A Volatile Tug of War in Moldova
CharlesB at cncl.ci.detroit.mi.us
Tue Feb 26 12:00:33 MST 2002
There's something fishy about this article. It has the feel of Western media coverup of revival and preference for socialism among the only populations who have lived under both socialism and capitalism. Such a real world experiment's results would, of course, be devastating for bourgeois propaganda.
A Volatile Tug of War in Moldova
February 25, 2002
CHISINAU, Moldova, Feb. 21 ― To most outsiders, it may seem that requiring college students here to take a course called "History of Moldova" does not merit toppling the government. Certainly the Moldovan government does not think so.
"Many of us are inclined to believe that if there is a state, then it should have a history," Yurii Stoycov, the chairman of the Moldovan Parliament's national security committee, said in an interview today.
Then again, even insiders have been stunned to discover just how explosive the subject can be.
Almost daily for six weeks, thousands of protesters have jammed Chisinau's broad central square and spilled into the streets, this week even ringing the nearby Parliament building. Spurred at first by a government edict replacing a Romanian history course with one centered on Moldova, the demonstrators now demand that Parliament resign and make way for new elections.
That lays bare the real issue in the largest protests since Moldova left the Soviet Union in 1991: not whether this tiny nation of 4.3 million has a history, but who will get to write it.
On one side is Moldova's solidly Communist government, swept into power by voters a year ago after a decade of wild capitalism left the country broke, corrupt and riven by civil war. They ran on a platform, since shelved, of forming a political union with Russia and Communist Belarus. Some here see the new history course as an effort to recast Moldova's past in a rosy pro-Soviet light, and ignore its Romanian roots.
The students are even more solidly pro-European. To them, any hint that Moldova is not joined at the hip to the West is not just heresy, but a threat to a better life.
"After World War II, Stalin deported Moldovans to Siberia; my grandfather died there; my mother was born there," Igor Cojocaru, 28, who is finishing a second degree at Moldova State University, said as he stood with protesters on Chisinau's wind- whipped central square. "The younger generation chooses Europe, not Siberia."
In more than a few ways, this struggle is a case of history repeating itself, again and again. Little Moldova, barely bigger than Maryland, is ethnically two-thirds Romanian and only one-eighth Russian.
But its geographic id is at best unsettled: aside from a brief marriage with Romania early in the 20th century, it spent most of the last 200 years under Russian rule, often unhappily.
Moldova's first break from the Soviet Union began with a 1980's surge of nationalism among ethnic Romanians. Once in power, they declared Romanian the state language, banned the Cyrillic alphabet and moved to wipe out a host of Soviet legacies, even switching clocks from Moscow to Bucharest time.
A Romanian nationalist, Yuri Rosca, led a movement then to meld Moldova into Romania, a cause some critics say helped unleash a civil war in 1992. Now 40, charismatic and unmistakably ambitious, he is leading the student protests ― and channeling their energy into a campaign to unseat the Communists.
The Communists are led by President Vladimir Voronin, a onetime baker who rose to become the chief of the Moldovan police and the KGB in the Soviet Union's dying years.
He has a reputation as a political moderate, though. He has tried to manage the student protests shrewdly, avoiding violent confrontations. But his government has blundered from threats to concessions and back with little effect.
The protests began in January after officials ordered mandatory Russian-language training beginning in grade two. That was a more rigorous curriculum than existed even in Soviet times, when the aim was to wipe out Moldova's Romanian heritage.
Moldova's schools are a bastion of pro-Romanian and anti-Russian nationalism that has faded among average Moldovans. Russian, like Romanian, is an almost universal language, and among some ethnic minorities who do not speak Romanian, it is a necessity.
Faced with a fierce backlash students all but shut down Chisinau's high schools and universities, with teachers' tacit support the government nevertheless elected this month to replace a Romanian history course with a new one on Moldova, guaranteeing that the protests would only grow.
[Communist officials said on Friday that they would postpone the language and history courses until experts could choose new textbooks, a clear attempt to defuse the protests. But on Sunday, more than 40,000 demonstrators filled downtown Chisinau, and Mr. Voronin resorted to angry charges that Mr. Rosca was engaging in "political terrorism" and exploiting children for his own aims.]
"They've been completely hamfisted and just dumb," said Charles R. King, an author on Moldovan politics and culture and a professor at Georgetown University in Washington. "They could have done what they wanted much more subtly."
Subtlety, however, has not been the government's long suit. While claiming a democratic mandate, Mr. Voronin's government has estranged Moldova's Western political and financial advisers by junking a plan for direct election of local officials in favor of Soviet-style appointments, and creating a judicial system some experts say is politically packed.
Foreign investors complain of increased government harassment, though whether because of corruption or state hostility is less clear, and about 25 companies have been nationalized. The government's non- Communist economic and finance ministers have quit, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have called a halt to lending programs that many call crucial to the economy.
Moreover, the government first reacted to Mr. Rosca's leadership of the student protests by seeking to suspend his Christian Democratic People's Party. Only after an outcry from European human-rights critics was the suspension revoked.
Through Russian ownership of Moldovan companies, Russian dominance of the media and the dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow's influence here is steadily increasing. "This is a little banana republic of the Russian Federation," Mr. Rosca said.
Yet his own movement is accused even by moderates of overreaching in its quest for power. Its demand that the Parliament resign and make way for new elections has scant constitutional precedent. As for popular support, Mr. Rosca and his party hold but 11 parliamentary seats out of 101. The Communists hold 71.
Despite the outpouring of protesters, experts say, it is unlikely that the mostly urban student movement will succeed in dislodging the Communists without support from Moldova's destitute countryside. But most villagers are too busy with survival to embrace a cause as abstract as language or history.
Indeed, it is not clear that Moldovans, Europe's poorest people, care greatly for either side in this fight.
"The main part of the adult population is not in the square," Grigory Susarenko, until 1999 the deputy chairman of Moldova's constitutional court, said in an interview. "But they don't support the government, either. Not even the police do."
Moldova at a Glance
AREA: 13,012 sq. miles
(U.S.: 3,717,796 sq. miles.)
POPULATION: 4.43 million
G.D.P. PER CAPITA: $2,500
RELIGIONS: Eastern Orthodox, 98.5% Jewish, 1.5%
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