Victor Guzun, the Moldovan ambassador to Estonia, has a deeper history with the country than most diplomats assigned to Tallinn.
Guzun's first experience living in Estonia took place in 2006-2007, when he attended the Estonian School of Diplomacy in Tallinn. He then came back to the city in November 2010 for his very first ambassadorial posting.
Although he only has a staff of two others at the embassy building on Tatari tee, Guzun has tried outreach to the Estonian community as much as possible, traveling widely throughout the country. He posts his observations and encounters through social media, running his own blog (in both English and Romanian), and Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Guzun hit the fourth anniversary of his appointment 11 days ago, and has the second-longest tenure of an ambassador currently residing in the country (Russia's ambassador, Yuri Merzlyakov, is the leader by a few weeks).
He sat down recently with Scott Abel from ERR News to talk about Moldova's geopolitical circumstances, the situation with the breakaway region of Transnistria, the building of bridges between his country and Estonia - including an economic forum that will take place between the two countries in the Moldovan capital of Chișinău at the end of this week - and his thoughts on life in Estonia.
You signed the EU Association Agreement and a deeper free trade agreement on June 27, and it started from September 1. What was that agreement offered to Moldova? There was a lot of pressure for you not to sign by Russia. Why was that a step that Moldova needed to be taken?
This is our agenda for the future of my country. This is everything. This changes the rules, making them very transparent, making them very clear. It's the document that is the way that will make Moldova better and better every single day. We started this a long time ago. It was and remains the first priority of my government (in 2010), and we started the implementation immediately when the alliance for European integration was created in my country. European integration, liberty, democracy, and well-being of the people were the priorities. The association agreement and the free trade agreement are the ways that Moldova will develop, in the short, medium and long term.
I do not not see any alternative for the Republic of Moldova to EU integration. This is one of the main tasks of my embassy and my mandate; to build as many bridges as possible between Estonia and Moldova on this particular issue. I think Estonia is the best possible example for Moldova. Both are small countries with the same historical background with a clear understanding of what was, and where we need to go.
There was a Russification program after World War II in Moldova, in some ways that went much farther than it did in Estonia. How much of Moldova's current problems stem from that period?
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is one way that Estonia and Moldova share the same historical background, because both countries suffered under the secret protocol. Our alphabet was changed from Latin to Cyrillic. Our political elites at that time were persecuted, and mass deportations took place, just like in Estonia. All the ties with the Romanian language culture were cut, and a big amount of the representatives of today's national minorities were transferred to Moldova. Then there is the breakaway territory of Transnistria. This conflict was a big disaster for my country.
But if you come back to the association agreement, this is one of the best ways to solve this particular problem as well. I'm quite sure that it can solve the Transnistrian conflict, if the people are aware of the good created by the agreement. It's our hope, our light at the end of the tunnel.
What does Moldova offer in terms of exports? Do you have a "Nokia"?
Our Nokia is the people, just like it is in Estonia. We don't have natural resources or raw materials. Our heritage is the land, our agriculture and the human potential. Starting on April 28, Moldovans can now travel to the Schengen area, including Estonia, without visas. If you look at the infrastructure compared to five years ago, you will see it is totally different. The transparency, the openness of the government, the investment climate in Moldova, the media freedoms - it's totally different. It's becoming more free and prosperous. This is why the association agreement was so important for my country.
If the people in the Transnistrian region understand that the level of life, the level of comfort, the level of economic freedoms are improving, this will be clear proof where their direction should be. I have a lot of friends there. They are waiting to live in a nice and beautiful country. There is a separatist movement based on some leaders in this area, and that's it.
For readers who not familiar with the history of Transnistria, how did that conflict come about?
There were huge ammunition supplies there for the 14th Russian army. When the Soviet Union collapsed, that's when the separatist movement started in the Transnistria region of Moldova. Their issue was that there was no common history, no common understanding about the future development of both banks of the river. But we cannot redraw the map of Europe. All countries, including the Russian Federation, recognize the Transnistria region as part of Moldova. The Istanbul Agreement (1999) said that Russia has to withdraw the ammunition from the territory of Moldova, because they are staying there without our consent. Today, there are still huge warehouses in the village of Colbasna, which, in my opinion, is a clear message of support for the separatists. Our constitution says that we should remain neutral.
