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					With Freedom came Poverty – a reportage from Moldova
The former Soviet country Moldova is squashed in between Romania and Ukraine.
The country has been named the poorest in Europe by The World Bank, and the
problems facing the country are massive. 34 percent of the population live under the
poverty rate and survive on less than 1,70 Euro a day.
But the EU is getting closer to Moldova. Once Moldova’s neighbouring country
Romania becomes a part of the union it will be just next door. That may be as soon as
in January 2007. A Moldovan membership, however, is still only a theoretical
possibility. Moldova has a lot to learn and many things must change before that can

We visited Moldova, and after speaking to the locals, we ended up with a personal
portrait of the country. A country that for many Europeans is unknow.
It is a portrait that leave the readers enlighted and affected. In the text, the readers
learns of a young woman who has been a victim of sexual trafficing, they learn of the
difficulties raised by guarding an unmanageble boarder, they meet a mothe, who’s
poverty is worse then one can imagine and they learn of the communist break-away
republic Transnistria where corruption is a big part of daily life.
But hopefully we also leave the readers with a feeling of hope for Moldova even
tough there is still a hard road ahead for the country.

With freedom came poverty
Moldova was one of the richest states in the former Soviet Union. Today it’s the
poorest country in Europe. Is there any hope for the nation which will soon
become an EU neighbour?

By Michael Møller Petersen and Søren Springborg
Photos by Mads Nissen

„Moldova! Moldova! Moldova!‟ The shouts are sounding rhythmically from the
gathered crowd in the square in front of the government building in Chisinau, the
capital of Moldova. Most of the people here are in their 20s, they are holding hands,
kissing, dancing, laughing and jumping up and down in tune with the music.
Muscular arms have a firm grip on the country‟s flag which is waving in the warm
evening air. The man lets out a roar but its sound mixes with thousands of other yells
on the crowded square and disappears without a trace. Community is all that matters
Right now, this community is focused on something which has all of Europe hooked
and which is being transmitted on three huge screens: The Eurovision Song Contest.
For many countries nothing but an entertaining evening, for Moldova a symbol of the
country‟s independence and its eagerness to direct itself towards Europe.
Moldova is participating for the second time and has a lot to live up to. Last year, the
country finished sixth, and Moldova is determined to do just as well – or even better –
this year. Moldova is keen to impress.
But to impress is not easy for a former Soviet country squashed in between Romania
and Ukraine that The World Bank has named as the poorest in Europe. 34 percent of
the population live under the poverty rate and survive on less than 1,70 Euro a day.
“Our country has developed in catastrophic ways since we got our independence.
Conflicts and a bad economy mean that we are much poorer today than during the
Soviet rule. But poverty is a relative term. Look onto the streets and you‟ll see that the
country doesn‟t look poor everywhere. A lot a Moldovans work abroad and they send
back money,” explains political scientist Nicolai Chirtoaca, head of the European
Institute for Political Studies in Chisinau.
Poverty aside, the fact is that the EU is getting closer. And once Moldova‟s
neighbouring country Romania becomes a part of the union it will be just next door.
That may be as soon as in January 2007. A Moldovan membership, however, is still
only a theoretical possibility. Moldova has a lot to learn and many things must change
before that can happen, is the word from Brussels. And Moldova is listening.
Moldova became an independent country in 1991 when the Soviet empire collapsed.
It still seems like an entirely different world and the gap between rich and poor is
Officially Moldova has 4.4 million inhabitants. Unofficially it‟s a lot less. No one
knows the exact figure. Between 300,000 and 800,000 people have left Moldova to
work abroad. Most of them illegally. It‟s their only option because work in Moldova
is sparse and badly paid. The International Organisation for Migration in Moldova
estimates that Moldovans abroad send home around 400 million Euros every year.
Money, that Moldovan tax authorities never get a share in.
That‟s one of the reasons why the EU is tempting. Both economically and culturally.
Especially among young people who wish to free themselves from the Russian
dominance of many years. Perhaps there is something symbolic in the inscription on
the flags on this particular Eurovision evening in Chisinau: Eu  (red heart)
Moldova, it says. I love Moldova. Sadly, Europe doesn‟t love Moldova tonight. The
country ends up on a disappointing 20th place.

