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"My name is Igor"

“My name is Igor,” says the older boy, the one with a dirty plaster cast on his arm. “Je m’apelle Dima,” adds his younger brother. We have broken the ice with these children by asking whether they learn foreign languages at school. But it is the summer holidays, and anyway it is a Sunday, so they are at work.


Having walked the few kilometres from their village, they hesitantly approached our cheap plastic table in an outdoor bar on the main street of Ungheni, flinching as my driver and my translator reached to pull chairs over so that they can sit with us.

These boys seem to lack the effrontery required to be successful beggars, and indeed they tell us that their maximum daily earnings are about 5 Moldavian Lei (3 Euros). Another probable reason for these low takings is that there are no tourists here.  

Igor shyly explains that a woman neighbour asked him to climb one of her trees to pick some fruit for her, and he fell and broke his arm. The boys’ mother has her own garden but its produce is not enough to feed them, and her job as a cleaner doesn’t pay very well.

Their father left the family after having an affair with another woman in the village, and now lives in Moscow. Though still married to their mother, he doesn’t send any money home. 

No other way to buy food

“I’m ashamed to be asking people for money,” admits Igor, “but I don’t have another way to buy food for me and my brother. Sometimes, people hurt us by kicking us or twisting our arms.” He demonstrates his arm being twisted behind his back.

These children, twelve and eight years old, are young citizens of the Republic of Moldova, once part of the second most powerful country in the world. Moldova suffered almost a decade of catastrophic economic contraction following the breaking of the USSR in 1991 and the introduction of ‘free-market’ policies. In GDP terms, Moldova is now the poorest country in Europe, with an annual income of $1,900 per person.

Following a series of avowedly right-wing governments, the Communist Party of Moldova was elected with a landslide majority in 2001; however it did not reverse the ‘reforms’ carried out by the previous administrations. The Communist Party, having presided over four years of modest economic growth, was returned to office in the March 2005 general election, defeating opposition parties which were seen as being backed by pro-Russian, pro-Ukrainian and Pro-Romanian forces.  

 The OSCE and the George Soros foundation sent election monitors, but a delegation of would-be monitors from Russia was arrested and deported from the country.

The Moldovan government is currently in negotiations for membership of the European Union.

Murals

“This is the town that time forgot,” says my translator, as we drink the smooth-tasting Baltica beer and watch the boys devour a pizza that we have bought them.

Almost. It’s more as if a strange kind of bomb had landed here about fifteen years ago, not actually killing people or directly destroying things, but preventing anything being maintained or repaired, and stopping anything new from being built.

This was once a prosperous and modern regional centre, all built since World War 2, with wide boulevards, generous and thoughtfully designed public spaces, murals celebrating the people of different nationalities working and living together.

Now weeds sprout between the paving stones, the blocks of flats are dilapidated, and the factories surrounding the town are desolate, rusting shells.

Incongruously, the women on this dusty Sunday are stylish, their hair and clothing immaculate, the Russian language musical on their lips.

Translator: Gabriela Apostol