Protesters to rent. ZdG undercover investigation: We infiltrated Shor’s protesters and now show you, from the inside, how people brought to Chisinau are paid and how the protest machine works
Four Ziarul de Gardă reporters infiltrated the ranks of Shor Party protesters on the eve of the September 18 rally in Chisinau. We set off with the protesters from several locations in Orhei, found in advance, and then for several days documented from the inside how they are mobilized, transported organized and paid to demonstrate their “civic attitude”.
Three of the reporters, a few days after taking part in the protest, were paid 400 lei each by the people responsible for recruiting the protesters, the so-called “quadratists“ (“patratiste“ in Romanian, coming from “pătrat“ meaning “square“, and the districts of Orhei are called “squares“). The money was received in various locations in Orhei, and the whole process was filmed and documented by ZdG.
Several thousand people participated in the protests organized in recent weeks by the Shor Party in front of the Presidency and Parliament. They marched through the streets of the capital, shouted slogans against the government, cheered Ilan Shor and Marina Tauber, and some of them are still freezing in the party’s tents in the so-called “City of Change”.
After each reporter took a code name, they left for the meeting points. At the one next to the Orhei stadium, people are waiting, while another woman gets scolded for coming, although she had been told not to. The scolding is being done by Valentina, one of the Orhei “quadratists”. According to her, the police have seized buses hired to take people from Orhei to the protest in Chisinau. Like Valentina, several other women stand out from the crowd, organising the process of boarding the minibus. Although rumours say there will be more minibuses, everyone rushes to get a seat on this one. ZdG reporter Natalia Zaharescu enters a conversation with a woman after the latter complained that the ‘quadratists’ only bring their friends. . “Look, she’s taking her chosen ones. And that one is a “podrușka” (girl friend, from russian), and that one…”. Then she warns the ZdG reporter – “For today, 400 lei have been promised. You should know, so they don’t scam you.”
At another meeting point in Orhei attended by ZdG reporter Daniela Calmîș, the story repeats itself. Here people have a bus, but the seats are already occupied strictly by those registered in advance in the organizers’ lists. Daniela tries to get on, but gets a firm “NO”, while another woman is practically thrown off the bus. Only after much insistence from Daniela and after getting the approval of a hierarchically superior organiser, the organiser promises the ZdG reporter a seat. Meanwhile, the organiser next to ZdG reporter Vasile Ursachi snaps, complaining about the lack of transport “For the first time in my life, I got 260 people on my lists! I alone stacked them up. The quota was 150, but I say, “Here, let me pile more, to help those who couldn’t“
Just before boarding the bus, ZdG reporter Natalia Zaharescu gets schooled by the organisers: “Madam, but don’t get lost! I won’t look for you in Chisinau and nobody will look for you. Do you understand the responsibility? This is where you got on, this is where you are going back. Or you come back with your own money!”, ‘quadratist’ Elena instructs Natalia. The same Elena coordinates the boarding of the bus on which ZdG reporter Daniela is waiting to get. Because there were no more seats in the coach, Daniela is sent to sit in “Andrușa’s arms, because she is young”. Elena was also observed at the protest by ZdG reporters, walking alongside and talking to the deputy mayor of Orhei, Cristina Cojocaru.
Although reporters Vasile Ursachi and Anatolie Eșanu got on the same bus, at the request of the organisers, Anatolie had to give up his seat to some “veteran” protesters, so only Vasile was able to continue his undercover documentary mission.
On the way to Chișinău, the 3 ZdG journalists that got on the bus learned that they had to demonstrate actively, to chant against the government, not to respond to provocations from journalists, and after the demonstration, to wait to be called to receive the 400 lei promised for two hours of “civic activism”, from 3pm to 5pm. The protesters on the bus are being given bus tickets and instructed: “Listen carefully! If the police stop us, we will say that our Orhei-Chișinău bus broke down and this minibus came and took us away”.
Arriving in Chișinău, the undercover “protesters” of the “Ziarul de Gardă” find that dozens of buses and minibuses have brought people to the demonstration of the Shor Party.
At 3pm, when the demonstration was due to start, the crowd was finally allowed access to the boulevard, where they marched towards the Parliament and the Presidency, shouting slogans: “Down with Maia Sandu!”, “Resign!”. Once at their destination, some head for the park. One man sets up the folding chair he brought with him. Before long, the lines at the eco-toilets become very long.
All three of our reporters started talking to people in the crowd, all of which confirmed being paid between 200 and 400 lei. Most of them also said that this was not the first time they had taken part in such actions organised by the Shor Party, having previously attended rallies in support of Marina Tauber, when she had been detained. A woman that was complaining about not getting food or water in previous protests where she participated also explained the organisational structure at local level: “There are more ‘starz’ (superiors) and then more ‘mladz’ (inferiors). They have in each district their ‘spisoc’ (list)”. Shor pays them all “zarplată” (salary).”
In the group Daniela Calmîș was in, the organisers’ supervision was stricter. “Protesters” who showed less enthusiasm were immediately admonished. Ana, one of the leaders of the group, authoritatively reproaches one of the participants: “Tania, shout ‘Down with Maia Sandu!’. Stop talking!”.
