Vitalie Sprinceana, from the Moldovan organization Oberliht, one of the hubs in the Connected Action for the Commons network, and a long-time collaborator of the ECF, most recently as one of the advisers to the Research and Development Grant scheme, finds himself in the middle of popular protest in Chisinau, Moldova. We seized the opportunity to ask him what is going on.
Vitalie, who is occupying what in Chisinau?
OccupyGuguta is a protest movement that started this summer in Chisinau, Moldova, in the Central Park, in front of a former small cafeteria that is in danger to be demolished in order to ”make place” for a high-rise building, a business center belonging to one of the local oligarchs.
The community of urban activists in Chisinau has successfully defended the building (and the Central Park) for four years already (the first plans to build a high-rise building in the park date from 2014). But now the oligarchs are moving ahead – they are going to the courts in order to force the city to accept the building. #OccupyGuguta has risen as an answer to this threat.
It has also risen as an answer to another unfortunate development: the invalidation of the mandate of the newly elected mayor of Chisinau, Andrei Nastase (read this for more details). The courts have cancelled the elections on the motivation that the “candidates have broken the law” (by inviting people to go to vote on the election day). The cancellation of the local elections was condemned by the EU, US and other bodies but to no avail.
This has inspired a group of Moldovan citizens to set up an occupation of a public space in order to transform it into a space of democratic resistance and innovation.
As with other Occupy movements, you most likely use various tactics to achieve your goals. Could you extend on what you are doing?
1) Building the Occupy Guguţă community - Occupy Guguță has been active for a month. Its members meet in front of the Guguţă Cafe as a community open to anyone who shares the group's demands. During the day, we organize a small co-working space there, with electricity and Wifi provided by Starnet, bean bags and blankets to sit on. In the evenings we hold events: we watch movies, discuss or conduct workshops. Any individuals or organizations are invited to come up with their own initiatives, so that we continue to grow as a community.
Every Friday, Occupy Guguță hosts live talks about the country's big issues - we have covered, financial crimes, justice and politics so far sought and received answers to complicated questions:where is the stolen billion now? who needs the mixed electoral system or what is happening with justice reform?
Every Friday, we meet for lunch in front of the presidency, to remind our President that he is there to represent the citizens and holds the powers and constitutional duty to defend their rights.
We hold weekly counter-briefings in response to the sad press briefings held by the Democratic Party. As long as unelected persons (who are hated by 90% of the population) feel entitled to lecture us and ramble weekly about their solutions to the big problems of the country, we decided that we can do the same. Especially since we are better liked by the public.
We hold spontaneous and (what we believe are) creative protests on at least a weekly basis. We held our hands to encircle the Parliament building, gave it a sweep with our brooms. We have banners at hand to show our dissatisfaction.
Occupy Guguţă is a laboratory where we learn democracy experiment with creative protesting, train to insistently claim what we stand for, o talk to others who do not think like us, listen, cooperate and act peacefully when our demands are not met.
2) Extending our community
Our community is growing steadily. In just a month we have about 50 people in our organizing group, who contribute to various actions. We have over 3000 Facebook likes and dozens to hundreds of responses to all of our posts. Each week, new people, who are dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the country and who want change something, come to Occupy Guguţă. Sometimes they are led by curiosity, but sometimes they come with clear ideas about what needs to be done. Being a horizontal organization, any initiative is encouraged.
3) Engaging in spontaneous protests
We do spontaneous protests. We did them at the Parliament, the Presidency and the City Hall. We will go to all the institutions that we believe to be non-transparent and that work for the benefit of illegitimate persons. We may be 8 people or 80, the number does not matter as long as we do this permanently. We remind all officials that there are citizens to be accountable to and that their rights must be respected. We do this creatively, with brooms, banners, hats, and all that comes to mind, so that we can show our dissatisfaction and arouse those ”Bravo” cheers from the citizens and even smiles from the police.
4) Protesting permanently
The permanent protest does not belong to a particular location. It does not happen at Occupy Guguţă or in front of the Café. It can take place on the street, at workplace, in the bus you commute with. It means any act that stands proof to the overwhelming dissatisfaction that exists in the country.
It could mean a flag hanging on a balcony with #protestpermanent on it, a badge or a t-shirt, a Like on Facebook, a donation for this initiative.
Its purpose is to show the extent of the discontent that exists throughout the country, but also that citizens from all over the country and from the diaspora know that they are not alone. That there are many of us. Very many. And we may not be counted by a drone and some TV channels once a week.
5) Going out to the communities
We want to go to the communities. To tell people about the suspension of democracy and discuss together how to reclaim it. We do not have the solution. But a critical mass of people has it.
We'll go outside Chisinau and talk to people, in buses, markets, on the streets, door-to-door. We will learn to listen to each other and organize permanent protests everywhere.
Earlier Occupy movements started out as apolitical, sometimes even antipolitical movements. Does the same apply to Occupy Guguţă?
We want a democratic society, and anyone who subscribes to it is welcome, regardless of the language one speaks, one’s sex, or one’s religion or political affiliations. We talk to all political parties and politicians who understand and subscribe to our demands and are ready to take steps to realise them, but we do not associate with any politician. Only with values and concrete demands. This fits the basic rules of Occupy Guguţă: We have no leaders, no hierarchy, no structure. If somebody joins an activity of Occupy Guguţă or if you followed us otherwise and agreed with our demands, you are already a part of Occupy Guguţă.
Imagine, some of the readers feel they are part of Occupy Guguţă too, but they are geographically close to Chisinau, is there anything they can do?
Yes! As a popular protest movement we lack resources. So we launched a crowdfunding campaign where supporters can donate. We will spend the money on resources for maintaining the co-working space in front of the Guguță Cafeé; Printing posters and flyers for our out-of-Chisinau actions; Printing our biweekly newspaper; Transportation costs for going to the communities and on materials for creative protests (cardboard, fabric, paint and so on).
We will publish financial reports on our social media and blogs covering all expenses. If we manage to collect more than our needs and expenses, we will decide together with the donors on what to do with this money.