Saturday, October 3, 2015

Moldova Protests!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow) -- One billion Euros has vanished from the banking system in the Republic of Moldova. This money was a loan lent to the Moldovan government by European bankers. The loan was provided to assist Moldova's long shattered economy. This act of shamelessly cynical fraud amounts to a staggering one-eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product. This fraud has already resulted in a plummeting of the local currency of the leu, rising inflation and a further decline in living standards.

            As a result, for the past few weeks thousands of Moldovans have been demonstrating outside the Government building next to Pushkin park over the past few weeks. The growing anger and recurring demonstrations has inspired colourful comparisons with Maiden. Second city Teachers interviewed some Moldovans just back from Kishinev.

            Kishinev is a pleasantly well laid out city where the streets are lined with beautiful fir, maple and chestnut trees and lovers gather to meet before the huge statue of Stefan Cel Marie, who balefully guards the entrance to not only Pushkin park but the nearby state building. On a Sunday strollers leisurely walk arm in arm and sit down on benches around a beautiful gushing fountain blessed by a lavishly glowing sunshine. The relaxed and laid back atmosphere seems a far cry from Moscow's restless and remorseless bustle. Moldova seems a sleepy and sunny city. But not those past Sundays. A motley crowd of protesters have been gathering every Sunday to protest against 'corruption and fraud by oligarchs and bandits'.

            Those protesters are not just Romanian nationalists but encompass Russians, socialists, liberals and anarchists. So this is not an anti-Russian demonstration against an anti European government but a call for the state to give back the money they have stolen. In fact, the state is pro-European Union!

            The protests, mainly organised by the movement, 'Dignity and Justice ', are demanding the resignation of the president of Moldova, Nikolai Timofti, the firing of government head Valeri Streltso, immediate parliamentary elections to be held before March of next year and the return of the missing one billion Euros. Already approximately one hundred protesters have pitched down tents outside the parliament building. One representative, Valetin Dolganiuc, vows, "Our protest action will go on non-stop. People will go from here only when our demands are met'. Such fighting talk worries many observers that this could turn into another Maiden where implacable die-hard Romanian nationalists try to hijack the protest by turning it into an anti-Russian protest bent on a war with the nearby Russian republic. However, so far there have been no dramatic scuffles or pitched battles with the police. A lawyer, Andrei Nastase, stated, 'We want to protest entirely peacefully.

            'This is our fourth mass meeting and those meeting have already been very peaceful with a good atmosphere.'

            DEEP POVERTY

            Having previously spent 2 year stint in Moldova , I have found the Moldovans a largely mild, moderate and good natured people against war. They don't want another repeat of the war of 1992 where 'one brother fought against another'. Those were the words of a moderate Romanian nationalist.

            However, the fraud of one billion Euros is only the tip of the iceberg. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova has been plagued by poor development, trade, mass poverty and a huge emigration rate. The landlocked country of 3.6 million people is located between Moldova and Ukraine. As many as 75% of the population is Romanian while the rest are Russian, Ukrainian and other ethnic groups. Moldova a predominantly agricultural country, is famous for her wine as well as opera.

            However, Moldova is considered to be the poorest country in Europe. According to one recent survey 2015, by the United Nations Program for Development,  'Moldova is the fifth poorest country in the world.' Some surveys suggest a poverty rate as high as 80% of the population. Many families struggle to get by on a meagre 300 dollars a month. On top of this their wages are often eaten by rising housing bills as well as the austerity which the International Monetary Fund recommends governments  pursue.  But what does this poverty really mean?  A Russian school girl, Anna Chebotareva, who was visiting her grandmother noticed, 'Near her house I saw a bus carrying food for an awaiting crowd. The crowd lined up to be given some soup and sandwiches. Another thing which struck me is how all the main roads and streets in Kishinev are all cracked and is disrepair. It is as if the government is not repairing them'. The question immediately arises as to why those roads have not been fixed?  European aid programs provided the Moldovan government with 65 million Euros to develop the roads as well as 35 million Euros for education.

