KYIV, Ukraine — Thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets in Moldova again to denounce widespread corruption and demand political change.
But they’re not angry at an abusive, authoritarian regime. It’s actually a pro-Western government — which says it stands for reform and European values — they want gone.
If that sounds strange, it goes to show just how chaotic politics are in the former Soviet republic, one of Europe’s poorest countries.
In recent years, Moldova has been seen as a top reformer in Eastern Europe. The European Union even lifted visa requirements for its citizens as a sign of approval. But deep-seated corruption, which still plagues most of the former Soviet Union, was never completely eradicated.
Cue last year’s $1 billion banking scandal: An eighth of the country’s GDP “disappeared” into private pockets, and critics say the same political elites that helped nudge Moldova toward the West were responsible for the theft.
That gave way to rolling protests in the capital, Chisinau, during much of last year. They intensified this month after parliament elected a new prime minister most say is controlled by a powerful and shadowy tycoon accused of being connected to the heist.
In short, Moldovans like Igor Botan, a political analyst and protest leader, have had enough with corruption. He points to one sign of how bad it’s gotten: Just a few years of a ruling pro-Western government have tainted society’s perception of what it means to be European.
“When they took over from the communists [in 2009], 73 percent of Moldovans wanted European integration, but now that figure is only 37, after six and half years of this so-called ‘pro-European’ coalition,” he told GlobalPost. “What we’re asking is, how can that be?”
The protest movement has even brought together opposing political forces, such as Botan’s liberal party and a controversial pro-Russian party, in an unlikely alliance. The leaders announced on Friday they would continue pressuring the authorities until their demands for fresh parliamentary elections are met.
But whether that pressure remains peaceful is the big question. So far, the only thing that’s clear is Moldova faces a long, messy road ahead.