CHISINAU (AFP) — Digital tools like Twitter, Facebook and SMS text messaging played a key role in the massive youth protests that rocked the Communist government in the former Soviet republic of Moldova this week.
The protests of around 15,000 people against disputed legislative elections seemingly materialized out of nowhere on Monday and Tuesday in central Chisinau after an SMS campaign initiated by critics of the government.
Sergei Muntian, a 22-year-old protestor, told AFP that the outpouring began after many people received an SMS that said: "Come fight the Communists in the front of the government building. Pass this message on."
Mobile phone service was cut off intermittently Tuesday as protests turned violent and demonstrators stormed the parliament and presidency buildings.
But mobile phone operators contacted by AFP said the outages were due to the massive crowds that had overloaded the network in central Chisinau and there was no sign of a deliberate blockage to suppress the demonstrations.
However the protestors also had Internet-based tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook to spread news, allowing them to bypass mainstream Moldovan outlets that critics say are dominated by the government.
"Chisinau surrounded by troops. People are protesting. The US said the elections were OK. Not nice," a user named robintel posted Wednesday on the micro-blogging service Twitter.
The flow of Twitter comments could be searched with the tag #pman which stood for the name of Moldova's central square, Piata Marii Adunari Nationale.
Meanwhile a group set up on the social networking site Facebook called "Down With Communists!" boasted over 500 members on Wednesday along with a logo of a stick-figure man dumping a Communist hammer and sickle in a trash can.
The protests were spearheaded by a committee of activists called "I am an Anti-Communist" and their size came as a surprise not just to the government but also to mainstream opposition parties that lost Sunday's election.
"Using the Internet we managed to gather 15,000 people on the square in a few minutes. Not one party can boast of such abilities," Natalya Morar, one of the leaders of the committee, told reporters.
Political analysts said the committee's call for action tapped into a deep vein of discontent among youth in Moldova, a small nation that borders the EU and has the dubious distinction of being Europe's poorest country.
"This small group of militants did not expect tens of thousands of people to answer their call," said Oazu Nantoi, head of the Institute for Public Policy think tank and deputy leader of Moldova's Democratic Party.
"There were no political leaders at the site, no loud speakers, no means of organising this mass of people," he said.
The high-tech rallying cry drew teenagers as young as 13 and 14 to central Chisinau and underscored a generation gap between them and elderly pensioners, many of whom support the Communist government of President Vladimir Voronin.
"We do not want pensioners to decide our fate," Nikolai Damaskin, a 31-year-old Chisinau resident, told AFP on Sunday after casting his ballot for the opposition Liberal Democrats.
Damaskin said he had participated in an effort called "Hide Grandmother's Passport" aimed at keeping down the Communist vote that used SMS text messages in what turned out to be a forerunner of the post-election protests.
In the viral initiative, Damaskin said, young people urged each other by SMS to hide their grandmothers' passports to keep them from voting for Communists.
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