By jerking the steering wheel dramatically, the driver avoids a large hole in the
concrete at the last moment. The car is quickly straightened out and continues south at
high velocity. The roads get in worse shape the further from Chisinau we get. Road
signs lead to Gagauzia. A part of Moldova which after the country‟s independence
demanded to become a self-ruling territory. That demand was met in 1994 without
turmoil of any kind and the area has since been the poorest part of Moldova.
Driving through Gagauzia is like taking a trip back in time. There are wells in front of
most houses and it looks as though there are more horse-drawn carriages and fewer
cars on the road here, too. Far from every house has a TV antenna on the roof, and
compared to northern Moldova the houses are in bad shape.
Stela Babus‟ house in the village of Dezghingea is no exception to this rule. The
windows are broken in several places, the roof is leaking, there is no TV or telephone
and the house only gets heated when the family can afford to buy wood. Which is
rarely. The winter can be tough. But that hasn‟t stopped the family from living here
for 17 years. They can‟t afford to move.
39-year-old Stela Babus is married and has four daughters aged 4, 8, 14 and 18. The
oldest is married and lives in the next village with her husband. The 8-year-old lives
with her sister because her parents can‟t afford having her at home. The state does not
provide a lot of help. Parents get around 2.68 Euro per month in child support.
Stela has no education and she can never be sure to find work in Moldova. That‟s why
she has gone to Istanbul twice to work. She came home from her latest trip three
months ago.
In Turkey she works as a dish washer and a nanny and no one asks about her work
permit. It‟s hard work, but well-paid. She is sure to earn between 230 and 300 Euro a
month. That‟s far more than it is even possible to earn in Moldova where the average
yearly income is 560 Euro. However, there is no joy in Stela‟s voice when she talks
about her work in Istanbul.
“When I‟m there I think about what‟s going on at home constantly. I work in Turkey
but my thoughts are with my children here in Moldova. My boss in Istanbul often
asks me why I always have a headache. He doesn‟t understand that it‟s because I
worry about my kids. I miss them,” she says.
And the children miss their mum too. But they have stopped questioning why she
leaves. They know that their mother has to work in order for the family to survive.
The house has three rooms. In the backyard there is a tiny patch of soil that is used for
growing potatoes and grapes. There are no animals, not even a carriage.
“Life is hard here. It would be so much better if we had a cow. Then we could have
milk every day and if it had calves we could even have meat. We used to have a cow
but it died. I don‟t know why. Maybe it was poisoned, because our neighbours think I
have made a lot of money in Turkey and they are jealous. But they don‟t have a clue.
There‟s no way we can afford to buy a new cow. We can barely afford to buy food,”
says Stela.
A cow costs around 190 Euro. The family has actually had another cow, too. But that
one was stolen. Just like their dog.
Stela and her family are in a situation which is common for many of the families who
live outside of the cities in Moldova. 64 percent of the country‟s poorest inhabitants
live in the country. This is a big change; during the Soviet reign the countryside
families were often more well-to-do than those in the cities. When there were no
groceries in the shops, the rural families could grow their own in their local
“Before there was work for everybody and people were certain to get paid. Back then
nobody was forced to leave the country. I have no idea how our lives can ever
improve. Sometimes I wish that I wasn‟t even alive. That would be easier,” says
While she is telling her story, her youngest daughter is running around in the yard.
She‟s smiling happily. Her clothes are torn and dirty and her fingernails are black.
She keeps returning to her mother, asking to be hugged. For one moment it‟s easy to
forget the desperate situation that the family is in. But Stela makes it clear again:
“My youngest daughter has a heart condition, but we can‟t afford to have it checked
in Chisinau. Our lives will probably never get better. My biggest wish is that my
children are in good health and that they get an education and a better life than I had.
But I don‟t see how that is ever going to happen.”

Students quickly fill the garden in front of the state university in Chisinau. The rest of
this day‟s classes have been cancelled and now the weekend has arrived three hours
early. Sirens are coming closer and it doesn‟t take long before police and trained
bomb dogs have taken over the long halls and empty auditoriums of the university.
It‟s the second time in two weeks that someone has phoned in a bomb threat. Right in
the middle of exams.
“Not again! It happened several times last year too. Some students will do anything to
avoid exams, so they call in with bomb threats. They know it works because we have
to take it seriously, and it takes the police three hours to search the buildings. They
might just see it as a joke but they don‟t understand that they are ruining their own
education – not to mention that of their fellow students,” says 31-year-old Irina
Marchitan who is a senior lecturer in English and teaches at the university for the
seventh year running.
She missed out on teaching while Moldova was part of the Soviet Union but
completed her basic training in the Soviet school system which she still misses.
“The educational system was better back then than it is today. Especially the
elementary school is under pressure now. Here in Chisinau it is not so bad, but in the
country there‟s a shortage of qualified elementary school teachers. That means that
the students are not really qualified when they start university,” explains Irina
Her views are backed by reports from both The European Commission and The
World Bank which show that there‟s a substantial resource shortage in the Moldovan
schools and that the educational system is far from Western European standards. Old
books, run-down classrooms and teachers who haven‟t had any supplementary
training for more than ten years are part of the everyday school-life in Moldova. The
big problems and challenges in the system make many teachers leave the country.
Despite of all this Irina Marchitan has chosen to stay put. She makes a decent living
by Moldovan standards, earning 116 Euro per month, and her seven-year-old son is
happy at his school.
“I speak Russian and it would be easy for me to find work in Moscow where I‟m
actually born but I feel obligated to stay and help make a better future for Moldova.
I‟ve lived her most of my life and I don‟t want to let the country down even though
it‟s a hard living,” she says.

