Veteranii din Republica Moldova

Ștefan Cândea
Zaharia Sclifos was one of the first combatants to have crossed the Dniester on ice and attacked the separatists’ position on March 1st 1992, one day before the official date marking the beginning of the war between the Republic of Moldova and the Tiraspol separatists. The armed conflicts had been on and off ever since the end of 1989. The Dniester war cost 400 soldiers and 350 civilians their lives.

Zaharia was part of the Răzeșii (Yeomen) group and, together with other volunteers, attacked the commissary of Dubasari where they found enough ammunition to help them assail – also benefitting from the support of the OMON troops of Moldova – a Transnistrian military unit. It was a dirty war, full of diversions, in which an army of voluntary combatants equipped with little ammunition tried to vanquish the Transnistrian troops and the Russian professionals of the 14th Army, led by General Alexander Lebed. ‘At night we would kidnap Transnistrian soldiers and deliver them in exchange for our prisoners. The separatists used snipers whose equipment was fit for night vision. The only things we had were revolvers and batons’, Zaharia tells me in a small apartment in Chișinău. His house in Dubasari was destroyed and he cannot go back there.

Since the end of the war, the former combatants have continuously been on the verge of conflicts. One of the reasons is the still unresolved accommodation issue; another would be the conflict with the Communist authorities. In time, having a combatant certificate turned out to be quite a business: if you had connections, you could receive various facilities from the state such as a house, a business space, etc. This situation is a clear counterpart of the revolutionary certificates of Romania. 64.000 combatant certificates were issued. After successive investigations, only 34.000 were found to be valid. However, the number of those who actually fought on the front does not exceed 15.000. Zaharia gives me the names of several fake combatants who turned even to Gigi Becali to receive financial aid.

The veterans received a block of flats in Chișinău, a block for which they had to fight the police – the Ministry of Interior wanted to take possession of half the block for its own employees. They managed to get rid of the police and get another block downtown. The building had just been refinished to accommodate Moldovan MPs. The veterans of Transnistria barricaded themselves in the MPs’ apartments and haven’t left it since. Zaharia works both as a taxi driver and a builder. He, his wife and their two little children live in a crammed apartment which also serves as a temporary shelter for a poet who usually sleeps on an improvised bed of pallets. He complains the state doesn’t take care of its veterans; when discussing his views on politicians and political leaders, the words cunts and fuckers keep popping up every two sentences. He describes the war situations in very harsh words, even in the presence of the children playing Counterstrike on the computer. He interrupts the youngest and asks him to recite some patriotic poems which burnt into my brain a sequence of quite unpleasant situations for potential invaders, best defined by the poems’ words: wire, snout, pig linked to Hungarian, Russian, staple and dead.

Alexandru Ganenco, the commander of Zaharia and of the groups which fought from Dubasari to the North, in Camenca, provides an overview of the hostilities and of the reasons for which Moldova lost the war. Ganenco is a colonel in reserve and led the anti-terrorism troops of the Ministry of State Security (in the days of the Druc government). Firstly, he cannot understand why Igor Smirnov, the Tiraspol separatists’ leader, was freed by the Moldovan authorities immediately after he was arrested and kidnapped from Kiev. ‘Our plan was to cut the Transnistrian territory in half in the Dubasari region and to afterwards enter Tiraspol from the north. Everything was set, we had people behind the lines and we had also reached an agreement with the Ukrainians.’ Nevertheless, a rather suspicious order from high up cancelled this strategic plan and, instead, they were ordered to attack Tighinei, now called Bender. ‘It was a complete disaster as we weren’t ready for such a war.’ Another freakishness of war: ‘we would capture Cossack mercenaries from all over Russia and, two days after having delivered them over to the Ministry of Interior, we’d capture them again. Somebody was obviously freeing them.’

Tudor Iovu, perhaps the only photographer to have worked on both sides of the frontline and to have published an album dedicated to the conflict, feels Moldova lost the war on an informational level. Tudor was working as photojournalist for Reuters and would be allowed to do materials for the press agency even from the Transnistrian part. In Tiraspol he would be welcomed with brochures, literature, pictures; he would even have a full escort accompany him and would be told all kind of stories about the atrocities the Moldovans had presumably committed. The relationship with the press was handled by Russian army specialists in the information field. There was no press centre whatsoever on the Moldovan side. Tudor would help his foreign colleagues by accommodating them in his house, find them food and guide them on the frontline.

The Transnistrian conflict ended as absurdly as it had begun and unfolded. Generalul Ion Costas, Minister of Interior and Defence during the conflict, has recently declared in a TV programme that the person to have led the peace negotiations which ultimately resulted in a written agreement was Boris Birshtein, a Russian oligarch and businessmen accused by the international press of having connections with Moscow Mafia organizations and being subservient to the structures of the former KGB.