Picture it: the center of a beautiful but decaying city. A lavish military parade and concert is held for the rich politicians and bosses who’ve sucked it dry.
Thousands of police in riot gear, brought from all parts of the country, protect wealthy partygoers. Ordinary residents struggle for a glimpse of the festivities behind tall, chain-link fences.
When hundreds of protesters arrive, chanting and peacefully demanding entrance to the city’s main square, police respond with violence and tear gas.
Is this the opening of a dystopian novel? A scene from the 2016 U.S. Democratic or Republican party convention?
Actually, it happened on Aug. 27 in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, a small eastern European country. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the country’s independence — during the breakup of the socialist Soviet Union in 1991.
For many Moldovans, the contrast between an opulent party for a few at the expense of poverty and repression for the many summed up the quarter-century since capitalist rule was restored.
Since 1991, the country’s new “independent” ruling class of oligarchs have rushed headlong into the arms of the U.S. and Western European imperialist powers. But ordinary Moldovans have found their means of life reduced many times, while young people have left the country in droves, seeing no future at home.
“At a time when Moldova has closed at least 30 schools because their buildings are in very bad condition and the budget has no money to prepare them for winter, when hospitals have no medicines, and children’s homes do not have food or hygiene items, we consider it inadmissible to spend 50 million lei [Moldova’s currency] for a parade and song and dance at the plaza,” Ana Ursachi told Workers World.
Ursachi, Moldova’s most renowned defense attorney and an activist in her own right, initiated the protest that challenged this festival of vultures. Known by the hash tag #NuMaTem (I’m not afraid), her call for Moldovan residents to raise their voices spread like wildfire over social media in the weeks leading up to Independence Day.
Workers, farmers, students, parents and children, politicians and activists, recorded and posted videos declaring “I’m not afraid” in defiance of the Moldovan government. Controlled by powerful oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, it has grown increasingly repressive and openly corrupt.
Plahotniuc and several of his hangers-on are suspected of stealing a billion euros of international aid money from the national banking system — displeasing the country’s Western backers. The government has cracked down on internal opponents in a desperate bid to remain in power.
Ursachi explained: “Since the government did not heed the voice of society, many different people, united by the #NuMaTem action, took to the streets to boo the government, considering the pompous parade a feast during a plague.
“The demonstration was peaceful,” she emphasized. “But the brutish regime, believing that the people were ruining their holiday, used force to disperse the demonstrators. This happened on a street just 500 meters from the parade and music.”
Moldova’s Interior Minister Alexander Zhizdana blamed “aggressive” protesters for the police use of tear gas. Acting President Nicolae Timofti even presented awards to Zhizdana and other security officials in recognition of their “personal contribution” to the security of the military parade, Jurnal.md reported Sept. 2.
Officials also launched an investigation of the protest “instigators,” including Ursachi, who has been subject to a slander campaign in media controlled by Plahotniuc and other oligarchs. (NewsMD, Sept. 2)
Meanwhile, on Sept. 5, Ursachi, former parliamentary deputy Alexander Petkov and Balti Municipal Councilor Helen Gritsko filed suit against the government for its illegal use of tear gas against the peaceful assembly, backed by “a huge amount of evidence … [including] terabytes of videos showing that police used the gas against the elderly, children and people with disabilities.” (Omega.md)
“By the way, ordinary people who wanted to watch the parade were not allowed into the square either,” Ursachi told WW. “They were obliged to stand behind a fence while about 100 deputies, ministers, the chairman of the Constitutional Court, and businessmen and politicians loyal to the regime celebrated!”
One year of persecution of Petrenko Group
Sept. 6 marked one year since the arrest of seven leaders and activists of Moldova’s Red Bloc communist party at a protest in Chisinau. Ursachi is also the attorney for the Petrenko Group, as they are known, named for Red Bloc leader Grigory Petrenko.
The Petrenko Group spent several months in jail. Today, they are still subject to so-called judicial control — a modified form of house arrest that prevents them from traveling outside Moldova or even attending protests.
Facing trumped-up charges that could land them in prison for years, the Petrenko Group’s case has been stalled for months by the country’s courts. The group says the judges are in Plahotniuc’s pocket. Instead of proceeding with the case and allowing Red Bloc members to present a defense, the courts simply extend the “judicial control” regime month to month.
In early 2016, a large protest movement, including opposition parties across the political spectrum, threatened to topple the Moldovan government. Among other demands, this movement called for early parliamentary elections. Officials and the judiciary moved to derail the protests and placate mainstream opposition parties by instead calling for presidential elections, now scheduled for Oct. 30. The Moldovan president is a figurehead with little real power.
The Red Bloc urged opponents of the oligarchy to boycott the staged presidential election and continue building a broad protest movement. Eventually, most opposition parties, including the moderate Socialists and the left-nationalist Our Party, bowed to government pressure and entered the race. But the revolutionary left sees signs of hope in the #NuMaTem mobilization.
“The civil disobedience action on August 27 was initiated by ordinary people and civil society activists,” Pavel Grigorchuk, member of the Petrenko Group and editor of the news site Grenada.md, told WW. “It attracted a lot of self-organized concerned citizens who oppose the criminal oligarchic regime. I assess the level of organization of the protest movement very positively.
“Perhaps this autumn and winter will be unseasonably hot in Moldova,” Grigorchuk said, “and the changes for which many Moldovans have struggled for years will finally come.”