Overall situation and state of civil society
Recent history in Moldova has been marked by growing political populism and a sharp divide between pro-European and pro-Russian camps, both amongst ordinary people and within political and business circles. This divide was starkly exposed in 2018, when the invalidation of mayoral elections in Chișinău sparked large protests against the country’s traditional oligarchs.
Parliamentary elections in February 2019 resulted in a relatively uniform distribution of votes between the ruling Democratic Party, the pro-Russian Socialist Party and the pro-European Block ACUM. Power-sharing negotiations between the parties were only concluded in June 2019, and resulted in an uneasy coalition between the Socialists and the ACUM Block which aimed to dismantle the oligarchic regime instituted by the Democratic Party and its leader Vladimir Plahotniuc. Between June 8 and 14, however, the old Government led by the Democratic Party refused to recognise the new Government. Their decision was supported by the Constitutional Court which dissolved the newly-elected Parliament. The crisis was ultimately resolved when the former Government resigned and the Constitutional Court revised its decisions, which were harshly criticized by the Venice Commission.
During the past decades, social and economic difficulties have led to a steady outflow of Moldovans, with an estimated 25% of the population working abroad. This has seriously impacted the demographics and economy of the country, which is the poorest in Europe according to budget revenues per capita.
Moldova also faces a constant security threat from the frozen conflict in the Transnistrian region and struggles with a weak justice system, which has been used inter alia for legitimizing more than 20 billion USD from the Russian Laundromat. While corruption is a major topic in public debates following the failed justice reform undertaken a few years ago, the Moldova is often referred to as a captured state, with weak democratic institutions controlled by interest groups which converge to a single point of power.
The country’s primary media outlets are owned by a handful of media conglomerates affiliated and controlled by individuals with close links to political parties. In the World Press Index, Moldova has lost 15 positions since 2016 and ranked 91st out of 180 countries in 2019.
There are more than 12,000 registered organizations, though probably less than half of them are active. Nevertheless, CSOs are important contributors to the country’s development, with consistent inputs in developing democratic institutions, supporting human rights and building the foundation for a progressive social and legal framework.
Most CSOs are funded by grants, and are strongly dependent on foreign financial support. Alternative sources of income, such as state funded grants, the percentage tax designation mechanism, social entrepreneurship, donations or public procurements are mostly emerging and account only for a small share of CSO operating resources.
The general legal and administrative requirements for CSOs do not pose serious burdens. Online reporting and the recent streamlining of reporting formats have lessened administrative burdens for CSOs. However, government registration institutions are entitled to demand information about the activity of any CSO, attend meetings and access internal confidential documents. Even if these procedures have not yet been used in practice, they pose a latent threat to CSO independence. Registration procedures can also be difficult in regional offices, where unskilled public officials impose unofficial procedures and costs. This situation led to 88% of associations registering in a single office in Chișinău in 2018.
Since 2016, CSOs have been subjected to constant media attacks by officials, political leaders and their affiliated media resources. The attacks addressed issues such as the external funding of CSOs and questioned their motivations after some vocal organizations strongly criticised newly-adopted laws concerning the change of the electoral system, capital amnesty, and granting citizenship through investment.
This state of affairs contributes to the perception of insecurity for more vocal organizations, and encourages a self-censorship amongst organizations that want to maintain good relationships with public authorities.
CSO outreach to the population is limited, and there are few grassroots organizations. The engagement of the population in CSO activities is mostly based on monetary relations, with little mobilisation on the basis of membership or volunteering. As a consequence, people are mostly unaware of CSO activities and achievements. The latest opinion polls show that only 18% of the population trusts CSOs. This is higher than the level of trust in the Government (15%), Parliament (11%) and political parties (12%), but less than police (34%), the army (32%) and the media (32%).
perception of CSOs is also influenced by the government, politicians and the
Moldovan Metropolitan Church, who often denigrate CSOs, including by pointing to
their foreign funding and accusing them of being unprofessional or having hidden