Thursday, April 09, 2009

Moldovan Spring and Changes to the Fight for Ungoverned Spaces

The book Geography of Happiness describes the European republic of Moldova as the saddest place on Earth. Considering everything that can and does go wrong on this planet that is quite an achievement. Right now the depression is being channelled into rage as Moldova may or may not be experiencing a revolution.

Moldova is a former Soviet state and is the poorest country in Europe. It is populated by ethnic Romanians. Shortly after independence, the Moldovan government lost a war to its eastern section, Transnistria. The much smaller Transnistria is populated by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians (Transnistria was a retirement home for many Soviet World War II veterans) and had the 14th Soviet Army stationed in it. The war was not even close. Today the retro-Soviet state of Transnistria keeps Soviet symbols and titles alive as it continually tries to convince Russia to recognize it. Russia meanwhile is content to use the threat of recognition to keep Moldova neutral and out of NATO.

The 1990s saw several attempts by Moldova and Romania to reunite. However, in 2001 Moldova elected an economically mixed, mostly pro-market, and pro-European Union Communist Party into power. The Communist at first were popular because they fixed some corruption, made progress on Transnistrian reunification, and played up a new Moldovan nationalism against Romania. However, change stagnated and corruption has once again flourished as Transnistria remains de facto independent.

So when the Communist Party won once again via possible vote stealing and gerrymandering, the opposition had enough. Calls for protests against the government quickly morphed into riots. Riot police have so far recovered the president's office building from rioters but roaming bands still protest on the streets. The Communists meanwhile blame Romania for trying to attempt a coup.

The opposition claims term limited President Vladimir Voronin wants to become the "next Putin" by holding onto power by becoming Prime Minister. The opposition differs from the Communists by being more pro-European Union, open to the idea of NATO, favors reunification with Romania (some protesters are waving the EU, Moldovan, and Romanian flags), and support market reforms.

Some commentators have remarked that these protests resemble the color revolutions of Ukraine and Georgia which ushered in pro-Western governments. The same is possible here but the opposition is divided deeply by rival personalities.

An interesting thing is how the protesters and rioters have coordinated. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have been used to communicate and focus on targets. Web 2.0 have allowed for these protests to occur so quickly and degrade into riots quickly as well. In order to curb unrest the government cut internet access.

This is the opposite effect of traditional battles for spaces turned ungovernable between governments and insurgents. In the cases of the 1863 Five Points Riot in New York or 2004 Fallujah, insurgents sought to cut the location and those owning the space off from the outside world by removing communication abilities. The goal in these cases is use choas and momentum to overrun the battlespace owner. Back then in these locations the battlespace owner controlled the communication infrastructure.

Today in the wired world, communication abilities have been democratized. Technology has greatly eased the pains of coordinating large masses. As such, the Moldovan protesters/rioters have shown the usefulness of keeping communication infrastructure intact. This is not total new as French rioters have been known to use cell phones to coordinate in attacks against police. It would be fascinating to see a study which compares the advance of communication tools in the ability of insurgents to make a space ungovernable.

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