In this interview for Russian Cyberspace, set up with the help of Sunil Abraham (Executive Director at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India), computer software professional Victor Diaconu explains the nature of internet use, state control and the development of blogging and social media platforms in Moldova. Victor works at Computaris in Chisinau. He is Moldova educated, and has travelled to several western countries (including lengthy stays to US, UK) to learn about and understand what there is to be done in Moldova.
SR: After the 2009 elections, there was some talk of reform in Moldova and greater transparency, but now one also hears contradictory reports of increasing authoritarian tendencies. Is this ambivalence evident in the way the internet is regulated and used here?
VD: I would not say the tendencies are authoritarian. The constitution says that the President should be voted in by a majority of 61 out of 101 members of the Parliament. If not, Parliament should be dissolved and re-elected. Well, this should happen twice a year at the most, and as such, after a second failed attempt to vote the President the authority of the Parliament and Government is somewhat questionable. The current Parliament has tried to change the rules of voting in the President - to make it by popular vote, for instance, but this is met with resistance from the Communist Party.
As to transparency - I would say it has improved. Though, one should not expect too many changes from a Government with questionable authority and with so many systemic flaws inherited from the previous government. At the moment we've got a coalition government. As such, there are frictions and these are indeed visible. This gives a sense of comfort and truthfulness since it is normal to have frictions in any human endeavour. While the communist party was ruling - everything was "nice and dandy" both in media and in political affairs and one could not get anything but "fake" - fake news, fake results, fake improvements.
Internet control and filtering do not happen. In fact, we did have a "small revolt" on April 7, 2009, when it seemed the communist party had tried to steal the vote for the parliament. At that moment a few .md sites were blocked by the national Telecom operator, but most other sites were still available. In fact, news about the event was best available on twitter (might still be available under "pman" tags). There also were a few attempts to stifle free speech when authorities requested names/IP addresses of commenters on some forums. However, this is no longer conceivable ...
SR: Given that the press and television are largely in the hands of the state and criticism of the state is considered defamation (and leads to the arrest of press people), does the internet play a special role as a space for alternative media and political blogs? Are these prevalent and influential?
VD: Yes, national TV is largely state owned and it was worse before the change in power. Now it seems to have improved. There are a series of smaller TV stations but these have reduced coverage - mostly in bigger cities. I understand that they've started rolling out IP TV with packages of 50+ TV channels - local and international. The national Telecoms operator provides very good Internet coverage. Dial-up Internet at reasonable prices is available everywhere in the country. Broadband availability even in rural areas is very good. And it's not too expensive. As to the role of Internet - indeed its influence is increasing. A series of media portals are frequented by many, including me. http://unimedia.md/; http://m.protv.md/; http://jurnaltv.md/; http://forum.md/to mention a few. The news here is conveyed tersely but I do my own editorializing if need be. Also, I can read the comments if I want to get a feeling about how others feel about some specific event.
SR: Can you tell us about some of the popular bloggers and blogging platforms in Moldova? Live Journal is popular in Russia; can the same be said of Moldova?
VD: I'm not aware of any significant blogger, more so, political blogger. I'd say we still need to wait for someone whose commentary is mature enough for people to care about him or her... As to the platform - those blogging attempts that I've seen were indeed on major blogging portals like Live Journal.
SR: What can you tell us about the presence of social media in Moldova? Does Moldova prefer its own versions of global digital platforms, or are FB, My Space, Twitter popular here? What is the role of the diaspora in this space?
VD: Global platforms are widely used. There are a few Russian popular platforms in wide use too, such as odnoklassniki.ru. We have up to 1 million Moldovans working in European countries, Russia and other places, since the pay is significantly higher over there. These people left a few years back and most of them intend to return. And they, indeed, rely on the available platforms to relate back to relatives and friends
SR: Lastly, can you tell us about the linguistic landscape of Moldovan new media; I imagine the most widely used language on the internet is Moldovan/Romanian. Is Russian prevalent or is new media here a platform to assert their exclusive Moldovan identity?
VD: The rules for language are that media should have at least 60-70% of content in "state" language and the law was often changed so that sometimes 'state language’ included Russian too. In fact, in Moldova we are very comfortable with the Russian language, at least those a bit older (30+ years) since we were supposed to speak it well in the Soviet era.
SR (with many thanks to Victor Diaconu and Sunil Abraham)