Moldova follows a regional trend of countries trying to come to terms with their troubled Communist past, but the Communist Party claims banning its symbols is an attack on the main political opposition.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 16/10/12
Former president Vladimir Voronin leads the Communist Party in Moldova. [Reuters]
A ban on communist symbols in Moldova came into force on October 1st, raising objections by the main opposition Communist Party as advocates say the restriction is mandatory if the country wants to close a chapter of its tumultuous history and look forward toward democratic values.
The decision is part of a broader law passed in mid-July by the Moldovan parliament, dominated by the Alliance for European Integration, a pro-Western coalition led by Prime Minister Vlad Filat, to condemn the totalitarian communist regime of the past.
The Communist Party, which has 42 seats in the 101-person parliament and maintains the hammer and sickle as its party symbol, said it will not give up its symbol. If a party fails to observe the new law it could be outlawed, while other organisations using the symbol could be fined.
The Communist Party, led by Vladimir Voronin, said it could take the law to the European Court of Human Rights.
Advocates of the law say it was passed in memory of those who suffered during the Soviet dictatorial rule, which ended in 1991. Moldova, which was formerly part of Greater Romania, was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940 as part of a non-aggression agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
"The law condemns the crimes of the communist regime whose symbol was the sickle and hammer," said Mihai Ghimpu, a founding member of the Alliance for European Integration and former interim president, told SETimes.
"Communism was brought here by bayonets and tanks and sparked a national tragedy among Romanians, hundreds of thousands of them being deported to Siberia and uprooted. This is why this law is first of all a moral obligation of ours," he told SETimes.
But Ghimpu also said the law could also influence the electorate's support for the Communists.
"We expect significant consequences electorally because much of the Communists' electorate is made of old people nostalgic of yesteryears and who generally vote guiding themselves by the symbol rather than the name of the party," he said.
Unlike other post-Soviet states, the Communist Party has remained strong in Moldova, ruling for much of the post-Soviet period until a controversial election in April 2009 resulted in the formation of pro-Western coalition in government.
"It is indeed a direct challenge to the Communist Party and aims at eliminating it and taking a serious competitor out of the game," Vladimir Turcan, leader of the leftist United Moldova Party and former Communist lawmaker and ambassador to Russia, told SETimes. "But I do not think this is a priority for Moldova these days. Why condemn the past instead of looking at the present?"
The ban also drew Russia's ire, which called the measure sacrilegious and ridiculous.
But some hailed the decision.
"We cannot take care of the present and build the future if we ignore the past," Andrei Istratie, a 37-year-old Moldovan teacher settled in the Romanian city of Iassy, told SETimes. "We cannot pretend no harm was done to us in the name of the communist symbol. We cannot hide this from the future generations because this would be an act of cowardice. Why other countries condemned communism then?"
The first country to do so was the Czech Republic in 1993. In January 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1481 which condemned, and called on the Communist parties in Europe to condemn the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes of the past.
Romania formally condemned the communist dictatorship in December 2006 while the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill denouncing Soviet-induced famine in the 1930s as an act of genocide. This January, the Bulgarian Parliament also condemned the forceful assimilation of the Turkish ethnic minority in the 1980s by Todor Jivkov's communist regime, toppled in 1989.
Also in 2010, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic asked the European Commission to make it a crime to deny communist crimes, but Brussels rejected the demand.