blogEast is a new initiative of goEast - Festival of Central- and Eastern European Film. We hereby declare our solidarity with our colleagues and friends from Central- and Eastern Europe, who see themselves confronted with large challenges because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Within the following weeks blog entries will be published here, looking at the situation from a cinematic, political and/or social point of view. blogEast is supervised and edited by the goEast team and is part of the program Pan-Europan Picknick, supported by the Kulturfonds Frankfurt Rhein Main.

Moldova, a country in eternal crisis

The first crisis hit Moldova in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The newborn independent state had to adapt to a new political order (hello, "transitional democracy"!) and a new economic (post-socialist capitalist) system.

In the early 90s, the monetary system collapsed and people basically lost all their savings overnight.

Those who survived the grim times woke up to another economic crisis at the end of the 90s. If at all, salaries were paid in goods. It was the period that forced many people (more than 30%) to migrate and seek work abroad. Many of them were intellectuals: teachers, doctors, and engineers.

In 2001, the Communist Party came to power with a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections. The party's agenda had nothing to do with communism but rather with capitalism. Economic stabilization was quickly achieved, including a crackdown on freedom of expression by the party's regime which was taken down in the turbulent events in April 2009.

During the next five years, the political parties that came to power fed Moldovans with the European dream, which ended up with the „theft of the century" when in 2014 a billion dollars (numbers are still increasing) „disappeared" from three major banks. The 2008 crisis was just a little kid compared to the economic aftermath of this fraud. Its effects haunt the country until today. Neither April 2009 events nor the bank fraud have been cleared up.

Trained to survive and adapt to different crises of the past 30 years or so, the COVID-19 pandemic surprised even us. For the first time since Soviet times people are not allowed to go to church. Even the ex-communists miss it... The general impression is that most of the people here don't think about self-care and protection and still would like to attend the Easter service.
A huge amount of labor migrants of the last two decades is left without their jobs abroad. We are expecting a reverse wave which we hope won't turn into a tsunami. However, we are most probably prepared even for that.

While writing this post, my initial intention was to avoid any mentioning regarding the problems and reactions our politicians have had to this crisis so far. But it was impossible. Every time I rewrote it I couldn't avoid thinking about our society's lack of trust in the decision-makers. We are going through a period when empathy, solidarity and trust are among the most needed ingredients to overcome this challenge.

While other governments were closing their borders to stop the spread of COVID-19, the ruling political party in Moldova (Party of Socialists) was busy with creating a coalition with the Democratic Party (the major beneficiary of the billion dollar theft) that they had promised to never partner with. While Italy was in a lockdown and other European countries were already applying drastic measures against the pandemic, the two parties were dividing up cabinet chairs.

It was impossible to erase them from my mind (and my text), because it is them who are persistently presenting numbers of infected people that are slightly different from those of the World Health Organization. The lack of communication and transparency is so big that even the numbers presented by state institutions differ. Perhaps, if it hadn't been for the efforts of the media, no one would have noticed the discrepancies in the officially communicated data. Any critical question which mass media raise is labeled by the authorities as an attempt to create panic among the population or spread propaganda. Many mass media institutions are threatened with lawsuits. While freedom of speech and investigative journalists are being attacked by the state, there is no virus or crisis which can scare me more than that.

The only aspect the authorities seem to rely on is international support. The prime-minister is expecting an IMF loan, the president – a loan from Russia, and the minister of healthcare – humanitarian aid from China. With regards to the business sector, the president has urged business people to take bank loans to pay their employees' salaries while the government will pay interest rates on these credits.

Against this background, hoping to receive any support for the creative and cultural sectors is a utopia. In times of crisis the cultural sector is the one sacrificed first. A week ago, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research launched an online survey on how the institution could help the creative industry entities. Honestly speaking, there are no expectations with regards to concrete measures taken by the state. In the last two years, this ministry has had four ministers. The discussions about the non-transparent and non-professional way in which financing through the National Film Center is distributed as well as the discussions about establishing a film fund, which we've been asking for for years, have been constantly sabotaged by the ministry.

We have no film fund in Moldova. The financial support the film sector receives from the state has to be spent in the same budget year, which is kind of not in sync with the way film production is done on the European level. The cash rebate law was adopted in 2018, but due to the lack of any implementation mechanism, it hasn't been applied yet. An open call for a new director of the National Film Center has been recently launched. But after the disastrous mandate of the current director who has established many unhealthy practices, and during a crisis in full swing when the industry has to redefine its course, distribution and funding sources the mission of the new director is, to say the least, impossible.

Despite all these rainy clouds, there are still small glimpses of hope that are breaking through the unknown. My thoughts go to my friends and activists who, in times of crisis, leave their houses and help the most vulnerable of our society. The ones who suffer the most these days – old people, homeless people (temporary shelters for the homeless are closed during the state of emergency), and people who depend on social support. My friends run a social initiative called Coliba Albastră

Donations are still accepted via this link. And of course, I am totally empathizing with the frontline „fighters": the doctors who go to war against COVID-19 every day, armed with a fork, as we joke. The problems in Moldovan medical system are reflected in the official numbers as well. More than 25% of the COVID-19 patients are doctors and other medical staff.

These days, I am avoiding social media and most of the news channels. We must stay healthy and avoid fake news and media pollution with the COVID-19 panic. The strategy of hiding one's head in the sand may be judged or condemned, but, as a friend of mine from Spain says, there are no right or wrong strategies as long as you get through well. I have a feeling that these days our authorities concentrate their efforts more on intimidation rather than transparency and correct information.

Ion Gnatiuc