On Monday 4 September, Moldovan President Maia Sandu visited the Dutch parliament as part of her state visit to the Netherlands. The visit marks a further rapprochement between the Netherlands and Moldova, after the Netherlands opened an embassy in Chisinau, Moldova's capital, on 19 April. In addition, the visit can be seen as part of Moldova's potential accession to the European Union. Sandu spoke during her visit to the Upper House with Mei Li Vos and Roelien Kamminga, vice-presidents of the Upper and Lower Houses respectively. The FMS spoke to Mei Li Vos about this special meeting and asked her about the main issues that emerged from the conversation and how the Netherlands can support Moldova.
First of all, what did you discuss with President Sandu?
"We mainly discussed Moldova's position in the Ukraine conflict. Moldova of course lies between Romania (NATO member, ed.) and Ukraine. She said she woke up the morning of 24 February, the morning Russia invaded Ukraine, to the bombs hitting. Russia has always been a big threat to Moldova, it is a small country and the situation in Transnistria also contributes to this threat. In addition, I asked her about the education situation, as Sandu has also been education minister. The best weapon against an aggressor like Russia is well-educated people."
The conversation also touched on destabilisation through disinformation, as attempts are being made to spread Russian propaganda in Moldova in many different ways, such as through education. "That worries Maia Sandu a lot, because she cannot just say to all teachers 'you have to teach this'. If a population does not realise the importance of democracy and aligns itself with a dictator, then you are gone."
How can the Netherlands help Moldova?
"People in the Netherlands, and also in Europe, have thankfully realised that Moldova is under heavy pressure," she said. Sandu said she was also very happy with the support she has received from the Netherlands. The Netherlands should continue on the path it has taken and continue to support Moldova financially, as it has done in recent years. It is also important that the Netherlands continues to help Moldova in all the steps it needs to take to join the European Union. In addition, it is important to continue supporting the MATRA programme. Through the MATRA programme, young people are educated and given democracy courses. For example, they learn how to organise democracy at a very local level in their own municipality. It is also essential for us to continue investing in 'antidotes' in the form of well-educated citizens, who understand what democracy is and why it is so important. So on the one hand, the Netherlands must contribute financially, but on the other hand, developing Moldovan democracy also remains crucial."
Will the outcome of the upcoming elections in the Netherlands affect the relationship between the Netherlands and Moldova?
"If there is now another government that digs in for Dutch self-interest and cuts ties and support to the countries surrounding Ukraine, that could be the beginning of giving up our freedom. But look at Frans Timmermans, for example, who keeps talking about democracy and freedom. People do not realise how precious our freedom is and I think you really have to live in such a place for a while to grasp the pertinent fear, we cannot imagine what it is like. Freedom is pitted against security and wealth, but freedom is so incredibly important, it's the air you breathe."
What struck you most about the conversation?
"The incredible courage of Maia Sandu. I was touched by the way she talked about the problems at play in Moldova. She had such a bright, focused look in her eyes. It was actually only a short visit, but in that short time you really get a wake-up call. Of course, you read a lot about the situation, but when you speak to someone who is in the middle of it herself, it really comes alive - it makes it much more tangible. I was also very impressed by the fact that Moldova became independent from Russian gas within a year.
I think we in the Netherlands could realise a bit more how precious our freedom is. When you look someone in the eye like that, you realise again what you have and I think we all need that too."
By: Timon Driessen & Ype Verhagen