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The rise of illiberal civil society in Moldova

Article by Dumitru Sliusarenco and Ion Foltea

July 18, 2018

The rise of illiberal civil society in Moldova

The Republic of Moldova is a former Soviet country, caught in internal and external conflicts, powered by geopolitics and with a strong division of society. Different social groups are divided by moral and religious values (such as ‘traditional family’ or ‘tolerance’), in a strong connection with their geopolitical grounds. Two of the major geopolitical sides are split between Pro-Russian and Pro-European (or Pro-Western) values.[1]

A case study to analyze in this context is the annual gay march (Pride). Representatives of the United Nations in Moldova, Embassies from western countries (such as Sweden, USA, Great Britain and the Netherlands) and some NGOs participated in Pride 2018. Counter-demonstrations organized by civil society groups linked to the Moldovan Orthodox Church and the Moldovan Socialist Party. They demanded stopping the alleged ‘homosexual propaganda’ in the country. The same requests had been made a week before, during the ‘March for Families’ organized by the President of the Moldovan Republic and former Socialist Party leader, Igor Dodon.[2]

These events emphasize the strong divisions that characterize Moldovan society. Civil society, supported by Western governments, the EU and international NGOs are asking for respect of the rule of law and liberal reforms. They have to compete with groups pursuing illiberal and conservative values. As we will show, in many cases these groups are directly linked to the Socialist Party and the Orthodox Church and, for this reason, have an indirect connection with Russia. In fact, Moldovan Orthodox Church is part of the Russian Church, alternatively legally known as the Moscow Patriarchate. In addition, the Moldovan Socialist Party is backed by Russian government and it doesn’t deny its strong affiliation to Russian Federation. Moreover, the activities of these ‘illiberal civil society groups’ are echoed by the Russia-controlled mass media in Moldova such as Sputnik.md.[3]

The Moldovan legal framework

The legal framework for ensuring equality and non-discrimination of civil society actors is based on a number of constitutional clauses. The equality of the citizens before the law and public authorities is stipulated in Article 16, which also sets the main criteria for equality and non-discrimination: (2) All citizens of the Republic of Moldova shall be equal before the law and public authorities, regardless of the race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion, sex, opinion, political affiliation, property or social origin.

The norms established in the articles of the Constitution mentioned above have been further developed by the following special laws:

  • Law no. 5 on the equality of opportunities for women and men of 09/02/2006[4],
  • Law no. 60 on the social inclusion of persons with disabilities of 30/03/2012[5],
  • Law no. 64 on freedom of speech of 23/04/2010[6],
  • Law no. 121 on ensuring equality of 25/05/2012[7],
  • Law no. 298 on the activity of the Council on Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring Equality of 21/12/2012.[8]

Law no. 121 on ensuring equality, which was adopted on 25.12.2012 after period of controversial debates during which the initial draft has been modified (but not necessarily improved) and came into force on 1st of January 2013, is the only special normative framework regulating the prevention and elimination of discrimination and ensuring of equality. The law defines the basic concepts (discrimination, types of discrimination), sets the protected criteria, the worst forms of discrimination and the fields of discrimination. In addition, the Law also sets the institutional framework for resolving the cases of discrimination, the procedures and the task of evidence collection, as well as a list of remedies. This law works in conjunction with a number of other special laws as Law no. 5 on the equality of opportunities for women and men. It regulates the discrimination on the basis of sex and gender criteria. Law no. 60 on the social inclusion of persons with disabilities defines the concepts of “disability” and disability-based discrimination. Also the Law no. 64 on the freedom of expression defines the concept of hate speech.

These laws are in turn supplemented by explanatory decisions, consultative notifications and recommendations issued by the Supreme Court of Justice. The Decisions of the Council on Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring Equality (CPEDEE) are becoming another important source of law in the field of discrimination, as the only public institution empowered with responsibilities in this area.[9]

MOST DISCRIMINATED

A 2016 study prepared by the CPEDEE and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on equality perceptions and attitudes[10] emphasizes that Moldova’s population is still prone to intolerance with regard to different vulnerable groups. The study showed that Moldovans most trust the Church (over 81%) and have the least trust in the justice system (14%), the President (11%), Parliament (11%) and Political parties (10%). According to the study, the most discriminated group in Moldova is the LGBT group. It is followed by persons living with HIV, detainees and persons with mental disabilities. Thus, the study shows that while church is the most trusted institution in Moldova, LGBT people are most discriminated.

