Generations split over Moldova vote

HIRTOP: Although youths are fed up with the ruling Communist Party in impoverished Moldova, older voters in poor rural areas will push to keep it in power in Wednesday's parliamentary election.

The generation gap in this small ex-Soviet republic became vividly apparent in April when young protestors, angry at what they saw as a rigged Communist election victory, stormed the parliament in the capital Chisinau. But loyalty to the Communists runs deep in places like Hirtop, a village 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Chisinau, where many residents are elderly or near retirement as working-age adults have fled abroad in search of jobs.

"With the Communists, the situation is normal, stable. Things are not going well here but at least pensions get paid," said Ivan Ciobanu, 47, a toothless local who earns a meagre wage by delivering water to his neighbours in a cart. Ciobanu was bitter about the April riots, blaming them on liberal opposition parties that accused the Communists of stealing the election and ultimately forced a repeat of the vote.

"Who sent the young people to parliament? It was the opposition. They never would have done this alone. People were given stuff to drink, got drunk. Their professors, the intellectuals, guided them to destroy everything," he said.

Similarly, the government and state-controlled media -- including the two television channels available in Hirtop -- have portrayed the rioters as drunken hooligans goaded by liberal opposition parties. Opposition politicians deny fomenting the riots, which, according to many witnesses, erupted spontaneously out of huge street protests that were instigated by a viral SMS and Internet campaign.

In Chisinau, by far the country's largest city, many young people expressed frustration with the older generation's resistance to change.

"The old people are like children. They always obey the authorities," fumed Anatoly, 20, an art student who had several friends detained in the riots and asked that his last name not be published. "Children should speak to their parents, to their grandparents, to make them understand that voting Communist won't change anything for them but will deprive the next generation of normal development," Anatoly said.

Despite the anger of Chisinau's youth, their impact on Wednesday's election may be weakened by various factors, including the summer vacation season and the tendency for older people to be more disciplined about going to the polls. Social networking sites like Facebook which were used to organise the April protests are now largely silent, and only a few dozen youths gathered for a political "flash mob" in Chisinau last week.

"In April people didn't sleep at night. They told themselves that at any moment, 'The Communists are going to fall,' they believed this so much," recalled Igor Vasilachi, an 18-year-old student. And now? "Summer is more of a season for relaxation," Vasilachi said. "Entertainment is a bigger topic than politics. But our opinions remain the same."