Prime minister Maia Sandu innauguration speech

About Moldova’s “silent revolution”.

Everything changed in Moldova this beginning of the summer! 

Moldova, my small Eastern European home country, wedged between Romania and Ukraine, went through a dramatic regime change. 

What happened? 

It was not a coup, but we also didn’t see a smooth, democratic, natural transition of power, because the former Prime Minister refused to leave. He tried to hold on to power, de facto controlling the state institutions for one whole week. 

It was a revolution, of sorts , even though you couldn’t see people shouting and marching in the streets to support their new democratically elected government and bring down the old one. Isn’t this how revolutions should look like? 

Not in Moldova, where people have been protesting for years. People were tired of just talking and complaining. They expected their newly elected government to finally bring change and take down the criminals who had been controlling Moldova for decades. 

And this is exactly what happened. In the parliament, the newly elected politicians formed a pact and started demolishing, brick by brick, the oligarchic system that has infected the whole administration. Apart from a few staged protests to defend the old regime, no rallies were seen to support the new government. We, the members of the parliament and the new government, achieved a regime change without protests, without a drop of blood! 50 meters from the parliament building, where the action was happening, parents were playing with their kids in the park, kids riding their bikes, couples having romantic walks. We were doing our jobs, they were doing theirs. 

But I would still call it a revolution. 

It was a “silent revolution”. 

Here’s how everything happened, from my perspective: 

Friday, June 7th. Moldova was heading towards early elections. There were two more days to form a coalition. According to the law, the coalition must be formed within three months since the elections. Moldovan members of the parliament still hadn’t been able to do it. The political forces in the parliament were in deadlock. 

The outgoing Democratic Party (DP), was in agony because the other parties would refuse to form a coalition with them. Their leader, Vladimir Plahotniuc, the local oligarch, who controlled everything in the country, had one strategy – to stay in power forever. He was ready to join any coalition. But no one was interested.  

The two other significant forces in the parliament were diametrically opposed. The pro-Russian socialists, and the pro-European ACUM block (that I am proud to be part of) were very different to easily agree on a common vision and vote a government. The three-month term of the new parliament was expiring. 

In the same day, the oligarchic Democrats brought in some protesters to protest against us, the ACUM block. Some 500 people were organized and brought to the parliament. Some of them were angry, aggressive, and even obscene. Others were peaceful, apparently being forced (or paid) to be there. 

Few hours later, a bomb alert was announced, which turned out to be false. The Parliament building was evacuated, and all public servants were sent home. We, the members of ACUM, refused to leave, suspecting it was just another scheme to prevent us from forming the government on time. The police surrounded the Parliament, with only us and the guards inside. We were waiting for the socialists for negotiations. The choice was between this and the new elections, which would bring no change, if organized by DP and the institutions they captured. 

In a few more hours, the Constitutional Court (in the oligarch’s back pocket) issued a “ruling” announcing that the deadline to form a coalition was on that same day. Our Constitution says clearly “three months”, while the mandate of our parliament started on March 9th. The court redefined ”three months” as ”90 days”. Messy. Sloppy. Arrogant. Primitive. This is Moldova, a captured state, where decisions are taken at the press of a button, to favor one person’s interests.

It was getting dark, and yes, kind of scary. The police was still surrounding the building. You can get out, but can’t get in. Radu Marian, an MP colleague, was not allowed by police to enter for a few hours, while we were still inside.

On that Friday, the protests were done to scare us, the bomb alert – to disperse us and make us go home, so that we would not have time to get back together and react to the real blow – Constitutional Court. It’s good that we stayed together. So did the socialists, who were in a long party meeting at their office. We made a few public calls to them and asked them to meet with us.

The events on that Friday catalyzed the talks between the pro-Russians and pro-Europeans. The Democratic Party pushed us towards one another with a huge force. They made us, the pro-Russians and the pro-Europeans, forget the differences between us, for now. Everyone understood that something must be done now to address a common enemy. 

Otherwise the country would sink into darkness, and we’d all be screwed, sooner or later. Moldova is already one of the most corrupt and poorest countries in Europe. It is also struggling with huge emigration. There’s no accurate data on this, but at least a million people have left, out of some 3,5 million people. Our own relatives and friends were affected by the oligarchic regime. Something needed to be done, and fast.

