Left forces lead protests in Moldova, face police repression

On Feb. 15, seven anti-fascist political prisoners in Chisinau, the capital of the eastern European country of Moldova, were brutalized in court by armed riot police, while a three-judge panel looked on. The prisoners are leaders of a popular uprising against a pro-West, oligarch-backed regime.

One of the prisoners, Grigory Petrenko, leader of the leftist Red Bloc party, had his wrists “cut to the bone” by his handcuffs as he was dragged from the courthouse, according to his spouse, Lilia Petrenko. (1News.md, Feb. 16)

Another prisoner, Pavel Grigorchuk, youth leader and editor of the communist news site Grenada.md, was dragged headfirst down a flight of stairs. Others were dragged by their feet. Omega News Agency reports that the prisoners appealed for medical help after their return to Penitentiary No. 13.

Outside, more than 1,000 protesters held an angry but peaceful demonstration, surrounding the courthouse and blocking traffic. Later, masked riot police, carrying shields and swinging billy clubs, attacked the action.  The protest continued late into the evening, with activists eventually marching from the courthouse to Chisinau’s central square. (MoldNews.md, Feb. 15)

The political prisoners — including Petrenko, Grigorchuk, Mikhail Amerberg, Alexander Roshko, Andrei Druz, Oleg Buzni and Vladimir Zhurata — were violently arrested on Sept. 6, during a protest against the Western-backed government dominated by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc.

The prisoners, known collectively as the “Petrenko Group,” were denied release by the judicial panel on Feb. 15 — despite four leading European parliamentarians agreeing to serve as their guarantors, which under Moldovan law is sufficient for pretrial release.

Omega also reported that for the first time, representatives of the U.S. and European embassies were present in the courtroom. So far it’s unknown why they chose to show up on this particular day, after months of entreaties from local activists to monitor the case.

After the judges announced their decision, the political prisoners held a sit-down protest. Armed police in riot gear swept the media from the courtroom, pushing reporters, family members and friends of the prisoners down corridors and stairs. Then, they moved in to brutalize the prisoners and remove them by force. The attack in the courtroom was captured on a cellphone video.

Despite the attack, the prisoners raised their fists outside and chanted in solidarity with the protesters as they were herded into a police van to be returned to jail.  Demonstrators surrounded the van, rocking it, until forced back by truncheon-wielding riot cops.

Demonstration surrounds courthouse in Chisinau, Moldova, defends political prisoners.Photo: Alexander V. Gutovski

Demonstration surrounds courthouse in Chisinau, Moldova, defends political prisoners.
Photo: Alexander V. Gutovski

Popular uprising against oligarchy

Moldova, a former republic of the Soviet Union, is a small country of about 3.5 million people in eastern Europe. To its north and east is Ukraine, where a U.S.-backed coup powered by fascist gangs seized power two years ago, unleashing a war on Russia’s western border. To its south is Romania, a member of the NATO military alliance ruled by a U.S. puppet regime.

Moldova is also in the throes of a popular uprising against oligarchy and neoliberal reforms.

The movement sweeping Moldova has a fundamental difference from the right-wing, Euromaidan movement that seized power in Ukraine two years ago: It has a powerful left, anti-fascist and anti-imperialist wing.

Because of this — and despite the country’s modest size — this movement threatens to upset the reactionary tide throughout the region, built up over decades by Washington/Wall Street and the Western Europe imperialist powers.

On Jan. 20, dramatic footage was broadcast around the world of protesters entering and occupying the Parliament building in Chisinau, as a new government headed by Prime Minister Pavel Filip was sworn in two days after receiving the U.S. State Department’s blessing.

U.S. and Western media provided no context for these seemingly chaotic images to a public kept largely unaware of Moldova’s existence, much less the economic and political plight of people suffering under International Monetary Fund-European Union “reforms,” including privatization and the cutoff of traditional trade with Russia and other former Soviet republics.

The current wave of protests was sparked in 2015 with the revelation that leading politicians appointed by the country’s top oligarch and political kingmaker, Vlad Plahotniuc, had embezzled more than $1 billion from Moldova’s banking system.

At first, in early 2015, the protests were dominated by pro-“Euro-integration” forces, including the ultraright that seeks the country’s merger with Romania. The movement seemed similar to the one in Ukraine, known as Euromaidan, that overthrew the government in February 2014.

But in the summer of 2015, the recently formed Red Bloc party led a working-class campaign to turn back government-mandated utility-rate and fuel-price hikes. This party includes independent leftists and communists who had left or been expelled from the old Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldava.  

Red Bloc leadership turns the tide

The Red Bloc campaign spread like wildfire. Pensioners, students and workers occupied city halls and held mass assemblies in towns and villages across the country. The regime was forced to step back and temporarily halt the rate hikes.

In Chisinau, the Red Bloc erected a tent city outside Plahotniuc’s home and staged protests at his businesses and media holdings. At this time, Red Bloc leader Petrenko was cast as “Public Enemy No.1” by oligarch-controlled media.

This mobilization of the working class, rooted in the anti-fascist traditions of Soviet times, began to shift the center of gravity in the protests. Instead of the pro-Western capitalist and middle-class opposition keeping the leadership, the protesters moved toward those who favor friendly relations and economic partnership with Russia. They also want to preserve the country’s agriculture and industry. They reject the NATO military alliance and oppose unification with pro-West Romania.

The Red Bloc began to build a pole of attraction in the movement of the left, anti-fascist and anti-EU forces, including the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova and Our Party, a party representing Russian-speaking Moldovans based in the city of Balti.

When protests resumed in the autumn, there were two distinct wings in the movement — the “Euro-integration” forces of the Civic Platform “Dignity and Truth” (the DA Platform), which held a protest of tens of thousands in central Chisinau on Sept. 6, and the smaller but class-struggle-based movement headed by the Red Bloc, which held a demonstration of about 1,000 people the same day. It was at this protest where seven Red Bloc activists, including party leader Petrenko, were arrested.

Since that time, the left pole, numerically dominated by the Party of Socialists, has overtaken the pro-Euro-integration forces. The left pole has been playing the leading role in the recent mass demonstrations against the new regime, which, as before, is dominated by protégés of Plahotniuc.

The shift in momentum is clearly visible in the words and actions of the pro-Euro-integrationist DA Platform. Shortly after the Petrenko Group’s arrest, the political prisoners’ supporters were kept to the outskirts of DA Platform protests.  Some leftists who entered were attacked by fascist elements — similar to the Maidan protests in Ukraine in 2013-2014.

Now, however, the DA Platform has had to adjust its actions in response to mass pressure, and has even joined with the leftists in the Civil Forum coalition calling for unconditional release of the political prisoners, along with early parliamentary elections. (Omega, Feb. 4)

A poll taken after the January protests showed that if parliamentary elections were held soon, the Party of Socialists and Our Party would win a decisive victory, with the DA Platform coming in third. The current governing parties — the so-called Democrats, Liberal Democrats and Liberals — were far down the list.

Next: What is the U.S. planning for Moldova?