Moldova: Thousands storm Parliament buildings as economic crisis worsens

Youth and workers need alternative to pro-market, ethnic-based parties

This week, thousands of youth stormed and set fire to the Parliament building in Kishinau, the capital of Moldova, Europe’s poorest country. They did so to protest at what they saw as the falsification of Sunday’s parliamentary election, in which the ‘Communist Party’ won over 50% of the vote and 60% of the seats. The poll results are hotly contested within Moldova. Polling observers stated they believed the so-called Communist Party won a majority, both in the rural areas and cities.

Moldavian President, the ‘communist’ leader Voronin is very far from being a genuine Marxist. When he first came to power at the beginning of this decade, he set about the rapid privatization of what industry was left in the small republic. Voronin announced he wanted Moldova to quickly join the EU and since then he has presided over the continuing impoverishment of the country. The so-called Communist Party government was described as “right wing social democrat” by an observer quoted in the Guardian newspaper (London), this week.

Young Moldavians, in their hundreds of thousands, have been forced to emigrate, leaving their families behind, to work in Russia and Western Europe on building sites and, more often than not, become victims of super-exploitation. Young women are often victims of the international sex slave trade. Now, with economic crisis galloping across Europe, at best, the remittances the immigrant workers send home from are falling, and at worse, there are becoming unemployed and returning to the poverty of Moldova.

“Flashmob” protests

The protests started on Monday morning, when two NGOs, ‘Think Moldova’ and ‘Hyde Park’ organized a “flashmob” to protest the results of the election. Organised by SMS, up to 5,000 students and school students turned up, chanting “Better dead than red!” and “Long live a greater Rumania!” The protesters waved Moldovan and Rumanian flags, but went home peacefully, after being told to gather again at ten the following morning.

On Tuesday morning, at least ten thousand turned up. This time representatives of the main opposition parties also attended and spoke to the crowds. The three parties, a mixture of pro-Western neo-liberal parties and pro-Romanian nationalists, claimed that they had been “robbed” of victory in the elections. The protest however escalated out of control when groups of youth broke away to storm the parliament and presidential buildings. Smashing glass, they raced through the buildings throwing furniture, files and computers out of windows before setting them afire. At least one of the youth died during the protests and it is claimed others died too.

In response, President Voronin and his henchmen claimed that a coup d’etat was being attempted and that the Romanian government was behind the attempt. Braced by messages of support from Russian president Medvedev, Voronin announced the protests would be put down, closed the borders with Romania and recalled Moldova’s ambassador from Bucharest. To prevent further protests, on Wednesday police surrounded the colleges and universities.

There is no doubt that there is much ground for discontent in Moldova. Under the USSR, it was one of the richer parts of the Soviet Union, with a southern climate and well developed agriculture and vinoculture. Moldova however suffered de-industrialisation and ethnic conflict, in the early to mid nineties, during the process of capitalist restoration that saw a dramatic collapse in living standards.

“Unrecognized republic” Transdniester

Voronin has been unable to progress his plan of taking Moldova into the EU because of the existence of the de-facto independent “unrecognized republic” of Transdniester, which stretches along the eastern border with the Ukraine. Transdniester is populated by a mixed Russian speaking population of Russians, Ukrainians and Moldovans. It was the scene of war in the early nineties, when the Kishenev government was dominated by nationalists that aimed to unify with Rumania, while Transdniester wanted to maintain its relationship with Russia. Since then, the republic, which contains much of Moldova’s industry, has been led by a corrupt clique around President Smirnov. The area still uses the Russian ruble currency.

The EU says it will not accept Moldova into membership as long as the issue of Transdniester is unresolved. Russia uses the issue to put pressure on Voronin. After last August’s war between Russia and Georgia, over another “unrecognized republic” in the Caucuses, South Ossetia, President Voronin rushed to Moscow for assurances from President Medvedev that the next “hot spot” would not be Transdniester. Moldova’s opposition, believing that only European money will help take the country out of its economic quagmire, is even prepared to concede the loss of Transdniester – in the form of a “30 year concession”. Russia, however, wants to keep the status quo, to prevent Moldava gaining too much independence and becoming another “enemy state” like Georgia.

