April 7 2009 – Moldova Civil Unrest

5 years ago in these streets.

TripMoldova

5 years ago, on April 7, Moldova passed through a series of protests that became history. This memorable event was a result of the nation’s discontent regarding the Communist Party’s victory at the general elections, on April 5. People claimed that the votes were fraudulent, asked for a recount and eventually, new elections.

   Image       There are more scenarios concerning the events of April 7, 2009. It all started on April 6, with a flash-mob. And the next day, about 30 000 protesters gathered in Chisinau. The demonstration transformed soon into a riot. Rioters attacked the parliament building and presidential office, breaking windows, setting furniture on fire and stealing property.

        There is still a veil of mystery on the identity of the instigators. However, we do know for sure that there were a lot of victims: beaten students and youngsters who were striving for a new polImageitical régime…

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How to change the world… starting from providing free IT training to children

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How to change the world... starting from providing free IT training to children

During the past months I followed an amazing 6-week online course on Coursera called “How to Change the World“. It was an interesting review of the main concepts related to aid and development, focusing in particular on some areas such as poverty reduction, gender equality, climate change, health issues. One of the – maybe obvious – lessons of this course is that there is so much that can be done to change the world, so many well know solutions to existing problems, and so many people already changing it – who just need to be joined.
Well, I have seen many charities and NGOs here in Moldova, but the one closer to my heart is TEKEDU (I am actually now a proud member of its Advisory Board).
TEKEDU is now out of start-up phase and fully operational, and for Easter it is launching a fund-raising campaign to give a jump-start to its IT training activities in residential schools for children without parental care. Maybe you want to consider giving 20 or 50€ to these guys, and make a little contribution to changing the world.

Spring in the countryside: Donici, rayon Orhei

Today was the first day of spring in Moldova. We celebrated the amazing blue sky by going back to the village of Donici, in the Orhei region, and to Codreanca Lingurari, the forest that links Donici with the Monastery of Curchi. Donici is part of the first and only National Park in Moldova, has a beautiful church, and a pleasant museum hosted in the house where fable writer Alexandru Donici lived.
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[Photo AIRM – Agentia de Inspectare si Restaurare a Monumentelor din Moldova]

We have been there already a few times and we just love the open landscape, the views from the village, the sound of hens and geese strolling around, the calm of the forest paths and the amazing hospitality of the local population. Twice already were we invited to share someone’s meal in their homes and we got to chat as old friends with people we just met.

We also got to get a glimpse of how people traditionally live in the countryside. Cars are sparse, roads are muddy and horse carriages are still used. Shops or restaurants are even sparser: in Donici, a village of about 800 people, there are only two small shops. Many do not have running water inside, but often they do have fountains in the courtyard. Water supply is good in the village and the water is drinkable. Most houses have fruit and vegetables growing in the backyards and large storage places to keep them during the winter (fresh or in jars). They have old style wood-burning stoves heating entire walls, and often a special built-in king-size bed which stays warm long after the fire is gone (the “lejanca“). Many houses are actually made of different buildings, a bigger house which is used mostly in summer, a smaller house easier to heat, and storage places and smaller huts for tools and animals.

I read somewhere that going to Moldova is like buying a ticket to the past, but you don’t feel it until you get away from the cities.

Feeling for Ukraine and Crimea

Friends are asking how the Crimea crisis feels from Moldova. Certainly it is strange to suddenly see a map showing Moldova on the first page of international newspapers. We are geographically squeezed between the EU and Ukraine. Ukraine had initialised the EU agreement, and was supposed to sign it in November (the protests started when it did not) – Moldova is now in a somehow similar place, with an EU agreement initialised but not yet signed. Now the way Russia is intervening in Crimea has some echoes with the Transnistrian situation – and discussions on ethnic minorities and majorities and language dynamics reminds a lot of Moldova.
So yes, we feel for Ukraine and for Crimea.

What language do they speak in Moldova?

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When I first learnt I would move to Moldova, I started looking for information about the spoken language, but I did not find simple answers to my questions. Now, after several months in Moldova and a good amount of research, I am ready to share what I learnt. To be honest, there are no simple answers, because the cultural history of this place is indeed complex. I will be happy to see your comments if you don’t agree with my synthesis (and also if you do).

What is the official language in Moldova?
The language of Moldova is Romanian. Many people, quoting the constitution, call it Moldovan – but they would promptly admit that ‘Moldovan language’ is just another way to say Romanian. There are no different grammar rules or different words (apart from popular, local dialectal words like in any place), nor a Moldovan language academy, and the grammar and vocabulary learnt in schools are the Romanian ones.

