Those who went on the rampage in the centre of the capital of Moldova yesterday (7 April) were troublemakers, Julien Danero, a Belgian researcher at the Free University of Brussels (ULB), told EurActiv in a telephone interview from Chisinau.
Belgian researcher Julien Danero is in Chisinau for political research commissioned by the think-tank 'Centre d’études de la vie politique' (CEVIPOL).
You were in the centre of Chisinau during protests and the outbreak of violence. What did you see?
I was on the main boulevard in Chisinau, Stefan Cel Mare. I arrived at about 11 am after the manifestation started. I was between the building of the Presidency and the Parliament, which are in front of one another on the main street.
In the beginning, it was quite a normal protest, with people shouting 'Jos comunistii' ('Down with the Communists'), 'We want free elections', etc. But around noon, things started to degenerate, as some of protesters tried to forcibly enter the Presidency and the Parliament buildings. The police was blocking them at that point.
But then the police made an advance, apparently for pulling the protesters away from the buildings. Fifteen minutes later, protesters forced back and pushed the policemen away. Then protesters started throwing stones at both buildings, and entered them.
In the Parliament, I saw the beginning of a fire. The rest of the afternoon turned up into a rampage of both buildings. At 10 pm, when I last witnessed the developments, there were bonfires in front of both buildings, with furniture burning. There was also fire on different floors in the buildings. On the street, people were carrying computers, apparently taken from inside the buildings.
Would you call this looting?
I would call it a rampage. Some people also said rioters have been trying to find compromising documents.
Would you call the rioters provocateurs? As you explained, in the beginning the protests were quiet, but then they degenerated.
Yes, I think that those who did the rampage were provocateurs. Even the opposition parties could not control the developments in any way. They were making speeches nearby, and all the speakers, politicians and young people were making appeals for calm, saying that the EU would recognise the protests only if they were peaceful.
Would you say that the majority of the people on the streets were against such looting?
The majority of the people had not come for that! They had come to say that the elections were rigged. And that they wanted the elections to be repeated.
But there were 3,000 foreign observers. The OSCE and the Council of Europe were there, and they had issued statements saying that in broad terms, the elections had been fair.
What I hear, as I am here as a researcher because of the elections, although I am not an observer, is that there has been fraud. Not massive fraud, but fraud that could have influenced the results by 4-5%.
I heard rumours of ballot boxes being substituted in the periphery of Chisinau, that there have been strange things happening in the region of Balti, the second-largest city, where apparently all farmers had come, strangely, to vote after 7 pm, whereas farmers usually vote early in the morning.
Clearly, there has been fraud, and people are right to say that it is not possible, eight years after the first Communist electoral victory, that 50% of the country would still vote for the Communists. Basically, the people think that although the OSCE, or the Council of Europe, say that the elections have been fair, it is not true. This is what the protesters say, in any case.
We saw in the Western press that Twitter or Facebook had been used to rally people. Isn't this an exaggeration? In fact, the Twitter community in Moldova appears to number just 100-200 people.
There is a lot of exaggeration in seeing Moldovan events from a distance. What I can say is that SMS messages have played a much bigger role indeed, as here all young people have mobile phones. I understand that Internet the has played a much smaller role.
We also heard that Internet did not work well in Moldova yesterday.
Telephone communications were also difficult, especially calling inside the country. For foreign calls, it was not too difficult. In the afternoon, the Internet was discontinued, up to this morning (8 April). For the Internet, I was told servers had been cut off on government orders.
What do you think the government is planning to do?
There are various rumours. One is that the protests have been hyped so that Voronin would declare state of emergency and would then stay in office as president for a certain period of time. Also that the Communist party can now blame the opposition and call them bandits, fascists etc., and therefore could try to legitimise their power.
Do people discuss the role Russia might play?
No. I never saw anything on Russia, not even in the morning newspapers. What we hear is concerning Romania.
What did you hear?
Listening to the speeches on the main street, there was the message that the elections were rigged and needed to be repeated. But there were also speakers who came to say that the Moldovans are Romanians, and that the River Prut should not be a border between people. But it was not the main message of the protestors.