I got the bus in yesterday and saw most of the centre when walking to the hotel. There are no museums or galleries, a few churches, that’s it.
I walked round lake orășenesc yesterday. It’s near to an army base and some soldiers were jogging round it for exercise, two large groups followed by one poor straggler who was struggling to catch up. This afternoon I also walked along the side of the canoe/kayak lake. There is actually a club, made up of some shacks and reclaimed train carriages. Why go to the effort of building a first-rate channel for watersports, only to have it served by a scrappy old boathouse? They could probably have decent events here if they cleared out the weeds, put up a few stands.
I wanted to walk further, to the randunica forest, but I got tired so I turned back at victory park. My hotel is expensive, twice the cost of the one in Chișinău. It’s got everything I need and more: big bed, shelves, air conditioner, TV, en-suite bathroom with hot water, wifi, it’s clean… but the decor seems to be inspired from a haunted mansion. There are lots of mirrors everywhere, lots of wood, and not much light. It’s also super-quiet, to the point where I suspect I’m the only guest in the whole building. The guy at the desk admitted that there’s not much to do in the city.
I saw a goat!
The main cinema is only screening one film, with one showing today. I’m surprised by this, it’s the second largest city in Moldova proper, it’s got several universities, it’s the weekend, and yet there are tiny villages in England with a more exciting cultural programme.
Trying to make the best of it I went to see a play at the theatre. Gogoasa by P. Lucasescu. I’ve not heard of him or his script but it’s probably alright, maybe I’ll learn something new. So I buy the ticket, loiter in the square until opening time, then when I go in the person checking the tickets gives me a funny look. The lobby slowly starts filling up with young mothers and their children. Uh oh, turns out it’s a Saturday pantomime.
The plot wasn’t sophisticated, at least it was easy enough for me to understand. A magic fairy created a plant which got picked by a farmer and turned into a living carrot-woman. The carrot-woman then danced with a bunny rabbit who was crying and a bear who was angry, and she made them happy. Another rabbit tried to eat the carrot but she captured him in a net. And there was a fox who tried to trick the carrot into giving her a basket, but the fairy intervened. The moral of the story is: don’t do drugs.
The children loved it though, clapping and singing all the way. They appreciated it, which means on some level it must have been good. And I got to write on here about how I went to a weird pantomime in northern Moldova.
For Bălți itself there’s the important political question of the Russian population and its representation by a pro-Russian party in the local elections. I’m not sure how to approach the subject of ‘problem populations’ in Moldova. It’s not a place known for ethnic strife, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with democratic representatives being ethnically representative of the people they represent. It’s normal to see Russian deputies elected from a majority Russian area.
The problem is that democratic elections are a contest between different parties for control of the state. It’s a competition, and that gets complicated when parties become blurred with sectional interest groups. When a party claims to represent a specific ethnic group, that group votes in line with their identity, which means that the dominant ethnicity rules the municipality and that leads to the creation of strongholds (or ghettos) in which identities become reinforced. Elections become a flashpoint at which ethnic tension is brought to a climax. It’s a cycle, two communities living on either side of a river, and it ends in war. There’s got to be a way of resolving it before it comes to that.
So why did the electoral landslide happen now? Here are my guesses.
- The conflict in Donbass puts the loyalty of Russian populations into question. Whether rightly or wrongly some groups see them as a fifth column.
- The Eurozone crisis and the corruption scandal of liberal pro-EU parties has brought European integration into question. Previously, minority ethnic communities might have made a strategic decision to vote in line with European integration because this brought with it a perceived better standard of living. Not any more.
- Leading on from that, the Eurasian union is a real thing now, it’s an alternative to the EU and just having the choice there makes a big difference.
- It was a long time coming and nobody noticed because Moldova is a small country which receives little attention.
I might have made this holiday too long, I’m sort of killing time at this point, that’s why these entries are so long and rambling. Tomorrow I go return to Chișinău, the first step of a long chain leading back to Oxford.
Hopefully I’ll manage without spending much more money, I’ve got 700+ Lei, of which I know I need at least 450 to pay for the hostel tomorrow night, the bus back to Chisinau and the bus to the airport. Even if I need to get more cash I should come in well under budget.