Without the involvement of young people, we will still be discussing the same issues 30 years from now | Liliana Palihovici, President of the „Institutum Virtutes Civilis” Association

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Synthesis and Foreign Policy Debates NEWSLETTER, AUGUST 2020 NR.8 (174)

After about a decade of experience in politics, during which time she was also deputy speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, Liliana Palihovici says that she returned to where she started – working with people. It is true she did not break away completely from politics – through the association she created, she teaches her fellow citizens how to be more active and involved, how not to be afraid of the authorities and how to hold them accountable, promoting good governance and the rule of law.

And because she has always believed in the edifying power of women, for many years she has been leading the Academy for Women’s Leadership, providing training and support to the aspirants to a political position. Read more about the role of women and young people in a society that wants to be fair, about restoring values and resetting the political class as a condition for modernizing the state…Moldovans have not yet completely got rid of fear Mrs. Palihovici, tomorrow is Independence Day. How is it for you, who were in the upper echelon of power a decade ago?

– Moldovans have not yet completely got rid of fear Mrs. Palihovici, tomorrow is Independence Day. How is it for you, who were in the upper echelon of power a decade ago?

– I’m living my life like any other citizen of the Republic of Moldova – with all the worries that these times have brought, with the effort to maintain our health, but also the health of our parents and children. This is the background on which Independencewill be marked in 2020. The number one priority is to resist morally and physically – to resist today, so that we can think about the future tomorrow. As for me, this is the thought that has always accompanied me, not only on the eve of national holidays: what else could I do for this country to identify its course, for our children to want to learn at home, and for the families to want to build their homes here.

– And did you find the answer?

– Unfortunately not yet, although I have been looking for it for years and I’m trying to keep my optimism, to find the arguments that will convince me and others that, look, maybe today it’s hard, but I take another step, make effort, find more people who think like me and maybe tomorrow we will change things for the better. Optimism keeps me going.

– Anyway, as I wrote not long ago, from a 29-year-old state, as well as from a 29-year-old person, you expect some performances. If we do not find the answer, it means there was no performance. Where were the mistakes? What went wrong?

– I don’t even know if there are mistakes. Perhaps, rather there are consequences of the way of being of our people, of their mentality and behaviour. It seems to me that Moldovans have not yet completely got rid of the feeling of fear. Fear of speaking out, demanding respect for their rights, being more active and involved.

I’m saying this based on the observations from the times I was involved in politics, but also based on some more recent experiences. In the social activities that I’m involved at the moment which aim at strengthening the participatory democracy and good governance, going through districts and villages, I find that people don’t believe that if they were more active, more involved, demanded more justice from those who govern locally, but also nationally, things would change.

There is a lack of confidence that we can improve our living standards, if we were active. As a result, most politicians in the Republic of Moldova perpetuate a very low degree of responsibility towards the citizens. And we continue to live as we are living …

I understand that a good part of people has lost their hope, others have not even found out that they can live differently and agree to vote for a bag of buckwheat or other minor benefits.

Certainly, things will be able to change when there is a change of mentality. But it can only come with a new generation, and if we do not take care today to instil in the young people the seed of activism and interest in the community life, we will be discussing the same issues – or even about bigger problems – in 30 years since now.

When the society does not react, it means something is wrong

– How is the reality seen today, from the position of an activist, compared to the seat of a parliamentarian?

I’ve actually gone back to what I had been doing before taking the “political break” – working with people, and I never really broke with reality. People live in a kind of despair – we are poor and nothing is possible. We try to prove them wrong.

I remember about a village … “Do you organise village assemblies? I asked them. How many times have you asked the mayor about the budget, the money spent and about who took the decisions on how to spend the money?”. I hope that I made them think at least, otherwise they only rely on different statements made by politicians, which they don’t even dare to question.

