How can a country with a shrinking population hold its government accountable for corruption and fraud? How can a country with a corrupt and fraudulent government expect to keep its population?
These are the dichotomous questions that Moldova must solve in order to save their democracy. Moldova is often regarded as the most impoverished country in Europe with a 2017 GDP of only 8.13 billion USD, compared to the GDP of the United States which was 19390.60 billion in the same year. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova has struggled to compete in the international and European markets. Their economy, most agricultural based, has not been able to keep up with larger or more fertile countries and the country has suffered. The lack of job opportunities at sustainable living wages has resulted in mass emigrations to Europe and Russia, with a net migration rate of -9.4 per 1,000 people in 2017.
It seems as though Moldova is losing individual for four reasons. The first group is those going abroad for menial or unskilled labor in order to send aid back home, generally on a temporary basis. However, this may in fact be helping the country rather than hurting it. Remittances in Moldova are generally high, in 2004 accounting for 27% of the country’s GDP (Black et al. 17). The second group is made up of those who go aboard to further their education or seek better-paying jobs for the level of intellectual work in which they are participating. This harms the country more than helps it as it becomes harder to invest in the country when the talent is leaving. In order to get them to stay, the government or companies would have to pay these employees more, but at present cannot afford to do so. The third group is made up of the elites (Stemmer 44). Those who have the means to do as they please, though similar to the first group they often visit or send money back to Moldova aiding their economy. The final group is made up of those who have been trafficked and have little choice over whether or not to leave the country (Black et al. 12). This is not only damaging to the reputation and morale of the community but results in the citizens not feeling safe and not trusting the government to save them. Additionally, this harms the social makeup of the country as citizens begin to fear one another.
So, how does this mass emigration affect the democracy of the country? While there is little viable data to link emigration to democracy itself, it has been correlated to surrounding issues. For instance, Anna Stemmer found that high rates of money transfers from abroad tend to lead to heightened criminal activity in Moldova as individuals look for more cost-efficient ways of getting their money in an out. This rise of organized criminal activity tends to lead towards corruption within the government as officials are paid off or use the unofficial system of transferring themselves. In this way, the country is being hurt by the emigration and inevitable influx of euros (Stemmer 53). However, the country also strongly depends on this relationship. As stated previously, a large portion of the country’s GDP is based on the remittances from these transfers.
Emigration also becomes a problem when the population that leaves the country becomes so large. Ellen Lust and David Waldner discuss this as part of their theory matrix regarding democratic backsliding. Moldova’s problem of emigrations becomes relevant in the theory family of political culture, particular civic culture as Moldova lacks this necessary group. For a variety of reasons, economic and apathetic mostly, often fails to cultivate a strong national identity and rather is focused on survival. This works in hand with Lust and Waldner’s fourth theory matrix of Political Economy focusing on levels on income. Moldova is a struggling economy and so people do not have as much time to devote to the development of democracy. In fact, many emigrate in order to seek better economic opportunities. This is referred to as temporary emigration as those who leave have anchors, such as family, to bring them back to Moldova. These individuals leave and send money home, hoping to one day rejoin their country. The other population that leaves are part of a group referred to as permanent emigrations. This encompasses those that have families abroad, or bring their families abroad, and don’t intend to return to Moldova. As of 2014, this accounted for about 40% of emigrations from Moldova. Those who emigrate permanently tend to grow less interested in the problems back home. With fewer eyes watching it becomes easier for a government to be corrupted and media to be censored, essentially it becomes easier for a country’s democracy to erode.
Moldova has recognized this as a significant issue and taken introductory steps to halt it. The government has developed and is enacting their national development strategy “Moldova 2020” through which they focus on economic development and internal infrastructure to keep, create, and maintain jobs and the population. By effectively engaging with this plan and increasing the number of Moldovans who remain in the country, the government is strengthening their democracy. However, this action is not enough to develop the country into a Free Country as opposed to a Partially Free Country as defined by Freedom House. In order for that to happen, the country must also reengage their citizens and work to reduce the amount of corruption within their governing bodies.
Beurq, Julia. “Moldova: A Country Being Emptied of its Inhabitants”. Equal Times. December 6, 2016.
Black, Richard, Maria Cristina Pantiru, and Rachel Sabates-Wheeler. “Migration and Poverty Reduction in Moldova”. Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalization and Poverty. February 2007.
“Freedom in the World 2019”. Freedom House. 2019.
Luecke, Matthias, Vladimir Ganta, and Joerg Radeke. “Permanent Emigration from Moldova: Estimate and Implication for Diaspora Policy” German Economic Team Moldova. June, 2015.
Lust, Ellen and David Waldner. Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding. USAID, 2015.
“Moldova GDP”. Trading Economics. https://tradingeconomics.com/moldova/gdp
“National Development Strategy: 7 Solutions for Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction”. Moldova 2020.
Stemmer, Anna. “The Republic of Moldova and The Migration”. KAS International Reports. December 2011.
Photo: Rosca, Ogla. “EBRD Approves New Strategy for Moldova”. European Bank. November 2017.