Moldova | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Moldova's political rights rating declined from 2 to 3 due to changes in the survey methodology.


In the decade since Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union, this tiny country has struggled for every success. Moldova maintains one of the highest poverty rates in Europe. Subsistence farming has largely replaced the country's once-notable agricultural capacity; its national territory is divided and partly occupied by Russian troops; its Soviet-era infrastructure continues to decay; and the weight of foreign debt burdens the country's finances. Yet despite all of these substantial problems, the most heated political debates of 2002 centered on the issue of cultural identity.

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 a 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 1996 presidential elections. While the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) won a plurality of votes in the parliamentary elections of 1998, three centrist parties united to form a majority coalition. During this time, Moldova undertook 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. PCM leader Vladimir Voronin subsequently became the new 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 during the first part of 2002. At times these protests were estimated to have exceeded 100,000 people. In short order, protest leaders began to issue calls for the abdication of the government, and by February the government 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.

By late April, the CDPP protests drew to a close. The demonstrators had failed to rally greater support to their call for a new government. This failure was partly due to the fact that 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 has been slow to offer the public a fully viable solution to the country's other pressing concerns, and thus has failed to position itself as a realistic alternative to the Communists. In fact, public support for the PCM actually increased in the wake of the CDPP's four-month political siege of the government.

In retribution, the Communist-controlled government briefly suspended the CDPP and moved to lift the parliamentary immunity of the CDPP chairman and two party deputies in the first step towards criminal prosecution. At this point, the Council of Europe (CE) intervened 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 CE demands relating to political and civil rights in the country. President Voronin does not want to isolate Moldova from Europe. While the compromise agreement with the CE demonstrates the extent to which his government is open to influence from Euro-Atlantic institutions, it also underscores the delicate nature of Moldova's transitioning democracy and the need for further CE monitoring.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Moldova is a parliamentary democracy. Citizens over the age of 18 can change their government under a system of universal, equal, and direct suffrage. In 2000, Moldova ended direct elections of the president and became a full parliamentary democracy. Voters elect members of parliament by proportional representation to four-year terms. Parliament then elects the prime minister and president. Post-Soviet elections in Moldova have generally been free and fair. The self-declared government in Transnistria, however, severely limits the ability of voters in that region to participate in Moldovan elections.

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and access to public information. At the same time, laws prohibit insults against the state and defamation of senior government officials. These provisions have allowed a multitude of lawsuits against journalists in the decade since independence. In March 2002, nearly 500 journalists and media workers at the state-owned TeleRadio Moldova held demonstrations to protest alleged censorship and demand greater independence of the media. Under an agreement with the Council of Europe (CE), the government subsequently passed legislation transferring state control of TeleRadio Moldova to an independent corporation. Yet questions remain over the editorial independence of this new body, and the CE has expressed concern that TeleRadio Moldova will now derive its sole funding from the state budget.

Moldova's constitution guarantees religious freedom. A 1992 law requires all religious groups to register with the government. Previously, Moldovan authorities had used the law to deny registration to the Bessarabian Orthodox Church on the grounds that the group is a schismatic movement. The Bessarabian Church broke away from the Moldovan Church in 1992 and subordinated itself to the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate in Bucharest. The Moldovan Church remained subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. The Bessarabian Church eventually brought its case before European Court for Human Rights. In 2001, the court found in favor of the Bessarabian Church and refused to hear a subsequent appeal from the government. By late June 2002, the CE threatened to deny Moldova the rotating chair of the CE Ministerial Committee if the country continued to withhold recognition of the Bessarabian Church. Within weeks, parliament altered the registration process for religious organizations and consequently granted the Bessarabian Church official registration.

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. The constitution preserves a variety of personal freedoms and entitlements such as the right to choose one's residence, move and travel freely, and have access to education. Moldovan citizens may strike, petition the government, and participate freely in social organizations, political parties, and trade unions. Private organizations must register with the state, and demonstrations require permits from local authorities. Moldovan law allows collective bargaining but prohibits strikes by government employees and essential workers.

Following years of dramatic economic decline, the country remains one of Europe's most impoverished countries. Official unemployment hovers around 30 percent. Amidst 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. Still, there is some good economic news. Moldova became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001, and strong industrial growth in 2002 has propelled the economy to a second year of recovery.