The recent events in Latvia saw the participation of a layer of workers from both the Latvian and Russian populations in protests at the economic policies of the Latvian government. It does not appear, however that a significant number of workers took part in the recent events in Kishenau. While the NGOs and opposition parties used the results of the elections to mobilize opposition, they sparked off an angry attack on the authorities, without offering any constructive alternative. On the contrary, they have demonstrated how volatile the situation is throughout Eastern Europe, as a result of the still escalating economic crisis.

Complex situation

The situation is complex, however, because Moldova is at the interface of East-West relations, with complications caused by the ethnic make-up of the country.

The demand “to unify the Rumanian and Moldovan state”, which were presented at least by a layer of the youth on the recent protests, demonstrate the complexity. Until 1940, the non-Transdniestrian part of Moldova (Bessaravia) was part of Romania. Transdniestra was ‘Soviet Moldova’, then part of the Ukraine. The two parts were ‘united’ as part of the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1940 and became the new ‘Soviet Moldova’ after the war. The Moldovan language is a variation of Romanian. The proposal to create a “Greater Rumania” is a demand of the ultra-nationalists and Rumanian fascists and in ordinary circumstances would not get a great echo. But circumstances today are not ordinary.

Even Romania has a higher standard of living than Moldova. Not only that, it is part of the EU. A layer of the population in countries such as Moldova, given the devastation of their already poverty stricken economy by the current crisis, look to the EU as an ‘economic lifeline’, although not a very strong one. A layer of the population in Moldova, particularly some students, see ‘unification’ with Romania as a short-cut to the European Union.

Sections of the population undoubtedly see the EU and a Western ‘version’ of the market economy as offering some sort of way forward. These illusions in some type of ‘cleaner’ capitalism, over time, will be dispelled by the prolonged world economic crisis and crisis in Moldova and by big class struggles both domestically and internationally.And it is not clear what affect the return of migrant workers from Russia and the EU, as a result of the economic downturn in these regions, particularly of the construction industry, will have on the mood in Moldova.

Another factor that will determine the future mood, is the reaction of the government to recent events. Outside of Transdniester, most people consider themselves Moldovan and not Romanian. This is particularly the case with older people, many of whom associate Romania with a pre-WW2 pro- fascist regime. This has been bolstered by official propaganda, which since the mid nineties has been directed at strengthening the consciousness of Moldova as an ‘independent state’. If, however, faced with further unrest, Voronin runs to Moscow for assistance, this could provoke a backlash and drive more people into the hands of the pro-Romanian opposition. Russia, for its part, is unlikely it ease its pressure on Voronin. Transdniester’s leader, Smirnov, even offered to send military support to the capital city, Kishinau, to help Voronin put down this week’s protests.

During the economic boom of the 90s, squeezed between the Ukraine and Rumania, and at the center of the struggle between the interests of European and Russian capital, small landlocked Moldova was the source of much cheap labour for European and Russian industry. Now it has become, once again, one of the first victims of deep economic crisis. Such explosions of discontent as have been seen this week is just a prelude to what will happen in the future. Unless a viable alternative is presented to working people and youth, it leads to further national and ethnic conflict.

Only united working class can show way out

The only force that can offer a way out is the workers’ movement, which is currently poorly organized and therefore weak. But it is still the only force that can offer a real solution. It is necessary for workers to resist attempts to divide them along national lines, and instead to unite to oppose the pro-market and corrupt policies, not only of Voronin and Smirnov but of the opposition parties too. When calling for the resignation of the government this week, protesters raised the demand for “the establishment of a provisional national council to run the country”. The opposition parties, no doubt, think that they should head such a body. That would only hand leadership of the country from one gang of crooks to another. Instead, workers should demand their own “provisional national council” to convene a national assembly of representatives of all working people in the country to establish a worker’s government capable of ending the nightmare of Moldavan capitalism.

But with industry practically non-existent and the mainstays of the economy being agriculture, wine and the income from migrant workers in other countries, Moldova demonstrates the need for workers to be organized internationally. This would see a genuine international and democratic plan of production and distribution to ensure that the resources of all countries in the region can be used in the interests of all working people.

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April 2009