Political Youth in Moldova between Resignation and Departure
Within the heart of Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova, lies a café, in which the alternative scene of the country pulsates between retro-Soviet chic and Moldovan wine. In the Café Propaganda, journalists, political lateral-thinkers and creative free spirits meet to exchange ideas, discuss and philosophise. Here, in addition to cosy old armchairs, there is the smell of revolution in the air, for which the majority of the Moldovan population has been waiting a long time. As this place radiates a spark of hope and departure, the rest of the city sinks into a grey veil of disillusionment. Especially the young generation feels a deep disappointment towards politics and this has a particular effect on their political participation. Young-voter absenteeism from the polls is acute. In the 2016 presidential elections, 10.11% of youth (18-25) voted in the first round, and 11.14% in the second round (2). Frightening is that 20% of adolescents state that they have not been voting in national or regional elections since the age of 18, and that 66.7% of young people believe that their vote has no influence on government or politics (1).
Frustration with the corruption, a loss of confidence in politics, and the lack of orientation of the country's elites to the common good and the interests of young voters, have led to a generation no longer using their right to vote and withdrawing from political life. Moreover, the polarisation of society and political culture makes it more difficult for young people to become politically-active, but there was a time in the history of the young state in which young people and students had increasingly taken political positions, were involved in socio-political life and more present at the polls. This once politically-committed youth finds itself today in resignation. What happened in Moldova?
This smells like teen spirit
One reason for the political disenchantment of the Moldovan youth can be found in the events of spring 2009. In 2009, Moldova experienced a year of crisis, change and spirit of optimism. The announcement of the parliamentary election results in April 2009 drove thousands of citizens to the streets in the capital, Chisinau, to protest against the ‘purchased elections’ and the Communist Party's victory (Partidul Comunistilor din Republica Moldova, PCRM). Students and young people in particular took part in these protests, a generation that in many ways came to a turning point during these days. On 7th April 2009, the initially peaceful protest turned into violent riots and protesters stormed the House of Representatives and the President's Office. Back was devastation, and a feeling of an uprising movement. However, this was already overshadowed the next day by the government's aggressive response to what had happened in previous days. The events were called the opposition's ‘attempted coup’, which legitimised massive police violence against protesters. Many young people were persecuted arbitrarily, deported from classrooms and student dormitories, excluded from class at schools and universities, arrested, condemned in custody for days, and judged without any transparency. As a result, a large percentage of the young people left the country, most of them never wanting to be involved in political activities again. There has still not been a clear investigation following these events.
At the end of July, the democratic opposition parties narrowly won the new elections (51.32%). This beginning of a re-orientation of Moldovan politics, accompanied by great hopes, marked not only a change in politics, but also a change in the political participation of young people, because this change was preceded by a civic movement, led by students and young people. They led the way to speaking-up against the authoritarian structures of government and corruption of the power elite. However, the initial euphoria gave way to a bitter disillusionment; the much-acclaimed and sworn political change was over, scandals continued, and corruption found its way back into politics. Now, after the poor delivery of the new pro-European government, there is disappointment and resignation towards politics, says Sergiu Boghean, former president of the Liberal Youth of Moldova (LYM) and a current representative of the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) to IFLRY Bureau. The once-political youth of Chisinau is disillusioned.
Starting from the bottom
The economy and the social system of the Republic of Moldova are on the ground. The socio-economic situation of the country has put young people in a particular situation, close to social exclusion. There are few prospects for a positive future for young people. Increased unemployment, poverty, dissatisfaction with the economic and infrastructural conditions, as well as the political situation in the country, are forcing young people to move abroad. Furthermore, as regards the events of 2009, the number of young people leaving the country increased, as well as their share in the total number of the young population (from 13.1% in 2008 to 16.2% in 2014) (3). In 2014, 24.6% of young people (15-29) lived abroad (2). For Sergiu Boghean, this marks a new wave of migration, which is also one of the main reasons for the low participation rate of young people.
Those who stay remain in political rigidity: The majority of the youth are dissatisfied with the democracy of the country (1). However, a growing minority is drawing attention to the political grievances. The young political opposition in Moldova also includes the PAS Youth – the youth organisation of the pro-European party, Action and Solidarity. The Moldovan youth is, after all, still greatly interested in the civil society problems and the political events in the country, but it is difficult to motivate people to get active, if the image of Moldova's politics is characterised by a bad reputation, says Artur Mija, Secretary-General and Chairman of PAS Youth. An essential part of the work of the PAS Youth is, therefore, the imparting of democratic principles and the development of an understanding of politics, as well as the development of public policy. The campaigns also serve to raise awareness of current political issues. Without access to relevant educational offers, the political participation of young people noticeably decreases (1). In addition to political education work, PAS Youth also addresses quite material issues, such as hygiene in schools and youth unemployment. If we really want to achieve something, we have to start from the bottom, is Artur Mijas’s understanding. For example, the implementation of systematic approaches and strategies, such as the National Youth Strategy 2020 of the government, has not thrown up any relevant changes as it lacks basic democratic elements and the understanding within society. For Artur Mija, these government-level experts do not understand the situation of local people and develop alleged solutions that bypass the citizens. The actions of PAS are close to young people’s interests – they hold conversations with them and try to propose solutions. Engaging young people in decision-making processes is a fundamental step for advocating their rights and needs.
Young people want to be heard!
As an increasing minority, young Moldavians are at risk of disappearing from society. The lack of interest politicians show in youth-specific issues and, above all, the existential challenges of youth, continue to promote low turnouts and thus a never-ending vicious circle. Most important for Sergiu Boghean is that the attitude of the government parties towards young people has to change, and it has to deal with youth issues. Otherwise, the youth turnout will continue to fall and the chances of urgently needed changes being initiated will decrease.
For Artur Mija, the only way to really make a valuable contribution is the political way and to pressure the government into finally initiating changes in the country – once you hit this, there is no turning back. It takes courage to openly criticise the government, to address corruption and oligarchic entanglements, if you want to remain safe in the public space – this is another reason why many young people do not openly express their opinions.
The drive of a committed young minority is simply hope. Hope for a functioning democracy and a positive future for young people in the Republic of Moldova because, at some point, you just get angry at the government and try to contribute to the community. The youth of Moldova is seeking changes in many aspects, but the great challenge young people face is to find an adequate opportunity for participation in their environment. After all, everybody wants one thing and that is that their voice is heard, and that their voice can bring about a change for good in the country.
(1) Centre of Sociological Investigation and Marketing (CBS-AXA) of Moldova (2016): Young Moldova: Problems, Values and Aspirations. Research into the opinions of young people in the Republic of Moldova 2016-2017. Chisinau.
(2) OECD Development Centre (2018), ‘Youth Well-being Policy Review of Moldova’, EU-OECD Youth Inclusion Project, Paris.
(3) National Institute for Economic Research. (2015): DEMOGRAPHIC BAROMETER, SITUATION OF THE YOUTH IN REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA: FROM GOALS TO OPPORTUNITIES. Chisinau