It has been dubbed a revolution via Twitter, Facebook and SMS, a call for change by a new generation of impassioned Moldovans exploiting new communication technologies.
After days of police crackdowns, and with the political situation heating up, the consequences of high-tech activism were starting to be felt by many young Moldovans.
Tens of thousands of mostly young Moldovans have been protesting in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau following the victory of the ruling Communist Party in Sunday’s legislative elections.
Earlier this week, protestors stormed the country’s parliament and presidential offices, provoking a police crackdown and a diplomatic tussle between Moldova and neighbouring Romania that has sparked international alarm.
Nearly 200 people have been arrested during the demonstrations, according to the Moldovan interior ministry, and authorities have vowed to use any means necessary to control the situation if future demonstrations turn nasty.
For many young Moldovans who had responded to calls for demonstrations on social networking sites, the events of the past few days have imposed a reality check as they grapple with how to move from the initial euphoria of protest to more mundane political organisation.
“It’s been a kind of chaotic revolution,” said Oleg Brega, a freelance cameraman and FRANCE 24 Observer. “Everybody is angry and everybody wants change, but nobody is leading.”
In 2003, Brega helped found the Moldovan opposition group, Hyde Park, after a radio show by the same name was shut down by authorities.
Along with other nongovernmental organisations such as ThinkMolodva, Hyde Park began mobilising people to demonstrate after the Communist Party won Sunday’s elections.
According to Brega, this week’s mobilisation followed “a five-to-ten minute discussion in a bar” that prompted activists to exploit the Web and SMS texts to spread the word.
Typing a tag on Twitter
The initial rallying call for demonstrations went up on social networking sites such as Twitter, when activists created a searchable tag to help spread the message. By typing in the tag “#pman” on www.twitter.com, Moldovans could access the latest posts from demonstrators at Chisinau’s main square, Piata Marii Adunari Nationale, from which the “pman” tagline derives its name.
“It’s the only option for us to communicate and organise because we don’t have any access to the media,” said Brega.
A day after the elections, organisers were surprised by the turnout at the square, according to Brega. By Tuesday, the numbers had swelled to tens of thousands, some of whom attacked the parliament building and presidential offices.
In his blog post on FRANCE 24’s Observers Wednesday, Brega denounced the violence and claimed that “drug users and hooligans” had hijacked the protests.
Moldovan authorities have accused neighbouring Romania of instigating the latest demonstrations, a charge Bucharest denies. One of Europe's poorest countries, Moldova was part of Romania until it was annexed by the Soviet Union during World War II. Moldovans and Romanians share common cultural and linguistic ties.
The Moldovan government has ordered the Romanian ambassador to leave the country, and Russia – Moldova’s main ally – has voiced concern over the pro-Romanian tone of the demonstrations.
Moldova’s President Vladimir Voronin has warned that the police would use force if the riots continued.
All eyes on Chisinau’s opposition mayor
Reached by phone in Chisinau, Brega said many of his friends had gone underground and many young activists were looking to the opposition to carry on the cause.
According to Florent Parmentier, a Moldova expert at the Paris-based CERI (Centre for International Relations Research), the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party and mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, had called for protests on his Facebook profile, which has more than 3,000 contacts.
Attempts by FRANCE 24 to reach Chirtoaca via his Facebook profile received no replies.
In an interview with AFP, Chirtoaca denied that his party had called for the demonstrations.
"This isn't a Liberal Democrat party protest," he said. "These are spontaneous demonstrations."