Political Rights: 3
Civil Liberties: 4
Status: Partly Free
Population: 4,300,000
GNI/Capita: $400
Life Expectancy: 68
Religious Groups: Orthodox (98 percent), Jewish (1.5 percent), other [including Baptist] (0.5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Moldovan/Romanian (64 percent), Ukrainian (13.8 percent, Russian (13 percent), Bulgarian (2 percent), Jewish (1.5 percent), other [including Gaguauz] (5.7 percent)
Capital: Chisinau


Two rounds of local elections held in May and June 2003 were deemed by outside observers to be generally in line with international standards. However, concerns were raised about favoritism shown toward the ruling authorities in government-owned media. Some bright signs regarding the economic situation emerged as the economy continued to show strong growth for the third consecutive year.

The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Mircea Snegur, chairman of the Communist Supreme Soviet, became the first president of the democratic Republic of Moldova. Snegur's centrist Agrarian Democratic Party (ADP) subsequently won a majority of parliamentary seats in the country's first free and fair popular election in 1994. Two years later, Petru Lucinschi, also a former Communist, defeated Snegur in the 1996 presidential elections. While the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) won a plurality of votes in the 1998 elections for Moldova's unicameral parliament, three centrist parties united to form a majority coalition. During this time, Moldova undertook much-needed economic reforms, drafted a new constitution, and joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

In the 2001 parliamentary elections, the PCM won a landslide victory on the promise of a return to Soviet-era living standards, and in April, PCM leader Vladimir Voronin was elected president. Moldova thus became the first former Soviet republic to elect a Communist Party member as president.

Under Voronin, the government reinstated Soviet-style territorial administration, restored the November 7 holiday commemorating the October Revolution, introduced measures to make Russian an official second language, and proposed regulations requiring mandatory Russian-language instruction in schools. These Russification initiatives met fierce resistance from the opposition Christian-Democrat People's Party (CDPP) and sparked a continual series of public protests in early 2002. In short order, opposition leaders began to issue calls for the government's abdication, and by February, the government had reversed its previous decision on mandatory Russian-language instruction. The Constitutional Court later voided a draft law that would have made Russian an official state language.

The CDPP protest campaign to force the government to resign slowly lost momentum during the course of 2002, partly because the CDPP draws its strength from a limited portion of Moldovan society, one that generally identifies with Moldova's Romanian heritage. While focusing largely on the issue of cultural identity, the CDPP was slow to develop a fully viable solution to the country's other pressing concerns, such as Moldova's desperate economic situation.

In retribution for the CDPP's efforts to remove it from power, the Communist-controlled government briefly suspended the CDPP in 2002 and moved to lift the parliamentary immunity of the CDPP chairman and two party deputies in the first step toward criminal prosecution. The Council of Europe responded by intervening to negotiate a cessation of the open political hostilities. The CDPP agreed to drop its call for the government's resignation, and the government retracted the threat of prosecution. As part of this agreement, the government also agreed to make good on a variety of council demands relating to political and civil rights in the country. While this compromise agreement demonstrates the extent to which Voronin's government is open to influence from Euro-Atlantic institutions, it also underscores the delicate nature of Moldova's developing democracy and the need for further council monitoring.

Local elections were held nationwide in two rounds in May and June (except in the Gagauz autonomous region; the Gagauz are a Christian Turkic minority). Although the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) generally deemed the elections to have been "conducted mostly in line with international standards," some observers expressed concerns about media coverage of the elections. The elections themselves showed that the PCM remained overall the strongest political party in the country, gaining 41 percent of all the mayoral positions contested, while the Social Liberal Alliance "Our Moldova" came in second, winning 21.19 percent.

Separatist elements have declared a "Dniester Republic" in Transnistria, situated between the Dniester River and Ukraine, in which Russian troops continue to maintain a presence. Transnistria is home to approximately 750,000 of Moldova's 4.35 million people. During 2003, Russian and American diplomats in the OSCE tried to resolve the Transnistria issue by putting forth a federalization plan in which Chisniau would share power with the Transnistrian capital, Tiraspol, but by year's end little progress had been made. Voronin's PCM favored the federalization plan, while the CDPP opposed it.

