After years of blindly trusting promises of the so-called “pro-European” governments and leaders, who have been satisfying their own private interests behind the scenes of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership success story, Moldovans’ patience came to an end and took to the streets to fight for a true democracy.
After the succession of two prime ministers in 2015 and almost two of the last months without a government, a new Cabinet of Ministers was sworn in, headed by Pavel Filip, in Chisinau, Moldova, on Jan. 20. At first sight, the event should have put an end to the ongoing, protracted political crisis, but this wasn’t the case.
A former minister of telecommunications and a close associate of controversial businessman Vlad Plahotniuc, Filip and his team of ministers were elected in a special, unexpected parliamentary session, in a procedure that took a mere 30 minutes. No questions, no debates – just a confidence vote and an oath given to the president in the middle of the night. Western countries rushed to welcome the new Cabinet in the name of stability
Boiling point reached
But public anger reached a boiling point and thousands of people stormed the parliament building in order to prevent the injustice of a secretly named government. Clashes with the police broke out. “It is clear that this government is not legitimate, and it no longer represents the will of people. I wonder to whom the government members swore allegiance that midnight? To the citizens they were hiding from and that they cheated?” asked Maia Sandu, the former minister of education, soon after the events.
The conflict has its roots in 2009 when, after removing the communists from power, a new pro-EU coalition formed by liberals, liberal-democrats and democrats stepped in. Although in the first two years it was registering admirable success on its way towards European integration, the “theft of the century” surfaced, dashing any hope: about $1 billion – 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product - was laundered through the Moldovan banking system in 2014. “How is it possible to steal so much money from such a small country?” wondered Pirkka Tapiola, head of the EU delegation in Chisinau.
The rage could not be stopped. Corruption, selective justice and failures in reforming the judiciary sector joined financial hardship and tougher messages from external partners in raising tensions.
Although there is no doubt that the entire political class is responsible, it is believed that the whole story developed around the misunderstandings between two main characters – Vlad Filat, a former prime minister, and Vlad Plahotniuc, a controversial oligarch and media mogul.
Plahotniuc “is the most detested of Moldovans. He is the author of the oligarchic matrix of the country, an active participant in the theft of billions and money laundering schemes, beneficiary of the schemes in the energy, telecommunications, metal business etc., fierce manipulator of public opinion through the controlled media,” said Ion Sturza, the former Moldovan prime minister who is now a businessman in Bucharest, Romania.
Since Filat was arrested in mid-October and accused of high-level corruption and direct involvement in banking system fraud, Plahotniuc took over. But Plahotniuc is now blamed by the people for capturing the state and controlling its key institutions, including the judicial sector. President Nicolae Timofti refused repeatedly to nominate Plahotniuc as a candidate for prime minister. “I am ready to die, but I will not allow thieves to seize the country,” Timofti said.
‘We will fight until the very end’
Popular resentment flared up in the spring of 2015. People started gathering periodically on Chisinau’s central square, mobilized by the civic platform Dignity and Truth, led by lawyer and activist Andrei Nastase. “It is one of the most difficult situations after the Transnistria war. Moldova is currently in the process of being captured by a dictatorship,” Nastase said.
Dozens of tents have been set up since September. But when Timofti surrendered to political pressure and nominated Filip as prime minister, it quickly mobilized the opposition, represented mainly by Igor Dodon, leader of the Socialist Party, the majority faction in the Parliament, and non-parliamentary party Partidul Nostru, led by Renato Usatyi. Both of them, bitter enemies until recently, have been known as having strong ties to Moscow and a firm pro-Russian orientation. Now all three of them -- Nastase, Dodon and Usatyi – lead the masses. “We have different ideologies, but we have a common goal: to get these oligarchs out,” Dodon said.
Contrary to perceptions internationally, this time, the Kremlin’s evil hand does not have any direct implication. This time, it is about simple people taking on their own government. Anger has surpassed geopolitical interests.
“This is a protest against state seizure, corruption, selective justice, and restrictions on the people’s access to free media. This protest is about stalling the establishment of a full-fledged dictatorship. The people of Moldova value democracy, and they will fight for it,” said Maia Sandu, a people’s favorite among political leaders nowadays.
One week after the installation of the Filip government, tens of thousands of people have continued demonstrating in the center of Chisinau.
“Down with the mafia!”
“Shame on you!”
These are just a few of the messages that resound on the streets. Their claims are clear: Cabinet resignation, dissolution of the parliament and announcement of early elections no later than April, as well as Plahotniuc’s arrest and the creation of legal pre-conditions for direct elections of the president. Currently, the head of state is elected by parliament. “If officials do not meet these requests, we are going to block the main entrances/access routes to the capital city, and will do other actions of civil disobedience,” Nastase warned. “We have to bring change.”
Will snap elections bring this change? Would they restore the country and put it back on the right track, or just re-enthrone Russian control? At the moment, the public outcry is too loud for any answers to be heard.
Article published in Ukrainian newspaper Kyiv Post on January 29.