Martin McCauley writes: Moldova is in turmoil: political violence has erupted in the poorest country in Europe, a former republic of the Soviet Union.After the communists won the parliamentary election on April 5 the three opposition liberal parties stated they would not recognise the results. They offered no concrete evidence of ballot rigging or fraud but claimed that the communists have won exactly the right number of seats – 61 – to keep them in power. International observers, though, have said that the elections were conducted fairly.
The goal of the liberal opposition parties was to force a rerun of the elections. The called for demonstrations on April 6 but quickly lost control of the crowds. Their incendiary rhetoric quickly led to an assault on the presidential palace and parliament in Chisinau, the country’s capital. Upwards of 10,000 students, young people and the unemployed besieged the buildings for several hours. A hard core of about a thousand forced their way into both buildings, set several floors alight and removed furniture and office equipment. They then started a bonfire which burned during the night of April 7-8.
The police were taken completely by surprise and were quickly overwhelmed. Moldovan President, Vladimir Voronin, issued strict orders that no blood was to be spilt. Hosepipes proved ineffective and many policemen were beaten up. Others were given flowers for not using force. Only in the early hours of April 8 did the authorities regain control and re-enter the buildings.
Opposition leaders claim that the violence erupted ‘spontaneously’. However, some demonstrators carried rucksacks full of stones and rocks. These ‘weapons’ proved effective in holding off the police and breaking down the doors and smashing windows of the buildings. At various times, groups of stone throwers moved forward, launched their missiles and then retreated into the crowd.
There was too much chaos for political leaders to influence events. However, in the chaos one could hear calls for the parliamentary elections to be annulled and for Moldova to unify with Romania. Romanian flags were held up. Anti-communist slogans were chanted all the time.
The demonstrators articulated no clear political or economic demands. What the French call ‘emeutes ludiques’, or rioting for fun, was clearly present. Another striking factor was the age of the demonstrators: most of them were teenagers.
The liberal opposition denied all responsibility for the violence but said they would continue calling for demonstrations until their demands were met. The President and speaker of parliament have stated that any evidence of electoral fraud would be investigated. The liberals gained 40 seats and the communists 61seats in the general election.
International observers were at a loss to explain the explosion of anger. They observed that voting proceeded normally and that, although not all procedures were entirely satisfactory, the results reflected the majority view of the electorate. The opposition complained that the communists had manipulated the voter registration lists ahead of the election. The Central Electoral Commission has offered to make public the lists.
President Voronin is blaming the opposition and Romania for the violence. He has declared the Romanian ambassador and his deputy chief of mission personae non grata. Visas will now be necessary to enter Moldova from Romania. Moldova has produced no evidence so far of Romanian participation in the demonstrations.
The Romanian and Moldovan languages are similar to one another and after the fall of communism in 1991 there were calls for the two countries to unite.
Political violence is a new and disturbing phenomenon in Moldova. If it turns out that the correct analysis is an example of the French ‘emeute ludique’ it could be copied elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The debts of east European states (except Slovakia), as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, are greater than those of Thailand and Indonesia during the economic collapse of the late 1990s. Living standards are set to fall everywhere. There is enough combustible material to set off one of these riots.
Will malcontents in other east European states copy the Moldovans? Let us hope they do not. If they do the whole region could be heading for anarchy.
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