Category: Eastern Europe (page 1 of 3)

Who owns the Carpathian forests?

It is not often that Romania’s image is associated with positive things. That is why I was nicely surprised to see Transylvania and the Carpathians featured both in the Financial Times (here) and on Travel Channel (video below), all in the last couple of months. What is even more important is that both reports, beyond praising the beauty of the Romanian landscape and its rural life stuck a few centuries ago, warn us about a problem that few are really aware of: the threat to the forest ecosystem in the Carpathian mountains.

The message is clear: the potential is there for great Eco-tourism initiatives, but the priority should be protecting the wild life and the rural life, enforcing a ban on illegal logging (that has been destroying the forests in the last two decades at a scary pace) and starting to value this natural heritage for its uniqueness. There have been many recent initiatives and NGO campaigns lobbying for the preservation of the Carpathian habitat but more often than not these are mostly coming from Western Europe,  from organisations and people passionate about nature and charmed by the purity of the Romanian landscape. What is still missing, in my opinion, is a bit of “sense of ownership” by Romanians in all these plans and projects. And this can only be encouraged by a strong belief in the value of the natural habitat and its need for preservation. It is not enough to admire, one needs to be aware of the broader balance of the regional ecosystem, in which the Carpathian forests play an important part. It takes some effort, but it’s worth it!

Radosław Sikorski on the future of the EU

This week, the Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski (also on twitter: @sikorskiradek) gave an excellent speech on the future of the EU in Berlin. (also a timely reminder that Poland holds the Council Presidency at the moment)

The title “Poland and the Future of the European Union” might not sound very exciting, but don’t be fooled.  Just read it!  I wish more politicians had the courage to give speeches like that. A clever structure, historical references,  plain language and some radical proposals that go beyond the current debate that is dominated by economics.  It is a pro-Europe speech but he comes across as  polite and honest – you get the feeling there is someone who really is trying to develop constructive proposals for the future of the EU.  Or as Charles Crawford noted: “That speech (…) was not by a Polish Foreign Minister. It was by a new European leader” (Update 30/11: hmm, so it turns out that Crawford was consulted by Sikorski before the speech)

The line “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity” has obviously been making the rounds in Germany and elsewhere. I think he could have avoided the alarmist word ”apocalyptic’ when describing the current crisis but overall this is a speech worth reading. Hopefully other Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers/Chancellors take note!

EU Commission on Hungarian media law: “Serious doubts”

It was a indeed a “bad start” for the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council:  First the fierce criticism about the media law by the international media (see my #Censorban post here) followed by  a carpet row and last weeks’ MEP protests in the European Parliament. And it is not even February…

In the meantime the European Commission started reviewing the controversial Hungarian media law and it just happened that the official letter of Neelie Kroes has been leaked to the Hungarian daily Népszabadság.

The letter (pdf) can be found here.

In the letter the European Commission asks the Hungarian authorities for “clarifications” on several issues:

  • Obligation of balanced coverage applicable to all audiovisual media services
  • Country of origin principle
  • Registration requirements

It concludes with the statement that “Commission services have serious doubts as to the compatibility of the Hungarian legislation with Union law” . Furthermore, the European Commission “invites the Hungarian government to submit within two weeks observations on how these serious doubts may be addressed ”

A couple of bloggingportal editors will be meeting with some representatives of the Hungarian Council presidency later this week. If you have any questions you would like us to ask – feel free to use the comments below or contact bloggingportal (email, twitter, facebook)!

Romania’s clumsy way to Schengen

Four years after its accession to the EU, Romania is facing its first big test: the accession to the Schengen zone. Part of the accession treaty, but conditioned by the fulfilment of clear technical criteria regarding border management and security, the accession of Romania and Bulgaria was scheduled to take place in March 2011. But, as we all know, the EU seldom functions by written Treaty rules only. Instead, it is all about a perpetual horse-trading, formal and informal negotiations and- not to be neglected- political games. The old Member States know this game all too well and naturally use it to their advantage. The new Member States (and I cant help wondering how much longer we will be calling them “new”, after 7 and respectively 4 years from accession) are still learning. And like in every learning process, some pupils are learning quicker than others.

Unfortunately Romania proves to be one of the slow learners and the way it is handling the Schengen accession issue is a very good illustration. After France and Germany made it clear that they would rather see Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession postponed to a later date when the two countries will be better prepared, bringing as the strongest argument their still very corrupt justice system, Romania decided to take a strong position. That would be all perfectly justifiable, especially given the fact that technically, it is ready to join the Schengen area, if only Romanian politicians had benefited from the socialisation process in the last four years and had learned how to properly use the rules of the game in their favour. Instead, the messages Romania has been sending in the last days come across as desperate childish attempts to threaten the EU with blocking ongoing processes such as Croatia’s accession (on the pretext that any future Member States should also have a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), like Romania and Bulgaria do) and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty amendment allowing for the new 18 MEPs to take their seats in the European Parliament. What Romania is naively trying to achieve with this is to “hurt” France and Germany (although it is Spain that benefits the most from the additional MEPs), but such statements and, even worse, actions fit much better in a kindergarten than in the EU arena.