On Monday morning, the halls of the university are filled with students again. The
bomb scare has been reduced to a small brief in the local paper. Two girls were
behind it; the same girls who had called in with the first threat a fortnight ago. Now
they are looking at long prison sentences and expulsion from the university it had cost
them a small fortune to get into. Most of the 24,000 students‟ tuitions are paid by their
parents, who‟ve most likely earned it by working outside of Moldova. It costs 270
Euro to study English for a year. Law school is the most expensive – it costs 420 Euro
per year.
Tatiana Jarnic is a 23 year old English and Russian MA student. After many years in
this educational system she knows fellow students who have been in situations that
very few Westerners would know. Because what is a diploma worth when your peers
can afford to buy one that‟s better than the one you could ever get by studying hard?
“Here in Moldova, even the best student risk having to pay to pass an exam. Others
pay for a good grade. It‟s sad but that‟s the way it is, and it‟s not something that
people talk about openly. Fortunately, control with these things have increased in
recent years and I hope that it can make the problem go away,” she says.
Officially, unemployment in Moldova is as low as nine percent according to statistics
from the European Commission. The number, however, is only that low because 25
percent of the work force finds employment outside of Moldova.
“Today we have freedom but there are not jobs for everybody, and work does not
necessarily go to the best qualified. During the Soviet rule we may not have had
freedom but at least there was stability and work for all. I understand those who long
for those days,” says Tatiana Jarnic.
Nevertheless, she is confident that Moldova is on the right track. But she feels it‟s
going too slow.
“Yes, the Soviet Union fell apart, but we are still close with Russia. We‟d like to keep
that bond, because we share a past with the Russians. At the same time we want to get
closer to the EU to get a better standard of living. It‟s a difficult balance to maintain.”

It‟s cool in the border guard‟s office. Yet, the Indian man keeps wiping his forehead
with a white handkerchief.
“It‟s for my personal use. They are for my girlfriend in Chisinau. I didn‟t want
anything to happen to them, that‟s why I put them with the spare tyre. To protect
them,” says the man from Calcutta in Russian.
We are at the border between northern Moldovan town of Otaci and Ukraine. The EU
is already pretty close around here. The union wants to put an end to the corruption,
the messiness, the lack of education and the bad equipment of the custom officials.
Last year, Moldova and Ukraine asked the EU to send a group of custom officers.
Those 67 EU custom officials, who have been send to Moldova, will work as kind of
supervisors who will teach and rate the work of the Moldovan officers.
It‟s a stormy night. Maybe the Indian thought he could get through customs easily in
bad weather. But he couldn‟t. Right by the spare tyre in his white Kia, the guards find
1,100 different kinds of pills. Heart medication, stomach medication, tranquilizers.
Pills worth thousands of Euros. None of them equipped with the necessary toll
documents. The guard doesn‟t believe the Indian‟s explanation.
“Why aren‟t your papers in order? Where are you going? When was the last time you
were her? Who are you visiting? You tell me you are a pharmacist and that you work
for a medical firm. You should know the rules.” The questions keep on coming.
A customs officer from Poland is sitting in the back of the office. With a quick
whisper he gives us his opinion of the Indian story; „bullshit‟. The Indian man tries to
keep his story going and the Moldovan guard patiently writes everything down.
With a friendly smile he gives the papers to the Indian and asks him to sign them. He
refuses. The Indian man will not acknowledge that he‟s done anything wrong. The
officer shrugs and picks up the phone. His work is done. From now on this case is in
the hands of the police who have two weeks to investigate before they have to release
the Indian.
Today there were too many people in the tiny interrogation room for the suspect to be
able to offer some kind of bribe. That would be quite normal under other
circumstances. Bribing of custom officials is a well-known and widespread
phenomenon according to the European Commission, and it is one of the problems
that the country needs to solve if it is ever going to be part of the EU.
684 kilometres. That‟s the length of the border between Moldova and Romania which
follows the river Prut. And that‟s also how long the border between Moldova and the
EU will be if Romania gets membership in 2007.
“It‟s way too easy for criminals to not get caught when they cross the Moldovan
border. The guards do the best they can but it‟s hard for them since they are
understaffed and have very bad equipment. Furthermore, their salary is only around
150 dollars a month. When it‟s that little, bribes obviously get interesting,” says Rudi
E. Jannes, a vice detective constable with the Belgian border police, currently
stationed in Otaci in the northern part of Moldova.
In the beginning, the foreign custom officials were met by scepticism by the locals
who felt that they were being watched. But with time those feelings have turned into
acceptance. Whether the efforts of the Moldovan authorities and the EU will have any
effect depends on a third local player: Transnistria. A small strip of land in the eastern
part of Moldova with approximately 600,000 inhabitants who is profiting by its 454
kilometre long border to Ukraine.
“The borders between Moldova and Ukraine in the Transnistria area are completely
unguarded and many criminals are moving around freely. All of Transnistria lives off
money from smuggled goods,” says General Oleg Tarasenko, section leader at the
military academy for border patrols in Ungheni in West Moldova.
The self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria broke away at the same time as Moldova
gained its independence. Moldova did not accept this secession since 40 percent of
the country‟s heavy industry is located in Transnistria. A short, but bloody – 700 were
killed – civil war followed, ending in truce and a division of Moldova after a year.
Since then Russian troops have been stationed in Transnistria and the area has acted
as an independent republic with its own army, flag, passport, national hymn and
currency which is not accepted anywhere else.
The country is not acknowledged by anyone other than its own government but it
benefits from the fact that Russia is supporting its right to exist. The OSCE, the
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, believes this is done because
without Transnistria Russia would lose its reason to have troops in the area and
thereby its influence.

