Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Benighted Botanica

It's the gateway to Chisinau, the first district you enter as you approach the city from the airport, from Tiraspol.  It's the largest and most populous sector of Chisinau, housing over 26% of the city's residents.  In Soviet times it was the place to be, a modern, go-ahead sort of place near to the fresh air and greenery of the Botanical Gardens after which it takes its name.

In 2011 however, the sector of Botanica has another claim to notoriety - the highest proportion of Communist voters in Chisinau and one of the highest nationwide.  Consider the following results:

Mayoral Vote, First Round, 5th June 2011

Chisinau (Total):  Dodon 166,232 (48.07%), Chirtoaca 160,827 (46.51%)
Sector Botanica:  Dodon  43,768 (58.53%), Chirtoaca 27,856 (37.25%)

At first glance, it seems odd that residents on the leading sector of the most well-informed city in Moldova should continue voting for a party which has been so thoroughly discredited, which has stolen massively from the state's coffer's, abused its citizens human rights and which no thinking person should support.

There are a couple of reasons, however, why the good folk of Botanica continue to turn out for the chardonnay socialists of the PCRM.  The first is history: Botanica was mostly built up during Soviet rule to house incoming migrants from Russia and other Soviet republics.  The population is therefore largely Rusophone; it's very noticeable how little Romanian you hear spoken on the street and in the shops in this part of Chisinau.  Rusophones obviously see the Rusophilic Dodon as representing their interests better than the almost-unionist Chirtoaca.

The second reason is that Botanica is a district somewhat down on its luck.  Shops on the main street, Bd. Dacia, find it hard to turn a profit and hence turnover of retail tenants is high and space is frequently empty.  The fountains that once watered a gracious avenue have been silent for decades.  The population is aging rapidly and dependent on the miserly pensions they receive from the state.  And, stupidly, they in general prefer the propaganda of NIT to the information furnished by other TV channels.

So what is to be done?  We need a better result out of Botanica in the second round on June 19th so that Chirtoaca can win a resounding victory and Moldova's pro-European course preserved.  Of course, there's no magic bullet, but here's a few ideas:

  1. Mount a "Switch off NIT" campaign.  One very significant matter that has been overlooked due to the contest in Chisinau is the fact that the communist vote outside of the cities is slowly collapsing (from around 40% at the elections in 2007 to around 30% in 2011).  One of the major reasons for this is that Moldova 1 (the countryside's main source of information) is no longer a propaganda channel for the communists.  Get people to switch off NIT, even for a week, and you'll see a noticeable improvement.
  2. Make the case that a pro-European course will be good even for Russian-speakers.  Many of these folk have serious misconceptions about NATO, the EU and Romania, having never had the opportunity to travel to the west.  These misconceptions need to be corrected, and quickly.  Russian speakers need to understand that EU entry will bring new opportunities, rising living standards and protection of legitimate minority rights.
  3. Offer a plan for the rejuvenation of Botanica.  Bring shops, restaurants and other businesses back to the district.  Fix the fountains and switch them on at least a few days a year.  Fill the worst potholes in the side roads.  Mount some free concerts for senior citizens, sponsored by the city or the AIE parties directly.
  4. Deliver of copy of the Cojocaru Commission's report on the postwar Soviet Occupation to each household.  People need to know the truth about the forebears of today's communists and the horrors they committed.  This could make them think twice about voting Dodon.
  5. The AIE parties need to show absolute unity and refrain from criticising each other until the election.  This may bring to the polls a group of AIE supporters who didn't vote in round one as a protest against the in-fighting within the ruling coalition. 

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