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Unresolved conflicts

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 08:10 UK time, Monday, 20 April 2009

Moldova has been in the news the past week - that's not something you often hear and to be frank it hasn't featured that widely with all the other things going on from the latest rows over spin doctors to policing of demonstrations to the ongoing global economic problems.

The World TonightBut The World Tonight has covered events there where protests followed parliamentary elections which were won by the governing Communist Party, but the opposition said were rigged, despite international election observers giving the vote a largely clean bill of health.

I am often asked why The World Tonight devotes considerable attention to events in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans - more often by colleagues than members of the audience.

My answer is that the area has several unresolved conflicts left over from history - disputed borders; minorities who claim the right of self determination from larger states; as well as an unsatisfied desire to catch up with the consumer societies of Western Europe - and these can erupt into violence as we saw last year in Georgia and threaten to draw in other countries including the UK, so audiences need to know what is going on to make sense of events when they do become headline news.

In fact, on 20 April The World Tonight is co-hosting a day's conference with the leading think tank, Chatham House, on the tension between territorial integrity and self determination, chaired by our presenter, Robin Lustig.

Moldova is one of the lesser known former Soviet republics that became independent when the USSR broke up in 1991. It was part of Romania before World War II, but with the border changes in Eastern and Central Europe that followed the war, it became part of the Soviet Union.

When it first became independent, we called it Moldavia for a while - making it sound more reminiscent of the Ruritania of the Victorian novels of Anthony Hope - and it has attracted little mainstream interest since it achieved independence. Yet it has all the makings of being another flashpoint between the EU and Russia, along with Ukraine and Georgia.

The majority of Moldovans are Romanian speakers while in the east there is a Russian speaking breakaway region - called Transdnistria - where Russian peacekeepers have been stationed since a brief conflict between the Transdnistrians and the Moldovan authorities in 1992.

Following the protests after the election on 5 April, many demonstrators were arrested and allegedly mistreated by the security forces which led to protests from Romania which has called for the EU to launch an investigation into the conduct of the Moldovan government.

Protesters outside Moldova parliament

The EU is reluctant to get involved as it is keen to establish better relations with Moldova and not to give Moscow more grounds to suspect the EU is trying to encroach on what it sees as its sphere of influence.

But Romania has gone further. Earlier this week, its president promised to reform Romanian citizenship laws to allow greater numbers of Moldovans to get Romanian passports. If you remember, Western critics of Moscow have accused it of interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbours, Georgia and Ukraine, by granting Russian speakers in those countries Russian passports.

On Wednesday's programme (listen here), we interviewed the Romanian Foreign Minister and he denied Moldovan accusations that Romania had fomented the opposition protests, but accepted the international verdict of the conduct of the election itself.

But as our Europe correspondent, Oana Lungescu, made clear on the programme, there is no appetite in the EU for another confrontation with Moscow. And perhaps the complication of Romania as an EU member, with what it sees as a direct interest in the fate of fellow Romanians in Moldova, makes this potentially a serious problem for the EU and its attempt to project what it sees as the values of rule of law and democracy further east, while rebuilding a constructive relationship with its main energy supplier Moscow.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.


  • Comment number 1.

    Is it not feasible for the UN to conduct plebiscites in such cases?

    Although it might result in fragmentation, it should achieve harmony.

    If one party opposes the conduct of a plebiscite, then one is left with the usual interplays of realpolitik.

  • Comment number 2.

    When was the last truly in depth reporting on the plight of the Palestinians.
    Why is there a certain bias now in the BBC in where one group has total control over what will be covered and how it is covered ,because that is the biggest story at the moment.
    Ie the blatant bias in the middle east coverage ,in fact we are told not to go into the crimes of one side but that is if the moderator does'nt censor any opinion even on the comment's page .

  • Comment number 3.

    " audiences need to know what is going on to make sense of events when they do become headline news."

    I remember the reporting on the Ossetia conflict quite well. The BBC narrative was one of Russian aggression. The presenter on Newsnight even said

    "The Russians are calling it ‘peace enforcement operation’. It’s the kind of Newspeak that would make George Orwell proud."

    I fail to remember when a US or UK military operation was ever referred to in such a way. Later when it emerged that Georgian forces had committed war crimes, Gavin Essler wrote...

    "We have an amazing film tonight which alleges serious human rights abuses by Georgian forces - that's right Georgian forces"

    It was reported as if we should do a double-take at the concept of Georgian forces doing such things rather than the nasty old Russians. Perhaps those people solely relying on the BBC and it's narrative of Russian aggression would indeed have been surprised. Those that distrust the mainstream media and look at a wider variety of sources, certainly would not.

  • Comment number 4.


    Following the Georgian crisis I studied the background to South Ossetia in detail and found that the population had voted by over 9 to 1 for independence from Georgia. One would imagine that the BBC, that bastion of minorities and equality, would have jumped on this as evidence that Georgia was the aggressor not the Russians. But of course they took the hackneyed side, safety first, mustn't get kicked out of a job etc route to print, broadcast and perpetuate lies.

    The BBC needs a real kick up the backside and a good clear out of its current news department if it is ever to be neutral and objective. Personally I won't be holding my breath and I am offended by lectures that say listen to the BBC if you want to know - know what? POPPYCOCK?



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