Almost 20 years to the month since the collapse of Communism in Poland triggered a domino effect across eastern Europe, the last ruling Communist party in Europe was swept from power yesterday. Vladimir Voronin, Moldova's Communist strongman, conceded defeat in elections in which his party managed only 45 per cent of the vote.
Four opposition parties won just over half the vote, which gives them the hope of forming a ruling coalition, though they lack the required 61 seats which would enable them to elect a new president.
"One can hardly overestimate the importance of this," said Bogdan Tirdea, a political analyst in the capital, Chisinau. "Despite... the open support of Russia, they still received fewer votes than [at the general election] in April."
A landlocked country smaller than Switzerland, sandwiched between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe: about one-quarter of its 4.3 million population lives on less than $2 per day. Often cited as a hotspot of gun, drug, organ and people-smuggling, it has been at the centre of a tug-of-war between East and West throughout its history.
In the past 20 years, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, of which it had been a part since the end of Second World War, the fight for hegemony has intensified. The Moldovan language, the literature and many of the country's traditions align it with Romania, of which it was once a part, but Soviet domination changed all that.
Even Belarus, which retains an old-fashioned dictorial president in Aleksandr Lukashenko, has moved to a nominally multi-party democracy. In Moldova, which has suffered many of the same malign effects of helter-skelter liberalisation as other parts of the former Soviet bloc, the Communists had continued in power – until yesterday.
"Vladimir Voronin is the biggest loser in this election," commented Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. "There has been a big swing away from the Communists and a rush to the centre.
Although Mr Voronin flaunted his Communist credentials, there was little to link him to Communism as practised before 1989.
"The government was only nominally Communist," said Mr Wilson. "It was certainly left of centre. They made a lot of promises about welfare. They talked a lot about Communism as 'a brand' – which is not normal Communist terminology. And they were certainly quite Bolshevik in terms of political ruthlessness."
Their main appeal was to an older generation with fond memories of the relative prosperity of the Soviet era. Younger Moldovans are far more attracted by the Westward trajectory of neighbouring Romania, which became a full EU member in 2007.
Yesterday's defeat came three months after a Communist election victory was violently contested by a crowd which stormed parliament and set it on fire. The background was the collapse of the remittance economy on which Moldova has come to depend.Reuse content