Medals placed on pink pillows are sparkling in the sunlight, attracting everyone‟s
attention. Young soldiers in olive green uniforms are carrying them forward, bearing
witness to proud accomplishments and great courage. Their owner is right behind the
medals; he, too, is being carried. In a dark brown wood casket. It takes eight bearers,
all of them highly decorated officers. The lid of the casket has been taken off and
there‟s a clear view to the yellowness of the dead body which looks like a wax figure.
A 40-man military band is playing the march of sorrow in the background. An older
woman brings a handkerchief to her face and wipes her tears away.
She‟s crying for a general who died unexpectedly from a heart attack. She‟s crying for
a general in a country which doesn‟t exist. A country where Lenin still reigns supreme
in front of the parliament in the capital, Tiraspol, and where the hammer and sickle
are decorating the medals on the soldiers‟ uniforms as well as the local currency and
flag. A land whose army is in charge of ammunition dating back to the 14th Soviet
Army. 42,000 tons – the equivalent of two Hiroshima nuclear bombs.
The crying woman is standing a metre from us, behind a large man in a black suit.
He‟s in charge of this communist show. His name is Igor Smirnov and has been
president since this area declared its own independence in 1991. It‟s a republic which
professes to Marx and Lenin but at the same time embraces Western capitalism.
The president drives a Skoda Superb with a licence plate that says 001; it‟s probable
that he bought the car from his son, Vladimir Smirnov. Rumour has it that he owns
both the biggest Skoda dealership and the biggest Mercedes dealership in the region.
That‟s the rumour; the fact is that the country‟s customs service is being run by
Vladimir Smirnov. Another fact is that the OSCE has repeated several times that the
majority of the country‟s economy stems from smuggling, trading in arms and money
Transnistria is a physical fact but at the same time the biggest obstacle standing in
Moldova‟s way to transforming itself from a Soviet republic to a stable European
nation. And both Moldova and the international society are keen to make this obstacle
go away.
Focused, and with his head bowed, President Smirnov takes his place in the funeral
procession. The medals and the casket containing General Lepihou are first in line,
then the immediate family, the president and the few civilians who have turned up.
Most of them have white hair, just like the president. Others are greying. The
procession moves for a couple of hundred metres until it reaches a blue platform truck
with open sides.
The truck is gone, and President Smirnov is waiting for his driver. He is surrounded
by his five bodyguards and is quite an impressive sight but none of the civilians who
pass by in rasping busses seem too occupied with him.

25-year-old doctor Ala Roguti lives a couple of kilometres away. She lives with her
husband, Maxime, and their daughter Tanja, who is just three months old, in an
apartment on the ninth floor in the outskirts of Tiraspol, the
capital of Transnistria. She didn't know there was a funeral going on today.
“I‟m not interested in what our politicians and the system do. Politics in this area are
nothing but kindergarten politics. As long as we have peace, I don‟t care,” she says.
Her daughter‟s prattling and Ala‟s own voice get muffled by the thick brown carpets
and the heavily ornamented tapestries. Ala opens a window, but the air stays inside.
Her building was built during the Soviet reign – a period where a nice indoor climate
was not high on the list of priorities.
Compared to other apartments in the area, this one is quite large. Three rooms and a
bathroom. Still, the family feels somewhat cramped here. The two balconies work as
lumber-rooms, cluttered with boxes and bags, and there‟s not room for even the
thinnest of books on the heavy, brown shelves.
It‟s a nice apartment, though. It‟s got everything the family could ever ask for, except
for hot water and enough room for the family of more than three people that the
couple dreams of. That‟s why a bigger apartment is on top of Ala's wish list. But it‟s a
wish which might never come true since wages in Transnistria are even lower than in
Moldova. As a doctor, Ala makes around 43 Euro a month.
It‟s been a while since she actually worked. She‟s been on maternity leave since
giving birth to Tanja and the maternity benefit she gets from the state is 10 Euro. Her
husband who works full-time as a doctor and teaches
part-time at the university makes 120 Euro a month. When he gets paid on time, that
is. Which is not always.
”It‟s difficult to make ends meet when your wages are so low. Luckily, our parents
help us out a little bit, and we really appreciate that. It‟s very difficult for young
people in Transnistria to make a life of their own
without help from the parents. So compared to others we are lucky,” says Ala.
It doesn‟t take more than a few seconds from she gets in the door till she‟s turned on
the computer to show off pictures of her family – mostly Tanja. There‟s also a couple
of short videos – in one of them Maxime is
bathing his daughter while he sings to her.
”There‟s a very special bond between father and daughter,” says Ala spontaneously,
before running to the bedroom to find four photo albums. She was a beautiful bride
when she married her husband three years ago. Two years after they met.
From looking at the apartment it‟s far from obvious that Ala is a stay-at-home mum
these days. Leftovers from breakfast are still sitting on the kitchen counter, and it's
been a while since anyone vacuumed. Ala
prefers spending her time taking Tanja to the park which is right by the parliament
building. Ala has no respect for this parliament.
”I think it‟s unfair and it makes me angry that I can work for months without being
paid while at the same time there are people driving around town in huge Mercedeses.
It‟s not fair. Politicians want to make a fortune
for themselves, they are not interested in people‟s problems,” she says.
But that‟s not enough to make Ala and her family want to leave Transnistria. This is
where their friends and family are. Transnistria, Moldova or Russia. The name is not
that important to Ala.

