Protests in Moldova and Georgia
Apr 16th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Moldova’s crackdown, like Georgia’s standoff, leaves protesters fuming
IDEALISTIC youngsters demanding their country’s faster integration with Europe were a rarity even before the Moldovan authorities beat and jailed hundreds, and killed two, after a spree of protests against electoral fraud. But the limp European Union reaction to the crackdown will not encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
Few emerge with credit from the protests. Some participants rioted, storming and burning public buildings. The opposition parties loosely linked to the protesters are a lightweight lot with some questionable leaders. What unites them is anger over alleged ballot-rigging in the April 5th parliamentary election. The ruling Communists (in reality, a centre-right party) would probably have won even without bullying their rivals, skewing media coverage and inflating voter lists. With half the vote, they took 60 of the 101 seats in the unicameral parliament. This week, the government began an election recount.
Although the government consists mainly of competent technocrats, the crisis has shown that real power lies with President Vladimir Voronin, who is due to step down soon, and his cronies. The official reaction was striking, both in its brutality and in the contempt it showed for the EU, a large donor to Moldova, Europe’s poorest country. The authorities barred Western diplomats from visiting detainees. A limited UN-led investigation of 90 people in one jail found evidence of severe beatings and “inhuman” conditions. The corpse of Valeriu Boboc, a 23-year-old protester, was returned to his parents covered in bruises; the authorities say he was poisoned. A Moldovan journalist, Natalia Morar, is under house arrest. Amnesty International is championing her cause.
On April 15th Mr Voronin called unconvincingly for an amnesty for the protesters. In fact he blames foreigners, particularly Romania, which before the war included most of present-day Moldova. A vocal minority in Moldova wants reunification, partly for nationalist reasons and partly to speed up progress towards entry into the EU. The Romanian president, Traian Basescu, has ordered an acceleration in the issue of passports to Moldovans. The mutual hatred between him and Mr Voronin (who sees dual citizenship with Romania as treason) is intense. Moldova has brought in visas for Romanians, expelled the Romanian ambassador and stopped Romanian journalists entering the country. The (Latvian-born) director of the National Democratic Institute, an American outfit, faces deportation.
The EU is quietly trying to act as an intermediary, but some diplomats say its intervention could make things worse. Russia is dangling a deal over Moldova’s most industrialised region, Transdniestria, whose separatist regime it sponsors. This is meant to encourage Mr Voronin to lean east. Against this background, Moldova’s pro-Western camp finds the EU’s reaction to the attack on the protesters spineless.
The feeble international response to the behaviour of the Moldovan authorities contrasts with events in another ex-Soviet republic, Georgia. Opposition demonstrators there have been demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Having blundered in a heavy-handed crackdown against similar protests in November 2007, the Georgians handled this week’s demonstrations with punctilious attention to outside opinion. That cuts little ice with the opposition, which believes that Mr Saakashvili is authoritarian, nepotistic and incompetent. The main evidence for this last charge is his disastrous war with Russia last summer. But by ex-Soviet standards, Georgia’s economy is strong and its political system free and open.
The Georgian opposition has several heavyweight ex-allies of Mr Saakashvili. They include a former speaker of parliament, Nino Burjanadze, a former foreign minister, Salome Zourabichvili, and a former ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania. Even if they squabble, that is a galaxy of talent compared with Moldova. Many of Georgia’s foreign well-wishers are fed up with the erratic behaviour of the president. But for now at least most Georgians prefer imperfect stability to revolutionary upheaval.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Protests in Moldova and Georgia