Monday, April 26, 2010

Possible gay rights parade causes stir

Gay rights organizations in Moldova have announced plans to organize a parade in downtown Chisinau on May 2.

This announcement has caused a big stir in Moldovan political and religious circles. The Moldovan Metropolitan has asked that the manifestation be banned because it would be "a direct attack on social and ethical norms" and because it would be "shameful."

Chisinau city council members also circulated a letter addressed to mayor Dorin Chirtoaca, asking him to ban the demonstration because it would impose the normality of "abnormal sexual practices" on society. The only city councilor who refused to sign was independent Oleg Cernei, who said the letter had been written by Christian Democrat leader Iurie Rosca, whom he dislikes. The letter seems to have united people across the political spectrum - both Communists and anti-Communists signed it.

Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca has said that every Moldovan citizen has the right to free assembly no matter what they believe in. He therefore seems unlikely to cancel the parade. His position has been supported by a number of human rights NGOs.

Whatever happens, if the gay parade is held in Chisinau, it is likely to bring out a lot of counter-protesters, mostly from religious organizations. Police officers always have to be present in large numbers because there are occasional clashes.

Alliance fights over sending Moldovan soldiers to WWII parade, President refuses to go to Moscow

The ruling Alliance for European Integration (AEI) has been embroiled in an internal conflict recently over whether to send Moldovan military staff to a parade in Moscow celebrating 65 years since the Soviet victory in the war.

Initially, the Defense Minister announced that Chisinau would not send troops because authorities did not have any money and because Moldovan soldiers would attend the May 9 celebrations in Moldova. This prompted AEI officials like Prime Minister Vlad Filat to say that Chisinau would, in fact, send military staff over to Moscow.

Democratic Party honorary head Dumitru Diacov argued that Liberal Party head and interim President Mihai Ghimpu ordered the Defense Ministry to keep Moldovan soldiers from participating in the parade in Moscow. The Liberal Party appointed the Defense Minister after the seat distribution within the coalition. The Liberals generally have a very critical position toward the Soviet past and toward Russian policy in Moldova.

Just yesterday, Mr. Ghimpu, reacting to the rest of the Alliance arguing for Moldovan soldiers attending the parade, told Radio Vocea Basarabiei that he now refuses to go to Moscow in protest of this decision. "How can I attend a parade next to the army that brought Communism to us, organized a famine, and deported us to Siberia," Mr. Ghimpu asked.

This recent debate points to the emerging conflict within the ruling Alliance as early legislative elections have now become unavoidable and will most likely take place within a year. Since the coalition is so heterogeneous ideologically, its members are likely to take divergent positions with regards to controversial issues in Moldova, like Romanian identity, foreign policy toward Russia, and position toward the Party of Communists.

It also shows the ambiguous position Moldovan society has toward World War II. Many pro-Romanian politicians and regular citizens believe the Soviet Union was an occupying force and refuse to celebrate the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany because they argue another dictatorship simply took over Moldova after World War II ended. On the other hand, many pro-Russian politicians and regular citizens argue Moldova was liberated by the Soviet forces.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Separatists threaten to shut down Romanian-language schools in the region

Separatist authorities in Transnistria have threatened to shut down the Alexandru cel Bun high school in Tighina (Bender), which is located on territory controlled by breakaway authorities but is under the subordination of Chisinau. Transnistrians have said the high school has violated health codes.

Promo Lex, an NGO that defends human rights in the region, said in an April 15 statement that „on March 31, 2010, the hygiene and epidemiology center in Tighina /.../ released a notice to the high school /.../ threatening to shut down the school after April 15, 2010 because some health codes have been allegedly violated.”

Analysts have suggested that the move could have been planned by incumbent Transnistrian President Igor Smirnov, who is trying to rally public opinion behind him as his popularity has been decreasing after his candidates lost local elections in March 2010. Transnistria will hold legislative elections at the end of 2010.

The separatists have shut down Romanian-language schools in the region before. In the summer of 2004, they closed the eight schools that taught in Romanian in the region. The schools were later given licenses, but they continue to rent and, therefore, depend on the whims of Transnistrian authorities.

In most schools in the region, Russian and Ukrainian are used as primary languages. There are some that still teach Romanian in cyrillic, which was the alphabet imposed on Soviet Moldova during the Communist period.

Poll: Communists - 30%; LibDems - 14%; Dems - 10%; Libs - 7%; Undecideds - 26%

A new poll by CBS AXA, ordered by the Viitorul Institute for Development and Social Initiatives, shows that if elections were to be held next Sunday, the Party of Communists would receive 30.3 percent of the vote, followed by the Liberal Democratic Party (14 percent), the Democratic Party (10.8 percent), the Liberal Party (7.4 percent), and the Moldova Noastra [Our Moldova] Alliance (1.2 percent). All of the other parties would receive less than one percent.

About 26 percent do not know who they would vote for or did not want to answer. At the same time, the most trusted politician in the country is Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu (56.9 percent said they trust him), followed by Prime Minister Vlad Filat (44.5 percent), Communist leader Vladimir Voronin (40.6 percent), Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoac─â (37.3 percent), and interim President Mihai Ghimpu (25 percent).

The poll indicates that the situation in the next Parliament will not change significantly. If legislators do not change the Constitution to either allow the President to be elected by the people or with a simple majority instead of three-fifths, as it is today, a stalemate over the presidential election similar to the current one could emerge again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Prosecutors open criminal investiation into another protester death in April 2009

The General Prosecutor's (GP) office has announced that it has opened a criminal investigation into the death of Ion Tibuleac, an anti-Communist protester who was allegedly killed by police forces on April 7, 2009 or during that period.

