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After the Tipping Point: Political Youth in Moldova between Resignation and Departure

By Vanessa Beyer

Within the heart of Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova, lies Café Propaganda, in which the alternative scene of the country pulsates between retro-Soviet chic and Moldovan wine. In the café, journalists, political lateral-thinkers and creative free spirits meet to exchange ideas, discuss and philosophise. Here, in addition to cozy old armchairs, there is a smell of revolution in the air, for which the majority of the Moldovan population has been waiting a long time. While this place radiates a spark of hope and departure, the rest of the city sinks into a grey veil of disillusionment. The young generation, especially, feels a deep disappointment towards politics and this has a particular effect on their political participation. Young-voter absenteeism from the polls is acute: In the 2016 presidential elections, 10.11% of youth (18-25) voted in the first round, and 11.14% in the second round(2). Frightening is that 20% of adolescents state that they have not been voting in national or regional elections since the age of 18.

Frustration with the corruption, a loss of confidence in politics, and the lack of orientation of the country’s elites to the common good and the interests of young voters have led to a generation no longer interested in national politics, says Sergiu Boghean, former president of the Liberal Youth of Moldova (LYM) and a current representative of the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) to IFLRY Bureau.

The denial of using their right to vote, because the majority young people (66,7%) believe that their vote has no influence on government or politics(1), and withdrawing from political life, is a negative development regarding the implementation of democratic values. Moreover, the polarisation(1)(7) of society and political culture makes it more difficult for young people to become politically active, but there was a time in the history of the young state in which young people and students had increasingly taken political positions, were involved in socio-political life and more present at the polls. This once politically committed youth finds itself today in resignation. What happened in Moldova?

This smells like teen spirit

One reason for the political disenchantment of the Moldovan youth can be found in the events of spring 2009 – a year of crisis, change and spirit of optimism. The announcement of the parliamentary election results in April of that year drove thousands of citizens to the streets in the capital, Chisinau, to protest against the ‘purchased elections’ and the Communist Party’s victory (Partidul Comunistilor din Republica Moldova, PCRM). Students and young people, in particular, took part in these protests. A generation that in many ways came to a turning point during these days. On 7th April 2009, the initially peaceful protest turned into violent riots and youth protesters stormed the House of Representatives and the President’s Office. Back was the devastation and a sense of optimism towards change. However, this was overshadowed the following day by the government’s aggressive response to the previous events. They were called the opposition’s ‘attempted coup’, which legitimised in the government’s point of view a massive police violence against protesters. Many young people were persecuted arbitrarily, deported from classrooms and student dormitories, excluded from class at schools and universities, arrested, condemned in custody for days, and judged without any transparency(4)(5). For Sergiu Boghean this lead to a large percentage of young people leaving the country and never wanting to be involved in political activities again. There has still not been a clear investigation following these events.(4)(5)

At the end of July, the democratic opposition parties narrowly won the new elections (51.32%). This beginning of a re-orientation in Moldovan politics, accompanied by great hopes, marked not only a change in politics but also a change in the political participation of young people. This change was preceded by a civic movement, led by students and young people to speak up against the authoritarian structures of government and corruption of the power elite. However, the initial euphoria gave way to a bitter disillusionment; the much-acclaimed and expected political change failed to occur, scandals continued, and corruption found its way back into politics(2)(8). Now, after the poor delivery of the new pro-European government, there is disappointment and resignation towards politics, says Sergiu Boghean, the once political youth of Chisinau is disillusioned.

Starting from the bottom

The economy and the social system of the Republic of Moldova are in tatters(3)(9). The socioeconomic situation of the country has put young people in a particular situation, close to social exclusion. There are few prospects for a positive future for young people. Increased unemployment, poverty, dissatisfaction with the economic and infrastructural conditions, as well as the political situation in the country, are forcing young people to move abroad(2). Furthermore, as regards the events of 2009, the number of young people leaving the country increased, as well as their share in the total number of the young population (from 13.1% in 2008 to 16.2% in 2014(3). In 2014, 24.6% of young people (15-29) lived abroad(2). For Sergiu Boghean, the events of 2009 in correlation with current challenges young people are facing, caused a new wave of migration, which is also one of the main reasons for the low participation rate of young people in national elections(4). Why should one still go to the polls in their home country, with the prospect of a better life abroad?

