IT has taken almost exactly twenty years: Poland shuffled off the coil of communism in 1989 and this week an election in Moldova resulted in a defeat for the last Communist party still in power in Europe. During the years in between Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, East Germany and many others rejected their communist rulers until the USSR itself collapsed on December 26, 1991.

Moldova is a country the size of Switzerland, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, but any other comparison with Switzerland would be inappropriate. It is Europe's poorest country with about one-quarter of its 4.3 million people living on less than two dollars a day. Last April an election which returned the Communists for a further term of office was the last straw for the Moldovans who protested against vote-rigging and stormed the parliament building. A re-run of the election was agreed, leading this week to the prospect of a coalition of moderate parties commanding enough seats in parliament to form a government. These three parties are all pro-European and will no doubt soon be proposing membership of the EU. Russia will be disappointed with this outcome since it has been financially backing the country for several years. However, Moscow will still have a voice in Moldova's future because its breakaway province of Transdniestr, where no voting has taken place since 1992, remains solidly pro-Russian in outlook.