The socialists finally came late in the evening and we spoke. None of us agreed to accept the Constitutional Court’s decision. You cannot blindly accept decisions that defy common sense, or even algebra. 

The solution was clear. To defend the Constitution, we had to act against the ”ruling” of the Constitutional Court, but remain strictly within the constitutional boundaries.

The next day, Saturday, June 8th

61 Members of Parliament out of a 101 seat Parliament met. We had a quorum. We agreed to hold a Parliament session on the same day, to elect the Speaker, and the Prime Minister. The plenary room was semi-dark, no secretariat, no technicians to turn on the lights or the microphones. 

They played a recording of our anthem, on a bad equipment, you could barely hear it. Everyone stood up. In semi-dark, one after the other, people started murmuring it. I had shivers and I doubt I was the only one. Memorable moment.

My wife and my son were not in the country. We had a holiday planned, so they had to go alone. ”Don’t forget who you are doing this for”, Marian wrote me. And she sent a short video of our son.

The media was at the Parliament door. Some 20 cameras. They wanted to get in. The guards were in confusion as to which protocols should apply, and wouldn’t let them in. I stepped in. “They are coming to interview me, it will be my responsibility”, I said. I felt that history was about to happen and had to be recorded from as many angles. The guards accepted and understood. They let all the media in. They might have not, but they did. Good people. 

Diplomats, ambassadors and embassy staff started coming. After a moment of confusion they were also let inside to assist at the Parliament session, as they always do. Their presence was a hopeful signal. The legitimate parliament is about to start working. 

The parliament session started, but no support staff was there. The technicians rooms were locked. We had no microphones. The speakers were screaming, in a semi-dark hall. It felt like a parliament from the 17th century. Memorable.

However, everything was being streamed live on TV and on social media. Suddenly, on that Saturday, the whole country, started watching live on facebook, or TV. Everyone watched. We felt this support and encouragement.

We prepared the vote for the speaker of the parliament. MPs cast their ballots.

Pasha Parfeni, a local well-known musician, wrote. “I am bringing a portable speaker to make the sound better.” (luckily, we had plugs that worked)

“Do it as soon as possible. Bring it to the central entrance!” I answered. 

30 minutes later we were entering the hall with a portable box that can be used for protests. And weddings. Most in the room smiled, some laughed out loud. 

The parliament session continued, with a better sound this time. We voted a political document declaring Moldova a captive state. This would give grounds to many moves we were planning to rid our country of oligarchic influence. Then we moved to voting the Prime Minister’s candidate.

Maia Sandu, I am absolutely confident, is the most competent, the most reform-oriented Prime Minister Moldova has had in almost 30 years. And she has a dream-team in the government. 

“Ladies and gentlemen! The dictator has fallen!”, she started her speech. We all clapped. Exciting, and memorable moment. I had shivers, and I am sure I was not the only one. 

Everyone was passing the old, rusty microphone, careful not to damage the wires. In a relatively small hall, you could barely see everyone’s faces because of darkness. We had no idea what was happening outside.

Then we expressed our no-confidence vote for the Constitutional Court. And we fired the heads of Secret Service and Anticorruption Center. 

It was magical. In that dark quiet room, we were bringing down the oligarchic system that captured our state. And after every vote – a huge round of applause. 

The Democrats did, I think, three press briefings that day denouncing what was happening as ”illegal”. And their Constitutional Court (CC) published press releases all day, “annulling” our vote. Without even having read any papers.

We went ahead. They did not matter. We did. 

Later on that night, the Democrats installed tents and brought in organized protesters, locating them in front of governmental buildings to prevent the new cabinet members from entering. “Defending the Constitutional Court and legitimate government of Pavel Filip” they said. The police was on their side. Most protesters were poor people who deserve our compassion, yet in front of every building you could also see well-built guys with proper training. They were the true “defenders”, trained to instigate and be violent. 

In those days, and after, we sent repeated clear signals to our supporters not to come out on the streets. We knew we had many supporters, and we knew that they are very angry at those blockages in front of ministries and other governmental buildings. This is why we did not want to create a potential confrontation. 

Sunday, 9th of June. 