What Romania is proving in the last days is that:

  1. it has not learned anything in the last four years about how the EU really functions, what are the main institutional players, what is the balance of power and how can one best influence the decision-making process; and here I mostly refer to the informal mechanisms, the things one learns by doing, the product of the so called “socialisation process”, although I still have doubts about how clear the formal mechanisms are to Romanian politicians, and the latest developments are only reinforcing these doubts;
  2. it lacks a coherent strategy to reach the goal of Schengen accession; after the EU accession process was completed, the various political forces in Romania have not been able to work together to create a constructive position for Romania to assume at the EU level; instead, contradictory messages from Romanian officials kept reaching Brussels, each one defending its domestic political position, without even realising the harm they do to Romania’s image and interest. In a sense, one can say that all these inconsistencies and the lack of a clear official stance fueled the arguments against the March 2011 accession. Romania has thus shot itself in the foot, thanks to the messy internal political scene but also to the ignorance (and lack of interest) regarding the functioning of the EU and the role Romania can and should be playing in it;
  3. its officials lack tact and diplomatic skills; not that this is any news, but this situations proves once more the inability of Romanian politicians and diplomats to, first of all, prevent such incidents from occurring and, secondly, once they’ve occurred, to try to suggest reasonable solutions or at the very least (and I am really lowering my expectations here!) refrain from making ridiculous statements. Not only was it bad enough that the Foreign Minister said that Romania can, and probably should, unilaterally withdraw from the CVM, President Basescu suggested yesterday, while assuming his responsibility for the possible postponing of Schengen accession, that in case Romania is not offered a clear and definite deadline to join Schengen, the funds that were meant to be used for securing the borders should be used for other purposes, such as helping SMEs. No comment.

While, on the one hand, it does not seem fair that new conditions are added while the process is ongoing (the criteria are, after all, just of a technical nature, although, in principle, one can easily link corruption with border security), Romania should have been prepared for such a situation and should have come up with a lobbying strategy for the major EU capitals instead of the lame attempts to blackmail the big Member States with issues that can, at best, only backfire and hurt the country’s image in the EU. Unfortunately, this is just an example of Romania’s negotiation “skills” (or lack thereof) in the EU arena; if this trend continues, Romania can forget about ever exerting any influence (despite its size) in the decision-making process. The first lesson it needs to learn is how to use the power of informal mechanisms in its favour instead of falling victim to it, like in the Schengen accession story.

Update 7/1/2011:  According to EUobserver, Romania’s president Basescu announced that Romania would not take any of the proposed retaliatory measures (see above) because they could “backfire against Romania”. But Basescu  also complained about the lack of solidarity: “It was overnight and without a warning. I would have expected that one of my colleagues in the Council – either Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel – to say ‘look, Mr President, we will be against it.’ But they didn’t and you know that normally in the Council there is talk about solidarity.” Be that as it may, early warning  is also the task of the Romanian diplomats in Brussels…

Budapest, we have a problem: #Censorbán

And it is a major problem:  Hungary’s new media law.

Bloggingportal.eu launched a European Blog Action against Censorship in Hungary and also provides a good round-up of reactions and some background documents (just go through the comment thread!)

I don’t want to repeat the points that were made elsewhere. It is never a good idea to pass a law that can be used (even if nobody wants to use it in a specific way) to increase political control over the press. Even the slightest possibility of a a problematic legal clause needs to be addressed. Press and media freedom are too important for democracy in Europe. Simple as that.

cc by-nc-saAs you know Hungary will take over the Council Presidency of the EU in January 2011. And there is even a new blog by the HU presidency.  So feel free to voice your concern about the new law. Obviously they are not amused about the critical reactions and claim that the Council Presidency has nothing to do with Hungarian politics. But the new media law seems  such a major problem that I think it is a legitimate thing to do.  And anyway, the Council Presidency is organised by the Hungarian government… It would be a major embarrassment if the Council presidency was overshadowed by the media law…

So let’s take a picture of Viktor Orbán and transform him into Viktor #Censorbán  (yes it is inspired by  schäublone, #zensursula & #censilia). Basically it is a wordplay of Viktor Orban and Censorship. In other languages one could use Zensorban or Cenzorbana… the idea is quite flexible. Feel free to use, remix and share the picture (cc by-nc-sa).  As you will notice, I am not a professional photoshop/gimp user and I did not have a good picture of Orban in the first place. So any quality improvements are much appreciated. Not sure whether this also makes sense in Hungarian as I do not speak the language. (so if you speak Hungarian leave a comment with improvements!) I know that it should rather read “Censorban Viktor” but well, let’s say it is designed for an international audience.