Back in Chisinau in Moldova it‟s time for a battle which has been eagerly awaited for
along time. The cup final between the Transistrian club F.C. Sheriff and F.C. Nistru
from Moldova. Around 130 fans from F.C. Sheriff have travelled the 70 kilometres
from Tirasol to Chisinau to support their team.
Right from the moment they arrive at Republic Stadium, they are being kept under
watch by masked Moldovan police officers. They are being kept out of contact with
the other 2,000 supporters. The police are in front of, behind and on both sides of the
supporters from Tiraspol who are dressed in yellow and black. From the other
side of the stadium there‟s a gloomy feeling to the scene. Even in a small stadium like
this one, people from Transnistria and Moldova are being kept apart.
The names of the players are listed in the programme, and a quick scroll down the list
makes it clear that a variety of nationalities are playing for F.C. Sheriff. Belarus,
Georgia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin are all represented here. All of these
players play for a club from a country that doesn‟t officially exist. But they also play
for club that has more money and better conditions than every club in Moldova.
They play in a brand new stadium in Tiraspol, built by President Smirnov‟s son. The
stadium seats 15,000 people, has cost several million dollars and conforms to every
international standard. The grass looks like it‟s been cut with scissors - that's how
well-trimmed it is. Right next to the stadium is a big five-star hotel, an outdoor
athletics stadium and other thoroughly modern sports facilities. It‟s an absurd sight
when you look at the run-down and ramshackle apartment buildings a couple of
hundred metres away.
But there‟s no doubt that F.C. Sheriff has benefited from the impressive stadium
facilities. They win 2-0 and the club from the country that isn‟t can celebrate its
fourth cup win in six years.
The cool wine hits our tongues and the taste of mango, abricot and passion fruit
explodes in our mouths. Head of development Vitalie Banauta motions for us to let
light shine into the glasses. The wine sticks to the sides and the thick structure of the
expensive liquid are easily seen.
Proudly, he asks us what we think about the newest produce from the Duinysos-
Mereni wineyard – an eiswein. We nod our heads appovingly. It‟ a sweet wine made
on frozen grapes, and a 0.35 liter bottle costs 25 Euro. It‟ things like this that could
improve Moldova‟s economic situation and make the country known abroad for other
things than poverty and the long conflict with Transnistria.
Moldova is wine-country. Vineyards are everywhere, and even in the cities, people
are growing grapes in their backyards. Moldova used to be known as the wine cellar
of the Soviet Union. The small country is covered by rich soil, and at the same time
the climate is mild enough for vines to grow which makes it perfect for wine making.
“I tasted wine for the first time when I was very young, probably around four or five
years, old and my six-year-old daughter has just had her first little taste. Just a tiny
drop,” says Vitalie Babanuta smiling.
Today, wine I still one of the most important export goods in Moldova. If it‟s a good
year, the export of wine makes up almost half of the country‟s total export. 90 percent
of the 300 million bottles of wine which are produced here annually are exported
according to figures from the Moldova‟s Industrial Union.
The largest part of that export goes to Russia. Or went, more accurately. Because
since March 2006 Russia has banned all wine products from Moldova. It‟s a conflict
which – according to political scientist Nicolai Chirtoaca, head of the European
Institute for Political Studies in Chisinau – is an expression of Russia‟s thirst for
“Russia accuses the wine from Moldova of containing too many pesticides while here
in Moldova we see the conflict as Russia‟s way of punishing us because we are
turning towards Europe now.”
Political or not; the conflict affects most wine producers in Moldova because most of
them depend on the Russian market.
The Dionysos-Mereni vineyard, located east of Chisinau, was established in 1959. It
is one of the country‟s 180 vineyards. Everywhere, wine production goes on as
always but the shadow of the Russian conflict is always on the producers‟ minds.
However, Vitalie Babanuta is optimistic.
“Naturally we feel the Russian boycott, but we have already tuned our production
onto the western market, with out eiswein for instance. The technique has been used
in Germany and Canada for many years, but we are the first to give it a try here in
Moldova. And why shouldn‟t we be able to make it?”
All in all, 2,000 bottles of the expensive eiswein are produced every year. But they
only make up a small part of this factory‟s production. Three million bottles of red
and white wine are produced here a year, most of them are sold at a much lower price
than the eiswein. There are 250 employees at the factory, that‟s more than three times
as many as during the Soviet period, and most of them are women.
“I prefer female employees. They drink less and they are more cleanly than men,”
says Vitalie Babanuta.
Dionysos-Mereni is a success story on the Moldovan market. Because, unlike most of
its competitors, this vineyard has renewed its production facilities. And that has paid
It‟s stories like these that the government would like to hear more of. But that can
prove to be difficult, says Nicolai Chirtoaca. He doesn‟t think that Moldovian wine
producers are ready to compete with European and American producers.
“The curse of the wine industry here in Moldova is that Russia has been such an easy
market for us. For many years we‟ve been able to sell more or less all the wine that
we produce to the Russians, so our wine industry has never looked for new markets.
That‟s why its development has stopped. If we want to make it into other markets, we
have to improve the quality of our wine,” he says.
But it‟s not the quality of the wine which makes a breakthrough onto the European
markets difficult. EU wine import rules also make it hard for Moldovan wine
“Moldovan trade agreements with the EU don‟t include wine because France, Italy
and Spain want to protect themselves and their own wine production. So there‟s a
battle to be fought before Moldovan wine can come into the European market,” says
Nicolai Chirtoaca.
Moldova is also known for a more sinister export. Humans, that is, especially young
girls. It‟s called trafficking but is nothing but modern slavery. From 2000 to 2005,
1,760 victims of trafficking were recorded in Moldova, but they are a small part of a
big industry. 65 percent of the victims are never registered.
Most of them are sold for sex. Others to do physical work or beg. It‟s countries like
Russia, Turkey and the Arabian Emirates who are interested in getting their hands on
the victims.
Natalia Petrova looks like any other girl. Her long blond hair is held back by a pair of
sunglasses on the top of her head, her skin is clear and tanned, and her make-up is just
right. But no one knows what goes on behind her green eyes. How does a girl who
