- Would you vote for Vlad Plahotniuc again?
- I am afraid not.
After oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc announced his resignation from the leadership of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) and fled the country, ZdG’s team decided to visit his native village. Here, Plahotniuc still retains his mandate as a parliamentary deputy for the Nisporeni constituency no. 17 – but is he honoring his electoral promises? Although he has said that he has no intention of giving up his mandate, he has not attended a single meeting since the first constitutional sitting of the new Legislature in March. Moreover, media reports claim that Plahotniuc is now abroad with his family, and could be in Switzerland or even London. In a social media statement, he claimed his family needed protection.
Entrance to Grozesti village
The village of Grozesti – part of constituency no.17 – is Vlad Plahotniuc’ s birthplace. As we arrived in the village, we could see all the budgetary institutions as well as a newly repaired church. Grozesti has running water, the central roads and even some of the secondary ones are well paved, and the main streets are illuminated. People say that in the past year a National Pre-Hospital Emergency Medical Assistance Center was also opened. When asked who did all of these things people’s responses were identical: "it’s all done by Plahotniuc" – and this is not by chance.
Ten days before the 24 February 2019 elections, Vlad Plahotniuc returned to his hometown with the following message for its people: "We began by doing things, and we came today to tell you what we have done. That makes a great difference. If it's great, let's make it even greater. Vote the Democratic Party!" During the last electoral campaign, Plahotniuc also promised to connect natural gas to all houses, to extend street lighting on all village streets, and to repair secondary roads.
Even though many villagers give Plahotniuc all the credit for the works that started in Grozesti over the last few years, this is not exactly the case. The entrances to several institutions hold plaques that speak to projects funded by the European Union, the Energy Efficiency Fund, the Austrian Development Cooperation, state institutions and others.
People say they voted for him because he proved to be a good "gospodar" (a term referring to a “lord” or property owner) and because he respected his promises. And they are worried now that he has resigned from the PDM leadership. They hear rumors that this time the projects that were started may not be finished. In response to the question of when Vlad Plahotniuc will return to his constituency, people only shrug their shoulders.
The yard of Grozesti Culture House, laid out by Vlad Plahotniuc’ s Foundation "Edelweiss"
“All the support has gone with Plahotniuc”
Grozesti village is 14 km away from the local administrative center, Nisporeni, and 87 km away from the capital, Chisinau. Entering the village, we see a stone star on one side of the road that bears the name of the village and the year it was established, 1479. On the opposite side there are three columns, on top of which three flags are waving: the tricolor of Moldova, the European Union flag and the flag of the village.
We stopped at the edge of Grozesti and started to roam the streets of the village. A woman came out in the street. She kept grumbling that one wall of her house was collapsing. And there was no one to help. We asked her what life’s like in Grozesti. The woman replied that "all the support has gone with Plahotniuc.” The woman added angrily that the whole village and all the nearby villages voted for him because he promised to connect gas to the houses.
"He made the roads. The water was supplied before and now he sort of promised we’ll have gas too, but if he’s gone, the gas is also gone. That's what they say. If he resigned, there’s no one to do it. Of course we feel sad now. He did help us, but now that he is gone, we do not know what Maia Sandu will do for us,” the woman complained.
As we headed towards the center of the village, a pink building with a well-arranged courtyard caught our attention. It was the same building we had seen in a video on PDM's YouTube page. When we came nearer we saw three people walking out who said it was the Culture House. And that the courtyard was apparently done by Vlad Plahotniuc’s Foundation "Edelweiss.”
Ilie a participant in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster and the war in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova
When asked about Grozesti one man named Ilie, said that until now, it was good, “but things are falling apart with this new Parliament of ours. And Plahotniuc no longer works.” We asked his opinion on why the deputy left, and his answer was very much similar to that of his fellow villagers. "He went away because they ate him alive, they dug up dirt on him, so he had to leave. And now we're ruled by women. Are there no men anymore?” Ilie asked, dissatisfied. The man added that according to village gossip, the deputy will return for the elections and everyone wants him back. "He doesn't talk much, he shows that he is doing something, isn’t it true?" he asked us rhetorically.
This opinion is shared by another resident of the village, who is convinced that Plahotniuc will return. The woman claimed she heard it on TV. "He'll be back, he's abroad now, with his children, but then he's going to come [back] and continue. That's what they said last night on Prime Channel," the woman assured us. She went on saying that since the deputy got his mandate, many changes were made in the village. "He has done all the work. Starting with the road, the Culture House, the kindergarten, the school, the church, and he gave the seniors glasses. He helped a lot, really,” she said.