But there are a couple of things that we should think about in more detail:

First of all: It seems to me that media freedom and internet freedom are increasingly attacked by democratic governments around the world and Europe is following the trend. There are two principal strategies:

Option No 1:  A government wants more control over the press or the internet. It is interesting to think about why this happens more frequently ( – and not understanding the internet is a big part of it)  Usually it is framed as a security problem: “We need to know more about terrorist networks” or it is about the children: “We have to protect our children” .  It can also be the  result of intense industry lobbying to “protect customers and offer a better product” or it is connected to copyright issues.  All these claims are very difficult to challenge in any campaign. (but it is not impossible!) Just think about the French internet blocking law, a couple of German internet laws (from “zensursula” to “JMStV”) or even international negotiations that include internet related articles such as ACTA. The debate on net neutrality can also be cited in this context. But the Hungarian law seems to go one step further as it us  includes all types of media plus a governmental media watch dog…

Option No 2:  A toxic combination of private and public interests mixed with strange business models, corruption and media monopolies. For example Murdoch in the UK, Berlusconi in Italy or the general level of corruption in Bulgaria that also affects the media. This is usually a gradual but equally dangerous process. (but also a topic for another blog post…)

The main question for the EU:  What to do with those countries? The accession process is a straight forward process: Copenhagen criteria and conditionality prevent countries to adopt certain laws.  However, once a country joined the EU there are not many possibilities to interfere with laws that might not be in the “spirit of the EU”. Italy or France can get away with laws that would not be allowed under a strict accession regime. And it is similar in the case of Hungary.  So what could be done? Ignoring certain people  in Council meetings (it did not work with Austria), reduce or stop payments of the cohesion funds/CAP or a suspension of voting rights in the Council? To impose a supervisory mechanism (mixed results in Romania and Bulgaria)?  I am not convinced any of this would have an effect. But  do we really need a new legal tool regarding fundamental freedoms?

The main question for the blogosphere: How to campaign against the various laws and legal practices that restrict press freedom  (not only Hungary)? Media freedom in other (European) countries  should be of concern for the (European) blogoshphere(s).  So the question is whether this topic could potentially become a pan-European topic?  There have been great blogging campaigns in Germany and France relating to press and internet freedom. We need to learn from successful campaigns in other EU countries and replicate the most efficient tools. And especially for  smaller countries  support from the rest of the EU might be crucial to run effective campaigns. In fact, it is one of the few topics that resonate with all national (political) blogospheres in Europe -  which is not a surprise as every blogger can identify with the potential problems of a proposed law.

So what should be done with the Hungarian media law? Let’s  keep the topic on the agenda, use the Council presidency to get  EU wide media coverage – and embarrass the Hungarian government.

Update 27/12: Now you  can also follow @censorban on twitter…

Update 30/12: SME Dennik, one of the biggest daily newspapers in Slovakia, mentions the bloggingportal campaign alongside the Censorban pic (although attributed to bloggingportal.eu which is not a problem – but a factual mistake) Anyway, the article can be found in the print (e-paper) and online version of the paper!

EU rural development and ‘semi-literate farmers’

An ambitious policy: “The EU’s rural development policy is all about meeting the challenges faced by our rural areas, and unlocking their potential.”

Especially the ‘new’ EU member states hoped to benefit from these funding programmes after joining the EU.

Here is Alina Mungiu Pippidi‘s ‘Romanian reality check’ taken from her forthcoming book “A tale of two villages“:

… nobody seems competent enough to fill in one of those complex application forms with many rubrics, seemingly designed to exclude the semi-literate farmers of the underdeveloped, rural areas for which those programme were in fact intended.

via Book of the Week: Book of the Week | The Economist.

Blogging elsewhere

Just to let you know that I opened a new Kosmopolito ‘presence’ on Ideas on Europe.  (yes, it is that platform I wrote about a few weeks ago). I haven’t really decided about my blogging strategy over there. Most of you know that I am working on a PhD in EU politics and I think Ideas on Europe (which is supported by UACES) could develop into an interesting arena for academic networking and exchange – so I decided to give it a try!

I will be blogging here and there – but without too much cross-posting (ok, once in a while I might post the link to a new post here). But, don’t worry: I will not close down kosmopolito.org.

My first post on ‘Ideas on Europe’  is a blogging introduction for academics. I thought it as a first post in a little series that aims at convincing  (and teaching) academics how to blog. If you have any ideas what I should cover next time, let me know in the comments!

Who will be the next Romanian Commissioner?

As the (rather temporary) buzz around the EP elections started to diminish, the next big question is popping up in various circles, from political parties headquarters to newspapers and blogs (see the concerted blog action here, here and here): who will be each country’s nominee for the Commissioner position?

With the institutional framework governing the next Commission not clearly defined and dependent on rather uncontrollable factors (i.e. the second Irish referendum scheduled for the autumn), the various names and portofolios are rather speculations. However, they tend to indicate the “mood” in different countries and offer a preview of the negotiation process that will start after the Commisssion President will probably be nominated later today at the European Council.

The debate regarding the next Romanian Commissioners, though not yet very visible in the media, has been taken up by the researchers at the Romanian Centre for European Policies (CRPE), who issued a report entitled: “Romania at the European Council on 18-19 June. Grades for the Romanian “Commissioners” “ The first part of the document is a very good overview of the most important institutional aspects linked to the the new Commission (including the current debates on how many Commissioners there will be and how is the Commission President elected). I find it a very commendable effort to explain all these rather complex issues to the greater public, an initiative that should perhaps be replicated in the media and by other actors.

