The standoff between Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party and the country’s pro-European opposition escalated following the cancelation of a democratic election for Chisinau mayor, won by the opposition, earlier this summer (see EDM, June 27). On the dawn of Moldovan Independence Day, on August 27, after an all-night peaceful sit-in around the national monument to the country’s medieval ruler Stephen the Great, the two opposition leaders Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase, along with several dozen pro-democracy activists (including this author), were forcefully removed by riot police at 6 a.m. The square was cleared to make room for the official flower-laying ceremony to be attended by the leadership of the country (Facebook.com/rferl, August, 27).
This marked a departure from the non-use of government force against peaceful opposition. Until then, the head of the ruling Democratic Party, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, employed proxies to break up opposition rallies. Groups of men in civilian clothing, many of them athletes, would be sent in to intimidate and derail opposition events around the country, similar to the tactics once used by the ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych (Tv8.md, July 29). Plahotniuc also utilizes other political parties to try to sabotage opposition rallies. The party of millionaire Ilan Shor, convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the infamous billion-dollar bank fraud (see EDM, April 10), is most instrumental in staging counter-rallies against the pro-European opposition (Infotag.md, August 26). As Shor awaits the Appellate Court decision, he remains at the mercy of Plahotniuc, known to have significant influence over the justice system (see EDM, January 12, 2016).
Ilan Shor and Vladimir Plahotniuc both share an unlikely partner in the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPO). An FPO member of the European Parliament, Barbara Kappel, attended the counter-rally staged by Shor against the pro-European opposition forces led by Sandu and Nastase on August 26, in Chisinau. Earlier, Kappel lobbied her fellow members of the European Parliament to meet Moldova’s Prime Minister Pavel Filip and Parliament Speaker Andrian Candu in Strasbourg, on July 2, following large opposition protests in Chisinau against the canceled mayoral election results (Tv8.md, August 31, 2018). The Austrian Freedom Party recently made international news, as the wedding of the Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Meilinger-Kneissl, nominated by the FPO, was attended by Vladimir Putin. Russia is known to have propped-up right-wing parties in Europe and now appears to be using them to indirectly advance its interests in post-Soviet countries. Another Kremlin-friendly European official, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, urged the European Union to disburse a suspended aid package to Moldova, adding that the EU’s criticism of Moldova, following the canceled election, was not warranted (Reuters, August 28). This echoed the Moldovan government’s position, calling Brussels’ decision to suspend funds “incorrect,” “politicized,” “abusive” and “an interference into Moldovan internal affairs” (Gov.md, July 7).