Sunday, April 12, 2009

On the Protests in Moldova

(Pictures from

Honestly, I've been too busy to follow much of the news from Chisinau. I first heard about the riots on NPR on Thursday. I came home and checked my Russia-related blogs and sure enough there was plenty of talking and linking. The best blog for updates is Scraps of Moscow. The NY Times now has people there, The Economist has written a story, Moldova is getting a lot of (previously very rare) ink.

I haven't heard from any of my Moldovan contacts in a while. I wasn't friends with too many university students, but I have to say that I'm surprised the outcry was as strong and violent as it was.

Having briefly lived there, I can say that Moldova has a feel of being trapped in the East while the West is so tantalizingly close. Around 25% of the citizens live & work abroad. Most of the people I knew just felt frustrated that the Communists were delaying the inevitable modernisation of Moldova and eventual unification with Western Europe. The Communists allegedly stealing away a victory and keeping power has many residents' frustrations boiling over. And I imagine a great deal of the frustration is economic right now--neighboring Ukraine having melted down and Romania in not much better shape.

And the Communists always have excuses. Outgoing President Voronin has long tried to exaggerate any opposition as being puppets of Romania, which just isn't true. As I heard one student quoted "We don't want unification with Romania, that's crazy. We just want a better life here." Chisinau's mayor is Pro-Western and had been shunned by the national government. The President wouldn't meet with the U.S. Ambassador, but the mayor would frequently.

But the election doesn't appear to be too illegitimate. The opposition just appears to be too fragmented in the face of the ruling party, similar to what you see in Russia. And the West doesn't appear to have any formal hand in orchestrating the riots. That's what makes the outrage of the students so... innocent?

Sadly, I won't keep up much with the coverage. I imagine things will continue as they have been, eventually the inevitable will happen and Moldova will move closer to Europe (if the doomsday scenario of Russia keeping that from happening doesn't happen).
Perhaps the EU will step up its presence in Moldova? The U.S. has a somewhat strong presence with plenty of Peace Corps, diplomatic corps, Fulbright scholars, and missionaries active there. As The Economist put it:
If Europe cannot solve Moldova’s problems, it is hard to see much future for the trumpeted “Eastern Partnership” which is meant to reinvigorate EU policies towards the six ex-Soviet countries on its eastern borders.

Europe's recessionary problems aren't likely to abate anytime soon, so I imagine Moldova will return to the backburner of political attention and news coverage. It's not an economic hub or a pipeline country or a harbor for Islamic terrorists, thus it's just not that important to the West. And that's sad.

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