The second part of the report makes some recommendations as to what position Romania should adopt at the European Council on 18-19 June and, more important, evaluates some of the possible candidates for the Romanian Commissioner position and the likeliness to get some portofolios of interest. The nine possible candidates (including names such as Monica Macovei, former Justice Minister and newly elected MEP, MEPs such as Adrian Severin and Theodor Stolojan, former Romanian Permanent Representative to the EU Lazar Comanescu and current commissioner Leonard Orban) are assessed according to five criteria: experience with EU affairs, CV (competence), political support, integrity and professional authority. The portofolios that Romania might be aiming at are agriculture, energy, transport, regional policy and enlargement, each assessed with medium or small chances of success. Makes me wonder what portofolio does Romania have real chances of getting, as all the ones mentioned above seems to come straight from a wish-list.

While offering a very straight-forward and well-argumented overview of all possibilities, the report fails to come up with a final conclusion and an over-all assessment, linking the possible candidates with likely (matching) portofolios. The task would, indeed, be rather speculative, since there is still a heated debate inside the governing coallition (PDL-PSD) as to which party should nominate the future Commissioner.

lazarcomanescu

Nevertheless, if Romania (still) wants to have a chance in getting a decent portofolio (as oposed to an invented one, like it is currently the case), it should come up as soon as possible with a credible personality with strong expertise in a specific policy field. This will be hard, since political support is, clearly, the vital criterion among the five mentioen above. The more likeley outcome is (like in many other cases, isn’t it?) a compromise candidate, and my guess is that Lazar Comanescu, former Permanent Representative of Romania to the EU might just pass that test. It will be interesting to watch the power play in the run-up to the nomination.

Civil society reacts on crisis in Moldova

A number of well known Moldovan civil society leaders issued a statement on the crisis: Declaration regarding the escalating social and political situation in Moldova after the parliamentary elections of April 5, 2009 (pdf)

The German Marshall Fund  of the United States (GMF) also published a ‘Moldovan NGO statement’: A Sustainable Solution to Political Crisis in Moldova Due to security concerns, the organisations behind it are not named.

One of the worrying developments in Moldova seems to be the deteriorating situation for journalists. Reporters without Borders “is very disturbed that the Moldovan authorities have been arresting journalists and even using violence against them.

According to Nicu Popescu, several cyber attacks were carried out against Moldovan news sites. He also reports about FT and BBC journalists that were not allowed to enter the country.

Moldova: “Revolution, here we come!” Or Consequences !?! (part 4)

Written by Guest blogger Dorina in Chisinau -  Read more here:  part 1 , part 2 & part 3!

On April 8 2009, people knew that the evening before it was said that the protests will continue and that meeting hour was 10 AM in PMAN (the National Square, in front of the Government building). That morning I was crossing the Stefan cel Mare boulevard, through the National Square and by the Government building. The “Scut” forces were already there around the building. I was following www.unimedia.info and www.curaj.net where events were posted almost every hour about what was going on. At lunch time we went to PMAN to see for ourselves what was going on. It was around 1,000 or maybe 2,000 people that were standing in the sun, cheering same old “Down with the communists!” but for people passing by it was not clear what was the message of the people speaking in the megaphone, the leader was also not clearly identified.

But I randomly ran into some students that were yesterday protesting in front of the parliament and who were willing to share their story. According to them, they were peacefully protesting in front of the Parliament, but mainly directed to the Presidency (as in facing the Presidency) when at one point, around maybe 200 “Scut” forces got out of the Parliament building through the front door and started marching towards the crowd, beating young people with their bats while these were running away. At a certain moment some from the crowd started screaming “look it’s only a couple of them, but it’s more of us, let’s press them!” And then it all started and from the crowd rocks started to fly towards the policemen.
After talking to them we went to see what is going on in front of the Presidency – it was guarded by same “Scut” forces, while people were cleaning the mess left from the previous day. In front of the Parliament was no one, and people were sitting around on the grass as if they were on a Sunday picnic, eating popcorn, drinking water/juice/cola/fanta/sprite and talking (I overheard some regular conversations – about the nice weather, about some boyfriend/girlfriend problems, personal financial issues etc.).

It was around 4PM that I could read on the net and here people that were coming from PMAN that there were provocateurs among protestors, that now the popular cheers are “No violence!” and “Come back!” to the advancing crowd approaching the “Scut” forces standing close to the Government. Around 6.30 PM I was going downtown, walking on Puschin street that intersects PNAM on Stefan cel Mare and I get surprised when I see that the crowd is already standing front in front with “Scut” and it was clear that altercations are about to start. Exactly on the corner of the Puschin street these altercations started between some protesters (or maybe some provocateurs) and “Scut” forces. At one point it seems like a small fight and people start running away and I here later that 2 people got arrested. As I was not alone, we decide to take a walk around the building and check what’s up? Well, nothing was up, until at the back door of the Government we notice a group of around 5 “Scut” and 8 or maybe 10 civilians discussing very friendly and talking – who were they? Of course we don’t know we can only make assumptions… Someone tells me that apparently secret services cars were noticed behind the building having both Moldovan and transnistrian separatist region registration numbers.
Check it out:

So, in front are the Moldovan ones, behind are the separatist one; the driver gets questioned about the numbers – and he says he does not know.
I get a phone call from my parents being preoccupied for my safety as they heard on the news that Voronin (Moldova’s president) allowed force to be applied to the protesters and the police can open fire if the protesters go crazy, besides this the Romanian Ambassador to Moldova was declared persona non-grata and starting with April 9th a visa regime for Romanian citizens will enter into force.

