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Moldova’s stuck in search for unity

Activist credited with the 2009 Twitter revolution among the critics as ex-Soviet state struggles to find a new identity

  • Piotr Smolar – Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 3 January 2012

On TV, Natalia Morari wears severe spectacles and her hair pulled back into a bun, as though she were trying to look older. Every weekday, this 27 year-old journalist hosts a 90-minute debate on Publika, the Moldovan private TV channel. And everyone is able to speak out freely, which is quite a feat in Moldova.

In April 2009, Morari was a figurehead in the „Twitter revolution„, a revolt by Moldovan youth in protest against the communist stranglehold on power. The social networks played a decisive role, thanks to Twitter and Odnoklassniki, the Russian equivalent of Facebook.

In their coverage, the world’s media focused on Morari, who had already come to public attention. In December 2007, she had been expelled fromRussia where she had lived for five years, after she wrote about corruption there. „I should send a postcard to the FSB the Russian security services to thank them,” she laughed.

The 2009 protests brought elections and the formation of an Alliance for European Integration, which encompassed several small parties. However, the Alliance, despite having brought about some clear changes, has lost much of its support. „After eight years without any political opposition under the communists, a new elite can’t just appear overnight,” Morari said.

Free speech in Moldova has, however, advanced considerably since April 2009. Public debate is reminiscent of Russia in the 1990s, before the Putin freeze, albeit on a smaller scale in a country with just 3.5 million inhabitants. Politically, however, Moldova is more like Ukraine after theOrange revolution.

In Ukraine, because the „pro-European” camp was tearing itself apart, the pro-Russian party was able to return to power in early 2010. „The Ukrainian example is instructive,” said Moldova’s foreign minister, Iurie Leanca. „The Alliance should focus on what unites us, and not what divides us. We are too Latin in our way of making our quarrels public.”

With no one party in a majority in parliament, Moldova has had no president for the last two years. This state of affairs belies the picture European leaders want to paint of Moldova as a rare post-Soviet success story. The EU has given Chisinau a €550m ($735m) grant for 2010 to 2014, and prime minister Vlad Filat received a warm welcome in Brussels. „It reminds me of Gorbachev, who was acclaimed everywhere in Europe before the end of the Soviet Union, even though the shelves were empty in the Russian shops,” said Morari.

The shelves are full in Moldova but the countryside is underdeveloped. Although it recorded economic growth of 6.9% in 2010, the country is one of the poorest in Europe. One in four Moldovans works abroad. „To claim that our prime minister, Mr Filat, is a pro-European reformer is pure propaganda,” said Inna Supac, a young communist deputy. „But by claiming that Moldova is a success, the EU can grant unlimited credit to the current government.”

The Romanian-speaking country lies to the southwest of Ukraine, and was part of Romania from 1918 to 1940, before being brought under the Soviet yoke. It has been independent for 20 years, but is split between two languages and cultures – Russian and Moldovan – and is trying to assert its identity and its European ambitions.

For a long time, the Alliance only held 58 seats in parliament, two short of the majority required to appoint a head of state. As the 18 November elections approached, three MPs broke the communist ranks and were ready to join the coalition — but on their terms. That resulted in no candidates at all, and made early elections, mooted for spring 2012, more likely.

The outcome of the elections could be decisive for Moldova’s efforts to join the EU. A recent poll found only 47% of Moldovans were in favour of joining, which is the lowest score in nearly 10 years. Discussions are under way with Brussels on a membership agreement and free trade. What Moldova really wants is for visa restrictions to be lifted by the end of 2012.

Dorin Chirtoaca, the mayor of Chisinau, leader of the Liberal party and Alliance member, regrets Moldova’s missed opportunities for joining Europe. He blames the political class as a whole. „There are 10 people at most in parliament who are clear as crystal and scandal-free. Most parliamentarians only want to gain as much influence as possible and get rich.”

„Once in power, the Alliance parties divided up the portfolios among themselves in typical fashion,” said a political analyst, Igor Dotan. „But then they went on to divide up the public institutions, which should not be politicised, including the high court, the information and security services, the public prosecutor’s office and so on.”

The historian Petru Negura stressed how polarised Moldovan politics have become. „The leading parties are aligned according to geopolitical factors rather than political ones,” he said, „and the rift between communists, who hark back to a Soviet past, and the liberals, who are mainly Romanian-speaking nationalists, is too great. I would like to see a civic platform that could consolidate the entire country.”

Even Alliance supporters are disappointed. Ghenadie Brega, 36, was another mover in the Twitter revolution. „The government has changed but the bad aspects of the administration remained,” he said. „Nobody wants the truth about 7 April to be made public. There is no understanding of transparency.”

Today Ghenadie Brega works for a news website, Curaj.Net. He is proud that internet citizenship is developing. „Very few people appear to have grasped the importance of the Twitter revolution. But young people have understood that they now have a new weapon: the internet.”

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