by Henry E. Hale
George Washington University
In 2009, Moldova experienced a dramatic and violent political upheaval that ousted longtime president Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party and replaced it with a coalition known as the Alliance for European Integration. Much remains unclear about what actually happened. Media initially focused on the role of social networking websites, and the term “Twitter Revolution” has become widely used as a moniker when referring to these events. Other accounts, however, have downplayed either the role of social media or the revolutionary nature of these events as they unfolded. These debates on the Internet’s importance, however, contribute research primarily on patterns of Internet use, providing very little in the way of original research on the larger set of events both inside and outside the Voronin regime that may have produced its downfall or made it vulnerable to tweeting masses. Accounts of post-Soviet “color revolutions” or postcommunist democratic breakthroughs sometimes refer to Moldova’s events as possibly constituting another in the series, but do not attempt to treat them in any depth. For an event so dramatic in content and outcome, then, Moldova’s 2009 revolution appears remarkably under-researched, leaving us without clear answers regarding the role of the Internet and without the improved understanding of patterns of revolution that a more comprehensive analysis could provide.
The present paper provides such an analysis and argues that Moldova’s revolution can best be explained not by social-media-driven activism, but instead first and foremost by a succession crisis that happened to hit as the country was just entering a sharp economic decline as a consequence of the global financial crisis. Careful process-tracing of events, including the details of the April protests as well as critical events later in the year, reveal that these two crucial factors (public opinion and succession politics in the dominant political machine) were capable of generating both the mass rioting and the ouster of the Communist party that followed several months later. Among other things, this suggests that studies of social media’s effects on politics must be couched in rigorous and systematic study of the larger political context in which the Internet operates.
PONARS Eurasia Working Papers are circulated to help authors solicit feedback on work in progress.
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