By Greg Butterfield, Workers World
On July 31, armed police and private security guards carrying semiautomatic weapons attacked Liberty Township, a tent city set up by dozens of protesters in Chisinau, Moldova, outside the home of wealthy oligarch and political kingmaker Vladimir Plahotniuc. The private security forces were especially brutal, and many people were injured. Several activists were arrested.
Protest organizers have called for the resignation of Interior Minister Oleg Balan, who praised the police action, and for revoking the licenses of private security firms Argus S and GSS. (Grenada.md, Aug. 4)
The tent city, which included whole families, had been set up July 24 to protest steep price hikes for electricity and natural gas — austerity measures backed by Plahotniuc and the ruling “Alliance for European Integration.” Protests also spread to other towns and villages in the former Soviet republic of 3.5 million people, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania.
|Peaceful protesters defend tent city in Chișinău on July 31.
Photo by Lyudmila Kostenko
On July 18, the National Agency for Energy Regulation (ANRE), a government agency, recommended increasing electricity rates by 37 percent and natural gas rates by 15 percent. Hikes in water and heating oil prices are also planned.
Moldova’s currency has sharply depreciated in recent years, causing hardship for poor and working people, as pro-Western politicians cut off trade with Russia. While most Moldovan oligarchs have their money invested outside the country, agricultural and manufacturing workers dependent on the Russian market were hit especially hard.
As in neighboring Ukraine, Chișinău’s right-wing government seeks to sell off the country’s resources and impoverish workers and farmers in a bid to join the European Union and the U.S.-led NATO military alliance. Moldovan authorities have also shown a growing willingness to repress any signs of dissent.
During 2014’s parliamentary election campaign, and faced with the possibility of a left-wing, anti-EU majority, the governing right-wing alliance and oligarch-dominated media took a page from their Kiev allies’ playbook, labelling any and all opposition as “Russian agents.”
Two young anti-fascist leaders, Pavel Grygorchuk and Mikhail Amberg, were arrested in November and held as political prisoners, first in jail and then under house arrest, for six months. Grygorchuk is editor of the communist website Grenada.md, and both activists are leaders of the Red Bloc Party, founded in May.
The witch-hunt continues today. Vlad Filat, chair of the Liberal Democratic Party, part of the government coalition, took to the airwaves to condemn the rate-hike protesters as “destabilizing the situation in the country.”
“Early elections – this is the clear goal of the protests. They want to stop our European path,” Filat charged. (Publika.md, Aug. 3)
Website Publika.md, controlled by Plahotniuc, published a scare-mongering editorial against Liberty Township organizer and Red Bloc Party chairperson Grigory Petrenko August 5, and other articles implying that the protests are “coordinated by external forces” – code words for Russia.
|Protest organizer Grigory Petrenko dragged away by police.
Protest spread nationwide
During the week-long Liberty Township encampment, police and Plahotniuc’s security goons withdrew at night to allow far-right gangs and plainclothes agents to make violent raids against the tent city and visiting journalists. But the protesters held firm.
After a local appeals court ruled July 31 in favor of Plahotniuc’s demand to dismantle the tent city, cops and security guards moved in immediately, violating the rights of protesters who had planned to appeal the case to the country’s Supreme Court.
When activists attempted to regroup outside Plahotniuc’s mansion on August 1, they were met by a violent right-wing mob, which organizers say included private security forces out of uniform. Such tactics echo the rise of fascist groups in Ukraine. (Omega Media Group, Aug. 1)
Daily protests are being held outside the ANRE headquarters in Chișinău, where six hundred petitions against the utility rate hikes were gathered in a single day. Among the popular slogans are, “Down with the thieves in Parliament” and “Jail Plahotniuc!” (Omega Media Group, July 27)
The protests have spread across the country. In Soroca July 28, dozens of pensioners marched against the tariff increase and into the office of the mayor, a member of the ruling Liberal Democrats, who had to say he agreed with them. The next day, in the southern village of Cioburciu, protesters blocked the national highway. Many drivers expressed solidarity.
“We believe the tariff increase is unreasonable,” one protester told Omega. “We have nothing more to pay for gas and electricity. We also want to live like human beings.”
|Pensioners in Soroca demand to confront mayor over utility rate hikes.|
Protests have continued since the repression in Chișinău. On August 1, the Union of Veterans and Council of Elders held a protest meeting in the city of Chadyr-Lunga and called for a mass action on August 8. Hundreds turned out in Vulcanesti on August 3. (Grenada.md, Aug. 4)
In response to the growing protest movement, the government was forced to take a step back on August 5, when a meeting of the Supreme Security Council decided to make “categorical recommendations” for revision of the tariff on natural gas, Grenada reports.
Activist Pavel Grygorchuk cautioned that this was meant to sooth public discontent while the regime prepares repression against protest leaders. “We need to understand that if it were not for the protests, then the authorities would not be talking about a revision to the gas tariffs. It means we need to continue to protest and make them still bigger,” he wrote on his Facebook page August 7.
“We are not going to stop,” Red Bloc leader Grigory Petrenko said at a news conference. “Our protests will continue. We will spend time working with initiative groups that have begun protests around the country against the tariff increase. We will gather all the forces into a single fist for nationwide protests in Chișinău in the near future.” (Grenada.md, Aug. 3)