Those who stay remain in political rigidity: The majority of the youth are dissatisfied with the democracy of the country(1). However, a growing minority is drawing attention to the political grievances. The young political opposition in Moldova also includes the PAS Youth – the youth organisation of the pro-European party, Action and Solidarity. The Moldovan youth is, after all, still greatly interested in the civil society problems and the political events in the country, but it is difficult to motivate people to get active, if the image of Moldova’s politics is characterised by a bad reputation, says Artur Mija, Secretary-General and Chairman of PAS Youth(4). Corruption and mismanagement have eroded public trust. An essential part of the work of the PAS Youth is, therefore, the imparting of democratic principles and the development of an understanding of politics, as well as the development of public policy(4). Even the Centre of Sociological Investigation and Marketing(1) of Moldova declares access to relevant educational offers as vital to counteract a decrease in the political participation(1). In addition to political education work, PAS Youth also addresses quite material issues, such as hygiene in schools and youth unemployment.

“If we [PAS Youth] really want to achieve something, we have to start from the bottom.”

Is the saying of Artur Mijas(4). For example, the implementation of systematic approaches and strategies, such as the National Youth Strategy 2020 of the government, has not thrown up any relevant changes as it lacks basic democratic elements and the understanding within society(6). For Artur Mija, these government-level experts do not understand the situation of local people and develop alleged solutions that bypass the citizens(4). The actions of PAS Youth are close to young people’s interests – they advise young people on several different issues, hold conversations with them and try to propose solutions(4). Engaging young people in decision-making processes is a fundamental step for advocating their rights and needs.

Photograph by Vanessa Beyer. Moldova.

Young people want to be heard!

As social minority young Moldovans are at risk of disappearing from society. The lack of interest politicians show in youth-specific issues and, above all, the existential challenges of youth, continue to promote low turnouts and thus a never-ending vicious circle(4)(10).

Voter absenteeism is rather high and trust in public and political institutions is concerningly low (…)

(OECD, 2018: 11)

In order to counteract towards this development Sergiu Boghean says, that most important “(…) is that the attitude of the government parties towards young people has to change, (…) and it has to deal with youth issues.”(5). Otherwise, the youth turnout will continue to fall and the chances of urgently needed changes being initiated will decrease.

Artur Mija is of the opinion that “The only way to really make a valuable contribution is the political way and to pressure the government into finally initiating changes in the country – once you hit this, there is no turning back.”(4). It takes courage to openly criticise the government, to address corruption and oligarchic entanglements, if you want to remain safe in the public space – this is another reason why many young people do not openly express their opinions says Artur Mija.

The drive of a committed young minority in Moldova seems to be simply hope. Hope for a functioning democracy and a positive future for young people in the Republic of Moldova because, at some point, you just get angry at the government and try to contribute to the community says Artur Mija. The youth of Moldova is seeking changes in many aspects, but the great challenge young people face is to find an adequate opportunity for participation in their environment. After all, young people want one thing and that is that their voice is heard, the issues regarding their living environment taking seriously and that their voice can bring about a change for good in the country.


References


1. Centre of Sociological Investigation and Marketing (CBS-AXA) of Moldova (2016): Young Moldova: Problems, Values and Aspirations. Research into the opinions of young people in the Republic of Moldova 2016-2017. Chisinau.

2. OECD Development Centre. (2018): Youth Well-being Policy Review of Moldova.

3. National Institute for Economic Research. (2015): DEMOGRAPHIC BAROMETER, SITUATION OF THE YOUTH IN REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA: FROM GOALS TO OPPORTUNITIES. Chisinau

4. Interview 1: Artur Mija, Secretary-General and Chairman of PAS Youth. (20.09.2018). Chisinau.

5. Interview 2: Sergiu Boghean, former president of the Liberal Youth of Moldova (LYM) and a current representative of the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) to IFLRY Bureau (13.11.2018). Chisinau/Chemnitz.

6. Turcan, Mariana. (2018): Contribution of non-programme countries to EU Youth Wiki, Moldova, Chapter I: Youth Policy Governance