The altercations at the corner of the Government building cool off. Later around 7-8 PM an interesting scenario could be observed: the peaceful protesters were standing in front of the Arch and the provocateurs were standing on the stairs that lead to the main entrance of the Government building screaming “Down with the communists” and “We are not leaving”; a couple of meters further the crowd is screaming “No violence!” and “Freedom”. Besides this, one young men was walking with the megaphone through the crowd saying “Do not let yourself provoked. Be careful! We are protesting peacefully! Do not use violence! Do not let yourself be provoked!” If one would pay attention at the 2 crowd – the bigger peaceful one (around 1,500 people) and the smaller one (around 100-200 people) one could tell a light difference – people standing in front of “Scut” were young, well build men, with black jackets (most of them) and have their face covered with a bandana or wearing sun glasses and holding bottles from mineral water with rocks in it that helped them make noise. The others did not have their face covered; no sunglasses and boys/men did not have their heads shaved, but were having a short haircut (if such was the case).

Other events/facts going on yesterday, updated today:

1. A video how a policeman is breaking rocks just behind the Presidency went online on www.jurnaltv.md. The video was made from the high-school just behind the building of the Presidency

2. A lot of people could not access facebook when they got home and they had to change their proxies.

3. Police were taking people off the streets behind the Government building:

What happens in this video is the following – protesters in front of the building heard that behind the building police dressed in civilians is randomly taking kids/youth and arrest them, but firstly beating them. SO the crowd goes with questions and they do not get answers and in the middle of this video you can see civilians beating other civilians and carrying them towards the Government building to the police. At the very end of the video one of them, also dressed in civilian comes holding a bat in his hand saying run away from here, go tape in front of the building and the cameraman asked “why should I run? Are you going to hit me?”

4. Thanks to the photographer Ion Grosu, I could find out about a lady who was showing he ID with 2 stamps “voted” on it with the date of 05.04.2009, Election Day. This stamp receives each citizen before voting; when she asked why does she has 2 of them she was screamed at and told to mind her own business. She also said that she saw the name of people she knew were dead on the election list. See the photos here.

5. The cameraman from JurnalTV, last night, around 10 PM was beaten. Oleg Brega received a phone call saying that behind the Government building young people were beaten by almost 20 men dressed in civilians, when he got there and started taping, the men stopped when noticing him and said “stop!Wwe are being taped”. Right after this, around 4-5 men, 2 dressed as police officers and the others as civilians put him to the ground asking why is he taping and when he identified himself as cameraman and someone recognized his voice he was severely beaten Oleg, the cameramen of www.jurnaltv.md , did not get severely injured but he got several contusions. You can watch the interview with him here (it’s in Romanian, but the short version of what he is saying is written at p.5):

6. At the Emergency, the cameraman from www.publictv.md was sharing his experience of being beaten by police. Some provocateurs approached him and said “let’s go as police are beating ours” (ours to be understood as protesters). The boy went with the provocateurs and was saying “no violence!” but then he understood that these were policemen dressed in civilian who have bitten him severely, got him into a car, drove around the capital, at some point changed the car registration numbers from police registration numbers to regular ones. When they got to the police station he got bitten again “They are mocking us! They treat us like dogs! All the time they were hitting me I kept praying to God! At one point I fainted and one of them gave me water!” At some point the policemen concluded to set him free and he was followed on his way to the hospital. “When I got here and I saw one of the policemen entering the room in the hospital where I was, I got scared and I started screaming to get him out of here!”. The young men’s name is Octavian and you can watch him talking here.

7. Tonight when I got home I checked the internet again to find this video and the comment below this video says: “it is said that the provocateurs that started to throw rocks into the buildings of the Presidency and the Parliament came equipped from home, each carrying a backpack. From the images one can well see that one of those wearing a backpack goes up the stairs of the Presidency in a hurry while others keep standing (please remember in one of the previous notes I was mentioning how the crowd made a corridor so that the “Scut” could go out, so that is the corridor this guy is going up to the Presidency). What was the hurry of this young man? We later see him protesting in the crowd. Even though we cannot see very clearly his face, one can tell by other indicators that it is one and the same person. Eventually, we see him on the top of the Presidency, on the roof carrying the EU flag”.

8. Today most of us had issues with accessing facebook for half of the day, now in the evening we cannot access www.unimedia.info and www.curaj.net from where we check hourly updates.

What will April 10th bring?

