• Veronica Guranda-Baczyński

The Silent Protest Nobody Talks About

“As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake.” ― Hannah Arendt

We must prevent wrongdoing. As a citizen of Moldova, I was moved by Hannah Arendt’s words to set the record straight about current events in my country. The silent protest nobody talks about is the suffering which occurs every time injustice and corruption kill dreams and aspirations and push the citizens of Moldova towards more hardship. Please, do not steal our protest and use it for your own purposes. In this narrative I do not focus on the pro-EU, pro-democracy, pro-Russian, pro-Romania, or pro-anything else forces. These labels are misleading. The government about which the Moldovan people voice their concerns is not pro-European, and the people protesting are not pro-Russian. There are parties that try to steer the crowds towards chanting one slogan or another, but it is the people as a whole who experience injustice and it is the population of Moldova, not any one party, which wants a better life and transparency when decisions are made.

Thus my story is about…surprise, surprise…the PEOPLE. The world is full of competing political and business agendas which disregard people and their lives, goals, hopes and aspirations. I do not wish to live in a world where the concept of kindness and the faith in humanity is lost. Hence, this is my attempt to write a true story and address a particular kind of wrongdoing: the dissemination of a convenient fairy tale about how and why, once upon a time, somewhere in the East, the people of a poor and disregarded little state stormed their own Parliament…

'The slow but efficient genocide of the Moldovan people', picture taken in Chișinău

You may be thinking that this heading is way too dramatic: nobody has died yet, so the word genocide seems excessive, being typically defined as "The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group." Are we required to wait for physical violence to break out rather than try to prevent it? Seven years have passed since I was involved in the protests of April 2009 and no significant changes have been perceived, either by the local population or the returning Moldovan diaspora, quite the contrary. Every time I go back home, people seem even more miserable and concerned about the economic and political situation. The people who were protesting back in 2009, whether in Chișinău's central square, at home, or at work, used to think and cry ‘Down with the communists’, down with such and such, down with this and down with that, and ‘Hurray!’ for other things. As young people we used to urge anybody who claimed they had lived better during the time of the communist party’s ruling to leave these thoughts behind. We felt it was time for a change and a brighter future. We really thought we were on to something. Then came the disappointment. Disappointment after disappointment. Again and again and again.

When I return home to Chișinău I meet up with my friends in cafes and among other subjects we always end up discussing the current situation of our country and its people. It has become almost the equivalent of the English ‘weather conversation’. We, the ones who thought back in 2009 that the situation would at least not get worse, and that we would witness an improvement in living conditions and a stronger social cohesion now whisper in disbelief and even horror: ‘You know, I never thought I’d ever live to say that before 2009 everything wasn’t too bad.’

Not only statistically but humanly, it all went from bad to worse. Some ask how it is possible that the trust of the people in their own government during the rule of the Communist Party was 34% in March 2009 and that after seven years of the so called pro-European government it fell down to 7%, according to the Barometer of public opinion from November 2015? [1] The answer, quite simply, is that for the past seven years the government of Moldova has been anything but ‘pro-European’. That description was always a smokescreen to present the electorate with a pseudo-alternative and it is now impossible to ignore the growing feeling that a whole country has been used to service foreign or personal interests.

One could attempt to quantify how many Moldovans have suffered, quote opinion polls to show how a mere seven years have hardened and demoralized us, count those who have stayed and those who have left. I feel this would be an exercise in false objectivity, playing the journalistic numbers game. I want to write what I know myself, personally and directly - I feel this is the only reliable way to challenge the current media myths about my country.

One thing I know for sure is that a great many people across Europe and the world that were born in or have strong connections with Moldova are watching what is happening there with horror; some, of course, prefer not to watch at all. Killing human hopes and aspirations is spiritual extermination and I feel the despair and - yes - anger of an ‘occupied citizen’ (I guess if you live in a so-called ‘occupied state’, you become an ‘occupied citizen’).

How can I characterize and condemn the silence which accompanies the lives of Moldovans at home and abroad? If you and a great many other people were stranded on an island and the only way to escape were to row together in the same direction, would you not do it? When silent protest and dogged endurance are no longer enough, political resistance should be directed with purpose and strength towards the common good and not in favour of a narrow political agenda. Western media is currently placing great emphasis on the scope of the Chișinău protest, with the reassuring implication - perhaps intended to be self-fulfilling - of a peaceful ‘grassroots’ movement familiar to their readers. Nobody wishes for a Moldovan ‘Maidan’, or a civil war, yet there are in fact rumours that ‘the people’ demonstrating in Chișinău’s National Square have given an ultimatum to the government: respond by Thursday, or the protests may turn violent.

