"To be born Moldovan is to be born with bad luck," says Costa Stratan harshly. As if to emphasize the point, he stands up, lifts his tumbler of wine to his lips and pours the contents down his throat. The sad truth is his sentiments are felt by many of Moldova's 4.3 million population.
Since its full independence in August 1991, the Republic of Moldova, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, has far from flourished. GDP is a fraction of its Soviet levels, the largest fall of any ex-Soviet state, the economy brings in a measly 1.6 billion dollars a year and exports fell by 37 percent in 1999 alone. In the whole of Europe only Albania is poorer.
Plenty of problems
What has gone wrong? At the heart of Moldova's problems lies its political and cultural instability. Numerous coalition governments have tried and failed to bolster Moldova's flagging economy and settle cultural differences that have dogged the country since its independence.
In the 1998 elections, the Agrarian-Democratic Party of Moldova (PDAM), the leading party going in to the elections, failed even to surpass the four percent threshold a party requires to be represented in parliament. In the same elections, the Communist Party of Moldova (PCM) secured 40 out of a possible 101 seats, yet still ended up in opposition, when the three largest non-Communist parties formed a tenuous coalition.
1999 saw three different prime ministers sitting in the hot seat, including a brief eight month tenure by the current prime minister, Ion Sturza. That same year four other ministers were nominated for the top job, all failing to secure the required 52 parliamentary votes.
The continued rivalry between the President Petru Lucinschi and former President and current head of the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM), Mircea Snegur, is to blame, each trying to maneuver allies into positions of power.
Lucinschi has been attempting to change the Republic's parliamentary government to a presidential one, thus reducing parliamentary powers to a consultative one. His efforts culminated in a referendum this year which, although supported his idea, saw a turnout so low as to render it useless.
Corruption and bribery charges have been leveled at politicians, government officials and the police alike. Mircea Snegur's alleged wedding gift to his son of a brand new Mercedes with a golden key in the ignition could not have gone down well with a nation struggling on a monthly average salary of USD 35.
Snegur, in turn, demanded the dismissal of the parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov linking him with the Mafia. As the accusations have flown back and forth, public dissatisfaction has risen, which could account for the low referendum turnout.
Doomed from the start?
Not all Moldova's problems can be said to be self-inflicted, though. Many observers would claim that Moldova was doomed from the start. Since the early nineteenth century, the ownership of Moldova was a burning issue for the Kremlin and Romania, both attracted by its fertile lands. Control of the region, known then as Bessarabia, swung back and forth until 1944, when the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic was born.
Under Communist rule, sovietisation was swift and systematic. The Russian language was taught in schools and became the official language of administration. Furthermore, the Cyrillic script was imposed on the Romanian language, further distancing the dialect of the Moldovans from the Romanians. Many Romanian-speaking Moldovans were deported to Siberia and other remote areas of the USSR, and Ukrainians and Russians were shipped in to dilute the population.
The result is an ethnic diversity that has led to the political unrest which has plagued the country. Moldovans account for 64.5 percent of the population, Ukrainians 13.8 percent, Russians 13 percent and the Gagauz (a Turkish Christian group) 3.5 percent. There have been calls for continued independence, as well as unification with either Romania or Russia.
At every bar and restaurant, Russians sit at one table, Moldovans at another. Many will only reply if addressed in the correct language. A visitor to Moldova will be hard pressed to please both—learn Russian and anger the Moldovans, learn Moldovan and be ostracized by the Russians.
The ethnic tension is never more prevalent in the self-proclaimed Republic of Transdniestria. Two thirds of Transdniestria's 67,000 people are Russian, and seven years ago a civil war erupted resulting in at least 1000 people dying. Today, no country recognizes Transdniestria and although the region has seen peace since the last fighting in 1992, the question of sovereignty is far from resolved.
As a result of agreements made at the Organization for Security and Cooperation summit last year, Russia began withdrawing troops and armaments from the region, which had been placed there in support of the pro-Russian rebels. However, it seems doubtful whether Russia will withdraw all its armaments by the end of 2001 and troops by the end of 2002, as agreed at the summit.
Russia sees Transdniestria as a strategic buffer zone between themselves and ongoing NATO expansion. Further exasperating the situation is the attitude of the Transdniestrians themselves. President Igor Smirnov declared in August 1999 that the "Russian arsenal in Transdniestria belongs to the Transdniestrians, and only to them."
Is it all doom and gloom? Russia is Moldova's largest export market and the 1998 financial crash there hit Moldova hard. Mr Lucinschi says that Moldova's biggest asset is its soil and Moldovan wines and brandies were the favorite on the tables of the Politburo and government officials. With Putin trying to drag the Russian economy from the mire, the Moldovans hope the wine will begin flowing again.
However, it is the words of Svetlana Boginskaya, an unemployed school teacher, that carry the most truth, "During Communist times we all wanted chocolate and bananas, now we have chocolate and bananas, but not much else."
Mark Preskett, 25 September 2000
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