Traveling through Moldova’s “Twitter Revolution”

Editor’s note: This dispatch comes from Robert Reid ( co-author of Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Romania & Moldova.

“Communists take ur dirty hands our of our country!’
“They can’t control Twitter! They can’t control Youth!”

Sounds like a riot? It is, and it isn’t. The protests in Moldova’s capital (which erupted after Sunday’s election results gave the communist party 60 of the 101 parliament seats) have fizzled down from up to 15,000 on Tuesday to – per Twitter reports this morning – “about 200.” That doesn’t mean the chants are done. A steady stream of 140-character Twitter posts, like the ones above, are still streaming at a rate of 2000 or more per hour.

I’ve been following the posts — at Twitter’s hashtag #pman (referring to Chisinau’s central square Piata Marii Adunari Nationale) — the past 24 hours. And I still don’t know whether the media rush to call it the “Twitter revolution” is really accurate or not.

Tweets — in Moldovan (Romanian), Russian and English — tend to dwell on a handful of day-old links, eg YouTube and JurnalTV videos, reports of election observers questioning the results. I tried contacting several local posters to find out what was happening on the ground yesterday via Twitter and was thrilled to finally get a response: “atm there r ppl at #pman certainly I don’t know how much.” New journalism!? (Meanwhile The New York Times – one of very few media outlets to follow the story today – reported that 1000 turned out to protest yesterday, perhaps a bit more dependable.)

Beyond the big Twitter buzz rests Europe’s poorest country (monthly average salary is about US$240), a communist-run sliver of rolling farmland between Romania and Ukraine. About one million have left for jobs (a major drain considering the population barely breaks four million), and those who remain are being tugged in different directions. Rural and older folks tend to look east (towards Russia and the communist past), while urban and youth look west, towards the EU. Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca called Sunday’s election results “fraudulent,” while the communist president Vladimir Voronin blamed Romania for influencing “fascist” protesters.

Tourism doesn’t help economic matters much, attracting only 20,000 visitors a year, about a thousandth of the visitors as Ukraine. The trickle of adventurers who found themselves amidst a protest, it appears, are mostly content to stick it out now that the situation has calmed. Marisha Vozian, who runs a homestay network in the country, emailed me yesterday from the UK that she was “surprised and shocked” by the protests, but said visitors at her guesthouse are staying. Also, Radu Sargu, head of Moldova Travel accommodation service, emailed to say his visitors — from the USA, UK and Finland — are also staying. “They are interested to see what’s going on.”

IF YOU GO, it’s generally easier and cheaper to go by overnight train from Bucharest (about 35 euro one way) than fly in. Most visitors stay three or four days, enough time to take in Chisinau and make day trips to the country’s excellent wineries within 20 miles outside of the capital. Some agencies offer day trips (about 70 euro per person) to the Transdneistr, a time-warp Soviet-style district of Moldova that’s still occupied by Russian troops and operates as a separate nation. No visa is required for US, Canadian and EU citizens to visit Moldova; Australians and New Zealand must arrange invitation letters in advance through Chisinau agencies.