Moldova is marking its 24th birthday on August 27 with a big celebration. But those most intent on cheering independence tend to be older Moldovans.
Younger generations have mixed feelings about the future, thus dampening any desire to celebrate. Alexandru Murzac, 20, is among those who have become disillusioned. He may head a non-profit dedicated to helping teenagers solve community problems, but, like thousands of his peers, he sees only one way to solve his own problems — by leaving Moldova and starting a new life in the European Union.
Precisely on his homeland’s birthday.
Two years ago, his plans were quite different. Like many young Moldovans caught up by the promises of democratic change and eventual EU membership, Murzac says he saw his future in Moldova. He had reason to — building Moldova was in his family.
“My parents believed in this country,” he underlined. “They were among the hundreds of thousands of Moldovans who came out onto the National Square in Chișinău on August 27, 1991, and chanted for the country’s independence. Now, even they would leave, but they have a house and their parents to take care of.”
His case is not unusual.
Since independence in 1991, when its population stood at about 3.7 million, Moldova has lost two generations of citizens, claims Valeriu Sainsus, a demographer at the Center for Demographic Research (CDR) in the capital, Chișinău.
“The worst is that now not only one family member is leaving, but the whole family, including the children,” he noted.
Border data shows that when they leave, the European Union is the destination of choice. In the year since April 2014, when the EU granted Moldova visa-free access, some 124,041 young people between the ages of 26 and 35 have left the country — 27 percent of all Moldovans recorded as entering the EU for the same period. (Data for those aged 18-25 was not available).
While exhaustive data is not available about young Moldovans studying or working in the EU, many believe that the pace of departures could well pick.
In a survey of 641 Moldovans this month, a third of the respondents expressed a desire to migrate abroad, Magenta Consulting, a local marketing research firm, reported.
As in Murzac’s case, difficulty making ends meet is a major factor.
Moldova, which borders conflict-ridden Ukraine, has seen its national currency, the leu, lose roughly 23 percent of its value since the start of the year. Prices for bread, a staple in the national diet, shot up by 15 percent last week, while electricity jumped by 30 percent and gas by 15 percent in July.
Monthly average salaries are not keeping pace. As of May, they stood at a mere 4,524 leu or $237, according to government data. Many young Moldovans interviewed by EurasiaNet.org say they are looking for $900 to $1,000 per month. With unemployment at 8.5 percent, chances of finding such jobs in Moldova are not great. Joblessness for those between the ages of 15 and 29 are more than double that rate.
“Perhaps this will happen in 20 years, but I cannot wait until then,” said Murzac, whose NGO, Interact Chișinău, is part of the Rotary International network. “In 20 years, I see myself living happily with a family in a European country.”
Financial problems alone do not drive such dreams, said Sergiu Tofilat, an economic analyst at Chișinău’s Institute of Policies and European Reform. Corruption, excessive public bureaucracy and perceived selective justice are to blame, too. “Citizens’ interests are not protected by the law, and they no longer trust the police and prosecutors,” he noted.
International donors froze tens of millions of dollars in aid money for Moldova after a banking fraud scandal in late 2014 revealed that roughly $1 billion had been stolen from Moldovan banks.
In June, after just four months on the job, Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici resigned amidst claims that his high school and university degrees had been forged.
“The change that all of us, especially youth, wanted, [and] for which we protested in April 2009 [when protesters took over parliament after fraudulent elections] did not occur,” summarized 33-year-old Dorin Duşciac, a research scientist and former deputy environmental affairs minister, who resigned from office in February.
“Only the people have changed, but the system remained as bankrupt as it was,” said Duşciac, who currently works in France.
The government, now headed by another Western-minded Moldovan, 45-year-old Valeriu Strelet, maintains its commitment to reform. And it recognizes that the current migration trend of young Moldovans could cause a demographic crisis.
Valentine Ungureanu, a senior migration official at the Ministry of Labor, Social Welfare and Family, says the numbers send “a clear signal that the state must do something.” But, so far, it has done nothing.
That, some demographers warn, could mean an increasingly elderly Moldova and, consequently, a much smaller one. Mortality rates outpace birth rates. By 2050, the United Nations Population Fund has projected, its population could fall below two million inhabitants.
The results of the National Bureau of Statistics 2014 census remain under wraps. No release date has been announced.
Official data puts the population at about the size in 1991, but a CDR estimate goes much lower — just over 2.8 million people, the smallest of the former Soviet republics outside of the Baltics.
CDR Director Olga Gagauz notes that while population size does not determine economic development, residents’ education levels do. A quarter of Moldova’s registered university students now study abroad.
“Because of low wages, they will not come back,” she predicted.
Alexandru will be among them. His young country, he claims, no longer needs him. In the EU, he believes, he can become “a happy person.”