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Analysis & Opinion
14.04.09 Moldova: Worse Than A Revolution
By Dmitry Babich

The riots in Moldova, which until recently seemed to be the most democratic country in the Community of Independent States (CIS), a loose alliance of post-Soviet states united mostly by specific post-communist political traditions, puzzled a lot of Russian commentators. Even those who are usually ready to answer any question, interpreting any event in the former Soviet Union as a result of the continued rivalry between Russia and its erstwhile Western enemies, were at a loss to explain the events in Chisinau, where a crowd of angry youths seized the buildings of the parliament and the president’s residence, only to ransack and surrender them in a few hours.

What was it? Another Washington-inspired “colored revolution,” in which the more pro-Western groups of ruling elites in post-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine came to power in 2003 and 2004, pushing out the former communist apparatchiks whom they incidentally owed their earlier “democratic” careers? But then why would the West decide to topple Vladimir Voronin, Moldova’s “Euro-communist” president who irritated Moscow so much that it in fact imposed economic sanctions on his country, after he turned his back to Russia in 2002, scarcely a year after coming to power? And if it was a clever ploy of someone inside the country trying to seize power, why were the protesters so ill-prepared for their own initial victory over the police? Why, instead of building on their original successes and installing some kind of an alternative government in the “occupied” offices, did they just smash the furniture and put Romanian flags on the buildings?

Russia’s First and RTR channels interpreted the events in Moldova as one more failed colored revolution, showing a photo of one of the protesters wearing an “I love Obama” t-shirt and interviewing numerous conspiracy theorists, who explained the “technology” of managing the mob, allegedly invented in the West by some evil manipulators. Using lots of old footage, the authors of these reports went as far back as the 1968 student revolution in France, which was given the dubious honor of being called the first colored revolution.

“I was not impressed by these reports and comments,” said Valery Khomyakov, the general director of the Council on National Strategy. “They smacked of the desire to please the country’s leaders, some of whom continue to be concerned about a possibility of a rerun of the 2004 Ukrainian events in Russia. But under closer scrutiny, there were none of the necessary ingredients which make a colored revolution possible. There was no real conflict inside the ruling elite or between the mayor of the capital and the country’s president. Obviously, there was no money involved, since the protesters did not have tents or food to keep them through the night. Obviously, the real reason for the riots was the critical state of the Moldovan economy.”

Other experts explain the Russian official media’s reaction with more sophisticated considerations. “I think the people heading the state-owned Russian television channels sincerely loathe radical demonstrations, which degenerate into outright violence and are sometimes used for the seizure of political power,” explained Kirill Tanayev, the chairman of the board of directors of the Foundation for Effective Policy, a Moscow-based think tank. “But in Moldova the whole thing looked somewhat not serious. If it was an attempt at an oligarchic coup, as the authorities claim, the Moldovan oligarchs turned out to be very bad planners.”

Khomyakov suggests an easier solution to the Chisinau “mystery.” Bearing in mind the prolonged poverty in Moldova, which has almost no natural resources and no strategic value as a “counterweight” to Russia or anyone else, what happened could have just been an outburst of despair on the part of its young people. “Instead of the encroaching NATO or a change of strategic balance with the United States, Russia should fear a sudden destabilization in the countries on its fringes,” said Khomyakov. “Moldova went through a war in 1992, when the whole of the former Soviet Union was passing through a period of destabilization. And Moldova was not the only country that went through a bloody conflict then. What will Russia do if interethnic clashes erupt again in, say, the Fergana valley in Uzbekistan? It is technically impossible to seal the borders, so all the refugees will go to us!”

Even if the riot in Chisinau was a botched colored revolution, it achieved the opposite of what the other colored revolutions aimed for. Moldova, one of very few countries in the former Soviet Union where a legitimate change of government took place twice in 1991 and 2001 via elections and not a backstage deal among the elites, seems to be further away from democracy than just weeks ago. Even if Vladimir Voronin does not become the president again, following these riots his critics have a slimmer chance of challenging the authority of his “Euro-communists” than ever before. The leadership of the separatist region of Transdnestr, which both Russia and the EU try to nudge toward a settlement with Chisinau, is now less willing to compromise than ever.

Obviously, the “underachieved” colored revolutions have even sadder outcomes than the successful ones.
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