Plahotniuc’s Democrats announced a huge rally in their support. Rumours spread that 50 thousand people will be organized to attend their protest. Our sources from the field were sending alarming signals. We knew the democrats rented a lot of buses from throughout the country. Intimidating. The parliament was basically unprotected, with just a few policemen outside and inside. 

“What if we’re screwed?”, I was thinking again, knowing and having seen their titushka “patriots”. Anyway, we went on about our business. 

As the day progressed, we were getting news that very few people showed up in towns and villages to actually board the buses. The people heard what happened in Chisinau. They simply refused to join. The rented buses travelled to Chisinau half-empty, or almost empty. Some five thousand people did show up, from throughout the country. The protest started on the square before the Government building. 

From the big stage, the DP leaders made speeches, including the oligarch Plahotniuc. This was his first protest. He was visibly uncomfortable. Made a few mistakes. This is not his natural environment. From their stage they saw best that there were very few people. 

I am sure this is not how Plahotniuc (and his team) pictured that day, with just a few thousand people to come root for the oligarch. A total fiasco! It was clear to them, and it was clear to us. The king was naked. This was spectacular display of failure, unpopularity and desperation.  

They marched towards the President’s Office near the Parliament. We could see them from our windows. I was watching from the 6th floor with a few good people. By the time they reached the Parliament and President’s building, there were maybe some 3 thousand people left. But Plahotniuc was there, in the crowd, screaming and yelling. I felt flattered. We all had to feel flattered. The country’s biggest, richest, most feared oligarch, the state captor, was protesting on the street, under our feet, against us, and not too many people to support him in doing so.

They threw five turkeys over the fence, with Plahotniuc looking ecstatic. Why? What do the poor birds have to do with all this? Their lack of experience in protesting was failing them and making them look pathetic.

Rumours spread that the Prosecutor General’s office (in Plahotniuc’s front pocket) started criminal investigations on all MPs involved in what they qualified as a “coup”. 

I felt energized. 

“It’s not the end of the world. Even if we spend a few days in jail, it’s OK!”, I was saying out loud. 

“…but we might also all be screwed”, I was thinking to myself. 

Official messages from the international community recognizing the legitimacy of the Parliament and new Government started coming in, and kept coming in the next days. 

And we had so much encouragement from so many good people in these two days! 

We felt a huge support. We did not feel alone. We felt powerful. 

Our people were ecstatic. It was happening before their eyes. We were doing this for them. 

This snowball continued in the coming days.

Monday, June 10th – Friday June 15th

The night from 9th to 10th came another crisis. The first wave of international media reports was very bad. We realized that, while we were taking them down, the democrats focused on a massive disinformation campaign to the outside world, in order to reduce the credibility of our actions. They have done that before. Whenever they were under siege with protests, they would start misinforming the international press and expert community. Desperate, but efficient in the short-term.

Their narrative penetrated all of the international media: geopolitics, Moscow’s hand, coup, and all that. We failed to properly communicate on the outside over the weekend.  We had to quickly solve it, and put together short briefs, that would be sent twice a day over the next week. They worked. As of Tuesday we started having really good press. One more DP fortress was down, and their lobbyists were powerless.

As of Monday the parliament was fully functional. We had light, we had microphones, we had all secretarial support that was needed. 

The democrats kept blocking the access to public institutions for one whole week. I think they were hoping for us to confront and generate clashes. It was tempting to simply march towards one of the “protected” buildings, but we didn’t. We did not bring any people to the streets, to avoid provocations. We kept it quiet.

They were calling us to “negotiate”. Negotiate what? We did not go.

Organizations, institutions, local authorities and other interest groups were expressing their support for the new government, while DP mobilized their administration to create a mirror counter-support movement. 

They insisted on their ”government” for another week. For one whole week, as international recognition, and pressure from the inside, was mounting, the democrats insisted their government, and their constitutional court were ”legal”. They refused to leave, and we qualified it as usurpation of power.  For one week we had two governments. One – illegal – de facto controlling resources and institutions. Another one – legal – but blocked from taking office.

We will have to get to the bottom of this. Soon.

It was clear they were done. It was not clear how long they would take to accept reality. It was not clear how far they are ready to go to hold on to power. 

It was a game of nerves – whoever makes the first mistake. A staring competition, if you want. Whoever blinks first, loses. 

