20 years under Putin: a timeline

In early September, a group in Moldova called Dignity and Truth led a protest of several thousand supporters of Euro-integration against the country’s ostensibly pro-Europe government. In the opinion of journalist Vladimir Solovyev, the protesters might be able to force early elections, but the true winners of the confrontation could end up being pro-Russian political forces.


Several thousand people attended a protest organized by activist group Truth and Dignity in Kishinev on Sept. 6, at which they called on the president and government to resign and demanded early elections. Photo: Vadim Denisov / TASS


In September, thousands of people came out to the central square of Kishinev holding banners bearing anti-corruption slogans and European flags. Some Moldavian and Romanian tricolored flags also appeared, brought by those who think that Moldova’s integration into Europe should happen via a merger with neighboring Romania. There appear to be more and more supporters of this idea as the Romanian government achieves success in fighting corruption. A rare week passes without the Romanian mass media reporting the arrest of a public official—including, recently, the mayor of Bucharest—on charges of corruption.

After the protest, a tent camp grew in front of the building that houses the Moldavian government. At first, there were about 20 tents. Now, there are hundreds. Protesters promise to stay until their demands are fulfilled. Their main demands are the resignation of the president, prime minister, and speaker of the legislature, as well as the creation of a unity government that will begin organizing early parliamentary elections no later than March 2016.

This protest platform was created by the civil group Dignity and Truth in February 2015, right after a major scandal had broken out in Moldova concerning the removal of a massive sum of money—$1 billion—from three Moldavian banks. The scheme was quite simple: three banks that were under control of a Moldavian businessman, Ilan Shor, gave unsecured loans to dubious firms. Some of the companies were linked to Shor himself, others to influential politicians. The investigation led nowhere: Shor was accused of embezzlement but has not been arrested.

Dignity and Truth is an informal, unregistered union of political analysts, journalists, and lawyers who aim to become a voice for segments of society that have been ignored and deceived. «Evil must be driven out of this country, although we understand that this will be very difficult to do, since evil has taken root here,» said Igor Botsman, a well-known Moldavian political analyst and one of the platform’s creators, describing the union’s goals. Botsman says the platform’s plan for action can be described using a phrase attributed to Napoleon: «The goal is to join a fight, and we’ll see what comes.» Representatives of the platform announced that in order to make those in power hear their point of view, they would «use any legal tool, including peaceful protests.»

The stolen $1 billion, which Moldova’s central bank had to pay back from its own assets in order to prevent the collapse of the country’s banking system, spurred the growth of the protest movement. Dignity and Truth organized its first event in April, with subsequent public meetings in May and June attracting several thousand supporters. With each protest, the participants grew in number. By September, the protest movement had reached its highest point.

On the first day of protests in September, the government agreed to negotiate with the group’s representatives. Just four hours after the start of the protest, Moldavian Prime Minister Valery Strelets met with the organizers, who gave him their demands. Several days later, Strelets met with these representatives for a second time. Parliament Speaker Andrian Kandu and representatives of the presidential administration also spoke with the protest leaders. At all the meetings, the officials said it would be impossible to fulfill the group’s demands, particularly with regard to their own or anyone else’s resignation (the protesters also demanded the firing of the heads of the National Corruption Control Center, the State Prosecutor’s Office, and the Central Bank).

According to these officials, resignations would lead to greater chaos and an increased risk of crisis in the country. At the same time, they assured the protesters that they would begin reforms and ramp up their anti-corruption efforts immediately. The group’s leaders have continued to stand their ground, saying that if their demands are ignored, they will start a nationwide strike, with picketing and marches.

Analysts in the Moldavian capital Kishinev say they can imagine the elites agreeing to early elections, despite the fact that the country’s constitution does not include a procedure for holding them

The Moldavian protest of «Europeans against Europeans» looks unusual only at first glance. Even European leaders have acknowledged that local magnates have, under the pretext of integrating Moldova with Europe, consolidated all governmental institutions under their control, utilizing them for their own private goals. Council of Europe head Thorbjorn Jagland recently issued harsh criticism of the Moldavian authorities, writing in an Aug. 10 op-ed in The New York Times that little had been done to develop the country’s economy or its institutions over the last six years, the period during which the current alliance for «Euro-integration» has been in power.

One European official said: «Corruption remains endemic and the state is still in the hands of oligarchs, while punishingly low incomes have propelled hundreds of thousands of Moldovans to go abroad in search of a better life. Many still look to Brussels for the answer, while others instead believe that prosperity lies with the Eurasian Economic Union, led by Russia. What unites both camps is their palpable resentment toward venal elites. Ask an average Moldovan how life varies under the different parties and you’ll frequently hear that it makes no difference.» The official also stressed that aid to Moldova should be cut off until concrete measures to fight corruption are taken and the financial sector is brought under control. In the conclusion to his New York Times article, Jagland wrote: «Despite years of disappointment, many Moldovans still hold great ambition for their country. They maintain that, freed from corruption, it can be transformed. But first, this captured state must be returned to its citizens.»

The protesters’ main slogan is «Let’s bring the country back to the people!» But it is hard to say how long the «Moldavian Maidan» will last. The authorities have taken certain steps to counter protesters’ arguments, such as lowering prices for gas, electricity, and bread. Some analysts in the Moldavian capital Kishinev say they can imagine the elites agreeing to early elections, despite the fact that the country’s constitution does not include a procedure for holding them. A government has been confirmed and is doing its work, while the president was elected to a term that lasts until next year. «The procedures for holding an early election can be created. But those in power must give the protesters something,» said Cornel Churya, an analyst for Moldova’s Institute for Development and Social Initiatives, or IDIS Viitorul.

The elections will bring a different problem: the opposition Socialist Party and Our Party will likely strengthen their positions significantly. The first of these groups has denounced Moldova’s EU association agreement, and the second is led by Moldavian businessman Renato Usaty, who is affiliated with Russian Railways and conducts business in Russia while serving as mayor of Belts, Moldova’s second-largest city. Both political forces have already declared their support for the «anti-oligarch protests» and for the idea of early elections by announcing they will conduct their own demonstrations.

Churya says that the Socialists, who received 20.5 percent of the vote in last year’s elections, thereby becoming the largest faction in parliament with 25 out of 101 deputies, may well receive 30 percent of the vote in the next elections. According to him, Usaty’s Our Party will likely receive 15 percent or more of the vote.

As a result, a majority of deputies in the new Moldavian parliament may not be in favor of pro-European forces. Then again, are there any true pro-European forces left in Moldova? The Dignity and Truth group has only spoken of creating such a party, and the Liberal-Democratic, Democratic, and Liberal parties that form the Euro-integration alliance have brought the country to such a precarious point that they are thought to be sabotaging the process of rapprochement with Europe and to be responsible for discrediting the European idea.


Vladimir Solovyev is a correspondent for Kommersant Daily in Moldova.