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Entries in Moldova (2)

Friday
Jun272008

Expulsion or jail: our Moldovan Exodus

We were expecting to wander around Chisinau today, the capital of Moldova. While an old city, founded in 1436, it is very modern, having been completely flattened in 1940-1941 with the invasion of the Red Army (28th June 1940), who were then defeated after a long siege by the Nazis (17th July 1941), with a major earthquake hitting in-between (10th November 1940). Khrushchev, after the war, used Chisinau as a trial run for large Soviet-style residential sky scrappers to quickly built a large number of houses for all the displaced people, so it has a very dense (5000/km2) and large (600 000) population considered the country. The city is also very wealthy and expensive, with corruption concentrating the little wealth of the country into the city.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of the city, except the main street in passing as we hurtled from embassy to foreign affairs consulate and back, after the local guide decided that Lydia’s 48 hour transit visa was a two day visa and was therefore due to expire at midnight. The people at the embassy agreed, and said she would become an illegal immigrant at midnight and would not be allowed to leave the country after that (this possibly has something to do with the tension between Moldova and Australia, about 10 years ago the Moldovans sent an underwater hockey team to play in Australia. The team didn't even know how to swim and lost 30-0 to Columbia. Then they hoped out of the pool and filed as refugees, Moldova doesn't seem to have forgiven Australia for accepting them). It shouldn’t have been a problem as there are hourly buses from Chisinau to Odesa, our next stop in the Ukraine. Unfortunately, almost all the buses pass through Transnistria, a break-away republic of Moldova which declared independence in 1990 and achieved functional independence after a war with Russia’s backing in 1992. No countries, however, recognise Transnistria as a sovereign state, especially not Moldova which claims the territory as its own (even through it can’t enter it). They therefore let anyone into Transnistria, but don't give an exit stamp at the disputed border. Transnistria, which believes it is still in the USSR, happily lets anyone into its territory, unfortunately they can’t give a Moldovan exit stamp at the border, which means non-Moldovans and non-Ukrainians can’t go from Moldova to Transnistria to Ukraine, as the Ukraine will only accept in people with a Moldovan exit stamp in their passport (unless they have a Moldovan or Ukrainian passport, which don’t need to be stamped). The only bus leaving to Odesa that didn’t pass through Transnistria was leaving in 30 minutes, so we had to rush to the hotel, through our clothes in a bag and get a taxi to rush us to the bus depot as we fled the country. We arrived two minutes before the bus was due to leave, and then spent the next six hours sweating in the sauna of the bus as we crossed the Moldovan countryside and legally left the country with a few hours to spare.

Thursday
Jun262008

Into Moldova

This morning we drove to Moldova. The border crossing was quicker than we expected, only 1½ hours, which we spent having a trivia quiz (while the border guards exclaimed at seeing an Australian passport from Lydia). Then a long drive across Moldova, allowing Lydia to practice her growing number of Ukrainian phrases, which (considering they are from a 1980 phrase book) are useful for asking about the labour productivity of collective farms, but less useful about asking directions to an internet cafe.

Once we got to Moldova our guide was Natalia. She was very charming “I think you will be very happy to be here, people compare it to a piece of paradise, a country of fairy tails and romance”, yet also modest “they say there are seven wonders of the world, and there are also some nice things in Moldova”. She started by introducing us to Moldova:

Moldova was once a major empire, but was consistently cut down by the Rus, Huns, Mongols and Turks. We were warned by Jason not to ditch the EuroVision Song contest in Moldova, as their 5th place in 2004 was one of their proudest moments. How the mighty have fallen. In 2001 they elected the Communist Party back in, and the President (who was reelected in 2005) wants to get Moldova into the EU. The President is reasonably popular, but is no Stefan cel Mare.

There are 4.4 million Moldovans, but 1.5 million are youths working overseas (mostly Spain, Portugal and Italy, the country has massive unemployment after all the heavy industry closed down with independence in 1991). The people are 65% Moldovan,14% Ukrainian, 13% Russian, 4% Gagauz, 2% Bulgarian, 2% Jewish and 2% others (mostly Belorussians, Poles and Roma) and are often called the “friendliest people in Europe”. It is the poorest country in Europe, earning on average $150/month. 40% of the population is below absolute poverty ($4/day). The country is 33 800 km2 and landlocked. It is very flat, with the highest point being 430m and the lowest point being -10m. 80% of the country is covered by the fertile black soil, which is seven times more productive than Russian soils, and twice as productive as the highly fertile Ukrainian soils. The climate is also perfect for growing, with nearly 300 sunny days a year. This allows Moldova to mostly export agricultural goods, tobacco, wine, fruit, nuts and vegetables. Moldova is famous for its wine, and has 170 000 hectares planted with vineyards. The wine is stored in long caverns below the ground, where the climate is a steady 12-14 degrees with 85-90% humidity. Yuri Gagarin visited Moldova and spent two days in the wine cellars, after which he said “I’m more sorry to be leaving the wine cellars of Moldova than I was to leave space”. Natalia said “as for how Moldova looks in the different seasons... if I compare nature to a woman, whether she is dressed or naked she is marvelous”.

In the evening we drove out into the country and visited the 13th century cave monasteries at Oreiul Vechi, carved into the cliffs. We then had dinner at a farmhouse in the village (which was great) and watched the daughters sing and dance.