East Side Stories

by Fabio Viola

The past 27 August, Moldova, the small Soviet ex-republic celebrated its first 25 years of Independence; nonetheless, changes in what used to be “Russia’s fertile garden” are not so easy, especially in the rebel Transnistria, where the link with the past is still evident

East Side Stories - Moldova

Photography by Fabio Viola
Text by Olga Lesnova and Fabio Viola. Edited by Valeria Ferraro

The past 27 August, the small Soviet ex-republic celebrated its first 25 years of Independence; nonetheless, changes in what used to be “Russia’s fertile garden” are not so easy, especially in the rebel Transnistria, where the link with the past is still evident

It is hot, very hot in Moldova, in the summer. And it is full rich in colours. Hot and colours that you do not expect, giving credence to the stereotype of a cold East, always grey or with diaphanous colours, at most. The sun and the soil are two among major resources of what was the land of many Kolchotz, but now they are not sufficient to help standing firm a country that guaranteed a good amount of food needs for the USSR, in a time not so far, in exchange for raw materials locally non-existent. In the 90s, this balance collapsed and was replaced by a rush to profit, in the best tradition of the most aggressive capitalism. As well as other former Soviet republics, the little country is a rusty wreck of what was and no longer is, rather the result of systematic work of disinvestment, a rubble left by what arrived soon after. Moldova is a young country, the average age of the 3.6 million residents amounts to 36 years. Nonetheless, since many years there is a demographic haemorrhage. The impoverishment of the flourishing agricultural economy, firstly privatized and then replaced by a more profitable manufacturing for third party, lead to heavy social consequences, emigration firstly. Moldova is one of the major suppliers of labour - especially women - to markets across the world, including Italy; as result of the related emigration more than 250,000 children grow up without a father, a mother or both.

At the same time, the Country is interested by the relocation of production by the most industrialized countries, which have found a new Eldorado in the land, considering the lowest wages. According to the geopolitical profile, despite the 25 years since its independence, celebrated the last summer with strong protests for the widespread corruption in politics and a financial affaire, which caused the vanishing of 1 billion dollars, at overnight, from State coffers (13% of GDP), Moldova is still a land disputed between two large spheres of influence: the Russian, on one side; the Romanian on the other.The first is reflected in the standard use of the language, the second official language, and it is geographically affirmed in Transnistria, a strip of land extended as an average Italian province.

The different meaning of the land, in Russian and Moldavian, is a index of the territorial conflict: for Moldavians, Transnistria is the land "after the river Dniester"; for Russians is Prednestrovia, "before the Dniester River".

The region has unilaterally declared its independence in 1990, through a brief armed conflict with Moldova in 1992. Today the land is "home" for 1400 in the so-called "peacekeepers", actually Russian army units, fully equipped with tanks guarding the safety zone entry points, and units of Operational Group of Russian Troopsborn (GOTR), sprung from the reorganization of the former 14th Red Army in defence of ammunition stocks in this area. Only in Kolbasna, 2 km from the border with Ukraine, approximately 20,000 tons of ammunition and equipment are stored.

Symbols of the glorious Soviet past proudly stand out in architecture and monuments, from Lenin statues, flags with hammer and sickle –also present in the official flag- and evocative streets names dedicated to Marx, Lenin or Puskin. Yet, but to date Russians here are not so many as in the past, and Moldovan citizens are the majority. Nonetheless, Transnistria is still one of the major obstacles to Moldova to enter in Europe, which requires borders integrity as a prerequisite to entry into the Union.

The other side, the European one, is lead by Romania which in recent years has intensified its interest in Moldova, with several attempts that have been made over the years for the reunification; moreover, they tried to increase their influence in the area also through the simplification for the acquisition of Romanian citizenship and passport by Moldavians, and while the procedure required from 1 to 3 years before 2010, now it takes about 7 months. In the Romanian city of Iași, the closest to the border, about 100 thousand Moldovans have filed the application for citizenship, since the beginning of 2016. On a national scale, Bucharest’s strategy seems to aim to a de facto reunification, an annexation by osmosis of a country that, until 1940, was part of the so-called" Greater Romania. " Nevertheless, just the crossing of customs guarding the two banks of the Prut River takes from 3 to 6 hours, passed in endless checks, according to the border police wishes.

Few kilometres from the natural same border, in the Moldavian territory, an enormous "free economic zone" had sprung up, where Chinese mobile phones, “made in Italy" shoes, till seats of the most renowned European carmakers. The area is impossible to approach without summoning the attention of the armed surveillance. Workers, with a word game, in local slang, call prison the "Zone" (зона it the term used to define the Russian penitentiary system). They are searched at the entrance and at the exit. The average salary, despite relentlessly turns, even with night shifts, amount to 150 Euros per month, often paid in surplus production. The safeguard of their rights it is almost inadequate. Beyond the border itself, in Romania, the minimum wage is around 800 euro, the cost of basic needs is incredibly lower, and working conditions must necessarily conform to "European standards" regarding the protection of workers.

In the game of definition and re-definition of the territory, boundaries are functional to economic exploitation of a region and a people, still struggling to find their autonomous equilibrium.

Fabio Viola - fabioviola.com
Camera: Canon EOS 6D
Lens: Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM


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