Researching Moldova: the Everyday Politics of Identity / Cercetând Moldova: Politicile de Identitate Cotidiene

Articolul e in limba romana de mai jos.


I first came to Moldova in 2008 to conduct research for my undergraduate dissertation. I was, and remain, fascinated by Moldova and its politics and culture, its mix of Soviet and Romanian history and its welcoming atmosphere. I was fascinated too by the lack of knowledge and understanding in the West about the state.

Shortly before my first visit I remember reading Stiglitz’s book, Globalization and Its Discontents, where Stiglitz discusses the lack of streetlights in Moldova as a sign of poverty. It came as some surprise, arriving in Chisinau late at night, that there was in fact street lighting. In this sense, my motivation for researching Moldova comes from trying to improve understanding about a state and society that is too often described in overly simplistic terms: either as the “poorest country in Europe” or as torn between east vs. west.

I was able to return in 2010, 2012 and 2013, again to conduct research, each time witnessing a very different political climate from previous visits. I witnessed the transition from PCRM and Voronin’s government to the Alliance for European Integration, and the increasing apathy, if not antipathy, towards the “hungry wolves”, aka the pro-European political elites.

Everyday Identity Debates in Moldova

But politics, for me, and my interest in conducting political science research (now for my PhD research at the London School of Economics), have always been much more than about studying political elites and institutions. I’m more interested in everyday politics and, in particular, everyday dimensions of identity and ethnicity debates. I think this too is reflected by Moldovan society, in the visibility of these debates in everyday life, not least in the street art on the streets of Chisinau: “who are we?”, “we’re Moldovan”, “we’re Romanian” and “Bessarabia is Romanian land”.

Starting from an awareness of the complexity of identity debates, my interest was to collect data to gather insights on how people define themselves and why they identify in these ways. In particular, I argue that censuses and sociological surveys in Moldova have (deliberately) overlooked these complex debates, requiring individuals to align with mutually exclusive categories (e.g. Moldova, Romanian or Russian) without considering, I think deliberately, the way in which these categories fail to capture what’s really going on: that there are individuals:

  1. who feel Romanian,
  2. who feel both Romanian and Moldovan,
  3. who feel only Moldovan,
  4. who don’t know how to feel…

Fascinating too has been discovering how identity can work, and be disputed, within families and across generations, where the younger, more Romanian-identifying, post-Soviet generation, want to re-educate their more Moldovan-identifying parents who grew up during the Soviet Union. Yet, regardless of how people identified ethnically, what remains fascinating for me is the extent to which this reinforced by strong ties to Moldova, as a state and as home.

Looking Beyond Identity Debates in Moldova

Identity, culture and language have clearly been a topic of intense debate in post-Soviet Moldova but, paradoxically, I also think identity has dominated Moldova’s post-Soviet politics too much. It’s an important part of the story that many people in Moldova don’t want to talk about identity and don’t need to talk about identity. It might matter for a few what the official language of the state is but for others, it’s just politics: on the everyday level, they can speak whatever language they want.

Identity debates also structure Moldova’s political schema, defining party politics. This masks how far political parties are actually clientelistic networks, built on personal relations, that make parties into wealth and power machines, while disconnecting them from having to appeal to electorates beyond the politics of popularism and symbolism: pro-EU vs. anti-EU. This dominance of identity debates has allowed the political elite to focus on symbolic and geopolitical questions at the expense of political and economic reform.


Am venit pentru prima dată în Moldova în 2008 pentru a efectua o cercetare pentru teza mea de licență. Am fost și rămân fascinată de Moldova și politica și cultura sa, de amestecătura de istorie sovietică și de atmosfera sa primitoare. Am fost fascinată, de asemenea, de lipsa de cunoștințe și înțelegere despre acest stat în vest.

Îmi amintesc că la scurt timp după vizita mea am citit cartea lui Stiglitz, Globalizarea și neajunsurile ei, în care Stiglitz disccută despre lipsa de iluminare stradală în Moldova ca semn al sărăciei. Am rămas surprinsă, atunci când am ajuns noaptea târziu în Chișinău, că există de fapt iluminare stradală. Din acest punct de vedere, motivația mea pentru cercetarea Moldovei vine din încercarea de a îmbunătăți înțelegerea despre un stat și o societate care este adesea descrisă în termeni simpliști: fie ca “cea mai săracă țară din Europa” sau ruptă între est și vest.

Am avut posibilitatea să revin în 2010, 2012 și 2013, din nou să efectuez cercetări, de fiecare dată fiind martoră la un climat politic foarte diferit. Am fost martoră la tranziția de la PCRM și guvernul lui Voronin la Alianța pentru Integrare Europeană și la apatia crescută, dacă nu chiar antipatia, față de “lupii flămânzi”, adică elitele politice pro-europene.