was sold at 21 for something like 12,000 Euro think? How does a girl who was raped
repeatedly by different men every day for six months think?
We meet the 21-year-old girl at a McDonald‟s. The venue has been chosen carefully.
For people in Moldova, McDonald‟s is a luxury which only few can afford. That‟s
why we can sit here without being disturbed – and that‟s vital, since it can be life
threatening for Natalia to tell her story. There‟s a lot of money in trafficking, and the
men behind it will do whatever it takes to protect their business.
It was a friend of both Natalia and her family who made the offer. Everything
sounded just fine. 1,000 dollars a month, her stay paid for and all the paperwork taken
care of. Natalia didn‟t suspect a thing and her parents were just as convinced as she
that she should go when the offer came along nine months ago.
She was going to work as a waitress in Abu Dhabi in the Arab Emirates for three
months. The salary was much higher than at the local Transnistria restaurant where
she worked. This salary would make it possible for her to move out of her parents‟
place and start studying English and IT at the university.
She wasn‟t suspicious either when she arrived in Abu Dhabi. The friend brought her
to the hotel where she was supposed to work. On the 17th floor, he asked her to wait in
a room while he took care of her papers with the hotel management. He asked for her
passport and left. That was the last time she saw him.
A short while alter, another man came into the room. He would turn out to be the first
customer. Right away he asked her to take her clothes off. She wasn‟t supposed to
work as a waiter in the downstairs restaurant. Her destiny was completely different.
She ran into the hallway but there were two security guards standing by the staircase.
A woman appeared. She was Chechen but spoke Russian like Natalia.
Her words were the worst Natalia had ever heard. She had been sold. Now, she
belonged to them, and she could only be free when she had worked off the 12,000
Euro. Everything inside her turned, but what were her options? The security people
were stronger than her, she was on the 17th floor, her passport was gone, and she
didn‟t know anybody in this country. Slowly, she faced the facts even though she was
For the first months she was raped by 20 men every day. Men who were from 16 to
60 years old. Most of them from the Middle East. Many of them married. She begged
them not to touch her, but they didn‟t understand her. Or didn‟t want to, now they had
paid to use her any way they wanted. They also didn‟t understand why Natalia asked
them use a condom. She was a virgin when she left Moldova.
It was the Chechen woman who was in charge of Natalia and the other girls in the
brothel. 70 girls worked on the 17th floor involuntarily. Their only contact with the
outside world was a phone call once a month. Natalia called her parents but she didn‟t
dare tell them what had happened. She lied and told them she was fine.
The girls at the brothel were convinced that death was the only way of getting out of
there. That‟s what the Chechen woman had told them, and after three months Natalia
began thinking about taking her own life. One night she emptied a glass of pills, she
had been given when she was sick.
She didn‟t die, but her suicide attempt changed her circumstances at the brothel. From
now on she would only have seven or eight customers a day. But they could buy her
for an entire night. And that was worse, because the customer had complete control
over her and could do whatever he wanted. Often she tried to put up a fight, but the
men always forced her to have sex with them anyway. Some hit her, others told the
Chechen woman about her resistance – and she would beat her as a punishment.
One of Natalia‟s regular clients was an Iranian man. He spoke Russian so – contrarily
to all the others – he could understand her. Their relationship became closer and
closer, and she decided to ask him for help. Maybe he could buy her freedom? But the
Chechen woman wasn‟t ready to let her go cheaply. She was the youngest girl in the
brothel and the one with most clients. The woman demanded 12,000 Euro for Natalia,
and that was more than the Iranian was able to pay.
The hopeless situation made her try to commit suicide again. This time by hanging
herself, but she was found at the last minute. In the days that followed she tried to get
to a phone to call the Iranian, and finally she succeeded. He agreed to call the police
and have them search the brothel.
The police came a few days later. By then she had been in the hotel for six months
without ever going outside. Prostitution is illegal in the Arab Emirates and both
Natalia, the other girls and the Chechen woman were arrested and were going to be
expelled. Natalia and her so-called boss ended up in the same prison cell.
The Chechen woman was released on bail after three weeks and her last words to
Natalia were that no matter where she went, they would find her because she still
owed them money.
The fear is still very much a part of Natalia‟s life even though she‟s far away from the
brothel in Abu Dhabi. It‟s been five weeks since she was expelled from the Arab
Emirates and put on a plane to Odessa in Ukraine. Five weeks, where she‟s been
treated by a psychologist and doctors from the International Organisation for
Migration in Moldova.
Today, she‟s through with the treatment. It‟s her last day, and for the first time in nine
months she‟s going to see her parents who still don‟t know anything about her ordeal.
She‟s both fearing and looking forward to this meeting. Several times, she‟s fighting
back the tears and has to stop talking. Her lips are trembling and her voice cracks but
she wants to tell her story.
“I don‟t know how much I can tell my parents. On one hand I‟d just like to put it all
behind me and maybe get an education. But on the other hand I want the man who
lured me into this to get caught, so he can face up to what he‟s done,” says Natalia.
Her story is similar to many other trafficking victims‟. Over half the girls who end up
as trafficking victims are lured by people they consider as friends.
The girls are typically between 18 and 25 years old, and over half of them leave
Moldova because they‟ve been promised seemingly innocent jobs such as waitressing
or babysitting. Many girls are met by indignation and a lack of understanding by their
families when they return. Trafficking is still taboo. However, the opinion of the
OSCE is that this is changing.
“The word has spread all over Moldova, and more people know that trafficking exists.
Campaigns have been very successful and schools are now teaching the students
about the danger of letting yourself be tempted by an offer to work abroad. But there
are still way too many people who get caught in the trap and leave. Moldova suffers
from having an entire generation who will be marked for life. And it‟s these same
young people who should help build a better country and help Moldova out of
poverty,” says chief adviser Antonia DeMeo, an employee at OSCE Moldova.