It is clear from a multitude of comments on social media that fellow Moldovans are concerned with the presentation of the country's long crisis and especially the way 'Western' media outlets, in classifying us and our protests as part of an undifferentiated and distant ‘East’, suppresses any potential engagement and even interest on the part of their readers. 'Ah, you know - the usual, nothing important there, just 3.556 million ex-Soviets and that same old Eastern European poverty and despair - it's probably their fault.'

No. Not so. Such attitudes are dismissing more than three million human beings and a significant diaspora, whose lives, like anyone’s, were shaped by the political context of the country and still are, but not for the better. They are writing off more than three million Europeans whose hopes and aspirations are slowly being annihilated while the world looks elsewhere. It is difficult to keep hope alive for seven years, or even more, in the case of one’s grandmother who all her life went to protests and waited for something to change, wanted to see a better quality of life if not for herself then for her children, grandchildren, and now who knows… She protested all her life outside and on the inside. She has become a living embodiment of the hope that endures when hope itself seems lost.

Why are people protesting? They do so through necessity, the need to express their anger and disappointment over the injustice which has been done to them for so long. Problem no.1: political instability; problem no.2: corruption. Other problems of course exist, which derive from and are related to the present situation. After the stolen billion US dollars there is a lack of serious investigation by the judiciary. This is an example only on a large scale; many or most of those protesting will have encountered selective justice and injustice without such publicity.

I know why I was protesting in 2009 - because of the injustice that was being done to the people of our small, but nevertheless significant country. Some might prefer to read about the preservation of whale sperm, or the latest object of electronic desire; I felt a burning desire to fight against the spread of stereotypes and ignorance. Our ideas were simple. We were showing our disapproval through peaceful protest because our civil rights had been infringed: it was widely perceived that the results of the 2009 elections were manipulated and ballots falsified, as the subsequent discovery of irregularities appeared to confirm.

What about those not protesting in the Piața Marii Adunări Naționale, people in their homes, or abroad. Are they not also strongly discontented with the state of Moldovan politics? Bombarded with so much information serving a particular agenda, it is true that Moldovans now tend to feel - quite rightly - an acute suspicion of anything and anybody. Trust has been eroded, and how will a community function without trust? Perhaps suspicion and despair have hardened us and damaged our desire and ability to be kind and to feel part of a community, to help each other when the state won’t. And yet... collectively we feel something, a capability of something better. Maybe it is our own realization of the power we have inside us. The power that comes with feeling part of humanity, the empathy and the kindness.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”― George Orwell

I found the www.euronews.com coverage of the protests in Moldova insulting, and I was not alone. There were other people who tried to contact them via social media to urge them to modify their response - one is reluctant to use the word 'article' for a collage of tweets, posted on the 20th of January under the sensational title: ‘Moldova: protesters storm Parliament’. It is striking that a media outlet which present itself as possessing reliable knowledge of Moldova’s political situation and purports to present matters objectively, has a headline which focuses on the ‘storming' of Parliament, over ambiguous images of crowds, police and civic architecture.The comments beneath the headline are about the violence, contributing to the dramatic image of a state institution taken by assault. Did the events, and the protesters' motivations, not deserve a full, measured and informed report?

It has to be said that a fuller treatment, even from the BBC, may not get much nearer the complex realities. The BBC published on the 21st of January an article which begins with the line ‘Protesters broke into Moldova's parliament after it approved a new pro-European government.’ If I did not know anything about Moldova, my first impression would be that the protesters were opposed to the values promoted by the EU, such as democracy, freedom of trade, travel, work and so on. The BBC article’s author appeared incapable of differentiating between a self-styled pro-European government, an actual pro-European government and a government that has the interest of its people as a priority, without the labels.

That BBC journalist might have considered a broader picture. He or she might have reflected that Moldovans have declared various preferences as required catalysts of change, including union with Romania, creating stronger ties with Russia, and trying to get back on the EU path. Some of our politicians want Moldova to be able to manage on its own, sustainable and de facto independent, and they stand for election on that platform; but divisions exist and moments of crisis make them more pronounced. It is no secret that the country is in deep economic difficulties. There was no government for half a year and the currency lost up to 40% of its value. Wages were down, prices increased, and the judiciary has displayed a spectacular lack of interest in recovering the one billion US dollars embezzled from the Moldovan state. There is an unprecedented distrust in public institutions and political leaders due to corruption, power abuse and lack of transparency. That journalist might have reflected, if he or she actually knew, that the debate in Parliament on sovereign Moldova’s new government lasted just thirty minutes, and perhaps, just possibly, might have seen that to characterize the protesters as motivated only by simplistic anti-Europeanism was so misleading as to constitute, were he or she better informed, malicious propaganda.

