Moldova prepares for the worst

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In Moldova, nerves are running high for fear of being drawn into the war in neighboring Ukraine. The most innocent question – where are you from? – unleashes an uncontrollable cry in the Cartego bookstore, in the center of the capital, with classical music in the background. “I’m sorry. We don’t know what next week will bring us,” apologizes Rodica, the shop assistant. “Although I have no memories of the 1992 war, because I was five years old, my town is next to Transnistria and several neighbors who were sent to fight died.”

Today, the practically independent Transnistria is once again a tinderbox. Literally, because it houses the largest weapons depot in Eastern Europe, two hundred meters from the Ukraine. In the custody of fifteen hundred local soldiers, with a Russian passport and a non-existent state.

The country has become a bridging territory for the delivery of war material to Ukraine

The tension is also palpable in the Center for Russian Science and Culture, where a apparatchik He flatly rejects questions about bilingualism in Moldova or, indeed, about any subject. “We have a lot of work, preparing Victory Day (against Nazism), which is this Monday. Check the official statistics.” More friendly, Evgeni, a center administrator, agrees to explain his case. “I am from Murmansk (in the Arctic) and 80-90% of the people in Chisinau speak Russian fluently. So I’ve been here twenty years without learning Romanian”.

The photographer Victoria Viprada –who is currently exhibiting at the Art Museum– breaks into Cartego speaking Russian to prepare an exhibition in the basement. She acknowledges that the current climate “makes it very difficult to concentrate.” Some embassies, she recalls, “have just recommended that gatherings be avoided.” The fear of a provocation that accelerates the slide towards disaster is palpable.

The Moldovan government, which no longer celebrates Victory Day against Nazism, has banned wearing the orange and black ribbon of Saint George on Monday. “Russian nationalism has appropriated it,” Viprada justifies. The Moldovan president herself, Maia Sandu, has defended that it has become “a symbol of an inhuman war, instead of remembering the fallen for peace”. But the opposition leader says he will wear it to the march to the monument to the unknown soldier. While the autonomous government of Gagauzia has explicitly authorized such a symbol. The Gagauzians, four percent of the Moldovans, are Russified Turkophones – and ultimately Christians – who have refused to tear down their statues of Lenin.

Chisinau could be a photogenic provincial capital of Russian architecture, one or two storeys. In the interwar period, history briefly returned this half of Moldova to Romania (which maintains a province of the same name). Then the Soviet Union turned its spoils into Bessarabia into the smallest of its republics, stuffing it with large, socialist-packaged buildings. Today the center of Chisinau is a pleasant collection of theaters, bookstores, leafy parks, cafes and tasting rooms for renowned Moldovan wines. In all the official buildings, as a pure declaration of intent, the flag of the European Union, which has just admitted the application for membership, is launched almost like an SOS.

But not everyone sees the EU flag as a white flag. Unlike Ukraine’s constitution, Moldova’s contains the country’s neutrality. However, the direction the country has taken is evident since a year and a half ago the liberal and pro-Western former Prime Minister, Maia Sandu, defeated Igoro Dodon, a pro-Russian socialist (he rejects the label).

Not everyone approves of the change in the direction of Sandu, who was an adviser to the World Bank in Washington. On Wednesday she received the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, who promised more military support to Moldova, a country with just 6,000 soldiers and little armed, which has perhaps been its best defense.

Rodica, the bookseller from the beginning, believes that “the best thing would be to be part of Romania again”. It would not even be necessary to change the flag, it would be enough to give up the shield. In addition to Transnistria and perhaps Gagauzia, both on the map of irredentist Russian imperialism. But it is a risky move because of Romania’s membership in NATO.

“You no longer think in political terms, but in what may happen to your family. In the end, the danger of Russia is greater than the friendship of Romania”, concludes Rodica. To this is added a certain complex of cultural inferiority of the Moldovans of Romanian mother tongue, who are the vast majority, compared to their fellow citizens of Russian mother tongue.

The talk in the lavish parks of Chisinau is the controversial sale to the United States of the central land of more than five hectares of the old monumental stadium, so that it can build its new embassy. It has just been ratified with little public information.

Something that Anya does not like, a Transnistria with a Moldovan passport who comes to a mini-concert in the open air in front of the Chekhov Theater. Despite her passport, Anya should be counted among the half million Ukrainian refugees who have crossed the country, a hundred thousand of whom are still here. “I had been living in Odessa for thirteen years, where everyone speaks Russian, but I left because the control has become unbearable. They kept me in the police station for an hour and they checked my social networks just because I had called my sister in Moldova. They said she was a spy!”

In a park near the cathedral, while someone interprets the beautiful bye , stretch your legs Marco. An Italian married to a Moldovan and with six years of residence in the country, now restless. “The current president won the elections thanks to the migrants in Italy, Spain and other Western countries, who are not aware of the situation on the ground,” he opines.

Indeed, Sandu would have obtained more than 90% of the ballots of the foreign vote. “But this country cannot become a bridge for the weapons that are sent to Ukraine because this is a war and, in war, bridges are blown up. I think they are not fully aware of what can come to them.”

That Moldova is in the eye of the storm is confirmed by tomorrow’s visit by António Guterres, the first by a UN Secretary General. And the Moldovans cross their fingers waiting for firefighters from those who put out fires.

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