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Militarized Transdniester Threatens Civil Society and Elections

(Washington, D.C.--November 16, 2005) A ten-year "Russification" campaign, led by Igor Smirnov, the self-proclaimed President of Transdniester, has undermined civil society in the separatist eastern Moldovan region and threatens free and fair local elections, said two Moldovan activists. Ion Iovcev and Ion Manole told a recent RFE/RL audience that this campaign by Smirnov and other Russian separatists is an effort to change the demographics of the region, militarize its society, and prepare it to eventually join the Russian Federation. Both men questioned whether elections currently scheduled for December 10, 2005 could be democratic under the current conditions in Transdniester.

Iovcev, Principal of the Lucian Blaga High School in Tiraspol said that Smirnov and his militarized regime have launched "a war against our language [Romanian] and our children" by trying to prevent the teaching of students in Romanian. "The basic rights of children are being violated," said Iovcev, describing the destruction of "school number 20" by organized gangs in July 2004, and attacks against children in an orphanage school on September 1, 2004 which "left the students with no electricity, water or food." He said officials of the Smirnov government since 1992 have subjected teachers at the eight remaining Romanian language schools of the region to "intimidation by telephone calls, constant criticism in the mass media," and arrests of teachers, parents and even a priest. Iovcev said that the Smirnov regime encourages and the Russian government allows Moldovans from Transdniester to receive Russian citizenship, thus paving the way for the Russian Federation to eventually take over the region with claims that it is helping its citizens.

Manole, Executive Director of "Promo-Lex," a Moldovan-based human rights organization, said his organization has helped 1,300 farmers from Transdniester successfully file cases in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to reclaim access to their land. Manole said that since the fall of 2004 the Smirnov regime has blockaded the roads with military units preventing farmers on the eastern side of the Tiraspol-Rabnita highway from harvesting and exporting their crops. And this year 5,000 farmers were "left without land" since these "military outposts" prevented the farmers access to their land and even "sequestered agricultural equipment." In earlier years, the "separatist regime" was content to collect taxes from these farmers, said Manole, "but now it wants to intimidate the population."

The Romanian-speaking population has decreased from 40 percent of the region in 1989, said Manole, to only 30 percent in 2005, while the Russian-speaking population has increased by four percent. He also called Transdniester a "militarized territory where 30 percent of the men are in some militia, military group or security force." "That is in addition to the 14th [Russian] Army," said Manole. With the "press under total control of the [Smirnov] regime, and "99 percent of the NGOs controlled... providing only a facade of civil society," he predicted that if local elections are held, "only voters that the government allows to vote" will be able to participate.

To have truly democratic elections, Manole said, the following four conditions should be met: Smirnov must accept TV and radio channels from Moldova, there needs to be new free media and press in Transdniester, independent NGO's must develop, and the West should provide a mini "Marshall Plan" which would give hope to the residents that economic and social development would take root. Manole concluded that the separatism by Transdniester "is not an ethnic conflict in Moldova" rather "it is a political conflict of Russia against the EU (European Union)."