June 14, 2010

The Holy Republic of Moldova

Valeriu Pasat is a former Moldovan spy chief who wants to increase the "fundamental" role of the Orthodox Church in the country while simultaneously bidding to become Moldova's new president. But Moldovans are asking who is actually promoting whom.

June 12, 2010
Alexandru Eftode
Spero News

“When Mr. Pasat puts his mind to something, nothing stops him until he gets the job done. And this is only the beginning.”

With these words, a well-known Moldovan journalist, Dmitri Chubashenko, who recently became the politician's spokesman, announced the start of a new era in Moldovan politics.

But who is Mr. Pasat and what, exactly, is he up to?

Valeriu Pasat is a former Moldovan spy chief who wants to increase the “fundamental” role of the Orthodox Church in the country while simultaneously bidding to become Moldova’s new president.

Last week, he initiated a referendum to introduce Orthodoxy as a compulsory subject in all Moldovan schools. To promote the idea, he plans to form a political party and run for president this fall, when fresh general and presidential elections might be held.

As Pasat joined forces with the Moldovan Orthodox Church, the dominant church in Moldova and a subordinate of the Russian Orthodox Church, questions arise about who is actually promoting whom. Will Pasat promote Orthodoxy, or will the Church promote Pasat for president? Many, including Prime Minister Vlad Filat and his partners in the governing Alliance for European Integration, are inclined to believe the latter.

Nobody can deny Valeriu Pasat’s expertise in the field. He spent years studying the oppression of the Church during the Soviet era, as well as the methods used by the KGB and NKVD (the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Internal Affairs) to infiltrate the institution.

Asked if he sees any danger that Pasat will use the Church to achieve political goals, the head of the Moldovan Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Vladimir, said the clergy is ready to take the risk. Or, as another priest, Father Vasile Ciobanu, puts it, the clergy “hopes that Mr. Pasat is a true believer, as he had enough time to turn to God and think about salvation during his prison years.”

Prison years? That’s right. Valeriu Pasat has had an eventful life since 2001, when he lost his job as the director of the Moldovan Intelligence and Security Service, a position he held since 1999, after his two years as Moldova’s first civilian Defense Minister.

After leaving the intelligence field, Pasat was employed by RAO ES, the Russian electricity monopoly, as the adviser to the president of the company, Anatoly Chubais. But the former Moldovan official never separated himself too much from his home country’s politics.

Seen as a threat by the former Moldovan communist government, Pasat was arrested at the Chisinau airport in March 2005 as he returned from Moscow ahead of the general elections. In January 2006, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His alleged crime was a decision nine years earlier as Defense Minister to sell 21 MiG-29 fighters to the United States for $40 million, even though Iran was offering $90 million. Later on, the communist government fabricated two more cases against Pasat, accusing him of an attempted coup and attempted murder.

Pasat spent more than two years in prison and portrayed himself as a political prisoner before he was unexpectedly released on July 9, 2007, and fled the same day to Moscow. He returned to Moldova only last November after the Communist Party lost the general elections to the Alliance for European Integration.

Eventually cleared of all charges, Pasat pledged to do whatever it takes to prevent the return of communists to power. But that did not “imply entering politics, Pasat specified at that time.

But seven months later, he came to another conclusion. “Without political power, you can do nothing in this country,” he said. So he decided to enter politics, even though that means challenging the new pro-Western government, not his old communist foes.

In a country where the Orthodox Church appears to be the most trusted institution, according to surveys, some analysts were quick to praise the cleverness of Pasat’s plan to use the referendum on compulsory teaching of orthodoxy as a vehicle to become president.

But others are calling the plan “immoral” and “cynical.” And still others lamented that Moldovan voters, who have been asked to vote with their hearts and their guts in the past, will probably now have to vote with their religious beliefs before getting the chance to vote with their minds.

While there’s some truth in all these remarks, it is also true that Moldova has had many unusual -- and innovative -- presidential candidates before. Some have promised to transform the country into a banking paradise -- a Switzerland of the East. Others talked seriously about using dried cow dung as fuel for Moldova's households to reduce its dependence on Russian energy. Valeriu Pasat could prove to be no more exotic than his predecessors.