Thus far, authorities have only investigated one other death - that of Valeriu Boboc - and have detained one police officer suspected of killing him.

The GP has emphasized that two other deaths suspected to have been related to the April repression occurred in March 2009.

JurnalTV has, however, recently released a report in which the father of a 31-year-old man said his son had been severely beaten by the police while in custody after April 7 and died two months later from related complications. Authorities have not yet reacted to this report.

It is unclear how many other cases like these will emerge, since many relatives of beaten protesters are afraid to file charges against police officers.

Transnistrian journalist arrested by authorities, accused of treason

Transnistrian journalist Ernest Vardanean was arrested a few days ago by the separatist authorities.

Mr. Vardanean is accused of treason and espionage, for which he can serve up to 20 years in prison.

Moldovan authorities have expressed their disapproval of the move, but they do not hold control over the territory. A number of NGOs have also released a statement asking that Mr. Vardanean be set free.

Transnistrian authorities may be clamping down on critics as presidential and legislative elections in the region are coming up.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

(ANALYSIS) Moldova commemorates April 7 repression as one of the suspected killers of an anti-Communist protester is detained

The last few days in the country have been dominated by campaigns to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the anti-Communist protests on April 7 and the repression campaign that followed.

On April 7, peaceful protests degenerated into the vandalization of the Parliamentary and Presidential buildings, as well as clashes between demonstrators and police forces. It is still unclear who the perpetrators were, as many have suggested that provocators were infiltrated in the crowd to derail the anti-Communist demonstration.

What is known, however, is that the repression campaign that followed on the night of April 7 and for a few days after ended with the detention of over 700 people, the torture of about 300, and a number of deaths.

The death of Valeriu Boboc, a young father and husband, has been the most covered by Moldovan media outlets. Mr. Boboc was most likely beaten to death by police forces in downtown Chisinau on the night of April 7. Initially, Communist authorities at the time suggested that the protester had died because of an intoxication with an unknown substance, but this announcement was widely rejected after pictures of Mr. Boboc's dead body showed a large dent in his head and numerous bruises.

This weekend, details about Mr. Boboc's death may have surfaced. Liberal Party head Mihai Ghimpu, who is Speaker and interim President, as well as Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca (the deputy head of the Liberal Party) recently presented previously unseen footage from the night of April 7, which shows police forces savagely beating protesters and throwing them in cars. At one point in the 11-minute film, shot from the top of the Government building, two motionless bodies are lying on the ground. One of the bodies is assumed to have been Valeriu Boboc's, who just a few seconds before was kicked in the head by a police officer dressed in a sweatsuit.

The other body was Damian Hincu's. Mr. Hincu is a student at a French university, and survived the beatings. Shocking pictures of his body, black and blue from police abuse, began to circulate in media outlets almost immediately after April 7, showing the harshness of the repression campaign on that night and in police stations later.

Mr. Hincu later said that he was afraid he was going to die, and asked someone to give his belongings to his mother should that happen. He also spoke about the abuses that occurred in police stations as young men and women were beaten until unconscious and were not allowed to see a lawyer. A number of judges held trials in these stations, which is unconstitutional. One judge has been fired because of this.

Mr. Hincu's mother was later told by police offers to go to the morgue to find his son despite the fact that he was not dead. Numerous parents had similar experiences, as they began looking for their missing children on April 8 and on. At the time, television stations showed these parents waiting desperately outside of police stations, begging police officers to tell them where their children were.

Mr. Hincu has recently decided to reveal his identity and to testify in Valeriu Boboc's case if he gets protection. He has also told the press that he can recognize the faces of a few police officers that beat him and Mr. Boboc, some of whom said "this guy's finished," referring to Mr. Boboc's lifeless body.

Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca has already offered prosecutors a number of names of police officers who were allegedly beating protesters in downtown Chisinau, including former Chisinau police chief Iacob Gumenita. The footage the Liberal representatives presented shows faces relatively clearly. Another tape, this time with footage captured on the ground, also reveals the faces of tens of police officers chasing young men and women and beating them.

In the political community, the members of the ruling Alliance, which the Communists accused of attempting to stage a coup d'etat at the time, have condemned the violent actions of the police and have announced that one police officer suspected of killing Mr. Boboc has been arrested. Several others have been suspended. Interior Minister Victor Catan has accused Communist-appointed Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc of calling in special forces to beat protesters on that night. Mr. Papuc has been unable to testify in a number of cases filed against him by prosecutors by claiming health problems and checking himself into the hospital at the end of March.

In contrast, the Party of Communists released a press statement accusing the ruling coalition of turning the "April 7 pogrom into a national holiday" and arguing that "the coup d'etat continues." In addition, the head of an organization that protects the rights of security forces has accused the Alliance of being biased in the presentation of police action on the night of April 7 and has accused Mr. Boboc of having a criminal record.

After one entire year, Moldova looks somewhat different in April 2010. The Communists are in the opposition, the former opposition parties have formed an Alliance, and some police officers are being investigated for abuses.

There are, however, more questions than answers. It is still unclear why the protests turned violent and who ordered the repression campaign. Chances are that these answers will not be swiftly forthcoming since Moldova could be on the brink of another early electoral campaign for Parliament. In a year, local elections will also be held.

The most serious consequence of April 7, however, is the physical and psychological abuse to which young, educated, and pro-Western people were subjected in downtown Chisinau and in police stations. They were and continue to be the main victims of a country in which democracy, the rule of law, and human rights are still lacking.