On Sunday, tens of thousands of Moldovans took to the streets for a rally organised by the country’s Socialist Party in conjunction with the unofficial Nasha Partiya (Our Party), led by Renato Usatii, a businessman and mayor of Bălți, the country’s second largest city. The organisers put the number of protesters at 45,000, although the police claim 20,000 as a more reasonable figure. Chișinău's central square still hosts several dozen tents.
The climax of the rally was a resolution demanding the resignation of the heads of all Moldova’s law enforcement agencies as well as its Central Election Commission and public television channels, as well as the removal of parliamentary privilege of all those responsible for the removal of $1bn from three Moldovan banks before parliamentary elections in November last year. The protesters also want to force the resignation of President Nikolae Timofti, a vote of no confidence in the government of Valeriu Streleț and a return to direct presidential elections. And finally, they expect the dissolution of parliament and an early general election, to be held not later than March 2016.
The deadline for these demands to be met is 2 October. Otherwise the leaders of the left wing protest movement are threatening to switch to 'Plan B', the details of which are yet to be made public.
According to a recent poll by the Center for Sociological Research and Marketing CBS-AXA, almost 90% of survey respondents in Moldova believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction, and more than 90% don't believe in any official institution (president, government, parliament, the courts).
Renato Usatii, the leader of Nasha Partiya, told me that the only thing up for debate is the date of the current government’s resignation.
‘We can discuss how quickly they are willing to resign,' Renato said, ‘but what dialogue can we have with people who stole a billion Euros from the people of Moldova? There can be no debate, by definition.'
A police cordon separates the two protests on Sunday. Photograph: Andrei Mardar.It was clear from the start that Sunday's demonstration was going to last. The 'Victory' tent camp was set up in front of the parliament building the Thursday before. Moldovan socialists and pro-Russian activists decided to start ahead of schedule—the Demnitatea și Adevăr (Dignity and Justice, DA) platform had already reserved the square for their protest. Since the start of September, DA's tent camp has been set up in front of the government building, and the leaders of the protest movement are planning to expand it.
At midnight on Sunday, the 'Victory' camp was filled with people. The camp security team meets me near the entrance, and then I'm given a warm greeting by the vice-chairman of Nasha Partiya, Ilian Cașu. I ask him why activists need a security team, and Ilian explains—to avoid provocations.
'The authorities are behind the incidents and provocations. We have to be very careful. I'll tell you what the police did to the DA platform: they brought some homeless kids into their camp, and told them to find shelter there in order to spoil the protest mood.'
There's about 300 people here in the 'Victory' camp at any given time, according to the organisers. The tent camp is divided into two wings: socialists on the one wing, pro-Russian sympathisers on the other. Almost all of them are members of Nasha Partiya.
I speak to Sergei, 33, about why he's here. Sergei works in trade, and is annoyed at the authorities' lack of action.
Sergei: 'We're against the fact that the government isn't responding to the billion-dollar theft.''We're against the fact that the government isn't responding to the billion-dollar theft. People are protesting, and there's no reaction to the demands of the people. That's not right. Everything should be done within the bounds of the law. And until the government fulfils our demands, we won't leave. We'll wait till they do so,' says Sergei, whose wife and child are waiting for him at home.
When I ask Sergei about how he's getting through the autumn nights, he answers curtly: 'What do you think it's like living in a tent in this weather?'
Mikhail, a pensioner, says its warmer inside the tents than on the street. Mikhail is from Chișinău, and this protest is a chance for him to guarantee a better future for his children and grandchildren. 'I want Moldova to prosper again. This protest will make life easier for people. We all see what's happening here. We're counting on a positive result, they should surrender all their positions and leave.'
I ask Mikhail why he chose the 'Victory' camp when the DA camp is a few hundred metres away, he answers that the left-wing leaders will cope better with the tasks at hand.
Mikhail (centre): 'I want Moldova to prosper again.'It's less busy in the socialist wing of the 'Victory' camp. I come across Aurel, 48, who's been working and living in Moscow for the past five years. He decided to return to Chișinău as soon as he heard about the protest actions.
'I came here from Moscow because I've been travelling all over the world since 1996 just to put food on the table for my family,' Aurel tells me. 'I'm not a member of PCRM [Communist Party of Moldova], but I heard about the protest on Facebook. For 25 years, since the fall of the Soviet Union, it's been going on. They promise us a better life, but we just get the same old thievery. I still haven't seen a single party that has done something for our country. They just keep promising and promising.'
Aurel is ready to stay here in the camp until the government resigns. 'I want to see them live like the old ladies who get 600-700 leu a month [£20] do. I want to see them, after that life of luxury, live on that 600 leu. I don't even want them to go to prison. I just want them to know what it's like. To live like that for 10, 15, 20 years.'
Aurel is one of the few people from the 'Victory' camp who was in the DA camp before. He decided to move here after he became disillusioned in the leaders of DA.
'A week later I saw it all differently. The people who were calling the authorities thieves were now looking to meet with them. What is there to talk about? They need to be cleared out. There's no other way.'
Dignity and justice
The DA platform's camp is a 10 minute walk from the 'Victory' camp, they're on the same street.
At the edge of the camp, there's 10 'unionist' tents—these people want Moldova to join with Romania. Vitaly Prisekar, an activist with the Youth of Moldova unionist organisation, is eager to answer my questions. A few months ago, Vitaly finished his degree in Romania and returned to Chișinău. For him, Moldova's accession into Romania isn't 'historical justice', it's just makes sense.
Vitaly: 'If we had a common currency [with Romania], we'd have stability.''Romania has working institutions. There's free and fair courts, an economy. If the Romanian anti-corruption force started working in Moldova, they'd put it right, and the thieves would be behind bars. If we had a common currency, we'd have stability. If we had a common foreign and defence policy, we'd be protected from the Russian military threat.'
Indeed, it's this idea that Youth of Moldova are trying to promote in the DA camp.
'We're going to stay on the square while it makes sense. When there's no point, we'll leave. We're talking to people here, trying to explain to them that our solution will work. These people have come here to get rid of the government, but they don't know what to do after. We're proposing our own plan, many can see its positive sides. Meanwhile, they hear other things from the podium, and it's their choice what to make of it.'
DA tent camp at night. I couldn't get any more comments from other residents of the tent camp. The security team told me it was late. 'It depends who you're going to speak to. Come back in the morning.'
On my way out, I noticed that many of the tents were empty. 'Why don't you clear them up, they're empty,' I say to the security team. 'If we clear them up, then why are we here?'
The next DA demonstration is due to take place on Sunday, 4 October.
Editor's note: all photographs courtesy of the author, except where indicated.