Threats to equality

The legal framework regarding equality and non-discrimination is not seen as a positive step by some actors of Moldovan society. The most vocal opponents of the laws on equality are The Orthodox Church under the Metropolis of Chisinau and All Moldova (Moldovan Orthodox Church) and the Socialist Party of Moldova (PSRM). On numerous occasions, they criticized the law on ensuring equality and those that support it. While the Orthodox Church uses this rhetoric based on doctrinal reasons, the Socialist Party of Moldova uses it to gain political capital and as one of the main arguments against European integration.

The position of the Church

The Moldovan Orthodox Church has constantly criticized the law on ensuring equality, both before and since its adoption. The most contentious provision appears to be the one that outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Church condemned the provision, declaring that it “legalizes harlotry through enabling gay parades and propaganda of the gay life style”.[11]

The Russian Orthodox Church, of which the Moldovan Orthodox Church is part, also expressed its dissatisfaction with the Law. As mentioned in a statement of the Sacred Synod (the highest authority) of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Church “protests against the legalization of evil and the declaration of sinful behaviour as ordinary activity.” It calls on Moldovan authorities to resist “attempts of propaganda of sexual perversion” and to take steps to amend the law in order to comply with the will of the majority of Moldovan citizens.[12]

In 2013, in a statement issued after Orthodox leaders met in Chisinau, the church said that it would call for nationwide protests unless the government amended a law protecting homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people from discrimination. The church also expressed its will for new laws against what it calls “immoral propaganda” and a ban on “homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, paedophilic, zoophilic, incestuous, and perverse behaviour.”[13] Moreover, the Church constantly stands against Gay Prides organized in Chisinau by Genderdoc-M[14] asking for these parades to be banned because of in their view the “absence of any legal, moral and rational reason of such a type of absurd manifestation.”[15]

The above-mentioned positions of the Church encourage and legitimize intolerance, discrimination and hate speech in Moldovan society. That is reflected in the high levels of social conservatism[16] that characterize Moldovan civil society but also in the increasing number of cases of violence against LGBT community. For instance, in 2013 the participants at the Pride couldn’t march more than 10 minutes because of the violence and danger to the public security. Indeed, the “counter-manifestation” organized by different Orthodox groups and associations forced the police to stop the march and to evacuate the participants.[17]

With the aim of spreading its conservative position, the Moldovan Orthodox Church founded or sustains a number of different organizations and groups such as: ‘Tineretul orthodox’ (Orthodox Youth)[18], ‘Asociație Moldova pentru viață’ (the Association Moldova for Life)[19]  and the ‘Asociaţia Fericita Maică Matrona’.[20]

The first one ‘Tineretul orthodox’ – is the youth movement of the Moldovan Orthodox Church and includes sub-groups such as the ‘Asociația Studenților Creștini Ortodocși din Republica Moldova’ (Republic of Moldova Christian Orthodox Students Association)[21], a student union that has its headquarters in Moldova State University church.

The Orthodox Youth holds a number of conferences and workshops, as well as organizing the ‘March for life’ in collaboration with the Association ‘Moldova for Life’ and ‘Asociaţia Fericita Maică Matrona’ – an event supporting traditional family values.

Another religious event – ‘March for Families’ was organized by the Moldovan Orthodox Church and its supporters and took place in 2016 to mark the importance of ‘traditional family values’.  Its third edition, called the ‘March of Silence’, was de jure a public action for traditional family values, but de facto it was an event organized in collaboration with socialist-linked groups and sustained by President of Moldova Igor Dodon. It was designed as a public manifestation against homosexuality and Gay Pride, took place one week after.

On that occasion, as in many others, the association ‘Asociaţia Fericita Maică Matrona’ had a central role in spreading intolerance based on the idea that it is necessary to fight against the current status quo, called by them the ‘atheist-Satanist system’.[22]In May 2018 this group organized another public demonstration against ‘homosexual propaganda in the Republic of Moldova’ and against a bill that aimed to introduce sexual education courses in schools. The participants marched displaying signs with messages such as ‘Moldova needs normal children’ or ‘Our children should grow up as normal ones, not as abominations.’[23]

As a result, civil society organizations and groups, directly linked and supported by the Orthodox Church promote prejudices and stereotypes, perpetuate intolerance and incite to discrimination among Moldovan society.

