John McConnico/AP
Protestors set a bonfire on the steps
of parliament in Chisinau, Moldova.

Protests in Moldova Highlight Political Limbo of Europe’s Poorest Country

April 09, 2009 07:30 AM
by Liz Colville
Amid suspicions of rigging and voter intimidation, the Communist Party won Moldova's April 5 election, sparking violent rebellion in the country’s capital.

Protesters Storm Moldovan Parliament

Elections held April 5 in Moldova, a country that The Economist calls the "poorest country in Europe,” sparked violence in the capital city, Chisinau. So far, one person has died and about 200 have been arrested as “youthful” protesters stormed parliamentary offices. Police arrived late at the scene, according to The Economist. The protesters are believed to be “loosely tied to established opposition parties.”

The Communist Party won 49.92 percent of Sunday’s vote, enough to win. But the results were questioned by the protesters, many of whom gathered via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Despite outside validation of the election results, there have been “accusations of voter intimidation, harassment of opposition leaders and voter fraud,” New England Cable News reported. Wired magazine's blog Danger Room looks into the protesters' use of Twitter.
Moldova President Vladimir Voronin, a Communist, is required to step down due to term limits outlined in Moldova’s constitution. On April 7, he came out blaming neighboring Romania for the protests in his country, Bloomberg reported.

“The influence of Romania is felt very strongly here, as is the hand of Romania’s secret services,” Voronin said in a televised address. “Our patience has its limits.”

Though Voronin has agreed to step down, he also declared he would stay on as what he called a “Moldovan Deng Xiaoping,” a reference to China’s long-standing and influential Communist leader who died in 1997.

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Background: Recent political history of Moldova

The past two decades have seen Moldova “languish in a geopolitical limbo between Russia and the European Union,” The Economist asserts. “Most Moldovans favour Europe but the political elite, mainly Soviet-trained and Russian-speaking, has found it hard to break old ties and habits.”

For his part, President 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” (also called Trans-Dniester). During his re-election campaign in 2005, however, Voronin accused Russia of helping separatists in that region, Reuters writes, and asserted his wish to align Moldova more closely with Europe.

The BBC argues that the spate of violence in Moldova will not lead to a revolution, quoting Moldovan analyst Vladislav Kulminskiy, who “doubts the events will lead to regime change, since the Communists have genuine public support.”

As evidenced from Voronin’s April 8 televised statement, the most contentious issue is really Moldova’s relationship with Romania. In the early 20th century, Moldova was unified with Romania; it was annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II. “There remain close cultural links between Romania and Moldova, where Romanian is the main language spoken,” the BBC reports. Some of the protesters in the capital on April 7 “were calling for reunion with Romania—perhaps inspired by Romania's place in the EU and the dreams of prosperity associated with it.”

Key Player: Vladimir Voronin (1941-)

Vladimir Voronin was born to a Moldovan peasant family. Before entering politics, he attended a vocational school and was the head of a rural bakery, according to Reuters. He “rose through the ranks” of the Communist Party, serving as Interior Minister from 1989-90. In 1989, pro-Romania protesters stormed Voronin’s office, an event the president referenced in his speech on April 7. The Communist Party nominated Voronin president after winning elections in 2001. He “came to power on promises of better ties with Moscow, [but] said before the 2005 election that his main aim was to bring Moldova closer to Europe.”

Reference: Map of Moldova

View a map of Moldova and surrounding countries from National Geographic.

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