A group of prelates of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moldova, led by the Bishop of Balti and Falesti, Marchel, has launched a personal attack on pro-EU presidential candidate Maia Sandu, claiming she is neither a patriot nor a Christian. They also labelled her “a dry seed” as she does not have a family at the age of 40.
In a Western country, such accusations would backfire, but in a traditionalist country like Moldova the impact is uncertain. The remarks could activate Sandu’s electorate and raise turnout among educated voters in the second round of the election on November 13, but they also have a significant impact on conservative voters, particularly in rural areas where the influence of prelates is high.
The prelates admitted that they were not speaking on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moldova, but this is less important in terms of the comments’ impact on voters.
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest church in the country in terms of members, with around two-thirds of the population. Only 23% of the population are members of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Speaking at a press conference organised by IPN media group on November 4, Marchel strongly recommended people to vote for pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon, who he said is "a good Christian and a patriot". The prelates accused Sandu of eliminating some religious ceremonies from schools when she was minister of education in 2013. They added other accusations that were either ridiculous (the introduction of sexual education books in schools’ libraries) or profoundly politically incorrect (not having a family).
Dodon also made public statements claiming that Sandu was a member of the LGBT community. More unfounded rumours have been circulated about Sandu accepting Syrian immigrants to Moldova and planning to close churches.
Notably, Sandu has avoided taking liberal stances in critical issues such as discrimination against the LGBT community, unification with Romania or eliminating religion from schools. This indicates that these issues are still very delicate, that the electorate remains highly conservative and that firm statements in this regard could cost her many votes.
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