The Republic of Moldova will hold local elections on November 5th. The campaign will kick off a three-year electoral rally that will culminate in the 2024 presidential and parliamentary elections. Geopolitical issues and internal regional conflict are fairly persistent features of Moldovan domestic politics, both during and after elections. However, despite Russia’s meddling in the republic’s internal affairs, the country has developed its own set of rules of the game based on these “features” that uphold the balance of its political system.
During the local elections on November 5, Moldovan citizens will elect 898 mayors and more than 11,000 local councilors. The elected mayors and their teams will serve as the foundation for future political party support in national elections.
These political forces include:
Those already represented in the parliament, particularly the presidential party “Action and Solidarity” (PAS) and the pro-Russian “Bloc of Communists and Socialists”;
New political projects that aim to use local elections to develop further and consolidate their positions;
Those who see the local campaign as a platform for further realization of the presidential ambitions of politicians.
Political Forces in Moldova
In this context, it’s crucial to focus on the political forces that have arisen following the prohibition of the “Shor” party. This party was deemed unconstitutional due to its efforts to disrupt the situation in Moldova, often with the backing of Russian intelligence services. To begin with, these projects include the newly formed “Chance” and “Revival” (Vozrozhdeniye) parties.
The “Shor” Party and Its Ban
However, the ban on the “Shor” party does not mean the end of this project’s political activity, as it has already gained some clout across the country. The candidate of the “Shor” party, Evgenia Gutsul, was elected head of the ATO of Gagauzia this spring, which, at first glance, indicates the absolute support of this political movement at the local level. However, recent sociological studies place the “Shor” party’s support at 13–15%.
Even though Russian propaganda is consumed by a much larger audience in Moldova than the “Shor” party’s electorate, this circumstance guarantees the political force stablilize, if not support, attention from the pro-Russian part of the population. Emotional discourse, even in pro-Russian regions, was quickly rejected, and interaction became conflictual in the struggle for access to real resources. However, the term “interaction” rather than “conflict” remains.
The Drama Triangle Model
Such interaction can be depicted through the roles described in Stephen Karpman’s model. The triangle model, described in the 70s by American psychologists, involves interaction between participants in a relationship divided into conventional roles: “victim”, “persecutor”, and “rescuer”. Moreover, each position implies a way of obtaining a “reward.” For example, the “victim” attracts attention through powerless behavior; the “persecutor” gains the opportunity to ignore his own problems by putting pressure on the victim; and the role of the “rescuer” allows one to realize one’s own potential at the expense of others.
The defined roles are unstable, and the parties change them as needed. The game allows you to avoid focusing on challenges while also protecting you from external stressors such as destructive games. This toxic interaction takes place in an “electrified” emotional environment, which is precisely what Russian propaganda tries to create in Moldova. However, this model assumes that such role-playing is stabilizing in the face of external threats, even if it does not solve real problems. In this context, the “persecutor” or “villain” conditionally demonstrates aggressiveness or provokes conflict. The “victim” is a separate group that feels powerless due to specific actions and problems. The “rescuer” may often be a political leader or force that promises to save the situation and bring “stability and prosperity.”
Role Reversals and Complex Dynamics
In this system, the parties’ roles shift from time to time, resulting in complex and unpredictable political dynamics. Political forces that were once “victims” become “rescuers” and vice versa. Chișinău, which has been reintegrating Tiraspol for thirty years, is defending Transnistria, while Tiraspol, which has been demonising Chișinău for years, is requesting a meeting and security guarantees from Chișinău. Such role reversals are exacerbated during elections or political crises, and they are a feature of Moldovan politics, influencing the dynamics of internal political conflicts and the country’s development.
The election of Evgenia Gutsul as the bashkan (head) of Gagauzia led to a long-lasting conflict at the local level in autonomy, as local deputies refused to appoint the executive committee of Gagauzia upon her proposal. During the election campaign, both sides, the local “elite” and the “Shor” candidate with a strong drive, appeared to be united in their opposition to the “pro-European” and “pro-Romanian” Chișinău.
Consider the situation a year ago. Moldovan President Maia Sandu made her first official visit to Gagauzia as head of state in September 2022. Sandu condemned Russia’s crimes in Ukraine and explained that this was the cause of the country’s deteriorating economic situation. During a meeting with local deputies, a disagreement arose over the price of gas, and the deputies eventually demanded that Sandu travel to Moscow to repair relations with the Kremlin. Thus, while Chișinău demonstrated itself to be the “persecutor” a year later by declaring the “Shor” party unconstitutional, the conflict last year was the polar opposite – Chișinău was the “victim.”
It is also worth noting the nature of Chișinău’s relations with Tiraspol. In the so-called “Transnistrian Moldovan Republic,” Russian propaganda also actively uses anti-Moldovan and anti-Romanian rhetoric, creating an image of an “external enemy” in the face of Chișinău and raising the level of emotionality in the regions’ perception of each other, both at the level of people and at the level of political dialogue, which is envisaged as part of the reintegration process. But there’s also the issue of Ukraine, where the occupied region poses a threat to national security. Chișinău’s request to Kyiv to postpone restrictions on cars with a Transnistrian registration is another example of Chișinău’s behavior, this time as a “rescuer.”
The relationship between Chișinău, Tiraspol, and Comrat reflects a behavioural model of codependence, where each player focuses on fulfilling a specific role rather than solving a specific problem. Each party seeks to maintain the status quo and uncertainty in the relationship, allowing the conflict to exist because there is a way to keep the situation under control by manipulating the situation to suit their interests. This “drama” can also be viewed as a foreign policy testing ground, where political leaders and forces manipulate emotions and beliefs, contributing to the perpetuation of instability. The situation in Gagauzia, on the other hand, shows that Chişinău successfully navigates existing positions while avoiding so-called “real politics.”
Russian Interference and Moldova’s Defense Mechanisms
The model of Russian interference in Moldovan politics relies heavily on massive propaganda, including overt aggressive discourse, covert manipulation of the context or amplification of “necessary” personalities on the pages of conventionally “respectable” media, and active measures and outright provocations. The shortsightedness of the Russian approach in Moldovan realities lies in the fact that the electrified emotional space has actualized defense mechanisms that can become assets, albeit destructive.
However, such confrontations could have a negative impact on Moldova’s interactions with its external partners. Ukraine and Romania, in particular, in particular with Ukraine and Romania. Given the security realities, when Ukrainian diplomacy seeks to strengthen the front of solidarity and support, Chișinău’s tacit self-positioning on key regional security issues may not be fully understood.
Impact on External Partners
In such cases, the parties should intensify informal contacts on sensitive issues, and Ukraine, based on its regional aspirations, should assume the leading role of a mediator in the security dimension.
One of the key strategies for external partners should be to promote dialogue, transparency, and constructive cooperation between different groups and regions in Moldova, support independent media, and facilitate interregional dialogue within the country. Especially since Moldova has already established itself as a regional humanitarian hub in the context of the migration crisis, and there are people in place to generate and implement the appropriate initiatives.
The Karpman model generally reflects the ongoing “drama” in Moldova’s international and local relations, where geopolitical interests, national issues, and domestic conflicts intersect, holding the situation on the brink of confrontation. Understanding this “drama” through the lens of the Karpman model can help analyze relationships and find ways to overcome conflict and achieve sustainable peace and cooperation.
Written By Marianna Prysiazhniuk. Translated and published by HWAG/UCMC. The article was prepared for publication by volunteers from the Res Publica - The Center for Civil Resistance.