On the way out of the country, on a night train to Bucharest, Moldova‟s problems
once again become very concrete. In Moldova, the tracks are wider than in Europe.
Originally, this was thought as an obstacle, if foreign armies were to invade the Soviet
Union. Today it‟s nothing but a problem.
At the border line to Romania it takes a small army of technicians and hydraulic
cranes to lift the trains two meters up into the air to change the heavy wheels so that
the train can continue on European rails.
Europe might be moving closer, but Moldova and Europe are not compatible just yet.
The country is only changing slowly, and political scientist Nicolai Chirtoaca bears no
illusions that Moldova will become a part of the EU within the next 15 years.
We understand his skepticism after traveling around the country. We‟ve met people
like Stela who traveled to Turkey to work and whose greatest wish is to buy a cow. A
young woman like Natalia who‟ll forever have to live with her past as a trafficking
victim in Abu Dhabi. And a woman like Ala who lives in Transnistria and doesn‟t
care about kindergarten politics as long as there‟s peace in her country.
Theirs and many other stories paint a picture of Moldova. But that can also be said of
the young policeman Dan Chirisa that we met on a picnic with homemade wine and a
barbeque outside of Chisinau. He‟s one of those, who in the future must say no to
corruption, stop trafficking, smuggling and make his kids take an education and stay
in Moldova.
“Every transition is hard, but life in Moldova gets better every year. We‟ve got our
freedom and that‟s the most important thing. The rest will come eventually. We may
go abroad to work, but many f us come back. Moldova is both cheap and beautiful,
and it is our country.”

