Moldova's Separatist Conundrum

It was the scene of heavy fighting during World War II as the Soviet Red Army fought bloody battles to cross the wide Nistru River. There was more fighting here during the 1992 war over Transdniestria, and the village's memorial to victims of that conflict is covered with fresh flowers. Some Dorotcaia residents think their town would be better off joining the breakaway region, while others worry that recent calls for a referendum on joining Transdniestria have been driven by misinformation. (Watch the video below to learn more.)

Transdniestria regularly asks for recognition or annexation by Russia. Most recently, the de facto parliament filed such a request with Moscow on April 16. Last month, Dorotcaia saw a small demonstration calling for a referendum on joining Transdniestria. Demonstrators noted that prices are cheaper in the Russia-subsidized breakaway region and argued that Moldova's integration into the EU will leave Moldovans without jobs.

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"We want to all be together...so that there wouldn't be such a division," says a local pensioner who identifies himself only as Fedya and says that if the village holds a referendum, he will vote in favor of joining Transdniestria. "All our land is on that side of the highway and we can't work it now. They don't let our cows to pasture there. So that's why." But such voices are rare in Dorotcaia, where most of the approximately 3,000 residents are Romanian-speaking Moldovans. They see the calls for a referendum as a provocation by outsiders and say they would not participate.

Anatoly is a Russian-speaking plumber who fought "for Moldovan independence" during the 1992 war. He says the vast majority of Dorotcaia residents oppose the referendum proposal and won't participate if one is held. On the contrary, he says, the village backs the country's European-integration agenda. "The majority is in favor [of the Association Agreement with the EU]," he says. "You know the situation in Moldova. It is hard. But everyone is hoping for something better." 

People wave EU and Moldavian national flags, and shout slogans, during a pro-EU rally in Chisinau in November 2013. (Viktor Dimitrov/Reuters)

The school building in Dorotcaia, refurbished in part in 2007 with funding from USAID, actually houses two schools. Each day, some 160 Romanian-speaking children are bused across the administrative line from Transdniestria—from the neighboring village of Grigoriopol. The authorities in Transdniestria won't allow the children to study in Romanian or permit the school to use educational materials provided by Chisinau.

Eleonora Cercavschi is the director of the Grigoriopol school-in-exile. She sees the hand of Russia behind the calls for a referendum in Dorotcaia, saying such devices are "a hook" for Moscow, which "apparently doesn't have enough territory."

"It has become fashionable to talk about referendums," Cercavschi says. "And definitely some little fish will bite [on this hook]. Because there are different people everywhere—especially since for so many years those people lived in the Soviet Union, under Russia, to speak more precisely. That territory never had freedom of thought. They never had information. If you turn on Russian television, you can see stuff now that you couldn't see even back in Soviet times."

She says authorities in Transdniestria browbeat everyone in the republic to subscribe to the region's heavily subsidized satellite-television provider. "They make us pay to have our own brains washed," she laughs.

* * *

Moldova will face several key tests this year. May 9 is Victory Day, and many in the region anticipate that Moscow will use the commemorations to rally support for the achievements of the Soviet Union through mass, pro-Russian rallies. In June, Moldova will sign major agreements with the European Union, an event that will likely be accompanied by Communist-led protests. That scenario will likely be repeated weeks later when parliament ratifies the accords.

But the big test will come at the end of November, when Moldovans go to the polls to elect a new parliament. It is far too early to tell whether the fractious, pro-European ruling coalition can pull out a victory, since its component parties will be running against one another as well as against the Communists and Socialists. This, together with the ominous developments in Ukraine, has the "almost 50 percent" of Moldovans who support European integration very worried, says Chisinau political analyst Botan.

"We see who is together with Russia," Botan says. "Kazakhstan and Belarus. Russia is a kind of authoritarian system. Kazakhstan and Belarus as well, authoritarian. But if Russia builds a community, so-called Eurasian Union using such components, we say, 'No, it is better for us to stay far from this.'"


This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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