Friday, October 01, 2010

Moldova On My Mind

Moldova is not a country one hears about often. It briefly surfaced in the consciousness of the world's media last year when riots protesting the results of the elections forced them to be held again. And, just as quickly as it had appeared, Moldova sank into media oblivion once more as pictures of crowds on the streets opposing policemen dried up. And although the ruling Communist Party had finally been ousted from power, the political stalemate that followed has dragged on until now with no signs of being resolved any time soon (there is still no president 18 months on after several failed votes and referenda). The political deadlock is just one facet of Moldova's biggest problem: corruption. Stifling bureaucracy, palm-greasing and exploitation have decimated endemic industry (almost every factory I've seen either closed or boarded up). Instead everything seems to be going on in the grey or black economies. So despite its official GDP being less than that of Malawi or Benin, the country is still far more developed than almost every African country. So much that goes on here is unaccounted for and it is thought that up to 20% of the entire population (so around a third of the working population) is out of the country and working abroad and sending remittances back home. This becomes very obvious when you walk through some dusty, anonymous neighbourhood and spot an immaculately clean, recently-constructed, 2-storey house, bristling with satellite dishes; the product of a wandering son who made it in either Italy, Russia or Turkey. These remittances make up about a third of the countries GDP and, in effect, allow it to keep from drowning. The drift abroad seems to be all-pervasive with younger people, many of whom are applying for Romanian passports (or Russian ones for Transnistrians), entering the Green Card lottery, or simply making their way to neighbouring countries, where jobs exist, illegally. The only people left in Moldova are the old(er) and young who have started families. The number of teen girls pushing prams in parks, whilst their boyfriends have probably scarpered abroad, is quite overwhelming. Most Moldovans seem to be looking for any way they can out of the country.

A new addition to Moldova's freedom of speech landscape: a large, white wall opposite the parliament building. People are free to write down any comments, gripes, criticisms or suggestions aimed at the politicians across the street.

Foreign people I have met are not too enthused about where the country is heading either. Getting a residency permit requires, among other things, days spent at the hospital going from one doctor to another having over a dozen different tests done, filling in forms and trying not to have to pay too much. Even some volunteers I have met, who are usually the most upbeat and positive people you are likely to encounter, have described how they are getting depressed by how NGOs are often set up as a way to make money out of foreign aid programmes.

Hmm, I thought I knew where I was going with this post but have sort of lost my place. The thing is Moldova is a basket-case of a country where even the local people want to get out and don't see much hope for improvement any time soon. I don't know if anything as serious as a mafia state will arise, but the place is stagnating and the lack of hope is adding to the vicious circle. The sad thing is that Moldova is a relatively insignificant country in the grand scheme of things, even within Europe and so it is unlikely outside countries will care too much and the exodus will continue and the place will drift into a limbo. As a disinterested observer I am curious to see where this country is headed, because the outcomes seem so varied and uncertain to me. But unfortunately, as with all such situations, the people living here are not disinterested; I hope for them that they get a government they deserve and that they invest their hopes and futures to making it a better place.

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