A former student of mine currently teaches English in the Peace Corps in the small, former Soviet republic of Moldova, so naturally I thought of him when I saw this morning's papers reporting on the youth protests against the government in the Moldovan capital city of Chisinau. These youth protests resulted from suspicions over the recent elections in which the Communists had a stronger showing than some had expected. Moldova is a poor country, and after the Soviet patronage ended and the initial flirtation with western capitalism, the Communists were re-elected into office. But, the younger generations are unsatisfied with what they perceive as a corrupt leadership that has done little to improve the conditions in the country.
These protests remind me immediately of the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989. In many ways, that was a generational protest, as the Moldovan one is being described, 'grandparents vs. grandkids'. One big difference now is that these Moldovan youth organized seemingly more spontaneously, without a lot of time or legwork, but with the help of newer technology unavailable to the Chinese youth of the late 1980's. As The NY Times reported today, such organizing using Twitter and Facebook has been the more recent pattern in other former Soviet republics as well. Technology-savvy youth can quickly mobilize and then congregate, surprising even the organizers themselves. (See "Protesters in Moldova Explode, With A Call to Arms on Twitter," The New York Times, 4/08/09.)
How will the Moldovan authorities respond? They can block Internet access as a way to counter the means the youth are using. And, like the Chinese leaders in 1989, the Moldovan authorities may crack down with military force, (more strongly than yesterday), if they perceive genuine threats to their power. My student actually emailed me later this morning, much to my delight and relief. He is safe, but he had hiked into the capital city to see what was happening (mass transit networks were down) and wandered around taking some fantastic photos. He heard that more activities could take place on Friday, and I'm hoping if he decides to go into Chisinau again he'll exercise caution. The military will likely be in force, and the outcome may be much more deadly.