BOULDER, Colorado -- Moldovan authorities regained control of the country's parliament and presidential administration buildings Wednesday after the capital Chisinau had been gripped by demonstrations sparked by Sunday's parliamentary elections. Protesters claimed that there was widespread vote-rigging by the government. Moldova's communists, led by the country's president Vladimir Voronin, did far better than expected, winning nearly 50% of the vote, ensuring their ability to form a government and choose the next president.
The protests, which began Monday, were led mostly by Moldovan youth movements. More than 10,000 people gathered in the city streets, many waving signs telling people to "trash" the communists. By Tuesday, the protests had devolved into rioting, and the authorities sent in riot police. Protesters stormed the parliamentary building, setting fire to furniture and hurling objects out of the windows, and it was not until Wednesday that the police managed to regain control of the building. Police made 193 arrests over the past three days, and more than 200 police and civilians were injured during the violence.
While sparked by political grievances, the protests also centered around economic concerns. Nearly a third of the country's adult population travels abroad for work, and remittances made up 36% of Moldova's GDP in 2007, making it the most remittance-dependent economy in the world. However, the economic downturn in Europe has caused jobs to dry up, and many workers, especially young people, have been forced to return home, unemployed and dissatisfied with the economic and political stagnation they are witnessing there.
Several of the protesters were waving Romanian and EU flags, demanding closer ties with their western neighbor. The government took this as a sign of foreign provocation, accusing Romania of inciting the riots. While there is a strong Romanian nationalist movement within Moldova, most citizen want closer ties with Romania and the European Union because EU membership would allow easier access to job markets for Moldovan workers and provide the country some degree of collective security from Russia, which supports and occupies its breakaway region of Transdnistria. During the unrest in Chisinau, Transdnistria sent troops (many of them Russian "peacekeepers") to its western border to seal off access, apparently fearing the unlikely scenario that someone from Moldova would flee to the gangster republic.
Some are now speculating that the worst of the violence was actually instigated thugs organized and paid by the Moldovan government. Unimedia has posted photos of several young men they claim were mainly responsible for ransacking the parliament, and may have been told to do so by the police. There are photos of people raising EU and Romanian flags atop the parliament with policemen clearly visible in the background, making no effort to stop them. The site also includes a video of police allegedly placing stones and other projectiles around the parliament for their paid provocateurs to throw.
Russian nationalist and all-around crackpot conspiracy theorist Alexander Dugin somehow managed to place the blame for the riots on Barack Obama. [Note: the preceding link comes from the Moscow News, a Russian government-owned propaganda rag now edited by apologist fool Tim Wall.] He claims that the American government has organized a "color revolution" for Moldova, much like the public uprisings that toppled governments in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, events he also blames on the US.
Meanwhile, protesters are also putting pressure on Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. Tens of thousands gathered in front of parliament to demand his resignation, citing his dictatorial rule and brazen mishandling of relations with Russia, which culminated in last summer's disastrous war in South Ossetia. The protests come on the twentieth anniversary of a brutal crackdown of independence protesters in Tbilisi by Soviet authorities. Soldiers and police killed twenty civilians that day, which is now considered a formative moment in the Georgian independence movement.
Many of the protests in the Moldovan capital were organized by the help of social networking sites Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately, the country's Internet service provider is the state-owned (and awfully-named) Moldtelecom, which promptly cut off access to the services. Most foreign journalists were not allowed access to the country during the violence, meaning much of the information was disseminated by participants via the Internet. The pictures in this post come from unimedia.info, which contains several galleries of photos and videos of the protests.
While the parliamentary voting was nominally approved by foreign observers as fair, many in Moldova believe that the vote was rigged to keep the communists in power. Voronin will have to step down from the presidency in a few months, as he has reached the constitutional limit of two four-year terms, but it may be very important for him to have a say in choosing his successor. In a move similar to Boris Yelstin passing power to Vladimir Putin in 1999, in part to ensure that the Yeltsin family's corruption would not be investigated by his successor in the Kremlin, the 67-year-old Voronin could keep his own ill-gotten riches safe by passing power to a close political ally. There has been some speculation that he may even choose his son Oleg, though the corruption allegations that have swirled around him make that unlikely.