In all the time I’ve been blogging, I haven’t written a single post about Moldova, the country where I spent 3 years as an English teacher, missionary, friend, church member, and wife. I met my husband there. I learned more about life and who I am in those 3 years than I did in 5 years of college and grad school. I started my professional career there. I made some of my closest friends. My in-laws are still there. Cousins, friends, and oodles of people I care deeply about.
A post over at Untangling Tales brought me out of the closet. In her Tuesday Tales she wrote a Belorussian folk tale about a prince’s love for a common girl. After writing it she was talking about it with someone who insisted on calling it “Russian,” and then said that Amy was being pedantic for insisting on it being Belorussian. (My thought: the person using the word pedantic is much more pedantic than the person insisting that a country independent for 15+ years is, in fact, distinct from its former colonial oppressor.)
With the connections I have to Moldova, and with a husband who was born and raised there, it’s infuriating when people refuse to acknowledge that Moldova is different from Russia. Let’s see. The national language is Romanian (de fapt este “limba noastra”, dar cu parere de rau asta este prea complicata pentru americanii care de obicei citesc blog-ul acesta), which is a romance language (like Spanish, Italian, French) – not Slavic. Moldova does not border Russia. Formerly it was a part of Romania. Romania is not slavic, nor is it Russian. So just because Moldova was a part of the Soviet Union (and not by choice either), people insist on calling it Russia?
Let’s get a few things straight. The Soviet Union was not Russian. The Soviet Union was a collection of 15 republics (formerly independent nations), one of which being Russia, consolidated under a single constitution and governing body. Those 15 republics (all of which are now independent nations – again) were: Belarus, Ukraine (which should not be called”The Ukraine”), Russia, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The Soviet Union imposed both Communism and the Russian language on the countries (republics) it controlled, and did everything it could to mix up and confuse the very distinct nationalities, cultures, and heritages – all the while creating legislation and policies that pretended to protect those very same entities.
With that straightened out, let’s get to the source of my frustration. Here’s how a typical conversation goes these days: “So, is your family still in Russia?” “No. They never were. They’re in Moldova – it doesn’t even border Russia. Different country.” “Oh, and do you ever go back to Russia to visit them?” “Well, we go to Moldova to visit them, since we wouldn’t see them in Russia – it’s a different country.” “Oh. So is it a long flight to Russia?” “Well I suppose it would be. But we don’t fly there. We fly to Moldova.” “Oh, and Moldovia is, what, like a state in Russia?” You get it. Right? You’re smart enough to see what’s happening. You can see why it’s infuriating. Add to the frustration that Russia was the fear-inspiring oppressor (really the Soviet Union was, but the power of the Soviet Union was within the Russian Republic and the Russian ethnicity was staunchly protected), and since independence Russia has not ceased its meddling in Moldovan affairs.
Also let me note that we have many, many friends who are Russians. From Russia. Who speak Russian. They are dear friends and wonderful people. We hold nothing against them, seeing as how they were not the ones causing problems in Moldova. They were subject to the same oppressive regime Moldovans or Belorussians or Tajiks were. They just happened to be born in the most powerful of the republics. We won’t hold it against them. 🙂
I believe that the stubborn insistence on calling everything east of the Iron Curtain “Russia” comes from two things: stereotypes and lack of interest. There’s a stereotype that anything east of, say, Germany (or any part of Europe that’s not a major tourist destination) is communist. They’re the enemy and they probably have missiles pointed at us. They despise freedom, drink vodka, and don’t have heat in the winter. (In case you’re wondering, that isn’t any more true than the uninformed stereotype that everyone in Africa is a cannibal.) It’s that typical “them” and “us” distinction that gets us into trouble, especially when combine with the next problem.
The second issue is a lack of interest. Surprisingly though, even people we consider to be friends (or sometimes even family) have a shocking lack of interest. Every day we (we meaning all of us, as part of the human race) make a conscious choice about what information we’ll internalize. We prioritize informational input and choose what’s important enough to keep, and what’s superfluous. Unfortunately, the independence of our former cold-war enemy often falls under the category of superfluous information. And therefore, no matter how often we correct someone that Moldova (or Belarus or Georgia, or any other independent nation, including Bosnia, Slovakia, etc.) is independent, working for democracy (nu vreau sa le spun ca moldovenii au ales un partid comunist in alegeri democratice). It’s easier for people to stick with their uninformed stereotypes (and, in fact, the geopolitical information they learned in grade school) than it is to keep up with current events in a region they believe to have no direct impact on them. There’s a reluctance to accept change, and that translates over time to stubbornness and ignorance about the rest of the world.
The fact is that as time goes on the world is becoming a smaller and smaller place because of technology and the very same people who put information about the rest of the world in “superfluous information” category will be the same people who are left behind as the world moves forward. So why should I be concerned? They’re the ones who will be made ‘superfluous’ in their careers, they’re the ones who will be forced to catch up or get out of the race. And I won’t let them bother me. But I will continue – daily – to correct their misassumptions and biases.
So here’s my challenge to you. When you get dressed tomorrow morning, look on the tag of your clothes and see where they were made. It might say China, or it might name some country you’ve never heard of. Whatever it is, google it. Find it on a map. And learn at least 3 things about that country. Keep up with where the world is going. When you flip through your newspaper, don’t chunk the “world” section because it has nothing to do with you (the “world” section consisting of no more than Afghanistan and Iraq is the topic of another rant, another day).
Thanks for bringing this up Amy. Maybe one day soon I’ll come even further out of the closet and share some of my experiences from Moldova, and introduce you all (all 4 of you) to a country you might otherwise know very little about.