July 22, 2010
MOLDOVA AND HISTORY

From The Economist:

MOST victims of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact are pretty clear about what happened to them in 1940. But Moldova, once a province of Romania (and before that part of Czarist Russia) has taken a low-key, some would say muddled, approach to its history since 1991.

Last month the acting president, Mihai Gimpu, designated June 28th  ”Soviet occupation day”. That infuriated Russia, which prefers to highlight Soviet sacrifice in liberating eastern Europe from fascism, rather than the Stalin-era carve-up with Hitler that preceded the war. Vladimir Socor at the Jamestown Foundation summarised the reaction:

'In a commentary issued on June 25, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs characterizes the Moldovan decree as “pseudo-history” and a move “directed against Russian-Moldovan partnership, harmful to the [Moldovan] state’s national interests.” Condemning the decree as “sacrilegious” (a term previously applied to Estonia’s relocation of the Red Army monument from downtown Tallinn), the Russian MFA warns of possible “confrontations in Moldova’s multi-ethnic society” in this connection. Instead of a “so-called occupation,” Moscow advises Chisinau to speak about “the history that we and the Moldovan people share.” The document puts Moldova’s governing Alliance for European Integration (AEI) on notice that Moscow “expect[s] pragmatic approaches to prevail in the Moldovan leadership and the AEI” (Russian MFA Commentary, Interfax, June 25). 

'The Duma’s international affairs committee chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, characterized the Moldovan presidential decree as “idiocy” and “historical illiteracy.” Kosachev also insinuated that Ghimpu was contradicting the “international community’s” position on the Russian troops in Moldova (Interfax, June 25). Well-known Russian Television pundit Vladimir Solovyov proposed calling on a “psychiatrist, to assess this document as part of Ghimpu’s medical history” (Moldova Suverana, June 25).'

Officials in Moscow impounded Moldovan wine imports.  Russia’s chief sanitary official Gennady Onishchenko said it was only good for “painting faces”. He threatened a total ban on the wine, Moldova’s most important export.

Moldova hastened to negotiate. And on July 12, the country’s constitutional court cancelled the presidential decree, saying that Mr Ghimpu had “no authority” to institute the day.

The row comes in the run up to the referendum on September 5th which will introduce a direct election for the presidency, ending the year-long constitutional deadlock in parliament, where neither the government nor the opposition has enough votes to get a head of state elected. Keeping the economy afloat until then probably matters rather more than symbolic and divisive gestures about history, however justified and overdue some on the centre-right of Moldovan politics may find them.

July 20, 2010
RUN AGAINST VIOLENCE 5K

This last Saturday I helped organize a 5K run to raise awareness about domestic violence in Moldova. The first one hundred people to register received a free t-shirt, and the race was followed by an award ceremony and a barbeque. At the link above, you can view a news report on the race (it’s in Romanian, but you’ll get the gist of it). My own pictures from the race are to follow.

May 23, 2010

This is apparently Moldova’s entry for this year’s Eurovision contest. I’m very disappointed. I much prefer last year’s entry. I also would like to fight the guy with the saxophone.

April 22, 2010
WHY DO MOLDOVANS EMIGRATE?

My loose translation of this article:

Why do Moldovans emigrate?  According to official statistics, at least 300,000 Moldovan citizens have left for work in foreign countries. Unofficial sources, however, say that the number of Moldovans who work abroad has reached one million. Moldovans continue to leave for other countries in order to find work that is better paid. While prices in our country are the highest in Europe, salaries are the lowest. A ranking by the website capital.ro shows that Moldovans have smaller salaries than their neighbors.

Ukrainians, for example, have a minimum wage of fifty-two euros. In Romania, the minimum wage is three times higher than that of our country. Belarussians also earn more than us — they have a minimum wage of ten euros more than Moldovans.

Some Moldovans flee to work abroad and then remain without work. Over 27,000 people lost their jobs last year as a consequence of the worldwide financial crisis.

According to official statistics at the end of 2009, the number of unemployed has reached 80,000. Unemployment affects a larger proportion of men (about 62%) and those who live in towns.

March 23, 2010
ON BEING ‘MOLDOVAN RICH’

Moldova is poor compared to America. If that weren’t clear from Peace Corps’ presence here, or perhaps from my Introduction to Moldovan Home Economics a few weeks ago, perhaps this article from an issue of The Atlantic Monthly from last year will make it clear. 

When I came here, I naively expected to find something poetic in the simplicity of poor village life. Of course, there are some poetic things about Moldova’s plight: the old lady who ambles around town wearing her husband’s seventy year-old war medals, for example, or the eternal flame at the Soviet-era war monument that’s long since gone out. But life in a Moldovan village, for all its quaintness, is more dull than poetic. Sure, there’s no strip malls or reality TV, but there’s no live music or restaurants, either.

What I’ve found instead of poetry are some of the same problems we have in America. Materialism and conspicuous consumption are present just as they are in the States, and to an unsettling degree: more than a few of my students have iPhones, for example, and all of them without exception have more expensive phones than mine (an iPhone is a month’s salary for an average Moldovan). I see more BMWs and Land Rovers in Chisinau in ten minutes than I might in an hour in a rich area of Nashville. Another example: one of my students invited me to his house; his family is renovating it with money his father has sent home from Moscow. He couldn’t wait to show me what will eventually be the jacuzzi his family will install in the bathroom and the boxes of $100 ceramic tiles with solid gold inlays that will cover the walls and floor. 

The Moldovans who choose to spend their money this way (especially if they have gotten the money from a family member who is working abroad) do so in part because they have no confidence in the banking system or their currency: they fear waking up in the morning and finding that their bank has disappeared or their money is worthless (one of my students, whose parents work in Israel, receives their remittances in dollars; this is not unusual). Moldovans also have nothing else, really, to invest their money in or save up for: the government discourages entrepreneurship and it’s difficult and expensive to start a business; people don’t generally see buying real estate that they can then develop or rent out as a worthwhile investment. Thus, your options for investment or savings in Moldova are capital improvements on your home or keeping dollar bills in a drawer somewhere.

As this article argues, conspicuous consumption is normal for a developing society with newfound access to international markets: people in poorer societies want to put their luxury goods on display to distance themselves from the label of ‘poor’ or ‘developing,’ but this is merely a stage in development that will eventually give way to more responsible spending and investment. I can’t make up my mind whether I agree with this argument. Americans are not models of responsible spending, and it’s not my place to do any lecturing on the subject when the economic crisis is the result of Americans spending beyond their means. 

March 5, 2010
THE COUNTERTRAFFICKERS

This is an old article that some of you may have read about countertrafficking in Moldova, but I met the woman the article is about, Stella Rotaru, last week at a meeting and decided to post it again.  This article and Stella’s work is a big reason I decided to come to Moldova.

January 27, 2010
THE NEW SLAVE TRADE IN THE HEART OF EUROPE

From BalkanInsight.com:

Our three month investigation in Romania, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Transnistria – a breakaway state from Moldova – Ukraine and The Netherlands, has uncovered the way in which a brutal criminal network of Ukrainian-run gangs recruited hundreds of victims to work effectively as slaves in Bohemia for years before the network was broken up this spring.