Last Wednesday marked the beginning of continued violent protests in Moldova after elections the previous day saw the Communist party retain its power with 50 percent of the vote. However, OSCE gave the elections a more or less positive review. So why a degree of unrest not witnessed since the fall of the Soviet Union?
Protestors are insisting the elections were fraudulent, including the votes of deceased persons and those who work abroad but had votes cast in their name on Election Day. They then turned violent on Thursday, April 7. The Manchester Guardian:
An angry crowd of mainly young people gathered outside parliament and the presidency, shouting anti-government slogans. Some were carrying the national flag. Others bore the flags of nearby Romania (with which Moldovans share a common language) and the blue flag of the European Union. The crowd hurled paving stones at police and stormed inside both buildings, where they went on the rampage, stealing files and computers, and burning or trashing others.
The police responded with their own violence, according to the same report: “It is true that it reacted to last week’s violence with heavy-handedness, arresting around 200 people, beating some in prison and police stations, and not releasing adequate information on who was still held and where.”
Political opposition groups are denying any involvement in the protests and have pleaded for each side to remain non-violent (which they did during Sunday’s protests). Some are arguing that the government placed provocateurs in the protests to undermine their message while the government itself is blaming Romanian meddling as an attempted coup.
Obviously, the protests are the result of a more complex state of affairs and various presses are replete with explanations. Vladimir Tismaneanu, in a commentary to Radio Free Europe, called the protests the beginning of a revolutionary movement that has yet to form completely:
I wish to emphasize this, because revolutions are the only means of action against political systems that are defunct, but refuse to admit it. The political regime in the Republic of Moldova is indeed such a case. The country has been governed for many years by the Communist Party of Moldova (CPM), an unreformed, unrepentant party of the Leninist mold.
I would also like to stress that this is a revolution of an anti-ideological type, as clearly stated by the Anticommunist Forum in Moldova, an organization that emerged spontaneously over the past few days. We are dealing with a movement that has not yet assumed a clear political coloring. In their own words: it is transparent and pure.
Tismaneanu went on to predict that the protests will not end soon and that the movement will almost certainly give birth to several new political parties. Peter Lavelle, a fellow contributor to Radio Free Europe, disagrees and argues that economics are the sticking factor:
What’s happening is a young people’s revolt. Importantly, many of Moldova’s youth feel like orphans because their parents have lived and worked abroad (many of them in Russia) for so long. An estimated 600,000 Moldovans (of a total population of 4.1 million) live outside the country and send home remittances each year equal to the entire state budget. How many of these workers have returned home without money or a job?
Those looking for a conspiracy theory are out of luck, at least until more evidence surfaces. Moldova under outgoing President Vladimir Voronin has pursued a balanced foreign policy, seeking to maintain simultaneously cordial relations with both Russia and the EU. Voronin may not be the most modern leader, but he understands both the realities of Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space and his countrymen’s desire for closer relations with the EU.
The Manchester Guardian is also adhering to the economic argument: “On the eve of the election independent opinion polls gave the communists a huge lead, so their victory should not have come as a shock. Why, then, so much anger among the groups whose parties lost? Some put it down to disappointment that the communists managed to keep the country’s looming economic crisis out of the campaign.
The article also cautions against any re-run of the elections: “there is no evidence of fraud large enough to have awarded the wrong party victory.” Even international monitoring groups have concluded that the vote was generally democratic, with few violations of election law. But protestors and the opposition are not entirely convinced.
A separate Manchester Guardian article looks to the European Union as the only “political actor with the credibility to find a solution to the current crisis.” The solution, they argue, should involve the safeguarding of human rights in the days ahead, a fact-finding mission to investigate the April 7 violence and the working of a political deal between the government and the opposition.
So what does the EU say about the protests? According to Deutsche Welle, not much of substance:
The EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Tuesday he was “very concerned” about the situation in Chisinau. He appealed to both the government and protestors to remain calm.
“I call on all sides to refrain from violence and provocation,” Solana said in a statement released Tuesday. “Violence against government buildings is unacceptable. Equally important is the respect for the inalienable right of assembly of peaceful demonstrators.”
A separate Deutsche Welle article takes a more international stance, pointing to Moldova’s East-West crossroads status as the cause of protest, “With Voronin courting both Brussels and Moscow, and both sides reciprocating his overtures, each anxious not to cede dominant influence to the other, the stage was set for some kind of rupture within the country itself. Many Moldovans believe that their country is going to have to make a choice: is it with Europe or is it with Russia?”
Today, election officials decided to conduct a recount of disputed polls on Wednesday, as requested by Communist President Vladimir Voronin. Such a move is meant to restore trust in the electoral results and address the protestors’ grievances. What the protestors and opposition will do once the results of the recount are in will be an important reaction to monitor in terms of Moldova’s political future.
Regardless of whether one believes the protests began because of revolution against a corrupt regime, economic failings or international indecision, they have resulted in the rare occurrence of Moldova being in the international spotlight. The country’s politicians ought to be cognizant of this moving forward.