Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, is the location for this euronews interview. This impoverished former Soviet republic wedged between Romania and Ukraine has been in political turmoil since legislative elections last April which opposition parties claimed were rigged.
The ruling Communist Party ignored their complaints, but will have to hold fresh elections later this summer after failing to gain the necessary majority in parliament for their preferred candidate for the presidency.
International observers are split over whether the election was fair, but thousands of mainly young Moldovans took to the streets in April in the belief that it was rigged with the names of hundreds of thousands of dead people still on the electoral rolls.
An initially peaceful demonstration organised by NGO activists to protest about how the election was conducted later turned violent. Hundreds were arrested.
Moldovan journalist and civil rights activist Natalia Morari was one of the main organisers of the peaceful protests.
Morari, who was previously banned from Russia for her critical reporting on alleged corruption there, has now been charged by the Moldovan authorities with inciting “mass disorder”.
euronews: “Natalia, first of all thank you for sparing the time to talk to euronews. The Communist Party of Moldova did not get the necessary majority in parliament for its presidential nominee. Do you think that was a victory for the protest movement that you and the other activists started?”
Natalia Morari: “I do not think it is the success of all this protest movement, but of the whole country. This thing – that the opposition did not vote for a Communist candidate – was a big test, which our country should pass and it passed it quite well.”
euronews: “Can you explain in more detail why many young Moldovans are so critical of the Communists and their government?”
Morari: “I really know many people who were waiting for these results and they were thinking: if the opposition wins, I will stay in this country and try to continue my business or my studies. But if the Communists win again, I will leave this country at least for the next four years. We do not have correct and fair elections, just because we do not have free access to the media for all political participants. If I lived outside of Chisinau, only 30 kilometres outside, I would not have the chance to see the opposition on TV, I would see only communists from dusk until dawn. And if I would see the opposition it would be told that: oh, these criminals, they did this, they did that, they did not do anything, they just slept in parliament, and nothing else.”
euronews: “The protests started peacefully, but later they turned violent, and there were even some deaths. Do you have regrets?”
Morari: “Yes, of course. I regret, as would anyone in this country who has any kind of responsibility for our future. Even if I had not been there, I would regret because of what happened. All this violence, it is terrible, I am sorry for that.”
euronews: “Moldova is largely unknown to Europeans, and it is often depicted as Europe’s poorest country. How bad is the situation for young people in the country really?”
Morari: “All young people want to leave this country. This is the poorest (the worst) thing. Yes, we have some businesses, yes, we have different things. But, but, but, there are a lot of buts. If your business starts being profitable, just don’t believe in your bright future. Someone will come to your place and tell you if you want to keep your business give us a part of it, if you do not want to end up in prison. And this someone is usually related to the big family in power.”
euronews: “You left Moldova, too, in 2002. Why?”
Morari: “My story is a usual one for any young girl from Moldova. With the communists in power, I really did not believe that I could get anything here, any achievements.”
euronews: “Between 2002 and 2007 you lived and worked in Russia, but that ended abruptly in 2007. What happened?”
Morari: “I was returning from one of my trips, I was arrested at the airport and told: ‘we are sorry, you do not have the right to live in Russia anymore, not even to enter the country.’ They did not explain anything: they just presented themselves as ‘We are people from some services.’ They did not say exactly who they were, but they said we have a document from the Central Department of the FSB.”
Morari had written articles on corruption and money laundering, including allegations against top officials of the FSB, the main Russian domestic security service and successor to the KGB.
Moldova is bilingual: almost everyone speaks Romanian and Russian and the country has strong cultural and linguistic ties with Romania which was evident during the protests with some waving banners demanding reunification with Romania.
So what is the future for Moldova which has recently sought closer ties with the EU and is a target of Brussels’ European Partnership Programme designed to promote democracy?
euronews: “Many young Moldovans have left the country in the past and it’s predicted that many more will leave it in the near future. Why do you want to stay here?”
Morari: “Some people wants to live in Manhattan, some one else wants to become a movie star, another wants to become a doctor. And I want is to change things around me. Such guys and girls exist, and I consider myself one of them. Maybe if there were a critical mass of these people who want to live in a different country but that is still Moldova, then something will change.”
euronews: “Moldova is often called a forgotten country, although it borders the European Union. Do you have a message for Europe?”
Morari: “Actually, I understand that it is not the EU’s business to solve our problems, why should they do this? I understand them, it is a normal thing for any country and federation. But, we will always try to go into the EU to get jobs. It is in Europe’s interest to have a normal neighbour. The European authorities should not only listen to Moldavan officials and come here more often and talk to NGO representatives, media representatives, different people who live here and do not have the official position.”
euronews: “Is Chisinau an attractive city to live in?”
Morari: “It depends on us. We can make Chisinau a real European capital, I really believe it. Give us 30 more years and you will see another city on the globe, I promise.”