In 1990, twenty years after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature’, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote an essay entitled How to Rebuild Russia? He argued that the USSR should splinter along ‘ethnic’ lines: the Baltic states, Moldova, the South Caucasus and most of the Central Asian republics should be let go, while a new Russian nation would include Ukraine, Belarus and the ethnic Russian parts of Kazakhstan. The essay overemphasised the similarities between the peoples who would live in this imagined country, and brushed off the repression they suffered under the tsarist and Soviet regimes.
Over the past week Moldova has received more than 166,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war. Helped by thousands of volunteers, the Moldovan authorities turned hospitals, universities and wedding halls into refugee centres. Also this week, Moldova commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of post-Soviet Russia’s first war against one of its former colonies.
Sheriff Tiraspol are the first Moldovan football team ever to compete in the Champions League. They beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 in their opening game on 15 September, and face Real Madrid tonight. None of their starting eleven has Moldovan citizenship. The team’s cosmopolitan make-up would be something to celebrate if it didn’t throw light on Moldova’s underfunded sports infrastructure, and the source of the money that allowed the club to buy its high-performing international players.
In a runoff vote on 15 November, Moldova elected its first female president, Maia Sandu. A graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and former World Bank adviser, she ran promising to fight corruption and poverty, and to take Moldova out of international isolation. The defeated incumbent, Igor Dodon, has been investigated by journalists for alleged human rights infringements, corruption schemes, the use of Russian funds in his campaigns (via offshore accounts in the Bahamas) and secret deals with Vladimir Plahotniuc, the tycoon who – informally, if not secretly – controlled the country between 2016 and June 2019, when he fled to the US, and then Turkey.
Last month, Romania’s parliament passed a bill banning schools and universities from teaching the idea that ‘biological sex is different from gender.’ The response was quick. A petition asking President Klaus Iohannis not to ratify the bill gathered more than 30,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. Forty universities and eighty civil society organisations across the country denounced the bill as an attempt to limit academic freedom. A students’ union asked the government not to ‘go back to the Middle Ages’. Dozens of people protested in front of the Presidential Palace in Bucharest, with signs saying ‘education prevents gender violence’ and ‘trans rights are human rights’. The bill still lies on Iohannis’s desk.