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Inside Moldova's "Sealed Jar": Twittering an Uprising in the Former Soviet Bloc

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 8 2009

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Out of the many stories being told this morning about how Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media is fueling robust anti-communist protests in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, one quote in particular jumps out. "Moldova is like a sealed jar," said 48 year-old theater director Mihai Fusu, quoted in a New York Times' piece by Ellen Barry. In recent years, young people fled the tiny former Soviet country nestled between Romania and Ukraine to seek jobs and opportunity abroad. But the global recession has pushed them back within Moldova's borders. Many gathered in Chisinau, feeling trapped and without options. But as we watch the protests from afar this morning, that jar isn't looking quite so sealed.

The spark of the protests was an election Sunday in which the ruling Communist party claimed 50 percent of the vote, which puts it in a position to name a new president. The election results were certified by the United Nations-affiliated Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But some young Moldovans weren't buying OSCE's final summary of election results. Twitterer @mad_ab_you, for example, tweeted this: "#pman european observer admits communists only had 35% of the votes at counting end." As we've seen so often on Twitter in times of protest or trouble, tweeters linked off to third-party sources to validate the information they're sharing with the world. In this case, @mad_ab_you linked off a report on Moldova Azi, the Soros Foundation-backed local newspaper.

The Twitter protest seems to have caught fire. That hashtag of #pman -- standing for Piaţa Marii Adunări Naţionale, the name of a a public square in the city center -- was used to call Moldovans to rally. Reports are that more than 10,000 people rapidly gathered yesterday in the square to protest the election results and the country's communist leadership. And it's become one of the top trending topics on Twitter. Groups like Think Moldova are also working online to organize offline, and aggregator sites are popping up to pull together relevant Twitter streams, blog posts, Flickr feeds, and YouTube videos.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, for one, is having a tough time swallowing the idea that the uproar is spontaneous, bubbling up organically and coming together via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. CNN reports that he's attempting to convince Moldovans that the protests were "well thought-out, organized and paid for" by his political opposition.

(Photo credit: Unimedia)