When we asked her where she thought the money came from the woman responded without hesitation: "It’s state money, I think. Where else could the money come from? He promised and he fulfilled his promise.”
This is Plahotniuc’ s house, he’s a neighbor of mine
On the road, we saw Ovidiu, who was in a hurry. The man was on his way to the vineyard, and he kept whipping his horse. At the age of 78, he no longer has confidence in anyone, "God helps those who help themselves,” he said.
He told us that Grozesti is a beautiful and famous village, with very good people. We asked who designed all the "beauties" in the village, and if he thought it was Plahotniuc who did it all.
Ovidiu, 78 years old, in 1949 was deported to Siberia
“How would I know? It’s him or ... As I know, a grant was won and now it is being implemented, but in the end I don’t know whether it’s done with his money or perhaps it’s from the grant. For instance, they boast that Plahotniuc built this road: but is like spreading butter on a slice of bread, that’s how he did it? Or there were others who did it? They promised to change these pillars from the middle of the pavement and haven’t changed anything yet,” the man replied resentful.
We wanted to find out where the deputy's home was. And Ovidiu offered to take us there, telling us that he is his neighbor. He drove us in his cart to the gates. When we got to the place, we realized that no one lived there, although it was obvious that someone is taking care of the household. We started taking pictures. Within 5 minutes a 40-year-old man in a white car approached us. The driver asked us where we are from and forbade us to shoot, because "it's private property.” When we did not leave the man continued on his way but then he stopped again, rolled down the window and from the distance he signaled with his finger that we could not take photos.
During the electoral campaign in February the deputy appeared in a video on social media showing how he returns to his native village to his mother. Yet the villagers say that it’s been a long time since no one from Plahotniuc’s family lives in the village. According to the villagers, he took his mother away, worried that she might be murdered by bandits.
"He took her to Chisinau a long time ago. Apparently he’s a little bit afraid that his mother could be killed by some kind of bandits,” one woman said. “She only comes when there’s a funeral. She comes and then goes back. She doesn’t stay here. She has a beautiful house.”
The same electoral video says that his parents’ house was built by his parents and grandparents. However the same woman said that "It’s his parents who made it and with Plahotniuc’s help, again."
We returned to Ovidiu, who promised to take us to the center of the village. On the way, we met his neighbor, Vasile, who was gathering up barley with a bucket in front of his house. The man was always living in Grozesti, so we wanted to find out if he likes the life in his hometown.
Vasile, 65 years old, resident of Grozesti
- What we like, what should we like? We’ve been living hand to mouth, what can we do, where can we go?
- Have things changed in the village in recent years?
- No change. I’m afraid there’s hardly any change.
- Is it okay to live here?
- Surely now that everyone has run to Europe and scattered throughout other countries. They ran away from the ‘good’ life here, that’s why they are all gone. They had nothing to do here.
— Does Plahotniuc help?
— I don’t know. He did nothing for me, though. They raised my pension by 5%, yes. But not him. It was their government. They mocked us, throwing us a bone, as if to a dog to have a bone to eat – that’s how they laughed at us. Well, God bless them to go on messing around, for that’s what they can do very well, as I see. Don’t you know what’s in their heads, and what their “discipline” looks like?
Many villagers told us that almost everyone leaves for Europe these days. Most of the people in the village are old and middle aged. The young move to the city or go abroad. Yet they hope they will come back one day.
At school: "now we feel he’s further away"
Riding in Ovidiu’s cart through the village center, we stopped at the school to find out how many children remained in the village. The institution extends over a large area, and repair works are in full swing. At the entrance there is a panel with information about the financial support of the E.U., the Energy Efficiency Fund and the Moldovan Government.
We met the school principal. We saw Liliana Mocanu in the video mentioned above. At Vlad Plahotniuc’s campaign event, the principal talked about the strong partner they had found, alluding to the PDM deputy. The principal informed us that the institution is designed for 624 school children. However currently they teach only 274 children. Moreover, she stated that in 2019 the number of pupils decreased. When asked about the causes the principal said that Grozesti has only 1,827 inhabitants and the birth rate is small.
The principal refused to answer any questions related to Plahotniuc on the grounds that their institution is apolitical. As we insisted, she said: “now, we feel he’s further away” and told us about what good friend the PDM deputy is to the Grozesti school.