Dezbaterile Identitare Cotidiene în Moldova

Însă politica, pentru mine, și interesul meu în efectuarea cercetărilor în științe politice (acum pentru doctorat la London School of Economics), au fost întotdeauna mai mult decât studiul elitelor și instituțiilor politice. Sunt mai interesată de politica cotidiană și, în particular, dimensiunile cotidiene ale dezbaterilor de identitate și etnie. Cred că asta e reflectat în societatea moldovenească, în vizibilitatea acestor dezbateri în viața de zi cu zi, și nu mai puțin în arta stradală din Chișinău: “cine suntem?”, “suntem moldoveni”, “suntem români” și “Basarabia Pământ Românesc”.

Începând cu o conștientizare a dezbaterilor identitare, interesul meu a fost să colectez date despre modul în care oamenii se definesc pe ei înșiși și de ce se identifică așa. În particular, argumentez că recensământele și sondajele sociologice din Moldova au omis (intenționat) aceste probleme complexe, obligând indivizii să se alinieze în categorii mutual exclusive (de exemplu moldoveni, români sau ruși) fără a lua în considerare, cred eu intenționat, modul în care aceste categorii eșuează să reprezinte ceea ce se întâmplă cu adevărat: că există indivizi:

  1. care se simt români,
  2. care se simt atât români cât și moldoveni,
  3. care se simt doar moldoveni,
  4. care nu știu cum să se simtă.

A fost fascinantă, de asemenea, descoperirea modului în care poate funcționa identitatea, și cum poate disputată în familii și între generații în care generația tânără, post-sovietică, care se identifică mai des ca română, vrea să reeduce părinții lor care se identifică ca moldoveni și care au crescut în perioada Uniunii Sovietice. Totuși, indiferent de modul în care oamenii se identifică etnic, ceea ce rămâne fascinant pentru mine este măsura în care asta e consolidat de legături puternice în Moldova, ca stat și acasă.

Privind Dincolo de Dezbaterile Identitare în Moldova

Identitatea, cultura și limba au fost în mod clar un subiect de discuții intense în Moldova post-sovietică, însă, paradoxal, cred că identitatea a dominat politica Moldovei post-sovietice prea mult. Este o parte importantă a poveștii că mulți oameni din Moldova nu vor să vorbească despre identitate și nu au nevoie să vorbească despre identitate. Poate conta pentru unii care este limba de stat, însă pentru alții asta e doar politică: la nivel cotidianm pot vorbi orice limbă vor.

Dezbaterile identitare de asemenea structurează schema politica a Moldovei, definind politicile partidelor. Asta maschează cât de tare partidele politice sunt de fapt rețele clientelare, construite pe relații personale, care transformă partidele în mașinării de bogăție și putere, deconectându-le de la necesitatea apelului la electorat dincolo de politica populismului și simbolismului: pro-UE și anti-UE. Această dominare a dezbaterilor identitare a permis elitei politice să se concentreze pe întrebări simbolice și geopolitice în detrimentul reformei politice și economice.


Eng: This article follows from a recent article published by Eleanor Knott in East European Politics and Societies: Eleanor Knott (2015) Generating data: studying identity politics from a bottom-up perspective in Crimea and Moldova, East European Politics and Societies, 29:467-486, doi:10.1177/0888325415584047 [ungated pdf].

RO: Eleanor Knott este un candidat la doctorat (așteptat în 2015) în științe politice la Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science. Teza sa explorează politicile românești și rusești în Moldova și Crimea printr-o perspectivă de jos în sus, folosind abordarea naționalismului cotidian. Interesele sale mai largi de cercetare includ studiul întrebărilor științei politice în zona post-sovietică de jos în sus, folosind tehnici ale etnografie politică, inclusiv identificarea, cetățenia și politicile de educație, pentru a studia relațiile stat-societate dintr-o perspectivă internațională.

Acest articol urmează un articol recent publicat de Eleanor Knott în East European Politics and Societies: Eleanor Knott (2015) Generating data: studying identity politics from a bottom-up perspective in Crimea and Moldova, East European Politics and Societies, 29: 467-486, doi:10.1177/0888325415584047 [ungated pdf].

Advertisements

How will Moldovans vote in the 2014 Romanian Presidential Elections?

Vrem să începem a doua mare unire a românilor. / We want to begin the second great unification of Romanians – Victor Ponta (Romanian Prime Minister and 2014 Presidential Candidate)

The Great Unification: Victor Ponta President (Cotidianul.Ro)

In 2009, 95% of Moldovans voting in Romanian presidential elections voted for Băsescu (in the second round). In my interviews, Băsescu was extremely popular in Moldova: he was the guy that was personally responsible for allowing, and easing, Moldovans’ ability to acquire Romanian citizenship (well, legally reacquire (redobandire) on the basis that Romania are returning the citizenship taken from present-day Moldovans’ grandparents/great-grandparents). He was so popular, one of my interviewees told me, he could win a presidential election in Moldova.

