GOOD news is scarce in tiny, poor Moldova. But yesterday the parliament finally managed to elect a president, ending three years of political gridlock that damaged the credibility of the pro-European government and exasperated Moldovans and the country's EU partners alike.
The man who got the job, Nicolae Timofti, proved to be the perfect consensus candidate, winning the support of 62 deputies in Moldova's 101-seat chamber.
Moldova, a tiny nation roughly the size of Maryland, gained independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviet collapse brought economic decline and instability to Moldova, and in 2001 angry citizens welcomed the return of the Communists and their social programs. But the country has remained desperately poor, with young people emigrating for jobs. As many as a quarter of the 4.3 million people listed as living in Moldova actually work in Western Europe, and according to the World Bank, the pay they send home accounts for 36.5 percent of its gross domestic product.
The bulk of it, between the rivers Dniester and Prut, is made up of an area formerly known as Bessarabia. This territory was annexed by the USSR in 1940 following the carve-up of Romania in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR.
Two-thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent, the languages are virtually identical and the two countries share a common cultural heritage.
Moldova, a tiny state of around 4.5 million that was part of Romania until 1940, is Europe’s poorest country and potentially one of the most unstable. It remains deeply divided between the ethnic Romanian majority and the Slavic breakaway statelet of Transdniestr, which has maintained its def acto independence, backed by Russia, since winning a bloody civil war in the early 1990s.
In the past few days youthful demonstrators, who were organised via Twitter and other social-networking sites, stormed parliament and the presidential offices in the capital city, Chisinau. Some threw rocks, broke windows and started fires. As the police belatedly tried to restore order, scores were injured and one person died. Nearly 200 people had been arrested by Wednesday. Amid allegations of foreign mischief-making, Moldova expelled the Romanian ambassador.
Moldova's president Wednesday accused Romania of involvement in a huge anti-communist protest, much of it coordinated on Facebook and Twitter, which saw government buildings ransacked and police arrest scores of demonstrators.
Vladimir Voronin described riots in the Moldovan capital Chisinau against his ruling Communist party's victory in Sunday elections as "very serious" and pledged to take action in response.
"Romania is involved in everything that has happened," he said, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency. "Patience also has its limits."
It remains deeply divided between the ethnically Romanian majority and the Slavic-populated breakaway statelet of Transdniestr, which has maintained its defacto independence, backed by Russia, since winning a bloody civil war in the early 1990s.
Sunday's elections were certified as meeting international standards by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but that didn't allay suspicions of vote-rigging and coercion among many Moldovans, who felt dismayed that only three non-Communist opposition parties managed to hurdle the 6 percent barrier for getting into Parliament, with a combined total of 35 percent of the votes.
The Moldovan revolt, in Moscow's eyes, looks like yet another western attempt to yank a former Soviet state out of Russia's political orbit. And this one is particularly annoying, because Moldova is still home to a Russian military contingent, as well as a large cache of Soviet-era weaponry guarded by Russian troops.
Moldova rarely features on the world's radar. There is even a board game called Where is Moldova?, designed to teach geography. Locked between Ukraine and Romania, it has the sad distinction of being Europe's poorest country. About a sixth of its population works abroad, largely in menial jobs on the streets of Western Europe. But it made headlines in April when thousands of Moldovans, mostly young people, took to the street crying fraud after elections that returned the Communist Party to power.
This small former Soviet country is currently ranked as a Tier 2 watch list country in the 2010 Trafficking in Persons report put out by the U.S. State Department. It was ranked as a Tier 2 Country until 2008 when it dipped to a Tier 3 country. Since this time it has raised its status in the rankings by providing referrals for victims of human trafficking.
Foreigners convicted of sexually abusing children in Moldova will be mandatorily castrated, according to new legislation introduced Tuesday.
Parliament approved the law by a majority after lawmakers said the impoverished nation was attracting pedophiles from the West. It will become effective July 1.
The new law states foreign and Moldovan nationals found guilty of pedophilia will be chemically castrated, while courts will rule separately on those found guilty of rape.