Moldova is one of Europe's most impoverished countries. Official unemployment hovers around 30 percent. By the government's own estimates, some 80 percent of the population subsists on less than the officially designated minimum, and the shadow economy accounts for between 30 and 70 percent of all economic activity. In this grim economic environment, thousands of Moldovans have elected to sell one of their kidneys to black market dealers in Turkey. Harsh economic conditions have likewise led a substantial number of women into prostitution. Despite these problems, Moldova was accepted into the World Trade Organization in 2001, and there has been strong economic growth over the past three years – 6.1 percent growth in 2001, 7.2 percent in 2002, and 5.3 percent in 2003. A symbolic token of confidence in Moldova's progress came in May when Moldova was allowed to assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens of Moldova can change their government democratically. Although international observers believe that Moldova's Electoral Code provides a sound framework for the conduct of free and fair elections, some needed reforms include improving the accuracy of voter lists and increasing transparency of the tabulation of election results. In 2000, Moldova ended direct presidential elections. Voters elect members to the 101-seat parliament by proportional representation to four-year terms. Parliament then elects the prime minister and president. The self-declared government in Transnistria, however, severely limits the ability of voters in that region to participate in Moldova's national elections. More than 30 political parties are registered and compete in elections. Nevertheless, government security forces are believed to monitor political figures and to conduct unauthorized wiretaps.

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press. Electronic media, especially television, remain the most important source of information for most citizens. An OSCE report on the 2001 parliamentary elections found that while state broadcasters adhered to the rules of the Electoral Code regarding impartiality in reporting, private broadcasters often aligned themselves with specific political parties or candidates. Although the constitution prohibits censorship, nearly 500 journalists and media workers at the state-owned TeleRadio Moldova held demonstrations in March 2002 to protest alleged censorship and demand greater media independence. Under an agreement with the Council of Europe, the government subsequently passed legislation transferring state control of TeleRadio Moldova to an independent corporation. In March, the new Law on Combating Extremism went into effect. Critics believe it may strengthen the government's ability to limit freedom of expression, although by late in the year no actions had been taken under the law. Concerns remain about the extent of government control over TeleRadio Moldova, however. There were also accusations that state media engaged in biased reporting during the May-June local elections, granting government candidates significantly more coverage than opposition figures. The government did not restrict access to the Internet in 2003.

Moldova's constitution guarantees religious freedom. Although this right is generally respected, there have been some legal impediments to the functioning of various religious groups and sects. Although there is no state religion, the Moldovan Orthodox Church receives some favored treatment from the government. All religious groups are required to register with the government, and unregistered groups are not allowed to buy property or obtain construction permits. A number of groups, including the Church of True Orthodox-Moldova, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and a local Muslim organization have faced difficulties in recent years in dealing with the government bureaucracy. Nondenominational "moral and spiritual" instruction is mandatory in primary schools and is optional for secondary and university students. Restitution of church properties confiscated during the Communist era remains a problem. In a constitutional first for Moldova, the country's Supreme Court of Justice in April overruled its own earlier ruling, from 1997, which had denied registration to the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, to some extent bowing to pressure from the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. No government restrictions of academic freedom were reported in 2003.

Citizens may participate freely in nongovernmental organizations and political parties. Private organizations must register with the state, and demonstrations require permits from local authorities. Workers are allowed to strike, petition the government, and form and join trade unions. The law allows collective bargaining but prohibits strikes by government employees and essential workers.

Moldova's constitution provides for an independent judiciary. It also guarantees equality before the law and the presumption of innocence. There is evidence that some prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials accept bribes and are subject to official pressure from governmental figures. Prison conditions are exceptionally poor, and malnutrition and disease are high in penal institutions.

Although ethnic minorities constitute some 30 percent of the population, international observers believe that legislation makes it difficult for them to organize politically. Nevertheless, ethnic minority representation in parliament after the 2001 elections rose from 16 percent to 30 percent. The Roma (Gypsy) community is the victim of particular discrimination in Moldovan society.

There are no official restrictions on women's rights in Moldova, although they are considerably under-represented in public life. Women currently hold 13 of 101 seats in parliament. Domestic violence against women is believed by human rights groups to be widespread. Trafficking in women and girls is an exceptionally important problem. Although the law prohibits trafficking in human beings, the country's poverty makes young women, especially from poor rural areas, vulnerable to promises made by traffickers for jobs in Western Europe. Moldova remains a major source for women and girls trafficked to other countries for purposes of forced prostitution.

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