“Down with Plahotniuc!”, “Now or never!”, “Moldovans, unite!” protesters will shout outside the Moldovan parliament, in a spontaneous meeting against the approval of the new cabinet. “Judas!” they will cry as Mihai Ghimpu, leader of the Liberal Party, makes his way past, beaten and confused.
This is all still to come. A few hours earlier, Ghimpu entered the parliament calmly to vote for the election of a new prime minister. Several people in the crowd outside throw snowballs, but the politician pays no attention, smiling and waving his hand in response.
“The country has lived for two months without a government”
On the afternoon of 20 January, deputies hastily gathered for a special session of parliament. Their task? To approve the government of Pavel Filip, a candidate from Moldova’s Democratic Party, which is controlled by the country’s main oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. The Cabinet had found out that parliament will support their proposal only a few hours earlier. As the parliamentary speaker Adrian Candu explained: “the country has lived for two months without a government.” Protesters blockade the exit to the Moldovan parliament. Photo (c): Andrey Ghilan Indeed, yesterday’s parliamentary session was held in a half-empty hall. “This meeting should be called not special, but extraordinary, judging by how it’s being conducted,” said Oleg Reidman, a Communist Party deputy. “Two hours to get people in the parliament is totally inadequate. How did you expect people to get here on time and take part in this meeting? You are depriving them the opportunity to speak and ask questions.”
“This meeting should be called not special, but extraordinary, judging by how it’s being conducted”
Prime Minister Pavel Filip was forced to speak from the floor. Socialist Party deputies prevented him from taking the podium.
“I’ve come here with my team to take a responsibility much greater than it seems,’ read Filip against heckles and disgruntled cries of the socialists. “I have come to form a last chance government for Moldova. It may sound pretentious, but that's what I feel. We are creating this government amidst huge popular mistrust of the political class. This is a result of political instability in recent years, endless political wars and broken promises. So today we will not promise anything.”
Filip’s government received 57 out of a possible 101 votes, largely from members of the “parliamentary majority” formed by the Democratic Party last month. (The “parliamentary majority” also includes members from the Liberal Party, defectors from the Communist Party, the Liberal Democrats and one socialist.) The democrats in parliament only have 19 deputies. The opposition - pro-European and pro-Russian - has announced an all-out mobilisation.
Renato Usatii, leader of Our Party, called on his supporters to take to the protest by publishing a video statement on his page on Facebook page: “I ask all to come to the protest in front of parliament at 16:00. I'm on the road and I arrive only at 18:00,” said Usatii, adding that the protesters should be without party flags, only the flags of Moldova. Police cordon around the entrance to the Moldovan parliament. Photo (c): Maria Levcenco Maya Sandhu, who chairs the as yet unregistered political formation Party of Action and Solidarity wrote on Twitter from the United States: “If you give up democracy for the sake of stability, one day you’ll lose democracy and stability.”
The exact number of participants of spontaneous meeting at the walls of Parliament is unknown. The police’s rough estimate of witnesses, at the peak of the protest events, were 10,000-12,000 people.
We are creating this government amidst huge popular mistrust of the political class.
The protesters gathered in front of the outputs of the parliament not to allow the deputies to leave the building of the legislative body. The main events took place at the back entrance to the parliament. There the protesters tried to break through police cordon to enter the building of the legislative body.
It was assumed that in this way they planned to force the remaining deputies in the government to cancel the approval of Filip, to achieve early elections. “Shame!” shouted the people against the police after another failed attempt to enter the parliament.
"They'd rather leave like Ceaușescu"
Vitaly Turodov found out about the events from a television broadcast. He came to the protest from the nearby village of Suruceni. In answer to the question “what's going on here”, the activist simply answered “the crooks have filled sackfuls of money and won't give up until they've squeezed [Moldova] dry, down to the last drop of wine. They should have left long ago. But it appears that they'd rather leave like Ceaușescu did. That's why I came here — to overthrow them. I'm tired of all the abominations they've brought to this country. They're mocking us.” Protesters attempt to disarm police and enter the the parliament building. Photo (c): Andrey Ghilan It's 12 degrees below zero in Chișinău, the Moldovan capital. Some of the protesters are warming themselves by open fires. Among them is Valentina, a 40-year old resident of the city. She found herself in the thick of things when the protesters attempted to break through the police cordon. “The police beat me on the head and the ribs. I'll curse them for the rest of my life. Why did they have to strike me? Because we came here to defend our interests and the interests of our country. We want early elections. And let the whole world know that the president should immediately dissolve the parliament and government in order to ensure peace, and to avoid bloodshed” says Valentina, eager to listen back to her words to ensure that nothing was missed.
Beside her at the fire sits the unemployed, 54-year old Ion. “The main thing people need to understand is that we should not stand down. Whatever has been started must continue. I was one of the first to protest up by the walls of the parliament building and I saw at first hand how the police dealt with us. Whenever somebody was pulled out of the crowd, the police would beat them. Apparently, some were even arrested. People were incensed, but we still made a passage through the crowd for the police” says the activist. Protesters keep themselves warm by the fire. Photo (c): Maria Levcenco All of the activists stressed that the protest was a peaceful one. The clashes with police which ultimately led to their breaking into the parliament building were, they said, meaningless acts of hooliganism which were could not be described as intentional aggression. “Of course, I strongly disapprove of all clashes with police, but in a time of transition there are no entirely peaceful protests” explains Vikor, a 30-year old resident of Chișinău.
Many were overjoyed at the incident which took place at around 10 pm with Mihai Ghimpu. As the politician attempted to leave parliament, he was caught and beaten to cries of “Judas!” Ghimpu is indebted to a group of activists who —while also disgruntled with the ruling government — were able defend him.
"The blame lies on those who hold grievances against a manipulated, robbed and hungry nation"
“The blame lies on those who hold grievances against a manipulated, robbed and hungry nation” began the politician's first statement after the attack. “But those who continue fighting, who strive for their people's happiness, will punish those who have been abusing the nation to advance their own interests. So, my dear friends, the struggle continues”
16 people were injured during the protest at the parliament — 10 policemen and 6 civilians. None of them needed hospitalisation. The general prosecutor's office has already opened up a criminal case on the riots. Article 285 of the criminal code of the Republic of Moldova provides for sentences of up to eight years' imprisonment.
Reports of the inauguration of Filip as prime minister appeared towards midnight. This was later confirmed by head of the presidential administration Ion Păduraru.
Who is Pavel Filip?
Over the last five years, Pavel Filip has served as minister of information technology and communications. He was also manager of state-owned tobacco firm TUTUN-CTC and general director of the Bucuria confectionery factory, also owned by the state. Traces of vandalism inside the Moldovan parliament building. Photo (c): Andrey Ghilan Filip then became an alternative prime ministerial candidate for the Democratic Party. Until very recently, the democrats had promoted the candidacy of the party's first vice-chairman, the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc.
Against a background of mass protests, president Nicolae Timofti refused to sign the decree on Plahotniuc's inauguration, citing doubts about his “integrity”. Timofti tried — and failed — to nominate the businessman Ion Sturza to the candidacy.
With the deadline for re-nominating candidates approaching on 14 January—and with no forthcoming suggestions from the Democratic Party—the president nominated his closest adviser Ion Păduraru for prime minister. Fearing early elections, the democrats then started to make concessions.
By the morning, Ion Păduraru announced the withdrawal of his candidacy in favour of Pavel Filip. The protesters refused to accept this option. For them, Filip is simply a henchman of Plahotniuc.
This morning, protests resumed in Chișinău. And according to leaders of the opposition, they'll continue without end.