Speech by Finland's Foreign Minister Tuomioja: OSCE's Moldova Seminar, Parliament House, Helsinki, May 28, 2001

Venue: OSCE's Parliamentary General Assembly, Moldova Seminar, Parliament House, Helsinki Finland, May 28, 2001

Mr. Erkki Tuomioja,
Foreign Minister
of Finland

Madam Speaker,

It gives me great pleasure to address you today. Even if it is not immediately obvious, Finland and Moldova do have certain things in common: both our countries are situated in border areas that have in the course of history been contested and occupied by different empires. This has left a rich legacy of languages, cultures and experiences in both countries. In Finland we have found out that a diverse heritage can be a source of great strength and does not necessarily threaten the unity of the nation.

But we also know from our history that these legacies need to be faced, and only through a process of accommodation - that requires concessions from all parties - is it possible to turn the heritage of different languages and cultures from a source of tension into a source of strength. I hope you will find the Finnish experience in resolving legacies of the past interesting and relevant to the resolution of the Trans-Dniestrian problem.

Madam Speaker,

I would like to continue by saying a few words words on the status of the Trans-Dniestrian region of Moldova.

As has been stated time and again, any resolution of Trans-Dniestrian problem needs to respect the full sovereignty and integrity of the Republic of Moldova while providing the broadest possible autonomy to the Trans-Dniestrian region. These two principles are enshrined in many OSCE documents – such as the Istanbul summit declaration – and they do provide a basis for the resolution of the conflict. These principles have also been accepted by both parties to the conflict.

The discussion has for a long time revolved around the parameters of the constitutional status of Trans-Dniestria. The concepts of “federation”, “confederation” and “common state” have been put forward and thoroughly debated. There seems to be a general understanding on – and I am now quoting from the Joint statement of 16 July 1999 - “common borders and a common space as regards economic, legal, social and defence-related matters”. Notwithstanding this shared ground, the name and modalities of such a regime are hotly contested.

We should not forget that in reality constitutional arrangements and concepts differ among countries. For example, Finland is considered as an unitary state and not a federation, even though one region – the Åland islands – has a special status guaranteed by international treaties. Thus, any change to this status requires qualified majorities both in the Finnish Parliament and the Åland Islands’ own legislature. Finland is a case in point, showing that the functioning of the system and the division of competencies between different units are far more important issues than labels. This is why we found President Voronin’s initiative to launch a structured discussion on an exact division of competencies between Chisinau and Tiraspol promising. I hope that these discussions can push the status debate one step forward by taking up the concrete issues of power sharing.

Madam speaker,

Other commitments made at the Istanbul Summit also need to be fully honoured. This means that we expect the unconditional withdrawal of all Russian troops and equipment from Moldova by the end of the year 2002 and the materiel specified by the CFE treaty by the end of this year. There is a widespread feeling that time is rapidly running out and in order to meet the deadline set by the Heads of State and Government, the withdrawal needs to start forthwith. The OSCE voluntary fund stands ready to provide assistance in the withdrawal as soon as the modalities are finally agreed on. I would also like to point out that Article 6 of the Odessa Agreement (signed in 20 March 1998) also commits Tiraspol to “actively contribute” towards the withdrawal.

It is very difficult to envisage how thousands and thousands of tonnes of old weapons and ammunition can boost the security of any region. Much of the ammunition and explosives are old and they are a serious environmental risk as well as a safety hazard. Moreover, we have been concerned about reports that some of the weapons have found their way into Chechnya. This equipment does not provide security for anybody but rather jeopardises the security of the whole region.

Madam speaker,

The recent legislative elections in Moldova have heightened the expectations of progress in the resolution of the Trans-Dniestrian problem. There are several arguments that support these expectations. First, the platform of President Vorinin’s winning party emphasised the need for quick resolution of the conflict and the elections gave evidence that the resolution of the conflict is the main preoccupation of the electorate. Second, the winners now command a parliamentary majority large enough for constitutional amendments that may be needed during the negotiation process. Third, the victory of communists and their strong commitment to cultural and linguistic pluralism in Moldova may alleviate certain fears of the Russian-speaking population and pave the way for reconciliation.

There have been some encouraging signals. The establishment in April of meetings between president Voronin and Mr Smirnov seems to be a promising avenue. We have understood that the last meeting on 16 May has already provided some tangible results. The release of Mr Ilascu earlier this month was also a welcome move by Tiraspol even if other members of the Ilascu group remain imprisoned. I would like to use this opportunity to call for the quick and unconditional release of the rest of the group.

The momentum created by the elections and periodic meetings between President Voronin and Mr Smirnov should not be wasted. In this spirit I would like to encourage you to continue discussion of practical issues that could ease the everyday life of the citizens, for example by contributing to free movement across the security zone.

At this juncture I would also like to emphasise the importance of continued economic and legislative reforms. They are required to lay foundations for the long term development of Moldovan society. We have noted positively President Voronin’s intentions for administrative reform that aims to bring the executive branch of the government closer to citizens. We have also understood that the juridical system is under review. In addition to the foregoing, continued economic reforms - including continued privatisation - are needed to harness the full potential of the Moldovan economy.

Madam Speaker,

We appreciate the efforts of the mediators in the Trans-Dniestrian problem - Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE - in supporting the negotiations. (I also welcome the representatives of the mediators to this seminar) But it has been somewhat discouraging to realise that after a more active phase the negotiations in the format of two sides plus three mediators have not advanced in recent months. The main reason has been Tiraspol’s unwillingness to engage in the 2 + 3 negotiations. The planned meeting in Bratislava was cancelled and as far as we are aware no new meetings have been agreed on. It is obvious that a settlement cannot be achieved if one side refuses to negotiate.

At the same time, and as I have described, the direct bilateral negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol have gathered momentum. We very much support these direct contacts between the two cities. It is abundantly clear that the main issues need to be tackled by the two sides themselves. However, we would also like to emphasise that the OSCE should be ready and willing to engage in negotiations if necessary. The OSCE should also stand ready to provide assistance in case agreement is reached and if any support is needed and the required assistance fits the remit of the OSCE. Any possible stabilisation mechanism or operation needs to conform with the OSCE norms.

The EU, too, remains committed to the resolution of the Trans-Dniestrian problem. This commitment was evident in the first ever ministerial troika visit to Moldova earlier this year. The EU contributed a substantial amount of aid and is well disposed towards further aid in case the conflict is resolved.

The Parliamentary assembly of the OSCE and its Moldovan group led by Dr Kimmo Kiljunen has also been particularly active. This very seminar is a tribute to the group’s activeness and its important work in bringing the elected representatives of both sides together. I hope the group is able to maintain its active role in the future.

Madam speaker,

As a long-standing parliamentarian I have always valued opportunities to address fellow elected representatives and emphasize the key role of parliamentarians in making solutions to international problems sustainable. Today it has been particularly enjoyable, because all sides in the conflict are represented here and I thank you for this opportunity.

I started by referring to Finland’s experiences in accommodating the legacies of its past and on that basis I would like to end by recalling the special responsibility of elected representatives in the resolution of conflicts. The elected representatives need courage and far-sightedness so as to provide the leadership that is required to reconcile opposing views.

Thank you.