Monday, November 29

Why has it taken so long for Moldova to shed its Soviet legacy?

Fresh out of college and beginning a career in teaching, Alina had good reason to be optimistic in August 1991.

But it wasn’t just the 25-year-old’s new job that fueled hope.

Your country, Moldova, just did the unthinkable and voted to leave the Soviet Union.

“My generation had a lot of dreams back then,” the now 55-year-old told Euronews. “We think that soon we will join Romania and live as Europeans.”

Yet despite that surge of optimism, for most of Alina’s career in the classroom, Russia really hasn’t gone away.

In 1992, fighting escalated in the breakaway Transnistrian region of Moldova, which wanted to remain under Russian control.

After a few months of intense fighting between the Moldovan army and pro-Russian rebels backed by the former Soviet XIV Army, a peace treaty was signed between Moldova and the Russian Federation in July 1992.

Since then, the region has become one of Europe’s frozen conflicts. Russia de facto controls the secessionist political regime in Tiraspol, although Moscow acts as a mediator in the international 5 + 2 format for the negotiations.

Meanwhile, in broader Moldova, Russian influence came in the form of pro-Russian parties dominating the political scene.

Only in recent months, with a pro-European president (Maia Sandu) and a prime minister (Natalia Gavrilița) in place for the first time, has Moldova firmly set on a path away from Moscow. With an anti-corruption ticket, his Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) won 63 of the 101 seats in the Moldovan parliament after the July elections.

‘The empire was still within us’

Sandu, in a recent interview with Radio Free Europe, blamed the politicians of the 1990s for Moldova’s stagnant transition away from Russian influence. He said they opposed Moldova’s transition to a free market economy and tried to take advantage of the weak state to accumulate capital when there was no one to enforce the laws.

“While we were in this transition, ‘smart guys’ took over the assets of the state, after which they understood that they had to protect their interests and went into politics,” he said. “We have had decades of governments of this type that unleash corruption, bad governance and the low standard of living of citizens,” he concluded.

One of the best placed to judge Moldova’s slow advance towards Europe is Vasile Soimaru, the only deputy from the 1991 parliament still in office.

“We did not escape, because the ‘Empire’ was still within us,” he explained. “It should have been an uplifting moment [declaring independence].

He said that Moldova’s long transitional period had impoverished the country. The cause, he added, lay in the kleptocratic system forged over the past three decades and Russia’s involvement in the political game in Chisinau.

Moldova has been hit by waves of emigration for the past 30 years. Its population in 1990 was 2.97 million, falling to 2.66 million today, according to World Bank statistics.

According to the National Statistics Office, the Moldovans most willing to leave permanently are generally men under 30 years of age.

About one million Moldovans currently live, study and work abroad. They are more or less evenly divided between the Russian Federation and the West. Those who are still in the country are mainly children and the elderly.

‘I see a brighter future’

Cornelia Cozonac was one of those who decided to stay in the early 1990s, eager to cement a fresh start for Moldova.

Cornelia, director of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Moldova, told Euronews: “I have often said that since 1992 I have been able to do real, independent and honest journalism. However, perhaps we should have been more [Moldovans] to change things in the country faster. But I don’t regret for a second staying in Moldova. “

Her optimism is shared by teacher Alina, who, despite being frustrated by the slow pace of change, is still hopeful.

“I teach children every day to believe in their strength. Whatever happens, I tell you to always keep going.

“However, I see a better future for them and many more opportunities than we had back then.

“Although it sounds funny, I never gave up hope. I still want to see Moldova join the European Union one day.”

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