Vylkove – Chișinău (via Bolhrad, Komrat)

Ștefan Cândea
We left Ukraine via Bolhrad – Vulcănești. We decided not to pass through Transnistria on our way to Chișinău because we wanted to leave all our material in a safe place before heading towards Tiraspol. We covered the distance to Chișinău in a heartbeat because the infrastructure had visibly improved. We had a cup of coffee in an incredible construction in Komrat, the capital of Gagauzia. A two-level brand new wooden ship next to a swimming pool and a wedding salon decorated like King Arthur’s chamber.

The last time I visited the Republic of Moldova was last August. At the time I had to get a visa which I was denied in Bucharest and I got in London. Before Voronin’s fall, the atmosphere was unbreathable; the secret services and the police harassed local and foreign journalists, businessmen and generally everyone trying to organize some kind of form of protest or resistance. The Republic of Moldova is obviously undergoing major changes. Even from the frontier check point we felt the Militia-like atmosphere had melted into thin air; the verification is done in a much more relaxed and civilized manner. Police cars have stopped obsessively patrolling the streets, chasing away youngsters who have gathered for a chat or to play the guitar – as it happened a year before.

In Chișinău I tried to park the car in a paid parking lot I’d been using for years. The parking lot is still there, but the security service has been done away with. The same goes for other paid parking lots I knew. The thing is they don’t represent a business anymore. My car wasn’t stolen, though I had parked in front of the block we put up in. One of the myths about Chișinău – the minute you leave your car out of sight, it will be stolen – has officially been debunked. The massive Raket of the ‘90s has dissolved along with the dire poverty. However, the visible improvement of living standards has nothing to do with the political leaders of Chișinău. Actually, there is just one explanation: between 600.000 and one million Moldavians have been working for quite a few years abroad, bringing almost one billion dollars into the country (even in times of financial crisis). After passing through human trafficking networks, most of them work in the black market in miserable conditions. Not everyone enjoys the luxury of having a Romanian passport; despite this, they have managed to find work in the West. The rest of them work in Russia.

This doesn’t mean the mafia is out of the picture. On the contrary, several important groups, ranging from oligarchs to organized crime, are just limbering up, especially now that the Voronin monopoly on any profitable businesses has come to an end.

Last year’s change of power was so dramatic that the former opposition press surrendered almost unconditionally to the new government. The same mistake was made by Romanian journalists when Iliescu finally made it to the opposition party. In Chișinău, journalists and media NGOs have gladly accepted offices of spokesperson for the new ministers, of head of press bureaus or radio and public television director. The Jurnal Tv group, renowned for having resisted Voronin’s authoritarian regime, ended up owning a newly established obscure German firm (Rheinstein Media Management Germany) headed by a certain Tobias Radach, an amateur fireman and member of the local Christian-Democratic Party (somewhere near Frankfurt). However, behind the firm are people who have been keeping a low profile, people who have run profitable businesses in the Republic of Moldova.

The only alternative to Jurnal is Publika TV, owned by S.O. Vîntu whose high-paying wages drew in virtually every good journalist in Chișinău. Few were those who rejected Vîntu’s offer, even if the disaster he operated in the Romanian mass media has already been documented and reached the public.