The Activity of the Commission for the Study and Evaluation of Totalitarian Communist Regime in the Republic of Moldova: Why Has It Partially Failed?

Author: Igor Casu, Director, Center for Study of Totalitarian Regimes & Cold War, Faculty of History and Philosophy, State University of Moldova


The politics of memory played an important role in the Republic of Moldova in many parliamentary campaigns after 1991, but especially during the last 10 years. In 2009, the anti-communist Liberal Party tried to gather electoral support by invoking the need to outlaw the Communist Party, claiming that communism was as criminal as National-Socialism in particular and Fascism as a whole. Another important political party of the Alliance for European Integration, the Liberal Democratic Party, was very critical of the Communist Party’s reluctance to condemn communist-era crimes. It promised to restore the pro-Romanian and pro-European national discourse on dominance in history in the 1990s. The strong appeal to the Moldovan electorate of these two parties was due to the fact their leaders represented a new generation of Moldovan politicians educated mainly in Romania and the West, with no nomenklatura past. Even the oppositional “Our Moldova Alliance,” lead by former middle level nomenklatura members, played the anti-communist card. Following the elections, these three parties, along with the Democratic Party led by Marian Lupu, formed a coalition government in September 2009. Although the Communist Party pursued a policy of rehabilitating Stalin and worshiping Lenin, during the 2009 electoral campaign it changed its attitude toward the victims of mass deportations. Sensing the loss of popular support after the violent anti-communist riots in Chişinău on April 7, 2009, the communist government allotted around thirteen million Lei (one million US dollars) for reparation payments to the victims of Stalinist deportations. This was an excellent example how the politics of memory was instrumentalized for electoral purposes. Lustration was discussed publicly in 2005 and 2006. One of the leading national weeklies, Jurnal de Chişinău, published around 200 interviews with local politicians and cultural personalities asking for their opinion about communism, the prospects of a lustration law, and if they had collaborated with the KGB in the Soviet period. Although the majority condemned communism, only a minority supported a lustration law and some voiced no regret for their Soviet-era collaboration with the political police. 

The breakthrough in the politics of memory came in January 2010 when a Presidential Commission for the Study and Evaluation of the Communist Totalitarian Regime was created by the interim President of the Republic, Mihai Ghimpu, who was also the leader of Liberal Party. The Commission included thirty members, among them historians, writers, sociologists, lawyers and linguists. As a result, the previously inaccessible archival depositories were disclosed, including that of the former KGB and the Ministry of Interior. The Commission was supposed to deliver a preliminary report by June 1, 2010, but it could not be finalized because there was no unanimity on the final version. There were two contending groups, the one represented by former Soviet official historians who played now the nationalistic card and another composed of young historians educated in Romania and in the West, who insisted on a more balanced approach, rejecting the ethnicization of the Communist repressions. Finally, a volume covering the main contributions of the members of the Commission was published in the fall of 2011 in Chișinău. It comprised the main aspects related to repressive policies of Moscow in former Moldavian SSR, including several chapters on Soviet nationalities policy and an extensive chapter on the politics of memory of Chișinău authorities after 1989. The first part of the volume includes articles written by historians and political scientists from Eastern and Central Europe, including several members of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. These scholars helped their Moldavian colleagues by generously sharing their experience in working in the Romanian archives and dealing with administrative issues related to the access to previously secret files. Several volumes of documents were also published as a result of the activity of the Commission and others will be published in the years to come. 

The outcomes of the Moldovan Commission for the Study and Evaluation of the Communist Totalitarian Regime in the Republic of Moldova have been summarized briefly by one of its young members, Andrei Cușco, who holds a Ph.D. in History from the Central European University: “The Commission’s effectiveness was limited by the vagueness of its mandate; the short time span of its operation; the lack of effective legal tools (subpoena powers); the limited political support for its work and the tendency of certain political forces to use it for their own purposes; and the underrepresentation of the civil society, the victims’ associations, and ethnic minorities in the Commission. However, it helped open previously inaccessible archival (including secret police) files and it increased public awareness of the nature and consequences of the former regime. The Commission represents only the first step in the creation of a complex and multilayered institutional structure that might eventually lead to an effective system of transitional justice in Moldova”.  This is the best way to summarize the limits, successes and failures of the above-mentioned ‘truth’ Commission in Moldova.