6 Sept. — Mass protests began against theft and corruption on Great National Assembly Square in Chisinau. The organisers of the protests insist that they will last until their demands are met. The surge of popular discontent could plunge the country back into the political crisis that the ruling parties had only managed to extricate themselves from in late June.
In November 2014 over $1bn was withdrawn from three Moldovan banks (Banca de Economii, Banca Sociala, and Unibank), which is comparable to the revenue portion of the annual budget. The crime has been dubbed the “theft of the century”. The government has called in a team of international detectives from the company Kroll to investigate. The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also providing assistance.
They have been unable to achieve any real success over the past months. The exact organisers and executors have not been found, and the money has not been returned yet. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have supplied financial assistance. According to the latest information, the government considered the fee for returning the stolen money too high.
But this is not quite what has provoked the population. The last straw was the decision to make a sudden increase in gas and electricity rates. The protests, set up by social organisers and bringing many politicians together, started back in summer. Since the first September protest, they have surpassed virtually all similar such actions in the history of independent Moldova in terms of scale.
The plans of the civic platform “Dignity and Truth” were known in advance. So it was not only the activists who were making preparations for the protests but also the ruling parties. They and businessmen associated with them took pains to dampen protesters’ spirits and limit their numbers. For example, according to Jurnal.md, media outlets belonging to businessman Vladimir Plahotniuc, connected to the Democratic Party, spoke of a “new Maidan”. Vehicles hauling people were threatened and their routes were blocked. There were attempts to interrupt Jurnal TV operations. Finally, agencies working for Vladimir Plahotniuc and another oligarch, Ilan Shor, organised a concert on the day of the protest featuring Moldovan, Romanian and Russian stars in the international exhibition centre Moldexpo.
However, these measures did not produce the desired effect. Those protesters who came totalled between 30 and 100,000 people (according to various estimates). And as for the concert, that whole story also worked against the authorities, giving force to the pathos of speeches directed against the “oligarchic regime” (Jurnal.md). “In the very moment that the country is dying, they want to dance and sing on the people’s dime,” said one of the activists, Igor Botsan, in particular (quoted from Jurnal.md).
Alongside demands to return the country its money, the protestors have also put forward political conditions. They promised that they would continue protesting until the president, head of the National Bank, general prosecutor, and head of the Anti-Corruption Commission all resign and insist that new presidential and parliamentary elections be held before 16 March 2016.
The opposition, the mayor of Balti, businessman Renato Usaty, and the former candidate for the post of prime minister Maia Sandu support the protesters. Prime Minister Valery Strelets underscored the need for peaceful protests and constructive dialogue. The presidential apparatus categorically rejected the demands for resignation.
In truth, the ruling party is in a very precarious situation. The Democratic, Liberal and Liberal Democratic Parties only managed in late July to agree on the conditions for coexistence and the formation of the second government in less than a year. Moreover, as Europe Insight already reported, the USA, EU and IMF actively contributed to this, requiring that political stability be restored in return for regular financial help. It is now under threat again.
By the second night, the protesters had already set up 150 tents on the square, demonstrating their resolve to carry things through to the end.