How a boar hunt gone awry toppled Moldova’s government and might bring back communists

April 24, 2013

Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat  (Vadim Denisov/AFP/Getty Images)

Two days before Christmas last year, a group of about 30 men, including several senior government officials, set out for a quiet boar hunting trip in a nature reserve in Moldova, the tiny former Soviet republic and Europe's poorest country. Their ill-fated trip ended with the death of one of the hunters -- a 41-year-old businessman mistakenly shot by one of his hunting friends -- and eventually, according to a Reuters report, the collapse of the Moldovan government.

The Moldovan prime minister, a former businessman named Vlad Filat, saw political opportunity in the businessman's death. Filat has been struggling to push through reforms that would enable his country to more closely integrate with Europe, his signature agenda item, but has faced some opposition. Perhaps hoping to paint himself as an enemy of corruption, he accused one of the government officials on the hunting party, Prosecutor General Valerii Zubco, of hunting without proper permission and attempting to cover up the businessman's death.

Charges of political corruption are not unheard of in Moldova, but something about this one seemed to push its fractured political system over the edge. Filat and Zubco are from different political parties, but their respective parties had formed a coalition. That coalition gave the parties a majority in parliament, which Filat leads.

But Zubco's backers in the Liberal Party apparently took Filat's accusation as an unacceptable breach of protocol. Reuters says that, for the Liberal Party, "[Filat's] action amounted to a crude power play, undermining a basic agreement according to which senior state posts were shared out among Alliance parties."

Parties that were supposedly allies of Filat, outraged at his accusations, fired back with charges that the prime minister participated in black-market cigarette sales. The in-fighting worsened until, in early March, the parliament ousted Filat in a no-confidence vote. The country has been without a governing coalition since.

Here's the thing you have to understand about Moldova for this to make sense: Most lawmakers in the country's parliament support integration with Europe, as does Filat, but there is a powerful minority party that does not: the Communist Party. They're still well-represented in the Moldovan countryside, according to Reuters, and are the single-largest party, with 34 out of 101 seats. They're not a part of the governing majority, but as that pro-Europe coalition breaks apart, it's not unforeseeable that they might return to power.

In 2001, Moldova's Communist Party became the first Soviet-founded communist party to retake power in a post-Soviet state. The same communists who had been ousted a decade earlier were freely voted back into office, which they held until 2009.

Though the Liberal Party still refuses to support Filat, he announced this month that he'd somehow cobbled together the 51 votes needed to form a new government. Alas, just as Moldova pulled away from the brink of crisis, it was pushed back: On Monday, the constitutional court announced that Filat could no longer serve as prime minister because of the corruption charges against him. So much for his new coalition.

It's not clear what happens next. Filat's deputy prime minister, Iurie Leanca, is standing in as acting prime minister until parliament can put together a new governing majority. If that satisfies the Liberal Party, it will likely be enough to keep a pro-Europe majority and the communists in the minority. But if not, there's no telling. Welcome to the topsy-turvy parliamentary politics of former Soviet Eastern Europe, where the distance between the European future and the communist past is often narrower than you might think.

Update: Some readers point out that this story is unnervingly similar to the plot of fantasy book and TV series Game of Thrones, in which an accidental death on a boar-hunting trip leads to a destabilizing political conflict and the reinstatement of the old regime. Life is stranger than fiction.

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