Waving the Moldovan flag in Brussels
Last Friday (10 April), a handful of people gathered on the steps of the old Stock Exchange building in Brussels. Soon, more and more arrived, unfurled banners and flags and started chanting. An old lady passed hurriedly and asked "Why don't you protest in your own country?" The answer was easy. "Because there we would not be allowed to."
The demonstrators were mostly Moldovans living in Brussels, along with a few Romanians and friends from other countries. They were students, workers, business managers and journalists. The youngest were small children, the oldest had seen their country change borders and regimes three times already. They called for "Free Moldova...SOS Europe...Freedom for the press."
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All were trying to do what little they could to draw some attention from a West that simply has no idea of Moldova's plight.
A state that had enjoyed de jure democracy for the past 19 years, the Republic of Moldova has never really left the Russian sphere of influence even after declaring its independence from the Soviet bloc.
It is plagued by a frozen conflict in the secessionist, Russian-supported strip of land called Transnistria. It is divided over the history of its own questionable independence, for the most part having been part of either Romania or Russia.
Moldova is so small and poor it doesn't even have a country profile on Human Rights Watch, a body that monitors most of the countries on earth for abuses.
Little surprise then, that in the latest legislative election of 5 April 2009, the Russian-backed Communists won by a landslide – allegedly 50 percent of the votes.
The OSCE observer mission said the elections were mostly fair, but nobody noticed that out of the 43 states sending 42 long-term experts and 400 short-term monitors, the vast majority were from Russian-led CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), nor did they imagine that the observers might have been, to put it diplomatically, duped.
Most observers left the polling stations around 5 PM local time and from 6 PM the Communists saw a major surge in their favor at the exit-polls. Many people reported seeing dead relatives listed as having voted. Numerous abuses during the campaign were brushed off.
The young people of Moldova could not take it anymore. They rushed into the streets to protest. They gathered in numbers as big as 30,000 in front of the Moldovan Parliament where they tried to protest peacefully.
It is now known, from overwhelming witness accounts and photographic evidence, that a small number of people encouraged
the crowd to acts of violence against the police and state buildings. It is now known that the same individuals raised the Romanian flag on the parliament building with the help of the police.
The West was, for a few seconds, interested in how the youngsters had co-operated on Twitter to start the protest.
But the same West forgot all about it pretty soon. Javier Solana blandly condemned the violence, while the Russian authorities kept "leaking" information about nefarious Romanian unionist influence.
Vladimir Voronin, the Communist President of Moldova, who is supposed to step down after the elections, could see that nobody would bother him.
He appeared on Moldovan TV (which broadcast folk music during the parliament protests), talking about "fascists" from Romania who "shamed the country" by raising the Romanian flag. He also expelled the Romanian ambassador and closed the borders for all Romanians.
Since there was still no reaction from the international community, Mr Voronin's regime started arbitrary arrests: students, protesters, journalists and opposition leaders.
An unknown number of people have been arrested and charged with everything from treason to attempts to destabilise the state.
Totalitarian police state
Moldova has now become a totalitarian police state. Even with the recount of the votes, not much will change, since it is the same Communists who do the counting as the ones who will benefit from it.
Small demonstrations like the one in Brussels have been seen all over Europe and even in the US. Paris, London, Stockholm, Boston are witnessing Moldovo-Romanian rallies in the hope that the media will turn their heads.
People are trying to help, for the sake of their friends and relatives at home, or for their own sake – who wants to be the citizen of an isolated, closed off country? Maybe the EU, maybe Nato, maybe someone will eventually act.
Nobody cares about re-uniting Moldova and Romania for now - helping people in Moldova to live freely and enjoy basic human rights is a lot more important.
But do other nations care? Some Moldovans fear that "they have all abandoned us," as one student put it, afraid that her foreign visa will soon expire and she will have to return to a country where she has no civil rights and no future.
The author is a Romanian student at Institute d'Etudes Europeenes, ULB