Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

Color Wars

A former Moldovan pro-democracy activist explains why the country's so-called Twitter Revolution should fail.

VADIM DENISOV/AFP/Getty Images
VADIM DENISOV/AFP/Getty Images
VADIM DENISOV/AFP/Getty Images

Recently, a Ukrainian friend asked me if Moldova, my home country, is on the brink of a color revolution like the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia or the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Indeed, the allegations of electoral fraud committed by the ruling party and the mass protests erupting in the capital city, Chisinau, do strikingly resemble the events in Tbilisi and Kiev. As in the Georgian and Ukrainian cases, the crowd that gathered to protest in the center of Chisinau was mostly young people who want a complete rupture with the communist past and a sharp turn toward Western political systems and values. The definitions-happy Western press has already dubbed the uprising the Twitter Revolution (a term first coined by Foreign Policy's Evgeny Morozov).

As a student organizer of pro-democracy groups in Chisinau in the early 2000s, I fully supported the recent color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, but I had to answer no to my friend -- and it's a good thing, too. Moldova cannot undergo a pro-democracy revolution because democracy is already deeply rooted in its national psyche: Ironically, it is the ruling Communist Party that helped consolidate democracy in the first place. A color revolution against a democratically elected government would take Moldova off the right path, however sympathetic the concerns of the aspiring revolutionaries may be.

Moldova's history sets it apart from the other former Soviet countries in a couple of key respects. First, when the Soviet Union annexed Moldova under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1940, Moldova was part of Romania, with which it shares a common language, culture, religion, and historical legacy. Second, in contrast with many former Soviet states at the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova's best intellectuals and liberal thinkers dreamed not of independence, but of reunification with Romania. Similarly, the instigators of the current fracas seek mainly to move away from the ghosts of the communist past and integrate with Europe by rejoining Romania.

Recently, a Ukrainian friend asked me if Moldova, my home country, is on the brink of a color revolution like the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia or the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Indeed, the allegations of electoral fraud committed by the ruling party and the mass protests erupting in the capital city, Chisinau, do strikingly resemble the events in Tbilisi and Kiev. As in the Georgian and Ukrainian cases, the crowd that gathered to protest in the center of Chisinau was mostly young people who want a complete rupture with the communist past and a sharp turn toward Western political systems and values. The definitions-happy Western press has already dubbed the uprising the Twitter Revolution (a term first coined by Foreign Policy’s Evgeny Morozov).

As a student organizer of pro-democracy groups in Chisinau in the early 2000s, I fully supported the recent color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, but I had to answer no to my friend — and it’s a good thing, too. Moldova cannot undergo a pro-democracy revolution because democracy is already deeply rooted in its national psyche: Ironically, it is the ruling Communist Party that helped consolidate democracy in the first place. A color revolution against a democratically elected government would take Moldova off the right path, however sympathetic the concerns of the aspiring revolutionaries may be.

Moldova’s history sets it apart from the other former Soviet countries in a couple of key respects. First, when the Soviet Union annexed Moldova under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1940, Moldova was part of Romania, with which it shares a common language, culture, religion, and historical legacy. Second, in contrast with many former Soviet states at the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova’s best intellectuals and liberal thinkers dreamed not of independence, but of reunification with Romania. Similarly, the instigators of the current fracas seek mainly to move away from the ghosts of the communist past and integrate with Europe by rejoining Romania.

But the vast majority of the country continues to trust the communists and consider themselves Moldovan, as opposed to Romanian, a situation largely due to the failure of Moldova’s liberal political parties to govern the country successfully after the fall of the Soviet Union. Their decade in power, from 1991 to 2001, coincided with economic collapse, civil war, and massive corruption. Liberal democracy was discredited in the eyes of Moldovans in the 1990s, resulting in a resounding victory by the Communist Party in the 2001 elections — the only time any former Soviet country has returned the Communist Party to power. Most remarkable is that free and fair elections facilitated this return. There is no other country in the Commonwealth of Independent States where a ruling party peacefully yielded power to the opposition following election results; but in Moldova, such power transfers have occurred three times.

And that is the real difference between the unrest surrounding Moldova’s elections and the color revolutions. Unlike with Georgia and Ukraine, Moldova’s elections this month were certified by international observers as free and fair. The Communist Party received 49.48 percent of the vote, due to its excellent grass-roots campaign and strong organization, while the three opposition parties garnered a combined 35.34 percent. Thus, there is no strong, united political force leading the Moldovan protests, not like Mikheil Saakashvili’s supporters in Georgia or Viktor Yushchenko’s supporters in Ukraine.

Because of this lack of cohesion and leadership, the protests have been doomed from the start, and the way events unfolded has only resulted in the tarnishing of everything the protesters stand for — unification with Romania, the importance of a youth voice, and the ideal of democratic protest itself. Almost every election in Moldova has been accompanied by protests in Chisinau, typically initiated by young professionals and students. But this time, the protests quickly spun out of control. Whether you believe the opposition’s argument that Moldovan security services and the communist government provoked the clash, or the government’s argument that Romania manipulated the protesters, the results were counterproductive to say the least. Government buildings were vandalized, demonstrators clashed with police, and hundreds of protesters were beaten and arrested.

The opposition has the right idea politically, but the wrong idea tactically. Instead of taking to the streets, it should accept that it lost the elections fairly and should start creating a united force that can challenge the communists through democratic procedures and institutions. Likewise, the communist leadership fails to realize that it is fighting an uphill battle: The young people jailed in droves are the best and brightest of Moldovan society and will eventually become the republic’s elite. Also, the Communist Party’s anti-Romanian ideology is unsustainable and self-defeating in the long run. The communists should stop criminalizing pro-Romanian ideas and accept that Romanian history and language are an integral part of the Moldovan national identity.

A color revolution in Moldova would be a blow to genuine democracy and a regression from the democratic path. Ironically enough, it is the pro-Western urban elites and youth activists who must come to terms with the fact that free elections will decide the political future of Moldova, regardless of whether or not they support the victors.

Cristina Batog is an M.A. candidate at Georgetown University's Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

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