Position of the political parties and politicians

The Socialist Party of Moldova (PSRM) is the main political power to stand against equality and non-discrimination laws. PSRM repeatedly expressed its position as a pro-Russian party, which aims to protect traditional family values and fight, so called “gay propaganda”, which, according to them is also promoted by the Laws on ensuring and protecting equality.

In 2012, after the adoption of the Laws, the leader at that time of the PSRM, Igor Dodon challenged the legitimacy of the Laws at the Constitutional Court of Republic of Moldova.[24] The Court rejected his claims as unfounded.[25]

In 2016, the PSRM tried one more time to repeal the laws on equality by introducing an amendment to the Parliament on this issue. Parliament rejected the bill, but the PSRM continues to use the anti-equality law rhetoric, especially in political campaigns.[26]

In spring 2016, the PSRM raised in the Parliament a draft law on ‘gay propaganda’.[27] The draft pending in Parliament aimed to amend two national laws. It would add a paragraph to Article 21 of the Law on the Rights of a Child that reads: “The state ensures protection of a child from the propaganda of homosexuality for any purpose and under any form.” It aimed also to amend Article 88 of the Code of Administrative Offenses to define “propaganda of homosexuality” as: “Propaganda of homosexual relations among minors by means of assemblies, mass media, Internet, brochures, booklets, images, audio-video clips, films and/or audio-video recordings, via sound recording, amplifiers or other means of sound amplification.” The bill was also rejected by the Parliament.

In the 2016 Presidential electoral campaign, Igor Dodon – the candidate from PSRM actively used homophobic and discriminatory speech. It targeted mainly his opponent – Maia Sandu, but also affected 3 major groups: a) refugees/migrants, b) LGBT and c) Unionists (people that advocate for reunion of Republic of Moldova and Romania).

One of the most discussed and controversial events in this regard, related to news that one of the opposition leaders would bring in Moldova 30,000 Syrian refugees if they were to win.[28] This news escalated the prejudice that “aggressive Muslims” will spread all over the country, “rape women and girls and rob locals”. The same rhetoric was used in the 2018 elections for the Mayor of Chisinau, against a pro-European candidate Andrei Nastase. A lot of fake news were making claims that Chisinau will be leased out to United Arab Emirates if Nastase wins. This news was reported as hate speech by Promo-LEX Association.[29]

The Socialist Party (similar to the Orthodox Church) is finances civil society groups and associations with the aim of strengthening and promoting its illiberal positions. An example is the Garda Tînără-Молодая Гвардия” (The Young Guard)[30], the youth branch of Socialist Party, which sustains and pursues traditional and orthodox values as “the only way Moldova has to survive”.[31]

Moreover, the Church linked groups often collaborate with the Socialist linked groups in organizing their protests. In fact, the Garda Tînără participated alongside with the above-mentioned Church organizations and the Foundation Din Suflet Foundation[32] at the March for Families.

All these organizations and social groups nominally promote their own values. However, when analysed from the general perspective, they all share links to the Orthodox Church and/or the Socialist Party and actively promote a Pro-Russian or Anti-European values agenda.

Conclusions and recommendations

In order to tackle social exclusion and discrimination, it is important to understand the processes by which they vulnerable groups are excluded, e.g. inefficient functioning of institutions, behaviour, and traditions, and the specific features that reproduce the prevailing social attitudes, bias, stereotypes and other values.

The main reason for the frequent violations and threats to equality is the lack of efficient mechanisms and commitment, to implement existing policies and international obligations that Moldova undertook to perform.

For this, the authors and their organization Promo-LEX recommends that:

  • The government should allocate adequate funding to national policies and action plans aimed at eliminating all forms of discrimination against vulnerable civil society actors, ensuring inclusive education and equal opportunities in employment;
  • Authorities should intensify the efforts to prevent and combat hate speech at all levels, including in electoral campaigns
  • National Audio-Visual Centre should elaborate an efficient monitoring mechanism to identify and sanction discrimination in media; and
  • The Government should develop and conduct systematic raising awareness campaigns to promote diversity and tolerance in Moldova.