The board at the entrance to "Prometheus" TL yard in Grozesti informing about the financial support from the Energy Efficiency Fund to the repair works currently taking place in the institution
"We collaborated with Edelweiss Foundation, we also have donations - the computer room, the music room, and Vlad Plahotniuc is like a friend for us. Whenever we called for help, he always supported us both at school and in the community. Investment projects that came to the village are already visible and continue to be implemented. A few years ago every teacher received a laptop from Plahotniuc (who was not in power then), that helped us a lot,” recalls the principal.
When asked how she manages without the representative of the constituency in the Parliament she said that she copes as she used to before: "The greatest help is the mayor of the village with whom we solve any problem. The mayor helps us reach further and solve the problems.”
At the Village Hall: "It’s not so much personal involvement as it is team involvement".
Silvia Crîşmaru, a PDM representative, has been the mayor of Grozesti village since 2015. We wanted to find out how she manages without the representative of their constituency in the Parliament and how the projects he promised in the electoral campaign are being carried out – but the mayor was nowhere to be found. The village hall workers said she has been on sick leave for two weeks. The same workers thought that she might be back on July 26, but she could always extend her leave for whatever reason.
Plaques with funded projects at the entrance to the village hall
While leaving the institution we met Polina Lefter, the accountant of the village hall. She said that there’s a lot of investment in the village and that "living in Grozesti is a great delight" but the young people are gone and there is no one to enjoy it.
"The investments are from the state budget as well as from the local budget. There are some from the Edelweiss Foundation and there were many projects too. Basically we have budgets at all levels and citizens’ contributions to many projects. We've worked hard to manage the funds and prioritize wherever was needed. Currently, they're implementing street light which is taking up 80% of the local budget. We have roads made from the Road Fund. We had the project ‘Good Roads 1’ and now we have the project ‘Good Roads 2.’ We understand that the situation is not that easy, but things are moving and moving for the better,” Polina Lefter stated.
We asked her about how much Vlad Plahotniuc got involved in the projects, and she replied that “It’s not so much personal involvement as it is team involvement.”
"Most people voted for him because he came, talked to the people and inspired confidence. All the projects were well-intended, and the people’s confidence strengthened that things would be done gradually,” she said.
Would they vote for him again? To this question, Polina replied: "It depends on how things will be clarified, on what explanation there will be for what motivated what happened.”
"Why on earth did he run away? It means he's afraid of something."
Roaming about the village, we got to the Prut River flowing on the edge of the Grozesti village and separating Moldova from Romania. Near a meadow we saw a pool of water in which some cows were bathing in the sun. In the shadows we encountered two villagers who took care of the cows. They were from Grozesti. We wanted to know from them what life is like in the village. One of them said that so far things were going well, but "they seem to have changed now that Plahotniuc is said to be gone. No one knows where, but there are changes.” About electoral promises, the villager said "not all has been done, but if he stays in power, he may do something, but who knows? I cannot say I'm waiting for him. For us, whoever works has, who does not - has nothing.”
We later found out that the second villager devoted his entire life to the culture of Grozesti village, and was impatient to speak. He seemed disappointed as he did not expect Vlad Plahotniuc to turn his back on them in such a way "we had great confidence in him.”
"I didn't expect that we will come to this with Mr. Plahotniuc. Why on earth did he run away? It means he’s afraid of something, of some illegal deeds. Whatever they do it’s for their interest, they help the people so the people will remain quiet. He did whatever he did in the village because he was born here. Now I think where is the justice in our country - at the bottom of the sea?” he sounded disappointed.
The man said he’s worried about what is going to happen and he added in a whisper, as if scared that someone might hear him, that Moldova should have united with Romania long ago, "It could have been different with Romania, there are thieves there too, but maybe it wouldn’t have been that bad.”
- Would you vote for Vlad Plahotniuc again?
- I am afraid not.
Other deputies represent the interests of the constituency
We went to the Nisporeni District Council, hoping to find out how the constituency is doing without its representative in Parliament, but because we got there too late, there was almost no one to talk to about it. We met only one gentleman in the office of the secretary of the District Council. The man gave confusing statements and said that besides Vlad Plahotniuc there are other deputies in Parliament representing the interests of the constituency.
The following days, we telephoned the Head of the Council, but he did not answer. Neither did the vice-president.
Vitalie Gamurari – the PDM spokesman – also did not respond to explain how Vlad Plahotniuc will fulfill his electoral program in the village of Grozesti.
/Materials by Ziarul de Gardă
Courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange