to get to that for two reasons. It’s significant because of the military
presence of Russia. It’s also significant because of the ethnic community that
lives in that area has a relationship with Russia that at times could be of
concern of whether their rights will be protected under a centralized Moldovan
So I just really – we haven’t heard much about it I guess of late. This has
been, as Congressman Hastings said, one of the frozen conflict areas. How does
that resolution fit into the priorities of your government?
PRIME MIN. FILAT: It’s one of our priorities, the priorities of the new
government. In order to achieve its objectives, the country must be
reintegrated. The citizens that live in the Transnistria region of Moldova are
citizens of the Republic of Moldova. And as similar to what we have on the
right bank of the Nistru River with people being of a different ethnicity –
Russian, Ukrainians, Gagauz.
We are all citizens of Moldova and we constitute the country of the Republic of
Moldova, which is an independent, sovereign and international-recognized state.
And here we have to recognize whose actual rights are being infringed in this
So when we talk about the Transnistria region, it’s not only national
legislation that is being infringed; it’s also international obligations and
commitments that are not being fulfilled. And you mentioned yourself the 1999
OSCE Istanbul documents.
This is a flagrant infringement of law, but without consequences. I am talking
about the international commitment undertaken at that summit. So sometimes I
have the impression that the approach to this issue is more diplomatic because
unfulfillment of international commitments but also negligence of national
legislation can become usual practice.
SEN. CARDIN: I have one final question I want to ask, and it’s a general
question, not related to the last subject exclusively, and that is how can the
OSCE help you in your priorities? And, as a second question, how can the
United States – what can we do here to further your efforts to strengthen the
democratic and economic institutions of your government? And I would be
pleased to hear your answer.
REP. HASTINGS: Mr. Chairman, would you just yield?
SEN. CARDIN: Sure.
REP. HASTINGS: To add to that as the final – whether or not the aid you are
receiving now from the United States is reaching the greater development of
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
PRIME MIN. FILAT: First of all, I would like to say that since its
independence – since the independence of Moldova, the United States has been an
avid supporter of the democratic processes in my country and not just
financially. And we have had this support constantly, and we count on this
support but also our request is that the issues of my country, the Republic of
Moldova, is maintained on the foreign policy agenda of the United States.
And also, as far as the Transnistrian settlement is concerned, is we ask that
you maintain your position with support to our national legislation. And we
are to talk about the Transnistrian conflict. This region continues to
register a constant infringement of human rights and freedoms, and this makes
this issue even more worthy of being maintained constantly on your agenda. And
of course, we need your support in our quest towards European integration.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, let me tell you that we very much agree with you. You will
have our support on Transnistria. We consistently have supported the
commitments that have been made and we want to see them carried out. And in
regards to your movement towards integration with Europe, we strongly support
that effort and will continue to do everything we can.
I think Congressman Hastings’ last point about how our current relationship is
working is one that we welcome a continuing dialogue as to how the United
States directly and through international organizations such as the OSCE can be
constructive, because we very much are encouraged by what we have seen in the
last several months in Moldova, and we want to see the continued development of
sustainable democratic institutions.
We wish you well on your constitutional reform. I am encouraged by your
understanding that it requires international legitimacy as you go about
developing the type of constitutional changes that would promote democratic
results. It’s not who wins the election – the people as that right to make
those judgments – but you want to have a functioning national government that
can govern and protect the human rights of its citizens.
And I would say that, you know, you live in a very challenging region. I mean,
there’s strong ethnic ties to other countries that – and there is concern as to
whether they’re a national government. They are all Moldavian, but they are
concerned as to whether they’ll be treated the same if their ethnic ties may be
to Russia versus Romania, and you need to have a government that is respected
for the human rights protections of all of its citizens, and you are moving in
that direction, and we want to make sure that we are helpful in you achieving
And through integration into Europe, it’s going to be good for Moldova, it’s
going to be good for Europe, and it’s going to be good for the United States.
So we look forward to very much working with you. And we look forward to
working with your delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly as we continue to
find ways to work together on areas of mutual interest.
PRIME MIN. FILAT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. CARDIN: And with that, the commission will stand adjourned. Thank you.