Ok, so this 95% supporting Băsescu was only 11,000 votes (out of a possible of 51,831 eligible to vote) but it signifies much more. Otherwise, why have figures like Eugen Tomac and parties like PSD recently opened offices in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital? Because they know they need a solution for after Băsescu can no longer run. Secondly, the 2009 elections demonstrated the importance more generally of the diaspora vote in Romanian elections. In 2009, Băsescu lost the election from the electorate inside Romania but won the election because of high support among Romanian voters from outside, of which Moldovans were a crucial number.

Romania is, interestingly, also one of the few states that have external constituencies. So the Romanian diaspora have their own parliamentary seats (4 deputies, 2 senators).

Why is the 2014 Presidential election interesting (in terms of the Moldovan electorate)?

It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we know that the number (re)acquiring Romanian citizenship in Moldova is increasing but we don’t know by how much the number acquiring is increasing. There aren’t good statistics and Romania play fast and loose with declaring how many in Moldova are (re)acquiring Romanian citizenship to Eurostat (i.e. they haven’t given any figures to Eurostat since 2009). As the citizenship agency told me: they don’t collect data by country of origin, so we may never know how many are acquiring Romanian citizenship. So, the number eligible vote in Romanian elections is increasing (most likely) because if you acquire Romanian citizenship, you can vote in Romanian elections without being resident in Romania and without ever having resided in Romanian elections.

Do Moldovans want to vote in Romanian elections? Yes and no: some definitely do, seeing it as an obligation and duty. And many wanted to personally thank Băsescu for facilitating their acquisition of Romanian citizenship. Others wanted to vote, but didn’t want to stand in line. The number of Romanian polling stations in Moldova has often constrained how many actually end up voting because they didn’t want to have to queue for hours to exercise this right. This year, the number of polling stations is the highest it’s ever been with 4 polling stations in Chisinau and 17 across the rest of Moldova. The effect this has on turnout will therefore be very interesting.

Secondly, it’s interesting because Băsescu, the incumbent, cannot run again for President. It’s up to the new candidates to convince this growing Moldovan, and typically pro-Băsescu, electorate to vote for them. In the last few weeks, I’ve pretty invasive examples of reaching out to vote for different candidates, from a text message from PSD espousing unification sentiment and encouraging votes for Ponta:

I also saw an email telling people to vote for Iohannis (Ponta’s main competitor):

“We think Romania deserves a president balanced and powerful Father of the Nation, a guarantor of respect for the constitution. A strong Romania, with a clear voice and respected in the European community. Moldova in its European road needs a reliable neighbour, an ally that’s strong, safe and predictable.”

Iohannis, just as Ponta, has also continued to stoke the unification flame declaring in Moldova:

“Moldova is on the way to Europe. […] in Romania there are politicians who say that Moldova’s European integration is inconsistent with the unification of Moldova with Romania. And I say it is not so, for union with Moldova is something only Bucharest can give and Chisinau only can accept. And if our brothers across the Prut will unite the country, no one can stop them.”

Iohannis Rally in Chisinau (Ziarul National)

So, it’s all to play for in the first round of Romania’s 2014 Presidential Elections and whoever Romanians, and Romanian citizens in Moldova vote for, the post-Băsescu era looks set to be quite interesting. There were already queues of people waiting to vote outside the Romanian embassy in Chisinau at 7.20 am this morning.


Updates:

There’s been a lot of consternation that the rights of voters abroad was restricted, via long queues and polling stations which closed before they should, preventing those from standing in line from voting. This is particularly fraught given that PSD are the ones controlling how many polling stations there are outside Romania  (e.g. the Romanian Foreign Minsiter, Titus Corlățean, is from PSD), while Romanians abroad are typically (more) anti-PSD. The Department for Romanians Abroad (under the Romanian Foreign Ministry) has already put out a statement defending its provisions for Romanians voting abroad, on the basis that the number of polling stations abroad has increased since 2009.

In fact, despite the queues, 71% more voted in the first round of the presidential elections yesterday compared to 2009. This does not speak to % of turnout comparisons, as this data is not available yet. But still: there were big increases in the number of the Romanian diaspora voting in 2014 (161,054) vs. 2009 (94,383).

Numbers Voting in First Round of Presidential Elections - 2009 vs. 2014
Numbers Voting in First Round of Presidential Elections – 2009 vs. 2014

Evening Standard: Hundreds of Romanians locked outside London Embassy ‘denied their right to vote’ (3 November 2014)

There’s also already a petition to Jean-Claude Juncker to  “Please ensure the Romanian Presidential Election are free, equal, universal, secret and direct” which (as of 1pm  3/11/2014) already has 1,110 signatures.


I’ll be discussing how Moldovans vote in a panel event, alongside others discussing the Romanian elections following the second round of the Presidential elections, on Monday 1 December at LSE (yes, it’s also Romania’s National Day):

Panel Discussion on Romanian Presidential Elections 2014

Where does Romania go to from here? Romania and the Presidential Elections
Venue:  Cañada Blanch Room, (COW 1.11), Cowdray House, LSE
Time:  6:00 – 7:30 pm