‘EU calls for calm, restraint and dialogue’ – is that what a person on £136 pounds per month and with a family to support wants to hear, when double that salary would not cover costs as basic as winter heating? Anxieties induced by an insufficient income coupled with the fear of losing one’s job create despair, despair familiar to the greater part of the working population of Moldova. A woman very dear to me tells me that she lives with the constant fear that she could stop receiving her salary; she hasn't received her salary for the month of December yet, and might simply lose her employment at any time. Calm restraint and dialogue for seven long years - now that is a very great deal of calm, restraint and dialogue. How many of us could keep calm and restrain ourselves if every day we had to live with such intolerable uncertainty and privation. Dialogue is all very well but supposing only one side is listening?

Besides the corruption, economic crisis, greed for power of businessmen and so-called politicians there are the people. They were always there, underneath, beside and just beyond the news coverage, in plain view yet somehow invisible. Moldovan people have clearly decided for themselves that their hopes are not going to die. By any way possible - protests, writing on their blogs, filming live events in PMAN and around the capital to share with the virtual community on Facebook or other social networks - they show that they haven’t given up. Not yet.

Even though too often my friends in Moldova and living abroad have expressed a decreasing hope for a ‘better future’, there is one. If people had really despaired they would not be attempting to take back their destiny and turn it towards the desired path. Of course masses can be manipulated. Of course there have been cases when people were interviewed during protests not knowing why they were there, or were there for financial or other gain. Of course, we generalize, but we try not to. Of course there is a struggle for precision, but we can know only what we know. There is no absolute truth. There will be hidden details about the current protests that will be discovered down the line or fabricated; many of us won’t know which is which.

Silence, Wrong-doing and Protest

The author of the article ‘Moldova: how is it possible?’ Armand Gosu also asks ‘How is it possible that nobody speaks of the fact that the same offshore companies in Scotland which were involved in the raider attacks on the Moldovan banks in the period from 2011- 2012, and whose beneficiary, according to the High Court of Justice in London, was Plahotniuc, are also involved in the fraud scheme of the one billion dollars disappearance, which have caused the protests in Chișinău?’ [2] Plahotniuc is the oligarch rumoured to have an undemocratic influence over the new government, having tried before to become Prime Minister himself. How is it possible indeed?

Moldovans deserve better, everybody does…

Moldova's citizens are placed into a state of constant protest and despair by an unjust system and institutional corruption. This vicious circle is hard to break, as the system has existed for so long and was ironically essential in order for our society to be able to function at all. On a daily basis we hear stories of corruption preventing the local population and returning members of the diaspora alike from opening their own business, implementing innovative ideas or otherwise acting in some way to set our country moving in a more prosperous direction and, of course, for their own personal and legitimate gain. 'So many indicators of corruption have grown worse instead of better over recent years. The percentage of a Government contract’s value spent on bribes rose from 8% to 11% during 2008-13. The percentage of firms saying that bribes were at least moderately important in getting business went up from 12% to 53% during 2005-13 – a staggering increase.’ states Alex Kremer- World Bank Country Manager in Moldova.

‘We are the people!’ shout the marching protesters. I am thinking, ‘We are the people too, we’re part of the nation,’ even though I might be, like so many fellow citizens, in another geolocation. Somebody shouts ‘Moldova’, then ‘Victory’. What victory? I have seen no victory. Show me. Explain. What would a ‘victory’ look like… The impression I get after watching the live videos is that the slogans are thought up by someone and then repeated by too many without an actual meaning, or purpose. Sadly this need to find relief and a community that shares their hardship and understands cannot be met by marching around the city, at least not long-term. In my utopia, each person who wants to express unhappiness and concern and wishes for change should have a cardboard figure in the main square and not be obliged by the circumstances to freeze in the cold and invest their time in such activities instead of enjoying life. It is also worth saying that not every single person who works in the public institutions is corrupt. There are people, working for the state or not, who are making enormous efforts to improve the lives of others.

There are many questions to be answered and many things to be done before we see the end of Moldovans taking to the streets in despair. We might begin by giving somebody a helping hand and strengthening the bond of kindness. Although as a strategy it might seem less immediately effective than calling for an election, it is one on which human society is ultimately based, and which is freely available to all.

“Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical forces.” ― Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

[1] http://revista22.ro/70251381/moldova-cum-a-fost-posibil.html

[2] Translated from http://revista22.ro/70251381/moldova-cum-a-fost-posibil.html