Speaking of statements, just today I heard the head of state saying he fulfilled 85% of his electoral programme, that he promoted the indexation of pensions twice a year…

– Speaking of statements, just today I heard the head of state saying he fulfilled 85% of his electoral programme, that he promoted the indexation of pensions twice a year…

– As a citizen, I would ask him about his merit in this respect, especially the benefit it brought for the people in the situation where he failed to restructure the pension system that would lead to a noticeable increase in the welfare of the elderly. What is the relevance of the biannual indexation of pensions, if now, in the pandemic, out of less than 1000-1500
lei a month, pensioners have to pay eight lei for a mask?

We are upset that people don’t wear masks, don’t disinfect their hands, but has anyone calculated how much this costs for a person who lives on 1500 lei?!. The same is true for the school teachers who seem to be sacrificing half their salary for anti-Covid protection consumables…

Because there is no tradition for everybody to be responsible for their part of the task, nor to care about the image created after the (non) execution of the task. We see a crazy rush for positions without taking responsibility for the position.

– Could a saviour help us by inspiring us through his/ her own example?

– The tone of a new approach should be given by the political class, but politicians have already crossed all the permissible red lines so many times, without being penalised by society, that they believe they can perpetuate such experiences indefinitely …

That’s why I said things would change when we had a vibrant, active society. That’s why I count on young people … When society doesn’t react, it means that something is wrong.
The farmers came out to protest, all the others said: it is not our business.

Mothers came out to protest about the poor quality of food in kindergartens (fathers could have come out, by the way) – all the others said: it’s not our problem. Society is still amorphous; people still do not understand that they can be heard not only in elections. And I strongly hope that through what I’m doing, I will be able to plant the seed of activism which will bear fruit. Although you can’t have guarantees.

If Moldovans vote for a woman as mayor, they will also vote for a woman president

– What guarantees do the women whom you encourage to enter politics and even teach them how to do it, give you? How simple is this approach in our society, which is essentially a patriarchal still?

Working with women involved in politics is a big challenge, but also (sometimes) a big disappointment. Challenge, because in the three years of the Women’s Leadership Academy, which I established, I interacted with the most wonderful women in this country. Disappointment, because I saw situations in which they suffered a great injustice.

They were active, involved, accomplished, worked around the clock and enjoyed the support of the people. And I was very sad to see that sometimes, when making the lists, they were placed on ineligible places from the start. And if they aspired to go further on their own, because no academy gives you the experience of a real campaign, they were obstructed …

This shows that most parties say they have gender equality, that they support it and that they promote women’s involvement in politics and in the decision-making processes, but very few parties in reality would have voluntarily adjusted their electoral lists.

Does it mean that the much-trumpeted gender quotas don’t work in reality?

– The law obliged the parties to respect the 40 percent quota and the parties complied, because otherwise they were not registered in the electoral race. But the same law has left them a loophole, a room for manoeuvre – in the changes you can make even before the election you are no longer obliged to observe the quota… And the parties have not hesitated to open the door … cases existed in many districts and it didn’t matter that the woman worked the whole campaign and that the people, most likely, chose that party precisely because of her. And she finds out that her place in the electoral list was changed only after the elections…

There are gaps that can be bridged by monitoring and we have to put pressure to remove them in the end. And here I will answer the question you asked me earlier: what guarantees do women give me? Women give me the guarantee of more fairness.

– And yet, the idea that Moldovans are not ready to vote for a woman is perpetuated, including by politiciansparty leaders- presidential candidates?

If Moldovans vote for a woman mayor in a village, for five or six consecutive terms, I think they are ready to vote for a woman as country president.

Yes, maybe at first, she made enemies because she forced people to take the garbage to a certain place, but in the end, the involvement and the results are appreciated as they change things for the better. Women have shown that they can be fair, transparent, that they care about their village and struggle to bring funds and projects …

When some politicians say that Moldovans are not ready to vote for a woman as president, they probably neglect the importance of this for the prosperity of the country and its democratic development, for a tolerant society in which both women and men are respected and their merits and contribution are equally recognized. Because, in the end, the criteria we should apply to political actors must be fairness, professionalism and performance.