I just saw that Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin met the leader of the Transnistria region, Yevgeny Shevchuk, in Moscow. The message afterwards was that no one should think about attacking Transnistria. The message from the Russian Federation, at least from a top official, is to give them support. But this is the territory of Moldova, a neutral and peaceful country. Russia must withdraw the ammunition from the territory of Moldova.
There are two types of Russian military presence in Moldova. One is the peacekeeping forces operating under the Joint Control Commission (around 400 troops), another is (around 1,000) is taking care of the warehouses. They are illegally on our territory, and should withdraw, along with the ammunition. Moldova is willing to have peacekeeping forces under international leadership, but not troops of one country.
The Russian-Ukraine conflict has to be a major concern for you, and talk in Russia about a "New Russia" (Novorossiya) being carved out of southern Ukraine, some maps have it extending all the way to Transnistria. What are your concerns about the conflict there?
Ukraine is our biggest neighbor, on the east, north and south. We have a big national minority of Ukrainians in Moldova, about 12 percent, so it is a big concern. (Two weeks ago) my prime minister, Iurie Leancă, met Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta in Kyiv, to talk about cooperation between our countries and also how to deal with the situation. Sure, it is very worrying for us that it is happening on our border, and with the situation in Transnistria. We are doing everything we can to not escalate it.
I was in the Estonian National Archives a few days ago and looked at different historical maps. If you follow them, we would have to redraw the map of the world. In the 21st century, there is no place for this kind of interpretation. The occupation of Crimea is totally illegal, and it is breaking the rules and norms which have been established in the 20th century. We are not taking it [the idea of Novorossiya] seriously.
How has the export climate been affected in the wake of the Russian boycott of goods from the West?
Our goods are being sanctioned, just like Estonia. Our wines were boycotted in 2006, and then again last year, and our fruits and canned goods are also under boycott, so we are experienced in this. As a consequence, we are selling much more to the EU and less to the Russian Federation.
We are organizing a business forum in Chișinău for promoting Estonian and Moldovan goods from October 18-21. It will be opened by both our minsters of agriculture, and was an initiative of our embassy. It will include the biggest producers of milk, meat and fish products in Estonia, as well as the largest wine and fruit and vegetable producers in Moldova. Some of the largest supermarket chains in Estonia and Moldova will be represented. I think Estonians would love to have our wines, but they can't be produced here, in the same way that we can't produce fish like Estonia.
What do you see as the state of Estonian-Moldovan cooperation at present?
It would be easier to say what Estonian and Moldovan institutions are not cooperating today than which ones are, and building those bridges have been very important. We've started a program of connecting localities together. Four years ago there were none, but now there are eight regions or cities of Moldova connected to Estonia municipalities or regions. Our policy is to connect not only on the governmental, but the local level, because European integration is not just made in the capitals and in the big cities, but made on the ground on the local level.
We have more students studying in Estonian universities, and more cultural exchanges. The Estonian foreign ministry has supplied development funds to Moldova, and we are their biggest applicant. Moldovans know much more about Estonia, and Estonians know much more about Moldova. Our diaspora is 502 here, and of them, 128 are citizens of Moldova.
What has struck you the most in your time in Estonia? What are you going to take away from this posting?
The spirit of the nation I think is very important, that Estonians have. The spirit of unity, and the understanding of how to develop this country is something that we need to export to Moldova. There is just amazing nature, which you will not find anywhere. Estonia is a very comfortable place, and I am not sure all Estonians recognize that, but believe me, it is.
I would like to thank the Estonian people; its been four years, and the people have received me and my family and staff so warmly. It has been a pleasure to work here and build so many bridges. The leadership of Estonia has very supportive to my country. There's a clear understanding between our countries, and very important to what we're building. Moldova at the end of the day would like to be part of your family.