Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

The Way You Speak about a Cold

Moldova is a forgotten country. Even in Europe, many people hardly know of its existence. Forgotten countries are often poor, and this is also the case with Moldova. It's one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Recently, Moldova made it into the international press. Demonstrations against its communist government, which some Moldovans accuse of stealing the last elections, had turned violent. Twitter played an important role in getting the crowd to the main square in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, which might explain the (short-lived) interest of the international media: Twitter and Facebook for all your revolutionary needs.
The last week of April, I visited the Republic of Moldova. The trip was a result of a visit I'd made to Odessa in 2006. I had met many Moldovans in Odessa, and I realized that I was not able to name the capital of their country. I found this embarrassing, but it also made me curious. Chisinau sounded more like a provincial town in Africa than a European capital.
The demonstrations against the government were already over by the time I arrived in Chisinau; the broken windows had been hastily repaired. Moreover, for the poorest country in Europe, I was surprised by the wealth that I encountered in its capital. There were German luxury cars, a sushi restaurant that could compete with most Japanese restaurants in Manhattan and quite a few swanky cocktail bars.
In the summer of 2008 I had gone to a literary conference in Romania where I met a Moldovan author and journalist, Vitalie Ciobanu. So now I called Vitalie, and he suggested we meet in the café next to the museum for fine arts in Chisinau.
The museum appeared to be closed, but after I insisted, a charming woman let me in and showed me some of the collection.
Later, we went to another café where Vitalie told me about the literary magazine he is publishing.
"How many readers do you have?" I asked.
"About a thousand," Vitalie answered.
"Only in Moldova?"
"Also in Romania. The difference between the Romanian and the Moldovan language is completely artificial. Many Moldovans would like to reunite with Romania, but this goes against the interests of the Russian government."
"And the demonstrations?" I asked.
"The secret service provoked the violence, and after that they tortured many demonstrators. I've seen the evidence."
I was reminded of the Iraqis in Baghdad who spoke about police torture the way you speak about a cold: something unpleasant but unavoidable.
That night in a swanky cocktail bar, I could not suppress the feeling that with so many other pressing problems, too many countries can torture with impunity.