- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

WHERE IS MOLDOVA?

A tiny and poor European country that many Americans have never heard of will be in the spotlight Thursday on Capitol Hill when a congressional panel holds a hearing on the future of democracy in Moldova.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe has invited Moldovan Ambassador Nicolae Chirtoaca; Valentina Cusnir, a former member of the Moldovan parliament; Nadine Gogu, acting director of the Independent Journalism Center in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau; and Louis O’Neill, a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing begins at 10 a.m. in Room SVC 202/203 in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Commission Chairman Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, and Co-Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, expect the witnesses to discuss the future of U.S.-Moldova relations, after last week’s parliamentary elections that reduced the power of the Communist Party and boosted the pro-Western opposition.

The July 29 elections resulted from violent protests over an earlier poll in April, during which demonstrators accused the Communists of rigging the balloting to secure nearly 50 percent of the vote.

Protesters broke into the president’s office and set fire to the interior of the parliament building. Parliament later failed to elect a new president and was dissolved, setting the stage for the new elections.

Last week, the Communists dropped to 45 percent of the vote, winning only 48 seats and losing absolute control of the 101-seat parliament for the first time since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Liberal-Democrat Party won 18 seats; the Liberal Party 15; the Democratic Party 12; and Our Moldova Party won seven seats.

The 53 seats held by the opposition are still below the 61-vote threshold needed to elect a new president from members of parliament. Many observers expect that a pro-Western coalition government will still have to cooperate with the Communists but will have greater freedom to move closer to the European Union.

Vladimir Socor, a European specialist at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, is skeptical about the chances for progress.

“This is a hung parliament, requiring complex and even improbable bargains for electing a state president, installing a government and proceeding with the enactment of overdue reforms,” he wrote in the Eurasia Daily Monitor on Monday.

Moldova is a landlocked country of 13,000 square miles bordered by Romania and Ukraine. It is the poorest country in Europe, with 20 percent of the population earning about $2 per day. At $4 billion, its gross domestic product is just a little higher than the “cash for clunkers” program in the U.S. is likely to be.

The country is so obscure that there is even a board game titled, “Where is Moldova?”

GOODBYE, BULGARIA

Nancy McEldowney admits she grew quite fond of Bulgaria after only a year as U.S. ambassador there and she really hates to leave. However, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tapped her to serve as a senior adviser, so the ambassador will be returning to Washington later this summer.

“I depart Bulgaria deeply gratified by the progress we have achieved together and filled with optimism for the future,” the career diplomat said to Bulgarian friends last week.

“I will never forget the warmth, the hospitality and the true friendship that my family and I encountered throughout this beautiful country.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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