Moldova: “Revolution, here we come!” Or who is to blame? (part 3)

Written by Guest blogger Dorina (in Chisinau/Moldova). Here are  part 1 and part 2 of her story! NEW: part 4

Soon after that the Presidency have been occupied, the protesters entered into the building, got on the roof and on the 1st level balcony and entered the cabinet of the Mr. Vladimir Voronin, the President of the Republic of Moldova and leader of the Communist Party. While entering the building the crowd was cheering “Oleg and Vova have stolen our Moldova” (Oleg as referring to the businessman Oleg Voronin the President’s son and Vova as referring to the President himself). The crowd got euphoric when they got pictures of the President and set them on fire. They also got out the flag of Republic of Moldova from the president’s office and got it down to the crowd.

On the other part of the street the protesters entered the Parliament building and a new wave of euphoria started when they got out furniture and equipment out of the building and set it on fire while pouring cognac into the fire from a bottle of cognac that somebody found in one of the cabinets of the Parliament. Then, they took out the door of the Presidency building and solemnly transported it above their heads, crossing the street, into the fire in front of the Parliament. See the photo stream here.

The situation was confusing, one could not realize what was really going on, and no leader of the groups  which were devastating both buildings could be identified. And it did not matter to them when the leaders from the opposition parties (Vlad Filat, Liberal Democratic Party or Dorin Chirtoaca, Liberal Party) were coming in front of them and asking them to abandon the rocks and stop the violent behavior and go back to the National Square (PNAM) in order to protest peacefully. It was at this moment when police forces directed the water jets into the crowd and Vlad Filat got under it and youth were not moving a centimeter towards PNAM.

I tried talking to some of the people out there on the streets protesting. My attention got some old people that were supporting the youth saying “my dear, it was about time that the communists get what they deserve”. Behind me an old man was saying to a young protester: “I understand and support your cause, but make sure that you (as in the youth) do not get hurt”. In this video you can see old people saying that “a long time ago this should have been done, they (the communists) have destroyed our churches, so let it burn so no trace of communist can be found, they have destroyed everything, our culture, they sent us to Siberia, it’s time they are sent to Siberia! I believe that there was electoral fraud, they went to villages and fooled people around” (this is a short translation of the video).

Asking around why are they here and what do they think is going on, I got the following answers: “I did not vote for the communists, neither did my friends nor my parents, so I stand here to say “NO!” to communists”, “I believe that the elections were rigged, I cannot believe that again, 3 times in a row communists get a majority of votes. I refuse to believe that!” and others told me similar opinions. When I was asking if it was the right way to destroy the buildings and get violent, some said that “it was about time”, “after the first rock that flew about my head I knew there is no turning back”. Most of the young people I talked to said that they are against the acts of vandalism that this protest turned into, but that they did not want the communists to rejoice in their so-called wining of election.

On the other side, on PNAM, people were peacefully protesting, saying “no” to acts of vandalism, calling for the protesters in front of the Parliament and the Presidency to join them in PNAM. At a certain point a big number of people were leaving the site of the Presidency and the Parliament and moving towards PNAM (it was around 4 PM when the reporter from “Vocea Basarabiei” was reporting this movement). In the meantime, the protesters have anchored on the Presidency the EU flag and on the first level balcony the Romanian flag.

Leaving the office to return to downtown my last update was that the leaders of the opposition went to negotiate with the President of Moldova, the Speaker of the Parliament and the Prime Minister. The opposition was there to demand a recount of the votes, but from the videos that we later saw when we got home was that the opposition was mostly explaining to the President that they had nothing to do with the violent acts and that they want that the accusation that they are in fact the organizers should be officially dropped. The citizens could not see a strong opposition demanding what it wants.

It was around 8 PM when almost all protesters were in PNAM, in front of the Government building, and only some of them were still vandalizing the 2 assaulted buildings. Until almost 10 PM people were cheering in PNAM and continued protests and were raising their hands when asked for voting for a civic coalition built only by non-governmental representatives and no political parties. It was around this hour that Vlad Filat, the president of Liberal Democrat Party addressed the crowd in PNAM saying that: “The Communists want to focus on the violent actions and move away from the fact that elections were rigged.” He also underlined that the police that was in a small number at the protest could not assure the public order. Dorin Chirtoaca, vice-president of the Liberal Party said that there were provocateurs among the young people that were first to throw with stones and made that a peaceful action turn violent. An interesting image that appeared today was the on the top of the building of the Parliament, where 2 young men were waving the EU flag, when zooming the picture, behind them 2 police officers were standing calmly watching this. The question is – were they protesting?

1-parliament12-parliament

People that came downtown, on April 7th 2009 wanted one thing – a change, apparently nobody expected such a turn-out. So, who’s to blame and who’s behind all of this? Later after 6 PM a lot of the protesters had this question in their minds. No one knew what’s going on and no one had an answer. “For the moment it is a little victory” some of the protesters standing beside me in PNAM were commenting.

