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“Moldovanii se descurca”

August 30, 2007

by Claudia Ciobanu

 

Even though they live in a country that can hardly be called democratic and many of them depend on remittances sent by relatives working abroad, Moldovans are survivors, and capital Chisinau is a lively and colorful town.


A journalist from
Romania sent to work in Moldova is normally given 100 euro for daily expenses during five days. This amount equals the monthly salary of a state employee in Moldova. It is the monthly salary of the journalists from Moldova I have met, whether they work for state television “Moldova 1”, for independent newspaper “Jurnalul de Garda”, or for a news agency. The amount is also equal to the price of a sweater in one of the shops on the main shopping boulevard in Chisinau, Stefan cel Mare.

If prices for food and rent are a bit lower in Chisinau as compared to Bucharest, the cost of books, clothes and luxury items is almost the same in the two capitals, and the shops that have branches in both towns charge the same prices, without taking into account the differences in income.

The Merchandise Sells

In spite of the expensive prices, shops in the center of Chisinau are full on Saturday nights. Where do people have money from then? “Moldovans can always manage” (“Moldovanii se descurca”)- this is what I was told by Lilian, a student I met accidentally on the streets of Chisinau and who offered to be my guide for the days I spent there.

All the people I met in Chisinau have someone in their family living and working abroad (whether in Spain, Italy or Portugal, or in Russia or Romania). Those people send money home. Between 600,000 and one million Moldovans (maybe even more) are working abroad. Entertainment industry in Moldova is flourishing because of the money they spend when they come back home for holidays. A Moldovan journalist told me that “nothing moves in Moldova, except for the bars and the shops, which drain the money from the people working abroad when they come back for vacations.”

Not the Place to Stay

With few exceptions, all the young people I have met in Moldova want to go away from their country, either temporarily or for good. The four Moldovan friends I have from college are all abroad now, whether to study or to work. Students from the Technical University (Alexandra, Olga, Ana and Lilian) that I met in Chisinau told me that they will try to get jobs in Romania after graduation. Some of them already have elder siblings living in Romania, whose example they will follow.

The “Fighters” Stick Around

The only young Moldovans I heard saying that they want to stick around are members of opposition parties. They say they have an important fight here, against “the communists” in government. Leonid, a member of the Social Liberal Party, says he visited more than five other parties before he decided to join this one, because he wanted to make sure he will belong to an organization that opposes communism and does not promote people on the basis of nepotism. Leonid says he is involved with politics not because he is interested in doctrines or wants to make a career, but because at the moment that is the only way to fight for democracy.

Moldova is Not a Democracy

Democracy and rule of law are rather weak in Moldova. Fundamental struggles have not been won yet in this country, among them, the fight for freedom of expression. Political opposition to the government is persecuted. Leonid’s father was fired from a job he had held for 37 years because his son had written against the government (the day he was fired, he was told he should do a better job in controlling his son).

The media lacks both the money and the freedom to say what it wants to say. Not even state television “Moldova 1” is supported by the government. Reporters here all have to use one computer, while at least ten other machines are locked in the basement, in a room that employees do not have access to. The television only broadcasts a few hours every day, the guests of talk-shows are usually imposed by the managers of the channel, TV shows are censored. Most journalists have learnt to censor themselves.

Almost two years ago, the most prominent journalists working for the state television organized a protest against the limitation of their freedom of expression. They locked themselves in the television headquarters. But this attempt led to no improvement in their condition, so most of them left their jobs with the state television.

Voronin’s “Boys”

The private media channels have no funding either. Even more, journalists working for the private channels are often approached by “boys” that teach them how they should do their job. Opposition party members are given a similar treatment.

President Vladimir Voronin, representing the Moldovan Communist Party, was reelected in 2005 for a second term. When they voted for him for the first time, Moldovans were actually voting against the chaotic way in which the country had been ruled by the “democratic forces” that took power after 1991 (when Moldova became independent). Right before the 2005 elections, Voronin took care to slightly increase pensions and salaries of state employees. Scared by the difficulties of the transition period, the people turned to a protective leader, communist Voronin.

Voronin’s Home

Voronin is supposed to be living in a small apartment on the 4th floor of a block in central Chisinau. The building can be recognized easily, as it is the only one guarded permanently by two policemen. The same policemen forced me to erase the photos I had taken of the building, threatening that otherwise they would confiscate my camera. A senseless gesture finally. If the president wants people to believe he lives in that building, why does he not allow pictures of it to be taken? In fact, Voronin does not even live in that flat. He inhabits three interconnected houses in a small forest not far from “Lacul Consomolistilor”.

Student Life

The park on the other side of this lake is the favorite meeting place of the rich kids of Chisinau (who can afford to do karting, for example) but also of students from the State University, whose buildings are situated across the street.

Confronted with a rather oppressive government, the students are the ones who could consolidate themselves in an important opposition force. They have been trying to do that, but they say it is not easy.

Part of the students claim they are too busy with basic survival to bother with larger social issues. Others complain about difficulties in getting information and communicating with each other. The students living in the dorms of Chisinau University told me that if they want to use the internet in a net café in the city they need to spend the whole night out of the dorms because there is a curfew set for 11 p.m. The students also complain about the quality of information from the papers. They also say there is no political party they can really trust.

As far as I could tell, there were very few books on sale in the bookshops, too few of them recent publications. As I was walking on the streets, I was often given manifestos with information (one of them referred to a case of human rights abuse) and I was later explained that this was one way to circulate news that never make it to the official media.

Life Goes On

Still, in spite of these limitations and disappointments, Chisinau gives the impression of a very lively town. The center is full of posters for theatre and dance performances. Young people meet, chat and fill up the internet cafes in search of information. Many will go aboard, some will stay, few hope that life in their country will get better. Many say things have been set into motion though.

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3 comments

  1. I’ve linked this post on my site and cited you. Interesting to read. Do you work as a journalist?


  2. Well done, Claudia!


  3. That is reality. Moldova is a beautiful country, green with honest people, but there are not oportunities to work and to gain money, so all go abroad. It is a tipical situation I think and for Romania and other countries.



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