Thursday, April 09, 2009

Moldova latest from Economist website

Protests in Moldova

Moldova burning

Apr 8th 2009

Violent protests erupt against the government of Moldova

THE poorest country in Europe is used to being neglected by the rest of the world. But protests against vote rigging in elections held on Sunday April 5th brought Moldova some attention this week. In the past few days youthful demonstrators, who were organised via Twitter and other social-networking sites, stormed parliament and the presidential offices in the capital city, Chisinau. Some threw rocks, broke windows and started fires. As the police belatedly tried to restore order, scores were injured and one person died. Nearly 200 people had been arrested by Wednesday. Amid allegations of foreign mischief-making, Moldova expelled the Romanian ambassador.

The immediate issue is the election result, in which the ruling Communists won a majority in the single-chamber parliament. The election was declared fair by outside monitors, who assessed what happened on the day, but the composition of electoral registers looks dodgy, as does the overwhelming support that the Communists enjoyed from the main media.

The protesters are loosely tied to established opposition parties. They are cross about the election and even more annoyed by the outgoing president, Vladimir Voronin. Mr Voronin has stated that, although he would step down in accordance with the constitution’s term limit, he would stay in politics as a “Moldovan Deng Xiaoping”. That seemed to suggest no change from the economic and strategic failures of the past two decades, which have seen Moldova’s 4m population languish in a geopolitical limbo between Russia and the European Union. Most Moldovans favour Europe but the political elite, mainly Soviet-trained and Russian-speaking, has found it hard to break old ties and habits.

Mr Voronin has wobbled in both directions. Of late he has seemed to favour ties with Moscow, chiefly because a deal with the Kremlin seems to offer the only hope of solving the frozen conflict with the self-declared state of Transdniestria. This densely populated and industrialised sliver of land on the eastern bank of the Dniester river has maintained an unrecognised independence since a brief civil war that finished with Russian intervention in 1992. Western attempts to resolve that debilitating impasse have got nowhere, whereas Russia has kept up a stream of initiatives.

With decent leadership and goodwill on all sides, it would be possible to have friendly relations with both Russia and the EU. But Moldova’s leaders have ended up with the worst of both worlds, ignored by the EU and bamboozled by Russia.

The most divisive question is relations with Romania. The Moldovan Soviet republic, which gained independence in 1991, was carved out of pre-war Romania in 1940, as a consequence of the Hitler-Stalin pact; Transdniestria, always in Russian hands, was bolted on. Nico Popescu, of the European Council of Foreign Relations, says that demands for closer ties with Romania have strengthened in recent years, as that country’s EU membership has contrasted ever more sharply with Moldova’s status as a “semi-failed state”. As well as EU flags, some protesters this week carried Romanian ones.

That has infuriated the Moldovan authorities. They find it much easier to fight the bogeyman of Romanian revanchism and chauvinism than defend their own dismal record in office. Andrei Popov, of the Foreign Policy Association, a Moldova-based think-tank, believes that the authorities may even be exaggerating the pro-Romanian element in the protests in order to discredit the opposition’s wider political demands.

There is little evidence that Romania has made a big effort to undermine Moldova. Romanian politicians, notably the president, Traian Basescu, have made grandiloquent and tactless statements. The mutual detestation between him and Mr Voronin is legendary. One practical Romanian policy has proved controversial: allowing Moldovans with roots in the pre-war Romanian state to apply for passports.

The political upheavals cry out for attention from the EU, which has failed to get to grips with Moldova’s ills. As with Ukraine’s orange revolution five years ago, it may take a heavyweight outsider to get talks going between entrenched but discredited authorities and an enthusiastic but incoherent opposition. If Europe cannot solve Moldova’s problems, it is hard to see much future for the trumpeted “Eastern Partnership” which is meant to reinvigorate EU policies towards the six ex-Soviet countries on its eastern borders.

1 comment:

Alexei Ghertescu | Алексей Герцеску said...

Hello Edward.
Don't know if you speak Russian. If you do, here's my personal (i.e. quite subjective) vision of what happened in the centre of Chisinau on Tuesday:
I'm thinking about translating it later into English.

PS. You called me yesterday, so if you need any information, I'm at your disposal...