In 2016, the internal and external public perception about the antigovernment protests in Chisinau suffered essential charges. The protests and camps of protesters are no longer regarded as separate entities. This happened after the Civic Platform “Dignity and Truth” embraced the idea of merging their protests with the protests staged by the pro-Russian forces (Igor Dodon, Renato Usatyi), which was out of question in 2015. This also meant assumption by the Civic Platform “Dignity and Truth” of the risks deriving from the radicalization of protests, which have never been excluded by Dodon and Usatyi.
The fusion of protests was welcomed by many voices in Moldova, but generated erroneous interpretations outside, both in the West and the East. Thus, many media outlets in the West understood incorrectly the ‘essence of the protests’ of January 20, which were seen by the BBC, Euronews or EuObserver as protests by the pro-Russian forces against a pro-European government. This aspect was signaled by the public that is well aware of the Moldovan realities, under the pressure of which the message of the Western press was ultimately corrected. For the pro-government press of Russia, the merger between the camps of protesters became a unique occasion for fuelling the anti-U.S. and anti-European propaganda. The Russian propagandistic products have been yet, with small exceptions, treated with indifference by the Moldovan public from the country and abroad.
Western press misinformed intentionally or by mistake?
The news broadcast by BBC or Euronews about the ‘protests mounted by the pro-Russian forces against the pro-European government’ had a considerable media impact. For those who follow attentively the Moldovan politics, such news items produced powerful dissonance with the daily political reality given that the protest movement is nonhomogeneous and includes, besides the pro-Russian forces, the camp of protesters with pro-European views (Civic Platform “Dignity and Truth” and others). At the same time, it is incorrect to call the government ‘pro-European” when the power is held by oligarchs and the European integration process was powerfully discredited. Namely for these reasons, the news of BBC and Euronews about the so-called pro-Russian protesters and pro-European government caused bewilderment and anger among the Moldovans from the country and those from the diaspora. However, the speed at which the Western press made such interpretation errors generated doubts not about the quality of their products, but rather about the way in which Moldova is regarded outside.
First of all, the government in Chisinau has limited legitimacy, but continues to give the impression that it is committed to do pro-European reforms. Moreover, neither the EU nor the U.S. challenged the legality of the new Cabinet (led by Pavel Filip). Even if the Europeans and Americans know a lot about the political corruption in Chisinau, these are guided by rational strategic calculations that reveal the economic, political and geopolitical constrains of the country and the region. Thus, the Western media have practically no solid arguments that would prevent them from naming the Moldovan government ‘pro-European’.
Secondly, all the Eastern Partnership countries, including Moldova, are regarded and interpreted through the angle of the geopolitical competition between the EU and Russia. That’s why the merger between the camps of pro-Russian and pro-European protesters altered the image of the protest movement that disseminated also anti-European and anti-U.S. messages alongside the anti-Plahotniuc and anti-corruption demands. Most probably, the merger between the protesters generated particular confusion and, as a result, misinformation episodes in the Western press. However, during the protests staged in 2015, when the camps of protesters were divided according to clear political aspects, there were no cases when the Western media outlets classed all the protesters as pro-Russian forces.
Not finally, the erroneous interpretations about the protests mounted in Chisinau are the product of stereotypes created during the last few years, when Moldova was intensely promoted as a ‘success story’ by different experts, journalists and officials. Consequently, the given aspects of misinformation on the part of the Western media could be the result of the deduction that the protesters who oppose the government that considers itself pro-European are automatically non-pro-Europeans or pro-Russians.
What goal does the Russian propaganda pursue?
The protests mounted in Chisinau are in the focus of Russia, which is trying to profit from them so as to bring the European integration project to an end, but preferably with the hands of the declared pro-European political forces. This will enable it to definitively discredit the European course of Moldova and to stigmatize any other new political force that will formulate pro-European desiderata. That’s why the merger between the protests and the integration of the Platform “Dignity and Truth”, which is thought to be pro-European, into a joint protest movement, with the pro-Russians Dodon and Usatyi, represented a very important event for the Russian propaganda. Consequently, unlike other large-scale projects of 2015, the pro-governmental Russian press managed to reach Moldova’s territory, where it has the status of persona non grata, so as to produce a feature report at the scene.
The product launched by the machinery of the Russian propaganda was criticized by the Moldovan press. But not much attention was devoted to the goal pursued by the Russia side. The objective was not to discredit Romania, the U.S. and the EU apart. The intentions of the Russia side that can be deduced from the watched and assessed media product are to create a false perception that the protesters, even the pro-European ones, seek the dismissal of the corrupt and oligarchic pro-European government, which is protected by the EU and the U.S. So, they laid the basis of a myth according to which the Europeans and Americans support the corrupt, but docile governments that are wanted not even by the pro-Europeans from Moldova. Also, the segments of protesters with pro-European views (Platform “Dignity and Truth”) were used to increase the legitimacy of the camps of pro-Russian protesters led by Dodon and Usatyi.
Instead of conclusion…
The efficiency of the pressure that can be exerted on the government depends on the way in which the protests in Chisinau are covered. The legitimacy of the protests and the sympathies with these among the state and non-state players from abroad depends also on this. At the same time, any government needs legitimacy not only at home, but also abroad. That’s why the quality of information broadcast by the foreign media counts. Consequently, any attempt to manipulate and misinform must be identified and penalized, no matter whether it is of Western or Russian origin. But there is an essential difference between the misinformation episodes seen in the Western media and the Russian propaganda’s manipulation product about the political events in Chisinau. But, in the case of the Western media, pressure can be exerted so as to ultimately obtain the correction of the message. This thing can be excluded when we speak about the Russian pro-government press, which acts at the instructions of the political regime, which is interested in fully discrediting the EU and U.S., in particular in the countries from the sphere of influence of Russia.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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