For a number of reasons, truth commissions have not been popular in the post-communist world. Germany used them immediately after the collapse of the communist regime, but its example was not followed in the region, not even after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission underscored the benefits of this method of coming to terms with the past. It was only in 1998 that the Baltic states created historical commissions to investigate the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and only in 2003 and 2006 that Romania experimented with academic commissions (1). None of the Eastern European commissions were truth commissions geared on reconciliation, and all of them have had limited public impact to date. Thus, the tiny Republic of Moldova demonstrates determination, political will and vision by following this unchartered path.
On 14 January 2010, the interim President Mihai Ghimpu signed the presidential decree allowing for the creation of the Commission for the Study and Evaluation of the Totalitarian Communist Regime in the Republic of Moldova, mandated to study the documents that detail the introduction and perpetuation of the “totalitarian communist regime” in the republic, and to determine whether the regime had infringed fundamental human rights. By summer 2010, the commission must draft a final report, “a collection of documents and an analytic study that evaluates the totalitarian communist regime from a historical, political and legal viewpoint”(2). Headed by Gheorghe Cojocaru as president, Sergiu Musteata and Igor Casu as deputy presidents and Mihail Tasca as secretary, the commission includes 26 other members, making it one of the largest commissions ever, whose size is comparable only to that of the so-called Wiesel Commission (the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania). The commission includes a lawyer, a writer, a linguistics expert, a political scientist, a sociologist, and two philosophers. All of its other members are historians. Four of its members are women, but none of them is represented among the leaders.
Unsurprisingly, the leader of the Communist Party, former Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, criticized the commission and warned that condemning communism would amount to a “heresy” and a “slap on the face of those who fought against Fascism” (3). Aside from such self-interested remarks coming from the communist camp, critics include “those who are exaggeratedly preoccupied with political correctness in the sense that [they fear] this commission’s conclusion might lead to the ban of communist symbols and names…which would amount, in their view, to Chisinau’s infringement of European commitments” (4). Several voices were also raised against the lack of transparency in the selection of commission members, and some commissioners’ debatable commitment to condemn the former communist regime, given the fact that they had promoted the communist ideology, propaganda and historiography in the past. There has been skepticism towards the concrete policies and actions that would stem from the activity of the commission. Drawing a parallel to the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania (the so-called Tismaneanu Commission), a commentator suggested that the Moldovan commission had equally low chances to facilitate the organization of court trials against former communist perpetrators and noted that communist influence over the republic did not end in 1991, but continued during a period that the commission was not mandated to study.
Without minimizing the importance of the commission, I want to draw attention to its limitations, which stem from its location, mandate, composition, and available tools. Knowing exactly what the commission can and cannot do is important when evaluating its performance. The commission can learn a lot from the experience of its post-communist predecessors – it would be a pity if it doesn’t.
First, let me comment on the nature of the commission. This is a presidential, not parliamentary, commission that has a relatively short period of time at its disposal (determined politically by the interim nature of the presidency to which it is supposed to report). Its creation was definitely a breakthrough, but the very limited public debate that preceded the appointment of the members might come back to haunt the commission later on. To increase the chances for the acceptance of its final report by as many social and ethnic groups as possible, the commission should carry out a vigorous PR program, keep the public opinion informed of its activity, present the partial results of its research to the general public through press reports, workshops and conferences, and engage in discussions with the general public (including students, journalists and academics). Too often, historical commissions lose sight of their public and political roles and see themselves as strictly expert-driven. Also, as a unilateral commission that includes no representatives of Russia (as successor of the Soviet Union, the perpetrator state), the Moldovan commission might expect little sympathy from Russian historians and even Russian-speakers in Moldova. It is important to prepare a response while the commission is still active.
Second, the mandate. Given the nature of repression during Soviet times, the Moldovan commission might be tempted to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Soviet Union and the Russian-speakers and gloss over the support and collaboration of Moldovans with the communist regime. True, Soviet Moldova was subjected to the control of Moscow, but not all of Chisinau’s policies and actions followed the Soviet line at all times. Similarly, the Moldovans were persecuted, but not all of them were active dissidents and there are shades of collaboration among them (as there are among Russian-speakers). A focus on ideology might explain the reasons why repression occurred, but only a careful analysis of the state repressive mechanisms and the state-society relations will reveal where, how and against whom was repression directed. The commission should also keep in mind that the communist apparatus did not lose its control when the republic gained its independence in 1991, but communist figures like Lucinschi and Voronin got a new lease on their political life in post-communist times. The report should allow readers to infer the roots of this elite reproduction.
Third, the tools. As a presidential commission, the Moldovan body is deprived of subpoena powers to compel victims and victimizers to testify before it. While the decree mentions only the study of documents, it does not expressly prohibit the use of oral memory in supporting these written archival records. Again, by opening the commission to the public – and understanding its mission to go beyond the simple compilation of a history book (the final report) – the commission would build its PR program and increase the chances of its public acceptance. To a certain extent, none of the post-communist commissions created to date have understood the importance of reaching out to victims’ groups and building trust in public meetings. Here, the South African example could be instrumental, although indeed the scope of such interaction with the public would be much more limited in the Moldovan case.
Already the Moldovan commission has revealed to the press some important finding related to the activity of the Moldovan Troika. But its relative silence and low public profile works to its detriment. I urge Moldovan commissioners to be more active and open. A clear media strategy would raise the commission’s profile and allow the commission to de-bloc transitional justice in Moldova.
(1) Lavinia Stan, “Truth Commissions in Post-Communism: The Overlooked Solution?,” Open Political Science Journal, vol. 2 (2009), pp. 1-13, available at: http://www.bentham.org/open/topolisj/openaccess2.htm.
(2) “Chisinaul da startul condamnarii comunismului,” Tribuna Basarabiei, 15 January 2010, available at: http://www.tribuna-basarabiei.ro/2010/01/chisinaul-da-startul-condamnarii.html.
(3) “Voronin: Eventuala condamnare a comunismului ar fi o erezie,” 20 January 2010, available at: http://www.ziare.com/articole/voronin+comunism+erezie.
(4) Igor Casu, “Care este scopul comisiei pentru studierea comunismului si pe cine deranjeaza activitatea acesteia?,” Radio Vocea Basarabiei, 13 February 2010, available at: http://www.voceabasarabiei.net/index.php/stiri/cultura/7076-audio-care-este-scopul-comisiei-pentru-studierea-comunismului-i-pe-cine-deranjeaz-activitatea-acesteia.