At around 5pm, although fiery speeches were still echoing from the stage, the tired and hungry people began to leave the demonstration, heading for the place where the transport they had been brought on was parked. After getting off the bus, ZdG reporter Vasile Ursachi was caught up by Lidia, the woman who accompanied his group from the beginning to the end. The woman informed him about how she would receive the money for the protest, mentioning the city hall’s involvement in the scheme.ZdG: Am I going to have to come to the town hall to get the money?
-Lidia: No, I go to the town hall, they give me the money and then I give it to you.
-ZdG: And it’s 200 lei, did I hear?
-Lidia : 400, that’s what they promised us today.
Over the next few days ZdG journalists were called by the organisers and asked to participate in the protests again, with promises that they would soon receive their money for September 18. The women avoided speaking directly, and when asked about the money they warned that “you never discuss such things over the phone”. Anatolie Eșanu, although he was unable to attend the 18 September protest because he could not fit on the bus, left a contact number in the list of an organiser, who subsequently called him several times, including late in the evening, and was promised, in coded language, “four colăcei” (a Moldovan type of bread), meaning 400 lei, to attend one of the protests organised during the week.
On Thursday 22 September, the three ZdG reporters Vasile Ursachi, Daniela Calmis and Natalia Zaharescu received the green light to collect their money from Orhei. The group leaders again used conspiratorial terms: “I have something for you,” one of them told Vasile Ursachi. Daniela Calmis received a text message: “Come back with a call to 0692 … about the gift for Sunday”, and Natalia Zaharescu was told on the phone, in Russian: “I have to give you what I have to give you”.
Vasile and Daniela met with “Shor’s people” on the same day. The woman asked Vasile if he wouldn’t like to take part in the protest again on Sunday 25 September. Then she took out an envelope with money containing the 400 lei, which she gave to the ZdG reporter. The whole scene was filmed. Daniela met Tamara, the leader of her group, near her house. The woman gave her the money practically as soon as they started talking. The organizer complained to her that she had stayed in the tents for two nights and that her health had been adversely affected, advising the ZdG journalist not to try to reach the tents. This episode was also filmed.
Natalia got the money the next day, on September 23, from Valentina, the organizer in her minibus. The money was wrapped in a piece of paper, with the fake name used by our reporter written on it. The ZdG reporter also asked the woman about how to get into the tents set up in front of the Parliament and the Presidency, and how much it paid. “Two hundred dollars for two nights. But you have to stay two nights,” the woman said.
At the second protest organised by the Shor Party on 25 September, Ziarul de Gardă asked deputies and leaders of the Shor Party questions about the remuneration of protesters. They all denied that people are brought to the protests in an organised way and are paid for it. They claim that, although affected by the high prices they are protesting against, those who come from various parts of Moldova would rent coaches and minibuses from their own money to come to Chișinău.
“They call the district organizations of the Shor Party, they ask. Many come with their own transport. People can’t be forced to do what they don’t want” said Reghina Apostolova, Shor Party MP. Vadim Fotescu, another Shor Party MP said that he was “tired of these provocations”. He added that “Nobody pays anybody anything and if you think that such a large number of people can be gathered with money, you are very wrong”. Pavel Verejanu, mayor of the municipality wondered “why is ZdG interested in how these people are paid and not interested in how these people will pay for communal services, such as water, electricity?”. He then went on to assure us that “They’re not getting paid, it’s all a bunch of bald-faced lies.”
Moldova’s legislation does not provide sanctions for offering payments for attending public meetings or bribing protesters. As regards public meetings, the Contraventions Code stipulates sanctions only for “preventing participation or coercing participation”, explains Promo-LEX’s expert on freedom of association Florin Gîscă.
When demonstrations are organised by political parties, all related expenses must be reflected in the financial reports, explained the vice-president of the Central Electoral Commission, Pavel Postica. He recalled that the Shor Party, as a result of several violations, does not receive subsidies from the state for a period of one and a half years, until 2023.
“After the by-elections in Balti in autumn last year, for violations regarding the financing of the electoral campaign, the political party was deprived of the right to receive subsidies from the state budget for the whole year 2022. For the violations admitted in the election campaign in May 2022, we recently approved a decision and deprived the Shor Political Party of subsidies for another half year, i.e. until 30 June 2023.”
However, in addition to the legal aspect, there is also the moral aspect, the CEC vice-chairman points out. “The right to protest peacefully is guaranteed by Moldovan law, but we must not forget that it is a freedom, and therefore freedom of assembly. As long as this freedom is conditioned by certain financial advantages, I don’t think we can speak, in essence, about a right realized in accordance with the provisions of the standards of the legislation.”
Shor Party – targeted in criminal case on illegal funding:
The Shor Party is the target of a criminal case concerning illegal financing of the party. According to data made public by the National Anti-Corruption Centre (CNA), in the first half of this year the Shor Party allegedly made payments of €600,000, while reported expenditure was just over 228,000 lei. The party allegedly knowingly accepted money of dubious origin from a “criminal group”, which was used for party purposes, such as artists’ fees, members’ salaries and the organisation of protests, according to the CNA. According to the same data, the money of the “criminal group” arrived in Moldova in the form of transfers and conversions, including in cryptocurrency, and various financing channels such as Dubai, Vienna or Monaco were used to disguise the origin of the funds.