About the author: Dumitru Sliusarenco, is a Human Rights lawyer and attorney at Promo-LEX Association, practicing since 2011 in Moldova. He is specialized on issues on equality and non-discrimination. Since 2017 Mr. Sliusarenco is the leading national expert at Promo-LEX Association within the project “Strengthening a platform for the development of human rights activism and education in order to reduce the social tensions generated by ignorance, manipulation, and the use of hate speech and discrimination

Ion Foltea, is a Promo-LEX intern and an International Relations student at University of Trento, Italy. He is currently engaged in the monitoring and analysing the issues of hate speech, within Promo-LEX research on the public discourse and hate speech in Republic of Moldova.

The Promo-LEX Association is a civil society organization with special consultative status with the UN (ECOSOC) based in Chisinau, whose purpose is to advance democracy in the Republic of Moldova through promoting and defending human rights, and monitoring democratic processes and strengthening civil society through a strategic mix of legal action, advocacy, research and capacity building.

[1] Eugene Rumer, Moldova Between Russia and the West: A Delicate Balance, May 2017

http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/05/23/moldova-between-russia-and-west-delicate-balance-pub-70056

[2] Cristi Vlas, President Igor Dodon opposes LGBT March in Moldova, plans march for supporting traditional family, May 2017 http://www.moldova.org/en/president-igor-dodon-opposes-lgbt-march-moldova-plans-march-supporting-traditional-family/

[3] Sputnik Moldova – Russia’s Moldova & Romanian language news agency, website, and radio broadcast service https://sputnik.md/

[4] Republic of Moldova, Parliament, Law no. 5 (available in Moldovan and Russian languages) http://lex.justice.md/viewdoc.php?id=315674&lang=1

[5]Republic of Moldova, Parliament, Law no. 6 (available in Moldovan and Russian languages)  http://lex.justice.md/md/344149/

[6]Republic of Moldova, Parliament, Law no. 7 ((available in Moldovan and Russian languages) http://lex.justice.md/viewdoc.php?action=view&view=doc&id=335145&lang=1

[7]Republic of Moldova, Parliament, Law no. 8  (available in Moldovan and Russian languages) http://lex.justice.md/md/343361/

[8]Republic of Moldova, Parliament, Law no. 9  (available in Moldovan and Russian languages) http://lex.justice.md/md/346943/

[9] According to Article 12 of Law no. 121, the Council’s responsibilities are focused on the following important dimensions:

  • Analysis and drafting of public policies
  • Raising the society’s level of awareness about discrimination issues
  • International collaboration
  • Direct activities of protection of discrimination victims;

[10] Study on Equality Perceptions and Attitudes in the Republic of Moldova, Chişinău, 2015 http://md.one.un.org/content/dam/unct/moldova/docs/pub/ENG-Studiu%20Perceptii%202015_FINAL_2016_Imprimat.pdf

[11]: Rosbalt, The Moldovan parliament passed a law on the protection of gay rights caused a scandal (available in Russian language) May, 2012, http://www.rosbalt.ru/world/2012/05/25/985061.html. Also Moldova: Various Forms of Discrimination Are Banned by Law, November 2012, http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/moldova-various-forms-of-discrimination-are-banned-by-law/. See also Rosbalt, The Moldovan parliament passed a law on the protection of gay rights caused a scandal (available in Russian language) May, 2012, http://www.rosbalt.ru/world/2012/05/25/985061.html

[12]Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in connection with the adoption of the “Law on Ensuring Equality” in the Republic of Moldova, June 2012, http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/2270817.html

[13]Church Pressures Moldova’s Government To Repeal Antidiscrimination Laws, June 2013, RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service https://www.rferl.org/a/moldova-gay-church-rights-discrimination-laws/25024061.html

[14] Genderdoc-M is a Moldovan non-governmental organization (https://gdm.md/en/), which aims to  create a legislative, legal and social framework for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people in society, by developing LGBT community, by informing, promoting rights and providing services, and expanding organizational capacities.

