July 01, 2005

Back in the USSR



Tanya nervously dials the telephone, hopeful that she will connect with the brother she has not heard from in two weeks. Sasha only lives 50 miles away, but he might as well be on another planet… or at least in another time. After a few expectant minutes, Tanya slams down the receiver; service to Sasha’s city is still out, disconnected weeks ago by order of the government.

Tanya is one of many citizens caught up in the madness engulfing the Republic of Moldova. The chaos following its 1992 quasi-civil war with the breakaway region of Transdniester has left families out of touch from bouts of severed communications, while a jittery new border is defended by gun-toting militiamen. The situation adds insult to injury: the specter of recent Balkan conflicts has left foreign investors reluctant to consider Moldova, ensuring that it remains the poorest country in Europe.

Unless you are a connoisseur of fine European wine (Queen Elizabeth prefers Purcari, one of Moldova’s best) it is not likely that you will have ever even heard of Moldova. About the size of Maryland, the nation is part of the Eastern European region known as Bessarabia – considered by many the northern terminus of the Balkans, and has been a political football for over a century. Historically inhabited by Romanian speaking peoples, it was part of Romania until the Soviet Union annexed it at the end of the Second World War and turned it into one of the USSR’s 15 republics. Forty-five years later, when the USSR disintegrated, the region declared its independence as the Republic of Moldova. It is a measure of the nation’s history over the past six decades that many of the country’s elderly residents, even though they may have never left their home village, have held three different nationalities during their lifetimes: Romanian, Soviet, and Moldovan.


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