7. Polarization takes place on the basis of various themes that have historical, cultural as well as ideological backgrounds. Moldova’s political discourse is marked by historical conflicts concerning the separatist regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia. While Gagauzia has autonomy status, a de-facto regime called Transnistria was established after the armed conflicts in 1992 in Tirsapol. Transnistria established its own administrative structures. Negotiations between the Moldovan and Transdniestrian governments are difficult, which has led observers to consider the conflict “frozen” (Kunze/Bohnet, 2007). Furthermore, the political parties have different views on accession to the European Union. The country is currently governed by the Europe-friendly Democratic Party. On the other hand, President Igor Dodon and the Socialist opposition supported by him are friendly to Russia (Zeit online, 24.02.2019). In addition to that, the Republic of Moldova of today has belonged to different powers in its history: Once it was part of the Ottoman Empire, then it belonged to Romania, and finally to the Soviet Union until 1991. The country has always been hostage to its geographical position and is still under the influence of the EU and Russia. Although Moldova is multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual, the division between East and West is palpable. Especially in politics. Russia wants to regain more power in its former sphere of influence and the EU wants to gain more weight in the region via Romania. Everyone uses different methods to gain influence in Moldova (Corlateanu, 2018). Furthermore, the so-called “robbery of the century” at the end of 2014 and its inadequate clarification by the coalition ruling at the time, continue to polarize within the population. Especially accusations of corruption and oligarchic entanglements are controversially discussed in this context (Verseck, 2015a/ Verseck, 2015b).

8. After the protests in 2009, the democratic opposition came to power, including the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) and Vlad Filat as head of government. Vlad Filat (PLDM) was arrested in 2015 for his participation in the “robbery of the century”. In 2014, more than a billion Euros disappeared from Moldovan banks – more than a sixth of the country’s gross national product – plunging the country into a political crisis. From the November 2014 elections, which were overshadowed by irregularities and forged votes, to the end of 2015 there were five prime ministers and three government coalitions. This crisis was exacerbated by the coalition party “Alliance for European Integration”, founded in 2014, which did not initiate an explanation of the events surrounding the stolen billions and thus continues to promote corruption. Furthermore Moldova continues to rank 122 out of 168 countries according to Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index (ADA, 2018). These events in particular have led to a crisis of confidence in Moldovan politics and politicians that has persisted to this day. (Verseck, 2015a/ Verseck, 2015b). During my research on the ground, it became clear that the people in Chişinău are very dismayed with this robbery of the billion. This topic was often part of conversations and was repeatedly cited as an example for the corrupt government.

9. Moldova was hit hard by the global economic crisis of 2009/2010 and was on the verge of national bankruptcy. After a brief recovery, the country’s difficult economic situation was abruptly exacerbated again in 2014 by the robbery of the century (ADA, 2018). Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Its gross national income is USD 2,220 per capita. It is estimated that around 12 percent of the population live below the absolute poverty line. (ADA, 2018). Moldova has the highest labour migration in Europe. In the last ten years, more than one third of the working population has emigrated, and almost a million citizens abroad (ADA, 2018). They are all looking for better living and working conditions.

10. “Young people in Moldova enjoy high access to education, but the quality of education faces challenges. The high access to education is reflected in the high attainment rate: 39.3% of 25-29-year-olds have a post-secondary or higher degree. However, the quality of education is a particular concern. Many young Moldovans have limited access to decent employment matching their aspirations. Close to one-third of young people in Moldova are not in employment, education or training (NEET). Access to well-paid jobs and high skill employment is especially low as shown by increasing unemployment rates among youth with tertiary education. Given these challenges, more than half of youth consider changing job. […]Despite continuous progress, Moldova lacks an effective and operative co-ordination mechanism for youth legislation, policies and interventions across different sectors and organisations. Although the responsibility of youth affairs falls under the mandate of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research (MoECR), different ministries and government entities develop and supervise policies affecting young people from a sectoral perspective. […] ; yet the different line ministries could do more to involve youth in policy making processes. Moreover, the implementation of youth policies is limited by frequent institutional and staff changes and limited financial resources.” (OECD, 2018: 11f.).

11. Austrian Development Agency (ADA). (2018): Moldau, Länderinformation.

12. Corlateanu, Mila. (17.07.2018): Moldau: Zwischen EU und Russland (Moldova: Between EU and Russia)

13. Verseck, Keno. (24.10.2015b): Milliardenskandal in Republik Moldau, Geplünderter Staat, wütendes Volk (Billion Dollar Scandal in Moldova, Plundered State, Angry People)

14. Zeit online. (24.02.2019): Zwischen EU und Russland. Rumäniens Nachbar Moldau wählt Parlament (EU and Russia. Romania’s neighbour Moldova elects Parliament)

15. Kunze, Thomas; Bohnet, Henri. (2007): Zwischen Europa und Russland Zur Lage der abtrünnigen Republiken Transnistrien, Abchasien und Südossetien.

About the author

Vanessa Beyer studies European Studies since October 2015 at the Technical University Chemnitz. She is CEO of the students association “Initiative für Europastudien e.V” (the Initiative for European Studies) and leads the editorial board of students at the magazine ES-Spiegel.

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