            When poverty strikes the door, a lot of Moldovans stop inviting even their friends to their homes because they feel they can't render their guests the hospitality they deserve. Moldovans are a notoriously proud, hospitable and generous people. They like to treat their guests well and shower people with presents.

            While I stayed in Moldova twenty years ago, two events stick in my mind. Once I was teaching in a Moldovan school but could not eat all the bread I had been given in the canteen. So I went outside and started feeding the birds. A Moldovan gypsy passing by went up to me and angrily shouted, 'Why are you wasting such precious bread?' and thrust open my hand and took the bread away.' I was taken a back. The second occasion arose when I had ordered a cheap meal in a cafe but forgot to buy a drink. So I left my food at the table to buy a drink. Just after I had left an old woman darted up to my meal and started greedily gobbling it up. Being rendered speechless, I left her to it.

            While living on a teacher's wage in Moldova I remember that I and a colleague lost a lot of weight. At that time the shops were practically devoid of food and the price of fruit and cheese at the market was too expensive.

            Why is Moldova so poor?  There are a multitude of reasons.

            Moldovan agriculture remains poorly developed and vulnerable to floods, droughts and tense trade wars with Russia where her wine was prohibited by Russia. Critics also point to its undeveloped industry, poorly trained and educated workers as well as a huge bureaucracy that dampens any new ideas and initiatives. However, the choice of economic policy makes a huge difference. When the Moldovans elected a Communist government which abandoned the austerity policies of past governments, poverty decreased substantially by 14.5% between 2002 and 2004.

            EDUCATION  HELPS

            How educated a person is can make a difference between how poor a person is. A survey of poor households in Moldova found that 'most of the poor individuals (41%) are living in households with a head with incomplete secondary or primary education'.

            Poverty analysts show that the education level is directly related to living standards of the individual head of the house. Those children who can't get access to education in higher educational institutions face higher risks of becoming poor. Many of those children who don't receive an education at school are gypsies who don't go to school to avoid the bullying, teasing and the bigotry of other children. However, one international aid program recommended that educational institutions provide free food as a way of attracting children from poor families.

            With such apparently insurmountable and entrenched poverty, low-paid jobs and little signs of improvement over 25 years, many Moldovans emigrate. Over 50% of the friends I had made in Moldova had either moved to America or Russia. As many as a quarter to a third of Moldovans are thought to live abroad.

            Once, while walking around Moscow, I bumped into an old Russian acquaintance, Sasha, who told me he had moved to live in Russia. I had not seen him for ten years! Dima Kuraev, a poet and author I had met in Moldova, had moved to Moscow where he had made a successful living as a scriptwriter. Another author, Yuri Tsvetkov, had landed a
job as a manager of a network of bookshops. While in Moldova he had been poor, but in Moscow he lived well. His friend, Alexander Kiosse, who spent years looking for a job as an airpilot had obtained a job on an airlines based in Moscow.

            This itself was a striking miracle which nobody expected!

            Of course, those are only the success stories. Other Moldovans are either discreetly selling fruit or wine in Moldova and finding basic survival a challenge.

            The questions remain, 'What is to be done to tackle this poverty and injustice in Moldova? Should it join the European Union or the Russian Union? As many as 43% of Moldovans favour good economic relations with Russia  and the vast majority of Moldovans don't want union with Romania. Why is this the case with the latter? Moldovans told me that when they were last united with Romania they were treated like second-class citizens. In other words, they were not regarded as 'real Romanians'. This attitude has not gone away entirely with time.

            I came across a young Romanian  student who scorned the Moldovans 'for not speaking proper Romanian.'

            WHAT CAN BE DONE?

            Three ways of reducing poverty would be to abandon the favoured policies of austerity which the European Union
espouses, develop a fully free and improved education system and maintain good relations between both Russia and Europe without forging any provocative and pointless military alliances. Moldovans deserve more than another bout of austerity and trade sanctions which needlessly disturb its wine trade.

            This summer Moldova experienced a terrible drought brought about by hardly any rainfall. The land hardened and the crops withered. Many people prayed to Elija the Prophet for some thunder so that it would rain. However, it only rained lightly for a few days. The Moldovans are still waiting to be blessed by the right rain.


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