So far, the facts are that: we had no internet connection for several good hours, people from other countries could not visited sites hosted in Moldova and also Moldovan internet users did not have access to them. People in the countryside, that have access only to the national TV station TVM 1 were not informed about the events from Chisinau, it was only at 5.30 PM that the national television started covering the subject showing some people expressing themselves against the protests, but not talking to protesters to find out what they think, thus trying to manipulate public opinion. Moreover, access to Chisinau was limited, starting with 11 AM on April 7th, buses and cars were stopped, and people were questioned and searched. Most buses with students were sent back from where they were coming.  Mostly young students protested in their cities (in Ungheni and in Balti around 2000 gathered downtown), but the entries into the country at the Romanian border were impossible to cross for Moldovan students who were coming to support the protesters.

Another thing is that all protesters from PNAM went home until 1AM, on April 8th already, so did the last cameras and media representatives. Still some drunk people still stayed there, trying to make the cars go another way, trying to irritate the police force that was guarding the building of the Government and was behaving irrational due to the influence of alcohol. It was a couple minutes after 1 AM that several gun shots were heard in PNAM and people were running away. A witness of this told me that the police fired several shots in the air, people started running in different directions, and then police arrested several of them. Nobody knows so far what happened to them.

The question is: what will be the consequences?

Exclusive photos from Chisinau, Moldova

Photos taken on April 7, 2008 in central Chisinau/Moldova. Credit goes to “ADL” in Chisinau. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit the photos. Please mention ADL and link to kosmopolito.org if you do so.  Click on any image to start a slide show. (I edited the photos after a hint by Luminita, thanks for that!)

“Revolution, here we come”. Read the eye witness report by Guest blogger Dorina in Chisinau -  here are  part 1 , part 2 , part 3 and part 4 of her story!

Moldova: “Revolution, here we come!” (part 2)

Written by Guest blogger Dorina (in Chisinau/Moldova). Read the first part of her story here. NEW: part 3 and part 4

The population in Chisinau, the capital of Republic of Moldova doesn’t recognize the results of the elections  in which the communists won. They believe the elections were rigged.
The protest continued today, April 7, from 10 AM and the youth are not willing to give up. People were coming to the National Square mainly with the same cheers as yesterday, but today the crowd was counting around 50,000 people. At some point, the crowd split in 2 – one part stayed in the National Square in front of the Government and the other part went to the Presidency and the Parliament. Around 11 AM, the only radio that could be accessed (“Vocea Basarabiei” ) was transmitting news from the the events  and it was constantly informing about the turn of the events.

The youth was peacefully protesting in front of the police and did not bolster to violent acts. It was at 11.05 AM, that the reporter was informing that Petru Corduneanu, the police commissioner, had hit a young man and tried to block the journalists. It was only later, after the police forces tried to intimidate the protesters that they started throwing rocks at them  screaming “We are not leaving!” Talking to some of the protesters from the first lines I found out that the armed forces “Scut” formed a human line from the Parliament to the Presidency (both of the buildings are situated on the Stefan cel Mare boulevard and are facing one another) and were intimidating the protesters by advancing on to them and beating with their bats in the bucklers. At first the crowds were in retreat. One person told me that at some point, when the police was approaching, the protesting girl next to him accidentally fell down and the policemen started beating her with their bats and some boys defeated her and got her back into the crowd. This was the hot moment when the first line of protesters sat down on the stairs in front of the Presidency screaming “We are not leaving!”, “Whom are you defending?” The “Scut” forces kept on advancing and this is when the protesters from the standing crowd started throwing rocks at them. Now, the crowd started advancing…

After this point it is difficult to describe what was happening, one has actually have to be there and live it. Parts of the action can be viewed here:

In the background of this video you can hear the crowd screaming “Thieves!”, “Demission!”, “Down with the communists!”

Here the crowd screams “One-two, communists to the garbage!”, “Shame on you!”, “Down with the communists!”

It was after this altercations that people in the offices that were trying to access different online media sources had really slow connection or could not access the web pages at all. Later on we understood that internet connections were down, local television did not broadcast and the national public television was broadcasting relaxation shows. Also, after 11.30 AM we could not reach protesters from the Square via their cell phones.

It was 1 PM when the windows of the Presidency building were all broken; up to the 3d floor and protesters were trying to enter the building, on the other side of the street the protesters were destroying the windows of the Parliament and one could see smoke coming out from inside the building. Now the protesters were screaming “Revolution”, “We are not giving up!”, “Down with communism!” and one could tell that they were not willing to give up.

It was during my lunch break that I was observing how the youth fought the jets of water coming from both – the Parliament and the Presidency and they clapped and laughed and cheered when the police special forces on barricades in both buildings ran out of water resources. This was the moment when the crowd got the feeling of wining over the police forces in front of the Presidency and they offered to them to get out of the building, the protesters even formed a free pass so that they could freely go out.

At this point, just across the street we heard a strong noise as if something exploded. From the building of the Parliament, the police forces were throwing some sort of devices that made a shattering noise and sprayed tear gas on the protesters which made it difficult for them to breathe and tears would come out of their eyes. Several of them got injured (later on this evening I saw an interview with one of the protester saying that at first he had no clue what has happened as after the big “BANG” he could not clearly hear and afterward someone told him to look at his legs. Apparently the device fell right next to him, torn his jeans apart and his legs from the knees down were in blood. The young man said that at first he could not feel pain and could not understand what was going on due to the noise in his head).

