Cramming for a new life

by Robert Putzbach

Talking about a revolution (Issue II/2020)

In a language school in the centre of Chișinău, seven children are waiting for the lesson to get underway. The teacher, Gerhard Earband, a slim man in a T-shirt who hails from Hamburg, walks in and greets the class in German.

In the front row sits Johann who has been cramming Ohrband’s German vocabulary. He is 17 years old and knows exactly what he wants: a job in Germany. His whole family decided they wanted to leave Moldova years ago. They are among many parents here who prepare their children from an early age for a future abroad. Johann has never been to Germany. For him, the country represents stability and economic strength. He is interested in finance, explaining: “One day I would like to work as a trader on the stock market”.

A large number of Moldavians are fluent Russian speakers and many travel to work in Russia or in other former Soviet Union states. In recent years, however, migration into Europe has been climbing higher. Moldova's accession dialogue with the EU has not moved forward for years, but many young people are still upping and leaving for Europe. If they are proven to have Romanian ancestors, Moldovan citizens are entitled to a Romanian passport. And since Romania, as an EU member, enables the free movement of workers, Romanian documents are highly sought after. Official waiting times are long, unless you turn to bribery. There is no register of the number of people emigrating with Romanian documents. As a result there are big variations among the estimates of the number of Moldavians who live abroad. Most sources, such as the U.N.’s migration statistics, estimate around one million people out of a total population of 3.5 million.

High levels of emigration forces many children in Moldova to grow up without parents

This brain drain has hit Moldova's economy hard. Veaceslav Berbeca from the Think Tank IDIS Viitorul says it spooks big investors: “Word got around that there are few skilled workers left here in Moldova so very few foreign companies come here, despite the low wages”. In the meantime, the economy depends on emigration: Remittances account for about twenty percent of the annual gross domestic product.

An unstable political situation is also partly to blame for the exodus. After the official start of the EU accession negotiations in 2010 there were countless changes of government and of the political course. Political scientists now describe Moldova as a “captured state,” one that is firmly in the hands of interest groups. In late 2014, more than one billion dollars disappeared from state coffers in a short time, making headlines as “theft of the century”. The Democratic Party solely represents the interests of the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. Just recently the government alliance under Prime Minister Maia Sandu collapsed after a vote of no confidence.

According to the 2019 Human Development Index, Moldova ranks in the 107th spot out of 189 states. The rural population is particularly poor and in total some 44 percent of the population lacks access to clean drinking water. Above all, it is the dispute with the breakaway region Transnistria, unresolved since 1992, which stands in the way of closer ties with the European Union. Meanwhile, high levels of emigration forces many children in Moldova to grow up without parents. Regularly minibuses arrive in the villages, bearing gifts from emigrants.

Gerhard Ohrband ends the German class. Domenic, another teacher at the language school, waits outside. He estimates that 95 percent of his students want to emigrate. He takes a critical view of his role as a teacher: “I know that I'm causing damage to Moldova with what I'm doing.” But he adds that this negative feeling is outweighed by the joy he gets from providing children with a new language and, therefore, the chance to follow their own individual path.

Translated by Jess Smee

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