The politicians should stop selling the bear’s skin before the bear is killed…

– The pandemic brought many people home, but it seems that those who could have already gone back. Is there a chance to stop migration? And do we need to stop it?

– Migration processes are natural in any society, but when they are caused mainly by the moral and psychological state and less by the economic situation of people, things are even worse. The processes can be reversed, because Moldovans abroad are still very connected to the realities at home.

They are gone, but they hope that things can be changed and that they will return. But the pandemic will not stop migration – and it was clear to me that now only those in difficult situation, who did not have employment contracts, will return. Others should be the factors to motivate the return home, namely, the fact that your country is changing in the positive direction, that new development opportunities appear, that you can count on a fair justice and a favourable business environment. This is the society.

I’m hoping to be able to build – one in which everyone can put their ideas into practice, to carry out their projects for their own benefit and for the benefit of society. People act only they see their own benefit.

We have to be realistic: autumn will be harder than the summer and spring…

– Yes, we may go through a much more complicated period and things can only be changed by a greater degree of responsibility – whether you are in opposition or in power. When they stop selling the bear’s skin before the bear is killed and think about the impact of their actions on the life of every human being at the moment, not necessarily in the long run, the society will feel protected.

It is an approach that we need to apply especially now, when the pandemic is barely picking up speed.

And I remember, in this context, a visit to Sweden about eight years ago. Then, as it is now in the Chisinau Parliament, the parties were in a constant quarrel. In Stockholm, a minority coalition was to approve the next year’s budget. Someone in our delegation asked how they manage to do it with a minority government. “But the budget belongs to the whole country,” was the answer. We come up with amendments, with some criticisms, but in the end, we are obliged to create conditions for the budget to be voted, because the country cannot function without it”.

This means national interest and political responsibility – to make minor concessions on things that you cannot assume as priorities today in order to obtain support for important national programmes, which would change tomorrow the way of developing the education, the health sector or the energy sector. We also need such complex approaches and complex changes in all areas of development.

– Do you have any regrets in the sense that you would have wanted to promote something in particular and did not do it?

– I think I would have liked more implications and more resources allocated for the young people. I am referring to opportunities created for their employment and for the development of business and initiatives launched by young people, because, as I said earlier, my firm belief is that the youth brings change. Youth is par excellence the period when you have ideas, but you don’t have much money for their realization.

The state should create the mechanisms to support and encourage them, only then will they stay here to work, develop and contribute to the prosperity of the country. Another regret is that sometimes, when I had different opinions on certain topics, I should have been more categorical, though in minority. But that was my understanding of acting as a team – finding consensus.

You could have the chance to come back and fix it as coming back is trendy now …

God help those who return! I am in the right place and I do what I like to somehow influence the development of the Republic of Moldova. I sincerely believed in the possibility of change and democratic development of the country.

I did not get involved in politics, being motivated by a public office and I really want all those involved or who will be involved in the Moldovan politics in the future to have the public interest as a starting point and as a guiding beacon. For we can no longer allow things to degrade.

For this, however, the society should also be active and react to any deviation by politicians. They should let the politicians know that “we sent you there to work for us, not to promote your own interests!” When the politicians realize that they cannot simply juggle statements and cannot walk from one party to another without being penalised in the elections, the rehabilitation of the entire Moldovan political class will start. And with it, the rehabilitation of the whole society.

Thank you for the interview and I wish you much success!

Sorina Ștefârță
26 August 2020

Synthesis and Foreign Policy Debates NEWSLETTER, AUGUST 2020 NR.8 (174)

Foreign Policy Association together with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung offer you a newsletter on foreign policy and European integration issues of the Republic of Moldova. The newsletter is part of the “Foreign Policy Dialogue” joint Project.

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