Why do some call the language Romanian, while others call it Moldovan?
Those who call the language Moldovan are making a point about the cultural (or ethnic, or political) difference between Moldova and Romania*. They do not want to make the step from language unity to ethnic, cultural or political unity with Romania.
Those who call the language Romanian (including the declaration of independence, and recently the Constitutional Court) are highlighting the simple fact that linguistically, the language is one. In some occasions they may also be taking a political, ideological stance about ethnicity and cultural proximity to Romania, however this is not always the case.

What language should I speak in Moldova?
Unless you are in some specific regions (such as Balti, Gagauzia, or Transnistria), normally you should speak Romanian. But if you can’t speak Romanian, you will get by perfectly with Russian. In fact, there are many Moldovans who don’t speak Romanian – mostly those who grew up in a Russian or Ukrainian household and went to one of the many Russian-language schools. Being Moldova an ethnically mixed country, Russian serves as the common language for all ethnic groups. At the moment, studying Russian is obligatory in all schools, even if there are discussions to give students the option to replace it with English.
If you are in one of the regions with most non-ethnic Moldovans (see the “Ethnic map of Moldova“, based on 2004 census data), then you should probably use Russian, because that’s the language used by everybody to communicate and because Romanian would not be of much use there.

Is Moldova a bilingual country?
I was confused for a long time because I thought of Moldova as Belgium, a country with two languages, Romanian and Russian. Instead, now I think more of Moldova as Sweden – a country with one official language, but also a high number of citizens coming from other ethnic groups and a very good level of knowledge of an international language (in Sweden it would be English, in Moldova it is Russian). Which means that you can get by without speaking the local language. [Of course the background and history of the two countries is not comparable. Forgive me here the simplification].

How widely spoken are English and other European languages?
English is spoken widely in Chisinau, in shops and restaurants, especially by young people. I am not sure about other cities. However, older or non-specialised workers won’t typically speak English, and hardly anybody will in the countryside. Italian is of help almost everywhere, since many people have been in Italy for long periods and have learnt the language.

Can I get good language training in Moldova?
You can. There are many language schools in Chisinau, such as Casa Limbii Romane on Strada Kogalniceaunu (specialised on Romanian) and the International Language Training Center on Strada Petru Rares. Many other schools offer Russian, English, Italian, French and German language courses (though I have heard that the best Russian training is in Odessa…). Alliance Francaise is very active with French language courses and cultural activities. Prices vary, but you can get a Romanian private language teacher from as little as 70 MDL per hour, up to 400 MDL per hour.

*What about Romanian Moldova?
This is not directly related to languages, but since I mentioned the debate about linguistic-cultural-ethnic links between Romania and Moldova, I need to add that Moldova is also a region of Romania with capital in Iasi (in English it is actually called Moldavia, but in Romanian both share the same name, Moldova). So in Moldova they will occasionally say RM, Republica Moldova, to talk about themselves, and “Moldova de peste Prut” (the Moldova on the other side of the river Prut) to talk about Romanian Moldavia – and apparently the expression is also used in the other direction (thanks to MihaiP for helping out on this point). Sometimes the word Bessarabia is used, especially by Romanians, to talk about the country Moldova. The cultural links between the Romanian region Moldova and the Republic of Moldova are not disputed.

I hope this helps anybody who is planning to move to this beautiful place.
For a more extended analysis of the issue, see also this 2013 working paper from the European Center for Minority Issues.

Please add your views in the comments, or contact me if you have other questions about language in Moldova which I did not cover.

Update 2 Oct 2014: this post was used as a basis for a post on PeaceCorps volunteer blog ‘I Think About That Every Day‘. Check out how she sees it too.

Who said prét-a-porter? Fashion is tailor-made at Gemini

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Who said prét-a-porter? Fashion is tailor-made at Gemini

Gemini is a sort of shopping mall in central Chisinau (on Bd Stefan cel Mare/Puskin St., near McDonald’s). I went there initially because this is where you can have clothes fixed – new zips, re-hem, repair holes. But I ended up going back there several times, including with visitors, because I find it fascinating and different from anything I knew. While the first two floors are sort of normal shopping galleries, with stands selling anything from shoes to toys and jewellery, on the third floor you can buy all sorts of accessories for tailoring and knitting, and on the fourth floor a wide variety of fabrics is on sale, close to the ateliers which repair your clothes and tailor-make your dresses. A nice piece of fabric that is enough for a long dress with sleeves can cost you maybe 200-300 lei, and the tailor work will take a couple of days and cost you another 600-700 lei. That’s about 50 € in total for a tailor-made dress.

Opera!

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I just bought tickets for my fourth show at the National Opera and Ballet Theatre in less than a month. That’s since I realised that for less than 6 euros, in Chisinau you can see first-class productions, with an amazing orchestra, and parterre tickets often available even last-minute. So in January I saw Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (fantastic), Mozart’s Figaro’s Wedding (amazing), Bizet’s Carmen (the less successful mise-en-scene of the three, but still great music). Next up will be a ballet where we’ll take the entire family including kids and visiting guests.