Then all of a sudden, on Friday 15th, the DP have yielded office and recognized the new government. Nothing significant has changed on that day to make them really change their mind, except mounting pressure. They just needed time to accept the reality and give in to pressure that was building from all sides.

Plahotniuc, their leader, fled the country. I was happy to scream “I told you so!” because there were opinions claiming he would stay, resist, fight. 

He simply left, and so did Ilan Shor, the frontman in the billion US Dollars theft. 

It was an inevitable, silent revolution. 

Lessons learned: 

  1. Although a weird one, it was a revolution. But revolutions tend to fail. We will be able to call it a revolution only if it succeeds. We will be able to see this in some years. We must protect this revolution. We must go all 100% to cleanse the system if we want this to succeed. Everyone who was complicit in perpetuating state capture must be named, shamed and dismissed. Otherwise, it will be just like 10, 20, 30 years ago, when most stayed silent and switched sides. We should be smarter this time. It is not “revenge”. It is justice. 
  2. Before asking if Moldova is pro-European, or pro-Russian, ask if Moldova is a free country. In the last years it was less and less so. The international press is looking at us, in the Eastern Europe through the geopolitics lens. It is overly simplistic and has encouraged crooks like Plahotniuc to use geopolitics to maintain his rule and advance state capture, destroy our democracy and even concrete people’s lives. I am a convinced European. But I have to work with a pro-Russian party in order to fix this country on the issues we agree on. 
  3. The optimist in me is hoping we made history these days, that we are finally unifying the country. We always were a divided country, where people dislike and discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation, you name it. These days, pro-Russian and pro-European forces, put their differences aside to slash the oligarch state capture. We will only know if we did write history and unified the country years and years later. And it is only up to us to keep this unity.
  4. We got lucky. Once in 30 years, it seems, USA, Russia and the EU agreed on something. That “something” was that Plahotniuc was a problem for all of them (and us). They decided to cooperate on this matter and all showed support to our new government. Plahotniuc has managed to unite everyone, inside, and outside the country, against him. He has annoyed everyone.
  5. Let us not discount the efforts of our people. It is imprecise to attribute all the merits to the Americans, Russians, Europeans. None of this would have been possible if there was no pressure from the inside. Our people, the people who stayed and chose not to leave, have been protesting for years. We were on the streets every time the previous government was committing their next crime. We fought, we protested, we opposed. We took personal risks. Many of us became victims of this system. Many lives were destroyed. But we succeeded. We have resisted a hideous system. We were the ones who resisted until the end, not them. Plahotniuc and DP found themselves under pressure from the metaphorical clutches. Between the society and the international community. His system cracked finally and is now falling apart.
  6. Time to build. The euphoria will melt in a few weeks, maybe months. The “Plahotniuc” topic will be less and less “popular”. People will turn to their needs and problems and they will be right in doing so. This is a chance to build our country. The expectations are extremely high. We must not fail. 
  7. What did we learn from the democrats? We have many lessons from Plahotniuc. The main one – try to govern in such a way that you won’t be forced to flee the country when you are thrown in opposition. 
  8. It is not over, and yes, they might be back. Plahotniuc is still strong, still has his people placed everywhere (judiciary, law enforcement, regulators, government), still has a lot of money and control over the media. And if he is back, we really are screwed :). This fight is far from over. But the oligarch is not an immediate threat anymore. His people will lose faith soon. They will also lose access to corrupt schemes of enrichment and will leave. If we are smart.
  9. We will have to prosecute and some individuals will have to be punished for what they have done to their own people and the country. We will have to return what they stole. This has to be quick, because now the former Plahotniuc regime is hiding their cash so it’s untraceable. Again, it is not about revenge, it is about justice. Otherwise, the signal we send to our society is that you can rob this country for ten years and then happily retire to live your beautiful life in peace. This is the offer given to Voronin, our past “dictator”, 10 years ago. This was Plahotniuc’s main encouragement.
  10. But the big threat is not Plahotniuc. His system is crumbling. The big threat is the next oligarch, usurper, dictator, who is hoping to climb on top of this pyramid and rule it. The only way to prevent the next oligarch from taking over is to prosecute the former one, to make justice, and to build our institutions. We might soon have to defend our country again.

I am lucky and proud to be part of this. But mostly lucky :).

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