[15] From an open letter sent by Mitropol Vladimir, Moldovan Orthodox Church’s head, to Chişinău municipality(in Moldovan language) May 2018 http://mitropolia.md/biserica-ortodoxa-din-moldova-se-opune-categoric-la-organizarea-din-acest-an-al-marsului-solidaritatii-fara-frica/

[16]Defined as “a cluster of values that emphasize the importance of family, tradition, religious teachings and traditional gender roles”.  Voicu O., Cash J. and Cojocaru V.; (2017); Church and State in the Republic of Moldova.  (p. 18) https://www.soros.md/publication/studiu-biserica-stat-republica-moldova

[17] Homosexuals were cursed by priests but supported by diplomats, Mary Gay from Chisinau (available in Moldovan language) May 2013, https://adevarul.ro/moldova/social/marSul-gay-chiSinAu-homosexualii-fost-blestemat-preoti-sustinut-diplomati-galerie-foto-1_5199a755053c7dd83fb23cbd/index.html

[18] Information about ‘Movement of the Orthodox Youth’ (in Moldovan language) http://tineretulortodox.md/miscarea-tineretului-ortodox/

[19] Website of  the ‘Association Moldova for Life’ http://moldovapentruviata.md/

[20] Information about the ‘Association of Orthodox Christians of Moldova “Happy Mother Matrona” The Toaca newspaper (in Moldovan language) http://www.toaca.md/?page=AsociatiaFericitaMaicaMatrona

[21] Information about theChristian Orthodox Christian Students Association of the Republic of Moldova (ASCOR) (in Moldovan language) http://ong.md/index.php/companies/42/15/Asocitia-Studentilor-Crestini-Ortodocsi-Romani-din-Republica-Moldova-ASCOR

[22] An expression used in  ‘Association of Orthodox Christians of Moldova “Happy Mother Matrona”, The Toaca newspaper ( in Moldovan language) http://www.toaca.md/?page=AsociatiaFericitaMaicaMatrona

[23] Prayer protest. Hundreds of parishioners and several priests have asked the Legislature to ban the propaganda of homosexuality in the Republic of Moldova (in Moldovan language), canal2.md, May 2018, http://www.canal2.md/news/protest-cu-rugaciuni-sute-de-enoriasi-impreuna-cu-mai-multi-preoti-au-cerut-legislativului-sa-interzica-propaganda-homosexualitatii-in-republica-moldova_87836.html

[24]Dodon sticks to the word. Appealed to the Constitutional Court the Equality Law (in Moldovan language) May, 2012, Publika,md, https://www.publika.md/dodon-se-tine-de-cuvant-a-contestat-la-curtea-constitutionala-legea-egalitatii_872301.html

[25]Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova, (in Moldovan language), October 2013 http://www.constcourt.md/public/files/file/Actele%20Curtii/acte_2013/d_14.2013.ro.pdf

[26]PSRM calls for the repeal of the law on equal opportunities; Ignored by the parliamentary majority, the Socialists left Parliament (in Moldovan language) Jurnal.md, April 2016 http://jurnal.md/ro/politic/2016/4/27/psrm-cere-anularea-legii-cu-privire-la-egalitatea-de-sanse-ignorati-de-majoritatea-parlamentara-socialistii-au-parasit-sedinta-parlamentului/

[27]Moldova: Reject ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law, Human Rights Watch, June 2016 https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/21/moldova-reject-gay-propaganda-law

[28] Old Fashioned Skulduggery Overshadows the Elections in Moldova, Emerging Europe, November 2016

http://emerging-europe.com/voices/voices-intl-relations/old-fashioned-skulduggery-overshadows-the-elections-in-moldova/

[29] Promo Lex: Report no.2 Observation Mission New Local Election of May 20, 2018, See chapter V,  May 2018 https://promolex.md/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/RAPORT-nr.2_MO-Promo-LEX_ALN_20.05._eng-1.pdf,

[30] Website of  The Young Guard (in Moldovan language) http://gardatinara.md/md/

[31] From a Declaration released by Victoria Grosu, leader of The Young Guard, (in Moldovan language) October 2016 http://gardatinara.md/md/top/viktoriya-grosu-vlast-prenebregaet-nravstvennostyu-i-traditsionnymi-tsennostyami/

[32] The Din Suflet Foundation (https://www.facebook.com/dinsufletrm/) is a non-profit organization, headed by Galina Dodon, the First Lady of Republic of Moldovan. Despite the fact that the foundation claims its independence, it openly sustains Socialists illiberal positions, proving the existence of deep relations between them.

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