A second “bang” was heard and the protesters in front of the Parliament started running away. Around a minute later when the crowd understood that no one was shooting at them and it was no grenade, they  slowly came back while the crowd in front of the Presidency was supporting them shouting “Come back!”, “Don’t give up!” The protesters came back and it was only several hours later that we could hear those “Bangs!” already familiar to the crowd that did not scare them at all.
Standing next to the broken windows and by the broken door of the Presidency the crowd was shouting “You also have kids!”, “Don’t steal our future!”. Even through some of the police forces went out through the formed corridor, most of them stepped out through some back door in the Presidency and the protesters invaded the building, getting out furniture, equipment, documents, reports and burning them.

For a photo stream from the spot, please visit the Unimedia.

To be continued…

What is happening in Moldova?

What a day in Chisinau/ Moldova. Is it a twitter revolution as some claimed?  Or a grape revolution? Or not a revolution at all? One thing is remarkable:  For the first time I did not switch on the TV for news updates but only checked twitter #pman and other news websites (for example Unimedia), mainly in Moldova and Romania. Mainstream (western) media was slow to report about the story today. It is not only happening on twitter, lots of facebook and photo sharing seems to be going on: And there are already lots of photos on the web, see for example here, here, here, here, here here and here. For a good blog and video overview (in English) check Nosemonkey, Julien Frisch, Maladets and Scraps of Moscow.

European media (see for example BBC, Spiegel, Sky News ) at least reported about the protests in Moldova although not as a main story, (former) news heavyweight CNN still does not cover the story (or I was not able to find it easily)… then again Moldova  is a small country, demonstrations were not that huge and there was another earthquake in Italy. And  similar events in Ukraine or Georgia only made it into the mainstream media after 2 days

There have been a lot of rumors and unconfirmed stories which is quite normal in situations like this one. However, one should also take into consideration the Russian factor (Russia still supports the breakaway region Transnistria) as well as the nature of the regime in Moldova which has its democratic shortcomings as well as a tightly controlled media. Also the general technical infrastructure (internet, phone network) might not be able to cope with the heavy demand. At the moment it seems as if different scenarios are still possible depending on what will happen tomorrow – How will the police react? Will the army intervene? How many protesters will turn up again? What about Russia? Ukraine? etc.

Moldovan politicians were already talking about a attempt “coup d’etat” accusing Romania & “the West ” to be behind the protests. On the other hand, everything started with a peaceful demonstration backed by the major opposition parties. Protesters were mainly young people, however  some of them started rioting and looting governmental buildings. Moreover, waiving Romanian flags on the building of the President is of course seen as a provocation.  Police and fire brigades were ill-prepared. It is difficult to predict anything.  So it will be interesting to follow the events tomorrow!

Interestingly so far mainly international organisations (and Russia) published diplomatic opinions on the situation Moldova. The EU as well as the Council of Europe and the OSCE issued statements that expressed concern about the violence. What else can be done?  Nicu Popescu, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) published already a possible draft EU strategy.

Daily Updates from Moldova: “Revolution, here we come”. Read the eye witness report by Guest blogger Dorina in Chisinau -  here are  part 1 , part 2 , part 3 and part 4 of her story!

Moldova: “Revolution, here we come!”

Guest blogger: Dorina (Live from Chisinau/Moldova) NEW:  Read more here: part 2 , part 3 and part 4!

On April 6, at 6 pm, the second day after the Parliamentary elections, when the counting of almost 98% of the votes was indicating that the communist have won again (obtaining almost 50% and 61 seats in the Parliament out of the total of 101), young people gathered at the monument of Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) from the National Square in the Republic of Moldova. Each one of them was holding a candle in his hand that was lightened in order to declare this day the National Mourning Day.

Most of the people found out about this initiative through different internet channels – blogs, forums and especially facebook. People got surprised and enthusiastic to see that more than thousand of participants came at first and in the next hour there were already 10,000 of them. After lighting candles at the monument of the national historic leader of all Moldovan people, young people went to the Parliament shouting “Down with the communists!”, “Better dead then communist!”, “I refuse, I resist! I am anti-communist!”, “Freedom!”, “Down with the censorship!”, “We want repeated voting!” Later on, the leaders of the opposition parties adhered to the cause of the protesters. From 6 pm till around 10 pm the long line of 10,000 people have stopped by all the important points: the Presidency, that faces the Parliament of the Republic, the Government and the Electoral Central Commission – all of this abide to the communist government and consider themselves democratic, open to the public institutions. On Monday the protest went on really peacefully and people were only cheering and singing, protesting against the communists that are ruling.

Today, there was a press conference of the organizers that explained that they did not expect so many people to gather, but apparently the cause was of great importance to them and that the electoral process has not been free and fair and that the youth only wanted their voice to be heard. Besides this, the organizers of the flashmob from April 6, also were unsatisfied that the opposition did not mobilize the youth before elections, but were concerned with the dividing the power between them. And the idea behind this protest is to create a big citizen coalition.

To be continued…

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