Natalia Petrova is a made-up name. Her real name is known by the authors.

Picture 01:
Away from worries
Policeman Dan Chirisa has taken his family on a picnic by the Nistru river which is
close to Transnistria. This was the battle ground for many of the fights which cost
around 700 people their lives during Transnistria‟s quest for independence. Today,
Russian troops have established a demilitarized zone in the area.

Picture 02:
Past and present
82-year-old veteran Victor Takmir is flashing his medals on Moldova‟s Day of
Victory, 9th of May. It‟s the day when the country celebrates the victory over Nazi
Germany and pays tribute to its fallen heroes and it‟s very popular with both the
young and the old.
Picture 03:
New stadium
When Moldova gained its independence in 1991, many tenants were given the chance
to buy their apartments. But owners‟ associations are rare which means that in many
buildings, there is no one to take responsibility for its maintenance. In the
background, lights from Moldova‟s new and only international football stadium,
which is being inaugurated tonight, are brightening up the sky.

Picture 04:
Late in the day
Vasilisa Seminouva lives with her parents in the village of Dezghingea in Southern
Moldova. The family meets with friends and neighbours when their work in the fields
is done. Tradition says that you must share homemade wine, bread and cheese.

Picture 05:
Viorica Belaia, like most people in her village, makes around 17 Euro a month
working at the Bucuria vineyard in South Moldova. “The name of the city means
happiness. It‟s a beautiful name, but we don‟t have that happiness,” she says.

Picture 06:
Farmer returns from the fields with his cows.

Picture 07:
Bad pay
Craftsmen are building a new store in the village of Tataresi in Southern Moldova.
The pay is four times lower here than what you can earn as an illegal worker in Italy
and Greece.

Picture 08:
The border between Moldova and Ukraine. Through the program EUBAM The
European Union helps their neighbor countries to strengthen the border control.

Picture 09:
They belong to a country which doesn‟t exist – F.C. Sheriff, founded in 1997, plays in
the Moldovan league and fortifies the team with players from Africa. The team has
won the championship for the past six years and celebrates winning the cup in this

Picture 10:
Weekend in Transnistria
A Russian dance company takes on the stage at the Plazma nightclub on a Sunday
night in Tiraspol. The city has a good nightlife even though people are being kept
under watch by the government.

Picture 11:
Young girl in the streets of Tiraspol.

Picture 12:
21-year-old Natalia Petrova was sold for prostitution in the Middle East for 12,000
Euro. For sixth months she wrote down how many men she was forced to have sex
with and what she had thereby paid back. Her only hope of being free was to work of
what had been paid for her.

Picture 13:
A picture of farmer Chirioghe Petrovicis brother who has left Moldova to seek work
and opportunities in Western Europe.

Picture 14:
Two boys are fishing from wrecked houseboat by the Nistru on the Ukrainian border.
Moldova has big problems with smuggling and other criminal activities and this
border is particularly corrupt.

Picture 15:
Streets of Bender.

Picture 16:
In front of the parliament in Tiraspol is a five meter high statue of Lenin, and on the
other side of the parliament is a lake. Alexander lives nearby and often comes here to

Picture 17:
Young soldiers is waiting patiently while President Smirnov of Transnistria says his
goodbyes to a general who died suddenly from cardiac arrest a few days ago. The
Transnistrian army has a huge arms reserves that got stranded there after the fall of
the Soviet Union.

Picture 18:
A group of young soldiers is waiting patiently while President Smirnov of
Transnistria says his goodbyes to a general who died suddenly from cardiac arrest a
few days ago. The Transnistrian army has a huge arms reserves that got stranded there
after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Picture 19:
11-year-old Artom plays on a military playground.

Picture 20:
Mihail kisses his girlfriend while their university friends enjoy some homemade wine
on a warm spring evening. In the background, the communist symbols hammer and
sickle can be seen. They are art of Transnistria‟s national emblem. No one in the
group considers themselves communists but they still like their small republic and ask
rhetorically, „how would you feel is Denmark became a part of Germany?‟.

Picture 21:
Man showing off his tattoos in Tiraspol.
Picture 22:
Farmer Chirioghe Petrovici lives alone in the village of Dezghingea in Southern
Moldova. His brother has gone to Italy to work, but Chirioghe stays put in the village
even though his only income is a horse and a carriage which he rents to his

Picture 23:
Road in the country side.

Picture 24:
Stela Babus four-year-old daughter playing in the back yard.

Picture: 25:
An uncertain future
Stela Babus reads to her four-year-old daughter. A quiet moment in a life harder than

Picture 26:
25-year-old doctor Ala Roguti with her daughter Tanja in their apartment in Tiraspol.

Picture 27:
The Indian man is having trouble convincing the Moldovan border guard of his
innocence. Medication is a popular thing to smuggle through Moldova – as is food,
drugs and weapons. On the wall is the Moldovan flag.

Picture 28:
Picture painted on a soldiers tomb stone in Tiraspol.

Picture 29:
View from apartment in Tiraspol. Boys are playing football.

Picture 30:
Young students in the capital Chisinau cheer on the country‟s contribution to this
year‟s Eurovision Song Contest. Hopes are high, but Moldova has to make do with a
20th place after snagging a sixth place when it debuted in the Eurovision last year.

Picture 31:
Small flag left on the ground after the Eurovision song contest. In romanian it says "I
love Moldova".

Facts box – Moldova
Independence day: August 27, 1991
Capital: Chisinau
Population: 4.4 million. 79% Moldovans (ethnic Romanians), 8% Ukrainians, 6%
Russians, 4% Gagausians.
Language: Moldovan – a Romanian dialect
Religion: Orthodox Christianity
Head of state: President Vladimir Voronin since 2001 (Communist party), when the
first free elections took place. The elections were recognized internationally
Economy: The growth of the country fell by 60 percent from 1991 to 99. It was only
in 2001 that Moldova – as the last former Soviet country – experienced high figures
of growth again.
Debt: Moldova‟s debt has grown from almost non-existent in the beginning of the
1990s to 1.9 billion US Dollars in 2005.

Source: The World Bank, CIA World Fact Book