- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

CHISINAU, MOLDOVA (AP) - With one-quarter of the population working abroad to eke out a living, impoverished Moldova has become a country of the young and the very old.

It’s a generation gap that has split the country politically _ and violently.

The elderly, who look to Moscow for leadership and are nostalgic for the Soviet past, recently voted to return Communists to power. The young, rallied by text messages and Twitter and eager to join Europe, seized and trashed parliament and the country’s presidential offices in response.

The unrest continued Sunday, as 3,000 anti-government protesters gathered in downtown Chisinau to call for the government to resign.

Some Moldovans say the absence of working-age adults, less embittered than the old and more practical than the young, is to blame for turning the parliamentary contest into a clash of generations.

Ion Covali, a 61-year-old retired trucker, voted for the victorious Communists because he believes capitalism has only brought his once-proud country poverty and humiliation _ a point driven home by the world economic crisis.

“We used to be a magnet, everyone in the Soviet Union envied us,” Covali said, as wrinkles on his face smoothed into a frail smile. “But now we live in a dump.”

Covali’s grandson, 19-year-old Ion Covali, was among thousands of youths who took to the streets after the April 5 vote. Demonstrators alleged widespread voting fraud and called for new elections.

For the younger Ion, who didn’t bother to vote, the protests were exhilarating. “Everything was so unexpected,” the university student said. “And everyone was high on this sudden freedom.”

Nina Bondarenko, a 60-year old schoolteacher, said Moldova’s elderly _ who built their lives during the Soviet era _ still cling to the myths of Communism. “Soviet children were drilled into believing white was black and vise versa, and they have become … today’s pensioners,” she said.

The younger generation, she said, are free to think for themselves. But the country’s youth have grown up without parental supervision, leaving them feeling both bold and abandoned, Bondarenko said.

“The schools are filled with children whose parents are abroad, and many children protest it any way they can,” she said.

Wednesday’s protests, among the largest Moldova has seen since March 2002, ended with 193 people arrested and almost 100 injured.

Sergei Roscovanu, a taxi driver who recently returned from working in Ireland, is neither a student nor a pensioner. The 25-year-old said he didn’t know whether to blame the protesters or the Communists for the unrest.

He is certain of one thing: Moldovan society has suffered because so many live abroad. “We have been bled dry by the exodus,” said Roscovanu.

The 1991 Soviet collapse transformed Moldova into one of the poorest countries in Europe. Up to a fourth of the population of 4 million work in the European Union or Russia and their remittances amounted to almost 40 per cent of Moldova’s GDP, according to the World Bank.

“There is a growing conflict between grandparents and grandchildren,” said Anatoly Petrenko of the opposition group European Action.

The elections left the Communists with 60 out of 101 seats in parliament, one short of being able to name a replacement for President Vladimir Voronin, who in 2001 became Europe’s first democratically elected communist head of state.

On Friday Voronin, who is stepping down after two terms, ordered a re-count of votes calling for a resolution of Moldova’s “political dead-end.”

While older Moldovans tend to regard Russia as their country’s chief ally, many youth look west to Europe and neighboring Romania, which shares close linguistic, ethnic and historical ties with Moldova. Many protesters called for unification with Romania, a member of the European Union and NATO.

Voronin, meanwhile, has accused Romanian authorities of supporting the violent protests and of helping the opposition organize the revolt.

Older Moldovans like to reminisce about the days when Moldova was a jewel in the crown of the Soviet Union. The tiny republic had thriving agriculture, and Covali recalls driving trucks loaded with Moldovan fruit, vine and cigarettes to central Russia and Siberia.

After the 1991 Soviet collapse, the world turned upside down for the pensioner’s generation. Sitting at an oak dinner table at his crammed apartment in the capital, Chisinau, Covali pointed at the pictures of his two sons, Corneliu and Marius, who work at a fish cannery in Portugal to support their families.

Now the world’s economic downturn, he said, threatens even this tenuous economic lifeline.

“I voted for Communists because they promise stability amid this capitalist crisis,” Covali said. “They are far from perfect, but they are better than these opposition crybabies that squabble between themselves instead of serving the people.”

Young Moldovans, meanwhile, live in a world of electronic gadgets and computers, swiftly changing fashion trends and multicultural influences.

Many have traveled or worked abroad and resent that their impoverished country is ruled by the aged elite that seeks closer ties with Russia and still calls itself Communist.

Communism is unfashionable among youth here. “It’s just a brand for the old people,” sneered Roman Lobov, a 22-year old university student with closely cropped hair.

If anything, the recent protests may have aggravated Moldova’s yawning generation gap.

“The revolt only boosted communists’ ratings,” said Svetlana, a middle-aged saleswoman at a bookstore in central Chisinau, who refused to provide her last name, saying she fears pressure from nationalists.

“Many of my friends were indifferent to voting, but after what happened they said they will vote for Voronin,” she said.

Of course, not all of the young supported the protests. Neither do all elderly Moldovans back the Communists.

But prospects for a reconciliation of Moldova’s divided generations appear slim in the short run, said young Ion Covali, wearing a black coat and white-blue jeans.

He was standing outside a movie theater with a marquee advertising both Hollywood and Russian blockbusters, another symptom of his country’s split between East and West.

“We need changes so much,” he said, “but sometimes I think they will come only after the older generation is gone.”

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